Life’s Tango

YOU CANNOT TANGO WITH THE WIND.

(From The Wisdom Sayings of Dr Selma Zoudek – Translated. Publ. pending)Sky

New publication pending – a compilation of wisdom from “The sayings of Selma Zoudek” and “Flying Carpet”, published originally in Russian in Damascus 1974 – 1976 (out of print).

Selma Zoudek is from northern Georgia, currently living in Morocco.  The Zoudek family has an unbroken ancient tradition of wisdom and has been famous for centuries for producing widely respected, gifted seers. They returned to Georgia several decades after being displaced by the repressive Stalinist regime.
Quotes are reprinted here by permission.
Dr Zoudek’s doctoral thesis was on the role of oral tradition in maintaining ethnic identity among displaced peoples.

Relapse – The Double-Whammy

Things are going along well. You´re optimistic. You´re getting better.

Then crash – out of the blue, you´re suffering a relapse.

And sometimes you don´t know why. That´s the most sinister thing about it. Has it got such control over me it can strike me any time it wants, despite all my best efforts and well-planned defences?

So you start fearing fear itself. You feel sadder just because you seem to be vulnerable to sadness. It´s a double-whammy.

You´re in danger of getting caught in a vicious circle that can become a downward spiral leading you-know-where…

We have to break the vicious circle before it sets in. We have to tell ourselves, “This is only a temporary setback. It´s not my identity. Something has gone wrong; I don´t know what or why. But I am making progress. I will be better. I will be calm and happy – the way I have been before; the way most people seem to be…” 

It´s like progressing up a mountain face. You might slip and fall. But if you have safety ropes and you can grab hold of a rock, it won´t be fatal. Even after a fall, if you hold on, you´ll breathe a sigh of relief that you are still higher than you were before.

Progress is upward despite the setbacks.

Depression Plaster Cast

If you are unlucky enough to break an arm or a leg, you’ll need a plaster cast to protect it and allow your body to do its amazing work of inner healing.

It’s the same if you fall ill with depression. Something has crashed. Something is broken.

Here’s my plaster cast to allow yourself time and protection while your body (in this case your mind) builds itself back up to normal strength again.

  1. Keep a spreadsheet. Score your moods out of ten, morning, afternoon and evening. Record hours sleep, alcohol, tablets you take and when. Monitor your illness with a quasi-scientific analysis. It helps objectivize it, giving you more  detachment. You are reminded that depression is not your identity – it`s just an illness  to be treated as such.
  2. Go for a 20+ mins walk at least once a day.
  3. Stick to rhythms of meals and bedtimes – even if you don’t feel like it.
  4. Take positive steps to love yourself: join a club; throw away a packet of cigarettes; order some supplements online; buy a funny book or magazine; ring someone for a chat; update your Facebook page or blog; plan a city break.
  5. Talk things over with a therapist. You can book online from national consortia of practitioners without long waiting times. Prices can be as low as £30 – £40 per session. Therapists often offer a free introductory session.
  6. Talk everything over with God. (This is always free!) As you pray, your perspectives will change and become his perspectives.
  7. Count your blessings. Think about them one by one, big and small and say a prayer of thanks for each one This may be hard at first – especially on your darkest days – but stick with it. It is great cognitive therapy to help realign rampaging chemical neurotransmitters and bring them back into harmony.
  8. Don’t drink alcohol, eat a rich meal or smoke past 9pm. Once in a while is ok,, and good for dopamine etc, as long as you´re getting good healthy sleep most other times.
  9. Don’t watch TV or a computer screen beyond 10.30 pm if possible.
  10. Follow a pattern of night-time rituals for coming down from the day and into bed. This sends signals to you brain that it is time for descending into sleepiness.
  11. Use calming mantras. ‘He gives his beloved sleep.’ ‘Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is set on thee. ’ ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength. ’ ‘It will not come near you. ’ ‘I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. ’
  12. Plan a mini-project every two or three days – and follow through: putting up a shelf, weeding a flower bed, taking clothes for recycling, writing a piece for a blog, painting a room, sorting out bank accounts. Thinking about the activity, planning, doing it, the satisfaction of achievement afterwards will give you positive feelings – at least the beginnings of…
  13. Target neurostransmitters with various powerful supplements. Keep experimenting until you find the right ones for you, singly or in combination: 5-HTP, Tyrosine, Phenylalanine, GABA, SAM-e. It will depend how much your depression is typical (melancholy), a-typical (extreme listlessness), or mixed with anxiety (jitteriness, tension, panic attacks). L-Theanine is proving more and more popular as a non-prescription anti-depressant with almost no known side-effects.
  14. Take old-school sleeping aids (the earliest antihistamines such as Doxylamine Succinate and Diphenhydramine) rather than prescription sleeping tablets. Even though they are non-addictive, try the lowest dose first, even a quarter tablet. You can build up from there.
  15. Take vitamin B complex supplements every other day.
  16. Drink plenty of water every day – even if you don’t feel like it. Don’t take a lot last thing at night (to reduce toilet calls).
  17. Believe it is your right to enjoy health and happiness.
  18. Develop your inner natural drive to seek pleasure wherever and as much as you can squeeze out of this life.
  19. Think twice before taking prescription anti-depressants. (They do seem to help some people though.)
  20. Don’t ever give up.

 

Berlin, Berlin

After a fretful night, one that I want to forget if I can, and a low,  toxic day as a result, I ended up in an Italian restaurant in Berlin, hoping that the Pizza and the Merlot would somehow work some magic.

I noticed that the station, the streets and the restaurant were filled with groups of  teenagers in low-level uniform, with their mentors. When I followed my natural curiosity and asked, I found out there was a big athletics cum music tournament in Berlin, something  that happens every four years.

As I watched the teenagers engaging with their ambience and with each other, somehow it did my heart good. It reminded me of myself on school hockey tour to Edinburgh all those years ago. Circle of life and all that… Yes you could see all the teenage angst – why am I overweight; do people think I´m boring; am I not talking/witty enough  etc.

But for most of them, they had no real reason to doubt life itself.

The unfettered optimism of youth…

How lovely it is.

Even on our darkest days, life has a way of reaffirming itself.

My Shoulders Are Not Broad Enough…

From my upstairs study window I can see my neighbours looking after their child with special needs. My heart bleeds. I can only imagine what it´s like, day after day, practically and emotionally.

At least I could imagine –  if I let myself. But I can´t and I don´t. My shoulders just aren´t broad enough. It´s God´s broken world. He´s the only one with the strength, Atlas-like,  to carry it. I have to keep a distance if I´m going to survive.

There´s wisdom in the simple proverb: The heart knows it owns sadness, and no stranger can share its joy (14.10). We´ve got to know our limits. For our sanity, there has to be a certain detachment. When all´s said and done, the suffering in the world is not our responsibility. It´s God´s. He´s the only one who can fix it.

Yes, when we are well and strong enough we should take every opportunity to help people who are less fortunate than we are. I´m 100% for that. And so many people are amazing in their lives of devotion and service in difficult contexts.

But in the meantime, in the midst of all the brokenness, we need to keep grabbing all the pleasures we can, wherever we can. Suck life dry! And build up as much inner peace and contentment as we possibly can.

Preferably every day…

We need to guard our hearts and look after ourselves.

I Want My Life Back

“I want my life back…”

That´s what I kept thinking as I stood looking out at flowering bushes I had planted in the front garden. Just a few weeks ago I had found enormous pleasure and contentment in standing there just looking at them. Now all I could feel was a soul-churning melancholy. And I want to be able to walk past something that´s out of place, or go into a room that´s a bit too dark, witout it sending jitters and shudders through my nervous system.

Why? Nothing had changed. Depression is a hateful plague and a curse. It´s a thief that breaks into our life to steal it from us. But it´s a lie. It doesn´t change realities – only our feelings. We realize this if we can find the strength to say thanks for all the blessings we know we objectively have.

Thankfully I´ve had only a few bouts of this illness in my life – and to  be honest they were probably self inflicted (too much alcohol for too long?). Whatever… My system has crashed again. BUT THIS IS NOT MY LIFE. It is not how I am. I´m ill. I know I will get better. I will get my life back. I will enjoy life to the full!

Mantras are good at times like this: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Be strong. Be brave.”

Sometimes you just have to wait, like recovering from any other illlness, days, weeks… and hope. And look after yourself in the meantime.

The Rainbow´s End. New Hope for Depression Sufferers.

Good News

Anyone who has ever suffered from clinical depression knows what a terrible sickness it is. It’s a devastating illness that leaves you floored, unable to enjoy life.

That is the bad news…

But it is also the good news! Clinical depression is only an illness – not a permanent state. Like measles or mumps, it has a beginning and an end.  If treated properly it can be cured. When it has passed, healthy living can and will resume.

The Big Lie

When clinical depression hits you, it seems as if your whole world has changed. This is the Big Lie. Circumstances in your life may have pushed you over the edge – a bereavement, stress at work, debt…  But once the illness sets in, it’s as if you have been cursed with the Midas Touch in reverse. Everything turns to ashes. There seems to be no comfort, nowhere to escape from the grinding, grey misery of daily life – and by night your bed becomes a battlefield for a wearying fight with insomnia, confusion and panic. Worst of all, it all seems permanent. You feel your life can never be the same again.

This is all so bewildering and scary you may think you are losing your sanity.

You are not Mad

At a deep level, something has changed…

You have changed.

But not permanently. The delicate, complex chemistry in your brain has been upset.  That’s all! You can and will recover.

Because depression targets our thoughts and feelings, it’s hard to get and to keep this perspective.  So it’s perhaps useful to look at the common causes of the illness. The more we know about depression, the more we can get some distance and be objective about it.  This is the first step in our cure.

 External or Internal?

Some books distinguish between depression caused by external factors (such as a bereavement) and the “endogenous” kind, caused by an internal imbalance in a person’s biochemistry.

This is not a helpful distinction.

Real clinical depression is always an internal problem – even if an external catalyst has triggered it.

In the dance of life, we may occasionally stumble and fall. But usually we get up and get on with it, perhaps nursing a bruise or two.  But if something makes you trip and you break a leg, that’s a different story! The external, traumatic pressure in that case has caused an internal problem – one that needs careful treatment. The body has its own amazing inner powers of self-healing, but to support them you will need a cast, rest, crutches and possibly therapy. Normal life is seriously disrupted for weeks after the initial incident.

Clinical depression is like that broken leg.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

As human beings, we are highly complex bio-systems. Myriads of subtle chemical interactions drive, and result from, our daily interaction with our physical environment at the level of actions, thoughts and feelings. It only takes one part of the chain to break down and the whole system can come crashing to a halt – at least temporarily.

So What has Pushed you Over the Edge?

  1. STRESS. The right amount of stress is the spice of life. But this varies from person to person. No one should accept excessive stress as a way of life. A cup will float for a while when you start filling it up with water – but then it reaches a critical point where just a few drops more will make it go under. For “52 Brilliant Ideas” to take control of your stress factors, check out Elizabeth Wilson’s practical guide: Stress Proof Your Life, ISBN 978 -1 904902-60-7.
  2. TRAUMA. Bad news can be devastating, but time usually heals, and life can go on. It’s not so easy when it has led to clinical depression. You can pile books on top of a shelf and it will withstand the pressure – but drop a heavy rock on it and it will crack. If this has happened to you and you feel damaged, you need help. If there is good counselling support in your church, use it. If not, ask your GP to refer you to the local counselling support service as soon as possible.  Online blogs may also provide support.
  3. TRAMMELS OF THE PAST – WORRY ABOUT THE FUTURE. One symptom of depression is an unrelenting sense of guilt or nostalgia for the past. Dr Martin Lloyd Jones’s classic book, Spiritual Depression gives a liberating, Christian perspective on this problem and helps us live confidently and contentedly in the present. His chapter on worry also helps us remember Jesus’ key teaching about the future: “Today’s problems are enough for you to think about today”. We have enough grace for today. When tomorrow comes, we will have enough then too.
  4. NUTRITIONAL PROBLEMS. Anti-depressant SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) aim to maintain the flow of serotonin in the brain. But what if your body is not producing enough serotonin in the first place? Vital in this process is something as basic as vitamin B. If someone has been drinking a lot of alcohol consistently for a long time, there may be a deficiency in this regard.

Many people have found the natural food-supplement 5-HTP extremely effective in treating depression. It is a substance which your body makes from tryptophan and then converts into serotonin. Holland and Barrett sell this in tablet form made up with magnesium and a high dose of B6. Other suppliers sell it unmixed. If you are not taking SSRI’s you could experiment by taking the Holland and Barrett tablet in the morning and a simple 5-HTP tablet in the evening.

Your body converts serotonin into melatonin, the hormone that triggers sleep. As well as improved moods during the day, you should soon notice improved sleep.

  1. THE WRONG DRUGS? Serotonin is not the only neurotransmitter which affects our moods. Norepinephrine (noradrenalin) and dopamine are also important. Yet SSRI’s are almost the only treatment that drug companies have researched and marketed during the past 30 years – despite their relatively poor track record of success. (They make a real difference in fewer than 50% of cases, according to Patient.co.uk. ) Researchers are calling for a more informed response to treating depression, rather than a one-tablet-fits-all approach. Newer drugs like agomelatine (Valdoxan), for example, aim to work on a number of neurotransmitter fronts and seem promising.

Broadly speaking, if you have anxiety problems, sleep disturbances and persistent sadness, you probably need to target serotonin in the brain. Use 5-HTP. Adding a GABA supplement will help with the jittery feelings, though it may leave you feeling a little woozy or flat. If the depression is marked by extreme listlessness, a lack of motivation and indecisiveness  (“atypical depression”) you may need to target norepinephrine (noradrenalin) specifically. Use Tyrosine. If your main symptom is a profound lack of enjoyment (anhedonia), your focus should probably be on dopamine.

A good number people have found that SAM-e (S-Adenosylmethionine) is very effective in treating depression, when taken carefully in low doses along with high amounts of B6, B 12 and Folate.  (SAM-e is not advisable for sufferers from bipolar disorders.) Some researchers believe that this natural supplement supports the effectiveness of all three neurotransmitters – serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. N-Acetyl-Tyrosine is another supplement which seems to promote effective production and functioning of all-important neurotransmitters that regulate our moods.

  1. BODY CLOCK – CIRCADIAN RHYTHMS. If anxiety is pumping your blood stream during the night with the stress hormone cortisol while the sleep hormone melatonin is trying to get you to wind down and rest, you will feel wretched… One sufferer described it as “pure torture”. Your upset body clock may then also make you withdraw more during the day, precisely when you should be more active and motivated. Melancholy feelings linger. This can be exacerbated in winter when the lack of natural daylight can seem to confuse our melatonin sleep-trigger even more – though a daily walk will help in this respect.

In helping restore circadian rhythms, many people find that small amounts of pure melatonin in tablet form can help. You may need something else to deal with the anxiety though. And of course, not all dyssomnia is related to depression. But melatonin is worth considering.

In all cases, supplements and medications should be seen as a temporary support, until such times as our natural systems are ready to take over.  Take as small a dose as you find effective (e.g. a half or quarter tablet) and try breaking up the rhythms with days when you don’t take anything.

Be Patient

If your nervous system has crashed, it will take time to rebuild it, so be very patient with yourself. When a house is being built, the foundations can be laid very quickly. But these need to settle before the walls and the roof can go on. There will be long weeks when there seems to be no progress. But as you stand and look at the messy building site, just remember that in a few months, it will be a beautifully decorated, furnished home, one that is a joy to live in.

Your Story

The above pointers are intended for those dealing with unipolar depression (not bipolar) and are meant to encourage us all to take better informed control of our own healing. Research the issues yourself if you can and talk to medical experts.  Meanwhile, feel free to request prayer, ask questions, or share your experiences by writing.  Others may learn from your story, and you from theirs.

Best wishes.

 

 

Contentment, Pleasure and Rest. Living in the NOW.

For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5: 18-20)

“Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.”

This is a great privilege and joy – to sail through life under God’s blessing.

That doesn’t mean we won’t have any worries, or that everything will be perfect. We have to wait for heaven for that!

But when we are in the lovely stream of God’s blessing, there is an engagement with life that carries us along in the flow. We enjoy the daily routines, confidently and productively working towards the next challenge, investing week by week in ongoing progress for ourselves and for others.

Our life develops as a wonderful tapestry of blessings great and small, daily and weekly contentment, month after month, year after year. We relish the familiar rhythms of rest and work. And the predictable, routine aspects of life are interspersed with those wonderful special moments – the hours, days, weeks of sheer pleasure and excitement. There are daily and weekly routines, and there are the big special events, all kept nicely in balance, God’s balance, as he continues to paint the unique picture of our individual and family life to his satisfaction.

We have the great blessing of living in the present and enjoying all (or nearly all) life has to offer us. We focus on present enjoyment as we engage with life under God’s blessing. If we do look back, it is with thankfulness because we can see God’s hand working across the years to make things fall into place for us. We are not hurt by nostalgia, because we have the great, ongoing blessing of enjoying the present. “He will not much remember the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.”

Each phase of life brings its uninterrupted supply of pleasurable engagements, with their rhythms of challenge and industry, rest and relaxation. In the midst of the ordinary, normal human life (which Ecclesiastes emphasizes) we are granted pleasure upon pleasure, sometimes ecstatically. There are the big special events, the unforgettable holidays, the times of special supernatural provision, the spectacular answers to prayer, the intense joys of church life and fellowship (e.g. special conferences and concerts – a foretaste of heaven); and the constant bliss and security of family life, the glorious earthly expression of the love God knew in his heavenly family before time was made, and wanted mankind to share it.

We enjoy the present – day to day, month to month, as year flows into year. We don’t worry about the future. We remember Jesus’ words that every “day” has its own challenges. The Here and Now is what we focus on. That is what we have grace for. This is where we find God’s help and provision – today. And we know that when tomorrow becomes “now”, he will still be with us, the same, omnipotent all-wise God who is our Father.

We don’t need to worry about the future. We can pray and find present help and provision (even if sometimes it may take a while for his answers to take effect and become evident). He is always with us. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Phil. 4: 5-6). We can “cast all our anxieties on him, for he cares” for us (1 Peter 5:7).

It is an amazing privilege and blessing to enjoy this contented lifestyle under God’s blessing, with his leading, his help, his problem-solving, the constant unfolding of his plans of blessing in our lives, individually and in our families.

We remember, too, with a smile and a warm heart, that all these overflowing blessings in our worldly walk are a foretaste of the more amazing, breathtaking blessings to come.

We have the Holy Spirit in us as the deposit and guarantee of that future.

All this is possible through the death and life of Jeshua Ha-Mashiach.