Working When Depressed and Anxious

Let me start by saying that I am a survivor of Katrina. This has, unsurprisingly, caused continuing issues for me, issues that get particularly accentuated toward the end of August each year. It creates certain particular challenges to doing occult work, but it also gives clear incentive to further my own self development.

One of the challenges that I face regularly is dealing with the interaction between mental state and daily practice. It frequently feels that states of anxiety and depression work at odds to doing a daily practice, sapping me of the energy and strength to do the work.

Yet at the same time, I find that these are the times when daily work becomes truly vital. It provides needed structure and consistency in my life when everything else (rightly or wrongly) seems in turmoil. It also helps me process the deeper underlying issues, so that in the long run I can become more functional as a person.

I also find that these and other issues are very common among spirit workers. It seem that for many having your identity torn apart is part-and-parcel with the shamanic experience, yet this can make doing the work in order to recover from that–and further yourself as a spirit worker–very difficult.

So how does one handle it, when one is suffering from something along the lines of depression or anxiety? Or simply when one has no energy from a mental/physical illnesses? Indeed, people with certain mental or physical conditions might have a variable amount of energy, and it can be difficult to plan some sort of daily routine in there on top of everything else that they are going through.

My goal here is not going to be to provide a detail guide to overcoming depression and anxiety when doing work, or even working through it directly (that comes later), but to provide a general overview of my general approach.

Getting the Proper Help

The first thing to do is to ensure that you are getting the proper help. See a therapist or doctor of the appropriate specialization (it helps to develop a list of them when you are feeling well, as opposed to putting it off until things get more serious).

Nothing I will say here is a substitute for talking to a trained professional. Even if you are simply feeling down or low energy, finding a counselor or a therapist can help provide perspective and guidance through the situation. Especially when doing shadow work we can end up going back into these dark places, and a therapist can help us bridge the gap to allow us to remain functional while going through the worst of it.

Part and parcel with this is to not stop taking your medication if you are on it, and don’t stop taking a multivitamin if you have been taking one.

Expectation Management and Finding the Right Exercises

The next step is to set reasonable expectations for yourself. Just because keeping up a daily practice is important does not mean that you should keep up your entire routine, completely unchanged from when you were in a better state. A martial artist who gets injured should very rarely stop moving entirely, but at the same time it isn’t reasonable for them to expect to do their entire practice routine without alteration.

The goal is to try and find a reasonable practice for yourself. This may take some experimentation to find what is reasonable for you, and it may be as minimal as brief daily prayer work or a five or ten minute meditation session. Or even just making sure that you take a few moments–three breaths–at some point during the day to feel and experience what is going on in your mind. It may also be as simple as changing between a sitting meditation and a lying-down meditation, or changing the time of day that you do it. Even doing something like brushing your teeth mindfully can be used as a form of exercise if you are having trouble adding anything else.

This also means to not beat oneself up for being unable to do something. If your state simply doesn’t allow a given practice or there are no spoons left for that practice, then either adapt it or find something else. To borrow a Buddhist idea: Dealing with the first arrow of the illness, it makes no sense to then deal with the second arrow of failing to meet unrealistic expectations.

Returning to Practice

Just as important as how you manage your practice while you are sick, it is also important to manage your practice while you are getting better. Just because you start to feel better doesn’t mean that you can return to your full practice routine immediately. It isn’t uncommon to fall off the wagon for a little while, in which case the goal needs to be to get back on in stages and steps, rather than trying to immediately start doing everything that was in progress before.

What works best for me here is to go in stages. Start with doing one thing and, if you can do it every day for a week, then add another. If you are having trouble, then just keep trying or simplify what you are trying to do. So if you are trying to add back into your practice doing a prayer four times a day, try making sure that you do it once and, if you can keep that up, extend it to twice, etc.

Conclusion: Keep Practicing

When sick it can seem very difficult to maintain any enthusiasm for practice or feel that it is doing anything useful. We all go through phases of this, cycling in-and-out of doubt, but when one is sick is especially important to keep doing the work even if it doesn’t seem like we are getting anywhere. There is no rush, and many times we are making progress even if we don’t realize it.

So keep practicing. In the end it will be worth it.

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