25.04.12

So….. how are you doing today? Is it a good day? A bad day? A hanging-in-but-only-just day?

Yeah, me too. It’s been a tips-of-my-fingernails kind of week. You know how life queues up a month’s worth of problems and throws them all at you at once? Even Tony is cracking around the edges. You know life is tough when it gets to him.

Anyway. If things are a little tough for you right now, you’re not alone. We’ll get through this. The longest, darkest day has to end eventually. In the meantime, be gentle. Be patient. It’s all about damage limitation. Don’t try to carry more than you have to right now.

And don’t forget to breathe……

(This abandoned house is on one of our favourite walks, to the cliff tops. The road goes through land used by the nearby army camp, and is regularly closed due to firing practise. The army bought the house, and closed it up. Which is a shame, because this old stone house would make a fine home.)

 

04.03.12

I’ve been getting myself all psyched up for March.

March! The month that marks the real start of spring! In like a lion and out like a lamb! The month the clocks go forward!!

And then it arrived and I remembered: I hate March.

I do. It’s ungrateful of me, and unreasonable and arbitrary, but I hate it. Yes, there are lambs and daffodils and lighter nights and warmer weather. But it’s not really spring, however much we like to pretend it is. It’s not winter either, and here is where the problem comes in. It’s a Transition month.

I don’t do transition. Or change. Not well. Not willingly. Not with any grace.

Don’t get me wrong, I want spring. Quite desperately. But I could live without that interim period between winter & spring. It’s exhausting. I’ve made up my mind that this is why I am so tired lately, because everyone else seems to be tired too, and that’s the one thing we’ve all got in common – the transition.

It would be nice to wake up one day and have a clear crisp change. You go to sleep with a winter landscape (preferably snowy, because it does rankle that we are pretty much the only part of the UK this winter to be cheated of snow this winter) and you wake up to soft spring weather and flowers and green fields and birds singing.

Instead we have a bumpy, bumpy landing. One day is muddy and cold and bleak, and you look at your firewood pile and wonder if you can make it last a bit longer, or if you’ll have to order more. The next day is sunny and warm, and everywhere you look there are primroses, and you put away your thermal underwear and think about painting your toenails. And then, BAM, the temperatures plummet and icy rain comes down and batters the primroses, and you huddle by your fire and wonder if winter will just gobble up spring altogether this year.

It’s unsettling. And exhausting. Is there anywhere in the world that has a smoother transition than this between seasons? I might want to move there.

But, while I’m moaning and grumbling, outside nature is just getting on with it, like they do every day of every year. The birds are nesting and singing their hearts out, regardless of the weather. The bees (except this isn’t a bee, and I don’t know what it is, but it was big) are pollinating the flowers. Flowers! Everywhere! The trees all have fuzzy green buds swelling on them. We’re almost there.

Almost, almost there.

29.02.12

I’m tired. Are you tired? Let’s face it, we’re all tired. Exhausted. Beat. Shattered. Wiped. If you want to start a lively conversation with people, mention how tired you are. The energy with which everyone competes to have the Most Exhausted crown is rather ironic.

Why are we so tired, so much of the time?

I read somewhere that tiredness is the top reason why people go to their GP. What is it that is sapping our energy like this? Where did things go wrong? Because every successive generation seems to be tireder than the last. Seriously, my 79 year old mother has about ten times my energy.

What could we achieve if we could keep up with our lives at the speed we want to? What does it take for you to be able to wake up in the morning and bounce out of bed, full of energy and joy for the day ahead? To be able to work your way through your to-do list without feeling the need for a mid morning, mid afternoon, and early evening nap?! Is it our food? The air? The demands of 21st century life? I have no idea. If I was less tired, maybe I could figure it out.

All the bloggers I follow seem to be writing about taking leaps today, February 29th. But, really, have you got the energy to leap? I’m not sure I could even hop today, let alone leap. Instead, I’m curled up on the sofa, under a blanket. Today is a bonus day. We should get to spend it as we want, and not feel guilty. If you want to go a-leaping – go for it!! But no pressure. We have too much pressure on us every other day of the year.

I think today I’m just going to have an extra nap. Maybe I’ll feel more like leaping tomorrow……

On Depression

My apologies, yet again, for the long long silence on this blog. I’m still mustering up all my inner forces for the battle against this latest relapse into depression, and it doesn’t leave much over for fun or creativity, I can tell you. I’ve always been pretty honest on this blog about my ongoing fight with depression, and I’ve often been rewarded for that honesty by emails from readers, thanking me for putting into words how they had also been feeling. That is reassuring, because sometimes I feel very strongly that I need to talk about this publicly, because not enough people do. But at the same time, I am very aware that this is partly a business blog, and that not everyone wants to read about my personal problems and health issues. I hope I get the balance right. When I don’t blog for any length of time, it’s usually because I’m afraid of upsetting that balance, and making this blog a platform for my own moans and groans. After all, we all have our own set of challenges and difficulties to deal with, and most of us like to escape those for a while when we visit blogs and websites. I know I do.

But occasionally, I feel absolutely impelled to talk about it, and today is one of those days. Here goes……

I wish, with all my heart, that they would come up with a new name for this illness than depression. It is laughably inadequate, like calling the flu ‘a touch of the sniffles’. It gives people the impression that it is simply a mood problem, and that gives rise to some painful misunderstandings. I’ve had people say to me, ‘oh I get really depressed some days’…… ‘what are you depressed about/why are you depressed?’……. This is not from lack of sympathy or kindness, but just because they are equating depression with feeling miserable, and since you don’t know what it’s like unless you experience it yourself, or see a loved one experience it, it’s understandable that you would see it that simplistically, based purely on the name that we give to the illness. 

I don’t think it helps that depression can spring from many causes, some biological, some emotional, some environmental. So yes, there will be people who have depression because of a tangible reason, loss of a loved one, heartbreak, etc etc. But there are just as many people whose depression is triggered biologically. Asking them why they are depressed is as pointless as asking a diabetic why they are diabetic, or an asthmatic why they have asthma. We generally accept physical illnesses as outside a person’s control, but when it’s an illness of the mind, there is this idea that it should be more easily overcome, by the mind itself.

Well, to some extent that might be true. if your depression is caused, or exacerbated, by emotional reasons, then therapy, counselling, and so on, may be very beneficial. But if there is an element of biological cause involved, then emotional treatment will only help to a certain extent.

In my own case, I have been extremely fortunate, and have received two courses of therapy through my local doctor’s surgery. The first was CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), which was particularly effective at helping me cope with anxiety. The second, and more recent, was traditional psychotherapy, which helps you work through all the tangle of issues that have built up over the years in your mind, and equips you to move on in a state of better mental health. I have recently completed this course, and it was astoundingly helpful. For the first time, I feel like I understand myself fully, and I’m at peace with my life so far, all the things that have happened to me, all the relationships I’ve had with friends and family. I feel in better emotional health than I have ever felt in my life.

Add to that the many blessings that I have in my daily life, the fantastic business which makes my daily work a joy, the very best husband and friend in the world working alongside me, a beautiful home that is a refuge and a delight, friends and family and a close community that show me support and care, and so on. I am fortunate beyond compare. If anyone was ever further from having cause for depression, it is me, and that knowledge makes me feel terribly guilty and self indulgent. 

But the simple fact remains, my brain chemistry is wonky. Very wonky. And when that gets messed up, everything gets messed up. And it needs such a sensitive adjustment to get it working properly again that it takes time and experimentation to get it just right. And the process of getting those chemicals to work in harmony and balance again can be almost worse than the original depression. It is a slow, painful, inching process, and when you are in the middle of it, you can’t imagine that it will ever come right. Your whole body and mind seem to be warring against themselves, with you caught in the middle. With all of that going on, the state of your mood becomes almost irrelevant. This is where the term depression becomes the least effective. Depression only fits up to a certain point – once you get past that point, it is no longer an appropriate description.

Everyone understand that your brain controls your body, to a large extent. And it does that through chemicals. When that system gets out of whack, and the chemistry goes wrong, nothing works right.

Your perceptions change – time becomes all warped, a minute seems like an hour, an hour like a week, a day stretches out in front of you like an endless desert. And yet time also seems to be whizzing past at such a speed that 2, 3 months can pass and you have no recollection of them at all.

Your vision changes – it’s like wearing permanent sunglasses, everything seems dark, the colours more subdued, familiar faces look alien. 

You find it impossible to make a decision about even the simplest thing – what tshirt should I wear today? – and yet there is this urgent need to make decisions, to search for that one elusive thing that you think will make things better. This sets your mind going in circles, should I do this? Should I do that?

The easiest tasks seem Herculean. Taking a shower feels like running a marathon. Putting laundry in the washing machine makes you weep because it is just too hard.

Your memory stops working. Did I just take a tablet, or didn’t I? Why did I go upstairs, what was it I was going to do? Your concentration vanishes completely, which makes it almost impossible to read a book, watch a movie, take part in a conversation, knit.

Your body aches, your stomach churns, your head hurts, you are burning up, then icy, you are exhausted, but you can’t sleep, incredibly tense but you can’t relax.

I’m saying all of this, not for sympathy, not to shock, not as a complaint, but simply to explain how far removed from emotional symptoms depression can be. I hope that for those who have/who are experiencing it, there will be some relief in hearing someone else express those symptoms. And for those who have not experienced it, perhaps it may help you to see this illness from a different perspective.

Depression is such a flat, one dimensional word. If I asked you to tell me the first image that springs to mind when I say depression, probably it would be someone with a sad face. Yes, sadness, unhappiness, loneliness, despair, anger, fear, disappointment, frustration, hopelessness, can all come along with depression. But they can all come along to every one of us. They do not necessarily characterise depression. Which is why we really need to find a better way to describe this dreadful illness. A way that expresses the far reaching effects of it. A way that acknowledges that it can gobble up the happiest, luckiest of us, regardless of our circumstances or mental health. 

This post has run on and on –  if you read to the end then I thank you. Forgive me if it comes across as whiny or self indulgent, it’s very difficult to talk about it honestly, without using yourself as a frame of reference, and that isn’t always easy to do. But sometimes it feels very necessary to stick my neck out and talk about it, in the hopes of helping someone else to cope or to understand. When you are fighting, it helps to know that you are not alone. There are many of us fighting alongside you, and we can find courage from each other.

Happy / SAD

As you all know, the last couple of winters have been very difficult ones for me, and I was dreading this one, in the expectation that I would slip down, down, down again. But, so far, so good, I am feeling pretty great! I think I’ve learned so much, and putting it all into practise this autumn has helped to keep the SAD at bay (so far anyway!).  

But I’m still mindful of those whose moods are affected by the winter darkness. First of all, {{{{{hugs}}}}}. You’re not alone. Lots of us have been there/are there/may be there again sometime in the future. You can’t get well on your own, you need a support system, and for many of us, the most valuable support we got was from others who have been through it too. So know this: we’re here for you.

Second. Here are some of the things that have helped me, and I hope others can add to this list.

Daily exercise. This is top of my list, because its been the single biggest factor in my mood control. I’ve learned from trial and error, that I need to exercise for upwards of 45 minutes to start feeling those endorphins, so I try really hard to walk (fast) for an hour a day. I manage at least 5 times a week, and I really think its keeping my mood up, because this time last year (and the year before) I was feeling pretty grim by now.

Medication where necessary. I’ve been on antidepressants for nearly 2 years now, and I have to say that its only been in the last few months that I’ve really accepted the need for them. I know I can’t do without them, I know that I need a high dose, and I’m okay with it. I’m grateful that the one that I am on gives me no side effects at all, and that I have a really, really great GP.

Therapy. I had a course of cognitive behavioural therapy last year, and it was incredibly helpful. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

Healthy Lifestyle. I’ve learned that my mood is very sensitive to sugar, to caffeine, and to alcohol. I know that I need a certain amount of fat in my diet, and that if I try to cut down below that level, my mood dips. I know that I have to eat regularly throughout the day, and that I need carbs at every meal. I know that I am gluten intolerant, and that if I have anything with gluten in, I will get horrible anxiety attacks. Everybody is different (and that goes for any of this advice), but every body has its own nutritional needs. Find out what they are, and you give your brain chemistry a helping hand.

Sufficient sleep. I cannot function without enough sleep. And its my sleep patterns that get disrupted first when my depression kicks in. So I have come to terms with the fact that occasionally I will need to use meds to help me sleep. Luckily, there are now really great sleeping tablets that are (relatively) non addictive.

Light. Now that I exercise more outside, I’m probably getting more sunlight than I used to. But I also use a dawn simulator in the bedroom, and I really think this is helping. Its quite incredible that a light can wake you up, but it does, which I think shows how sensitive we are to light.

Socialising. I’m a bit of a loner. I would happily go for weeks without seeing anyone, especially in winter. And I am especially like that when my depression is bad. But I’ve learned that that is really bad for my mood. I need to be around other people, on a regular basis. At the first signs of wanting to isolate myself (which is another of my early warning signs) I have to make myself get out and do some mixing. It helps tremendously.

I used to think that there would be some magic cure for depression, such as medication, and that it would fix it entirely. I now know that there are many factors that cause depression, and so there are many factors that contribute to recovery.

I like to think of it this simple way (and this is in my case, you may be completely different):

My brain needs certain levels of serotonin to feel good, but for some reason, my brain is like a leaky bucket, letting all the serotonin drain away. My antidepressant (which is an SSRI) plugs the holes, keeping the serotonin in my brain for longer. But it doesn’t make serotonin. I have to encourage my body to make it itself, to fill that bucket back up, by doing things like eating well, exercising daily, trying to have fun and laugh more often, getting out in the sunshine, etc.

I’ve also come to see a real pattern in myself that has caused (or contributed) to the depression, over the years. All the stuff that I do that helps, all of it goes right against the grain for me. I hate to exercise, I love sugar and junk food, I’m an unsociable couch potato. Every day is a fight against all of that, but I’d rather be fighting my own bad inclinations than be fighting against the horrible darkness of depression.

Now I feel a responsibility to pass on what I’ve learned, in the hopes that it might help just one person who is struggling. If that person is you, don’t lose hope. Don’t stop fighting. You can do this!