The Depression Dog

When others seem to be enjoying life, the black dog stands in the way for a lot of people. If you’re wondering WTF I’m talking about, watch the video. And if you recognize any of this, maybe it’s time to think about taking some steps to look after yourself.

The “Depression Dog” video is from the World Health Organization and well defines the experience of depression.

Apps for Health

I have an apps fetish. I think it is because I love to get things free or at least cheap. And some I continue to use, like “Moves.” It tells me where I have gone in a day (by car, train, walking, biking or whatever else) and how many calories I have burned and steps taken. When I get close to 10,000 steps in a day (takes me 2, 1/2 hour walks) I feel especially virtuous and youngish. I double my virtue by taking our 15 year old cocker spaniel.

So this listing of great apps is for “Counsellor Self-Care,” a title I particularly dislike but the article and apps are worth discovering.

Take a look and let me know if they are interesting to you.

 

The Slipperiest Emotion

Anxiety is a slippery emotion. It is the WD-40 of experience, making other emotions slither into all aspects of your life. Anger gets bigger and sadness can skid into depression. It also affects your smell — bet you didn’t know that. And it also makes you feel like you might fall over, so balance is affected too.

But that’s not all: anxiety has the effect of making you think others’ are looking at you or at least avoidant of you, and you wonder why you don’t really want to go to that party when you are anxious. And sometimes anxiety results in you feeling like people are violating your space, as in “Give me back the remote!” or “Stop asking me so many questions!” Anxious people seem to expand their need for personal space and they talk about boundaries a lot.

We all know that anxiety is an important emotion – it makes us aware of danger and so our biology has adjusted to winter weather (“get on those snow tires”), increasing density of housing or school size, the intrusion of not-so-smart phones. Many anxiety triggers can be crippling to normal social interaction and simple peace. A friend of mine says, “Don’t forget to breathe.” I always forget that

Here are some ideas about anxiety and how to handle the skiddy thing.

Exercise reduces anxiety. You probably know this if you see me for counselling. Most people who get a little exercise feel less anxiety and less depression too. As little as 20 minutes can make you feel calmer right now. I ask my clients to walk “in a straight line” (helps in the anxiety of circular thinking) for about an hour and not in a sweaty, comparative and competitive gym. 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening and, if you can do it, with meditative music (not Eric Clapton) works wonders.

Parents make us worry. Now before you think I am blaming your parents, like many things, high anxiety is partly in the genes, but part of the reason anxious people are anxious is because of their parents’ criticism, coldness and worried doubt.

Injunctions (these are anxious projections from parents or parent-like systems, to children) like “He’s not very bright, is he?” or “He can’t do it” becomes to the child, “I’m stupid” and “I’m a failure.” This tells us something about how we should parent our kids; that is, bring them up with affirmations like, “I love watching you enjoy basketball,” or “You got exactly the mark on that test you thought you would get” as opposed to “How many Cs was that?” or “How are you going to get into UBC with those grades?”

Think some new thoughts. It is probably pretty obvious that our thinking inculcates anxiety into our emotional system. Anxiety ideas are tremendously predictable, in fact, they are even boring they are so predictable.

One of the best ways of reducing anxiety is to think about situations differently than what causes you to be anxious. For example, before an exam, one could say, “I am a very successful person however I do on this paper.” Perhaps when we do our first oral presentation at Toastmasters, one might repeat a few times, “I am going to speak to these people as if they were my best friends on  my birthday.” In fact, that is great advice to preachers and teachers who are worn out after a talk or a sermon or who wear out their hearers. Suppressing anxiety is a bit like squeezing water. It’s much better to reframe the emotion with greater truth than, “If I don’t do perfectly, I am a royal screw-up.” Make sense?

Anxious people mind-read and jump to conclusions. Watching facial expressions causes lots of problems when you are anxious. Assuming the worst, you might well see the worst – this is called “perceptual sensitivity” and mostly it means mind-reading what others are thinking. “I know you think my dress is ugly,” might be an example. How to handle that? Appreciative Inquiry works well here. Ask an affirming question.

Meditation, reflection and prayer reduces anxiety. When I say this I hope that you don’t start ruminating. Rumination is circular obsession and this reduces thinking and calmness while increasing anxiety and worry. Worriers often say that they can’t mediate so they don’t try much, or they think they are meditating and decides that it causes them more anxiety. This is obsessive rumination not meditation.

One study found that four 20-minute meditation classes were enough to reduce anxiety for most people by up to 39%. Not bad.

Anxiety expands personal space. I think we all have an invisible field around us that we dislike other people invading. In front of the face it’s generally about 20-40cm; if others get closer without our permission, it feels interruptive. But some researchers have found that anxious people assume a larger personal and expect people to keep up to double that space away, perhaps about 3 feet.

So now what? You already knew you had anxiety and maybe now you might obsess on these things. I have a brief  manual on my web site called “MAD” and it is mostly about depression but it has a lot to say about anxiety too. Take a look if you like.

Vocation is Listening to a Voice

I am preparing for a seminar this week on “Mixed Emotions” focusing on the emotions of leadership, especially in the church. While preparing I remembered this quote from Frederick Buechner that I often read in one of my “Character and Call” classes. It moves me every time I read it.

Vocation comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a), but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Source: Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner

Feelings Are Meant to Be Felt

We are at my in-laws summer home in Pender Harbor. It is a beautiful place and it is a beautiful day. Christine (my daughter) is busy looking after our lives and Carole is helping out, as they chat happily. Brent (my son in law) is reading beside me and Jasper (my grandson) is wanting my attention. There are books spread out and games to trip over and a general feeling of urgency between him and me. I want to sit and do nothing and Jasper wants my playfulness, loud noises and funny faces.

At a particular point of exasperation with my non-involvement, Jasper hits my arm with all the strength he could muster, trying to get my attention I suppose, and I speak sharply to him. He’s not used to sharpness from me – he gets mostly big affirmations and funny voices and silly ways to walk. This is the kind of Papa that I want to be, not the sharp and defensive kind.

My scolding scared him and the urgency of the moment provoked a gasp of tears and a startled cry. He doesn’t want me to be close to him or touch him and he moves to the protection of his father’s arms while looking at me with strange horror. A few moments pass and his hurt falls away.

He stands in front of me looking sorrowful and I say to him, “Did I hurt your feelings Jasper?” “Yes Papa, you did.” I say, “I am very sorry for hurting your feelings Jasper.” And then everything changes as he says to me, “I’m not sad anymore Papa. I happy now. Are you happy Papa?”

I know that feelings are meant to be felt. But sometimes my hurt feelings stay with me too long. Jasper seems to have the capacity or the grace to let his hurt feelings go. Paul writes in Ephesians, “live as children of light for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth and find out what pleases the Lord” [Ephesians 5:8 – 10]. Seems like good advice to me.

Mourning for Maaloula (Guest Blog)

This paragraph is a blog from my “other ” work at Carey Theological College where Axel Schoeber is a colleague and professor. I have read about Maaloula and but the need and tragedy went by me too quickly. Axel’s comments have stirred that memory and caused me to think and pray. Perhaps it will you as well.

Aramaic was the language Jesus would commonly have spoken and was the trade language of the nations around Judea in his time. The use of the language has almost died out. One community that is making big efforts to revive Aramaic is the Syrian Christian town of Maaloula. A world heritage site, Maaloula has become the scene of repeated battles in the Syrian Civil War in the past week. Many Christians have fled, though some nuns are staying in order to care for some 20 orphans. There are reports that some of the rebels have killed Christians and attempted forced conversion to Islam. Apparently, control of the city has changed hands several times. Yet it is hard to imagine that this community will be able to return to normal functioning in any case. This historic Christian community is at risk. John Donne wrote, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” Similarly I am grieving with our brothers and sisters from Maaloula. (Axel Schoeber)

The Heaviest Emotion (David Ducklow)

This blog is from my son, David Ducklow who is now part of our counselling team. These words are from his blogspot, entitled “Grace & Peace To You.” You might want to sign up to get them regularly. Here are David’s thoughts on the heaviest emotion.

When I was at university, I would hear well-intentioned, married staff members talk about how singleness is a gift. But at the same time, you could hear a tinge of ‘poor you’ in their voices as they empathically looked at us, hoping that we would not remain this way for much longer. I was not impressed.

“Sure,” I thought, “maybe singleness is a gift. But if this is true, then loneliness must be a gift as well.”

At around this time I concluded that I was satisfied with the single life…  360 days a year. Except for days like February 14, December 24 and 25 and 31 and my birthday, I was alright with my non-marital status.

This is not a blog to solve the problems of single men and women, because we have no more or less problems than you or anyone else. We just need encouragement, someone to change the subject now and then, and a helping hand because loneliness is the heaviest emotion. And at one point or another, everyone needs to carry it.

Updated September, 2015.

A Memoir of a Marriage (Remix)

I have been reading a book by Wendy Plump entitled “Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage.” Because I mention the book does not mean that I recommend it for your reading; in fact I do not recommend it particularly. There is a chapter entitled “The Efficacy Of Therapy” where the author designs a kind of therapy instruction card for couples in crisis. I would like to give some comment to the several things that she says. (The author’s words are in italics.)

One, everything doesn’t have to be solved in one session. And, in fact, it will not! Short-term marital therapy is usually 8 to 12, one or two hour sessions over several months, and, of course,  we want the “problem” solved immediately. It really does take time to re-create what has been lost through ignorance or carelessness.

Two, be clear about your need. I often sit with people who think I am reading their minds. I find this humorous – or at least I used to – that people submit their intelligence to someone who is looking at them with care and concentration. Please do not forget that your purpose is for concrete advice and direction and not just consolation. So get what it is you want and need.

Three, remember that it is the two of you who matter most. It is very easy to allow the therapist to intrude herself or himself into the marriage. A therapeutic triangle is when the therapist stands outside of the marital dyad and observes, wonders and considers. As Wendy Plump says, “it is you and your spouse against the world, not you and your therapist.”

Four, each person in the marital dyad needs to take some responsibility for the efficacy of your therapy. The therapist may be marvelous in every way but the therapist cannot make the changes that the couple needs to make. The couple is really the expert on how their marriage can work as well as how their marriage is unworkable.

Five, be willing to hear that you screwed up royally and need to make amends… and then make amends. It is so common to use excuses, or explanations, or “context” to avoid personal responsibility. In my experience, no one moves ahead without consistent and thoroughly thoughtful apology.

Six, there are many ways to get out of the woods. If you are not going forward in your marital therapy with one counsellor, you can switch. There are times when you need consolation and support and there are other times when you need confrontation and challenge. Also, therapy is not necessarily better or more efficient then good friends, a supportive community, and the consolation and direction from healthy parents.

Seven, and most important, understand that you can bear it. Of course, most of us do not want to bear the responsibility or challenge of change. A competent therapist will help a couple defuse their emotion and increase their thinking. At least, that is the goal.

This is pretty good advice, whatever you might think of the book. Wendy Plump summarizes that “therapy has its value, but it remains a stubbornly limited one. I’m not sure that therapy can rescue any marriage…. A therapist will listen and listen and listen, which is one of the things you need most. Rescuing the marriage seems a tall order. But there is a chance that therapy can rescue you. Perhaps the expectation should end there. It does seem like enough.

Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage” by Wendy Plump, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.

Is Your Spouse Your “Best Friend”? (Carole Ducklow)

Good friendships are built on trust and trust takes time to mature and develop. What better context for this kind of friendship to grow than in the covenant of your marriage? Friendship involves intimate sharing, a shared place where you can talk about your feelings and hopes with honesty, transparency and ease.

How do you work with your partner to be each other’s best friend? Paddy and I have been married for 43 years. There have been great times of intimacy and some character-building tragedy. And through it all we have remained the best of friends. Here is what we have learned.

Assign top priority to your friendship. Nothing gets in the way of our doing what is most important to us. If you really want to be friends with your spouse, make time for it. It will be time well spent. One of the hindrances to spending time with your spouse may be the demand of raising your kids. They require lots of creative time, but it is important to remember that you were lovers and friends before you were parents,

Cultivate openness in your relationship. Honesty with your self and each other makes you a better friend. Discover the freedom that comes with being who you are. Find times to talk about your ambitions and dreams. Make sure that you know each other’s hopes and needs, especially sexual needs.

Dare to risk talking about your affection. Make, and use, a batch of little cards that say, “I love you because….” Fill in the blank and put them in lunch boxes for your kids, in jacket pockets for your spouse, in letters to your best friends. Use text messages in the same way. Your spouse, especially, wants to know he or she is loved.

Learn your particular languages of love. Each person needs to learn how to say, “I love you,” not only in those three little words but also through actions of respect. Do you show your spouse that you love him or her with their favorite meal, a bouquet of flowers, a small gift, remembering to do an errand, doing a chore without being asked? Keep your eyes open for common, everyday events that give you the chance to express your love.

Give your spouse freedom. Don’t let your unforgiveness or possessiveness control your spouse. Give him or her room to explore their potential, learn from their mistakes, and have some personal private time that is totally their own. Accept your partner – unconditionally – and encourage him or her to be the person they were created to be. And, as the seasons of your lives change, notice and make adjustment for the variations in your friendship.

A friendship that is tended and nurtured will do much more than endure; it will thrive. And being your spouse’s best friend will also enable your marriage to thrive as well.

Carole Ducklow, M.A., Registered Clinical Counsellor

Done (or “Disposable Art” as a friend once said)

July 1, 2013 and it is the hottest Canada Day on record and I have spent the day dumping old sermons into yellow plastic recycling bags.

Now please take this blog in the spirit with which it is written – total self-pity. I think that sometimes a little public pouting is good for the soul, in spite of what psychology claims, especially when one feels that “life as I have known it is over” (I have been muttering this a lot lately as I approach my 65th).

So, as I have said, it is a sweltering day, 30 degrees upstairs in our house, and Carole decides to go for a swim in the ocean but I mope downstairs where it is 10 degrees cooler and shuffle through 40 years of my paper life. For those who don’t know, preachers used to write sermons on 8.5×11 inch paper and drew outlines on acetate sheets for projection, way before PowerPoint and laptops but way after flannel graph.

Into the yellow recycling bag went all my Biblical brilliance. Sermon series entitled “Questions God Asks of Ordinary People,” “LAF, It’s Only the Church” and “Some Things I Learned Since I Knew it All,” were interspersed with less colorful topics such as “Romans in a Week,” or “When God Comes Down,” which sounds a bit frightening if I didn’t have a decent theology about who God is. He probably won’t incarnate again just to rebuke me for pouting.

In dumping my theological history, my occasional rants and revelations, my hope for a truth that can be walked in, my compulsions to see the church be what it can be, as well as some wisdom along the way, I feel relieved, finished finally. Done.

Seeing my soiled and written-on outlines, I can also see my anxious delusions as well as worthy hopes and good intentions and I am content that both get dumped together, slumming side-by-side in my yellow recycling bag. This seems fitting and the yellow tinge makes them look more antiquated, more special than they are.

It occurs to me that the best preaching that I could muster is to be recycled into Starbucks cups. So if you see the word “grace” or “hope” or “heaven” prisoned inside your paper latte cup, it might have been written by me.

You’re welcome.