Trying Times

A running theme in these blogs has been the concept that understanding depression and anxiety is incredibly difficult, unless you are experiencing it first hand. Even I find it extremely challenging to try and describe to people how it manifests itself, partly due to the fact that its often impossible to recognise what has brought it on, but also the fear that describing it will lead to scorn. I thought therefore, after a particularly tough weekend, I would keep a mini diary of my thoughts throughout Saturday, to try and elaborate on how I was feeling. I haven’t edited them, and have just typed them up as I wrote them at the time:

9am

Woke up feeling awful. Combination of a few drinks the night before, exhaustion from the previous week, and only a few hours sleep during the night. Force myself to get up and clean the flat, and do jobs that need doing, because otherwise they will play on mind and I won’t be able to relax.

10am

Cancel plans for the evening (which I had been looking forward to) due to feeling exhausted and pretty down. Just need to be alone, despite the fact that I know this will have a detrimental effect. Also leads to guilt at letting down the person I had plans with, and extreme frustration that the illness has such a hold over my life.

10.30am

Head to the gym for an hour. Cycle about 20km, and feel better afterwards, more awake, and the adrenaline is taking its effect. Feel like I may be able to go out after all and salvage some of the day.

1pm

After lunch I’m flagging again, my energy levels have plummeted and the negative thoughts rear their ugly head again. I’m also crashing a bit from 3 coffees, which I had as I was so tired. Go out for an intended walk, but felt a bit nauseous from tiredness, so I cut it short and head home. I feel very alone, but at the same time, just want to hibernate for the afternoon.

3pm

Haven’t done much for the last hour or so, have been so restless and therefore unable to concentrate on anything, but also too tired to go out. Lie down on the sofa to read and end up falling asleep for a couple of hours. Wake up and its dark. Have that horrible feeling after being woken from a deep sleep, and also feel incredibly frustrated that I’ve wasted the day. Inevitably leads to lots of negative thoughts, varying from imagined fun that everyone else is experiencing on their day off, to regret that I haven’t been strong enough to fight my thoughts and feelings, to a yearning for a long sleep.

6pm

Watch a film, but keep having to pause it as am feeling restless and anxious. Have a few drinks to try and relax. Just gives me a headache.

8pm

Feel low, dejected, and hopeless. Nights are often the worst. Text a few friends as I need to reach out, but then feel guilty about bothering them. By 10pm I head to bed, although struggle to sleep despite the tiredness.

This is not necessarily a typical day; in fact I’d say it’s a particularly bad day. Sometimes I feel stable and motivated and there would be a lot more positive diary entries. But I just wanted to try and verbalise a few thoughts that happen on a bad day. I think there are themes present that have been mentioned in all of my previous blogs; the idea that being alone leads to a worsening of the symptoms, the fact that there can be ups and downs even within a single day, and also the evident complication to the problem that tiredness presents.

News site The Might posted a question on Facebook: In one sentence, how would you describe what it’s like to have depression to someone who’s never experienced it?’ It’s a really interesting read, and I can relate to a lot of what the people are saying. Take a look at the link, as I’m convinced this is a far better way of gaining an understanding of depression and anxiety than by reading a psychology book or health encyclopedia, as it’s based on very personal experiences. Sarah Wehage says of depression, “Everything is off, nothing feels right, everything rubs you wrong. You dont want to deal with anyone or anything, you want to be left alone, then you feel worse because your lonely. Never ending cycle. The most feelings you have are anger or sadness, or bitterness. You can’t shake it. You can’t change it, you can’t breathe, you can’t just be happy.”

Sarah’s quote clearly echoes a lot of the thoughts and feelings I described in my diary, and goes to prove that there are so many people out there thinking the same thoughts and feeling the same feelings. To say its nice to know there are people with the same experiences as you is not an adequate way of wording it, but it certainly makes you feel less alone.

Emily Dotterer produced the most pertinent observation. My diary demonstrates that a many of the depressive thoughts and feelings can happen without external influence (although these clearly have a big effect too), due to the fact that the majority of the battle takes place within the mind. Emily perfect summarises this when she says: “Having depression is being in an abusive relationship with yourself.” But unfortunately you can’t break up with yourself…you are stuck together, through thick and thin.

Sharing Is Caring

Last night was a particularly low one for me, and on top of that I was exhausted (the two go together hand in hand). When I woke up I checked the blog, to try and get a bit of inspiration, and therefore I wanted to focus today on a few of the comments I have received, which have both touched and inspired me. Part of my decision to do this blog was to communicate my thoughts and experiences, and also to bring together people in similar situations, as well as hopefully being a source of help and encouragement. So please do follow this blog to receive updates (link on the right hand side) or send the link to friends or family members who you think it may help.

There are two areas I wanted to concentrate on today, both of which I don’t think people consider that frequently…in fact I didn’t until I read these two comments. The first comment was in response to my blog on loneliness and isolation ‘But Honey I was Lonely On the Road, I was all on my own‘, and it came from Joanne who articulated the following:

“I believe loneliness is a huge factor in the feeling of anxiety and depression. It is not only an outer loneliness but an inner loneliness that can be extreme. I suffered from terrible depression and anxiety, then I met my partner and more importantly I had my children, I never suffered with these feelings again. The inner loneliness was gone and my children filled that horrible emptiness I once felt inside. I was told by professionals that I would always suffer with depression and would be on medication for the rest of my life. I haven’t taken medication for 10 years now. I am happy. I don’t suffer from depression. My children saved my life, literally.”

This is a truly inspiring tale, and contains a concept that I had never previously contemplated: the fact you can better. It also vindicates my notion from my previous blog that friendships and relationships are “the only thing that truly matters.” The fact that Joanne’s relationship with her children and partner could quite literally change her life, and bypass the horrible medication that we are often given, is extraordinary. Of course I’m in no way pronouncing that its as simple as that, and that this would happen to everyone, as that does a disservice to the complexity of mental health. But the fact that it has happened to Joanne, is surely a message of hope and encouragement?

The second comment is from Grooving Time which was made in response to my blog ‘Home Alone: Lost In Your Thoughts which focused on living by oneself, and how this can affect depression and anxiety. Grooving Time underlines another issue that is oft overlooked, which is the concept of suffering from depression, and also living with someone who also endures the same illness:

“While thinking about what you said about living alone or with someone and all that thing about how your depression also affects your family/friends, I thought I should share something about my life that you don’t see much out there. I have depression and live with my mother, who also has depression, and we’re not close to our family, so we kind of only have each other. It’s hard sometimes, because when she’s not well, I have to do my best to help her, and the same when it happens to me, but when we both are struggling with it and won’t leave our bedrooms, it can be very suffocating. I’m very young, I’m in high school, and I always try to do my best to help both me and her, even when I don’t feel that well. It’s pretty hard, you know? I don’t think many people live in the same situation I do, and, like you said, living alone can me pretty difficult, but living with someone who suffers from the same thing you do is very complicated. But anyway, your words have been helping a little, so thank you. I made a blog of my own to try to write about the same topic and some other stuff that were the cause of my depression, I just hope I can do it as well as you’re doing. Keep up with the good work.”

Grooving Time here gives prominence to a contrasting type of loneliness and isolation from the variety analysed in a previous blog. This feeling of seclusion and detachment is one which exists despite the presence of another person within the household. I can’t comprehend how challenging it is dealing not only with your own struggles, but that of a loved one. When you are desperately struggling and feeling in turmoil, you are sapped of all energy, and so the emotional strength to care for another person is unquantifiable in its difficulty. She is doing a fantastic and inspiring job, and was very brave telling her story.

Both of these examples again demonstrate how complex and intricate mental health is. There is no black and white answers, only a grey void of misunderstandings and misconceptions, and the only way in which this can change is to educate people as fully as possible about this complicated issue, and by the likes of Joanne and Grooving Time sharing their stories, a big step can be taken. Both of these narratives highlight to me how many people there are out there suffering, or having suffered in the past, with depression and anxiety. If this blog can help advocate gaining a better understanding of the illness, and also provide a sounding board in which sufferers can support and advise one other, then it will make the difficulty of opening up utterly worthwhile.

“But Honey I Was Lonely On The Road, I Was All On My Own”

I read a very intelligent and pertinent article this morning by Andrew Solomon, written in the Guardian a few years ago. The link can be found here.

It identifies one of the key aspects of depression: loneliness. Solomon describes depression as “a disease of loneliness” and that “many untreated depressives lack friends because it saps the vitality that friendship requires and immures its victims in an impenetrable sheath, making it hard for them to speak or hear words of comfort”.

From my experience, depression (and anxiety for that matter), can have a huge impact on friendships and relationships. It can cause isolation and a feeling of loneliness, both literal and mental, that comes with the inevitable sapping of energy, hope, enthusiasm and passion associated with the illness, and a need to shut oneself away, as well as the formidable barriers that both depression and anxiety put up against forming relationships or intimacy.

Solomon theorises that many people “are desperate for love, but don’t know how to go about finding it, disabled by depression’s tidal pull toward seclusion”. I thinks its relevant to highlight the fact that its not always literal isolation or loneliness. You don’t need to be sat in a room on your own to feel desolate, or have no friends or family in the world. I love Solomon’s phrase “We are imprisoned even in crowded cities and at noisy parties”. Quite often you can be in a room of people, at the office, with a group of friends, at a party etc, and feel detached, unconnected, removed and in a deep well of sadness. Stephen fry in his blog on loneliness (link) states that “loneliness is the most terrible and contradictory of my problems…. it’s a lose-lose matter. I don’t want to be alone, but I want to be left alone”. How can an illness that makes you want/need to be alone, also make you hate and fear being alone? It doesn’t seem fair.

I guess everyone’s goal is to find love and happiness, but depression can make this impossibly difficult, due to the barriers you put up, the crippling anxiety rippling through the body, and the fact that the bubble of isolation and seclusion doesn’t want to give you up without a fight. Solomon describes depressions “universal bleakness and the bleaker reality of suffering without the cushion of love” and proffers the idea of the “authentic intimacy that comes with sharing your life’s challenges with someone who cares – who will be sad because you are sad, happy because you feel joy, worried if you are unwell, reassuring if you are hopeless”. Without this love or intimacy is can be a difficult road, as you can’t see an end, a goal, or a point, and this results in you being two steps back before you have even started.

Solomon ends by stating that “many of us are more alone than we need to be, living in gratuitous exile. Friendship is an impulse encoded deep within us, but it is also a skill, and skills can be both taught and learned”. For most people, friendships and love and relationships are as natural as breathing or eating, but for a large number of people with depression/anxiety, it can be a higher state, a Nirvana, that always seems out of grasp, but which at the end of the day, is the only thing that truly matters.

Home Alone: Lost In Your Thoughts

I thought I would take a moment in this blog to analyse how living alone affects depression and anxiety. I have lived for the last 18 months alone in my flat in Ealing, and so have a good period of time to base my analysis on. And before anyone asks, I’ve never considered the following an advantage:

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In the past I have lived in flat shares with strangers, and also flat shares with friends. I found this an incredibly difficult experience, due to the struggles I have with my anxiety specifically. A facet of anxiety is that the tiniest of things can bother you, get under your skin, and consume all of your time and thoughts. When sharing with people these were highlighted to a greater degree, to the extent that in the early days I would spend the majority of time in my room, even for meals. The thought of eating or being in the same room as others made me incredibly apprehensive. It started to become oppressive and it felt like I couldn’t escape my thoughts or worries. Even minutiae thoughts such as having to cook at the same time as someone, or meet someone for a chat in a corridor, or another flatmate having someone stay over at the flat caused me considerable anxiety.

This precipitated my mood taking huge plunge downwards. I dreaded coming back to London if ever I went home. It also heightened and highlighted the many symptoms of the illness, including not being able to sleep, being constantly tired, feeling constantly on edge and unable to relax, and also affecting social interactions.

Now I live alone, I have my own sanctuary, an area that I feel safe in, and that doesn’t cause me to fear coming back to. I have freedom and a reduction of the worries and anxieties associated with sharing, as previously mentioned. However, the clear disadvantage is that at times the only companion can be the ruminations inside my head (and occasionally the sounds of the screaming children next door!). There is no distraction, and nobody to talk through how I’m feeling, or even to just go for a beer with in the local area. Anxiety and low mood can mean its at best difficult, and at worst neigh on impossible to force yourself out socially. Being in the bubble of living alone can mean that you can easily get sucked in to staying in that safe environment which may ease the pressure in the short term, but in the long term can lead to loneliness, isolation, frustration and a feeling of despair. It’s a vicious cycle, as much of the associated components of mental health can be.

I think in conclusion that there are clearly pros and cons about living alone with depression and anxiety, and I feel personally that it is unequivocally preferable for my situation, and gives my the best platform to try and get better. Although, clearly living in isolation can have an affect of depression particularly, as this article suggests (Link). It claims “People of working age who live alone increase their risk of depression by up to 80%”. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that, but clearly it does have a significant impact.

Finally though, for this guy it’s a no-brainer, he clearly loves being the King of his own Castle!

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The Best Of Intentions

Firstly, I just wanted to again say thankyou for all the nice comments I’ve received since I started this blog, it means a great deal, and makes it all the more worthwhile.

Following on from my last blog about negative attitudes towards mental health, specifically depression and anxiety, I wanted to look at the flip side, in terms of peoples support towards sufferers. The worst thing about anxiety/depression is the fact that it doesn’t just affect the person diagnosed, but also the friends, families and colleagues of them as well. If your son or daughter/husband or wife/boyfriend or girlfriend has got pneumonia, then you know how to care for them, and help them get better. With mental illness, this isn’t really an option, as its such a complex issue, that perplexes even the sufferer, and therefore offers little signposting to the friends and family of what to do and what to say.

Over the course of my illness people have kindly said various things that they think will help, or will offer encouragement or a solution. I want to make it clear that these are completely understandable things to say, and if I were in the reverse situation, I would almost certainly suggest them to a struggling friend. But I just wanted to touch upon a few examples of things that have been said, and try and explain the reasons why they sadly don’t have the intended beneficial effect.

“There are people worse off in the world than you” – This is a difficult one, because it’s undeniably true that there are people in horrendous situations in the world, with tragic illnesses and circumstances. However, a person who suffers from anxiety or depression knows this, and often they already feel guilty about their illness, and the comparison with those in terrible situations can then further fuel that guilt or sense of inadequacy. Also, mental illness is not a rational illness, in the sense that it can rear its head for an unknown reason, and so its not possible to relieve the symptoms by rationally comparing it to another illness.

“What you are worrying about isn’t a big deal” – Anxiety sufferers understand that a lot of their worries are not justified, or are in themselves insignificant, but the whole frustration with the illness is that it can’t be rationalised. As Ally Boguhn says (see link at bottom) “The truth about anxiety is that it is all about getting caught up in minute little details and scenarios that are completely irrational”. Clearly some mental illness is caused by life events or can be traced back to a trauma as the sole cause. But generally its just there, lying dormant, waiting for the next moment to wake up and rear its ugly head.

“Think of all the great things you have going for you” – This is a very common remark, and I reiterate again, completely understandable. People often say “but you’ve got a great job, flat, friends/family, just think about that if you are feeling low”. While its irrefutable that many sufferers do have these (myself included), as previously mentioned the crippling thoughts and worries that come with anxiety, and the loneliness and hopelessness caused by depression, do not recede or distinguish because of the recognition of other positive factors of your life. If only they could! Robin Williams’ tragic suicide is a pertinent example of this. From the outside he had everything, but this didn’t cure him of what he was suffering, or allow him to deal with his ‘invisible illness’.

“Get some fresh air or exercise and you will feel better” – This was the very first thing the doctor advised me when I first saw him, and which other healthcare workers have also insisted upon. While this advice comes from a good place, and fresh air and exercise are without a doubt beneficial, they are not a solution, or a cure. For a start, sometimes you feel so anxious or low, that going out to exercise is not an option. But secondly, if you go for a run, or cycle ride etc, you may briefly escape the previously mentioned ‘Black Dog’, but once you stop, he soon catches up again, and you are back to square one.

“You’re bringing everyone down” – This is one of the hardest and most emotive of issues. As mentioned at the start of this blog, depression and anxiety affect two groups of people: suffers, and the people that know and love them. The families and friends who live with sufferers are without a doubt the unmentioned victims, and so being told that you are bringing them down can feed into the guilt of how your illness affects others, but also cause a frustration that they don’t understand what you are going through. Of course they don’t, but how could they be expected to!

These are just a few examples, and again, I can’t emphasise enough how this blog is not intended to be accusatory in any way, but merely a point of information, and a discussion on a labyrinthine topic. As intimated, these are logical, reasoned things to say to people when you don’t know what they are going through. And the knowledge that there are people who care enough about you to offer their advice and help is invaluable. But I thought it may be helpful to try and dissect some aspects of the illness and shed some light on the realities of how certain words sadly can’t be taken on board as they are intended to be.

I thought I would finish with a quote from one of my heroes Stephen Fry, who can put things into words much more eloquently than myself:

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather. Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

Footnote

Here are a few links that I came across on the subject:

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-22342/7-things-never-to-say-to-someone-whos-suffering-from-anxiety.html

http://metro.co.uk/2015/09/24/6-things-not-to-say-to-somebody-with-anxiety-5404995/

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/05/things-shouldnt-say-people-with-anxiety/

http://www.buzzfeed.com/laraparker/things-you-shouldnt-say-to-someone-struggling-with-depress#.rkzGp1yVd

 

Are Attitudes Changing?

I was sat in the doctors surgery the other day, which is in itself a horrible experience. A room full of sick people, screaming children, heating ramped up to ridiculous levels, and nothing for entertainment other than some Readers Digest magazines that weren’t even written this decade. After sitting there for about 20 minutes a man came in, who was probably in his mid-forties. At first I didn’t pay any attention to him, engrossed as I was in June 2009’s Readers Digest. However, after a while it became impossible to ignore him. He started talking to people about everything and nothing, as well as swearing under his breath as each person was called ahead of him to see their doctor, and wondering aimlessly around the waiting room. A few of his bizarre words exchanged with people included “what finger do you wear a wedding ring on?”, “I’m hoping to be a body guard, not so I can smash peoples heads in though” and “I’ve probably got children somewhere, I was quite a lady’s man in the 80’s”.

The reactions from people in the waiting room included shaking heads, self concealed laughter, or just plain ignoring him and hoping he didn’t speak to them (we are British after all!). And I must admit I engaged in at least 2 of those reactions. Before I had chance to think any further I was called through to see my doctor (to an accompanying expletive from the aforementioned man, as he still hadn’t been seen).

It was only while I was walking home afterwards that I thought more about the man. He clearly suffered from some mental illness, the specifics of which, and the degree to which, I can’t really say. But I think it was clear from anyone who encountered him that this was the case. And what were people’s reactions, mine included? Laughter, anger and bemusement. This in a nutshell sums up attitudes towards mental health. It can be confused for rudeness, shyness, anger, oddness, and if people don’t have an understanding of mental health, then they can judge or be negative towards a sufferer, without knowing that they are. This is not a criticism aimed at people, because it’s not really their fault. It just so happens that mental health is such a complex, and misunderstood issue. Even people who suffer from it don’t really understand it! I find it very difficult to recognise and understand my thoughts and feelings, so God knows how ‘non-sufferers’ can.

Today there was a fascinating news article on the BBC website (Link to article), in which a study found that “19% of adults thought ‘one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and willpower’. This is an extraordinary figure, although again, these people can’t be blamed, because if you don’t suffer from a mental illness, or know people that do, its easy to mistake or misunderstand the truth of the persons affliction. The findings concluded that “attitudes were also related to people’s knowledge and experience of mental illness”, and that “if you know someone with a mental illness you are less likely to hold negative views”.

I myself am always reading and researching, because it’s the only way that I can try and understand the complexities. And from this research it suggests that if everyone did this, it may help create a greater acceptance and understanding of the illness. David Cameron recently promised action on “treatable problems”, including mental illnesses and addiction. Lets hope that he breaks the mould for politicians, and keeps a promise!

 

Introductions

Thankyou very much for the support for the first blog, it is much appreciated. It is extremely difficult to open up, as I’m sure you can imagine.

I finally managed to work out how to add a ‘follow’ option! If you select this it will mean an email is sent out when I post a new blog.

I thought I would give a brief introduction to myself in this post, to give a bit of context. My depression/anxiety came to prominence in my mid to late teens, although with hindsight it was in existence before then, but could be shrugged of as ‘shyness’. Mental illness also runs in the family, and I think its hereditary nature is one of those things that people don’t often think of. I first decided to go to the GP about it when I was about 22.

There are lots of websites about the symptoms/causes/solutions etc, so I won’t go into that too deeply. What I would say though, is that my illness is by no means at the upper end of the spectrum, the likes of people that have life threatening situations, consider suicide, and of who its clear from the outside that there is a problem. Mine is at a level that I can hide it much of the time (not particularly a good idea!) and it comes in peaks and troughs, with some aspects that are ever present. For weeks/months I can be ok, and then suddenly I can take a dip, which may be traced back to an event I can recognise, or may come from nowhere. It can then be very hard to get out of that dip.

When I was younger it was anxiety that was the prevalent symptom, which led to many missed opportunities, and struggles with/absence of friendships/relationships. As I got older, the depression joined the fold, and the two combined. I have in the past, and continue to have, therapy/medication, which help in varying degrees.

That’s a brief (well almost!) introduction, although doesn’t really scratch the surface. But that will come in time. I think the thing I have struggled with most is the fact that its an invisible illness. If you break your arm, you’d have a cast, if you had a cold, you’d be coughing. The thing that has been the hardest is that it is hidden within, and you develop excellent skills of hiding it. Which is partly why I thought this was an opportunity to change that. Plus hopefully to help other to open up. People have already admitted to me being in a similar situation…people that I would have never considered to suffer from depression/anxiety.

Finally I also want to emphasise that there are people out there suffering much worse than me, not just in mental health, but life in general, and I’m in no way asking for sympathy or anything like that. I’m just writing about this subject because you can only write what you know about.

To end on a lighter note, here is a photo I took at Richmond Park the other day! Exercise and fresh air/nature are supposed to be incredibly helpful for depression/anxiety, and so I try to engage in them as often as possible. What they don’t tell you is that 4 deers charging straight at you, can have a slightly reversed effect, as I can vouch for!

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