Relatively speaking, I am a meditation novice. I tried (and failed) incorporating this practice into earlier stages of my life, but it never really stuck until recently. Since attending a retreat in Sri Lanka a few weeks ago, I have started meditating at least once a day and sometimes up to three times per day. And, let me tell you, the outcomes have been surprising and incredibly encouraging. Here are my initial observations on how this practice has impacted my chronic depression and my life:
As I said, I am very new to this whole meditation thing, but I am excited by the promising effects I have already begun to experience as a result of being more mindful. Quieting the mind, especially a depressed or anxious one, can be a daunting feat but, in my experience, the benefits surely outweigh the investment.
I love being naked around other people. I don’t mean in the flashing-innocent-bystanders sex offender way, but in the naked-hippie-retreat kinda way. I’ve recently discovered the quiet power of exposing my bare body around others, sporting my birthday suit at clothing-optional baths, retreats, and hot springs galore. If you, like many of my friends, are someone who thinks they would never be able to do such a thing, read on. It’s truly not as scary as you think, and you may be surprised at what you discover about yourself when you’re immersed in a body of water with a dozen other naked strangers.
1. It’s Beyond Freeing - There is something to be said about spending some time in the form that we’re in when we enter the world. If you think about it, most of us wear clothing 23.5 hours a day, removing our clothes only to bathe or have sex. It can be nerve-wracking to be naked in a sea of naked strangers but, let me tell you, removing your clothes around others is a seriously liberating thing. Why? Because, in a clothing-optional space, literally nobody cares that you are not wearing clothes. Nobody looks at you weird, nobody judges you, and nobody stares at the flaws you think you have. In a world where we are constantly worrying about how we look and what we do, this ambivalence provides a level of freedom that is indescribable.
2. It Boosts Your Self-Esteem - Being in a clothing-optional place exposes you (literally) to a myriad of different body types – hairy, smooth, large, small, tall, short – you name it, you’ll see it. When I went on my first retreat, I realized that was the first time I had seen naked and near-naked bodies outside of advertising, entertainment, and pornography. These bodies had not been selected and airbrushed for their perfection, they were normal people with normal bodies – just like me. It made me realize that 1) I had been holding myself to an impossible standard of beauty and flawlessness that did not exist outside of a photo studio and 2) the body I was working with was pretty bangin’ in and of itself.
3. It’s Physically Comfortable - Many types of clothing and bathing suits, especially those designed for women, are inherently uncomfortable to wear. We’ve grown so accustomed to bunching underwear and scratchy fabric that you don’t really notice how uncomfortable it is – that is until you shed this outer layer. The first time I went for a swim in a pool without a bathing suit was nothing short of magical. I had never noticed how uncomfortable and restrictive it was to do the breaststroke in a suit of nylon, spandex, and elastic – aka the most uncomfortable materials known to (wo)man – until I tried swimming au natural.
4. It Restores Your Faith in Humanity - One of my fears going into a co-ed clothing-optional space was whether, as a woman, I would be the target of unwanted stares or advances from male retreat-goers. My experience, however, was so far the opposite it seriously restored my faith in the human species. I never got so much as a lingering glance or even an undesired conversation for the entire week I was there. I realized that rarely happens in a given clothed week of my life! People who flock to these types of retreats are normally there for spiritual and relaxation reasons, not to scam on unsuspecting women. I felt 100% safe and comfortable the entire time and realized that it was a nice break from the normal street harassment many of us, unfortunately, experience in day-to-day life.
Of course, it’s important to find a place that you feel comfortable and safe. Luckily, there are tons of clothing-optional places for you to choose from and the internet age has made it easy to find reviews from other newbies like you! Co-ed, single-sex, day-use, retreats, nude everywhere, nude only in designated areas – the options are endless and ready for you to discover your naked self!
Note: This article was originally posted on Thought Catalog. See the original post here.
Depression is an asshole. There, I said it. Thank you for your time.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t a profound statement. Anybody who has ever been afflicted by or close to somebody with depression knows that it’s shitty and ruins your life. And not just because it makes you sad sometimes or forces you to cry in the bathroom at work for no reason or fastens you into the same set of pajamas for three days straight. Depression is an asshole because it is inherently contradictory. This is the foundation for my theory of The Depression Paradoxes.
Paradox 1: You’re Numb Despite “Having It All”
Clinical depression has no rhyme or reason to it. Unlike grief or situational depression, which can be linked to a single problem or event, clinical depression often pops right out the blue clear sky. As a result, things can often be going pretty well for you but, out of nowhere, you start to feel absolutely miserable. For someone with depression, this can be even worse than your entire life falling apart ,because then at least you would have an explanation for your sadness. Not having a “reason” to be upset about something makes the voices in your head that much more cutting. “You just got a promotion, you ungrateful fuck! Why are you blubbering in the shower?” or “You’re on a yacht in the middle of Caribbean, sipping champagne with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and you can’t smile for one. friggin. second?!” (Anybody else have that fantasy? Just me?)
So hopefully this explanation makes it easy to understand why a common piece of advice spewed by everyone ranging from Instagram yogis to Dr. Phil doesn’t often work for people living with depression. You can hear a choir of soothing New Age-y voices crooning it now: Practice Gratitude. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for not being a greedy prick and being thankful for what you have. And gratitude is an amazing and powerful tool for those not in the middle of a depressive episode. But for someone agonizing in their own personal hell for no reason other than shitty neurotransmission, counting blessings can be a rough reminder of the fact that they are still suffering despite all they have been given. Even more, for someone with the messed-up thought patterns characteristic of mental health disorders, this can quickly feed into the cycle of negative self-talk and depression.
Paradox 2: Exercise Is Supposed To Make You Happy, But You Can’t Even Get Out Of Bed
I, like many of my fellow mental health warriors, have googled the phrase “how to fight depression” or some variation of that more times than Kanye West has googled “Kanye West.” (Mom, if you’re reading this, that’s a lot of times.) What pops up are several different blog posts listing the same strategies tested by time and scientific evidence: exercising, eating well, socializing, and looking on the sunny side of life! And, of course, all of those things are wonderful suggestions for people with or without a mental health disorder. However, to quote Carrie Underwood, “There’s just one little problem…” Depression makes those things pretty much impossible, especially when you’re knee-deep in self-doubt, fatigue, and crying spells.
Before you yell at me, I am a lifelong student of the sciences, with degrees in Nutritional Sciences and Physical Therapy. I am a big proponent of healthy living, both mentally and physically. Professionally, I have seen the positive impact of appropriate exercise, solid nutrition, and social interaction on people with mental and physical disorders. Personally, however, I have seen just how difficult it is to follow this advice when you can barely get out of bed in the morning. I, a physical therapist and normally an avid exerciser, had an entire three (okay, six) month span where I did not exercise a single minute. I used all of my social, physical, and mental energy just getting myself to, through, and from work. By the time I got home, I could barely keep it together enough to binge on Triscuits and The Office before crying myself to sleep at the thought of waking up and having to do it all over again. And what made it even worse was knowing that I should be exercising, I should be meeting up with friends, I should eat a goddamn vegetable once in a while. (Translation in my brain: I am definitely a waste of a human and probably do not deserve be living on this planet anymore.)
Don’t get it twisted—it is not my intention to for these paradoxes to function as excuses or reasons not to engage in methods proven for battling depression. It’s just that these practices require two things that are often lacking in the depressed mind: energy and motivation. The point of this is to 1) explain why depression is a total dick and 2) provide compassion and understanding of how depression operates for those coping with the disease as well as those living on the outside trying to empathize. It is only by identifying and demystifying these paradoxes that we can begin to address and modify our treatment strategies to make room for hope and healing in the depressed mind.
Note: This article was originally posted on Thought Catalog. See the original post here.