Unwanted Change

A few months ago we were told that The London Studios, where I have worked since 2013, will be closing down next April, resulting in redundancy of the whole department. This wasn’t an immense shock and it had been on the cards for some time, but it was still a surprise that it was happening so soon. I’ve kept reassuring myself that I’m “not too worried”, and that “change might be a good thing”. It certainly has been one the few things that hasn’t affected my mood in a negative way. Or so I thought. On reflection, I’ve probably underestimated how the next 12 months are going to affect me, and it’s only in the last few days that this realisation has hit me.

A person like myself relies on stability, and the concept of change combined with the breakdown of routine, can be an irrefutable source of anguish and despondent ruminations. Depression thrives amongst the unknowns, the what-ifs and the disruption of the equilibrium. I will have been in my job for 5 years, which is a significant period of time for anyone, and whatever else has been going on in my life, it has provided a security and comfort the like of which is only fully appreciated once you realise that it is ending.

The job itself is not the thing that concerns me the most, as it will hopefully provide me with a necessary push towards a different challenge, and an understanding of what it is that I want to do with my life. I can become too comfortable, thriving on the stability and lack of change, which consequently prevents me from progressing. In addition to this, I’d like to believe that I have enough experience to enable me to find another job in the future, and there will be opportunities out there waiting to be found. No, the thing that bothers me the most, and that has been swirling round my mind like smoke around a bonfire, is that my job has essentially been my life for the last 5 years. For someone who lives alone, and does not find socialising all that easy, work essentially becomes my existence, and the people I work with my family. I have made some very good friends through my job, who I get to work with every day, and the knowledge that this will all end has made me feel extremely dejected, as I recognise that it will leave a great hole in my life.

Nostalgia and melancholia, in my experience, play a significant role in depression. The realisation that things will not always be as they are, and that people will move on, is an unwanted facilitator of sadness. People get married, move away, get new jobs, have children, and thus things are always changing, and constantly in flux. In years to come I will look back at the last 5 years, and this snapshot in time will merely be a memory. It will no longer be the present or the future, but will be deeply entrenched in the past. The idea that ‘all good things must come to an end’ is true, but this recognition makes it no easier to handle. When something is happening you never imagine that one day it will be over, and that it will only exist as a distant recollection.

I guess this notion of change also causes me to focus on my own place within the world. In 12 months time people will move on and still have lives they live, jobs they work and families they bring up. But I see myself as being stuck, treading water, and that whilst everyone will move on, I will remain standing still in the same spot. This sense of nostalgia for the past coupled with a disappointment of the prospects for the future, is not simply evident within this particular scenario. It is ever-present throughout the entirety of my life. Thoughts, memories and dreams all become entangled, and it’s impossible to discern how to turn them into a source of positivity, rather than as a reminder of times gone by or perceived failings of oneself. I’m so often stuck in the past, that I forget about the present that is passing me by, and the future that has yet to be written.

 

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The Cycle of Thoughts and Feelings

Thoughts and feelings are at the very heart of Depression. The simple fact is that the thoughts we have can influence the feelings we experience, and vice versa. It’s a viscous cycle, and the cyclical nature of the illness ensures that once you are in the cycle, it is very difficult to break free. Thoughts can often pop into your head from seemingly out of nowhere, and of their own volition. Frequently however, these introspections are provoked by associations arising from what we see or hear around us. Photos, friends, people in the street, a piece of music, or a particular building can all conjure up thoughts, and consequently feelings, which are both unwanted and damaging. This can happen to all of us, although I would suggest that those with a depressive disorder will experience them in a far greater frequency.

Memories can be very significant stimuli in depression, and can be triggered by a wide variety of occurrences. For example, the other day I walked past a previous flat I had lived in, for the first time in about 3 years. This induced painful memories of the difficulties I was going through when I resided there, and the dark place that I found myself in. For the brief time the building was in my eye line it reignited the anxiety I had all those years ago, and the effect this had upon me took some time to wear off. Just as they say a smell of cooking can take you back to your family kitchen when you were a kid, this visual reminder conjured up all kinds on unwanted sensations and anxieties. On another occasion, I walked past someone in the street who looked remarkably like a person from a few years ago who I had a bad experience with, and this generated the same feelings of anger, sadness and frustration that I had felt at the time. It acted as a kind of portal, which transported me back to 3 years ago and bestowed upon me the exact emotions I had experienced during that period.

It can work the other way too. A certain image or stimulus may conjure up memories of a happy event, and illicit a smile and feeling of warmth, as though you are living through that event once again. The problem stems from the fact that the effects of positive memories wear off extremely quickly, whereas the effects of negative ones can linger for many hours or even days.

When a particular issue or source of anxiety is at it’s height, I often focus upon those things that will justify and confirm my beliefs about it, rather than seeking out those truths that may offer a counter argument. For example, if I get self conscious or low about my appearance I will ‘notice’ people who in my mind are ‘more attractive’, ‘normal looking’, and consequently to my prejudiced perception ‘happy’. This will then feed my exiting beliefs and anxieties, and prolong the cycle of mental unrest. It becomes impossible to see the things that would offer a counter to these beliefs, as you cannot help becoming blind to them. Depression could be described as like a special pair of glasses that allow you to see the negative things, but blinds you to all of the positives.

It seems to me that a need for support from other people is inevitable, and paramount as a facilitation to help you try and overcome this. Not so much for reassurance, as that can have detrimental consequences and potentially lead to a heavy reliance on reassurance before you can even function at all (another cyclical process). But just having other people who are not wearing the ‘depression glasses’ can encourage you to open your eyes and see things for what they really are. My illness (among other factors) has prevented me from ever having a girlfriend, and that has always been a huge roadblock to getting to where I want to be, and consequently has promoted deep levels sadness and frustration, as well as an inevitable elevation of that part of my ‘desired life’ to a near mythic unobtainable feat. This is not merely because ‘you want what you don’t have’, but because of the knowledge that whilst it wouldn’t necessarily solve everything, it would mean that I would no longer have to do things alone, and would enable me to express my emotions in a positive way towards another person (love, happiness) rather than a negative one (anxiety, fear, stress, resentment). Plus it’s its just too damn appealing to be with someone who loves you for who you are, and for which you can reciprocate.

Obviously thoughts and feelings aren’t going to go away, and nor should they, as they are what makes us who we are. The goal however, is to be in a position where you are in control of your thoughts and feelings, rather than them being in control of you. It feels as though mine do not only control me, but in fact own me, and dictate every step of my life. If there is a way to take back this ownership, then that must be what I, and indeed everyone, should aspire to.

Swamped

All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow

Mad World – Michael Andrews & Gary Jules

—————-

How do you feel?

Lie: A little down to be honest, but I’ll be ok. Probably just the time of year.

Truth: I feel like my insides are tearing themselves to pieces. I feel like I’m standing on a stage facing a thousand people and my heart is going to burst right out of my chest. I feel like things aren’t, have never been, or never will be OK. I feel like I want to bawl my eyes out until there are no more tears left to shed. I feel like no one understands, none more so than myself. I feel like I am destined to die alone. I feel like I want to get into bed under the covers and never have to get out again. I feel like I want to throw the towel in. I feel like the light from the centre of the sun could not vanquish the darkness I feel inside.

It goes without saying that I’m not in a great place right now. I’ve been down this road enough times to know that eventually it will subside. But I’ve also been down this road enough times to know that it will happen again…and again. The resolve breaks with this knowledge. How can you expect to drag yourself out of a swamp, when you know that you will be back down in it’s muddy depths within a matter of weeks or months. It becomes too easy to give in and stop trying to pull yourself free.

Time has become a large focus. It’s a thought process of contradictions, on the one hand wanting the day to rush by and be over with, whilst on the other hand being scared witless at how fast the years are rolling by. Being 30 terrifies me, not because of the age itself, but because the milestone reminds me of how much of my life I have wasted, or rather my illness has wasted. I want to go back, and have another shot at things. I find myself not having experienced, or having dealt with certain things that I should have in my teens. I can’t help feeling out of place, and not belonging, and terrified of the past, present and future. On the one hand I want to run away and hide from the world, and on the other hand I want to shout from the rooftops ‘please like me’. I simply don’t know what to do. All I can do is get back up again in the morning and carry on. The Garden of Eden must be out there somewhere. I’m just too tangled up in the undergrowth to see it.

Walking The Tightrope

Have you ever played one of those 2p coin pusher arcade games? All it takes is one little coin being pushed through a slot to cause everything else to fall apart. That sums up how I feel. Now more than ever it seems as though every day I’m walking a tightrope, and I’m one little nudge away from falling. The constantly changing mood is in many ways worse than a persistent period of feeling down, as the ability to predict what my state of mind will be from one day to the next becomes impossible.

It’s amazing how tiny things can cause the already unstable equilibrium to become seriously unbalanced: a throwaway remark from a friend, an image on facebook, a memory or thought coming to mind. It’s not these things themselves that cause the spiral downwards, as often they are meaningless, insubstantial or wrongly interpreted, but rather they act as the final little push needed to facilitate the nose dive into turmoil. When a particularly strong sea wave causes a rock face to crumble and fall into the sea, it’s not that single wave that did the damage, but rather it was the years of constant battering that caused the rock face to weaken. The last 7 days have featured the highs of laughing with friends at Christmas parties or in the office, to the lows of shutting myself in the toilets and failing to hold back the tears.

A significant cause of anxiety is a perception or concern with how others view you, and generally these preconceptions are either false, or hugely exaggerated. However, there is one person I know that truly despises me, and that is myself. I find that the loathing I have for myself is only matched by the desire I have to make others happy. It may be a cliche, but how can you expect anyone else to love you when you don’t even like yourself? More than the contempt I have for myself is the constant fear I have of it alienating friends, and all I want to do is constantly apologise for how I am to be around at times. It’s too important that I don’t lose these people…the consequences could be devastating.

As previously mentioned in other blogs this time of year is a particularly difficult one, and whilst I got through my birthday without the immediate difficulties I had anticipated (due in part to the kindness of certain friends in making the day feel special), I certainly feel the affects as a delayed reaction. As 2016 comes to a close it should present everyone with a sense of optimism for what 2017 will bring. For me if merely fills me with dread of another year of my life ticking by, and being nowhere nearer to feeling any semblance of happiness or peace. Is it really worth another year of pain? On 1st January I will have been writing this blog for 1 year, comprising almost 50 posts. The fact that from blog 1 to blog 50 I am still writing the same sorts of things is a testament to how frustrating this illness is, and epitomises how difficult it is to remain hopeful. Whilst it’s true that “to be alive is to have hope”, the longer time goes on the less alive you feel and therefore it’s not just the hope that you crave, but the feeling of being alive.

 

Avoiding the Speed Bumps

It has been almost a month since my last blog post, and generally when an extended period of time like this passes it either means that I’m in a very dark place, or in a relatively good space; the theory being that I either feel too low or disinterested to write anything, or conversely, I have no negative experiences or feelings to verbalise. Thankfully on this occasion I’m leaning towards the more positive end of the spectrum.

It’s also fair to say that I’ve had little time for writing over the past few weeks due to being extremely busy at work, and also a on holiday in Florida for almost two weeks. I believe the holiday was much needed, and felt like a true escape, not just from London, but also from my recent period of low and negative thinking. It also had the effect of transporting me back to simpler, more innocent times, a consequence of visiting the Disney theme parks as a family, just as I did when I was a child. While there is a danger that this bubble of safety I found myself in could lull me into a false sense of security, and merely act as a form of avoidance, thankfully some of the positive effects of the holiday have still lingered within me. Although the pessimist inside me insists this won’t last forever, and is merely a respite rather than a recovery.

Despite this relatively settled state of mind, it’s true to say that I enter the next few months with a great deal of trepidation, and a sense of impending doom which always seems a mere hairsbreadth away. This upcoming period has been a particularly difficult time for me in the past, acting as a catalyst for downward spirals of depression, and even though I can recognise this chain of events, it does not always mean I can can prevent it from happening. Whilst I am undoubtedly a huge fan of Christmas, it has always orchestrated extremely low feelings within, and it’s not always apparent why. Perhaps as this article suggests, “Christmas appears to be a trigger to engage in excessive self-reflection and rumination about the inadequacies of life in comparison with other people who seem to have more and do more”. Christmas is a period of celebrations, festivities and catching up with friends and family, and therefore perhaps its the presence of other people basking in apparent happiness, friendship and general joviality, which in turn precipitates feelings of loneliness, envy and deep critical self-reflection. Essentially the microcosm of Christmas fixates upon and exaggerates all of the emotions and anxieties within a 6 week period, and ensures that the shackles of depression cannot easily be broken free from.

It’s also true to state that the presence of my birthday a mere 2 weeks prior to Christmas adds measurably to the melting pot of emotions. It too acts as a time to reflect upon life gone by, mistakes made, relationships not yet achieved, and as each year passes this becomes more and more pronounced. With this year being my 30th birthday, I have a constant fear that this milestone will be the hardest yet. In many ways a birthday is worse than Christmas, as its the day in which you are the sole focus, as opposed to the global celebration of Christmas. So if no one turns up to your birthday, or you feel isolated and alone, its impossible to push away thoughts such as “nobody likes me”, “why can’t I be more liked?”, “why can’t I have the life of another person?” or “why have I not achieved x, y or z by this age?”. It also pressurises you to compare yourself with other people. Why does John Smith have a wife, a child, his own house and a purpose in his life at age 30, and yet I live on my own and have nothing compared the things he has achieved? Of course the mindset of a depressed person will conveniently forget all of the things that it has that John Smith doesn’t, as well as preemptively assuming that John Smith is happy inside, when in fact there is no way of telling if this is true.

It feels a shame to start this blog with positive thoughts, and end up writing about a purely negative mindset. Unfortunately its this way of thinking that a depressed persons mind forces upon its victim, and I am also being realistic based upon my own experiences, as well as being brutally honest, something which I vowed to do when I started this blog. As always I want nothing more than to be proven wrong, and if I come out of this next few months intact then I will feel it has been a huge achievement. Inevitably it helps that I’m on a steady road at this moment in time, as that can only help me in the long run. However, it’s the speed bumps later down the road that I’m worried about, as I don’t know if I have the strength to swerve past them, and am instead destined to collide head on with them, unable to prevent the devastation that will follow.

 

 

Reflections

To get to my office from the main reception you must traipse down a corridor that is flanked by mirrors on all sides. Most people surreptitiously glance in the mirror as they walk by to check whether their hair is in pristine condition, or whether that annoying spot that emerged in the morning has been successfully hidden away. For myself, I try not to glance sideways as I’m afraid what I will see. It’s not so much my physical appearance (although admittedly I have always had nothing but disgust for that), but more the fact that it causes me to visualise who I have become, and to analyse my life, including where I have come from and where I’m going. In the fleeting moment I gaze upon my reflection I don’t merely see myself as I am now, but instead I’m forced to rocket through the years from childhood to the present, the snapshots berating me for for how much of my life I have wasted,  and taunting me for how much of it the demon inside has taken. I don’t see a young face looking back full of promise, but rather a tired face looking back full of regret.

I’m in one of my dips at the moment, which frustratingly has come so soon on the back of my last one. Usually I get a few months respite at the very least. It’s kind of like quicksand, the more you struggle to get out, the deeper you sink. For example, socialising or going out somewhere only leads to further feelings of low mood as you inevitably see what you perceive that others have (relationships, friends, hope, happiness) and the unavoidable comparison with your life proves too much. So what am I supposed to do, just shut myself away for ever in order to avoid these things? No that won’t work either as that will merely create a blanket of isolation that would smother me, and simply serve to ratify to myself the idea that people don’t care about me. What are you supposed to do when you reach a fork in the road with the option to go left or right, when you know that which ever path you take it will lead you to the same outcome?

I saw a quote that said “If you are searching for that one person who will change your life… take a look in the mirror”. I think that epitomises the difficulties of depression. A mirror doesn’t just reflect back an image or reality, it offers up a perception based upon your own insecurities and fears. You chose what you see, and how you interpret it, depending upon your own internal thoughts and feelings. For me now I can only see the negatives, the missed chances, the defeated moments, and the lack of optimism. The face morphs into my younger self and leads to a yearning to go back to a time where pain was less intense, and a positive future still seemed within reach. Looking back is much easier than looking forward. The key is not to change the image that the mirror reflects, but rather to change your way of looking at it.

So perhaps that’s why it is so difficult for me to pull myself from the quicksand; there are just too many reminders out there which trigger feelings of regret, envy, sadness and a inconsolable anger at the existence of the beast inside.  Afterall, people themselves also represent mirrors, as you see reflected in them the person you want to be, and it merely reiterates your own weaknesses and failings. The ultimate goal for me, and a far greater aspiration that wealth or success, is to be able to face myself in the mirror without turning away in disgust. However, if that day should ever come, then I fear an old man will be peering back at me, as it seems that such an achievement would take a lifetime. Or more.

“Dream a Little Dream of Me”

“There are two tragedies in life.
One is not to get your heart’s desire.
The other is to get it”.

George Bernard Shaw

This utterance from George Bernard Shaw has always been one of my favourite quotes. Despite being relatively simple, it is so multi-layered and its meaning can be deciphered in so many different ways, that it’s much more complex on closer inspection. I believe Shaw is suggesting that whilst failing to achieve what you most desire in life is certainly a tragedy, it is equally tragic to get what you desire, as then you have nothing left to dream of achieving. This then leads to a potential realisation that what you had supposed would be your hearts desire did not in fact fill the hole inside of you as you had hoped.

This concept reflects how I see depression in many ways. The first half of the quote is obvious in its relatability, as a key feature of depression is a yearning for something you don’t have (or don’t believe you have), such as friends, relationships, a purpose, inner peace, hope, a future etc. However, it is the second part that causes more consternation, and that is the notion of achieving something only to realise that it was not the solution to your problems that you had assumed it would be, and this in turn causes a perpetual sense of hopelessness to infest its way into the mind.

For example, if you find yourself in a mire of internal blackness and deep mental lethargy, then all you desire is to come out the other side of this turmoil, and feel yourself again. However, once this has been achieved, there is no sense of celebration or relief, as you have merely reached level ground, and not the joyous peak of the mountain that you had dreamed of scaling. The realities of what you desire are never what you hope they will be, and I think that this would suggest that what makes us happy is not something that we dream of or predict, as we could never conjure up something in our minds that would not ultimately let us down. Happiness must come from somewhere we don’t expect, and its unpredictability and stealthy approach is what makes it work. As John Barrymore says, “Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open”

The very nature of depression is its refusal to allow you to recognise success, instead it finds great pleasure in berating you for your failures. For instance, in the last 10 years I have reached various milestones (moving to London, making friends, good job etc), but these achievements are not allowed to rise to the surface, as the realisation of the deep unhappiness that still exists ensures that this is mission impossible. A builder creating a house from scratch doesn’t celebrate when he has put in the walls, as the house is still missing a roof, and is therefore not complete, and not whole. This is what depression feels like. This notion of disappointment in achieving (or failing to achieve) pre-determined goals is also relatable to the more mundane aspects of mental illness. For example, the optimism that burrows under the skin when you are offered a glimmer of hope (therapy, medication, exercise based relief), is contrasted with the tragic sense of dejection when it fails to work out as you had hoped. You pin your hopes on something so strongly, that even if it works to a small extent, it can never live up to the idealised vision that you create in your mind. You so frequently deliberate and fatasise about what happiness could be, that how could that ever live up to expectations? The problem with dreaming is that you eventually wake up.

So what is worse, not getting your hearts desire, or getting what you most desire and being disappointed? The mind of the depressive concludes that those are the only two options. But surely there can be a third path, surely there is away of reaching that peak, and not being disappointed with the view. For me that pathway seems a million miles away. The very existence of a mountain means it can be climbed, but whilst I can picture vividly in my mind what could be my source of happiness, it neither seems reachable or sustainable to me at this time. Not only do I convince myself that it will never happen, but even it did, how could it meet the expectations of a lifetimes worth of dreaming? All that can be done is to try and cling onto Alexandre Dumas’s words,

“All human wisdom is summed up in two words; wait and hope”