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Coming Out of the Mire

For a change of pace, a bracing walk with the dog. Together we walk and run a bit, exploring the woods and meadows as if we have never been there before. The lump is just barely noticeable now.

I check out my diet of the last few days and usually discover that I have not been paying close attention to nourishing myself. So I head for the farm or the co-op and buy myself a supply of good, healthy, easy-to-prepare food in the guise of preparing for the worst, a pending episode of depression which no longer comes. So I enjoy eating all the good food—especially the black olives roasted in garlic.

In addition there is a very important technique that has become a mainstay of my protocol for reducing that lump. It’s called “focusing.” I had never heard of it until after my first book, The Depression Workbook, was published. Friends from England called and said, “Mary Ellen, we really like your book, but you didn’t mention ‘focusing.’ In England, we use it all the time to reduce symptoms.” I admitted, rather sheepishly, that I had never heard of “focusing.” They directed me to several resources and I was on my way to becoming a “focuser.”

This simple little technique doesn’t cost anything. It’s easy to learn. It can’t be done wrong. It’s best done in a quiet space, but I have done it on airliners, in crowded offices and even during boring lectures. It’s like meditation, but instead of totally quieting myself, I give an ear to what the feelings in my body are trying to tell me (I often don’t bother to take the time to listen). I can do it with a focusing partner as a guide, or by myself. I usually do it alone because when I feel the need there is often no one else around.

So OK, what is it? I begin by making myself comfortable and taking a few deep breaths. Then I scan my inner landscape, moving from place to place and noticing how I feel. Lighter here, heavier here, a bit jumpy here, placid here, euphoric there. It’s an interesting process of listening to myself and what my body is trying to say, instructive in itself, even if I don’t go any further with the focusing exercise—and sometimes I don’t.

Then I ask myself the question, “What’s between me and feeling fine right now?” I don’t answer with my brain. I let the answers come from my heart, my soul. As the answers come, I don’t give them any attention. I just make a mental list of them. One of my recent lists included feeling overwhelmed by having too much to do and not enough time to do it, concerns about an elderly, ailing parent, that funny place in my breast that I’m supposed to wait and see about, a hurtful comment from a good friend, a delicate relationship with an adult child.

I ask myself again, “Is there anything else that should be on that list?” And if my soul speaks, I add the comments to the list. Ah, yes, that awful television news piece about atrocities in a distant part of the globe.

Once I have my list in order and it seems complete, I ask myself “Which of these items stands out, which is the most important?” Again, I shut my brain off and let my soul answer. I am usually surprised. What I thought would be number one was not number one! It’s that relationship with my adult child that really stands out. Ah hah! I am learning.

Then I ask myself, “Is it OK to spend a little time with this issue?” If my soul responds with a yes, I proceed. If I get a no, I can return to the list and get something else that stands out as needing attention.

Coming Out of the Mire

Mary Ellen Copeland, Ph.D.

APA Reference
Copeland, M. (2020). Coming Out of the Mire. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 24, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 14 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 14 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.