I come from a line of people with great knees. I don’t know of any relative on either my mom or dad’s side of the family who suffered from knee problems. I wish I could say the same of our family’s mental health, but the reality is that there have been some seriously troubled people in my family tree. Some of my dad’s relatives were so troubled that they jumped out of our tree and took their own lives. My dad’s brother did that, and so did his uncle.
While I have a wonderful disposition by our genealogical standards, this doesn’t mean that I am as cheerful as a Golden Retriever. I used to play basketball with a guy who reminded me of a Golden Retriever because he was always in a good mood. I once asked him what was his secret was and he said, “Staying hydrated.” I concluded that he must have been blessed with great mental health genes, since there are plenty of hydrated people whose moods run as rampant as a sled dog off a leash. I once dog sat for a Husky and let it off its leash, because I thought it had grown attached me. Big mistake. That dog had absolutely no attachment to me and kept running until it practically reached the next county.
Dog metaphors aside, it can be a challenge to manage our moods and keep this pandemic crisis from getting us down. If you feel depressed, I wouldn’t stay in bed and treat it like the flu—even if it might feel like the flu. I would get out and take a long walk. I would reach out to a friend or loved one. I would take things one day a time—instead of trying to figure out your whole life. The reasons it’s not good to think too much when you’re down is because a depressed mind tends to think depressed thoughts. A part of my job as a psychologist is help people identify depressed thoughts instead of automatically believing them. As a general mental health rule, you shouldn’t believe everything that you think. You should think of your thoughts as a la carte items and order the ones you want—instead of feeling stuck with the whole menu.
My sister used to say that she never believed anything she thought until she had a good cup of coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I have mornings when I don’t believe anything I think until I’ve taken a long walk in the woods with my dog. It has been a challenging year in terms of my dream life. I dream a lot about my brother and some of the friends I’ve lost over the years. I feel grateful to have the woods to process my dreams so I can be ready to help my clients by the time I get to my office. What is often more important than figuring out a feeling is having the time and space to feel it.