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fighting depression one step at a time

Fighting Depression Is Like The Tortoise And The Hare

“We all have times when we go home at night and pull out our hair and feel misunderstood and lonely and like we’re falling. I think the brain is such that there is always going to be something missing.” ~ Jude Law

Fighting depression is like the tortoise and the hare, where you’re the tortoise and all those other ‘normal’ people are the hares.

Except that the hares are going to beat you.

Over and over again.

So just forget about the hares. Concentrate on your own journey.

Battling depression can often leave you feeling as though you’re adrift in the middle of a choppy sea with nothing to see but crashing waves in every direction. From this vantage point it can be very difficult to have any meaningful perspective on how far you’ve come or how far you have yet to go in terms of your recovery because you’re, understandably, focussing primarily on your current battle to keep your head above water.

You don’t have any landmarks to show you the amount of progress that you’ve made, progress that you’d be really proud of if you were only able to recognise it, because there are no landmarks in the middle of the sea. The sea’s very unhelpful that way.

But if you were to dig into your reserves of energy to think about it for just a few minutes you’d probably be able to recognise that you’ve actually come a long way since the last time you thought about it, when you’d probably made progress on the time before that. It’s just this damn sea and its unhelpful lack of perspective which is demoralising you into forgetting how well you’re doing and how much progress you’re making.

The thing is you’re used to thinking of illness and recovery in terms of physical health problems like the flu, or a chest infection, or a broken leg. Where you get x, you take y, and in z amount of time everything’s back to normal again.

Tackling mental illness doesn’t work like that.

Like the tortoise you aren’t going to get anywhere quickly. You aren’t going to get better in the next hour, or by tomorrow morning, or by the middle of next week, possibly not even by next year.

But you have to keep slowly plodding forward like the tortoise in the belief that eventually you will make it to where you are headed, back on to dry land.

Not because I can promise you that eventually you will get there.

I can’t do that. I haven’t managed to make it to within sight of the shoreline myself yet.

But because the alternative is that you will stay where you are and then eventually you will drown. And that isn’t an option that I’m willing to accept for either of us.

So as a wise little fishy once told us, we’re both going to just keep swimming, okay?

 

*I didn’t have any pictures of tortoises or hares, sorry.
depression, anxiety, stigma, mental health

Depression Is No More About Strength Than it Is About Weakness

“Depression isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’ve been strong for too long.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about.”

“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow. Don’t give up.” ~ Robert Tew

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~ A. A. Milne

“If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.” ~ Maya Angelou

So, as a person with a set of mental health issues I follow a lot of mental health orientated blogs, twitter accounts and Facebook pages. And these blogs, twitter accounts and Facebook pages often post a lot of similar memes.

Now at first I mostly just scrolled passed the memes; for someone who has a commonplace book filled with favourite quotations I’m surprisingly not that fond of memes, but as time’s gone on I’ve began to find them gradually more and more annoying. Until it got to the point that they annoyed me so much that I thought that I should sit down and examine what it was about them that I find so annoying.

And I came up with this.

My pet hate is the one people are forever posting on Facebook about how:

“Depression isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’ve been strong for too long.”

And I’ve decided that the reason it makes me grind my teeth every time I read it is that it just seems so insufferably smug.

Like the person who wrote it, and the people who are continually reposting it onto seemingly every corner of the internet, genuinely believe that they’re somehow braver – and by implication better – as a result of living with their depression than everyone else.

And it’s the same to a greater or lesser extent with all the others.

I appreciate that people are sharing these memes with the aim of supporting people who have depression to stop feeling guilty about it and to educate those who don’t have depression so that they understand that it isn’t about weakness or sufferers not trying hard enough; but it always feels to me like what they’re actually doing is almost romanticising depression. It’s as though they’re trying to make out that people with depression are somehow ‘special’, ‘heroic’ or ‘other’. I don’t think that’s a healthy approach to take to any sort of illness.

It’s the same angle that’s taken in all those cartoon strips floating around that attempt to explain anxiety by portraying suffers as special little snowflakes who just need to be handled with a lot more care than regular people.

I don’t have depression because I’m any more or less strong than anyone else. I don’t have anxiety because I’m any more or less delicate.

I have depression and anxiety due to some combination of a bunch of horrific things happening and my brain never having worked quite the way it should have done to start with.

There’s nothing ‘brave’ about spending two days barricaded in your bedroom with furniture piled in front of the door because the person you live with is away and your crazy brain has convinced you that there are dangerous intruders in the house who are lying in wait for you downstairs.

There’s nothing ‘special’ about a trip to the emergency room to have your arms patched back together because you’ve sliced them up so good that you can’t make them stop spurting with blood and you’re half way convinced that this time you’ve managed to hit a major artery.

And while, as I say, I appreciate that these attempts at destigmatisation are well-meaning, I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to suggest that there is. I think that these memes are creating a new narrative about what a mental illness looks like, and who a person who suffers with their mental health is ,which in its own way is just as unhelpful as the one it’s seeking to replace.

Tell people with depression and anxiety that they’re special and brave and they’re likely to feel even worse about themselves when they can’t manage to function properly; because on top of being able to function properly they’re now also supposed to be special and brave, and they’re almost certainly not going to feel special or brave – they do have depression and anxiety after all - so, oh great, there’s something else that everyone else is able to do that they’ve just failed at.

I also don’t think that this romaticisation is helpful to anyone around the patient either – family, friends, coworkers – I’m maybe not just talking about memes here but the entire campaign that the memes spring from. And that’s because it doesn’t begin to convey just how painful, disheartening, and down right ugly it can be to have to take care of someone who suffers from moderate to severe depression and anxiety.

I think that the only way that we’re going to genuinely tackle the stigma surrounding mental illness is if we’re completely honest about the bad times, and just how bad they can be, rather than insisting that we’re just like everyone except that we’re a bit more antisocial and we sometimes find some parts of life a little bit harder.

Stigma in any area of life arises because many people are incredibly easily scared by things that they don’t understand. These memes annoy me because I think that they’re likely to make people more rather than less afraid when a genuine, unsanitised mental illness manifests itself either in their own mind or that of someone close to them.

 

 

 

how to be kind to yourself

How To Be Kind To Yourself

“As soon as you trust yourself, you will know how to live.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

>  First, fix yourself a drink.

A nice cup of tea or coffee. A cool refreshing glass of fruit juice. A good whiskey or wine. Whatever beverage you think you’d most like right now.

And sit down somewhere quiet and enjoy it.

Put your phone to one side. Don’t check your work email. Don’t listen to the news. Don’t think about your To Do list. Don’t read anything that isn’t purely recreational.

Take 10, 15, 20 minutes just to switch off by yourself and relax.

 

>  Next, give yourself a break

Cut yourself some slack.

Forgive yourself for all the things that you haven’t done perfectly today, for the things that you haven’t gotten to yet, for the things that you’ve missed or forgotten.

Take satisfaction in the things that you’ve achieved today; the progress you’ve made, the things that went well, the help that you’ve given to other people.

Imagine that you’re your own coach or mentor. You wouldn’t second guess, beat up on, or micro-manage anyone else and expect to get the best out of them, it’s not going to work any better on yourself.

Remember to give yourself positive encouragement. Congratulate yourself on your successes.

If you notice mistakes or areas for improvement, acknowledge them, fix them, and move on. Dwelling on things won’t do anything for your confidence, your relationships, or your productivity.

 

>  Recognise that you don’t have to be perfect

Not by your own standards. Certainly not by anyone else’s.

Take a look around you, is anyone else perfect at everything? Of course not, they’re just regular old humans; going about their lives being, for the most part, the best humans that they know how to be.

That’s the best anyone can really do. Learn to be okay with it.

Understand that good people can make bad decisions. Recognise that you are more than your current situation or the last mistake that you made. You are the sum of all the things you have ever done, of all your previous intentions and all your future plans, and of all the people you’ve ever loved and ever been loved by. On balance you’re probably doing okay.

 

>  Prepare one of your favourite meals

Or if you hate to cook order from your favourite takeaway, or head to your favourite pub/restaurant/diner for dinner.

Everything seems better after a good meal.

And eating well is an important part of self-care – hunger saps our energy to deal with stress, work, depression, illness, life in general – so you can do this one guilt free.

 

>  Find an outlet

Everybody needs a way to unwind. Find something – a place, an activity, a piece of music, anything – that allows you to switch off from everything.

It may be through something peaceful like meditation, it could be releasing your pent-up frustrations by working up a sweat in the gym. It could be a happy place, a new intellectual challenge, or a mindless TV show. It might be a playlist or picture that evokes positive memories.

It can be a solitary activity or something you do with your partner, family, friends, or even a group of strangers.

Just make sure that you make space to recharge your batteries in whatever way you need.

All work and no play…leads to burnout. Fast.

 

>  Take a long hot shower

There’s something about feeling all clean and refreshed that just somehow seems to make you feel that little bit more human and everything else that little bit more bearable.

 

>  Get a good night’s sleep

It can be difficult when you’re feeling stressed out, depressed, or under the weather but it’s important to make sure that you get as much decent sleep as you can.

Tiredness makes your brain sluggish, which makes situations and problems seem worse than they really are and solutions harder to consider.  You’ll also be less productive when you’re tired and less able to adapt to unexpected interruptions to your schedule or routine.

Sleep is important for wellness.

Fresh sheets are always nice.

 

>  Arrange something to look forward to

It could be something big like a road trip or a holiday, or small like a coffee date with a friend or a TV show you’re saving to catch up on over your next free Sunday.

Gig tickets are good.

As are pre-planned parties.

If you’re struggling, and all your efforts to relax and unwind in the moment fail to find fulfillment you can always resort to the carrot on a stick approach. Plan a treat to keep thinking of to get you through your illness, rough patch, or just the daily grind.

The knowledge of good things to come can make the present easier to get through, or at least seem less interminable.

You deserve a reward for your current efforts, see to it that you get one.

Reasons to keep going

Reasons To Keep Going

“The thought of suicide is a great consolation: by means of it one gets through many a dark night.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

So, I’ve noticed that a few people have arrived here over the last few weeks via Google searches relating to thoughts of suicide.

I always feel a bit weird when these things show up in my stats. I feel like because these people have come to my bit of the internet, presumably looking for help, then I should be actively doing something for them.

But I can’t because we’re on the internet so I can’t see them, or reach them, and in fact they’ve probably gone away again by the time I find out that they were ever here.

I can only hope that something that they found while I was otherwise occupied did them some good.

But thinking back over all the things that I’ve written I’m not entirely sure what would. So I thought that I should write something new, something with those people in mind, so that I feel like I’ve at least tried to do something to help them.

So, what to write?

Well, there doesn’t seem much point in writing a post trying to talk anybody out of it.

There are plenty of those online already.

And, besides, I’ve personally never found a single one of them remotely convincing. I don’t find people trying to argue me out of suicidal thinking in person convincing either. They all inevitably tell me the same things; that I’ll irreparably hurt a lot of people, that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and that the decision to kill yourself isn’t one you should take unless you’re definitely of sound mind, and the fact that you’re contemplating suicide is proof that you most definitely aren’t thinking sanely.

I always find all of these arguments really, really annoying.

Firstly, I’m not anybody’s mother, sister, daughter, or partner, so I don’t have the kind of relationship with anyone that would mean that my dying would leave a unfillable void in their life. I don’t say that in a self-pitying way, it’s just a fact that I’m not, and I wouldn’t. I also don’t have the kind of relationship with anyone that means that they get to expect me to factor them into my major life choices, and whether or not I want to live or die is pretty much a major life choice.

Secondly, anyone who thinks that this problem is temporary really hasn’t been paying attention. I’ve been dealing with this shit for years. It goes away temporarily but it’s going to keep coming back again; I have a permanent disability.

Thirdly, I just flat-out reject the idea that a person can’t possibly make a sane and rational decision to end their own life. Like, you can argue that that’s not what I might be doing, but making a blanket statement that no sane person could possibly decide that they don’t like living and they don’t want to carry on doing it really hurts your argument, because it just makes me think that you’re an idiot. Seriously, have you never considered anybody else’s life experiences outside your own?

And, finally, I tend to find the fact that the best anyone can do is fob me off and/or flat-out lie to me to be one more incentive to just give up. I mean, if there were any genuine reasons why it’s important for me to live then surely people would be able to think of them to tell me them, right?

So, I figured the best thing to do is list all the actual thoughts, things, reasons that have kept from killing myself in the hopes that maybe they’ll strike a cord with someone and they’ll find at least one or two of them that they can relate to their own situation.

Reasons I’ve Kept Going

>  Because my best friend had some really important work exams coming up that he’s only able to resit a few times and I didn’t want him to fail them because I’d made him upset.

>  Because my friend’s mum had just died and he was in bits and I didn’t want to make him feel any worse.

>  Because another friend was as depressed as me, and struggling just as hard to hang on, and I thought that if I hurt myself I might kill her too. I wasn’t bothered about me but I didn’t want to be responsible for anyone else hurting themselves.

>  Because I’ve done my homework and I know that it’s actually really, really hard to successfully kill yourself, and I’m pretty inept when it comes to practical things, and I’m terrified that all I’d actually manage to do is really, really hurt myself and then have to carry on living with it.

>  Because I don’t want my best friend to have to deal with me physically being there dead.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, what ever situation you might be in, if you kill yourself somebody is going to have to deal with that shit; and notify the people who need to be notified and have you taken to wherever it is that you need to be taken.

Oh, and someone’s going to have to arrange your funeral. And they’re probably going to have to pay for it too. Funerals, as I understand it, are quite expensive.

>  Because I don’t want my friends to have to sort through, divvy up, deal with, and dispose of all my stuff. I have a lot of stuff.

>  Because some people who I’ve never met, who live on the other side of the world stayed up all night to talk to me to distract me from wanting to hurt myself, which made me look at the world in a whole new way. The internet still blows my mind nearly every day.

>  Because I didn’t think anyone would be willing to take in Natalie Portman if I was gone.

>  Because my best friend claims that if I kill myself he’ll stop being a doctor and then he’ll have no idea what to do with himself, and because since he’s supported me and looked after me for the best part of a year it’d probably be extremely ungrateful.

>  Because of fresh bed linen and homemade roast dinners. Because of perfect writing and beautiful photographs. Because of new stationary. Because of a bag of marshmallows. Because of The West Wing and The Good Wife. Because of the little things that make life just that tiny bit more bearable, because sometimes that’s enough for the time being.

>  Because a doctor told me on Monday that he thinks that there is another permanent solution for me and that we’re going to find it for me.

And if none of those work for you then call your best friend, or your mother, or your brother, or your doctor, or whoever it is you normally talk to about stuff and ask them for some better suggestions.

If you’re not already receiving it you probably need some professional medical help, because it’s very likely that you have depression, please make sure that you find this before making any unalterable decisions.

 

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