I’ve been taking part in The Mindfulness Summit this month and today’s presenter was Ruby Wax, a comedian and mental health advocate, who uses mindfulness to control depression. During her talk she brought up mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and I’ve spend the last four hours looking into it. I was especially curious since MBCT was also mentioned by the moderator of yesterday’s Brain Injury Association of America’s Butch Alterman Memorial Webinar: the topic of their February 2016 webinar will be using MBCT after brain injury.
In my brief Internet search this morning, I’ve discovered that several random controlled trials have found MBCT to be effective in treating depression after traumatic brain injury. A quick Google search on “MBCT” and “TBI” yields a few dozen sites from journal studies and PowerPoint presentations to therapist who offer MBCT after brain injury services. Although the treatment is quite new and limited, I found it encouraging to see so much chatter. My own experience leads me to the conclusion that mindfulness helps mood.
Earlier today, before all of this, I had a headache and didn’t feel much like doing anything. But my dog wanted a walk, of course, so I stumbled to the closet and retrieved shoes, leash, walking stick, and poop bag. Off we went. But I was not paying attention. Usually, my dog walks are my mindful meditation time. I turn off the noises in my head and turn my attention to my feet and my footsteps. One foot is on my spastic, dystonic, paresthetic side and the other is full of arthritis due to my gait. The upper-motor neuron damage at the root of this is from my 1977 brain injury in a motor vehicle accident. Walking with one hypertoned, spactic and neuropatic side for 38 years has resulted in a lot of collateral damage. It’s like my feet belong to two different people. The only way I can make it to the end of my usual one-mile walk is to mindfully place and roll one foot at a time. Heel to toe. Heel to toe. I have to think about it. Once I get the stride, I look around at the trees and listen to the birds. I feel connection, love, peace.
But this morning my mindfulness practic wasn’t working because I had a headache. I stopped allowing myself to be in the moment. My feet and legs and hips hurt. My head hurt. I hated myself. I hated my life. I thought about my stupid head injury. I thought about past career failures and not going to work like other people I saw on the road at this hour of the morning. I punished myself by stomping along with an anquished expression. I didn’t wave to neighbors or talk to my dog. By the time I got home again I was suicidal!
I knew about mindfulness and tried to practice, but I couldn’t! Luckily, I sat down at my computer, turned on today’s Mindfulness Summit presentation, . . . and learned more about how to use mindfulness as a way to combat depression. Afterwards, both Google and The Mindfulness Summit directed me to a website, Mindful Noggin’, where I listened to a Ted Talk by Zindel Segal that brought it all together. Yes, I was on the right track.
I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder in the past and my neuropsychiatrist has told me that, for me, depression is a chronic condition. Segal’s MBCT is intended to help folks like me live with the disease and avoid relapse. By using mindfulness this morning, I could have thoughtfully short-circuited my downward spiral toward depression, so it seems. My headache had triggered sadness and sadness had triggered my glum mood and self-hateful thoughts. If I had been able to notice it, really notice the tumble-down effect, I could have thrown a harness over that critter and slowed it down. I could have harnessed attention to my sadness for a ride toward self-care.
Segal suggested that I should have paid attention to my sad, aching feelings. As attention to them washed over me, mindfulness would rest on the present moment. The present moment path should have allowed me to balance my sad feelings with present moment feelings. (Listen to the Ted Talk for more on how the brain works through this.) I didn’t have to tumble into my animal instincts that wanted me to find a solution, eliminate the worry. Suicide! That would get rid of my headache . . . and my past.
It sounds silly and simplistic, doesn’t it? But my depressed moods have led me to that awful conclusion too many times before. Those neurons have fired and wired together for so long that it happens so fast. Can the present moment pathway be the cure, or at least the balance? Let’s hope so. I think so. I may have to buy The Mindful Way Workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself from Depression and Emotional Distress and mindfully work through it.
Continuing education credits are available to professionals who want to learn more and use mindfulness with clients.