It’s been a month since my last blog post, mainly due to the fact I have been having a markedly difficult time and consequently have possessed very little energy or motivation to write anything, and no inspiration to formulate any coherent thoughts. After having been off work for almost 3 weeks it has been an incredibly frustrating period, although sadly something which I am all too familiar with. As my most recent blog posts made apparent, I had been heading down a steep slope for some time, and the inevitably that the ‘Black Dog’s’ clutches would eventually pull me fully down was perhaps obvious for all to see. When it gets particularly bad I have no mental or physical energy left to deal with the day to day, and it’s increasingly challenging to be around people, as I so desperately want to be part of their lives, but am unable to. It probably didn’t help that my weekly counseling sessions that I had been having for the last 10 months had come to an end, and so it felt like there was no outlet or support base for me within London, which probably instigated the implosion (obviously my family were supportive from back home).
One of the most commonly asked questions is ‘what was the trigger’ and most of the time there isn’t a noticeable one. It causes me great frustration that I’m unable to put my finger on what initially sets off an episode, because how can you fix something when you don’t know what is broken? Sadly one of depression’s key features is that often it rears its ugly head without warning, and completely out of the blue. This can be because the thoughts or feelings that precipitate it are so unconscious and so deeply ingrained that without deep psychological analysis it’s very difficult to recognise them. It’s pertinent to note that depression is also caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain (a reduction in serotonin levels) and therefore this ensures that the mood levels are so unpredictable, and prone to fluctuation. Of course there are big life events that people experience (bereavement, loss of job, breakup of relationship) that are very obvious triggers, but for me 95% of the time the black fog comes without warning, and there is very rarely any sunshine to burn out the heavy mist that envelopes me.
I started reading an interesting book on depression and mindfulness (before my motivation even for that deserted me) which posited an interesting theory regarding one aspect of depression, stating: “depression forges a connection in the brain between sad mood and negative thoughts, so that even normal sadness can reawaken major negative thoughts.” (The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness by Mark Williams , John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn)
So for example if the loss of a loved one caused a great sadness, then when we feel a sense of heartache again, even years later, then these original memories are reawakened, causing a further spiral down into depression. Or if we felt a particular sense of sadness caused by loneliness during childhood, then even a passing sadness in later life can trigger those feelings of inadequacy or isolation from the past. We may not even be aware that it is a thinking pattern from the past that is causing the current feelings. This quote from the book efficiently details the theory:
“This is why we can react so negatively to unhappiness: our experience is not one simply of sadness, but is colored powerfully by reawakened feelings of deficiency or inadequacy. What may make these reactivated thinking patterns most damaging is that we often don’t realize they are memories at all. We feel not good enough now without being aware that it is a thinking pattern from the past that is evoking the feeling.”
I’m not sure how these insights can really help me, as being aware they exist doesn’t alter the illness’ effect, just like explaining to someone why they have a headache doesn’t make the headache go away. And similarly, just because I can recognise these connections between memories and emotions doesn’t mean it can help me, as depression doesn’t allow for awareness to be a combatant against the illness. Most of the time I can recognise that I shouldn’t be thinking or feeling certain things, but that doesn’t make them go away, it only leads to further frustration at the fact that I can observe and diagnose them without this ability having any positive effect on my wellbeing. But I suppose that learning more about the illness can only be a good thing, and education can only ever be a positive weapon, as I have tried to petition through this blog.
I feel a very slight improvement upon how I was feeling a few weeks ago as I’ve had time to let the noise in my head settle down and time to reflect and recharge, although it hasn’t alleviated completely, and a medication change has left me feeling listless, bereft of energy and with an increasing foggy mind. My sense of loneliness has continued throughout as I’ve had no communication over the last few weeks (outside of family) which has let me feeling incredibly isolated, despondent and just plain sad, and only serves to confirm the conscious or subconscious ingrained beliefs that exist within. And if Mark Williams in his book is correct, these thoughts and feelings may have subconsciously conjured up thought patterns from earlier in my life. For a long time I have felt ‘why would anyone want to be friends or in a relationship with someone like myself, with the difficulties that the depression presents’? I can recognise that this is a typical negative thought pattern associated with the illness, but as the years go by these thoughts intensify in validity, making me feel that my imprint on other people is at best insignificant, at worst completely absent.
Despite a slight improvement over the last few weeks (although devastatingly slow for my liking) , I’m continually aware that it won’t be the last time I feel like this, and that it’s always lurking just below the surface. This reality is both disheartening and heartbreaking, and leads to a desperate hope that once the fogs lifts, it does not descend again for a very long time.