Brutal Truths

A short post today as I am struggling for inspiration and also the energy (both physical and mental) to conjure up any lucid and meaningful thoughts. I’m very conscious of not wanting to repeat what I’ve said in previous posts, but sadly the repetitiveness of the depression ensure that every day the same thoughts and feelings surface, almost predictably on time, and with no regard for how they will affect the already fragile mind. It feels as though you are stuck in quicksand, and the effort of lifting a leg out is irrefutably exhausting, and also utterly pointless, as your next step results in being pulled back down once again into the mire.

My determination to do the right thing is unwavering, and I fulfill all of the suggested techniques, modes of thinking and action, possible distractions and potentially positive pursuits of my time, but to no avail. Any occasional relief is temporary, and a self imposed (and circumstance imposed) sense of isolation and its subsequent feeling of ‘friendlessness’, precipitates a disconnect from reality and from the fundamental human emotions and ideals. A contradictory factor of depression is that you can often not even feel sadness, frustration, or any feeling at all, as you seem to become a emotionless shadow of your formal self.

Exercise has become an important force for distraction, and also mental clarity. Not only does it provide a temporary euphoric glow as a result of pushing your body to it’s limits, but it also produces the thought that you are doing something positive, albeit for the very briefest of moments. When engaged in this physical activity, you have little time or energy to think of anything else, and this short term relief (matched only by dreamless sleep) is like a drug, the resulting high something that you cling onto, but which sadly fades away once the exercise ends.

I think the most damaging aspect of my mindset is that I spend much of my time thinking how I can gain the approval and affection of other people, or what I can do to ensure that people realise that I’m reaching out or wanting to gain solace in their friendship, rather than thinking of how I can treat myself better. I tend to put my own wellbeing to the back of the queue, and I guess this is also due to my self imposed low opinion of both my worth and also of my value as a person. I begrudgingly concede that the only way to help myself is to take more care of my own health, and to prioritise my own wellbeing above all else, as only then will I be in a suitable position, and have the necessary levels of strength, to finally free myself from the quicksand altogether. But alas, the irony of this supposed truth, is that I cannot do that alone.

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Fighting The Fog

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.

Sunday Night Reflections

This weekend has not been a good one, and in fact has been the worst that I’ve had in a while. Whilst for the majority of the week the weekend is the holy grail which seems like a glorious mirage when imagined on a sleepy Monday morning commute to work. And yet by Sunday evening the mirage has been replaced by a desolate wasteland, and my feelings of positivity have morphed into resentment and dejection. Often I find myself looking at the clock on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and thinking ‘how is it only 2 o’clock’ or ‘I wish it was 7pm as I could then have a shower, eat, watch TV and then go to bed.’ It’s bad enough having these thoughts on a weekday, but to experience them at the weekend feels tantamount to treason, as these should be the days that you look back at on Monday morning with a great sense of accomplishment and nostalgia. Instead its merely another case of time slipping by, and the mantra of ‘living life to the full’ being so far from the truth that it would be laughable, if only it wasn’t so heartbreaking.

This weekend’s lack of fulfillment, and the consequent feelings of frustration and melancholia, was enhanced by the extreme exhaustion that I felt, significantly more severe than it has been for many months. Both Saturday and Sunday afternoon I had best part of 90 minute naps, and also went to bed early on Friday and Saturday night, and yet the utterly debilitating lethargy that coursed through my body ensured that even if I had wanted to do something with my time, I physically wouldn’t have been able to. On Saturday afternoon I tried to sit in the park and read, but had to call it quits after 30 minutes as I was so fatigued that I could barely read the words on the page. In fact all weekend I probably spent a total of 2 hours outside of my flat, and therefore the sense of isolation and frustration were at maximum levels come Sunday afternoon.

It didn’t help that the weather was glorious on Sunday, because you can get away with locking yourself away on a cold winters day, but in the summer months it just leads to headaches and more lethargy. It’s one of the reasons I dislike the summer months so much, and why I have a kind of reverse seasonal affective disorder, which actually affects about 10% of SAD sufferers. I can only hazard a guess at why this is. Possibly it’s the crippling lethargy caused by the warm and humid weather, which amplifies an already anxiety induced weariness. Or it could be that the longer days means there is essentially more time to fill, and thus its highlighted to me even more clearly that I achieve very little in my personal life. Or it could be that the warm weather and school holidays inevitably leads to people/families/partners etc enjoying happy moments together, which augments my own sense of loneliness, and need for human relationships. The short, cold, dark winter days can mask these truths, and the bleakness that manifests in those months acts as a kind of bandage, covering up a wound and allowing you to temporarily mask the cause of it.

In the past I was optimistic enough to make plans for weekends or evenings, or life in general, even though predictably I would cancel them or not gain any sense of enjoyment from them. Now though, I don’t posses the self belief or hope to even do that, and accept that getting through each day is the only achievement I will be able to have, or the closest thing to success. I’ve mentioned numerous times the cyclical nature of depression, and my weeks tend to epitomise this model. As the week progresses there is universal excitement of the approaching weekend, which everyone experiences in unison. But then almost as soon as 5pm on Friday hits, there is the reemergence of the anxiety, depression, tiredness, and all sense of joy at the prospect of the weekend evaporates. I don’t have the physical or mental energy to do anything with my time, but the lack of activities and engagement then precipitates a disintegration of the already diminished stamina. It’s a cycle that I‘m unsure how to break free of. As I sit here writing this I feel utterly drained, unrefreshed, and categorically dejected. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that I’m feeling these things, or the fact that I’m resigned to them never changing. The lack of hope, and admittance of defeat, is perhaps the greatest tragedy.

Check out this blog post from My Anxiety Companion which helpfully voices some of the thoughts and feelings that anxiety can represent: http://www.myanxietycompanion.com/blog/13-things-anxiety-sufferers-need-you-to-understand

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.