Depression Resulting From Spiritual Distress

Depression Resulting From Spiritual Distress
©Jane A. Simington, PHD

 

Depression short

Some time ago I supported a young man seeking help for depression. His response to my initial questions inquiring about the origin of his depression was, “When I started that meaningless job.” His reply caused me to ponder if, since finding meaning in our lives and in what we do, is a major spiritual need; and since finding meaning is closely associated with the spiritual need of feeling that our life’s purpose is being fulfilled, I suspected that the cause of his depression was rooted in these unfulfilled spiritual needs. As a way to determine how to help him begin to live a more meaningful and purposeful life, I asked, “What would you like to be doing?” He replied, “I am a musician, and a very good one, but there is no money to be made as a musician, so I work as a mechanic.” His answer moved us away from an exploration of how to manage his emotional responses. It led us into considerable dialogue around spirituality, the spiritual needs and how when our spiritual needs are unmet, the feelings of spiritual distress surface. These intense discussions allowed him to describe the soul pain he experienced each day while doing a job that was unfulfilling; and therefore opened the doorway for a treatment plan for his depression that included helping him meet his unmet spiritual needs. This meant enabling him to identify numerous ways in which he could use his musical gifts and talents in volunteer efforts as well as in monetary ways. Within a year, he was receiving income from playing in one orchestra and two bands, and he was regularly volunteering and sharing his musical gifts at a rehabilitation hospital. His love for his work at the rehabilitation centre led him to a university program in music therapy. His mood lifted and other treatment approaches were gradually decreased and soon were no longer required.

While it is necessary to acknowledge that depression can cause serious difficulties in people’s lives resulting from a neurochemical imbalance that may require medication, it is also valuable to recognize that thoughts and attitudes affect the neurochemical balance. The troubling thoughts of those who are experiencing the soul pain that results from their intense inner search for the spiritual meaning in their experiences and the constant mental and soulful struggles of attempting to find and fulfill the purpose for their lives can also alter the neurochemical balance. This knowledge should direct helpers to inquire as to the origin of the depression; to listen for indications of the spiritual distress that results when someone is attempting to live with unmet spiritual needs; and, to gain knowledge of spirituality and the skills to apply strategies to meet, not only the emotional needs, but to also address the spiritual concerns of people seeking help from depression.

Love Saved a Life

Love Saved a Life

©Jane A. Simington, 2014

For quite some time following the death of our son, my husband’s thoughts were punctuated with self-loathing, resulting in occasions of suicide contemplation. While I, too, was struggling with grief and remorse, I knew my husband needed my help to reclaim his sense of worth and his desire to remain among the living. Up to that point in life, I had for the most part, taken for granted the giving and receiving of love between us. This crisis forced me to recognize that the giving of unconditional love could not be taken for granted, but instead required a concentrated effort. Now, years later, in retrospective contemplation, I reflect on the verbal and nonverbal techniques that were the most effective in helping my husband survive those turbulent days and nights; I most especially think about the efforts, which over the years, seem to have contributed significantly to the sustenance and growth of our longtime relationship. Below I note what I believe were the most effective ways I communicated unconditional love. I share with you what I feel is at the top of my list for creating a loving partnership following a relationship crisis.

Love Saved a Life
1) I learned to listen totally and completely

I recognized that to help my husband again see himself as worthy of living a good life, I needed to let him know how much I valued and appreciated him. My first counseling class taught me that one of the best ways to show I value someone is to listen attentively when that person speaks. It was also during this class I realized what a poor listener I actually was, for when I really began to listen to my husband, I discovered that he knew a lot about some very interesting topics and had some delightful stories to tell. As time went by, and even though I had previously heard many of his stories, each time I stopped what I was doing, made direct eye contact with him, and concentrated fully, not only on what he was saying, but also on him. As a result, I felt an increased sense of admiration for the man I married. In turn, he picked up not only my attentiveness but also my renewed admiration. This simple act seemed to slowly, but surely, return the gleam of light to the windows of his soul.

2) I learned the value of setting aside precious time just for the two of us

I gain a lot of pleasure from accomplishing tasks that I set my mind to completing, and because of that I can be quite task-orientated. Not long after I became aware of my need to help my husband emotionally and physically survive our crisis, I recognized that showing someone he or she is valued and appreciated requires allotting time to be totally available. To meet this goal we began a routine of being together, just the two of us, each Friday evening. We would pick a secluded table and take turns listening to each other express our grief and sorrow and share any forward movement we believed we had made along our healing journey. These times of intimate conversation positively and significantly impacted both of us and in many ways strengthened our relationship.

3) I learned the power of using therapeutic touch

During studies for my Master’s degree I explored the benefits of touch as a therapeutic modality. I learned that caring, loving touch is necessary for the survival of infants and for the maintenance of emotional and mental health at all ages. Nurturing, caring touch can increase endorphins; the body’s own pain relief. Similar to the effects of opiates, nurturing touch has the potential to create a euphoric response. Although previously I had not considered the value of touch as a means to convey care and acceptance, I began to put into practice what I learned about the physical, mental and emotional benefits of stroking an arm and rubbing a back. I also learned that when my husband’s grief was raw and he could not hear my words of love, he could still feel my touch and absorb the acceptance it conveyed.

I love the Nairobi proverb, “Hold a true friend with both eyes and with both hands.” February is considered the month to convey love since in many countries the feast day of St. Valentine is celebrated on February 14th. Perhaps this year on February 14th it may be appropriate to begin a practice of increasing the power of your love by applying the Nairobi proverb teachings. Gazing deeply into the eyes of the person you love, hold both this person’s hands in yours as you convey the words; “I value and appreciate all you are and all you do for me. I love you for all you do and for all you are.”

Threads of Gratefulness Woven within the Fabric of Life

©Jane A. Simington, PHD., October, 2014

“It is not a matter of brain damage; it is a matter of life or death.” Bill signed the consent; I was unconscious. The fall had fractured my skull and thrust my brain forward crashing it against the frontal portion of my cranium.

Post surgery, during moments of semi-consciousness, I became increasingly aware of my inability to see. Each time I slipped back into unconsciousness I begged three large Beings of Light to open my eyes. Weeks later, Bill told me that my failed attempts to force my swollen eyes open had caused me to become more and more agitated, to the point of where I was pulling out life supporting chest tubes.

jane gratitude centre 1

Those events occurred three years ago. While it took months to heal the many symptoms caused by a brain injury and the psychological effects of the trauma, today I am grateful for life and for a body and brain that function well. Every time I run along the lakeside, I recall the days when I had to be aware of the exact placement of each of my feet so as to ensure I would not fall. I am grateful to have regained balance. Each time I answer a student’s question, I breathe a silent “thank you,” knowing that both my long and short term memory are once again intact. I am thankful for my sight and hearing, especially because the location of the damage to my skull and brain makes the retaining of those senses a miraculous gift. I am grateful for my husband Bill who held and stroked me for three days and nights, assuring me he was there, and knowing his touch and reassurance were the only things that would calm my anxiety enough to keep me from pulling out tubes, and keep me from causing permanent damage to my eyes from my attempts to force them open.

As a nurse, when I worked with an unconscious patient I always believed that an unconscious person could hear what was being said to them. While I have little recall of most of my unconscious days, I do have some memory of Bill’s supporting words and because of my experience I will continue to encourage people to speak in loving and caring ways to those who are unconscious and to those who are dying.

I am grateful for what my time in the realm of the unconscious taught me about the Spirit World. For much of my life I had a belief in Spiritual Helpers. That belief has been substantiated and has become a knowing for I witnessed and was cared for by Spiritual Helpers when in a state of unconsciousness and I witnessed them once again after I gained consciousness. I now know, not just believe, that I have help and support from a spiritual realm.

October is the month when we pause to take stock of our abundance, and in turn give thanks for all we have received. I share my experiences and the gifts I garnered from those experiences trusting they will inspire you to reexamine your own difficult life events. When you do so, I encourage you to recognize and share with others all the golden threads of gratefulness that because of those events, are now beautiful parts of the wonderful fabric of your life story.

 

A Time for Renewal and Transformation

©Jane A. Simington PHD, 2014 

This morning at dawn,
prodded by a magical stirring in the air,
I wandered a wooded area
to capture signs of spring I knew would be there.
The Geese are back, the Robins too;
Pussy willows? I saw a few.
Wild things need no temple; they need no bells to ring.
The breezes coming from the South
have told them it is spring.
In this outdoor cathedral, standing on holy ground
I marveled at the lessons of rebirth that I found.
The unborn beauty beneath the earth
again reminded me,
That life renews with joy, and peace, and immortality.

My time in nature always brings a deep sense of awe and gratefulness for the many lessons gleaned from seasonal changes. The metaphoric similarities of the repetitive cycle of birth, death and rebirth bring promise of renewal. Since ancient times, spring festivals have been based on this theme and those still held in sacred circles around the world continue to honor our Human-Earth connections. Such ceremonies acknowledge how the external reminders of spring parallel a rekindling of light and warmth in our inner world. In Aboriginal cultures, the metaphor of the movement from cold and darkness into warmth and light is that of the journey of the Great Bear from the cave. Hibernation is brought to an end, by the warming rays of the Eastern sun. Hungry and eager to ingest the goodness and warmth of spring, the Great Bear leaves behind the cave’s cold and darkness.

Springtime can be any time when the light increases in our mind and in our spirit, for anytime this occurs, an increase in our sense of freedom follows. A butterfly’s process of metamorphosis and release from the entrapment and darkness of the cocoon is a common symbol of the transition from darkness into light and freedom.

geese Jane's lakeSpringtime and all of its reminders of renewal provide a great opportunity for recognizing that difficult life experiences have two separate aspects: the destructive aspect and the transformative aspect. During the destructive aspect we feel robbed and stripped of what we once had and have no longer. We grieve and we mourn. Yet, our long days of darkness, our times in the caves, times in the cocoons, change us, transform us. When we emerge from the caves, when we crawl from the cocoons, we know we are not the same beings that entered.

As spring replaces winter, I hope that the seasonal changes awaken for each of us a renewed hope in the cycles of life and death and transformation. May the increasing hours of sun deepen our recognition that every year spring brings bare earth to bloom. May the seeds we have sorted during our long winter days and nights, and selected for planting, be fertile and sprout with many new leaves in the light and warmth of the spring sunshine.

 



Hope Helps Dreams Take Flight

 

Jane A. Simington, PHD., March, 2014

hopeAs we grow and develop, our life becomes structured around our ability to trust. We normally rely on trust during the course of any day. We trust that we are safe in our homes, that the health care system will meet our needs; that the person will stop at the red light; that our children will come home safely from school each day. But what happens to us and our sense of trust when our lived experience does not match what we have always taken for granted? No longer able to trust the universal order we feel a lack of control, continually threatened, anxious and fearful that other misfortunes might befall us. Our fears can impair our movement forward for we feel powerless to control our future. Feelings of powerlessness can lead to feelings of hopelessness, despair and even helplessness.   

Since hope is a critical dimension of spirituality, eliminating feelings of hopelessness and despair, requires the reestablishment of trust and hope in a Divine Force, in one self and in others.  And since hopefulness is associated with spiritual wellbeing, hope-fostering activities can include religious beliefs and activities but extend to broader conceptualizations of spirituality that encompass finding new meaning and purpose in life by redefining our self and our relationships. For me, and for many I have helped beyond their despair, redefining the self and relationships with others and with God required breaking the idols of youth.

While the challenge to break those idols forces many into a spiritual crisis, it can also be an opportunity for tremendous spiritual growth, for during those times we shut out the views of the world. This time of sorting though the beliefs and ideas given to us by others, allows for a discarding of what had been burned away by the fires of our own experiences. When we are finally able to view the sunrise on those first mornings after our souls’ dark nights, we know we are armed with a deeper truth, a deeper trust, and a sense of hope that despite all we have endured, life is good and filled with promise and opportunity.   

Hope is also a mental state characterized by a desire to accomplish, but with some expectation that the desired goal is attainable. Hope is therefore a sense of the possible. Even though risking after a challenging life event can take great courage, a hopeful person wants a change and is willing to risk to make that happen. During a time when I felt powerless to control my future, I learned the value of risk- taking behaviors. I recognized that taking one risk each day, and moving from the goal that was easy to achieve and be successful at, to the more difficult yet rewarding when achieved goal, seemed to automatically help me reestablish trust in my own abilities, regain a sense of personal power and mastery over my reality, and began, even without my conscious awareness, to sprout feelings of a new found purpose in life. This in turn provided me with a sense that I could again contribute something of value to the world and thereby help others find hope after their tragic life events.

The relationships between risk-taking behaviors and hope were recognized by the ancient Greeks and described in the myth of Zeus and Prometheus. Prometheus angered Zeus who retaliated by offering her a box that contained evil in all its forms. Even though warned not to, Prometheus, risking more anger and disapproval, opened the box. Upon doing so, Pandora released all the evils. Only hope, lying on the bottom, remained. This myth is a great reminder that hope can reside at the base of all that we view as wrong in the world and in our lives.

Mythology and folklore for other cultures have also been used for centuries as models for life. As a therapeutic helper I often ask people what folklore or fairy tale hero is most like them. Together we explore the theme of that folk story. Then I ask the person to ponder, “How does that story end?” This question and their reflections on the parallel of the hero’s journey to their own life, can offer a glimpse of how they too can respond similarly.

While hope is an essential factor for well-being, many experience times when life seems to hold little promise. During such times, since hope is intangible, I often find it valuable to encourage strategies that make hope more tangible, even visible and touchable. One of my first opportunities to do so was when I worked with a community group, offering mental health services to depressed older persons. After assessing the relationship between their depression and feelings of hopeless, I handed each a disposable camera and asked them to go out into their homes and community and take a photo of anything that looked hopeful. Their developed pictures then became the focus of our group discussions and of my one-to-one sessions with each of them. The theme of those sessions was based on the notion that if they could see those hopeful things outside themselves, what did that reflect from within?

Therapeutic art activities also prove effective in helping both the old and young resonate with aspects of hope. In the very beginning when depression looms large, it can be hard to draw hope, so I invite the individual to pick a colored marker as a response to my question “If you could imagine hope what color would it be?” Then I encourage the person to draw hope, following my question “If you could imagine what hope looked like what shape would it be?” After any color or amount of color is placed on the paper, I encourage the expansion of the expression with the invitation “If hope were to grow, how big could it get, and what other colors would it need?”

A further therapeutic art activity I have found to help despairing persons recognize elements of hope in their lives, is the creation of a collage. For this activity I invite them to create a collage that would show all the things a hopeful person might want to have. This creation allows them to externalize in a depersonalized and therefore safe way, ideas and feelings they are not yet consciously aware of. The collage can then become a mirror reflecting a pathway to hope. As we process together their completed collage I often find symbols of hope. These include the anchor; the dove, the swallow. In Aesop fables, the swallow symbolizes hope, because it is among the first birds to appear at the end of winter. Other symbols of hope include a rainbow, a sunrise and other images of morning. There are often moments of awe and increased feelings of empowerment when people recognize that these symbols have appeared on their work. This gives me a great opportunity to remind them, that creativity is the voice of the soul.

Since trust and hope are hand-holding sisters, when there is a sense of despair, hopelessness and powerlessness, there is also a need to heal the circumstances that fractured trust. After years of searching for ways to reestablish trust and to help another reestablish trust, I have discovered that it can be valuable to work somewhat backwards. I have recognized that when we take calculated risks and have successes, we begin to trust that things can get better and we begin to lay hopeful plans for the future. I have seen this backward approach work so effectively and so often that I now place efforts to reestablish hope at the base of my pyramid of healing and work upward from there. I find great value in helping people rekindle hope for hope helps dreams take flight.



Suicide and Trauma: Securing Hope

September 8-14, 2013 is national suicide prevention week. In light of the relationship between suicide and trauma, strategies to prevent suicide must suicideribbonbe aimed at healing trauma. While trauma symptoms are categorized as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there is more to PTSD than emotional stress. The effects of trauma are experienced physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritual. The accumulation of symptoms, including feelings of inner emptiness, can cause relationships to fail and make the life of someone who has experienced trauma seem unbearable and not worth living. Many turn to alcohol and drugs in an effort to numb their intense suffering. When these attempts no longer work, suicide can seem like the only way out of the constant misery.

When working with someone who appears to be contemplating suicide it is important to
1) Do a reality check.

While children of all ages have some concept of death those concepts may not be clearly developed. Helpful reality checking questions can be:
·         What is dead?
·         What is it like to be dead?
·         How long is dead?

2) Explore options

It is also important to recognize that when someone is under a great amount of stress, or when they are triggered back to a past trauma, the hippocampus in the mid brain may become impaired. Since the hippocampus does much of its processing through the brain’s left hemisphere, functions of the left hemisphere may also be interfered with, causing the traumatized person to experience difficulties with judgment, decision -making and logical thinking. An important beginning question that can help you assist such a person in thinking the situation through and in exploring other options is:
·         How will suicide make your situation better?


3) Secure hope

A person who is contemplating suicide is feeling powerless to change the circumstances. One strategy I use to increase feelings of hope in the ability to change circumstances is to provide a disposable camera and have the person take picture of all the things that could be possible signs of hope. When the pictures are printed the person uses them to create a collage. These externalized signs of hope can then act as a mirror reflecting that hope really does exist.

A question that can assist a suicidal person in exploring other options and in securing hope is:
·         Where do you see yourself in a month, a year, and five years from now?

4) Provide information

During National Suicide Prevention Week some of you will be presenting information on suicide. Many in your audiences may be attending in hope of receiving the help they are seeking.

I suggest that in a presentation on suicide prevention you include:

1)     Information on how trauma affects the body, mind, emotion, and spirit.
2)    Skills to assist a traumatized person to reclaim personal power.
3)    Basic strategies to help a traumatized person heal from the effects of trauma.
4)    Specific questions to have someone at risk of suicide ponder.
5)    Information on how a person who is feeling suicidal can receive more help.