I’ve been trying for many years to express what depression feels like to the people I love, to the people who don’t have it, so they can understand the behaviors that go with it and the impact it can have on the body. But when you’re in the thick of it, nothing seems adequate and you inevitably feel like a fraud and a failure because of this invisible disease. There’s no bruise, there’s no x-ray, no fever or rash.
For the last few years my research into wellness and healing has brought up an organization in California called the HeartMath Institute. It was constantly referenced as a place where they study the connections between the heart and the brain and teach people how to achieve heart coherence:
I’ve listened to interviews with the founders and their research sounds extremely promising. I just didn’t think it was relevant to my situation. I didn’t want to travel to California to be a guinea pig, I just wanted some help. Now.
Recently they popped up again in a book I was reading and I decided to have another look at their website. I was surprised to see something on their homepage called Inner Balance–a device that you clip to your ear that connects to your phone and an app. Because I will try anything, I placed my order and waited for it to arrive.
After you set up the app on your phone you can try it out immediately. It consisted of a screen with your heart rate variability, your heart coherence and a colorful circle that guides you in breathing “into your heart.”
The first time I used it, my heart rate variability looked like this:
The second time I used it, my HRV looked like this:
And I won’t bore you with the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th times, because they were pretty much the same. These were days when I felt “fine.” Not up or down, but somewhere in the middle. I started to wonder if the thing actually worked at all, what were these lines actually telling me? They all looked the same.
Then came yesterday. Mother’s Day.
Everything was fine until around noon. Then the decline came fast and furious, as it has been lately. Despite Dylan and Iain’s many attempts over the afternoon to rescue the day, I surrendered and crawled into bed at 6, just wanting to be comfortable. I spent two hours trying to find distraction through books, videos, news (never a good idea), until something Dylan had said hours before came back to me. Maybe you could try your heart coherence app…I was past the point of thinking that anything could help other than sleep, but I wondered if it would look different this time.
Here is what appeared on the screen:
For the first time my depression was looking back at me.
It continued like that for three minutes until I stopped. I checked back on my record to look at the previous days and then looked back at this jagged horrible line. Depression wasn’t an idea or a storyline, it was a measurable condition. Maybe even I hadn’t believed that until now.
Iain and Dylan had been following along with my HeartMath progress in the previous days, and had tried the device themselves. We had all looked pretty similar. Now I showed them the screen. Iain said, “I don’t care whether you’re a scientist or not, ANYONE can look at that and see there’s a problem there.” For a few minutes we just passed around my phone looking at my depression. It wasn’t me anymore, it was a thing I experienced, an ugly irregular line that contained suffering.
I had heated up the sauna (when in doubt, cook it out), and I sat there for twenty minutes thinking about that screen. Something was welling up inside me…an idea that if I could see it and watch it, maybe I could control it. Maybe I could get that line back into a rhythm. I showered off and was suddenly anxious to put the device back on and try.
The family were upstairs, so I silently hooked it back up and immediately saw a different story appear on the screen. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and tears welled up as my heart felt full from what I saw.
It was hope.