Positives and Negatives

Depression has a way of ensuring that you only ever focus on the negatives of a situation, whilst completely disregarding the positives. It’s the whole ‘glass half empty or half full’ argument, although depression leads to the conclusion that the glass is in fact completely empty. It’s not rocket science to make the connection between negative thinking and negative feelings. If the mind is only every directed towards the negative moments or situations, then its inevitable that this produces feelings of sadness, regret, frustration and hopelessness. The depressives mind further exacerbates these thoughts due the ruminative nature of the illness. The thoughts keep going round and round, and at times are all that you can focus on, to the detriment of every day life.

Here is an interesting article on depression and negative thinking.  As the author states,  “One of the features of depression is pessimistic thinking. The negative thinking is actually the depression speaking. It’s what depression sounds like. Depression in fact manifests in negative thinking before it creates negative affect.” It then precedes to argue that “Compounding the matter is that negative thinking slips into the brain under the radar of conscious awareness and becomes one of the strongest of habit patterns. People generate negative thoughts so automatically they are unaware that it is happening, that it is actually a choice they are making”

These thoughts, therefore, are sometimes conscious, and recognisable triggers. However as the quote above attests to, often they are deeply subconscious, which is why I find it virtually impossible to respond to the oft asked question, “what were you thinking to make you feel so low?”. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work like that. The thoughts are frequently so deeply buried and entrenched in the mind, that they can only be recognised by the effects they have on body and and on the feelings and emotions that are a consequence of that.

As mentioned in previous blogs, I often contemplate the notion of time. For instance, if I analyse the last 5 or 10 years, I am led to negative conclusions centering on lack of achievement, relationships, improvement in my wellbeing, and a general acceptance that I am no further forward than I was then. A good example of this is when I was asked today in an appointment to verbalise the positives of the last few years. Whilst my initial temptation was to remark that there were none, I was encouraged to think more clearly and honestly. I concluded that in the last few years I have had two stable and rewarding jobs, built up an array of friends and colleagues who I care deeply about, have my own flat which provides a place of comfort and safety, and have also lived in London for 5.5 years, which is something I never believed I could achieve when I left university. So here is proof that depression is both a cause and an effect of thinking. On the one hand the low mood can sway how you view the world and your achievements, while at the same time the negative thoughts that manifest themselves in your mind feed in to further bouts of depression. This again highlights the undoubted cyclical nature of the illness.

Many of the therapies tasked with treating depression are based around the notion that by changing your way of thinking, you can go someway towards combating the illness. Sadly I have never found this to be the case, and any of these such treatments have had little or no affect on me. I’d hazard a guess that this is a consequence of the multitude of negative thoughts and ways of thinking being so deeply ingrained that they cannot be broken down by such methods. I hypothesise that the best I can hope for is that every so often I can be reminded of the positives by other people, because I sure enough don’t need reminding of the negatives. The ‘black dog’ ensures that I don’t forget those. He is incredibly persuasive and persistent.

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No Direction

It’s been a week since my last blog, which is down to the fact that I have been incredibly busy at work, and have also come down with the lurgy again, which has sapped all energy from me, and as I have highlighted previously, that energy is already in short supply. Regardless of the cold/flu, the daily grind has been getting me down, and I’ve lost a substantial amount of enthusiasm and motivation. My life doesn’t hold any excitement or spontaneity, and while this precipitates a reduction in anxiety, it also leads to a feeling of monotony, and the notion I’m just living out each day. My mind isn’t challenged, and I’m always on autopilot. Any potential for spontaneous moments, or breaking of my routine, causes a great deal of discomfort and anxiety, and therefore I don’t engage in it whatsoever. I just feel like I’m floating through each day without really noticing what’s happening, or where I’m headed. I don’t want to float, I want to soar.

That’s not to say that my days don’t have their positive moments. Small glimpses offer me some pleasure, and these are almost without exception interactions with friends, colleagues or family. But these moments feel like snow falling in London; fleeting, and gone far too quickly. I feel like I’m not going anywhere in my life, and perhaps that’s the reason why I am not enjoying it. If I take a look at where I was 5, 10 years ago, both literally and mentally, I have not progressed to any significant degree. My greatest fear is the same will be true if I look back in another 5 years time, and I will have remained in limbo, never quite finding my purpose or my passion. Next Saturday I’m off work for 2 weeks: 7 days in Dubai visiting family, and then 7 days back home on the coast for Easter. I’m looking forward to the change of scenery, and for an escape from my predictable repetitiveness that I’m experiencing at the moment. However I read a quote from Rob Hill Sr who said, “My goal is to build a life I don’t need a vacation from”. I don’t want my life to be something I have to escape from, but rather I want it to be something that makes me jump out of bed in the morning, full of curiosity of what the day ahead holds. This would be substantially preferable to my current grudging acceptance of spending another day not knowing how to fill my time, or how to give myself purpose, or present my life with a meaning or direction. I crave for my life to mean something, and I yearn to be able to cherish every waking second, knowing that I am getting everything I possibly can out of it. But mostly I just want to be happy. But alas, I don’t know how to find that holy grail, and that sadly, is the biggest heartache of them all.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

If asked what is significant about the month of May, it’s likely that you will conjure up images of long bank holiday weekends, visits to the beach, the release of the latest superhero blockbuster, evenings that seem to go on forever, and a warm glow inside that comes with the heralding of summer. However, May also signals another event, one that many people are unaware of. From 16th-22nd May it is Mental Health Awareness Week, a 7 day programme of events and information from the Mental Health Foundation, tasked with raising awareness and getting people talking. Check out this link for more information.

I must confess that I was ignorant of this project, despite the fact that the first Mental Health Awareness Week was 16 years ago. From doing a bit of research I’ve discovered that each year focuses on a different aspect of mental health, and this year it will place relationships in the spotlight. According to the website, “healthy and supportive relationships reduce the risk of mental ill-health. This Mental Health Awareness Week we are celebrating the connections, the relationships, the people in our lives that add to our wellbeing and protect and sustain our mental health. From family and friends, to colleagues and neighbours; taking notice of those connections that make you feel safe and supported.”

I recognise that I’ve concentrated on relationships, and also the idea of loneliness, in previous blogs, but its such a relevant and crucial facet of the illness, that I feel it can’t be examined too many times. As you can see from above, its just just romantic relationships, but also that of friends and colleagues, and also the wider community of mental illness sufferers. Relationships are the most important thing in our lives, and without them, we would not survive. Over 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental illness, and I don’t think it’s a huge leap to state that loneliness is a major contributing factor. I’ve never considered ending my life, but I would certainly say that my lowest moments have been when I have felt isolated, unloved or alone, whether literally alone, or alone on the inside and feeling disconnected from those around me.

If I take the last 7 days, which contain the usual peaks and troughs of my mood, the best moments are when I have been around friends and colleagues (which happen to be one and the same thing). Simple pursuits such as making someone laugh gives me a huge boost internally, which I predict is as a result of creating that connection with another human being, and perceiving that you can have a positive impact on them. The correlation between mood and the presence of other people cannot be a coincidence. The problem however, is that when a downward spiral begins, all you want is to shut yourself away from everyone, and its too exhausting to socialise or be in the presence of the very people that make you happy. How unfair is it that the one thing that will make you content, is the one thing you can’t have when feeling depressed? It feels like the illness is laughing at you, knowing full well that its stopping you from having the one thing you need. This cruel contradiction is a source of great frustration and despondency, that consequently can only lead to further feelings of hopelessness and regret.

As this article proposes, and as I touched upon earlier, loneliness is not just the product of finding oneself physically alone or isolated. Mark Rowland advocates that “many of us have experienced loneliness in the context of a busy office or lively party. It is about quality of relationships, not just quantity. And we now know that loneliness has significant implications for our mental health.” I can regularly feel detached or withdrawn when sat at my desk, on the tube, out for drinks, or at a party. For me personally the physical loneliness isn’t the most prevalent adversity, by virtue of the fact that I’ve never been a big socialiser, and cherish the quiet life and my own company. For me it’s the internal loneliness which is gut wrenching, and which drains me of all hope, motivation and strength. When you are feeling desolate and hopeless, seeing something as simple as friends laughing, a couple kissing, or a family playing in the park can spark such strong emotions within, and such a deep yearning to have what they possess, and to feel like you belong, that it can be as infuriating as it is melancholic.

More than ever I crave that one strong connection, that person who I can love and who can love me in return for who I am, as I feel that only then can I truly be happy. It recent months it has felt closer than it ever has been, but my negative disposition always feeds the notion of being ‘too good to be true’. One consideration that I have attempted to heed, but yet which still challenges me and holds me back, is the concept of loving oneself. I have always had little or no confidence in myself, and how others view me, and at times I have felt worthless and unlovable. However it has slowly begun to dawn on me that the only way to find love elsewhere is to first love who you are, as how can you expect someone else to love you if you are unable to? Whilst it’s a challenge, and I’m not close to embracing the philosophy fully as yet, I’m always mindful of Patricia Fry’s following words, which I will finish with:

“An intimate relationship does not banish loneliness. Only when we are comfortable with who we are can we truly function independently in a healthy way, can we truly function within a relationship. Two halves do not make a whole when it comes to a healthy relationship: it takes two wholes.”