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Mindful : October 2013
October 2013 mindful 55 health Increasingly, the most common way to treat depression of any kind is by prescribing pharmaceuticals. Gordon sees antidepressants as a reasonable—and sometimes necessary—last resort, if no other treatments are found to help. But, he argues, drugs are by no means the place to start. Gordon takes a more positive and empow- ering look at depression, but this is no Polly- anna approach. Depression can be serious, so do consult a doctor. But also take the time to consult yourself. If you are navigating any level of depression, you may be feeling miserable and disoriented, but, in Gordon’s words, “ that doesn’t mean you don’t have intuition. People have a sense of what’s right for themselves.” As for the rest of the journey, there’s no magic bullet. Personal effort is required. Whether Gordon is counseling patients or training other health care practitioners to take a more mindful approach, it’s the active involvement of tuning in to your body, exercising and eating well, and digging more deeply into the bigger questions of life that is called for. And on the other side of that jour- ney? There lies the possibility of living a more enriched life with greater resilience, health, appreciation, and balance. Mindful sat down to talk about the Unstuck approach with Gordon, who is the founder and director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C. He’s a gradu- ate of Harvard Medical School and a clinical professor in the departments of psychiatry and family medicine at the Georgetown Uni- versity School of Medicine. Tracy Picha: Why do you think it’s a bad idea to define depression as a disease? James Gordon: When you’re in the midst of depression, you don’t know where your life is going, you’re feeling unhappy a nd pessimistic, and you don’t feel like interacting with others. When you’re trying to navigate that kind of condition, I don’t think it ser ves you best for someone to describe that as a disease. Why not? First of all, it’s inaccurate, because depression doesn’t have a regular pathological set of symptoms or signs. They differ from person to person. The broader implication is that this is something that needs to be treated, a lmost always with medication. When we call depression a disease, we define it as something chronic and essentially out of the realm of one’s own understanding. We treat it as an enemy. In that view, depression is something to reject and suppress, rather than a situation where we have the possibility of learning what’s going wrong in our lives and how to put our lives back into balance. What kind of imbalance are we talking about? It may be physical, emotional, mental, conceptual, social, spiritual, or all of them at the same time. They’re all connected, so the idea is to look at the ways you’re not in balance at this moment. When I work with a patient, I know that sooner or later I will need to address all of these dimensions. Each is part of who we are, and they have a profound effect on each other. Can you give an example of being out of balance? Say you feel an overwhelming yearning for a man or woman who’s left your life. You can’t stop thinking about him or her—you’re totally focused on that person. That’s understa ndable, but it’s also a kind of imbalance. You have already set up the script, so you’ve got to watch your mind—watch how it’s creating that kind of imbalance. What are some first steps to regain balance? Healing is based on hope, connection, and taking a more meditative approach to our lives. It sta rts with knowing you can ma ke a difference in how you feel and how you live. Recovery happens in sma ll ways. Feeling connected to your body is importa nt. When you move your body—even if you ca n only walk a few blocks—you generally feel a little better. It helps to appreciate the things you do have, even while grieving what you’ve lost. Beginning a meditative practice can help you gain some perspective. → The hallmarks of depression are hopelessness and helplessness. My approach is grounded in hope and helping people help themselves.