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.

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Trapped In The Mind Prison

I stared at the blank screen of my computer tonight for about 30 minutes, the blinking cursor acting as some sort of hypnotic device sending me into a mindless stupor. I couldn’t think what to write, a combination of the way I’m feeling, mixed with the desire to avoid repeating myself and appearing like a broken record. But at the end of the day, depression is predictable in its repetitiveness, and like the changing of the seasons, it follows the same warning signs, same patterns and same resulting feelings and emotions.

Only a few blog posts ago I was quietly optimistic about exercise potentially proving to be a help, and yet since that blog I haven’t been to the gym once, a result of the time restraints of returning to work, as well as a lack of energy or motivation which is symptomatic of the illness. This epitomises the way that little nuggets of hope tend to be offered, and yet they ultimately fall by the wayside, disregarded and discarded, the fleeting glimmer of positivity a long forgotten memory. Even in a single day there can be a momentary thunderbolt of manic positivity, which can almost instantly be distinguished as the negative thoughts force their way in, and infest the mind at a frightening speed. In some ways these rollercoaster days are worse than a solid day of low mood, as you have no idea where you stand.

The aftereffects of a horrible weekend have followed me into the new week, and the feelings latch on to me as I try and drag myself free. After spending a significant amount of money on going to a friends wedding in Wales, I felt so bad on the Saturday morning when I woke up that I had to get the train straight back home, missing the wedding and the rest of my trip in Wales. At the time the money didn’t seem important, I just had to escape and avoid suffocating in the feelings that were overwhelming me. Added to that was the guilt, self loathing and sense of weakness which followed. How can you explain to someone why you had to leave, how could anyone be expected to understand. Especially when I don’t even truly understand myself. It’s impossible to grasp the necessity for escape unless you have experienced it for yourself.

Another frustrating reality is how an image or experience can provoke different thoughts and emotions depending how you are feeling at the time. For example if chatting with a friend who describes how they are going out with their boyfriend/girlfriend at the weekend, or about a holiday with friends that they have booked, the reaction to this can depend upon your current state of mind.  If you are in a good place then this has little effect upon the mind, and you are able to engage perfectly well in the conversation. However, when already feeling low this simple act can produce only negative thoughts and feelings, such as ‘I will never be happy myself’ or ‘no one will ever love me’. It’s like the chicken or the egg scenario. Does the conversation/experience trigger the low mood, or does the low mood trigger a negative reaction to the conversation/experience? The depressed and anxious mind is busier than Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon, and you cannot prevent negative thinking or constant mental examination and stimulation.

There’s not a lot than I can do about this, as I can’t shut myself away from all of the causes of depression or anxiety, as even if I found myself in a locked room, my mind would still be my dutiful passenger, never allowing me to switch off or power down my thoughts. I sometimes wish that the mind had a ctrl-alt-del function and I could shut down my thoughts and just be able to exist in blissful ignorance, even if just for a short while. Sleep is the closest thing that comes to that, but the problem with sleep (when it comes) is that it provides only a fleeting leave of absence from the prison cell that is the mind, and once the 7 or 8 hours of oblivion are over, you wake up and are still locked behind bars, and still encased in your mental cell. Whereas in the past I have hoped that it may only be a short sentence that I have been handed, it now truly feels like a life sentence has been afforded me.

“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”

“Things That Stop You Dreaming”

At 8 years old I dreamed of being a Power Ranger, at 11 years old I dreamed of being an airplane pilot, at 14 I dreamed of being a professional footballer, at 18 I dreamed of being a filmmaker, and now at 29….I don’t dream of of anything anymore. Dreams are for people with hope, optimism and those who have a light burning inside. When you are bereft of hope, riddled with pessimism, and when the light has flickered out, all you are left with is an emptiness inside that can only be filled with futility. To dream is to look forward, whereas an inability to dream is to look backwards, analysing past times, and occasions in your life when the impossible seemed possible, and the future was something to look forward to, rather than something that has slipped by. You end up questioning what you could have done differently in the past, rather than looking forward to moments that have yet to arrive, and dreaming becomes something insubstantial that only happens in the period between sleeping and waking, and not as the real life substantive ability to fantasise about an imagined future.

I no longer have any hopes or aspirations for the future, which is a cruel way of living because without hope, we have nothing. Occasionally something will come along that offers a chance of some kind of positivity or redemption, but more often than not its failure to progress or come to fruition leads to a deeper feeling of frustration, anxiety and self criticism, because hope being offered and then snatched away is often worse than having no hope at all. It’s important to re-emphasise that I don’t set out to be melodramatic or negative in my blogs, I simply aim to be completely honest in how I’m feeling, without sugar coating my experiences or feelings, and it’s usually when I’m at a low ebb that a topic for discussion comes to mind.

If I reflect upon the past, I undoubtedly view it through rose tinted glasses, and often with an inaccurate representation of my of my true feelings at the time. Just as I predominantly focus upon the negatives of my current life, I also concentrate on the imagined positives of my younger self; an idealised version of myself as a young boy, with few responsibilities or commitments, with many possibilities lying ahead, and still having that belief that I could conquer the world. However, if I actually concentrate upon the realities of that time, then I can conclude that I wasn’t happy even when I was younger, and if anything, I was in a worse place as the anxiety and depression were new, confusing, and uncontrollable, added to the fact that a young persons hormones are already all over the place. And while its true that I hoped for a fulfilling and optimistic future, I felt stuck within a prison of my own mind and anxiety, going many years without socialising at all outside of my family, consequently ensuring that this became more difficult to overcome in later life. Reaching a point such as I find myself at now seemed far fetched and laughable, and this bothered me a great deal. The ability to live on my own in London, whilst holding down a job, were surely the thing of dreams, but they ended up being a reality. This therefore should be a reason to view the current me as superior to my younger self. But once again Depression proves itself a devious master, ensuring that its unwilling servant can only focus on the things that are harmful to their mental state, rather than devoting any time to those things which may help it.

Time surely plays a significant part in the process, as inevitably we have more dreams and aspirations when we are 10 years old than when we are 40. I genuinely cannot find anything inside of myself to act as a guiding light for my life, something to sail towards in the knowledge that the journey will be worth it for whats waiting at the destination. Now the most I hope for is to get through the day with the least amount of anxiety or emotional failings as possible, and the this fact alone is a telling sentiment. I want to have more than that, to be able to dream again like that 8 year old boy who wanted to be a Power Ranger. I want to be able to wake up with expectation rather than resignation. I want to be able to love, to laugh and to make a difference. I want to be able to dream that the future is not in the past, and that 29 is not the end of things as it feels now, but merely the beginning. Depression is like wearing black tinted glasses…your view on the world is restricted to darkness, shadows and an and an absence of light to guide the way. When you have worn the glasses for so long, they become part of the face, rather than an artificial extension of it, and you feel like you will never be able to see the world through your own eyes ever again. Dreaming becomes a dream itself, and you are left pondering the following words of Mark Twain, immersing yourself in both its supposed truth, but also its apparent impossibility to achieve:

“20 years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”