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Mindful : April 2015
saying to my friends, “God help me if I ever turn out like him.” I thought, since I was managing to succeed at work, I was in control of my self-abu- sive behavior. But one night, after ma ny hours of partying, I saw the truth of who I had become. When I found myself slumped beside that man and his equally dazed companion in the back of a broken-down limousine, I saw my own reflection in his wasted face and realized I was throwing away my life. I jumped out of the limousine, determined to transform myself. As for so many others, it was mindfulness practice that turned things around for me. My family urged me to spend a month away at a retreat center. During that time, I questioned everything I did and all that I Science shows that we have natural antidepressants within our brains and, with some work, they can be as powerful as—or even more powerful than—medication. believed. Answers bega n to come to me: I wa nted to stop abusing my body. I wanted to find the purpose and meaning of my life. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to heal myself, and eventually, I real- ized, I wanted to help heal others who faced some of the same challenges that had nea rly broken me. I trained as a clinical psychologist and began running Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) programs focusing on helping people relate to stress better and not relapse into depression. Now having worked with my own depressive tendencies a nd with hundreds of clients, I know that uncovering happiness is not about simply being drunk on life but is found in a profound and enduring experience of learning how to lean into loving ourselves and oth- ers in good times and in bad. It’s a happiness based on a sense of common humanity, connectedness, a nd purpose. While I still get hooked by self-judgments and negative thoughts, I have learned to be grate- ful for the good moments and a bit more graceful during the difficult ones, knowing that all things in life come a nd go. I’ve come to believe that I’m bene- fitting from natural antidepressa nts that are present in the human brain. When you hear the word antidepressant, you probably think of a pill: a medication used to treat your illness. Medications are one kind of antidepres- sant. But they’re not the only kind. Science is now showing that we also have nat- ura l antidepressants within our brains: mindsets (thoughts and behaviors) that build us up instead of tear us down and allow us to help ourselves improve our own moods. These natural antidepressants can be gathered into five main categories: mindfulness (the one I focus on in this piece), self-compassion, purpose, play, and mastery. By developing these natural antidepressants, you ca n strengthen your brain’s ability to act as its own antidepressant that can be as powerful as—or even more powerful than—the antidepressant medications. I recognize the value of antidepressant medica- tions, and I believe they can play an important role in the treatment of clinical depression. I’ve seen pharmaceuticals be lifesavers for some depressed patients, g iving them the help they need to engage in necessar y psychological treatment. However, I also believe these drugs are heavily overprescribed and overused. For ma ny patients, antidepressants cause more harm than good. They can create a cascade of mental health problems that go far beyond the depression they were prescribed to treat. Too many people get caught in the trap of jumping from one drug to the next or taking multiple prescriptions in order to offset serious side effects caused by individual drugs. Whether you are on antidepressants and they’re working for you, you’re on them and want to get off 58 mindful April 2015 happiness