The Arthritis NewsletterFall 2013
10 Depression Busting TipsBy Joyce Ma
After I was diagnosed with Polymyositis, a rare form of arthritis that leads to muscle weakness and loss of muscle mass, I became homebound for months because I was too weak to walk and some days too weak to get out of bed. Unable to take care of my family or myself, I would spend hours wondering how I got this rare disease and what the future held for me. A mixture of emotions came over me: anger, confusion, denial, self-pity, sadness, and fear. Polymyositis was controlling my future and I hated it.
One day, I realized that my thoughts were also contributing to my stress, exhaustion, and my inability to sleep and make decisions – I felt hopeless, helpless and useless everyday for weeks! I knew I needed help with my emotional health, so I saw a psychiatrist. At first, I was given a medication for clinical depression but it did not help me. It made me feel disconnected from the world.
I saw a few other psychiatrists before I found someone who was a good fit for me. This doctor was able to help me through cognitive behavioural therapy. I began to focus on my strengths and to utilize alternative treatments such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, physical exercises, proper nutrition, brain supplements, prayers, and relaxation. The results were encouraging and combined with my physiotherapy; I was able to resume my life again.
Maintaining this lifestyle is key for my emotional health and a normal day for me usually combines two or three of the following:
Walking on my own or with a friend or a family member is so therapeutic for me. My neighbourhood walks have me appreciating the beauty of the flowers, gardens, and other lovely things I pass along the way. Now that my endurance has increased, I am able to venture out further. My favourite places to walk are Queen Elizabeth Park, Coal Harbour, English Bay and Olympic Village – each provides benches along the way where you can sit and enjoy the scenery or a snack. Smiling at passersby and having them smile back makes me feel good. And, the beauty of nature always provides the best location – unmatched and free!
2. Window Shop
Bring a friend for a day of window-shopping. Above all, have fun! I have been known to try on the craziest and wildest outfits just for laughs. To avoid impulse buying, I leave my credit card at home and only bring with me enough money for lunch or coffee. If I find an item that I really like, I have the store hold it for me to pick up the next day.
3. Watch a Movie
I like watching action, comedy and romantic movies. I call them my feel-good movies because they are lighthearted and help to distract me from whatever is bothering me. Movie theatres are a great way to spend 2 or 3 hours amongst crowds and, of course, delicious popcorn.
4. Enjoy Lunch or Coffee Dates
I have a large family and many acquaintances but I usually enjoy people with an upbeat personality to share coffee or lunch. My young nieces and nephews are such good company because they add a fresh perspective to my life. I want an escape from my illness and sometimes these wonderful dates are the best medicine.
5. Avoiding Loud, Aggressive and Toxic People
Thank goodness for call display; I use it to screen all my calls. I made a list of the people that I want to avoid and the reasons why. I am empathetic to those who need someone to share their disappointments. However, I avoid those who are constantly negative and complain about everything because I feel drained and exhausted after listening to them.
6. List your Blessings
It is difficult to think positively when you are in pain or depressed. During those difficult times I sit and write down my blessings. The first time I tried this exercise, I began writing and couldn’t stop … my two children, my home, my husband’s employment, food, the clean air I breathe, and the beautiful flowers in my garden. This exercise makes me feel good. Try it everyday – I think you will be surprised at the number of blessings in your life!
When you feel hopeless, helpless and useless, you can turn it around and do something for others. Volunteering can be rewarding, empowering, and a definite self-esteem builder. There are shortages of volunteers in every charitable organization. I joined the Consumer Advisory Board of the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada where all members have some form of arthritis. Together we collaborate with the researchers on research projects. It was rewarding to understand that my personal experience as an arthritis patient could contribute to the researchers’ understanding of my disease. I also manage the Bluebird Gift Shop where I have met and befriended people with arthritis.
I love gardening and keep a container garden on my sun deck. Planting, watering, and bringing plants to bloom give me such a feeling of accomplishment. In fact, having cut flowers or potted flowers in my bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen all year round brightens up my day.
9. Exercise at the Gym
Exercising at home was a problem for me – no motivation! My solution was to find a local gym. Simply watching others working hard helped me to get motivated. My physiotherapist planned an exercise routine for me. I started slowly and eventually progressed to working out for 2 hours, three times a week. The other bonus of the gym is that I met people here who I enjoy having coffee with after our workout.
When I feel hopeless and helpless, I pray. I pray for many things but most important, I pray for patience and acceptance because I’m slower and weaker than before. I believe my prayers are always answered, although the answer is not always “yes”. Sometimes life tests me in ways that ultimately prove I am smarter and stronger than before.
For my own self-preservation I have learned to recognize the early signs of depression. I watch for these signs like a soldier waiting for the enemy. When I see these signs, I follow two or three of my depression busters until I feel better. If you have experienced depression, perhaps these tips might help you. Here is something else you might want to try:
When you wake tomorrow morning, look in the mirror and say to yourself, ” Today, I’m going to love myself and my life. I’m going to pick myself up and move forward. I will not let myself down because I love myself and my life.”
Write to us to let us know about your favourite depression buster.