IT’S HARD TO KNOW WHAT REALLY HELPS a deeply depressed client make a breakthrough, but for Dinah it was about getting enough support to let go and grieve. She had been care taking her mother with a declining illness for 2 years when she lost her position at the high school where she had been school librarian and curriculum coordinator for over 15 years. It was one of those casualties where her job was replaced and changed with the downturn and her Principal didn’t stand up for her. Betrayal. Shortly after this her mother died. Then she moved into a new home hoping her relationship with her husband could improve, but not knowing how to feel more connected with him. Then a best friend died of cancer 2 months later. Then her dog died. When I met Dinah she was very depressed and suicidal. She had to shut down everything because it was too much to endure.
But, shutting down meant she couldn’t make decisions about anything. She was stuck in so many ways about how to move forward. She was going to therapy, coming to group, etc, but didn’t share how terrified she was of letting her feelings out. She was religious with her mindfulness practices, but she could go on autopilot and keep it all in her head. Movement practices were challenging for her because of this. I could see that she needed to be able to observe her locked-in thinking that was keeping her believing her feelings were too big and her grief was unresolvable. And she needed to move out of the control of her mind and into her body to release the grief stuck there.
Finally we got a glimpse of her desperate feelings in Week 3 of 8 in the Level I Moving Mindfully Group when she had to start writing Daily Pages. This daily journaling exercise got her back in touch with her teaching/ librarian self and she started letting her feelings out about this job loss. She began to feel a little more like “herself” but she was still very fearful and held back, like a ghost of her true self. But, she started talking more in the group and sharing more.
One of the most important tools for women in very painful transitions or layered transitions one on top of each other, is to have enough support. When we feel supported, or we make a commitment to get ourselves support ( a therapist weekly or a 8 week group commitment or home study with coaching) we can begin to “lean into” our feelings and have somewhere to release them. Feelings of loss and grief are big and scary and for some of us shameful. This means we feel we are bad when we have big feelings. We cannot get out of the shame cycle that they trigger us into and we defend against it because it is so painful. So, we remain imprisoned in our painful body of shame and pain and don’t know how to get out. This was Dinah.
And yet, if she hadn’t made the commitment to come to a women’s group in addition to her weekly therapy she may not have moved out of her depression without meds. I have found that support (especially from other women who are focused on growing and facing their pain too) gives us the ability to learn “self-empathy” which is the antidote to pain and shame. We have to learn the tools of mindfulness and self-love that create this “self-empathy” so we can break out of our cycle. A big part of learning self-empathy is making a time commitment to one’s healing.
Dinah continued to progress after Group 3 and was able to find a connection to her heart, her longing for connection again, and was able to start releasing some of her pain. She did especially well with her mindfulness practices and started doing yoga with a friend. Simultaneously, she started to open up and talk about her Mom and the caregiving leading up to her death. Since other women in the group were dealing with their Mothers and caregiving, she was able to see the similar patterns and feelings she felt.
Finally, She began to put together the intensity of the pain from so many losses and she set boundaries around how much she was going to let herself feel at any one time using her meditation practice to facilitate the grieving. As new pieces or overwhelming feelings came forward she would write about them in her daily journaling practice. This helped her separate and then slowly process them. She was well on her way when the group ended and her depression had lifted.