Posted in Some thoughts about my journey

A cunning plan

I can be a bit flakey about keeping things up so today I’m feeling really rather pleased with myself because I’ve managed to keep writing my blog, reasonably regularly, for five whole weeks. Although five weeks isn’t the longest of times, it is definitely long enough to give me a little lift heading into the dreaded Bank Holiday weekend.

I’ve spent a little bit of time trying to work out what I want my blog to be when it grows up. Sometimes I think I want to use it to record my progress, sometimes I think I want to use it to set out how I feel, and sometimes I think I want to use it to write down what’s been going in my world.

And then it occurred to me that it can be all of those things as well as anything else I decide I want it to be in the future – it is my blog after all!

If I’m going to be writing about the things that go on in my world, I’ll probably have to mention my friends and family from time to time and since I don’t even use my own name when blogging it didn’t feel right to be referring to those people by name. At the same time ‘my friend’ and ‘another friend’ and a ‘different friend’ might get a little tiresome and confusing in the fullness of time.

Anyway, I’d already written about a few of my nearest of dearest giving each one an alias along the lines of a Mr Men character so I thought I’d revive that naming convention just in case I wanted to distinguish between the people who are part of my story. What a cunning plan! I posted a list here, but if and when I use them I’ll give the person a suitable introduction the first time round*.

*Actually, it’ll be the next time round because I’m off to the pub with Mr Hungry, Mr Hilarious, Mr Brave, Mr Nice and Mrs Sparkle shortly and I haven’t got time to do the full into bit right now!

Posted in Welcome to my world

Long live the Queen

Okay. First things first. The title* of my post gives me the perfect opportunity to include Frank Turner song #2 in my blog. Exciting!

Now that’s out of the way I can get down to business.

Not even a dyed in the wool republican** like me could fail to notice that there’s something to do with the Queen going on this weekend. Something about diamonds, a concert and some boats. There’ll probably be fireworks. In fact, if there aren’t fireworks, I’ll eat my hat.

I try not to be cynical about these things, I really do. But a) pomp and ceremony just isn’t my thing and b) an ambivalence towards ‘big events’ seems to run in my blood. Generally speaking, the bigger the event, the more underwhelming I manage to find it.

I’m not writing to complain about the monarchy, or about pomp and ceremony, or even about the amount of money that we’re spending on having a national party for some old bird who could wipe out third world debt with her personal fortune and could therefore afford to buy her own sausage rolls.

I’m writing because I don’t like weekends too much and I’m dreading this one –  with all its ‘coming together of a nation’ and enforced jollification – even more than normal. I’ve got myself braced for a lonely one. Depression is a lonely illness and I find myself lonely at the best of times so I’m a bit worried about how I’m going to feel when it seems, to all intents and purposes, that I’m the only person in the UK who isn’t having any fun this weekend….

I’m meeting a friend for brunch on Sunday so that’s a few hours taken care of but for the rest of the time a plan is required and a good one at that. The first part of Saturday has therefore  been given over to making that plan. As is often the case, it’ll involve an extensive and elaborate list of distractions and challenges and a spot of ‘hanging on in there’.

Four days is a long time, isn’t it? Maybe one day I’ll start looking forward to the weekends and bank holidays again. But for now I’m battening down the hatches and readying myself to spend a longer time than usual avoiding the edge of the cliff by myself. Wish me luck.

* I considered calling it ‘the Queen is dead’ so that I could squeeze something by The Smiths in too, but I thought better of it in the end.

** For the avoidance of doubt I mean republican in the sense that I oppose the monarchy, not that I’m a US Republican type…

Posted in Some thoughts about my journey

All shapes and sizes

I’m not a very big person (I mean in stature, but sometimes I feel small in other ways too).

I’ve always been a not very big person – in part that’s just the way I’m built and in part that’s because I struggle with food.  I struggle with food because I spent a fair few years of my life on a starvation diet in the misguided belief that I rather wanted to disappear completely. Thankfully, I don’t struggle with food nearly as much as I used to and I nearly always eat enough of it every day. In essence I’ve come to an understanding with myself about food and about my weight which, for the most part, works pretty well. I say for the most part because my weight is still susceptible to go up and down a little. Right now I’m hovering around the ‘telling off mark’ which is the point at which my nearest and dearest step in and ask, in so many words, if I’m struggling more than I’m letting on. I can’t tell you how important it is to me that people are looking out for me in case I stop looking out for myself and I am incredibly grateful to have those kind of people in my life. The worst case scenario for me is going back to the dreaded days of the starvation diet – I think it scares me more than anything in the world*

One of my mantras is that being too thin is bad for you in much the same way that being too fat is bad for you. Which kinda brings me neatly on to the point of my ramblings today. When you’re thin people (and by ‘people’ I mean complete strangers) feel the need to tell you you’re thin. Quite aside from this being a major case of stating the bleeding obvious** it’s none of their business and is, in my outraged opinion, incredibly rude. I know beyond all shadow of a doubt that if I was overweight people at bus stops wouldn’t say “My god, you’re soooo fat”. Shop assistants wouldn’t say “Size 24 – that’s MASSIVE”. Waiters wouldn’t say “I’d skip the pudding if I were you”. Yet the opposite of all of these things in a great many variations have been said to me. And I really don’t think it’s okay – in fact, it’s one of my bug bears.

Sometimes, comments like that hit me at the wrong time and can make me ‘go a bit wobbly’ because I’m a bit sensitive about my weight. In some ways, the fact that I’m a bit sensitive about my weight is my problem – random strangers can’t be expected to know about it can they? Then again, even normal people (I use the phrase with my tongue firmly in cheek by the way) can be a bit sensitive about their weight and I think that might be the reason most people wouldn’t dream of pointing out to a stranger that they’re on the large side. We seem to recognise that when people are overweight there might be all kinds of reasons for that fact (illness, medication, eating distress, poor diet etc) and also make the (perhaps wrong***) assumption that they’re not over the moon about it. And so we generally don’t point out to people that we think they’re too large – It’s about knowing it’s none of your business, it’s about common courtesy and it’s about recognising that rightly or wrongly quite a lot of us are a bit sensitive about the size of our bodies.

My point? In a nutshell it’s that a bit of common courtesy for those people we think are too small wouldn’t go amiss either: manners, surely, are for people of all shapes and sizes.

Rant over. The end.

* It scares me even more than moths which, for the record, scare the absolute shit out of me.

**A bit like the famous “you’ve had your hair cut” Good spot Sherlock; I’d never have known ‘cos I wasn’t there at the time.

***But that’s a whole other post.

Posted in Moving forwards

Down but not out

I haven’t been ‘myself’ for the last couple of days. In fact, I’ve been having what I affectionately refer to as ‘a bit of a maddy’. A bit of a maddy is what happens when I get too close to the metaphorical cliff edge* I talk about so frequently. A bit of a maddy feels a lot like unravelling and can strike at any time, often without warning. It’s my world at its most violent and chaotic. It’s the worst of me and usually isn’t too far ahead of ‘the bottom of the pit’.

Of course, this wasn’t supposed to happen, not this time or at least not so soon. Still. You are where you are and all that, and it’s time for me to work out how I got here and then go about starting to put it right. Here goes….

Problem 1 – I’m starving hungry, which in turn makes me paranoid and even more miserable. It also stops me sleeping – see problem number 2. I don’t not eat deliberately (I think that’s the correct double negative)  I just forget to notice I’m hungry. I know this is a hangover from days gone past and I also know the only remedy is to eat!

Solution 1 – Easy. Today has to be 3000 calories day whether I like it or not. Pass the double cream and Mars Bars… (n.b. other high calorie chocolate snacks are available)

Problem 2 – I’m exhausted. It’s not just that I’m not sleeping, although that’s a large part of it – I’m emotionally exhausted too. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the things I’m not very good thinking about. The diversionary tactics have gone out the window.

Solution 2 – Easier said than done, but not optional. I need to find somewhere to put the thoughts. I’ve got a list of tasks for the day and can focus on that, I’ve got work to be at and I’ve got a really good book (the Alchemist – I can’t believe I haven’t read it before now). I’ve also got my trusty elastic band to snap the thoughts away. When I’m calmer, I’ll be able to grab a few hours of much needed sleep.

Problem 3 – I hadn’t left the flat for a few days resulting in something akin to cabin fever setting in on top of everything else. There was also quite a lot of guilt associated with not being at work**

Solution 3 – Solved reasonably easily by going into work, albeit a little on the late side. On the upside, I can stay late leaving less evening to get rid of at the other end.

Problem 4 – I decided I didn’t need the pills after all. Not the smartest of moves, but a characteristic one. Thing is, I started to feel better and came to the conclusion that if I was better there was no need for the chemicals. Epic fail as the kids say***

Solution 4 – Easy as popping a pill. I’ve only missed four tablets so all is not lost. I just need to take them and accept that if I feel better it’s probably because of them not in spite of them. Dose of realism also required.

The most important thing now is to take some action quickly rather than heading into the weekend in this state and (in a return to something approaching optimism) I think I’ve already made a good start in attempting to deal with some of the problems today. By tomorrow I’ll be nourished and well rested (how’s that for determination?!) and ready to make a nice safe weekend plan. On which note – in an attempt to find some kind of bright side – I can say with absolute certainty that the Safety Plan works, because here I am safe and sound(ish)



*I picked this up from Ruby Wax who I once heard saying “when you’re depressed you don’t know whether to jump of a cliff or get a manicure” and thought it summed it up quite neatly.

**I’m incredibly lucky to have an employer who understands and supports me

*** I felt incredibly old writing that but I’ve gone and done it now.

Posted in Some thoughts about my journey

Back to the drawing board

I’ve spent a lot of time reading the blogs of other people who have similar difficulties and challenges to me and I’ve been amazed how many of them there are, and how many have struck a chord with me. People seem to blog for all kinds of reasons – for some it’s about therapy, for others it’s venting and for some it’s about reaching out for a little bit of old-fashioned human kindness. The obvious question to ask myself now is ‘why am I really blogging’?

When I started my blog a few weeks ago I decided I was going write about my attempts to live well and overcome depression. I knew I wanted to record my journey, and that I maybe wanted to share it if anyone was interested but above all else I was determined that the daily ins and outs of my mental health were going to be something of a side issue: I wanted to keep my writing upbeat and positive – this was going to be about progress and recovery and everything else was getting left out. I still think this was a noble aim, but after almost four weeks of writing I’m starting to wonder if my approach is a little too rigid and perhaps, unrealistic. My rules allow me to say I suffer from depression, that I had a bad day, that things aren’t going well, but they don’t allow me to spend any time explaining or analysing what any of that feels like or what it really means. And those things, are probably the biggest part of my story.

I live with the day to day impact of depression; It’s a big part of my life and in banning myself from writing the truth about it I’m leaving big parts of the story out. I don’t want to change tack completely, and it’s still really important for me to focus on achievements (one of my little aims in life is to make sure that the word ‘depression’ is never bigger than the word ‘achievement’ in my tag cloud!)  but I called this blog ‘how do you eat an elephant’, not ‘the elephant in the room’!

So I’ve decided that it’s important that I allow myself to recognise the reality of being me in my writing here. I don’t necessarily want to turn this into a mirror image of the depths of despair that my mind can come to, but I don’t want to pretend that stuff isn’t happening either. After all, the real achievement is that I carry on – getting little things done and getting slightly better every now and again – in spite of the reality of being me. What I think I’m saying is that ‘me’ is important even if ‘me’ isn’t always pretty.

As I’ve already said, nobody is ever going to want to shout about mental illness from the rooftops, but if someone like me (who has even gone to the lengths of setting up a blog just to write about depression) isn’t willing to acknowledge the truth of it then mental ill health seems destined to always have the quality of a dirty little secret.

Posted in Book reviews

Goodreads book review – The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ*

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel ChristThe Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I came to The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ having read the His dark materials trilogy but found none of the withering and thought provoking criticism of the power afforded to organised religion in those works here. In fact, Pullman’s retelling of the story of Christ felt a little juvenile and little lazy. It added nothing salient to the weary debate about the value and nature of religion, and at times seemed like an unnecessary and cheap point scoring exercise.

Of course Philip Pullman is no stranger to religious controversy and perhaps, given a certain inclination of faith The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ is a deeply controversial work. For my part – not being of that particular inclination – I can only set aside the apparent controversy and conclude that without it this is little more than a story about the nature of stories. I’ve read plenty of stories about stories before; the blurred lines between fact, fiction, truth, history and memory have been explored time and again elsewhere and sadly this book didn’t feel anything like a stand out example of an over familiar post-modern genre.

It’s disappointing not to find something positive to say about a novel, so I suppose it’s fair to say that there is some charm in the fable like nature of this one – although perhaps this owes more to the gospels themselves than to Pullman’s rendering of them.

View all my reviews

* A note on book reviews

Posted in Practical issues

Joining the back of the queue

I had a bit of a setback earlier this week. Turns out, the waiting list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in my borough is considerable and I’m at the back of the queue!

I’m feeling a little cut adrift, to be honest. The psych appointments are all well and good, and I fully appreciate that they are necessary but…. point number one: they make me feel like a bit of a mentalist (I am a bit of a mentalist so I’m allowed to say that) and point number two: I worry that the focus on the symptoms and the feelings somehow reinforces the symptoms and the feelings, if you see what I mean. I’ve followed CBT courses twice before and found the approach incredibly helpful. I like to understand and I like to have a plan and using CBT techniques provides both. Over the last month or so I’ve tried to put as much of what I have learned in the past into action, but I do feel that both a refresher course and some regular contact with a specialist is something that would be helpful for me at the moment. Nevertheless, for now I need to hang on in there by myself for a little while longer. There are plenty of excellent self help CBT tools on the web, so I guess I’ll be turning to them* for the time being.

I don’t suppose for one minute that I’m the first person to have found the energy and courage to admit they need a little help only to be told that whilst help is available it will be a long time coming. At the same time, it’s certainly no secret that mental health services are under resourced and over-subscribed so NHS waiting lists in excess of 12 weeks are hardly surprising. The question is, what can I do about this state of affairs? The depressed me says nothing – people get what they’re given, and have to suck it up and hunker down; the ‘other’ me says not a lot, but maybe a little!

Mind are a fantastic charity who do a lot of brilliant advocacy work and play a huge role in keeping the issues associated with mental ill health on all kinds of important agendas. They also work closely with those affected by mental health difficulties providing advice, services and local support networks. Mind do great things and have an important role to play both in providing much needed resources and in ensuring the needs of those experiencing mental health difficulties are at the forefront of the minds of our policy makers. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now and I’ve decided that doing something to support Mind could be just the little thing the other me could do!

And so I’ve found this on the Mind website and I think I might give it a go. Even if I only manage to raise a couple of quid, I’ll have done something positive, right? I’m also fairly confident that the exercise, and the outdoors will do wonders for my well being and hopefully the challenge will give me an external focus whilst I wait for my name to reach the top of the CBT queue. Finally, maybe I’ll be able to do a tiny little bit to raise the profile of Mind and the awareness of mental health difficulties amongst my friends and family as well.

I’m not entirely sure that I know what I’m letting myself in for – I do a fair bit of walking and I’m not altogether averse to running now and again but I’ve no idea how many steps I actually take in an average day. 10,000 sounds like quite a lot, doesn’t it?! Anyway, I’ll be signing up this weekend and I’ll keep you posted.

Of course if anyone reading this is looking for something to do over the summer, they’d be more than welcome to join me – little things added together make big things after all!

* Mood Juice is a particularly good one.

Posted in Book reviews

A note on book reviews

In some ways it must  seem a little odd to include a book review in a blog about battling depression, so I thought I’d write a little note to let readers know (and more importantly remind myself) why I have decided to include these.

I was quite determined when I started writing that this blog would only be about depression insofar as it would be about my efforts to manage the condition; I was quite clear that I wanted to use it to focus on the positives and to record my progress and successes…. And, in my mind reading and reviewing fiction is most definitely progress for me!

When I’m not well reading becomes a lonely and solitary activity that I can’t seem to manage but when I’m doing better fiction is a huge part of my life – in some ways I see it as my first and last love. It’s important that I’m able to read and to engage with what I’m reading, and including the reviews here is yet another of the checks I am putting in place to keep myself on the right path. If the reading and reviewing starts drying up, it’ll be a little warning sign that things are taking a downward trajectory and an indication I need to take some action.

That’s the plan, anyway…

Posted in Book reviews

Goodreads book review – Death at intervals

Death at Intervals

Death at Intervals by José Saramago
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The central premise of José Saramago’s Death at intervals is simple, if impossible – one day, without warning, people stop dying…. And so ensures a fascinating exploration of some fundamental and enduring human concerns –our relationship with mortality, our reliance on governance, the morality of euthanasia, the roles of state and religion, and (not least) the nature of love and the meaning of life.

I loved this book in so many ways and the story itself is mischievous, thought provoking and challenging. Whilst Saramago’s rendering of the conventional sentence feels a little meandering and difficult at first it is well worth the effort and perseverance, particularly when it comes to the perfectly drawn plot twist – the anticipation of which runs to more than ten pages and feels like a sentence spilled into a paragraph spilled into a chapter. (Incidentally, if you want to get the full effect of this book I’d recommend reading it without first reading the publisher’s blurb on the back cover). For me, the stand out thing about Death at intervals is the ambiguity of the narrative voice – at times it is difficult to determine where speech ends and the narrative voice resumes. Unreliable narrators are something of a favourite of mine, because, as Saramago himself puts it ‘one cannot be too careful with words. Words change their minds just as people do’.

In summary I think this is a brilliant novel by a brilliant writer and I’m looking forward to reading more of his work.

View all my reviews

Posted in Moving forwards

Not drowning but waving*

It’s been four weeks since I hit rock bottom and started making my way back up to the surface again and four weeks seemed as good a time as any to step back and review how things have been going so far.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, my last episode involved a rather spectacular unravelling of the practical and the ordinary. I wasn’t just an emotional wreck (which is bad enough) I was also a practical wreck and for a person who is usually Mrs Organised** this felt doubly distressing. Still, if I’ve learned only one thing recently it’s that the only way to deal with practical problems is to take practical steps. Dealing with this side of the chaos was about rolling my sleeves up and digging deep (there’s a line in a Maximo Park song which sums this up quite neatly (to me anyway) “what happens when you lose everything? You start over again’). And so ensued an impressively thorough spring clean of the flat, a session of opening three months worth of post, a trip to the supermarket, a meeting at the bank and some robust financial planning. I’ve definitely had some notable successes in putting the practical aspects of my life back together, and this is definitely helping with the anxiety and (utterly terrifying) panic attacks that had been creeping in.

On a daily basis I’ve been splitting my tasks up into the things I need to do, the things I should do and the things that I want to do and in following these lists I feel I am achieving a good balance of sorting things out and taking care of my interests. The last part, taking care of my interests, has already started to have a positive impact. We’re not talking major things here – just a bit of reading (I finished Death at intervals and commend it to anyone and everyone and have now stated reading Philip Pullman’s The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ), plenty of music in the background (thank you Radio Six Music) and a spot of exercise (this week wii fit, maybe even running in the outside world next week!). All of these things seem to be coming together as a useful reminder that I am a proper person who cares about and has an interest in things – I’m sure also sure that the exercise has an impact on my mood day to day. There’s also been this blog which has been a welcome distraction and a good way of refocusing the mind away from the darkness that threatens to consume me.

As has been mentioned elsewhere I’ve spoken to colleagues about my difficulties and am definitely feeling a bit more like myself at work. I’ve had my first psych appointment so have a really good crisis plan in place. I also had my initial CBT assessment this morning – I think it went quite well and I’m interested to find out what the next steps will be. This type of contact is important to me. If nothing else it serves as a check and balance preventing me from withdrawing from the strategies that have been serving me well in recent weeks. It will also be good, in the fullness of time, to get different perspectives and different ideas about managing the symptoms right out of my life.

Of course the dark passenger is ever present and I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been some tough times. On the upside, the tough times have felt a little shorter lived and a little less severe of late – there was a time when  I wasn’t  able to contemplate getting through the next few minutes, now, if I’m struggling at all, I’m struggling to think about getting through the next few hours. I’m taking this as a big positive because whilst you can do quite a lot of harm to yourself in a  few impulsive, wrong-headed minutes, a few hours has (so far) been long enough for me to take a few deep breaths and  reach  for the crisis plan.

Insofar as that the last few weeks have been about me managing better rather than me being completely better I think it’s fair to say that things are working out okay at the moment. I’m almost looking forward to what the next four weeks might bring.


* With apologies to Stevie Smith for indulging in a small spot of kind-of-plagiarism.

** It took me ages to decide to capitalise both Mrs and Organised and fear I may still have got it wrong.