Sometimes, especially in the winter when the days get short and dark, I can barely think for the depression. Every little thing is an uphill battle. Every little criticism is doom from above. But I am not always like this.
This part of my life I have come to accept. I know that sometimes I can’t remember what “happy” feels like. I know that all I have to do is hold on, and that I will find it again in the future.
When I am at my lowest, things are constant and unchanging. I know that I’m not fit for work. I know that I am suffering from a chronic illness that affects every aspect of my life. I know that it is not my fault. I can feel the effects of the depression through every nerve and vein and tendon. I AM NOT WELL.
But I am not always like this.
Sometime during the spring the ice grip of constant depression fades from my being. I begin to think again. To hope again. To live again. The sun comes in my window and I smile. So long since I last smiled unbidden. So long.
When I start to leave the lowest point things are volatile and uncertain. There is joy, but also a deep fear of losing that joy. My depression is at its worst in winter, but it is present all year around. Now I must face the fact that although I feel well one moment it may be taken away in the next. And I am still not well. The tiredness still haunts me, the thoughts still come hard, the suicidal ideation doesn’t go away. I am better, but I am not BETTER. My mood is changeable, and plans I make one day may not be possible for me the next.
But I am not always like this.
Sometimes there are weeks or months of joyous normality. Long stretches of time pass without thoughts of pain or death. The colours of the world can be enjoyed without the endless grey shroud of depression damping them. These times are the best… but they are also the worst.
When I am in my deepest depression I cannot imagine ever not being depressed, but when I am high I can’t quite remember what it was like when I was low. I do things that I could never have done mere days or weeks or months ago, and I wonder why I couldn’t do them. The self blame sets in. The hatred. Why couldn’t I have done that when I *needed* to?! Why did I let things get in such a state when the fix is so… easy!? Why was I so useless? Why am I always so useless.
And always, although I can’t quite imagine it, I still sense the depression hanging over me, waiting, and I know that at any moment I could be useless again.
But I am not always like this.
I think that’s one of the things that makes it hardest.
What support is there for a part time invalid?
I can’t take on a permanent job. I know that as soon as the depression hits I won’t be able to cope. And justifiably. Medically justifiably.
BUT I’M NOT ALWAYS LIKE THIS!
And there’s no way I can pick and choose when I can work, and when I can’t. Society seems quite clear on that. Either you’re employed… or you’re not.
I’m trying to meet it half way. I’m trying to make and build and create in my own time, and to contribute when I can, and to accept help when I can’t. But it’s so difficult. And no matter whether I am on a high or on a low, I always find myself judging me by my worst points. No matter what help I can give my brain always tots up what I have failed at and needed help with. No matter what I produce my brain only focuses on what I have consumed. No matter how much I achieve, my brain only tells me that I cannot achieve like that all the time. I am inconsistent. I cannot be depended on. Because I am not always like this.
I have a very fraught relationship with food. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I can’t stand the very thought of it. However I feel about it, though, it’s important to eat regularly and well. Which is hard, when even looking at food makes you want to be sick.
When I’m on a good run with eating everything happens the way it “should”: I do stuff… I get hungry… I eat… I do more stuff. These are the good times, but they’re also the times when I let things slip, because with food, as with everything in life, habits are important.
Here are some of the important habits I’ve picked up to help me with food:
Notice what you eat!
When I’m on a good run I can eat pretty much anything that’s put in front of me. When I start feeling shit about food, though, what whets my appetite gets a lot sparser. For a long time I just took it as a blanket “I don’t want to eat as much” but when I started paying attention I noticed that my appetite for some foods dropped quicker than for others.
For me, starchy foods are the first to go, with dry starchy foods in the lead. If I’m having trouble eating then I almost certainly won’t want a sandwich, and pasta will last a bit longer but soon I won’t be able to face that.
The last things to go are usually fresh fruit. I can generally stomach an orange or some grapes no matter how bad I feel.
Knowing the order that you lose interest in things can help in more than one way. Firstly it can help you keep a stock of the things you can almost always eat for emergency situations, and secondly it can help give you warning when you’re starting to slip. If I turn up my nose at a nice pasta, for example, I know I’d better fill myself up with salads before I get bad enough that I won’t touch *anything*.
While you may be bored of hearing the old phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” there is still some truth to it.
I don’t eat particularly *good* breakfasts, but I do make sure I eat breakfast every day without fail. It’s a good meal to turn into your anchor point because there’s so little stigma attached to *what* you eat for breakfast. I eat choco hoops, because they’re cheap and I’ve never yet felt like I couldn’t possibly face them. But there are lots of other options, such as fruit, yoghurt, sausage rolls… the list goes on and on. As in the point above, pay attention to what you can always eat and what you can only eat when you’re on a good day. Make plans for a constant supply of an ‘always good’ option for your breakfast so at least you don’t have to worry about that one meal. Quick to make also helps make it less likely that you’ll skip it, which is another reason that I like cereal. So long as I have milk and cereal I can have breakfast ready and eaten before I’m even fully awake.
Lunch and Dinner:
It’s traditional to think of meals in terms of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, or at least in some variation of three meals a day. If you’re trying this and it’s not working for you, however, it can be worth trying a different tack. Do you find it easier to eat in small portions rather than large? perhaps four of five smaller meals might be worth more than the traditional three if you can fit them into your schedule. It also means you don’t have to pay attention to every single meal being balanced. If you have a small carb heavy meal at noon to keep you going until a more vitamin filled salad at 3 then that’s fine. No meat at 3 but chicken wings and sausages for a later snack? That’s cool too.
Alternatively, if you prefer to do your eating in big portions there’s nothing wrong with a big breakfast and then fruit juices or suchlike until a kind of ‘High Tea’ in the late evening… if your body works with that then go with it.
Food and Sleep:
When you’ve missed meals your body sometimes runs out of energy, and tries to solve this by getting sleepy and using less energy. If you have a history of missing meals then be very wary when you feel like you need a nap when you wouldn’t normally. Have you eaten recently? If not, then make sure you eat *before* you nap. Napping reduces the demands on the body’s energy supply, but doesn’t do anything to refuel you. If you give in to the urge to nap without eating first you can find yourself waking feeling even worse, and it will be even harder to get yourself up and moving to find food then!
You can get meal replacement drinks or supplement drinks fairly easily these days. I don’t advise replacing meals with them, but I do find it very worthwhile to keep some in storage for those days when you just can’t face food but know you should get something into you. Likewise multivitamin fruit juices or just varied juices can fill in on vitamins if you’re doing okay with eating your meat and fibre but aren’t up to facing veg.
Ready meals and processed food:
Fresh homemade food is better for you than ready meals… but do you know what’s worse for you than processed food? No food at all!
If quick and ready meals make it easier for you to eat regularly then do it. Simple as.
Is there something you absolutely love? A favourite restaurant, or a particular ice cream? Remember it. Even if it isn’t “good for you” it can help to jump start your interest in eating when you can’t really face the thought otherwise.
Healthy snacks are so useful if you have trouble bringing yourself to eat. I personally like munching on cherry tomatoes or grapes, with raisins or other dried fruit if I’m going to be out and about. It makes a world of difference to have things like that to hand. If fruit’s not your thing then crackers, popcorn, little cheeses, nuts… find something and make it yours!
A piece of advice that I come across fairly often is “you decide how you feel about things, whether to be sad or happy, whether to look on the bright side or to see the worst. Life is too short to be miserable. Choose to be happy.”
This advice, like many pieces of advice, is useful… to an extent.
You can, to a certain extent, decide how to feel about things.
You can, through forming new habits, learn to see the world in a different light.
A positive attitude can help a lot.
Imagine it as if life is a hot-dog and emotions are the sauces you put on it. You can choose to add mustard, or ketchup, or sweet chilli sauce, or… I don’t actually know what people put on hot-dogs… something else.
But the problem with this as a catch-all solution is that is assumes that people are like this:
And they’re not. People have so much variety. What works for one might not work for another, or might work, but not change their life as profoundly.
In reality, people look a lot more like THIS:
No two people are the same, and no problem is simple. Especially not a mental health problem. What works a charm for one peson may be a struggle for another. Some people just don’t have much ketchup. Their ketchup bottle is tiny. They can choose to put ketchup on their hot-dog right now, but that means that later they may not have ketchup. Some people have ketchup with a wonky nozzle, so sometimes when they try to pour it out it just won’t come. Some people have those annoying bottles that you can’t see what’s inside, so maybe it’s empty and they just don’t realise yet, or maybe some prankster filled the brown sauce bottle up with mustard so as to catch people by surprise.
I suffer from depression, and anxiety, and probably more stuff to one extent or another. This is what *my* condiment shelf looks like:
Some of those are very close together aren’t they? That’s because a lot of my emotions are intertwined. Sadness and joy are very near to each other in my life, and sometimes when I reach for one I get the other. Sometimes when I’ve had the best day I can imagine I feel sad that my mother wasn’t there to experience it with me. Sometimes when I skin my knee I feel happy that I’m still alive to feel pain.
See the way the some of them are tucked away at the back there? That makes them hard to get to. I have to work my way past the worry and the excitement and the uncertainty before I can reach them.
As well as that the nozzles on my bottles are a bit wonky. The one on my happiness is smaller than it should be, so sometimes I have to squeeze it extra hard to get any out. The lid on my sadness doesn’t fit properly, so sometimes it falls off and the tears get everywhere. My anger tends to glob up and come out as huge lumps or not at all.
And that ketchup. It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with the bottle. But some people have Chef ketchup instead of Heinz ketchup. They seem to like it better. I don’t know if I’d like it better, or if it’s just the same really, or if Heinz is actually more my thing. I’ll never know. I don’t get to have Chef ketchup. This is all I’ve got.
Choosing the right condiment for your hot-dog is a good and important step, but it’s not the only one.
The first, and most important, step is to make sure that you have a hot-dog in the first place. Take care of yourself. Take care of your head and your health and your support networks. In time you can work out how you like your life seasoned, but you don’t have to do it right away.
After that, pay attention to what happens when you season your life. Notice what emotions get confused, and which ones are linked to others. Learn how to handle them to get the best results. Maybe a tap on the bottom is all it takes to get the calm flowing. Maybe not. But you won’t know if you don’t try.
Treatments such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can help. They can teach you to organise your shelf space. They can teach you ways of figuring out when you need to buy more soy sauce before you run out in the middle of cooking.
Medication can help. It’s the only way I’ve found of testing out Chef ketchup. It changes things at a chemical level, and that can be scary, but it doesn’t change you. It just gives things a different flavour.
And finally, you need variety in your life. Trying to live your life only being happy can rob you of the moments of fear and excitement and achievment and bittersweet tears. Too much of anything can be as bad as none at all.
Like this metaphor… which has been going on far too long.
So goodbye for now, and remember: You are not alone!
Over the past month I’ve had a string of illnesses or depressive episodes or other issues in a lovely polite line, each waiting until the one before is done before politely tapping me on the shoulder and saying “Now what about me?” None of them have been all that serious, but they just haven’t stopped. And now they have. And it’s oh so quiet. And that’s lovely.
The most recent of these has been finally getting my wisdom teeth out. They came up wrong somewhere in the region of five years ago, and I figured they weren’t too bad and just left them be. I have a policy of not messing with my body unless it’s serious. So they just sat there being not-quite-right and I forgave them for it. Eventually, though, I went for a dentists appointment and he commented “Wow, those must be causing you a lot of pain” and I realised that yes, they were. I was just ignoring it because it “wasn’t too bad”. So I got an appointment with a dental surgeon, and after two months of waiting I went in to hospital, was put under general anaesthetic, and had them removed. That was a week ago. I’m now finished the course of painkillers and antibiotics and whatnot and they’re gone. And so is a lot of pain that I hadn’t even realised I had. It’s weird. It’s bizzarre. It’s like there’s something that was in my head that isn’t there anymore. Inside my head is… quiet.
It’s had a knock-on effect on my mood. I guess it has to when you’re suddenly not in pain anymore. Lately I’ve been more able to cope. I’ve been more able to focus. I’ve been more able to relax. I’m still depressed, but I’m not depressed and in pain, and that’s making a huge difference to everything. Yes, I still can’t function without 12 hours sleep out of 24, and I still feel scared at the idea of going to a busy supermarket, all those other problems are still there… but… it’s a bit easier.
So I guess the lesson learned here is not to put up with things that aren’t quite right, or aren’t too bad. It’s easy to think that you’re coping with so much that a little extra stress or pain won’t make difference. It’s easy to think that there’s no point treating something ‘cos you’ll still be depressed so what use will it be. It’s easy to give up on the little bits of happiness because all you can see is the big looming sadness. Don’t do that.
Take care of yourself in every way you can.
Fix everything you can fix. Improve everything you can improve.
Don’t just cope…
When you suffer from any kind of illness it’s hard to muster up the energy to take care of yourself, never mind your surroundings. Things start to slide, dishes pile up, clutter becomes mess becomes disaster areas… This is all normal and it’s not a bad reflection on your worth as a person. If you can’t face cleaning then you can’t. You learn ways of coping, of dealing with the mess, of making less impact in the first place and of managing the damage when the piles get too high. That’s normal too. It’s a problem many people face. When I talk about taking control of your environment I understand that limited spoons are a real issue. But when you do have those spoons…
When you do have spoons it’s still hard to spend them on your environment. By then the piles have gotten high and it seems like you’ll never make a dent in them. By then you’ve forgotten what living in a clean house is even like. By then you don’t know if it really matters. It does matter. I’m not talking about hygiene or what other people, I’m talking about the psychological effect of having a clean and clear habitat. It’s an effect that I all too often forget, and I wonder why I get so stressy and cranky, and why lounging in the living room isn’t as relaxing as it used to be, and when eventually I get up and do a clear I realise that YES! That was it! My brain *likes* being somewhere pretty. It’s as simple as that.
The effect is as simple as that, that is. The actual tidying… not so much. When every waking moment is a fight with your mind you don’t much feel like picking fights with dust and grime too. So what can you do about it without spending too many spoons?
- Limit your cleaning time.
I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but if all you associate cleaning with is running out of spoons then that’s yet another black mark against it in your mind. Tell yourself that you’re going to clean the kitchen for 15minutes, then clean for 15 minutes. Don’t push any further, even if you feel you could go on all day. Take a break, reward yourself with a cup of tea, and if you feel like doing another bout of cleaning later then you can do it then.
- Notice the little things that make big differences.
You don’t always have to put in a lot of effort to make a room look brighter. Today I realised that I’d piled a blanket beside the washing machine weeks ago with the intention of washing it later and never did. It was just sitting there, being ignored, looking messy. So I grabbed it and shoved it in the washing machine. Instant space and another positive step taken.
- Do small things in idle moments.
Try to get in the habit of rinsing out your glasses after you use them, or wiping down a worktop while you’re waiting for the kettle to burn.
- Do something non-cleaning to make the place look nice.
Put some flowers on the table, arrange the cushions and blankets in a comfy-looking nest on the sofa, Put an ornament that makes you smile somewhere that it catches your eye. Make your surroundings a place that you like.
- Don’t stress about it!
These are all suggestions of what to do if you find yourself with a spare spoon at the end of a day. They’re things that might be nice to do for yourself, to make you smile. Don’t force yourself into a frenzy trying to make them happen. Sometimes you have spoons, sometimes you don’t. That’s okay. Take care of yourself.
- Remember the grain of salt!
Today my achievement was washing a blanket. It made me feel happy, and accomplished, and I wanted to remind other people that sometimes it *IS* worth it to spend your spoons on annoying things like housekeeping. That said I still have a pile of dishes 2ft high and a room where you can’t see the floor. I am by no means speaking from the posistion of a cleaning expert 😛
When you suffer from depression, or any other mental disease, you often say or do things that you don’t really mean. You might snap at your friends, or suffer massive mood swings, or decide that you don’t care about the things that you really do actually care about. This can put a lot of stress on relationships. I generally handle this by being quite clear about why these things happen, and by apologising or explaining afterwards when I’m in a better state to do so. I’ve found that when I’m honest and open about the difficulties I face, and when I let people know that I’m doing my best to cope and to minimise the not-me things I say and do they’re ridiculously understanding. People are awesome like that. And when I’m open and honest about it all they can generally tell the difference between me actually being angry or unfair and the times when it’s “the depression talking”.
Like I said, people are awesome. People (especially my friends) are also remarkably perceptive at times. When I’m suffering from depression, however, I’m not. Perceptive that is, not awesome. Often although they can tell what’s really me… I can’t.
Something that I’ve dealt with a lot, and heard of from a lot of other people, is the feeling of confusion about where the illness stops and where you start:
“I’ve always been prone to tears and breakdowns…it’s just me.”
“I’ve always had a thin temper… it’s just me.”
“I’ve never been able to see the bright side of life… it’s just me.”
And from the more positive side:
“If I’d never had depression I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
“If I’d never suffered from depression I wouldn’t know how to cope with all this stress… and the stress in my life isn’t all from depression.”
“Depression has pushed me to explore how and why people feel the way they do, or has inspired my greatest art, or has taught me the hard-won patience that’s my best asset in life.”
I guess it’s not unusual when you deal with something for so long, and when it takes such a huge part in your life. I guess it’s even less unusual when it’s a part of your own mind and feelings. But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s not tough to deal with. And let me tell you, it’s bloody hard to deal with.
Most people I know who have suffered from depression have also found themselves seriously asking this question:
“Who am I?”
I’ve known more than a few people who have avoided or outright refused treatment or medication because they were afraid it would change who they were. Who they are.
That’s pretty scary. Imagine not only living with the blackness of depression, but choosing not to try to get out in case it changes your very being. I mean, that’s heroic sacrifice right there. That’s one of those big dramatic moments where the lone human stands up to the gods and says “Yes, I’m flawed. But I’m human. And I’m proud of it. And I’m going to keep on struggling through this life.”
I have taken medication. I have undergone treatment.
Am I still the same person I once was? No, I’ve changed. But so does everybody, every day. But the medication, or the treatment, or the depression itself haven’t actually changed the core me. I’m still Aoife Brown. I’m still the artistic, caring, thoughtful person that I have always been. I am not my depression. My depression is not me.
But I still understand that worry. And I still worry that the emotional outbursts and the despondency and the tears are so much a part of me that they won’t ever be gone, and perhaps shouldn’t ever be gone. Despite knowing who I am deep down. Despite having friends who know it too, and reassure me of it.
I guess this is the point where I offer some advice. Something to help the other people who feel that way. Something to let them know they’re not alone. That scares me too, because if even I still struggle with it then how can I really advise others. But here goes, for what it’s worth:
-Trust your friends and loved ones. Be honest and open with them. Sometimes you are too close to the problem and can’t see the wood for the trees. When you’re at your worst you won’t believe them when they tell you that there’s a core you that’s not just depression in human form, but on your better days you’ll hear and remember, and sometimes even believe. It’s incremental. It stacks up. Someday that knowledge will stick even in the dark times.
-Pay attention to yourself. Take care of yourself, yes, but also notice what you’re doing. A lot of people act on automatic every day, and don’t really think about those actions. Watch them. Get to know yourself, and see what does and doesn’t change as your moods change. I think you’ll find the things that you care about most in yourself don’t change with your moods or illness or medication. Those things are the core you, and getting rid of an illness can’t take them away from you.
-Finally, if you don’t want to take the risk of medication or treatment, in case they change who you really are… then don’t. Learn your own mind. Ask your own questions. Find your own coping techniques. Don’t give up on a life free of depression, but do it on your own rules, and at your own time. Maybe someday you’ll feel confident enough to move try them after all. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you won’t need to. Take it as it comes. Just don’t give up on trying to be better.
That goes for everybody. Don’t give up on trying to be better.
Depression is shit. No-one deserves it. Everyone deserves to live their life cleanly and fully and without that heavy nothingness hanging around their shoulders dragging them down. YOU deserve a life that isn’t controlled by depression.
The real you. The core you. The you that’s solid and centered. The you that will make it through all this.
As long as I can remember I’ve had depression. I remember the oppressive feeling and the inability to focus and the desire to just curl up and cry all the way back to primary school, when as a 7 year old I would sit at the back of the bothán and try to keep myself together.
When I finally went to the doctor he diagnosed me with endogenous depression: a hereditary imbalance of brain chemicals. It made a lot of sense to me. I’ve always know that mum suffered from depression, and that others in my family suffered from it.
My mother died over eleven years ago. She hasn’t been here to help me through the worst of my depression, but knowing that at least she’d dealt with it too was a lot of help, because my mother really did things. She co-authored a book on local history, she was a scout leader, she taught craft classes and joined committees and didn’t let herself become a recluse even though she sometimes commented how easy it would be for her to do that. I’d like to be able to do as much as she did. In my mind, though, I always remembered the mum that went out and beat it, and not the mother who sometimes felt beaten by it.
Recently we came across an old diary of hers, one from over twenty years ago, and suddenly there was a side of her that was everything I’ve been dealing with and feeling shit for thinking. It was more than just a help. It was a huge comfort. I wasn’t alone.
She describes her reactions to the meds: “All I’ve got from it is bad skin and a twitch and a yawn. I can’t really think! I am functioning just as well as I did but still the thoughts come and still I find it hard to go to bed at night.”
She describes her dislike of going to the doctors: “Should I go back to him? I don’t know. […] Mornings don’t suit and I am phobic about going round anyway. What should I do?”
She even has a list of pros and cons of the meds, which are so close to mine that I feel like I’m reading my own posts:
“Improvements: I don’t cry so much… I don’t have bad dreams.
Not improved: I still feel panicky. I still don’t want to go anywhere. My temper hasn’t really improved.”
My sister and boyfriend keep hugging me and asking me if I’m coping okay with this, and maybe it’d make sense for me to be upset by it, but all this tells me is that she was where I am, and she kept going. She raised two awesome kids, did a lot of amazing things, had more friends than could fit in the church for her funeral, and when she did die it was from a brain-haemorrhage, nothing to do with depression. Nothing to do with not being able to cope. And if I can be even the smallest bit like her I’ll be happy with my life.
At the end of the diary entry there is a paragraph that hit me harder than I thought anything could:
“He asked me if I was suicidal? Define it? I’ve chosen my spot but it’s against my religion. Children should not predecease their parents. Am I suicidal?”
This didn’t hit me so hard because my mother felt suicidal, but rather because she didn’t seem to realise that YES, she was suicidal. That it wasn’t just normal to feel this way. That she deserved help and sympathy and not to feel so shit.
So yeah, of all the things that have happened it was this that gave me the push to come back to this blog. Because it’s not fair that some of us feel this way, and it *is* a big deal, with a big influence on our lives, and we deserve to get better; because it’s nice to know I’m not alone; and because I want everyone else out there who suffers from mental illness to understand that too.
We are not alone. We are not weird. We are not failures.
We are strong people, dealing with horrible problems.
We are amazing.
I was going to start this by saying that I’ve been struggling lately, but then I realised that that would be misleading. I’m always struggling. Sometimes more in one way than another, but there’s always something there. It kinda goes with the territory when you suffer from depression. What I’ve been struggling with specifically lately is an inability to relax at home. Among other things I’ve been unable to focus on my artwork, which makes me feel guilty about wasted time, which makes me anxious and causes me difficulty in focusing. This has been obvious in the resurgence of bad dreams and muscle tension. It’s also visible in the way that I’ve been reaching for the ice cubes more often (although I still rarely give in). The connection between depression and ice cubes probably won’t mean much to people who haven’t encountered it before, so I’ll explain why, and why it’s bad:
I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember, and one of the things that I suffer from and have learned to cope with is a strong tendency towards self-harming. I early on (like, primary school age) learned that anything which would cause serious damage to my body was a stupid idea. I also have a dislike of anything that belongs in my body not being in my body. Since this includes my blood, any form of cutting was out. As such I ended up either causing chinese-burn type pain or slamming my arms/fists/head against solid objects hard enough to cause pain but not enough to cause more than temporary bruising. It was actually this that caused me to first go to a doctor when I mis-calibrated my head-wall-intersection and ended up knocking myself out for a few seconds.
Since then I’ve tried a lot of different ways of coping with my depression, and one of the ones that wasn’t good advice for dealing with depression still helped me to cause less pain for myself in the process. It went like this: “If you tend towards self harm, try to gradually change the form the harm takes. Try to move from cutting yourself to wrapping elastic bands around your wrists and “pinging” them off your skin when you want to hurt. Move from beating yourself off walls to holding ice-cubes. They won’t stop the feelings or the root problem, but at least you’ll cause less damage to yourself in the process.”
I don’t know if that advice was helpful or detrimental in the long run. I don’t know if it was good or bad. I do know that I tried following it, and now when I feel like I want to smash my brains off against a jagged rock somewhere I find myself reaching for the freezer and rooting about for the ice-cubes.
Now, holding an ice-cube may not cause a huge amount of damage, but have you ever tried it? It *hurts*. That’s why I try to avoid giving in. Causing myself pain in response to brain-gremlins and bad thoughts is never going to help me get over these thoughts. It’s never going to help me beat my depression. All it’s going to do is re-inforce the idea that it’s “bad” or “wrong” of me to be upset by these things, and that I somehow deserve pain for it. At best it’s a short-term energy-relieving behaviour, and those aren’t really helpful. But sometimes… sometimes it’s so tempting.
At least now that I’m more aware of my depression and the forms it takes I can notice those moments, and stop myself from taking that path. I can notice my focus being drawn to the freezer, or the fact that I’m mentally checking out nearby walls for head-banging potential, and I can take a step back and think “WHY am I feeling this way? What’s causing it? And what practical steps can I take to make things better or to distance myself from the situation?” or, if it’s obvious that the situation can’t be fixed or avoided “Who can I call who could help, or at least offer emotional support” with a little bit of a wheedling “and wouldn’t a nice hug be so much better than hurting yourself?!”
It’s true you know. Hugs are so much nicer than self-harm. I would fully advise anyone suffering from depression to get a hug right now, or as soon as physically possible. If you don’t like hugs I’d advise a backup plan of a friendly voice and a nice cup of tea.
First off, I want to say that I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything lately. Moods have been up and down, and I’ve had whole weeks where I’ve pretty much withdrawn from the world. This happens. I cope. I just can’t cope with some other things at the same time, so I let them slide. This time my blog was one of those things.
That said, I now want to move on to the topic of this entry, which is the phrase “I’m not that bad.”
I’ve heard it time and time again, in many different situations. I’ve heard it used by people to deny that they’re depressed. I’ve heard it used to re-assure others that nothing’s wrong, even if it is. I’ve heard it used by people to re-assure themselves by comparing to others in worse situations, or who aren’t as good at coping. Those, however, aren’t the situations I want to address today…
My last post was about suicide, and about all the people out there who’ve considered it. I got a lot of responses from people who’d felt that way, but I also got responses from people saying that it made them feel guilty, or like frauds, because they’d “never been that bad”. That’s what I want to address today.
I want to look at this idea. I want to examine it. Then I want to yell “BULLSHIT!” and throw it out a window. Because how you feel and what you deal with doesn’t have to be measured up against anyone else. The fact that someone out there feels suicidal doesn’t make your panic attacks any less relevent. The fact that someone has panic attacks does nothing to relieve the torment of facing yet another day without joy, or sorrow, or anything resembling emotion. The fact that someone out there has a different problem from you doesn’t mean that your problem doesn’t matter too!
Now don’t get me wrong, there are some places where it’s important to take into account that other people have worse (or different) problems to you. One such situation is when you’re actually talking to the person in question. I generally find, for example, that complaining about my bruises to someone with a broken arm isn’t the best idea. Sympathising with them, and complaining about my bruises later with someone else is often a far better course of action. Another example would be where choices have to be made. Perhaps someone who offers you support has too heavy a load at the moment, and has to choose between being there for you and being elsewhere for a more severely depressed person. In that situation “I’m not that bad” can be a reasonable and helpful comment. (So long as it’s actually the truth, of course, but that’s a topic for another day.)
The important thing about the above situations, however, is that none of them involve you not getting help or sympathy. At their most severe they involve you understanding situations and looking elsewhere for support. And it’s important that you do that. It can be easy for “I’m not that bad” to morph into “I’m not worth the support” and that’s where it gets dangerous. That’s the crack that lets the brain gremlins get in, and once they’re in… well, you know what jerks they can be!
So when you next find yourself thinking “I’m not that bad” stop for a moment and think about what you mean by it. There’s nothing wrong with taking comfort in the fact that things are not as bad as they could be, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling sympathy for those who have it worse, but when you stray into thinking that your own illness deserves to be dismissed because “it’s not bad enough” then you’ve hit a problem. Because if it’s bothering you then it deserves to be dealt with. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be helped. And you deserve to be well.