Every day at 3pm, I receive a calendar invitation on my computer that says, “take three slow deep Qigong breaths.” The first day that I received the invite I yelled at my computer, “Now What??!!!!” and then I had to laugh because I realized that I knew myself well enough to beat myself at my own internal negative mental game. For the next week, I was truly irritated when this invite would interrupt my work, but I am now grateful for the reminder.
My recurring notification is one of many strategies in my self-care toolkit that I’ve developed over time as I’ve gotten to know my true self better. I’ve managed to look directly at most aspects of my personality and put systems into place that keep me from veering too far off my mental/emotional/physical center. Before I reveal the five steps, let’s consider a few triggers that can send us spiraling downward into the depression and suicidal thoughts vortex.
The Conventional Society Set-Up
Although we can have up to 60,000 thoughts per day, they are mostly the same thoughts as the day before and 80 percent of those thoughts are negative. Where do these negative thoughts come from? We are bombarded daily with negative images, disempowering messages, faulty thinking and misconceptions. In fact, if you pay attention to popular culture, you will soon realize that we are continually socialized to “not” feel pain and to avoid pain at all costs. We tend to avoid feeling pain in front of others and we don’t know how to comfort those who are in pain. Without a counter strategy, depression or suicidal thoughts are bound to happen almost by default and adding trauma and stress to the mix can seal the deal. Have you said or heard these comments before?
- Aw man, I had a rough day, I need a drink!
- I’m sorry you didn’t make the team, here, have some ice cream.
- I have a headache; do you have an aspirin?
The challenge with these comments is that they are glamorized and perpetuated in mass media, setting us up to avoid directly addressing and processing a situation by developing and sustaining a disempowering habit of anesthetizing ourselves. The reality that we must eventually face is: what happens after the drink, the ice cream or the aspirin? How long can we avoid and suppress how we truly feel with temporary fixes that do not address the actual problem? Let’s consider the headache example. A person could have a headache because of a wide array of reasons such as dehydration, lack of oxygen, poor circulation, toxins in the colon, hypoglycemia, etc. none of which are solved by taking an aspirin. Aspirin is the solution that we’ve trained ourselves to blindly run to by default.
This blind, unconscious reach for something to anesthetize ourselves is at the root cause of depression and suicidal thoughts. We have to commit to another set of behaviors that allows us to acknowledge and process pain as it occurs without being overwhelmed by it.
Are Your Eyes Windows or Projectors?
I often end my workshops by asking people to breathe deeply and remember to allow their eyes to be windows (seeing what is truly there) and not projectors (allowing a trigger from the past to cloud your vision). In order to transcend depression and suicidal thoughts, we have to train ourselves to question/challenge our current perceptions (which are often faulty), develop mental resiliency skills as a daily practice, continually take out our “mental trash” that has accumulated, and develop a mental health toolkit that we can access whenever we are feeling off center. How is this possible when we may not even feel like getting out of bed?
If we choose to rely on medication, what do we do in between dosages, when the “monkey mind” returns and overwhelms us? The answer cannot exist in medication or issues of access (Robin Williams had access to the best doctors, treatment and medication but still took his life).
Awareness and connection to our true selves will stop and reverse the downward spiral of depression and suicidal thoughts. The answers lie within.
Anyone can experience depression and suicidal thoughts. It is important for us to recognize that no one feels good all the time, and sometimes we can feel bad for quite some time. If we are willing to acknowledge the pain that we feel, we can focus our energy on processing our pain, which allows it to dissipate over time. Avoidance of pain will intensify it, leading to depression and suicidal thoughts. We all must work diligently to cleanse our mind/body/emotions/spirit every day.
People often put me on a pedestal, as if I were born an energetic health practitioner. The truth is that I practice Qigong because I tend to be extremely driven (Type A), anxious and impatient. For me, Qigong and setting the calendar invite are ways of consciously accessing counter strategies to my potentially negative tendencies, thoughts and actions. By accepting myself as I truly am (shadow and light), I can focus on developing my strengths and bringing light to any darkness lurking inside.
What is your immediate response to a negative thought? Do you have any counter strategies?
Here are 5 steps you can take right now to transcend depression and suicidal thoughts:
1. Develop a mental wellness self-care tool kit based on your unique personality and tendencies. Get a friend to help you if possible. Your self-care tool kit has to have counter strategies that you are triggered to go to when you begin to feel off center. Suggestions can include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Seeking professional counseling from a mental health practitioner such as a Psychologist, Licensed Professional Counselor, Marriage & Family Therapist, Clinical Social Worker, Psychiatric Nurse, etc.
- Calling a trusted friend when you feel triggered
- positive affirmations around the house and with you at all times
- Taking a walk outside for at least 5 minutes, preferably in nature (park, beach, etc.)
- relaxing or energizing breathing exercises
2. Have a non-negotiable daily practice.
3. When in pain … reframe! If you’ll remember from my Power of Emotions blog, I mentioned the importance of telling yourself the truth. “I am sad” is not true, “I feel sad” is true. “I can’t stand the pain” is not true. “I can barely stand the pain is true.” Then allow yourself to breathe into your true feelings. Thoughts about the past are not real because the past is now dead. Thoughts about the future are not real because no one can know the future. Drop unreal thoughts by acknowledging that they are not real and practicing one of the other exercises listed here.
4. Pain release exercise (follow these instructions):
- Do a relaxing breathing exercise for a few minutes
- Listen for the sound of your heart beat
- Reframe thoughts so that they reflect reality. You are not your pain, but you feel your pain. Acknowledge what is real.
- Search your body for where you think that pain is located.
- Touch the spot of pain if you can and take a slow deep breath. Hold the breath for a few seconds and release. Repeat until the pain shifts slightly.
5. Avoid knee jerk reactions at all costs. The best way to do this is to remember:
- Breathe, pause, then speak.
- Breathe, pause, then act.
- Breathe, pause, then choose your thoughts. We may think that our thoughts are randomly infecting us, but if we slow down long enough, we’ll realize that we are actually choosing our thoughts. If a thought is yours to choose, why not choose an empowering thought this time?
If the pain began inside of you, then freedom from your pain also exists inside of you. In closing, I'd like to leave you with this quote:
"Meditation can make you inwardly rich. Then suicide is out of the question; even if you want to destroy yourself, there is no way. Your being is indestructible ... Your inner health is beyond any sickness. And it is there, just to be discovered." - OSHO
What’s your counter strategy? Share your stories and thoughts with us by tagging CBMA on Twitter @BMAchivement using hashtag #BMARadiant.
This blog post was originally posted on www.blackmaleachievement.org and has been reposted with permission.