January is here.
My last year has been, in hindsight, one of the most stressful of my existence which is saying something. A lot of it brought up buried memories of awful domestic warfare, a mother who psychologically crippled her son (my brother), abused me and the whole awful dysfunction of a family that had lived through, fought in, somewhat survived an African civil war only to arrive in Ireland without any psychological help or intervention: the living in a toxic atmosphere I swore I’d never experience again even at arm’s length. One of the reasons I walk away from people is to protect myself from seeing this sort of behaviour: not supportive of me, but necessary for my MH. I am explaining this to you because you need to know that I have lived with depression, suicide and all that fun stuff from a tiny child. It is this experience that informs what I am about to write.
I have five friends currently buried in depression with no idea how to carve their way out.
I too am depressed right now, but I shrug. I am an old hand at this gig. Been here, done that, I have the certainty of experience to know that given the right tools, the right drive, I will explode out of this darkness with a bright smile. Honestly, if you can hold on it’s like riding a never ending continuum of darkness and light.
Here are my tips for dragging your sorry ass back to sanity and serenity.
IDENTIFY THE PROBLEMS
- write them, draw them, doodle them: however you do it, get a list together of the people, situations, pressures that are smothering the oxygen from your soul.
- be honest, no hiding, this isn’t a beauty contest if part of the problem is You, put You and why it’s You on the list (I put myself down because my TBI’s and Early Childhood PTSD mean that I can’t process passed being triggered to depression, I have three options (as we all do) FIGHT, FLIGHT or FAINT. If my children are present and there is no escape, then the FIGHT is on and it will be bloody brutal, I will win but there will be bodies and a call for friends to come over with shovels. FAINT is an option only if I have the luxury of being without my kids: it is great. The warm embrace of nothing is as close to bliss as my brain can currently hope for. It is however completely unhelpful when trying to negotiate ones way out of the badlands of depression, which is why I need a good Psychologist who gets it and who’s brain I can use because mine is tripping: I often think of it like that, a generator on the fritz with occasional sparks of life and sputtering out to deadness.)
HOW DID I GET HERE?
- what did I do to get myself in this hole? Honesty. Brutal, straight forward and without ego, put it down on a list. This isn’t an opportunity to beat yourself up, it’s an opportunity to write down the words, actions and thoughts that gradually dug the ground from under your feet until you collapsed into the darkness.
- events: were there key events that pushed you to this point?
DIAL A DOCTOR
- I don’t care if you trust your family doctor or your psychologist, for me it’s inevitably a neurologist because they have the ability of understanding the mechanics, the chemistry and the psychological impact of my injuries. (Anybody who knows me will have to accept that I think Psychiatrists are dangerous quacks for the most part.) Whoever it is so long as they are a qualified doctor (and here my prejudice against social workers will come out, to my mind they are dangerous and without a strong governing body that can ensure patients are protected from the woo hoo that too often comes with social workers: if they have beads and joystick burning in the corner run for it). Call your doc. Get an appointment.
- GO TO THE APPOINTMENT and make sure you tell the receptionist it is a double appointment. You do not need to tell them what it’s for but tell them it is urgent, personal and serious.
- Bring your lists with you.
- This is not a beauty pageant. Too often those visiting their doctor treat it like some kind of popularity contest. Shaking my head. Don’t be an idiot. Vomit everything up. Everything. Get it out and get the help you need from a professional you trust.
- If it is a family doctor they will likely give you a form to fill in which is like a Depression Quiz. I’ve had more than one friend who I’ve kicked into a doctor’s office who has triumphantly left it saying, “Hah! I am not depressed! I did the questionaire!” When we go through it together, because I am that ass, it’s bloody obvious truths were not told.
- If you are in the darkest parts of depression you will need chemical help to pull you out. This is not weakness anymore than a doctor putting a plaster on your broken bone is. It took nuts to make that appointment, walk into that doctor’s office and tell all. Now take your meds as directed.
- One of the first warning signs I have that I am slipping into the badlands is a dislike of alcohol. About two months ago my first alarm bell appeared as a distaste for my favourite white wine. I thought it was just that wine, because I am even after all these years more than capable of hiding my depression from myself. Gradually it dawns on me that my instinctual defences have kicked in.
As a teenager and young adult I was warned that with my injuries the risk of alcoholism, addictions, and all that fun jazz was high. So from my earliest I have avoided ALL (including any human contact other than hugs for my kids or fur/feathered babies) when I feel the dark tendrils wrap their choking fingers around my soul: I shut down, I go to numb and automatic; focused solely on pushing forward which historically has meant kicking away the things that were causing me to fall into depression away no matter what. Life or death.
- Alcohol will depress your brain. It isn’t helpful. Not saying avoid it completely but be honest with yourself. A couple of glasses is not a couple of bottles. Take each day as it comes, each minute and simply choose to do something that will get your brain back to happier hormones.
- When you are depressed and struggling to keep a lid on it, alcohol is not your friend. You will say things that will bite you in the ass. You will do things that bite you in the ass. Unless you want your ass kicked and bitten (and not in a good way), just follow Nancy’s advice: Just say no.
GET OFF THE TREADMILL OF LIFE
- Look honestly at your commitments and remove all “SHOULD”s. In other words if you start the sentence with “I should do this …. ” Don’t. Not now. Not this week. Not until you are feeling yourself.
- No you don’t have to compete. I don’t give a rat’s ass what anybody thinks about me or what I do, or what I have. I love it when what I do pleases and helps, but honestly? Meh. It doesn’t make any impact on my bubble. That took a lot of practice, it didn’t turn up by itself. Took me a very long time to wrap my bubble so tight that opinions of others are about as relevant as a bird poop. I enjoy hearing other’s views, ideas and thoughts: love it. But that’s a very different thing to my absorbing them as in someway a judgement of me. Completely irrelevant. Pointless.
- Stop talking to people who either don’t get it, want to keep you broken or are simply not good for your inner self. How will you know? Trust your body. Do you put furniture between you and them? Do you feel a sense of relief when they leave the room? Does your stomach gurgle when you get a text from them and not in a fun butterfly way, more troll fart? Become body conscious. Your body knows how people impact you far better than your brain does right now.
BECOME BODY CONSCIOUS
- You are running on your instincts. Trust them. Listen to your body.
- Stop ignoring the signals you are getting from your toes to your fingertips. Start listening. Do a body check every hour. I mean it. Get into the habit of it until it becomes second nature. Work from your toes all the way up your legs, butt cheeks, stomach, torso, arms, neck and scalp. Realize where your tension is and gradually the wisdom to recognize the sources will come.
- Silence the voices that are not helpful.
- Realize that there are good, real people out there but a lot are not. Delete them from your social media world.
- Step back and take a break. I have done this and it was necessary. Give yourself permission to go dark for a while.
- Ask for help. Get them to support you for a while by giving them some of the chores you usually do. Tell them you need to lean on them for a while.
- If your world is chaotic, ask a friend to come over and reduce the chaos. Clean and empty, open and free. That’s what is key to recovery. Get rid of the noise and the unimportant. Clutter is not your friend when you are fighting depression.
- When I am depressed I stop eating. I can literally not eat for weeks and not notice. Whether this is as a result of not having regular meals as a child or because the only thing I could control was what I ate, I no longer feel hungry. Ever. I chug a bottle of that awful supplement meal thing every morning to kickstart my system. It doesn’t mean that I often eat lunch if the kids aren’t around, but it is something. If I try to force myself to eat I find the food stays in my mouth and I can’t swallow it. I inevitably end up just spitting it out and giving up. So, I find the milkshake thing is the best alternative to real food.
- If you eat when you’re depressed try to stop buying the brain cocaine foods: with high sugars, processed etc. These foods are going to increase your anxiety and your depression. Try to find fruit fun. Anything to be honest, just avoid the additives preservative and sugar rich foods, they are toxic for your brain.
GET OUT INTO NATURE
- Sure exercise is great. Blah blah blah. Depressed brains aren’t likely to do well in the gym.
- Walk in the woods. Cliche I know but it works. Get away from the world. Cars. Noise. Find trees and all that stuff. Trust me, it works. It is the closest thing to a massage for the soul as can be found. If it is raining, even better: less people and the rain silences the world.
CONNECTIONS TO HEARTBEATS
- Probably the hardest thing when dealing with depression is maintaining or even finding a connection with a living breathing human who doesn’t drag you down. Somehow you have to do it, you have to find it.
- It is best if you can manage actual contact, face to face. For most of us however, that is a tall order and not really what I ever do. Even the ones I trust more than anything I keep at arms length when I’m in the hole. Why? Is it to protect them or me? Not sure. But it is what I do. And it is not helpful.
- Here is where social media is a fantastic MH tool. Connect with the ones that make you laugh and smile. Who are always honest and straight forward, no games, no BS. The ones that lift you up and give you a spark of belief, of hope in humanity. Stick to them. Find a group that supports and pushes you to health (avoid those that whine, and whinge about being broken without ever pushing forward).
- Get going with it. Draw. Scribble. I am going to do some tutorials to help you find a way through using colour.
- Whatever you connect with do it. Why? Neurologists have found that creating fixes broken neuropathways.
- Just do it.
- We stop breathing. We hold our breath. We ignite our emergency responses.
- Stop doing it.
- Become aware of when you are breathing, how you are breathing and when you are holding your breath (and who you are around when you are).
- Just breath. Sounds simple but it isn’t.
- One of the key factors in recovering from depression is sleep.
- I don’t care what it takes (other than a plank to the head of course), get real sleep. Your doctor will help you. Get it done.
And as always, you can reach out to me if you are struggling. I have no magic wand nor can I give you a quick fix. There are no magical programs out there that will miraculously cure you. That said, there are good people, good doctors and good programs out there. What is not an option is simply sitting on your sofa and accepting that this is your lot.