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.

 

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.

Art Imitating Life

Cinema is a big passion of mine, as it is one of the few pursuits that allows a total escape from reality, and a departure from everyday worries and emotional pain. Books and TV also provide this path to escapism, but cinema is the master of this craft as it is a full sensory experience, where you can forget within moments of the opening credits that you are sat in an air conditioned building in Tottenham Court Road. You can leave your worries and baggage at the door, and inhabit a new world for the next precious few hours.

There are two types of movies for me, the ones that engage me, and the ones that affect me. A good proportion of films that are released act as a way to pass the time, and can excite, shock, scare and allow the eyes to widen with wonder. However, there are also those releases that deeply affect the way I feel, whether because they reflect an aspect of my life, or mimic the way I am feeling at that particular moment in time. In the last few weeks I have seen three films that have had this effect on me; La La Land, Manchester By The Sea and T2 Trainspotting, all to varying degrees. The three films couldn’t be further apart in their stories, settings and characters; however they very perceptibly share some common human themes: regret, nostalgia, loss of hope, ageing and relationships. At various points throughout these three movies I felt deep wells of sadness, poignancy and sorrow, not just at the predicaments the characters faced, but also because I could relate to the thoughts and feelings that the characters were experiencing. Particularly the ideas of nostalgia and regret, as looking back and imagining how things could have turned out differently is a constant source of discomfort for myself. In La La Land there is actually a montage where a character pictures how a particular moment in time, if tackled in a different way, could have led to a completely different life, and it felt like the director had plucked  these series of thoughts straight out of my head.

Movies can act as powerful emotional triggers, and have a unique ability to affect you to the very core. Why do people watch sad films, especially people like myself who suffer from depression and emotional struggles? To the outside it may seem a tad perverse intentionally putting yourself through the emotional ringer, and surely it would be preferable to watch a happy and uplifting movie? It’s very difficult to answer this, but I can posit a few theories. Firstly, there is a fascination with seeing how characters navigate through dark episodes and experiences, which can in turn make you feel like your own story is being represented upon the big screen. They can help us analyse our own foibles and emotional frustrations, without having the pain of actually going through them ourselves. Perhaps it makes us feel like we are not alone in our struggles, and can engender a sense of reflection that we all need to engage with at one time or another.

It’s also true that any strong emotion makes us feel more alive. It’s not just exercise that produces endorphins, but also strong surges in emotion, whether positive or negative. It’s perhaps inevitable that we are drawn to stories that reflect our own emotions; and a feeling of fiction induced sadness, whilst uncomfortable at the time, can lead to assurances that we have an ability to feel, and an ability accept our emotions. For instance, I am not going to be able to adequately relate to an action film, or a sci-fi adventure, as I have no experience of these topics, but a film involving a character struggling with their emotions, that’s something I can get on board with.

Maybe there is credence to the notion that by seeing characters experience, deal with, and possibly overcome certain life events and mental strife can give us hope that we are potentially able to do the same. It might make us feel less alone knowing that other people are thinking the same thoughts, and experiencing the same lows, albeit in a fictional setting. This may not lead directly to an improvement in mental health, but at least it could foster a sense of satisfaction that our story is shared by others. It is perhaps inescapable that when you are in a period of depression, you are drawn to media that reflects your own personal mental state, rather than ‘uplifting’ music or films which counter-intuitively would not help improve your mood, but rather emphasise how far away you are from the faux happiness exuded by these pieces of work.

These are just theories though, and I can’t categorically state why emotionally challenging art causes such a draw. All I know is that these 3 films in particular deeply affected me, and left me with a sense of melancholia that persisted for some time after leaving the cinema. Not necessarily in an unpleasant way, but rather as a way of inducing a strong sense of reflective contemplation. My only hope is that one day I will have no desire to watch these type of films, because they will no longer be able to act as a mirror to my own life, and will instead merely act as a reminder of a previous dark time. That is the hope anyway.

 

 

Trigger (Un)Happy

When finding myself in the midst of particular difficult period I often get asked ‘what triggered it this time?’ This is a perfectly legitimate question, and one that a non-sufferer would be completely justified in asking. Of course there are some obvious triggers, such as big life events like bereavements or breakups, that are bound to cause a whirlwind of emotions and a downward spiral into depression. However, for the majority of the time there are no rational or tangible triggers that precipitate the relapse; instead it appears out of the blue, like a bullet train rocketing out of a tunnel. In some instances it builds up gradually before it reaching its painful crescendo, but on other occasions it hits you full pelt in the stomach, with no warning or let up.

According to this the article Top Relapse Triggers for Depression & How to Prevent Them “the risk of recurrence — ‘relapse after full remission’ — for a person who’s had one episode of depression is 50 percent. For a person with two episodes, the risk is about 70 percent. For someone with three episodes or more, the risk rises to around 90 percent”. That statistic doesn’t provide much comfort, as clearly the chances of relapse increase with each depressive episode that occurs. Putting it bluntly, things will only get worse.

The article proceeds to suggest 3 potential trigger categories, and how they can manifest into a period of depression:

Not Following Treatment

The article proposes that “The biggest issue regarding relapse has to do with children and adults not following through on their treatment plan… this includes anything from skipping therapy sessions to missing doses of your medication to ending therapy too soon”. I can certainly relate to the negative effects of ending therapy too soon, although through no fault of my own, but rather the underfunded and oversubscribed NHS. If these support structures are not strong enough, or are fragmented and disturbed, then it undeniably ensures that a relapse is increasingly likely. The article also suggests that “while your life may involve psychotherapy, medication and the need for a protective structure that keeps your illness at bay, also realize that you have passions, desires, gifts and talents that require just as much attention.” It is all to easy for these facets of life to fall by the wayside, which consequently prolongs the negative cycle.

Ruminations

“Negative self-referential ruminations play a key role in recurrence… for example, individuals with depression tend to dwell on their (supposed) flaws and failures. They also may view neutral events with a negative lens.” Ruminations are a big deal for me, allowing my mind to dwell on my insecurities, and conjure up thoughts of sadness, hopelessness and a misguided longing for a perceived better life. This trigger is particularly problematic to tackle, as the thoughts come out of the blue, and linger sometimes for days or weeks. Unfortunately the mind cannot be switched off, and the more time you spend alone, the more the thoughts penetrate deep into the brain, eating away at you, with little or no regards to the consequences. Despite being a cliché, it’s like being trapped inside a prison, with only your thoughts as the ruthless prison guards for company.

Knowing Your Personal Vulnerabilities

“Triggers may be very specific to each individual’s situation, since all of our emotional responses are unique to some extent…learn how to recognize the who, what, whys and whens of your emotional and physical life.” For example particular dates or times of the year can prove to be difficult and act as triggers for a depressive state of mind. For me personally my birthday and Christmas are particularly troublesome as they can provoke the ruminations mentioned previously, and cause them to take hold, whilst also proliferating ideas of another year having passed by and another year when I still feel trapped in a deep well of unhappiness. Regret, frustration and sadness are emotions that become second nature. The article also notes that “If you find yourself excessively fatigued, irritable, having trouble eating or sleeping, you might be in the midst of a trigger event.”

Identifying certain triggers doesn’t really provide much assistance or solace. I sometimes have anticipated an event 8 months in advance as a potential cause of anxiety or depression, and despite this warning, it plays out exactly as I had envisioned. Plus the fact that there are so many invisible and intangible triggers at play ensures that any attempt to fight the process becomes virtually impossible. The article concludes that you “don’t measure your success living with depression on whether relapse happens or not. Instead, realize that if relapse occurs, true success comes from rising after the fall…Fall down seven times, get up eight.” The difficulty comes in the fact that falling down is so easy, but getting back up again requires reserves of energy and determination that are in very short supply.

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.

 

 

“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.”

 

 

Social Media and Mental Health: Part 2

In my blog post from last week I surmised that social media and blogging are exceptionally helpful for those suffering from a mental illness, due to the fact that they can facilitate the ability to open up to friends/colleagues/family etc. They also can act as an information source for suffers and non-sufferers alike, and can help deliver the crucial message that nobody with depression or anxiety is alone, and it is remarkably easy to reach out to others in a similar situation. However, Adrian posted a pertinent comment in reply to my blog:

“This seems like it was a great article. I personally tend to focus on the negative aspects of social media, namely how using it sometimes makes me feel isolated or else compare my life unfavorably to others, but I think it’s mainly Facebook that makes me feel that way. It’s a good point that using social media to express feelings of anxiety and depression outside of your real-life social circle (like Instagram, Twitter, and Yik Yak) can be a positive outlet. Thanks for this post!”

He touched upon a very relevant and significant point, and one which I had intended to focus upon in a future blog post, but it seems sensible to address it now. The benefits and strengths of social media, namely acting as a global platform and communication source,  are also its downfall, and how it can lead to the triggering of depressive episodes, or making existing periods of low mood significantly worse. Certain images or posts can precipitate low mood, such as seeing photos of contemporaries from school who are getting married/having children (leading to thoughts like ‘will that ever happen to me’), or fellow facebookers smiling, having fun, going on holidays with friends etc. These can be triggers in ‘real life’ which proliferate feelings of sadness, desperation, hopelessness and self doubt, and with the rise of social media, shutting yourself away can no longer provide an escape from these factors. One of the features of depression is the necessity to self analyse yourself and make comparisons with other people, and the prevalence of social media (in particular Facebook and Instagram) ensures that this is done on a much larger scale.

Personally, I find social media less of a trigger when I’m feeling stable, however it can have a powerful effect on my mood if I’m already in a bad place. For example, if I’m thinking thoughts such as ‘I don’t have friends/am not in peoples thoughts’, or if I’m frustrated by my anxiety preventing me from going and and doing activities that I want to do, then seeing a photo of a group of friends doing an activity together or on a night out can inevitably lead me to feeling extremely down and demoralised. It provokes feelings of unfounded jealousy, inadequacy and longing. It confirms predetermined falsehoods, and helps foster the incorrect but deeply believed thoughts and feelings about myself, my predictions of how others view me, and also  my prospects (or lack of) for the future.

Another negative impact of social media is an issue I have touched upon in previous posts, and concerns the eruption of nostalgic feelings when viewing images from the past. Seeing a photo of myself as a child is a trigger to negative though processes, including the inevitable questioning of everything that has happened from that point to the present moment, as well as a deep yearning to go back to that time when wide eyed innocence took the place of todays anguish, anxiety, regret and fear. Of course, I look at these memories through rose tinted glasses, as undoubtedly there were worries, concerns and anxieties that existed to me back then, but the power of hindsight and backward reflection, in relation to depression, is that you have no control of what the mind decides to focus upon. For me I see an idealised presentation of what my life was, which evokes a real desire to go back to that moment, and that time in my life, rather than where I find myself now at the end of my twenties.

Social Media therefore is both a positive means for expression, but also a proven trigger for many of the negative aspects of mental illness. It is a both a blessing and a curse, and the key is to learn how to utilise its positive aspects and negate its negative. Social Media essentially is a digital representation of real life, where the words that hurt are written rather than spoken, the stimuli that evoke memories are pictorial rather than anecdotal, and the way to reach out to others is through taps on a keyboard rather than whispers down the phone. Times changes, but sadly the negative and destructive mindset doesn’t. It’s just a case of trying to use social media for its positive enabling abilities, and shielding yourself from its unnerving capacity to break your resolve.

“There are many things of which a wise man might wish to be ignorant”
Ralph Waldo Emerson