Posted in Some thoughts about my journey

What if?

My granny used to have a saying that went something like this: ‘if it’s for you, it won’t go past you’. It’s one of those things you seem to have say to people when they have a broken heart, as if words can really take that away and make it all better. Plenty more fish in the sea and all that….

I have a broken heart. My broken heart is a big part of my broken brain. When people say it’s all in my head, I can at least challenge them, because some of it is in my heart, rather than in my head.

I’m told I care too much. Does anybody know what that means? Is it even possible? I tend to look at things in opposites – so I care too much and the opposite is not caring enough. In light of that I don’t accept that I’m doing it wrong. I know where I want to be.

The what if is what if you had what was for you, and it went past you because you were mental?

What if you left behind who you were and the things you could be just because the person who made you all those things couldn’t live with the mental?

What if your brain went wrong and what was for you did go past you? What then?

A confused and unhappy WeeGee xx

Posted in Some thoughts about my journey

After the storm

I had a bit of a blip this week.Thankfully it didn’t last too long and with a little help along the way normal service was resumed sometime during Thursday morning. The ‘blip’ is done with, and I don’t want to spend too much time talking about it. That said, I should be honest and say that I hurt some people who care about me and I hurt myself too – whilst I’m trying very hard not to feel guilt, I certainly feel regret and it’s right and proper that I should.

When I have an episode like that it’s very loud and it’s very chaotic, and the period that follows tends to be very quiet and very still. That’s how things are now – quiet, still and mostly calm. I’m content with that.

The storm has passed – it’s safe to deal with some of the debris and important to remember that:

Storms make oaks take root” George Herbert

Posted in Reasons to be cheerful

What not to say

Yesterday  I was having a nosey around the Depression Alliance’s website and found an interesting list of ten things not to say to someone who is depressed:

  • There’s always someone worse off than you are.
  • No one ever said that life was fair.
  • Stop feeling sorry for yourself.
  • So, you’re depressed. Aren’t you always?
  • Try not to be so depressed.
  • It’s your own fault.
  • I think your depression is a way of punishing us.
  • Haven’t you grown tired of all this me, me, me stuff yet?
  • Believe me, I know how you feel. I was depressed once for several days.
  • Have you tried chamomile tea?

(full list here – also includes 10 things to say)

With the exception of ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself’*, I suppose I’ve been lucky in that no-one has said any of the above to me. Still, it got me thinking about the way people have responded to me when I’ve told them I suffer from depression, or more rarely, when I’ve been talking about the impact it has on me…

In my experience the most common and the most frustrating thing people say is one of the many variations of ‘but why are you depressed’ or, in other words, ‘depression itself isn’t a real thing; what’s actually the matter with you?’ Sometimes it seems that it is impossible for people to grasp that this is a question that a depressed person can rarely answer. Sure, some bouts of depression are triggered by an event or experience (the kind of event that everybody finds difficult to deal with – redundancy, relationship breakdown, bereavement). However, even when that is the case (bearing in mind that many episodes of depression have no identifiable trigger), by the time the illness has taken hold the starting point has almost completely lost its relevance and the thing that is the matter is simply the fact that you are suffering from depression.

At this point, I do feel I should point out that over the years a lot of fantastic people have said a lot of fantastic and helpful things to me. Often people recount their own experiences of recovering from depression and I’ve always found this to be an extremely encouraging thing to hear when I’m in the pit. There’s a lot of re-assurance to be found in knowing that people you know (or people that know people you know) have found a way to climb out and put their lives back together – it’s a little bit of hope to cling on to.

At the same time, I have received a great deal of practical advice (put your shoes on and leave the flat being a particularly valuable one) and recommendations for resources and support material (this one being my favourite so far). Above all else, people have been kind enough to offer a wealth of helpful words of wisdom which have helped me keep my head in troubled times. For example here’s a particular gem that a former counsellor passed on to me years ago and which still means a lot to me ‘Everyone who got to where he  is had to begin where they were’ (R.L. Stevenson)

Having given the matter some thought I have been reminded that actually, the people around me right now are pretty fabulous and the people I have shared my secret with, both recently and in the past,  have almost always responded with genuine empathy and compassion.

And that there is a reason to be a teeny tiny bit cheerful.

*To be fair, I think there was a certain amount of justification at the time and under the circumstances!

Posted in Moving forwards

This train terminates here

Transperth B-series train at McIver station

Until recently I was avoiding getting the help I needed. It wasn’t that I didn’t want help, or even that I didn’t think I needed help, it was just that I felt so completely beaten by everything that I didn’t know how to start thinking about where to start. To some extent, I suppose I had decided that I was beyond help – that this really was it, and there was nothing that I, or anybody else, could do to stop it. Over the course of the piece, there had been a few abortive attempts to get help but I always managed to straighten myself out just enough to be able to think I could manage my symptoms on my own; the lesson I learned during the months I was managing on my own was that I couldn’t actually manage on my own.

When you’re in the middle of an episode it’s incredibly hard to admit that you are having problems coping with yourself and that life has got too much for you. Nevertheless you need to try to focus the mind so you can reach in and grab yourself by the scruff of the neck; in the end, all you’ve done is take a wrong turning somewhere along the line and what you need to remember is (motivational quote warning):

When you board the wrong train it’s no use running along the corridor in the opposite direction

Eventually I found the strength to stop running and get off the train.

Step one in the right direction was booking an appointment with my GP. Over the years I have been fortunate in almost always receiving excellent care from the GPs I have been treated by (when I eventually engage) and my recent experience has been no different. Quite aside from the relief of getting in place the interventions that I knew I needed, just getting to the doctors’ surgery felt like and achievement and a baby step towards a better place. I left the surgery with a psychiatric referral and a referral for a refresher course in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as well as a prescription for the anti-depressant Citalopram. Anti-depressants aren’t new to me, but are a form of treatment that I have tended to resist in all but my bleakest times. It felt like it was a big thing for me to decide that an anti-depressant was right for me at the moment. Although I had a few concerns, they were quite easily dealt with in the end:

  • Anti-depressants aren’t prescribed in the short-term, so I knew that if I decided to go down that route I would have to continue taking them over a period of months and that a managed withdrawal would be necessary – on balance that didn’t seem like a significant reason not to take them
  • I haven’t always had a good experience with anti depressants, on occasions becoming numb and more withdrawn and on others experiencing a significant worsening of my self-harming problems – I chatted this through with the doctor and we agreed that I would continue regular appointments with her throughout the course of treatments so that my state of mind was properly monitored. We also spoke about my strategies for managing any crisis intervention that might be required, and I felt a little better knowing I had a plan.
  • I’m only too aware that medication alone is not the answer to depression – this isn’t a real concern if the other things you need are being put into place
  • I was worried about short-term side effects having an impact at work – this one didn’t really fly, because my symptoms were already affecting me at work

Once I’d had the chance to talk and think things through, it seemed like a good idea. At the heart of my decision to medicate was the simple fact that I needed to get from a to b and that once I’d dragged myself through the motions I didn’t have any energy left to make that particular journey.

I’ve been taking the Citalopram for just over three weeks now and feel like it is helping to clear the fog. I did experience some early side effects (restlessness, heightened anxiety and difficulty sleeping) but these passed in a fairly quickly. I was also a little bit too ‘up’ for a couple of days, with a ridiculous number of disjointed ideas and plans flying around my head but this also seems to have passed – I wonder if I just wore myself out?!. Now I’m starting to feel a little bit more like myself at last; Citalopram hasn’t been, and isn’t likely to be, a miracle cure. Still it feels like a tiny chink of light is shining into my dark space and I feel able to think about what I can do next to support myself and manage my symptoms.

To return to my train analogy, it feels like I might be about to board the right train…… I suppose this is where the hard work starts.

Posted in Welcome to my world

How to lose friends and alienate people

As I’ve already mentioned somewhere, things have been pretty desperate for me for a while now. I’d done a remarkably good job of building walls up around myself and was well and truly stuck at the bottom, spinning wildly and reaching for calm but finding none. Things had got so bad that I’d forgotten everything I knew about managing my ever-present dark passenger: I was at the end of my rope, and had a very strong and persistent desire to end my life.

Somehow though, I carried on getting myself to work and getting through each day, and for a little while it continued to be a distraction between the hours of nine and five. As time went on, the gradual creep that had characterised my depression ‘behind closed  doors’ started to crowd in during the working day as well. Rather than work being a distraction I started to feel distracted at work. I became slower at doing things than normal and far less organised, started putting off difficult tasks, and even began to avoid conversations with colleagues.

That I should come unstuck at work filled me with familiar and self-perpetuating fear, guilt and blame. I felt beaten and didn’t know what to do next (An old maxim for me at my worst being ‘I simply cannot see where there is to get to’ (Sylvia Plath)). It seemed to me that decline at work was the beginning of round two in me versus me, and I wasn’t at all sure I was up for the fight, which in my mind was another reason for giving up the good fight altogether.

I limped on for a little while through the second wave. I was aware that things were going badly wrong, but was impotent in the face of it. It was all I could do to get through the motions (the motions being getting up, showering, getting to work, doing my work, coming home and getting to bed) and I felt I had become incapable of doing anything beyond that. When at home I cried a lot, did a lot of pacing around and spent the rest of the time lying in a prone position waiting for the darkness to pass. That was the story of my life for about three months.

And then came a particularly gruelling day when I finally hit the bottom of my pit. I’ve thought long and hard about whether the details of my ‘rock bottom day’ are suitable material for my blog and have decided that all I’m willing to say is that it was gruelling and it was rock bottom. It was bad and beyond that, I guess I’m what saying is that you can take my word for it.

I woke the next morning with the usual feeling – part guilt, part dread, part regret but over the next few hours the feeling began to change. It was still guilt, dread and regret, but it started taking on a new quality. It was directed not only at myself but also at the two significant people who had been on the receiving end of a very frightened, desperate and selfish me the preceding day. Worth noting, I think, my view that empathy is an unusual feeling in the depressed, not because depressed people are bad people but because depression is so personal and inward that thoughts of its impact on those around you are simply not available.

My descents into the pit have almost always followed the same pattern from start to finish, but particularly towards the finish. In my experience you eventually hit absolute zero and are faced with a simple fight or flight decision, after all, you’ve decided you can’t get any lower and it’s a blatant and straightforward choice after that. Don’t take this the wrong way, but it’s as if sense finally kicks in.

In terms of how I was feeling about myself, I think I’d been flat-lining for months, so there was no bottom to be found there (those who know me well, will know it was all I could do not to squeeze a lame bum related joke in there*). Instead it was in terms of my relationships with others that I eventually found the bottom. Knowledge of the distress that I was causing, and let’s face it, the damage that I was doing to two very important relationships forced me to think about the potential outcomes. Either these people were going to receive a very unpleasant piece of news and I was never going to see either of them again, or I was going to try to get back to myself and then get to know them over again with a well head on my shoulders and plenty of other things going on beyond an illness that has dogged me too long.

When I started writing this blog I was simply sending some thoughts into the ether – I wasn’t writing to or for anyone but myself. Nothing’s changed, except that the last little bit of this post was written fondly for people I know well. It’s a thank you and apology rolled into one. It’s a little nod towards what they have done for me and an indication that I’m finally ready to start taking over the reins again. And now normal service will be resumed.

I’m aware that this one is a little meandering, but I got to where I was going in the end, and the back story was important, I think.

*But then I went and did it anyway, in a roundabout kinda way

Posted in The small things lists

All the small things

I’m conscious that the lists I mentioned in my earlier post must seem rather small to a ‘normal person’ (it’s okay, I’m the one with mental health issues – I’m allowed to indulge in a little bleak humour if I feel like it) and to be honest, they’d probably seem quite small to me if I were feeling a little better. But I’m not feeling a little better quite yet and they’re about as big as I can get. For now.

Depression brings with it all kinds of negative thinking  – paralysing feelings of hopelessness, an overall sense of dread and rather distressing thoughts of self harm to name a few – but none are more damaging that the guilt and shame that you somehow end up heaping upon yourself during a low period. The smallest of ‘failures’ is turned into a major catastrophe in the blink of an eye and the guilt and shame that you feel in light of this self imposed fail mark is enough to render you utterly defeated and send you yet deeper into the mire.

With this in mind, it important that, as I try to reach in a pull myself out of my pit, I don’t set myself unrealistic targets. What I’m actually  trying to do is build achievements little by little without the prospect of guilt looming large and challenging my progress.  So yes, the things on my lists (from here on in to be known as the ‘small things’ lists) seem fairly insignificant in the main scheme of things but I refer you to the wise words of Vincent Van Gogh:

‘Great things are done by a series of small things brought together’

So my take on it all is…. what he said.

Is seems like a good time to review my progress with the small things lists. It’s not looking too bad really (note the things I’d like to do are a little longer term so nothing to report just yet):

Three things I need to do:

  1. Visit my friend and her new baby: In the diary.
  2. Get a haircut: Well no, not yet. But then I haven’t decided what I want to do with it yet.
  3. Make a new Spotify playlist: Most definitely in progress. It’s going to be a masterpiece so may take a while to complete.

Three things I like doing:

  1. Walking in pretty places: Did you see the weather this weekend?!
  2. Wii Fit: Check. Three sessions under my belt.
  3. Reading: Finally got around to starting José Saramango’s Death at intervals.

I think that’s looking pretty good, no? Go me!

Posted in Welcome to my world

Why would you eat an elephant?!

Afrikaans: Olifantbul in die Nasionale Etoshaw...

I was 15 years old when I was first diagnosed with depression which means I have lived, side by side with my dark passenger for more than half of my life. The symptoms come and go, over a matter of days, or weeks, or latterly, over a considerable number of months.

Managing the symptoms of depression can be an all encompassing experience. When you can barely bring yourself to get out of bed or switch the kettle on, living any kind of ‘normal’ life can seem to be completely unachievable. Sometimes the worst of it can be the frustration found in the knowledge that the things you have withdrawn from because of depression – even the simplest of things, like going for a run, cooking a meal, reading a book, or, for that matter, writing a blog – are the very things that will help get you started on a path towards a better place.

Over the years, I’ve gathered a great many motivational quotes (perhaps one day I’ll post a list!). It might sound a little daft but my treasured phrases and sayings have helped drag me through some pretty low times. My favourite of all is to be found in the title of this blog: ‘how do you eat an elephant?’ The answer of course, is ‘bite by bite!’ To my mind, trying to beat depression is a lot like the thought of trying to eat an elephant. It seems like a gigantic, overwhelming and impossible task in its entirety, but perfectly digestible when approached in bite sized chunks (no elephants were harmed in the writing of this post).

And so this is the story of my attempt to eat an elephant; my story about living with, and in the fullness of time, perhaps beating depression. It will certainly be a blog about my efforts to make some positive changes to ease the symptoms, and in honesty, might also be about some of the setbacks I experience along the way.

Most of all it will be about me: a person who is much bigger than the illness I suffer from. It often seems to me that at the heart of the stigma still associated with mental ill health is an assumption that a person in mental distress is nothing more than the manifestation of their symptoms. I think this is an unfounded and completely wrong-minded notion and hope that maybe my blog can play a small part in challenging it.

Wish me luck. I’ll see you on the other side.