Vigilance, or A Mindful Exercise

There are many metaphors for depressive episodes: the Black Dog; the darkness visible; the noonday demon; the unquiet mind. Being unaware of these metaphors, I called my episodes after their most prominent feature, The Black.

In each of my journals, I write multiple reminders to myself to remain vigilant in my recovery lest The Black return. I write about how The Black waits on the periphery of my awareness, every now and then sending out probes to search for a crack in my defenses to exploit. I remind myself how The Black preys on guilt or self-doubt or self-loathing, using its probes to find an opening to act as a springboard to growth.

By JohnD

I mention this because yesterday, and last night, I had an unwelcome visit from The Black.

I could feel its dark eyes upon me, could sense its cloying presence, could feel the dark tentacles which had reached out to seize the opportunity.

It failed.

I began my defense with simplicity.

First, a mindful coffee.

I inhale the aroma as I pour it into my mug, detecting acidity. Within the mug, I watch the play of brown, the flow and swirl of the pouring coffee. I watch a cloud of lighter browns and tans form as I add my cream. I watch the play of the light reflecting off the surface of the coffee.

When I start to drink, I allow the warmth of the mug to warm my hands, and follow that warmth up my arms, across my shoulders and chest and up my neck. With the first sip, I notice how the aroma has subtly changed because of the added cream, has become less acidic. I allow the coffee to rest on my taste buds. The coffee itself has a silkiness to it with the cream acting as a pleasant counterbalance to the bitterness. Upon swallowing, I follow the warmth down my chest to my abdomen, feeling it spread across my torso.

I watch how the interior of the mug reappears as the volume of coffee slowly diminishes. Now the light reflects within the interior of the mug casting shadows on the surface of the coffee. With each sip, the pattern of light slowly changes and the shadows slowly grow.

Throughout, I try to keep my attention on the experience of drinking the coffee. But my mind wanders and I can continue to feel the tendrils of Black. I now notice them without concern, I observe the tendrils, but I do not give them added substance, do not allow them a foothold.

I feel them retreat.

I turn now to a second tool, my writing. I begin by starting a tweet, then move to Facebook for the increased space then my blog. It’s a more personal issue and I want to explore it in my own way.

I allow the thoughts to flow into my fingers, looking for just the right word to express myself. But, from time to time, doubt creeps in, so I pause and allow myself to observe this doubt. I do not perceive the doubt as fact. I perceive it as just a thought and don’t judge it. I merely observe.

Then I return again to my writing, crafting phrases and sentences and paragraphs, feeling comfort in realizing that the sense of Black has retreated to the periphery once again.

At some point, The Black will make a larger effort, attack on a wider front trying to overwhelm me. Yesterday and today, it was a feint, an act of reconnoitering, a test. Today, my defenses held. What remains to be seen is if they will always hold. All I can do is what I write in my many journals – keep vigilant.



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