I started this page a while ago, and I occasionally update it, so I have tried to make it apparent where I have done so. I worry a lot that someone will look at it and want a recipe for not being depressed; it is more of a long route along a path that goes up and down (and up again). I will try to bold the newer stuff so that it is less incoherent 🙂
Habitual and obvious disclaimer: my qualifications are in english, politics, and horticulture; so I am clearly not the person you should take advice from. I can only offer my evolving idea of what makes or has made me feel a bit better. I have suffered from depression on and off since I was 19, and probably before then.
There is no magic bullet/book/therapist/pill/supplement/thought/holiday/job/person. I have spent a long time looking for the one truth that would free me, and it isn’t there. Trust me. It is not your fault you are prone to depression (or other illness), nor is it really possible to change that by being a ‘better you’; you will not get better if you eat a paleo diet and remember to meditate every day. It does help a bit to have something to try when you are feeling powerless, each tweak might add a % on your chances for being less vulnerable next time.
For me it is a changing combination of a lot of very small tweaks. No one thing has made me feel better, lots of little things and an ongoing and monotonous fight with my thought patterns have helped me to not want to die all the time. And most of them are ongoing efforts that I fail at two times out of three. As I see it, the one time is the future that I need to attain. There are times when I feel that I have worked it out – I haven’t. I have just found another tweak to add to the overall direction.
And if it helps at no point have I got to the level where I think ‘I am in recovery’. I think ‘I am a lot better’ one day, then ‘I feel like shit’ the next. It is not a straight path, you have to take an average with hindsight. One day out of seven without the voice telling you to die is a start, it won’t transform into six days out of seven or even two; let it grow slowly. Accept that you are ill, and that you will take some time to be well again. [update 2015 – I know I am better, a lot better and have been for about 6 months, even through the winter]
Yes I know this is shit (but with odd nuggets of hope – sounds gross), sorry.
I have stopped or occasionally stop:
Caffeine- I love caffeine with a passion, it made me happy and functional and normal. It also made me shake like a jelly and incapable of relaxing or letting go of stuff during the day, and sort of blurred. It never really gave me problems sleeping, but I feel cleaner and more real without it. I still miss it, but I feel better without it. (If I go away on the continent I can have caffeine, it doesn’t count). I have a lot of de-caff coffee, peppermint tea, and just venturing into Lapsang Souchong which is apparently low caffeine-ish tea. (I know that this is not a caffeine-free existence, but is a lot better than my 1.5-2 buckets of filter coffee a day). 2015 This one changes so often – I go visit friends and find a stash of de-caf and I can estimate when I was last there, like drink archaeology. Currently hi- caf looking to drop a smidge ( 3/4 a bucket per day). 2016 – back to the decaf, hate it hate it. But I need to be able to say I have tried it (when the GP says musingly ‘caffeine can make you a bit of a worrier you know?’)
Alcohol – Sigh. It isn’t good for me (or anyone). I am not big or brave enough to let it go as a stress reliever after very good or bad days, and I reserve the right to drink outside the home. However, I am working towards not drinking at home. It is getting easier. I become aware of the feeling of ‘oh god I don’t want to (insert verb) live, go to work, run, get up, put bin out’ which is exaggerated after some alcohol, and general CBA*. Update – I come and go on this, as with the caffeine – when I am ill it is the devil, when I am well it isn’t.
Crap food – Bigger sigh. I have eaten rubbish more or less since I was a small squishy moorhen flinging food at our happy labrador. When I was a kid I used to eat potatoes, just potatoes. Over the last few months/years I have for long phases eaten not much more than bar snacks. This does not lead to a svelte figure or healthy body. I was told by my psychiatrist to do cooking, so I am trying. Still trying, I hate cooking, I hate food I have made. I am still trying...
Other stuff which goes along with the diagnosis, but which is not necessarily appropriate for the blog. If you really need to connect and share let me know. I reserve the right to say no!
Cats and plants: an absolute life-saver . Especially if you live alone it is important to have another life to nurture. From experience I would recommend small, smelly, sickly oriental cats, or big, fat blind ones), but your mileage may vary . As always, loving something comes with the pain of losing it. See blog for detail. Plants will work, and seed-sowing at the right time of year is a big investment in the future (but do water them…). I have the still very small plant from a seed I sowed when I very much wanted to die; the reflex in me to find compost and a pot was too strong. And it germinated, and I have haphazardly guarded it with my life since then, bearing in mind that my life was sometimes not worth very much.
The one thing I forget over and over. A brief example of the sort of thinking pattern I have. At university (2015) we were asked to draw the ecosystem that we were at the centre of. Mine had work, uni, running, plants, birds (no cat at the time) clouds and sun and so on. It was only when we compared them that I realised (only child that I am) that there were no people. My fellow students had family, friends, colleagues, team-mates and so-on. Of course I have them, I thought, I just didn’t….. However – I would not be typing away here without my friends, I have no immediate family in the UK, but I am very lucky in having some lovely, creative, intelligent and gifted (did I say patient and undemanding?) friends. I can’t actually do life without them, though I seem to give the impression I do. I would be not here if I didn’t have them, I would be dead. You don’t need more than just the one to start with, but the more you have, the less likely you are to break the one/s you have.
My GP who is a nice man though he hasn’t known me for long is insistent that I run and keep running. I know he is right. I struggle to run when my self-esteem is crap, because I am ‘not a runner’.2015 – I have known my GP for 7 years or so now, and it is the first question he asks when I come into the room. He is a much better doctor than I ever realised.The ‘mental health team’ identify work as my stabilising factor, but he clearly has running. He is right.2016 New GP, sigh. You just get them nicely trained and you stupidly move. But I really have to re-emphasise that running=normal for me. If I can get out enough to run (preferably parkrun and race too) I can believe that there is a point. When I was really stuck, I found walking helped. As a walking runner I could work out good routes, and maintain my ‘time on feet’ and just not forget. It is also important not to cut yourself off from your community. I tend to stop reading about running (mags, blogs, race reports) when I am down because I feel I don’t deserve it, because I am not running. This is a big mistake. There are lots of blogs and tweets from people of all levels, you are unlikely to be the least active or most needy.
Parkrun: A lovely, easy, non-judgemental run/walk for everyone. You are unlikely to be last, as there is always a back-marker, a lot of people walk, try checking the finishing times. It is an environment where just taking part is genuinely ok, over and over again. You don’t need to talk to anyone, or wear anything lycra-y just turn up and potter. Still a bit plus for Parkrun – it should be prescribed.
Yoga- another just do and accept yourself activity. No attitude demanded. There are some days when you feel so out of focus, and if you can do one position (downward-facing dog is a grounder for me) you will feel as if you were supposed to be there, as if this is what your body wanted you to do. But I do find I can’t bring myself to regularly attend anything when I am on a downward spiral, it is just too scary.
Cooking- this is a reluctant one, I am still testing it. I have been/am a person who has problems with their attitude to food. I have had an eating disorder in the past, which reasserts itself when I am stressed. Cooking to me is a passport to disaster, so I was intrigued when the trick-cyclist suggested it. I get around some of the issues by freezing stuff and/or taking it to work to share. It seems as if it might be promising in a few months. 2015 Hate it hate it hate it, still trying. I just don’t like things I make ( they would be nice if someone else made them).
Getting off fat arse and doing things when you wake up- pretty much undisputed good if you can do it. If you can’t, try it in stages: listen to happy (not news) radio for half an hour then get up and put the kettle on and meditate, empty the cat litter tray etc. If you are a house-person try Flylady, I still revert to the shine your sink thing occasionally. Or make a list of basic ‘human being’ things: clean teeth, put on clothes, open curtains etc; it can help when you are bumping along the bottom but are able to do ‘one thing’. My one thing is make the bed (if I can get out, if not it is clean teeth).
Meditation – One of the things that I didn’t get about meditation, which I now do is that the constant mind-jumping is a part of it. You just aren’t supposed to achieve perfect calm for years, if ever. The important this is that you are succeeding if you concentrate on your breath or the candle or whatever for a micro-second, think of what you need to get in the supermarket, remember your breath, go on to where the cheapest petrol is, and then when your MOT is, and remember your breath, and then remember the argument you had with your boss which means you will have to change your presentation,which means it will take 10 minutes longer, which means you.. and remember your breath, and remember your breath and your left toe is going numb and remember your breath.
It isn’t about having the natural ability to sink into calm, it is about learning about your thoughts and distractions, and how to return to the moment, and just sit and watch them go by. ( Guess which bits I haven’t worked out) 2015 FAIL on the meditation front – I have found (once I was a bit better ha ha) writing is good, even if it is just writing nowt, start with abcdef..) Walking meditation appeals. Brain says: sleeeeeep or do nothing or get up and go to work. Had another good go at meditation, doing an in-person course, which was revelatory while I was doing it, but I just couldn’t keep it up. Lack of accountability.
Er Netflix…so good for when you can’t do anything at all. 2015 – big plus still for Netflix – I still return to my ‘safe place’ series/ials when I am very stressed. My personal base level is Lie to Me with Tim Roth ( I won’t link or it will disappear), & House. I watched it when I was rock bottom and kept repeating over and over. It is like going home to your family; but with not an ounce of unpredictability. Works with films, books etc etc. I get new safe places every once in a while still.
Pills – I took a few days of something I guess was an MAOI in 1986, but was told to stop by a friend’s mum (was prescribed by gp); I was too flaky to take things regularly at that age (19/20) anyway. I started on fluoxetine 20mg some time ago (er… 2004?) and faffed up (60 mg at highest) and down and off and on. In 2013 ( I think?) it proved to be either too bored with me, or not drug enough for the job so I was given Venlafaxine (start 75mg extended release) which I have been on since then, peaking at 150mg I think and dipping to a badly broken 1/4 of a 37.5mg tab in October 2014 and up to 37.5 for the winter). Drugs work, don’t discount them; do read the literature. If in the situation where you are badly in trouble, take what is offered and sort it out afterwards. You can’t sort it out if you are dead. Stopped Venlafaxine very gradually (for me it was not as bad as the forums suggest) over winter 2014/spring 2015 but had to go onto Citalopram late 2015, then Duloxetine in 2016 as I just couldn’t keep fighting the 50/50 anxiety/depression. It is when it starts to impact on regular life that I feel I need to ask for help: driving and working; I am used to going through phases of being anti-social or extra-CBA (which is a difficult thing to define, somewhere between CBA and ‘can’t’ in a panicky tone) which quite often sort themselves out. It is the point at which you get tired of the fight with your own head that you learn is the point to ask for help.
*CBA=can’t be arsed, the abbreviation etc….
Do you have any good suggestions that pulled you out of a big or small pit of despond?