Tag Archives: Depression

A leap of faith

Warning – may be triggering.

It’s been a while since my last post.  I’ve found myself very busy managing full time work, part time study, exercise, gardening and socialising!!  Never thought I would start a post with that statement.

Last week I did something exciting and very unlike me.  I got a tattoo on my inner left wrist.  It’s a sunflower and I think it looks beautiful.  Some friends and family are horrified and think I have lost my mind (again!) and keep reminding me I have it for the rest of my life.  Really?  I had never thought of that!!  Unfortunately, I can’t tell them the full reasons for getting it done and what it represents to me.  They only know a small part of a big story so their confusion is somewhat justified.

Many of you reading this, know a little more of my story so I hope you don’t mind if I share the significance with you. Of note, I am not recommending this as a solution for everyone.  It is very much something I have done for myself.

IMAG0275

Yellow is my favourite colour which I’ve blogged about before: Yellow It brings to mind happiness, summer, warmth and life.  I love Daffodils.  When they break through the earth you know that winter is fading and longer days, warmth and light are on the way (although not always in the UK!!).  For me though, it has always been the Sunflower that steals the show.  Such a huge, strong flower coming from such a tiny seed.  They grow so tall and stretch up daily towards the sun.  A long sturdy stem sprouting leaves much in the same way that I imagine Jack’s beanstalk.  Eventually, the flower appears, face towards the sun and full of its own brilliance. The depth of the yellow fills you with warmth and you can’t look at it without smiling.

It seems that last year Sunflowers were everywhere…including the hospital I was staying in.  At the time I thought it ironic to have such a happy flower in a place full of people struggling to find any light in their lives.  Some days it felt they were mocking me.  Other days, they reminded me of where I was trying to get to.  Looking back with my ‘new’ mind I understand completely why they were there and am eternally grateful for their presence.

As an aside, the humble Sunflower Seed is also classed as a Superfood, contributing to numerous health benefits.  Beautiful to look at and healthy too!!

In the past one of my coping mechanisms for dealing with uncomfortable emotions has been to self-harm.  Traditionally, this had always been done with no visible signs but last year it changed and as a result I have a number of scars on my left arm.  I’m not ashamed of them and I don’t hide them.  They are part of me and remind me of where I have been and how far I have come.  For some reason it was always important to me that when I harmed, I could see the wounds and the.  Somehow, the best place became my left arm.

Following lots of therapy, I have a number of safer, and, let’s face it, more effective ways to manage emotions.  However, I also needed to think of what to do at times that I wasn’t feeling strong and felt the urge to resort to my old ways.   The tattoo is in itself a scar but is created as a work of art in a controlled environment.  It is on my left inner wrist so is somewhat hidden but also accessible to me at all times.

Each time I look at my Sunflower ‘scar’ I am reminded of my journey and how much I have learnt.  It reminds me that I am stronger than I think.  Each time I glance at it through the day I am reminded to pause, breathe and be mindful.  IF I feel the need to self-harm moving forward, I am hoping that I can use ii as a point of focus so that I can pause and remember.

I know that it will always be with me.  That’s kind of the point.  If I was able to remove it easily, I would get rid of it as soon as my mood became low.  It needs to be permanent because it tells my story.  It is part of me.  It wasn’t a rash decision…as I hope you have seen.  It’s a scar that I chose to have when I was feeling at my best.  It is beautiful and provides a focus for me on my path for me.  It’s not a reminder that I have been ill. It’s a reminder that I am here.

 

Get well soon

Today has been a very strange day.  It shouldn’t have been, but it was.

Last night, I fell down my stairs.  My stairs are wooden and hard.  My body is soft.  I have a mild concussion (albeit self-diagnosed), grazes to my knees and elbow.  I have a huge black/red bruise across my lower back and further bruising coming out on my back under my ribs.  Everywhere hurts.  But nothing is broken and in a few days the pain will go and the bruises will fade. I can deal with this sort of thing. Physical pain?  Pah!  I laugh in the face of this.

Having told people about my accident I have never received so much attention.  I’ve been given sympathy, concern, offers of help, hugs.  I even got chocolate!!  I was advised to go to the doctors and get checked out.  Someone bought me pain killers. Take it easy, rest, don’t be a hero.  To top it all off, my mum turned up with some flowers.

All seems normal so far. And yet for me (and many others) this is a strange experience.

Last year I spent time in hospital following an exacerbation of my depression.  When not in hospital I hid away in my house, unable to face the world.  I couldn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t stay awake during the day.  I lost over 3 stone in about 6 weeks.  I was self harming and putting my life at genuine risk.  I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t concentrate.  I felt worthless.  I felt I had nothing to offer the world.  There was just no point to anything.

Yet, the sympathy wasn’t forthcoming.  I got no cards, no flowers, no chocolate.  I was told to pull myself together and I had nothing to be depressed about.  Don’t take anti-depressants, you need exercise and a healthy diet. When I had the crisis team visiting every day, my mum was concerned they were making it worse as all my focus was on being depressed.  I should be distracting myself from it.  And this was from the people who stayed in touch.  Many didn’t stay in touch.  They just didn’t know what to do or say.

So there you have it. Today was a really strange experience for me.  And if you don’t mind, I shall take myself back to bed (slowly), take some pain killers, eat my chocolate and read a magazine….how much I love this physical pain.

10 steps to beat the beast

I recently had a relapse with my depression.  It was quite a scare as I hit some lows that I had hoped were history.  I knew what triggered it, but that didn’t help at all.  What did help though was still managing to implement all I have learnt over the last few months.  Not only did I get the ‘positive’ from implementing them, but I got it from knowing that I was fighting back.  I would love to say that after 3 days I had got myself back to the top, but the reality was more like a month.  Even then it was still up and down. 

I’ve been pretty good now for an entire week and thinking that we may have beaten that beast.  To celebrate I thought I would share some of tips.  If you have tried any of these, or have some new ideas, then please share.

1/ ‘It won’t last for ever’ 

As awful as it felt at the time, my logical brain kept telling me that it was a ‘blip’ and would soon be over.  Experience has proved this so it’s the one thing I hang on to.  Some days I would just tell the logical mind to get stuffed, it was talking rubbish, but other days the message did get through and that gave me strength to keep going.

2/ ‘Just do it!!!’ 

I have mentioned this golden rule before, so no matter how low I felt I always tried.  I didn’t want to do anything and all my efforts were focussed on staying in work (I’ve been back for over 4 months now and don’t want to go off again).  As soon as I got home I would want to crash into bed exhausted and weekends were a bit of a bed fest, just to recuperate from the week.  However, each day, I would make myself do something, regardless of how I felt.  So, on my weekends, I would make myself get up and shower, even if that was all I would do.  When I got in from work, I would make myself have a bit of toast or something before heading to bed.

3/ ‘Be social’ 

I am less than social at the best of times, but I know it’s important for me to feel connected to people when low.  This is a really new concept for me and I am only just getting to grips with it.  However, I’ve learnt enough to know I have to try and keep connections.  I have a great friend living round the corner who has a 6month old baby.  If I hadn’t seen anyone for a few days, I would make myself text her for coffee and baby cuddles.  Whilst there, it was a great distraction and I would feel a little better for an hour after getting home.  Seeing the simple thrills experienced by Chloe really touched something in me and helped take me out of myself a little.

4/ ‘Mindfulness’  

For some reason, even though I enjoy mindfulness, I didn’t want to do it this time round.  It sounds ridiculous but I really fought it.  I managed it at the weekends, but during the week I felt too tired to sit and do nothing for 10 minutes???  As I started to get better, I managed to motivate myself to do this more often and little by little I could remember and feel the benefits.  When I couldn’t manage a meditation, I did try to be mindful in other ways, such as in the shower, or in the car, so all was not lost.

5/ ‘Stay hydrated’  

Dehydration makes you lethargic, tired, irritable and lacking in concentration.  Sound familiar?  I am awful at staying hydrated, but really tried to drink as much as possible so that I wasn’t making things worse for myself.

6/ ‘Be happy’  

OK, so this is a bit of a challenge, but if you really focus and think back, I am sure most people can find that one tiny thing that happened during the day that made you smile…or at least think about smiling.  For me, this was most often my cat Dave.  When I am low, he’s gorgeous, loving, affectionate and always by my side.  However, as soon as he gets hungry, it’s all about him again.  I wouldn’t necessarily laugh, or even smile, but a little part of me would feel happy and grateful to have him and his funny little ways.

7/ ‘Move your body!’  

Again, not so easy, but if nothing else I would make myself do a few stretches, particularly at the weekends.  The days I was at work, I used way too much energy as it was, but on a weekend, I just needed to keep the blood circulating.  So, going back to 2, I just did it.  5 minutes of gentle stretching just to get me moving again.  I would feel better afterwards, but wouldn’t be able to resist the pull of my bed.

8/ ‘Moodscope’  

I track my mood every day on moodscope.com.  This is even more important to me when I am low.  I know the score isn’t going to be great, but by going through the words, I can think a bit more about how I feel.  Some days I would manage to feel a little pride, because I had managed to get through the day without giving up.  Other days I would just feel ashamed that I was so useless.  Some days I would be irritable, whilst others I would feel downright hostile.  The day I scored ‘A Little’ for feeling Active was a real breakthrough.  Without doing moodscope, I wouldn’t have these marks of progress.

9/ ‘Be honest’  

For the first time ever, I was honest with friends and family as to how I was feeling.  Not in any detail, but I didn’t put on the mask.   I didn’t want them to come over or call or do anything.  I just needed them to know I was low.  Having learnt and developed so much I felt it was important to be honest. The only exception to this was work.  Work got the mask of happiness and it always will as long as I can manage it. 

10/ ‘Go easy on yourself’  

Depression is shitty enough on its own without beating up on yourself as well.  The hardest part for me was to stop beating myself up for being useless.  Some days I couldn’t manage anything and I would feel absolutely hopeless.  But, in the same way my logical head could tell me this wouldn’t last, it was also able to tell me go easy on myself.  Remember this is an illness, it’s not you.  If you really can’t get up to do your stretches…then you can’t do them.  Big deal, we’ll try again later or tomorrow.  Or we’ll do half of them, or even just one, or even just walk down the stairs.  

Self-Compassion

No, you haven’t entered into a netherworld, this is about ‘Self-Compassion’.  What is this strange term that I hear you ask?  Well, take a seat and let me explain 🙂

When I was in hospital last year, I attended a course on self-compassion.  I attended with the obligatory cynicism, and indeed, managed to get through the whole course maintaining this cynicism.  I was so proud that I hadn’t been brain washed into self indulgence.  Self-compassion is the realm of those who believe they are worth a damn.  Those self-indulgent people who chose to look after themselves and sometimes (shock of all shocks) put their needs ahead of others.  Like anyone could ever persuade me this was a good thing.

Except that now, many months later I finally get it.  I actually get it, and I am trying to do it.  And I’m getting there.  I still feel a bit guilty, a bit self-indulgent, and sometimes a bit silly, but I get it and I’m trying it.

Let’s take a step back and explain.  Self-compassion is about allowing yourself to be treated in the same way that you treat others.  Allowing yourself comfort, from others and from yourself.  If a friend told me they were feeling low, I would drop everything to help them out.  I wouldn’t think twice about it.  I would want to provide them the comfort and support they needed at that time.  If they needed to talk I would listen.  If they needed comfort I would hug.  Turn the tables round to me though and you have a different story.  I would never call for help.  I didn’t deserve help.  I was wallowing in my own self-pity and needed a good kick to get me out of it.  I was weak and just needed to (wo)man up.  No-one would want to listen to my misery anyway.

Reading this back now makes me feel sad, although these thoughts can still inhabit my mind from time to time.  I’ve been seeing a counsellor for years and really thought I was opening up to her.  I thought I was allowing her in to help me and I was paying her to do so.  The payment was important as this was a business transaction and not someone putting themself out for me.  I thought we were doing good work and she was certainly, for the most part, keeping me on an even keel.  But I realise now, that I was just telling her things, with a general feeling associated with it.

It’s only since my hospital admission, and subsequent treatment, that I have really understood what letting people in means.  And when I talk about letting people in, I include myself.  I’ve shut myself out of this as well.  It’s not about remembering past experiences and saying how awful or great they were.  It’s remembering past experiences and remembering how you actually felt at that time.  Sad, helpless, proud, ashamed, inspired, happy, worthless, worthy….the list goes on.  And experiences do generally involve a huge mix of emotions, some of them even contrasting.  

So, with encouragement, I have slowly started connecting with some of these feelings, and sharing them with close friends and family.  I don’t mean just rushing everything out…but if they ask how I am, I stop and think, and try to tell them how I am actually feeling.  And no one has run away from me, or told me to stop wallowing.  I haven’t gone as far as letting them comfort me but we are taking steps in the right direction.  I have to be honest, thinking about and identifying emotions is one of the hardest things I am having to do.

The other change I have made is that I provide myself a little comfort and try not to feel guilty.  I booked a day off work when I felt things were getting a bit much, and spent the day watching movies.  I even made popcorn and really indulged….or at least as much as a novice can.  I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty and self indulgent but I would remind myself why we were doing this (‘we’ being my old and new self).  I make myself a list of ‘healthy’ activities each day, and make sure I do them in an effort to take care of myself and maintain my health.  If I don’t do one of them, I don’t berate myself and wallow in guilt, but think about how I can fit it in the next day.  I went to a jewellery shop and bought myself my first ever piece of ‘proper’ jewellery, just because I could.  I wear and notice it every day.  It reminds be to be kind to myself and start to believe that I might actually be worth it.

So, how does this resonate with you?  Are you a doubter, believing this is the realm of self-indulgence?  Or are you an advocate and implementing some self care and spoiling?

 

What have you done today to make you feel Proud?

Image

When was the last time you stopped and thought, ‘Actually, I’m really proud about that?’

I’m not talking about the big ticket items…running a marathon, saving a life, getting a book published.  I’m talking about the little things that might otherwise pass you by. 

Whenever I hear the song I can’t help but feel uplifted.  If you haven’t heard it then I would recommend you do.  I have to admit that it’s only recently that I have associated the words with my life.  Pride is something I thought related to other people. 

Some people associate pride as being a bit self-indulgent (especially us Brits).  It is often seen as something associated with big achievements and doing something out of the ordinary.  However, a quick review of definitions turned up this: “Pride describes a feeling of happiness that comes from achieving something.”  That’s it.  Feeling happy because of something you have done.  So why are we so reluctant to acknowledge it?

I was talking to my mum the other day, and she told me about a friends daughter.  The daughter had returned home from a job interview and told her mum that she was proud of how well she thought she had done. 

My mum could not comprehend that someone would be proud of something that other people do every other day.  Not only that, but that they would share such news with others.  I asked what the problem was and whilst she didn’t really provide an answer, she remained adamant that it was over the top.  It was a form of bragging or showing off.

The saddest part was when I asked if there was anything she was proud of.  She said no.  She had only done what lots of other people had done.  I asked if she was proud of raising her children.  This at least generated a pause for thought.  And yet the answer remained the same.  I had depression, my brother is divorced and distant with his own children and my sister has her own hang-ups.  She felt she had obviously done something wrong so no, she wasn’t proud.  I find this so sad.  My mum can’t feel proud of bringing up her 3 children on her own, because we haven’t turned out as she would have liked.

My mum has done some great things in her life.  The problem is that she, like many others, identifies achievement in terms of a successful outcome rather than the journey itself.  And perhaps this is the problem.  We need to remember that the journey is more important than the destination.  Whatever the outcome, you have tried, and that is better than doing nothing at all.

If you had asked me 6 months ago what I was proud of, I would have answered exactly the same as my mum.  I had nothing to be proud of.  Forget my career as a children’s nurse.  Forget my voluntary work with families and children affected with divorce/separation.  Forget travelling the world. Forget my award for bravery.  I was proud of nothing.  I was depressed, I was upsetting everyone around me, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything and I was good for nothing.  It is only through my recent experiences with therapy and learning about better managing my depression that I have been able to identify with pride.  And I’m proud to say that I can do it, and I enjoy it 🙂

So how is this relevant to us?  In much the same way that some people keep a Gratitude journal, I review my day in terms of what I am proud of.  Today I have made some phone calls that I have been putting off for ages, I got up early enough to get washing out on the line before work, and I have made a cake to take into work tomorrow.  Other proud moments included the day I got back to work full time.  When I was really low, it was that I’d managed to have a shower.  It’s something that most people do every day without thinking .  For me, at that time, it was a huge achievement and I was proud that I had managed it.

I would really love you to take a moment now to think about the question: What have you done today to make you feel proud? Don’t worry if you can’t think of anything. Let me know and I will try and help you figure it out 🙂

Who I am

I have recently started a part time university course and have just completed a module on Identity.  At the same time I came across a truly inspiring TED talk about the speakers take on her own definition of self.  The speaker has a rare disease meaning that at the age of 24 she weighs just 4 stone.  If you are interested, I have included the link for you.  A truly inspiring lady.

http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/How-do-you-define-yourself-Lizz;search%3Alizzie

As a combination of the talk and my study it obviously got me to thinking about my own identity and how I define myself.  Here on WordPress, my focus is very much on mood based topics.  I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life and it’s been great to share this experience with others, and to share lessons I have learnt along the way.  

Before watching this talk, I most likely would have described myself as someone with Depression.  But is ‘depression’ something that I want to use to define myself?  It’s absolutely had a major effect on my life and is something that I reminded of daily. A lot of the qualities I hold are due to my experience of depression.  But is it a part of who I am or is it something that I carry with me.  It can certainly feel part of me sometimes, but I think, on reflection, that I would prefer to keep it separate.  It’s something I have to deal with, but it’s not who I am.

I am a daughter, sister, aunt and neice.  I’m a great friend to some, a good friend to others and an acquaintance to yet more.  I am British, I’m a woman and I’m employed.  I’m single, I’m (*little cough*) young and I’m loved.  I’m a mentor, coach and trainer.  I’m educated, I’m a student of education and a student of life.   I’m an introvert, I’m a reflector and through that I am strong.  There are so many facets that make up ‘Who I am’, but from now on my illness will not be one of them.  It’s something I have, not something I am.

For those in a similar situation, I would love to know your thoughts.

A change is as good as a rest

When was the last time you tried something new?  Not something ‘big and exciting’ new, but just a little change to the norm.

This morning, I got a text from a friend, asking if I wanted to go to the ballet to see Swan Lake with her this afternoon.  Her husband had decided he just really didn’t fancy it anymore.   Ordinarily, my immediate response would have been to think of an excuse and politely decline.   I don’t generally ‘do’ spontaneity and especially not for a social event in a busy environment.   Today though, I knew I needed to get out and mix with people.  And I knew it was up to me to make it happen.  I quickly said yes, and arranged to meet outside the theatre.  What a great decision it turned out to be.

I’ve had a bit of a downturn this week and found myself really struggling.  At times it has felt like I was going right back to where I started, but I have continued to try all the techniques I have learnt.  It’s been really hard, especially given how well I have been doing.   Nothing has really seemed to help, but I have kept trying all the same.  Hence my decision this morning.  I could have stayed at home and not spoken to no one all day, but as tempting as that sounded I knew it wasn’t a good idea.

It was the Vienna Festival Ballet and was being performed at my local theatre.   I’ve never been to a ballet and have always wanted to.  I used to love my ballet lessons when I was younger.   I remember getting a white knitted wrap around cardigan and I would wear it all the time.  I had the special ballet bag with a separate section for my shoes.  Before each exam my mum would scrape my hair back into a bun and I would be so happy.    Despite this, I had never seen a proper ballet performance.

The theatre is about a 15 minute walk from my house so I decided to leave early and look round the shops first.  There was a sale at my favourite shop, so I had a look round and ended up buying a new dress.  I had seen it a few weeks earlier and tried it on.  It looked lovely on but it was just a bit too expensive, so having my size in the sale seemed a little too good to be true.  The market was in town so I took in all the sounds and smells, and the amazing range of goods on offer.   There was a stall selling homemade sweets, so I picked up a few bags to keep us going during the ballet.  I was running a little early, so stopped off at Pret a Manger to get latte and found a seat outside the theatre to wait for my friend.  I spent the time people watching and making up stories about their lives.  It was a lovely way to pass the time and to focus my mind on something other than the whirling thoughts.

Image

The ballet was just fabulous.  I loved it.  I had expected to enjoy it but wasn’t expecting to find it so absorbing.  The dancers can only be described as beautiful.  I don’t necessarily mean in the traditional sense, but the way they hold themselves and move like water.  It’s mesmerising.  On the surface, you don’t quite appreciate how much talent they have.  But the lines they create, how they hold poses on one leg, on their toes, for so long…and without shaking or wobbling.  The height of their jumps, the speed of their movements, the flow of their arms.  I’m smiling again remembering it all.

So that was my day.  One small change, saying yes, instead of no.  I’m not feeling a huge amount better, but I’m definitely not worse…and now I can close my eyes and see the dancers again.

Try it, and let me know how it goes?