09.04.12

Can we have a group pact? Can we agree to completely eliminate the following hideous phrase from our lives:

Why don’t you just…..

Whatever is wrong with you, whatever your struggle, some well meaning (or not so much) friend, relative, neighbour, colleague, or partner knows the answer. And it’s so easy! Why didn’t you figure this out for yourself? Why are you sitting there wallowing in your own misery, when the solution is so obvious and so simple?!

Why don’t you just………

  • Lose weight
  • Go out more, make new friends
  • Do some vigorous exercise
  • Give up dairy / wheat / caffeine
  • Find a better job
  • Stop using your credit card and pay off the balance
  • Take aloe vera / bee propolis / whatever is currently fashionable
  • Count your blessings
  • Go to bed earlier
  • Think positive
  • Drink more water
  • Take up meditation
  • Learn to relax

And so on.

Not that I’m saying that any of these suggestions are necessarily wrong. But it’s the implication. The suggestion that you are so dumb or lazy or clueless or misguided or helpless that you won’t have already thought of this, or put the effort into trying it. It’s the oversimplification of problems that may be causing you daily pain and anguish. When you tell someone, why don’t you just, you are shrugging off their situation with that one flippant phrase.

Even if you mean well.

Let’s make a pact to never say those words again. Let’s try to be sympathetic, empathetic, understanding, and respectful. Let’s try not to offer unwanted advice. Give others the dignity of working out their own solutions. Give them support while they do so. Don’t make them feel helpless, or give them the impression that you think they just aren’t trying hard enough to resolve the problems they are facing.

This might be challenging, because it’s a lot harder to truly listen, and truly support, than it is to offer a quick-fix solution and brush off the seriousness of the situation. But it will be appreciated. Just think how you feel when someone says to you, Why don’t you just…….

Labelling

It is a tendency of human nature to like things to be recognizable and predictable. We want to slot people into neatly filed pigeonholes, and keep them there. The ones among us who really don’t do that are few and far between – I know that I do it myself, although less now than I used to. It’s really not a helpful habit though, and it’s one worth working hard to shake off. Nobody likes being labelled, or expected to fit other people’s expectations. After all, we are all works in progress. Who is the exact same type of person at 50 as they were at 20? Life shapes us, squeezes us, breaks us, rebuilds us, and just a few years can work a substantial transformation in who we are. 

In many ways, society has made great strides in recognising and accepting mental illness, as well as other illnesses and disorders that weren’t recognised in generations past – chronic fatigue syndrome, learning difficulties, for example. But still, misunderstandings and stigma cling to them. I’ve spoken before about the misconceptions and stigmas surrounding clinical depression, but they are even stronger about some other illnesses and disorders. Talk to anyone who has been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or ME) and they will tell you of friends, family, sometimes (sadly) even doctors, who refuse to believe their symptoms, tell them ‘it’s all in your head’, suggest that if they just got out of bed and did some exercise they would be fine, and so on.

It’s sad, but it’s not too difficult to understand. Up until the latter few decades of the 20th Century, all mental illnesses were labelled as madness or insanity. Even epileptics were usually diagnosed as being either demon possessed, or mentally retarded. We’re talking centuries of belief here. Your parents, or your grandparents, grew up in a world where people who were mentally ill (from depression to schizophrenia) were feared and shunned, and possibly destined for an asylum. Society and the medical profession has made immense strides in understanding, diagnosing, and treating, mental illness, learning difficulties, immune system disorders, and so on. Hopefully the next generation will be so well educated and familiar with these problems that they shed all the misconceptions and stigmas that they can still evoke.

In the meantime, we have to do our personal best to treat others with the compassion, curiosity, and kindness that we hope to see in them. Instead of giving people our own personal labels, ones that blame and shame, let’s try to find out more about why they are the way they are, and give them extra support. Essentially, people are good, and try their hardest in life, whether we can see that on their surface, or not. Let’s try hard, not to label someone as lazy, stupid, a misery, crazy, selfish, or anything else that sums up their character in one negative characteristic, one that may be a symptom of an illness, and is more than likely something that they fight against every day. Calling someone by a negative label is one of the harshest things we can ever do, because it causes so much pain, and makes their every day struggle even harder. It never, ever helps or motivates. No child in school is going to improve their learning because a teacher calls them stupid or lazy. No one responds to that kind of negative poking in a positive way. All it does is, at best, leave us with a chip on our shoulder, or at worst, cause us to stop trying because it seems so hopeless. 

Most important of all: when a loved one, friend, colleague, work or school mate, tells us that they have depression, ADHD, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, dyslexia, Aspergers, or anything else that provokes a negative or sceptical response in us, be accepting, be compassionate. Don’t think – or worse still, say – “oh you’re just…… insert negative quality of your choice“. They will almost certainly already think negatively about themselves, and you confirming that will hurt and alienate them even further. Believe in them. Show that you sympathise, and that you have faith in them, and will do whatever you can to help them overcome their challenges, and live as full and happy a life as possible. Show your faith in them – people respond far more to that than to cynicism, criticism, and abuse.

And to do that, start with yourself. What negative labels do you give yourself? When you struggle with a task, or fail at something for some reason, what do you say to yourself? “I’m so stupid. Why am I so lazy? I’m such a loser. I’m a failure.” STOP! Fight those voices. Defend yourself. If we all get into the habit of doing that for ourselves, maybe it will be easier to do that for loved ones and friends.

Because nobody should have to walk through life with a huge LOSER/IDIOT/WASTER/WEIRDO label around their neck. Every one of us is worth far more than that. Let’s live up to our potential, and give others the dignity to live up to theirs too.

2 Steps Forward, 1.5 Back…..

In some ways, recovery from an episode of clinical depression can be almost as trying as the blackest parts of the episode itself. I know that this doesn’t make sense logically – after all, Springtime weather, with its pattern of sunny days and squally rainy days, is far more pleasant than the cold greyness of Winter. But then, as John Cleese’s character in Clockwise says, I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand. In the flatness of despair, things are at least predictable and reliable, and that is easier on an exhausted mind and body than the ups and downs of recovery.

Perhaps this is the reason why it’s often in this time period, when an outsider would think that they have the most hope, that depressed people attempt suicide. To have endured months of deep depression, then to have the sunlight start to come back in, to have a few good days when you feel yourself again – and then to have the gates slam shut again, and feel yourself back in that dark dungeon….. well, it is pretty hard to bear. You may be on the road to recovery, but your thinking and reasoning abilities are still badly dented, and so everything gets magnified. When you’re up, you feel like this is it! I’m well!! And when you crash again, you feel the same way, this is it, I am NEVER going to be well.

The tendency is to want to rush back into doing everything, at the slightest sign of recovery. It’s perfectly understandable, when your life has been so abnormal for so long, to want to hurry back to how things were before (more on that later), to be normal again. But with any serious illness there has to be a period of slow convalescence, and how much more so with an illness that affects mind and body for such a long time? Imagine how slowly you would expect to return to ‘normal’ after having flu for 3 months! And yet we – and possibly others around us – expect so much more from depression recovery. Which probably just delays things even more.

Something that is helping me at the moment is this book: Depressive Illness, the Curse of the Strong. This is one of the most common sensical books on depression that I have read, and is particularly helpful with regard to recovery, and guarding against further relapses. There is a good deal about pacing yourself, physically, mentally, emotionally, and what you can expect if you don’t.

The writer, a psychiatrist of some note, expresses his view that regular relapses into depression need not necessarily be an inevitable thing. That, once recovered, if you are able to identify the attitudes and thought processes that contributed towards your mental and physical burnout, and change them, you may be able to stay well (although probably only with the help of the right medication and some form of psychotherapy as well). Considering that he has not personally experienced clinical depression, but has drawn his conclusions from the many patients he has treated over the years, it is impressive that he manages to hit the nail on the head so squarely with regard to what causes depression, the kind of people that tend to get it, what it feels like, and how best to tackle it. If you, or a loved one, have depression, run, don’t walk, to get a copy of this book.

From my own experience, and from the information in books like this, I think that the key to successful recovery in the short term, is taking it very slowly, one day at a time. And the key to successful long term recovery and stability (and this is something I have yet to achieve) is resisting the temptation to return to how life was before, and instead, taking stock, realising what led up to the depression, and doing your best to change it.

Let’s be quite clear: clinical depression is a physical, or biochemical, illness. It appears to have some genetic aspects to it, so some people will be more liable to it than others. But it is always triggered by a period of intense stress. Learning to handle life in a different manner, with a different attitude, can go some way towards guarding against relapses in a future time of stress. That’s something that I’m beginning to realise that I failed to do, in any of my previous episodes. I tried to change physically, by exercising and eating more healthily. I tried to change biochemically, by staying on antidepressants. I even tried to change psychologically, by having therapy. This last one has helped me to understand myself better, and to see where I’ve gone a little bit wrong with my attitudes to life – but oh, changing them is SO hard.

But will be easier when I am fully recovered, I’m sure. So, Goal #1 – get well. Goal #2 stay well. At any cost. 

Coming Back Up For Air

As you can probably tell from the frequency of blog posts this week, things are starting to improve for me. I’m on the final week of switching back from Venlafaxine to Mirtazapine. Then in 3 weeks time, when the changeover is complete, and my brain chemistry has had a breathing space of sorts, I go to see a consultant to discuss long-term medication plans. I don’t think I will come back off the Mirtazapine, it really helps me sleep, and doesn’t give me side effects, and it certainly has helped to some extent over the last few years. But we may look into augmenting it with another antidepressant, because on its own, it isn’t enough to completely knock the depression on its head. I’ve put up with this, and with the once or twice a year depressive episodes, because I thought that was as much as I could expect. But no, I’m informed, the right medication regime (especially when paired with the right therapy) should effect a complete remission, for a minimum period of 12 months. Thankfully Mirtazapine is the polar opposite of Venlafaxine (funny, that, when they are in a small category of drugs that are classed as SNRIs) and plays happily with anything and anyone. Venlafaxine is more of a stroppy, elitist type, that refuses to play along with anyone.

I am not a fan. If you have been, or are on, Venlafaxine, and find it effective for you, that’s great!!! Please don’t be frightened by my words, or upset. There is no question that everybody reacts differently to medication, and especially medication that affects brain chemistry. And there is no way to predict the effect without trial and error. A phrase which nicely sums up my experiences on this drug. It was a trial, and it was an error. It made me sicker than I could have dreamed possible. If I’d had any idea of the effect it would have on me, I would have run screaming. It’s not making it easy for me to come off it either. Discontinuation is harsh, they say the worst of its type. I feel like I have a good dose of ‘flu. But hey, I’m sleeping better, my mind feels like it’s my own again, and my mood is improving. What are bone aches and the chills and vertigo in comparison?!!

Over the years depression and anxiety have been my regular bedfellows. As one doctor said to me, it’s a question of managing it, not curing it. I found a marvelous book recently about clinical depression, The Depression Answer Book. If you have had, or do have depression, have a friend or relative with it, or want to know more about this illness (and everyone should know more about it) then I would urge you to get this book. One of the comments made in it really opened my eyes: every time you have a depressive episode, it destroys brain cells, leaving you more vulnerable to future episodes. So with each successive episode, the chances of a recurrent one increase, and the intensity of each episode increases too.

This might not sound like good news to me, but I welcomed it gladly. It explained why over the years, instead of getting better, I have got worse. I can stop blaming myself for that now, and accept that relapses are inevitable and involuntary, and concentrate my energies on making them as few and far between as I can, and as little damaging as possible. Settling on the right medication plan for me will go a long way towards achieving that end.

For now, I’m definitely swimming back up to the surface. The going is slow, I was a long, long way down, and I’m very tired, physically, mentally, emotionally. There are necessary halts and delays, and times when the surface feels so far away that it is unattainable. But there are also times when I can see the sunlight glinting on the surface, and shafts of light reaching down to me, calling me onwards. That is enough, for now.

I am sad that I’ve lost a large chunk out of my life this year. I really remember very little about the last 5 months, they have gone by in a dark blur. I was startled to find that it is May already. Summer is almost here! Where did Spring go?! Never before have I been ill for this long, or been so out of touch with my world. Life before this seems to have belonged to some one else, and at this moment, I can’t see much in common with the now me and the then me. I don’t know if that will change. I don’t know what the future holds. I’m letting go of that, and just concentrating on making the most of now.

That’s one of the best things that this last few months have brought me: the ability to LET GO. Nothing else, so far in my life, has managed to teach me that all-important lesson. I am, after all, a complete control freak. When things get difficult, I tighten my grip. Like when you are first learning to spin, and you are so determined and so enthusiastic and so nervous, and your instinct is to hold on to that mass of fibre as tight as you can, and all that it results in is a sweaty, knotted mat of unspinnable fibre. Then you learn to relax, to let go, to allow the fibre to sit soft and gentle in your hand, and like magic, it starts to spin itself into yarn.

I think this is one of the keys to happiness in life, learning to let go. Realising that your world will not fall apart if you do. Learning that you can still achieve what you need and want to, without straining every nerve and muscle in the process. Learning that you can probably achieve more by fighting less. Finding out that there are people around you who will catch you if you need to fall. Who will fight for you when you can’t fight for yourself. Realising what really matters in life, and what does not. Letting go of expectations, both your own and other people’s, letting go of rules and prejudices and pettiness and anger.

Letting go of everything, except love, and life. That’s where contentment lies. And that’s a lesson well worth learning, at any price.

In Sickness & In Health

A later addition to this post:

Bless you all a million percent. Your comments and emails mean so, so much, to us both. How blessed we are, I never forget that however bad things get. Re the business, I just wanted to add a few things.

Not doing the posh updates regularly isn’t an option, financially. It may be that someone has to step into my shoes temporarily, but the updates will go on. The main reason I posted was to reassure everyone that even if I become a bit invisible for a while, you will still be very well looked after, as you always deserve. We both feel very responsible for the welfare of our customers, as does everyone else who has ever helped us out with various aspects of the business.

I will never do an update, or allow anyone else to do one, without ensuring that the parcels can be dispatched within 48 hours of the sale. We’ve worked very hard over the years to earn our customers trust, and that will always be of primary importance to us. If we takes your money, you gets your yarn. No excuses.

Please don’t feel that you don’t want to bother me with emails or messages, if you have any concerns or questions. As long as I am at the helm, it’s my job to take care of you, and not the other way around (as far as business goes, anyway!). I may just take a little longer than normal to reply, say a couple of days, rather than a couple of hours. If I couldnt keep up with communicating with customers then I would make sure that someone else could.

I will also make sure that whatever happens, you will be kept informed, by me, by Tony, or by someone else.

When you run your own business, it is your responsibility, if you have any sense, to have contingency plans for various eventualities. We have a contingency plan for each of us, if we get sick or are unable to work for any reason. Its entirely possible that we could continue things going on without anyone being aware that anything was wrong at all. But I’ve always run the business with a policy of full disclosure and open communication, seeing you all as friends as much as customers, so it wouldnt feel right not to include you now, and let you know what is happening.

Very much love, from us both.

…………………………………………………………….

It’s about time I filled you in on what’s going on at Posh HQ. My health has deteriorated to the point where its touch and go as to whether I will need to go into hospital. I’m seeing my GP this morning to discuss the options. Hopefully we can work something out that means I can stay at home, but get extra support from care workers.

Basically the situation is this: I came off one antidepressant, very quickly, and was put on another. The new one is clearly not suiting me at all – I am experiencing lots of distressing side effects, and no positive effects. I feel like I’m being poisoned. My brain chemistry is completely messed up. I haven’t been sleeping since I came off the old medication, and my depression has got worse and worse, until my body is pretty much wrecked (I’m experiencing mainly physical symptoms rather than psychological). I have never felt so ill in my life. Because things have gone so far, the GPs have decided that they need to pass me on to a consultant, who is expert in this kind of medication, and will know what to do for the best. They have diagnosed this quite categorically as a biochemical problem, not an emotional one, and I agree completely. They sent in an urgent request for referral last week, and I’m waiting to hear.

But in the meantime, I get a little sicker every day. I’m pretty much bedridden. Tony is having to give me 24hr care, even going to the loo is a two man job. When your brain chemistry is in a mess, nothing works right. My whole body is in crisis. Quite honestly, I didnt know it was possible to be this ill.

I’ve been very reluctant to tell you how bad things had got, because I don’t want to worry anyone, and because we’re doing everything in our power (with help from friends) to make sure that the business isnt affected. AND IT WON’T BE. Posh Yarn is our life, our love, and our livelihood. We’ll keep going through thick and thin. The parcels will go out today. We will continue to do a weekly update if humanly possible, even if that takes a team of willing volunteers behind the scenes to put it together (and I have that team, an army of loved ones, all ready to step in whenever necessary). This business is our love and our joy, and something solid to hang on to. So please don’t worry about that, or lose trust in us. We’ll always make sure that any difficulties at our end do not affect our customers in any way. Please believe that. Tony was very dubious about this post, but I trust my posh peeps to understand, to trust us, and to hang in even if things get a little unpredictable for a while (I’m only talking about updates, blogging, or posts from me, not about parcel delivery, answers to emails, or anything like that).

You’ve all been the most marvelous friends, so kind and supportive. You’re part of my support team, so its only fair that I put you in the picture now. I’ll let you know anything as soon as I know anything. With a bit of luck the doctor will be able to put together a plan of extra medication and/or support, and I’ll be able to keep tottering on until I see the consultant.