As a clinical psychologist, Mary Pipher, PhD, designed “healing packages” for her patients: activities, resources, and comforts to help them recover from trauma. Then, after Dr. Pipher’s book Reviving Ophelia became a runaway best-seller, she herself suffered from an episode of major depression and designed a healing package of her own. “The essence of my personal healing package,” she describes in her book Seeking Peace, “was to keep my life as simple and quiet as possible and to allow myself sensual and small pleasures.” She created a mini-retreat center in her home and modified the ancient ways of calming troubled nerves to fit her lifestyle. Pipher’s healing package looked like this:
She accessed the healing power of water by walking at Holmes Lake Dam, swimming at the university’s indoor pool, and reading The New Yorker magazine in the bathtub every morning.
She cooked familiar foods, dishes that reminded her of home: jaternice, sweetbreads, and perch; and cornbread and pinto beans with ham hocks.
She unpacked her childhood teacup collection and displayed it near her computer desk to remind her of happy times and of people who loved her.
She reconnected with the natural world by walking many miles every week on the frozen prairie, watching the yellow aconites blossom in February and the daffodils and jonquils in March, following the cycles of the moon, and witnessing sunrises and sunsets.
She read biographies of heroes like Abe Lincoln, and read the poetry of Billy Collins, Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, and Ted Kooser.
She found role models for coping with adversity.
She limited her encounters with people and gave herself permission to skip holiday gatherings and postpone social obligations. She erased calendar engagements until she had three months of “white space” in her future.
She embraced her body through yoga and massage. She started to pay attention to tension in her neck and other cues from her body and let those signals teach her about herself.
She meditated every day.
These activities were exactly what she needed to emerge from the other side of depression.