FIGHTING DEPRESSION THE NATURAL WAY
by Dorothea McArthur
Tom sat down for his first hour after his initial evaluation. I asked him, “How are you doing today?”
Tom responded slowly, “That’s a good question. I know that we met last week and I’m beginning to understand some of the feelings I’ve had for a really long time. I also feel that it will take quite a few hours for us to settle my particular issues. In the meantime, I do feel depressed some of the time. I don’t want to take any medication. I can’t afford it because I don’t have insurance and I can’t handle the frequent side effect of weight gain. What can I do to feel less depressed while we’re doing this work? I used to drink alcohol but I don’t want to do that anymore either.”
“Good for you. Your question is important. There are several actions that I can suggest.”
“Good, because I need them.” he sighed
The first action you can take is to get a half hour of exercise at the same time every day. If you have a sport you love or want to go to the gym, or yoga, then be sure to do it seven days a week.. If you do not have a sport, find a pleasant area where there is nature near where you live to take a brisk walk. See if you can walk a mile per day.”
“I suppose I could walk near the river, or the park.” Tom perked up.
“You’re getting the idea. When you walk, do not think about the events that make you depressed. Instead, take long, slow breaths and concentrate on noticing everything you can about the nature around you. Notice the wind in the trees as a model of how to breathe.”
“Are you talking about a walking meditation?”
Yes, I walk on the Los Angeles River for thirty minutes every day with three dogs. I’ve been walking dogs for thirty five years. It adds up to lots of discipline that’s good for my overall health burns 200 calories a day, 250 miles a year, or a total of around 9000 miles. I count the ducks, mallards, herons, geese, cormorants, sandpipers and egrits. I watch the baby mallards with their mom, the sixty pigeons swoop and swarm in a graceful dance around the bridge, and the black ravens “kaw” to me from the tops of trees. I notice the details of the inside of the wild flowers, watch the hummingbirds feed, and listen to the birds sing. Obsessive, depressed and worried thoughts are chased away by the beauty and magic of the universe. Out of my quieted mind, sometimes surfaces a good idea or an insight without effort.”
“Do you do it because you get depressed?”
“Perhaps I would be if I didn’t. I take in a lot of psychic pain from the work I do each day. I need some way to settle it in my mind, or and let go. Walking, writing, and singing music help me to turn the pain from all of my patients into useful ideas and productive action.”
“When you come up with an idea or insight while exercising, don’t talk yourself out of it later. Always stay with the thoughts you had while exercising. When you feel depressed, and want to go to bed, make yourself get up and do something active instead.”
“I think I can make that idea work. I’ll have to get up an hour earlier in the morning.”
“I get up at six. After my walk with the dogs, I do another half hour of resistance training for the remainder of the hour. I get a little social time then too.”
“Are you tired after exercise?”
“No, I’m energized. Getting exercise allows me to sit quietly for the remainder of the day. A restless therapist is a poor way to relate to patients.”
“Is there anything else I can do?” Tom persisted.
“Yes, I remember that you’re living alone at this time.”
Yup, I get depressed when I have too much time alone.”
“Have you thought about getting a pet?”
“Yes, but the landlord doesn’t want me to have a dog or a cat.”
“Would you like to have a parakeet? They chirp a beautiful song when you turn on the water, and you can teach them to speak, sit on your shoulder and you finger.”
“Wow, that might work! . . then I would have someone to talk with me.” Tom brightened.
“Precisely. . . You could also ask a neighbor who might work a long day, if you could take his dog for a walk with you each day. The dog and the owner would probably be delighted. You could have the companionship with the dog and earn a little extra money to pay for your therapy.”
“Awesome. . . and the bird would not be very expensive.”
“Right. . . Our talking together each week, and those three ideas should help a lot with your depression. If for any reason, it’s still persists, then we could look into a consultation with a psychiatrist. But let’s try these options first.”
“You bet I will. . . I already feel less depressed.”
“You were able to read your discouraged feeling about depression and bring it to me so that we could talk about it and take constructive action. That sequence of events does a lot to take care of depression.”
“Now I’m ready to talk about my relationship with my girlfriend.”
Dorothea McArthur is a Diplomate Clinical Psychologist practicing in Los Angeles. She is President of the Independent Psychotherapy Network. She can be reached at 323-663-2340. Her email is DMcA@ucla.edu.