Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Use for the Monthly Blues

So I've been asked to share my method for significantly shortening what I call the monthly blues - 3-5 days every month that I feel strong emotions that could lead to depression. Three friends have asked, and I have tried to explain it. One said she thinks it could work but isn't comfortable to try it. A second now thinks I'm insane, I think. The third tried it and said it worked for her, too. But two data points are not a trend, so take it for what it's worth.

I will start by saying this: hope and love have protected me from the despair that could have claimed me as I came to understand this world we all share. Not that I do. But much of what I see, if I focus on it, could convince me that there is no hope. I have often succumbed to the negative.

So I choose to focus, most of the time, on the goodness that I find, every waking hour, in the people I happen to cross paths with. It’s a discipline I’ve been developing over a decade, and it has changed my life. It has shifted me into a place of openness beyond what I thought I would achieve. Not that it’s particularly advanced. But I’m still pretty proud of how far I’ve come so far, and curious about my potential.

Hope is the rope I use to climb out of holes, and I do whatever I can to strengthen it. I used to limit hope to what is rational, what my skeptical mind can understand in terms of science. Since then, I’ve slowly come to accept that science today is closer to the primitive ideas of leeches and alchemy than it is to a true understanding of this world, universe and everything.

But I digress.

The thing about hope is that I do what I can to strengthen it. And, every month, I use the irritatingly pushy, tearful hormones of my menstrual cycle to test its strength. Instead of looking for something to justify my clearly upset state of mind, I purposefully make stuff up. Imaginings worthy of my mood, and then taken further into the darkness of loss than the hormones ever intended.

I have a vivid imagination.

And so I test my hope against despair, to find out if I am still capable of coming back from that depth. How deep can I go and how thin does it stretch? Using my imagination to construct unspeakable losses, my most guarded fears, I gently and carefully push as far as I can into the worst thing I can imagine at that moment. It’s like yoga, stretching a muscle, and when I feel it’s enough, I wait there, breathe through it, feel it. My heart aches. My throat aches. I often cry openly. I begin to go numb as I did at the very depth of my previous experiences of despair. And then I slowly, carefully pull myself back to neutral, using hope and love.

I need music and movement to engage this process, so I generally find a time to exercise when there’s no one else around, the music chosen to aid progression in both directions. I provide myself with every support. I make sure I have water, and paper and pen if I need to capture anything along the way, and the time and privacy I require. The process takes about 20 minutes. If it doesn’t come, it doesn’t come - hey, at least I got a workout. I won’t force it; I just engage with the thoughts to see if they deepen as I move.

Afterward, I am a bit emotionally drained, but more clear, less prone to tears and sadness through my menstruation. I feel stronger, more able to face daily challenges and stay open, come out of my protective space.

I know that these simulations cannot adequately prepare me for real battle with myself if despair comes. It’s like Linda Hamilton’s character in Terminator 2. She got a glimpse of the future and she is preparing herself.

But my body is forcing me into this stupid, depressive state and I can’t seem to avoid it. It lasts several days if I do nothing about it. One of these workouts, and it’s gone. Done. Consistently. And when I don’t do it, the mood does not lift for at least three days, often five.

I’ve contemplated the possibility that it’s a natural bodily process intended to drive me into deeper reflection. For what purpose? Ah, questions!

I don’t think I’m too far off base in thinking of hope as a muscle. And love, too. I think strengthening them daily through good thought-food is important, but for me, I also need to stretch them, test them with weights, so I can believe that if I really need them, they are ready. I am ready.

In the end, I don’t need any of these musings to be true. I just need to do what works for me, and if I can clear that damn monthly funk with contrived emotional escalation over a single workout, well, I have just the imagination to do it.