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Drama

Not to be too dramatic, but there’s a very valid reason I haven’t updated this blog in a while. I HAVE BEEN TOO DEPRESSED.

I started this blog with very good intentions – that this could be an outlet for the weight of my negative emotions, whilst also documenting my experiences of mental illness to help other sufferers feel less alone and hopefully inform non-sufferers along the way. Frankly, this was naive. Of course, depression steals away the very energy to keep something like this up, let alone the motivation. Over the last year or so, depression turned my life into a mere matter of survival. I’ve gone through the motions in social situations without ever actually enjoying them, because this insidious thing within me won’t let me.

I suppose there are reasons I was getting worse, but frankly, I don’t really want to get into them. The constant analysis of my mental illness isn’t really helping and is something I have a habit of obsessing over, which just starts the cycle again. Suffice to say, the obsessive compulsive nature of my condition have made it practically impossible for me to relax, to the point where I forgot how to do it. My body shut down first with a constant feeling of exhaustion, mostly from overworking – but, again, in a lot of ways that too was inflicted by that obsessive part of me.

Hmmmm. I think I see a pattern.

Anyway, this all came to a head a few weeks ago, when I started suffering from pretty severe suicidal ideation (editors note: ‘pretty severe’ may be something of an understatement). I ended up in a psychiatric care room in the hospital where my partner came to meet me. This room was horrible. I’m not saying they need to have a mini-bar, entertainment system, art-deco style wallpaper and lighting (although…), but maybe don’t put suicidal people in THE MOST DEPRESSING ROOM ON EARTH. Seriously, ‘cell’ would a generous term for this room, this grey cubical of despair. The psychiatric nurse was very kind. The administrative staff were lovely. But all I really left with was a sheet of paper with some crisis phone numbers on there and a promise that the urgent care team would come and check on me in a few days.

Every member of NHS staff I saw was fantastic. I had a safe space until the episode was over, but after leaving the hospital it was easy to feel hopeless. When the urgent care team visited they gave me some advice and told me not to rush my recovery. But they saw I have a good support network and they couldn’t really offer me anything else, so they discharged me.

They’re not wrong. I really do have an amazing support network of friends and family, all of whom deserve medals for putting up with me for this long. My partner especially. She’s been amazingly proactive these last few weeks and has been an emotional rock. Logically, I realise that none of this was my fault. But depression isn’t logical, and there’s still a part of me that feels guilty. Guilty that it happened. Guilty that I worried everyone. Guilty that I’m not well enough to work at the moment. Guilty that I feel so shit. Guilty that I feel guilty. And, at the moment, there’s nothing that I can do about that, apart from show my appreciation as much as possible and be honest.

So, for the most part, it’s all pretty simple. I need to learn to relax and be kind to myself again. I need to take some time out and just recover. But all I can really do for now is wait. All of which, is easier said than done.

On the upside, my doctor’s changed my medication to Fluoxetine, also known as Prozac. So, let’s all enjoy the best song about anti-depressants ever written!

Burnout

So, it happened again…

Recently, I’ve kind of forgotten how to relax. I’ve been working a lot and, when I haven’t been working, I’ve been busy. Between uni work, frantically cleaning everything in sight and trying to carve out some kind of life in the midst of it all, I haven’t been resting. Only, I didn’t see it. And on and on this went, friends and family pointing all of this out to me, depression blocking my ears like determinedly-ignorant cotton buds, on and on, for months on end, until, eventually, my body stopped me.

I’ve been knocked down with the worst flu of my life for the past week. The first couple of days, I could barely move and, even now, simple tasks are a bit of a challenge. Of course, I realise this is flu season and in my work I’m constantly surrounded by the public, so it’s all too easy to catch something, but I can’t help but feel that, had I been looking after myself, maybe I would have been hit with this quite so badly. While there are certain things in my life that I can’t control; the need to work, the amount of work I may need to do, obligations of everyday life; there are things I can do to help me deal with those things. But, with depression, self care can be the hardest thing.

That’s why I’ve decided that things need to change.

You see, self care can be different things on different days. Some days, self care is running 5km. Other days, it’s listening the music on the way home from work. Some days, self care is having a bath instead of a shower. Other days, it’s doing tai chi. Some days, it’s making sure I have an hour or two to myself to read or play music. Other days, it’s letting myself have a nap.

But self care is about forming habits and breaking bad habits. This is going to take a while, especially at this busy time of year. But, hopefully, noticing this is the first step to recovery.

How about you? Any good self care tips? How do you stop yourself burning out?

Brain Fog

In the first of a new series on symptoms, I’ll be talking about one frustrating hurdle that comes with depression that I used to be blissfully unaware of. Brain Fog. This particular symptom is one that’s really reared its ugly head over the past few weeks, making it impossible for me to do writing of any form. I suppose in many ways, this post is me sticking it to Brain Fog.

Brain Fog is exactly what it sounds like – I have no idea what causes it, no idea what the science behind it is, but I do know how it feels. It essentially silences my thoughts. Reaching for thoughts is like thinking through brain soup. Unfortunately, not a lovely clear consumé, but a stodgey soup made from Christmas dinner leftovers. Reaching for a word or memory makes me trip over a crouton. Okay, that might be a slightly tenuous simile, but you get the idea…

In certain ways, I guess this is quite similar to depersonalisation. In both there’s a feeling of unreality, of removal from the world around me, of distance. But, for me, depersonalisation is a lot more intense than brain fog, however brain fog can last a lot longer – sometimes for days at a time. It’s difficult to function in that kind of haze and I can lose full days to this nothingness. It makes it practically impossible for me to take information in when I have a bout of brain fog or to contribute meaningfully to a conversation. I can’t catch my thoughts, partially because there are so many that they drown each other out, partially because the fog makes me practically empty.

Brain fog’s made me miss hospital appointments because I’ve read the wrong hospital in my appointment letter. It distracts me at work, causing me to spill things or drop things. I’ve given myself serious burns because of the confusion that comes with the haze. Some days it just plain makes me forget to do everyday tasks. I try and push through the fog, which sometimes works, other days just disappear from sight and memory. But I refuse to let this dictate my life.

So how do I combat this? In truth, I still haven’t found a foolproof way. Sometimes a few minutes of quiet meditation can help. Sometimes a nap will help refresh me. Sometimes I’ll go for a run and everything will just clear. But none of these work 100% of the time. Sometimes all these things do is add confusion and frustration into the mix as well, thickening the fog.

Over the past few days I’ve had particularly bad brain fog, until today. I tried something that depression had stopped me doing properly for a long time. I played guitar. And I mean I really played guitar. I poured everything I had into it and, when I was done, the fog cleared. I can’t guarantee that this is always going to work, but the power of music certainly isn’t lost on me. So I’m going to do the only thing I can – keep trying. Because if it’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year is that depression hates persistence.

Sometimes all you can do with depression is take advantage of the better moments – however fleeting they are. Sometimes that can be something as small as the lifting of a single symptom.

If you suffer from brain fog, I’d love to hear your experiences and how you deal with it. Comment below and join in the conversation!

Thanks for reading!

Experience

Living with Depression, to say the least, is an experience.

At any moment, without warning, my everyday life can be turned into the extraordinary by a horrible thought or feeling. A close shave, such as crossing the road when a driver decides that their authority is higher than that of the red light, can very quickly escalate from, “Fuck me! That was close!” to, “OH MY GOD LIFE IS SO FLEETING AND HORRIBLE WHY DOES ALL THIS EXIST AND WHAT AM I DOING HERE?” Unfortunately, this doesn’t end here. This can make a once-good day spiral from that initial anxiety into a very deep low mood where I spend hours contemplating the futility of human existence and how it doesn’t matter what I do with my life because I’m just going to die at the end of it anyway. Now, logically, I can see that argument’s just nihilistic, but, to Depression, this makes perfect sense and so the day is lost to a battle between my logical mind and depression.

My therapist says that my process for getting to the most negative of my thoughts is quite a lot quicker than that of other patients she’s had. Say I have a busy day at work and I have a long to-do list (which, for the record, is almost always instigated by me in an effort to get some sense of achievement out of my life), if I get to the end of my shift  and there’s even one task on there that I haven’t gotten around to doing, my mind will jump to, “I’m a failure and everything I’ve done with my life up to this point is awful and I’m terrible person.” So yeah, a little bit of a leap. Again, this can go around in my head for hours on end, despite the fact I have a list of my achievements that day in my hand. But, because that list also contains that one task I didn’t do, my mind focuses on that.

This is what is sometimes known as “Depression spectacles” (Stresstacles, if you will); the idea that because you have Depression and are looking at life through that lens you can only see the negative. Interestingly (and I use that word because, when I’m in my clearer moods, I am absolutely fascinated, in a somewhat morbid way, by this illness), as well as intensifying bad experiences, this can also steal away my good experiences. Events that I’ve been looking forward to for months like concerts and parties can be completely robbed from me by a feeling of emptiness, not allowing any joy from the day in. Depression can create a wall that only negative feelings can filter through. That emptiness, in certain ways, is worse than those periods of despair and hopelessness. The emptiness takes away the things that I love; music, books, films. And it’s more stubborn than the wild comings and goings of despair.

On my better days I can laugh about all of this. I can laugh about how illogical it all is, how extreme my thoughts are over such small things. Because what else can I do? It is a ridiculous illness and laughing at it takes away some of its power. Depression is oppressive, but it has its weak points. Sometimes you just have to learn what those weak points are, because it sure as hell knows what mine are.

Preventative Medicine

Early this week, I think I got pretty close to another breakdown. I’d gotten so obsessed with getting better that I’d only really been focusing on functioning, which can be purely performative. Between work and managing a personal life, along with fighting a debilitating mental illness, I wasn’t really checking in with myself, so, while I was acting better, I wasn’t feeling better. Then I realised. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted. It sounds stupid, but there’s a line in Black Books where Bernard’s ill and he says, “I feel like I’ve been beaten up under water”. For the last couple of weeks I’ve had the same feeling!  Like I’ve been dragging my body through a wall of water constantly, slowing me down and draining the life from all of my muscles. My head was so cloudy I could barely hold a coherent thought down and my eyelids just felt constantly heavy. Worryingly, that’s exactly how I felt just before my original breakdown.

So I decided it was time to act.

I’m lucky enough to have a very understanding manager who let me take some holiday immediately and since then there’s definitely been an improvement. It’s only been a few days and I have a long way to go to be fully back on my feet, but I’m starting to feel a little more positive again. The same things are as difficult as ever – I can only really socialise a fairly limited amount and any kind of time in pressure/trigger situations leave me a husk for a good few hours – but, after forgetting my limits for such a long time, it’s good to learn them again. Just a few months ago if I’d gotten into this state I’d be really frustrated with myself for not taking proper care of myself, yet (while there’s an element of that in me still) I’m mostly just proud of myself for noticing my warning signs. I might have noticed them right on the precipice of it being too late, but at least I noticed them. Truthfully, I think it shows a huge step forwards in my mental health that I was present enough even to do that.

This is going to happen to me every now and then, because this illness (this insidious, destructive illness) has a habit of sneaking up on us. We can be on our guard all of the time, but then we’re just replacing depression with obsession which, in many ways is just as debilitating. I’m not going to be controlled by this. I’m not going to let depression win and steal more of my life away from me. I’m going to go out. I’m going to work. I’m going to write and chase my writing dreams. But, sometimes, when it manages to ambush me, I’m going to give myself time to recover, and it’s taken me a year after being diagnosed to realise that’s not the same as letting it beat me. This is about knowing myself and knowing depression.

So I’m not in the best place right now. I’m not even in as good a place as I was a couple of weeks ago. But that’s okay. I’ve been in a hell of a lot of worse places than this in the last year and that’s the important thing for me to take away from this.

The best medicine, of course, is not getting ill in the first place. Unfortunately, it’s a little late for that, but I managed to catch my symptoms in enough time to stop myself getting worse. So it’s back to a regime of self care and being a little kinder to myself and, with an illness that makes me feel like I don’t deserve to be kind to myself, proving it wrong can be the medicine of all.

A Not So Brief Hiatus

I’ve been away from this blog a little longer than I ever intended to. Writing’s been very difficult recently so I did something that seemed quite unnatural to start off with. I didn’t force myself to do it. Instead, I’ve been looking after myself. Am I in a better place?  Emotionally, not necessarily, but I’m functioning a lot better now. Everyday life is that little bit easier, even if I’m feeling so great and, after how difficult the past year has been, I’m calling that a win.

The things I used to enjoy are still hard to do, but I’m clawing back that part of my personality and it feels good. I’m reading every day and I’ve started playing guitar again. I’m writing, here and there, but it’s progress, so hopefully I’ll be posting on here a little more regularly than I have been. I’m not setting any targets, but I’ll at least be checking in.

So, yeah. I’m not great, but I’m okay. And that’s okay.

Breakdown

This is a difficult post to write. I’ve been trying to get this down for the last couple of weeks, but I guess everything just felt too fresh to really confront it. That said, this whole thing still seems very new, so I’m hoping this will grant some form of catharsis.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a second breakdown.

All this time I genuinely thought I was starting to get better. Everyday life was a little bit easier, I felt like I could take more on and the challenges of depression seemed easier to get away from. In telling myself that I was getting better, I started to pick up some of the habits I’d lost through depression. I was socialising more and working more; trying to get my life back to way that is was before all of this happened. And really, I think that was part of the problem. Keeping busy made it easier to ignore how I was really feeling; the exhaustion, the negative thoughts, the intense feeling of despair. I was so focused on recovering that I was acting as if I already was better, which served only to force me back a few steps in my recovery. Looking back I can see that all I was really doing was ignoring how I was feeling and that led to one thing: stress. I was pushing my emotions further down and, eventually, it just got two much to hold it all in.

The feeling of the breakdown itself wasn’t like the first time; or at least not enough to notice immediately. This time was akin to a complete lack of control. Depression was like a miasma, spread through my mind until, eventually, it had seeped into every recess, every thought. I wasn’t me; I was depression in those moments. This insidious mental illness had taken complete control, leaving me only its vast shadow. I had a huge amount of confusion, like my mind was full of cloud. I was doing things, saying things, feeling things that I could find no reason for. Breakdown seems like a fitting term for it. My mind and emotions just stopped working, until depression forced me to a complete stop. I spent the rest of the day crying in bed, because, well, I wasn’t capable of doing anything else.

Since then I’ve been in a haze of sadness and numbness. It goes in cycles and every now and then I manage to come up for air, but, in certain ways, I suppose I’m still in a state of breakdown.The smallest thing can send my stress levels soaring, but I’m definitely in more control than I was. My head still feels very cloudy, but it seems manageable now, if nothing else.

You see, the thing I’ve learned about depression recently is that before you can recover from it, you have to learn to live with it. And that’s the hardest thing. Depression is uncomfortable, painful, damaging. It’s natural to want to resist it, to push back, but that resistance can make things worse. Resistance leads to stress, especially when you’re resisting your own emotions. In accepting how I’m feeling, it’s easier to cope with, but also easier to fight. If I notice how I’m feeling and accept it, I can brush it off and move on, taking it for what it is; a mental illness. It doesn’t need any more or less weight, it just needs to be what it is.

It’s frustrating that this has pushed me back in terms of recovery, but I can’t really do anything but accept it for now. I need to learn to live with depression before I can get better, but that realisation feels like half of the battle in itself. If I can learn this and live with this (even though it’s going to take a lot of strength and willpower) then I will get better. Slowly, but surely.

Thanks for reading!

Progress

Progress is a funny thing and with something as complex and personal as depression it’s a difficult thing to measure. Of course, people  do get better from depression – it happens daily – but, as with the illness itself, just what that looks like is idiosyncratic. Having more good days than bad days is a start, but again what constitutes a good or bad day is going to be different for everyone.

I often find myself asking whether I’m any better than when I first started my treatment and it’s  a difficult question to answer. Even with my combined treatment of medication and mindfulness I still have bad days, which feel as bad as ever, but the treatment does help me enjoy my good days more. They’re still not perfect, which is to say that I still don’t feel how I did before I developed depression, but it feels like progress, which is something.

I suppose, really, it depends what recovery looks like to each individual sufferer. I’m a lot more functional than I was, but still not as much as I’d like to be. I still have days when I feel like I can’t leave the house. I still have days when I can’t write. I still have days when I’m too tired to do much of anything at all. But, I am writing. I am going to work. I am leaving the house, even if I have to force myself some days. And it wasn’t really so long ago that I wasn’t doing the majority of those things. So yeah, I’d call that progress.

But I still feel like there’s a long way to go. My self-confidence is nowhere near what it used to be and that has stopped me doing things that I would like. I haven’t been able to play music for an audience and I’ve been too nervous to try to find a new band. That’s what recovery looks like to me, I suppose; having the life I did before all of this happened. Having the confidence to live the life I had before this all happened. Unfortunately, that’s not a realistic wish to make right now and it isn’t going to happen any time soon, partly because I don’t really remember how I felt before I had depression anymore; but I can keep moving towards there, knowing I’ll get there in the end.

Beating depression isn’t about getting anywhere quickly. It’s about doing what you can within the parameters the illness gives you at that moment. It’s about fighting back as hard as you can at that time. It’s about taking things at your own speed. I have to realise that means not constantly getting better. During stressful times I do have a habit of regressing a few stages and beginning to feel worse again. All I can do in those moments is accept that’s how I’m feeling and test the boundaries of my current state, because getting depressed about having depression seems like a vicious circle that, frankly, I don’t have time for.

Depression isn’t an illness that wants to let you move forward, but it happens, even if that progress feels suspiciously like standing still. It’s a malicious thing that doesn’t like not to be i control, but it’s beatable through a strange mixture of acceptance and defiance. Just knowing that is progress in itself.

Thanks for reading!

Depersonalisation

I’ve wanted to write about depersonalisation for a while. I suppose that’s for a lot of reasons, but the main one is that, before it happened to me, I had no idea what it was. It’s a pretty scary experience and I wish I’d known more about it going into it. Depersonalisation is something I can deal with a lot better now for a number of reasons, but it was a long road.

So, what is depersonalisation? Well, when I talk about it I mean two things.

The first is something I’ve spoken about on Natural Bedhead before that came with the onset of depression. That’s the feeling of not feeling like me. I want to reiterate just how different this is to when you’re physically ill and you don’t feel yourself. I simply felt like a completely different person – my thoughts weren’t my own, my body wasn’t my own, my life wasn’t my own. Everything was new with nothing to hold on to – I didn’t even have my own personality as a crutch. Of course, I was still me. To everyone else was I very much me. Nothing had changed except what was in me, but that was so huge it turned everything else upside down. This is still something that I deal with on a pretty much daily basis. There’s a sense that I’m not entirely sure whether I feel, think or even do certain things because that’s me, or because of depression. It creeps so deep that there is always that doubt. Thankfully, my medication does help me differentiate these things slightly and distance myself from the feeling of not being me. It doesn’t necessarily help me feel more me, but it helps me realise that it’s just a feeling – there’s nothing concrete there – and that’s a strangely comforting thing.

The second part of depersonalisation is very different. Every so often I have a bout that detaches me from my surroundings. This tends to happen in times of severe stress and I would imagine it’s linked to feelings of anxiety (I tend to get it in large crowds). It’s as if there’s glass between me and the rest of the world. I can see everything that’s happening around me but I can’t interact with it, or, sometimes, I can’t even understand it. People can say things to me and I can hear every word, but not comprehend the utterance. This kind of depersonalisation is a complete detachment from reality and is absolutely terrifying. There’s a feeling of non-existence, of being a voyeur to the world, at once unwelcome and unable to look away, even for a second. The first time this happened I thought I was short-circuiting, my brain just shut down. I had never experienced anything like it and couldn’t react to it because there was no point of reference. How do you combat the feeling of not being part of our world? A ghost. Even now this is one of the hardest things I come up against. Knowing it’s just a part of depression helps, but remembering that during a bout when I’m questioning my own existence isn’t exactly easy. All I can do is get away from everything and wait for the feeling to pass, which, of course, it does. It’s just a feeling and it’s something I can overcome.

Depersonalisation is an ugly and debilitating thing – one of the hardest things I face as a sufferer of depression. Thankfully, medication and mindfulness do make it easier to combat and it’s becoming rarer, but as long as I’m fighting this horrible illness there’s no guarantee I’ll ever be completely free of it. But all things pass and when the world around you becomes quiet, what’s inside you can fall to silence as well.

Thanks for reading!

Good Days and Bad Days

I think one of the truest things I can say about depression is that some days are better than others. Of course, other days are much, much worse. But, I’m a glass-half-full kind of person (or I’m trying to be), so let’s look at it that some days are better than others.

On a good day I can function almost as well as I did before depression hit. I can write, go for a run, socialise and, essentially, do all of the things that I would want to do in my everyday life. That said, it’s still not quite the same as it was before. Even on a good day, I’m still likely to get some kind of dip, either in mood or energy (more often than not, both), but I’ll have gotten enough done before then that I feel I’ve achieved something so it doesn’t hit me so hard. Besides, I’ll come up in a few hours anyway. In essence, a good day is a day that isn’t all about depression – it’s still there, lurking in the background, but it’s more of a suggestion than the theme.

Bad days, however, can come in a number of different ways. The most common is a complete lack of energy, where even getting out of bed is a huge effort. I can spend an entire day feeling like I’m dragging lead weights around with me and I move at what essentially becomes a crawl. As I’m sure you can imagine, this makes even the simplest tasks something of an ordeal from making a cup of coffee to climbing a flight of stairs, or even walking down the street. Any kind of physical activity seems to make this feeling worse as, not only does it draw more attention to it, but it further depletes my energy levels. How do I combat this? To be honest, I don’t really. I drag myself out of the bed, out of the house, go to work and do all of the things I need to before collapsing when I get back home. When this all started I made myself a promise that I wouldn’t let depression control my life and, while there are some things I can’t fight back against, this lack of energy is something I can push through. It isn’t easy and takes more willpower than I knew I had in me, but I can push through it, mostly because I have to though.

Then, as you’d expect with depression, there are low-mood days. Days where I just can’t lift my spirits. The feeling is similar to grieving for someone; an intense feeling of loss combined with a strange emptiness. All I can really do on these days is look after myself, not expect too much and just generally acknowledge the sadness. That’s all I’ve really learned, to be honest; fighting against any sadness that this brings just makes it worse. Of course, that doesn’t always mean it’s a simple thing to do. This kind of intense emotion is uncomfortable to say the least and it isn’t something that anyone wants to go through, so letting it wash over me can actually be more challenging than the feeling itself. I’m trying to teach myself that it’s best to just try and let the emotion out – exorcise the sadness and treat myself right.

Then there are days that can feel like good days, but I later discover were hanging on by  a thread. The tiniest amount of stress can throw me off course. For instance, I have a big problem with public transport at the moment (probably because it’s a closed-in space, though I’m not entirely sure), but I can normally handle a bus journey or two in a day without too much drama.  However, the buses have been really diverted recently, because Manchester, and journeys have been taking a lot longer. I wasn’t in any particular rush, but last week I was stuck on a bus for about an hour and by the end of it I was a wreck. The smallest thing seemed like a potential threat to me, from someone walking just that little too close to a particularly loud laugh. All I could do was go back home and lie in bed for a couple of hours until the world quietened down. I’m lucky that my medication takes the edge off of my anxiety so this is a rare occurrence now, but when it happens it really hits me.

Thankfully, in much the same way that a good day can turn into a bad day, a bad day can turn into a good day. A horrible morning can be followed with a wonderful lift in the afternoon with no more explanation than the passing of time. I try not to keep track of whether I have more good days or bad days  – a succession of bad days could push me to more. I can only keep track of depression a day at a time and put myself in the best position possible to combat it.

For me, there’s no pattern to depression; it’s a succession of hours and days with ups and downs. I can understand individual moments and tailor my life to dealing with them using the few coping mechanisms I’ve discovered. It’s a strange thought, but the actual experience of depression has given me the tools I need to fight it in a lot of ways. It’s shown its hand and given me some insight into what I’m up against. While I desperately want to get back to how things were before and be able to live a life unimpeded by this horrible illness, I’m in a better position to fight back against it than ever.

Thanks for reading!