Coping With Depression

As you may have noticed, I haven’t written in a while, not because I haven’t wanted to but because I couldn’t. Since my last blog post my moods have been more than fluctuating, they’ve been plunging downward only coming up for air in spikes so steep and fast they’ve made me dizzy, each time I’ve risen to the surface I’ve gulped down the air only to be dragged downward and it feels like I’m drowning. I know I’m not and I know I will be fine and that this will end but that doesn’t make it easy.

With my depression comes panic attacks, paranoia, anxiety and stress. My immune systems plummets, I crave sleep and food, I want the world to leave me alone but, above all else, the thing I want to do most, is lie. I look my loved ones straight in the eye and I laugh, I tell them I had a great day, that dinner tasted great! I dress better, do my make-up better, push harder to be the image of happiness so that people leave me the hell alone. None of that helps when what I actually just need someone to stretch a hand in to the abyss and help pull me up. Only I know what/who will help me but unfortunately, I have a deeply ingrained issue with trust. Asking for help is practice and one day I’ll get there but in the meantime, I have my lists.

I created these lists when I was in a depression bad enough to warrant home care and emergency treatment. With constant thoughts of suicide as my companion I focused on making what I am about to show you. These lists helped me to survive day to day, born from a sign I once had, above my bed, which read, “Your one and only job is to get in the shower”. These lists are tailored to myself and feel free to tailor them to you. I actually make these in to foldable pocket versions that fit in a wallet; if you want one please let me know via email and I’ll be happy to help.

 

Depression Lists

 

Before you read on please take note that I am not a medical professional, under no circumstances should you take my advice over that of your doctor. If you are suicidal or at risk please seek medical attention. I have created these lists as a guide, only to help.

List 1 is more like a day-to-day guide, list 2 is for when you are really struggling and list 3 is when you are at your worst. The final list, I call a filler list and it’s designed to make you pick things to do to aid mental stability. Again, these have been tailored to me so feel free to swap things in and out depending on what works for you.

 

List 1: This is for when you are stable-mildly depressed

1.)           Eat at least 3 square meals. High protein and fibre, minimal sugar

2.)           Drink at least 2L of water

3.)           Try to get approximately 8 hours sleep, not a lot more, not a lot less

4.)           Get some exercise

5.)           Get some fresh air

6.)           Constant self-love, compassion and acceptance – You are enough.

7.)           Learn something new, even if it’s just a word of the day – www.reddit.com/r/mildlyinteresting is pretty good.

8.)           Be grateful for what you have – Grateful alphabets are fab if you’re struggling. Pick something that begins with each letter of the alphabet that you are grateful for.

 

List 2: This is for when you are moderately-severely depressed

1.)           Take a minute to acknowledge that this is depression and that you know what it is; try to accept that this is just how you are right now

2.)           Remind yourself that how you are right now is not how you will be forever

3.)           Show yourself complete love and compassion and self-empathy for what you are going through, congratulate yourself for showing some self-care by doing these steps

4.)           Deep breaths, notice where in your torso your breath is most active (collarbone, rib cage or stomach?)

5.)           Remind yourself that even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are in fact absolutely fine, safe and you’ve got this, believe in yourself

6.)           Get in the shower

7.)           Eat and drink something; the more nutritional the better. Avoid hunger (and junk food) and stay hydrated at all times

 

List 3: This is for when you are suicidal and at risk

1.)           Focus on your breathing. Where in your torso is the breath most active (collarbone, rib cage or stomach?)

2.)           Take a minute to acknowledge that this is depression and that you know what it is; try to accept that this is just how you are right now

3.)           Try to think of anything that could have triggered you, or if this is today’s natural progression of your depression. If it is a trigger, make a note of it, if not, that’s okay, let yourself feel what you are feeling.

4.)           Accept how you are feeling with complete love, compassion and empathy and wait until you have completed these instructions before you act on your feelings

5.)           Remind yourself that feelings come and go, good and bad. Remind yourself that how you feel right now is not how you will feel forever

6.)           Find Sub (Sub is my cat) Feed her, give her some fuss and check her over for any health issues. Remind yourself that she only has you and that she loves you even when you forget to

7.)           Remember how much of a butterfly effect your death/life has/will have on the world around you. If you’ve ever been to a funeral you will know how much it hurts the people you leave behind and you can never really know how many people’s lives you’ve improved just by existing; if you’d tried to guess I guarantee you’d be underestimating

8.)           Remind yourself that even if it doesn’t feel like it you are absolutely fine, safe and you’ve got this. Believe in yourself.

9.)           Get in the shower

10.)        Eat and drink something; go for nutrients over sugar, avoid hunger and stay hydrated all day

11.)        If you still feel the same as you did before call the crisis team (The name of my area’s psychiatric emergency team, It’s useful to keep yours handy) If you feel safer go to the 4th list

 

List 4: This is your “filler list”. Pick 4 or more things and complete them after doing 2nd/3rd lists

1.)           Get to a group therapy meeting

2.)           Reach out to a newcomer in group therapy

3.)           Write a grateful list or go through the grateful alphabet (assign each letter to something you are grateful for…i.e A-nimals videos on Youtube. It can be serious or silly, whatever you prefer)

4.)           Do some Step work

5.)           Talk to your higher power, be honest about how you feel and what you want – if you don’t have a God or HP just talk aloud to yourself about how you feel and what you want, I find it just irons out the creases in your mind about what your next move will be.

6.)           Talk to someone who KNOWS what you are going through and will understand you, be 100% honest – If no one springs to mind there are hundreds of online forums/communities.

7.)           Go for a walk and listen to upbeat music. Make a mental note of the following;

  1. What is the atmosphere/weather like?
  2. What colour is the sky, try to name anything else that is exactly the same shade/colour/texture
  3. What animals you can see – Name them all….seriously. Bonus points if you can make all the names rhyme. If you feel like a 5 year old whilst you’re doing it, even better.

8.)           Meditate (Headspace app is great)

9.)           Do something manual – do the dishes/re-pot some plants/de-weed the garden/change the bed sheets. Do something where you can SEE the achievement and once it’s done, stand back and admire your work

10.)        Engage with another human being. Talk to a stranger/phone a friend. Anything that gets you talking but only talk positively. If this results in travelling to see someone, even better!

11.)        Yoga

12.)        Learn some upbeat music with your guitar or just sing as loudly as you can. Stay standing while you do it! (Tip: Tops of stairs are great for this)

13.)        Go to the Gym/Go for a run – Personally I prefer weight lifting when I’m depressed, I find it REALLY helps

15.)        ONLY If it is after 2PM Watch TV but only one of the following and only one episode at a time; The next episode in a season you’ve been watching weekly (NOT a Netflix binge episode). or The Thick of It/Extras/Louis Theroux Documentary (My favourite shows) – The reason this has rules is because spending a day binge watching TV will not help you, you need to get up and get moving even though you really don’t want to.

16.)        Book a massage/Hair appointment/Treatment

17.)        Experiment with make-up (Guys you can also do facial hair) and whilst you’re doing it make note of the little things you like about yourself and love the things you don’t. There is no such thing as an ugly person. Even if you don’t like how you look right now it’s good to bear in mind all of the weird and wonderful people out there and in those millions there are hundreds, thousands of people and you will match their type. So, make the decision to see what they see and know that you’re amazing.

 

And there you have it, my depression lists. I hope they help should you ever need/want them! If you can think of anything that should go on the filler list or anything that helps you, let me know; nothing is a one size fits all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Are Enough

I like romance, I need someone who is affectionate, someone who will kiss me hello and goodbye, someone who hates the idea of a couple sitting apart on a sofa as much as I do. I want to be spoilt and I want someone to spoil right back. I believe in complete equality in a relationship and I don’t mean just that you take it in turns to play little spoon. I want to learn about someone, I want to be their best friend and I want them to be mine. I want someone to grow with, not just to grow old with.

I used to be afraid of saying all of the above. Afraid of being weird, prudish or uncool, afraid of being me. I sacrificed my happiness because I felt the real me wasn’t good enough for the world. “I am not enough” is my deeply ingrained, default mind set, for everything. I’m not intelligent enough to be talking to these people, I’m not funny enough to make that joke, I am not attractive enough to have that partner. As a result I have been incapable of saying “No” in the past. I’ve been unable to say “No” to dating someone I didn’t like, I’ve said “Yes” to sex I didn’t want and I’ve actively changed myself to meet another person’s need, to the detriment of my own. I destroyed partners where I felt I didn’t deserve a relationship, I have cheated where I seized attention and I have gratefully accepted damaging friendships because I didn’t feel worthy for more.

On paper Adam was a well-to-do dream; well spoken, well-educated, politically minded, career-minded, home-owner, cat-owner, plus I was physically attracted to him and apparently he liked me. In person, however, he showed no warmth, his kisses were never more than a peck and greetings were like hugging a cardboard cut-out. I couldn’t bring myself to put my arms around him, I wanted to kiss him but he had an exterior that meant I didn’t dare move in and he was incredibly, emotionally formal. I felt like I had to impress him and short of being constantly hypomanic that was never going to happen, I couldn’t be myself, I was afraid he wasn’t finding me funny, pretty or clever. This wasn’t a cute case of being love-struck this was complete incompatibility and I was desperately unhappy. A healthy person would have experienced this and left; I stayed and convinced myself I wasn’t miserable, that I couldn’t do better and that it would work if I changed myself enough. Besides, Adam validated me, my Mother enthusiastically approved, which made me think that maybe being on Adam’s arm would cure me of being less-than.

Taylor; a tall, Essexey, tattooed, smoking, divorcee who chose dogs over cats; A tradesman who drove a completely uneconomical and quite frankly, ridiculous car; A fully grown adult who wore baseball caps inside the house and spent a fortune on multi-coloured trainers. Plus, I had the constant urge to correct his grammar… Taylor also made me laugh, I pulled stupid faces at him and I knew he’d kiss me afterwards. I wasn’t afraid to hang off his neck or to curl up to him when I wanted. I would remove my make-up in front of him. He knew I watched “fluff” TV (in fact, we watched I’m a Celebrity together) and I didn’t stop dancing in the kitchen when he poked his head round the door and burst out laughing. I was happy with him, but one look at my Mother crinkling her nose at the thought of tattoos, cigarettes and an ex-wife and I stopped the conversation and agreed that Adam was perhaps the better choice.

If someone had asked me to choose to date someone who got on with everyone else or someone who got on with me I would have looked at them like they had lost the plot but hindsight shows me that that was the decision I was struggling with. I came unstuck because I didn’t believe that I had enough value to have my opinion, my wants and my needs accounted for. In the end I did choose Taylor and while we didn’t last, I enjoyed the time we spent together. Adam never stood a chance of being someone I wanted but I was contemplating sacrificing that just so that other people might like me more.

All the things I listed at the beginning of this post, well, I deserve all of those things. Not because I’m special but just because I’m me and I’m human and because everyone deserves those things, should they want them. Every emotion you have, every feeling you experience, every opinion you hold is valid and remembering that, is remembering that you are enough.

When I was in a particularly dark place a wonderful woman once said, “Who the hell do you think you are to be judging yourself that badly?” this person also showed me that my job was to love and look after myself; to show myself complete compassion, kindness and acceptance.

Today, I know that “I am enough” and I plan to act that way.

The Translation Game

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” – Abraham Lincoln.

Depending on my circumstances, every day or so, someone finds out about my bipolar, about an aspect of it, or that I’m experiencing a mood shift. Inevitably this means that I am on the receiving end of some of the most inappropriate lines, obnoxious comments and naïve assumptions. So, in a bid to prevent this from happening I decided to create a top-ten, because, as we all know, the internet loves a list!

I’ve narrowed it down to my most frequently heard and I’ve annotated each one with a translation which emphasises exactly how ridiculous they sound. I will save the worst until last.

Shall we?

 

  1. Cheer up, I reckon I can make you smile! – (On multiple occasions this was swiftly followed by my ex pushing his face in to mine and yelling ‘COME OOOON!’ …I don’t miss him.)
    1. Cheer up, I can prevent an infection by telling a good joke!
    2. Watching someone try to “cheer you up” is awful. It invokes guilt, frustration, anger, on both sides, and generally makes you feel worse so please, just stop.

 

  1. Snap out of it!
    1. A heart attack? Snap out of it!
    2. Trust me when I say, nobody choses to have a mood swing, there is only so much control you have over it and acting like it’s as simple as making a decision is insulting, hurtful and ignorant.

 

  1. You have bipolar? I have depression, so I know exactly what you’re going through.
    1. You have an ear infection? I have a bad back, so I know exactly what you’re going through.
    2. Just because they both cause pain doesn’t mean they are the same. Yes, depression is a part of bipolar but it’s not that simple, for example, my life mainly revolves around mania. Besides, you and I are different people, we will experience things in completely different ways so, no, neither of us will know exactly what the other person is going through.

 

  1. Why is mania bad? Being happy is awesome!
    1. Why is a kidney stone bad? Beach pebbles are awesome!
    2. Being happy and being manic are totally not the same (please click here). This is not so dissimilar from people saying depression is the same as being sad.

 

  1. Sometimes I don’t want to go to work either but you just have to get up and get on with it.
    1. Sometimes I don’t want to walk but just because your leg is broken doesn’t mean you get take the bus.
    2. *Face Palm*

 

  1. You look alright, to me.
    1. I can’t see your blurred vision, so therefore I deem it non-existent.
    2. Mental illness is not necessarily visible. Even if it was, the medication I take to make me functional makes your assumption null and void. Also, are you a fucking doctor?!

 

  1. It’s so in to have a mental illness right now.
    1. It’s so in to have diabetes right now. Or worse. Do you actually have bipolar or are you taking life threatening medication just to look cool?
    2. I cannot tell you how sick I am of hearing this. Most of the time I will, wrongly, just tune out and nod along because I can’t bear to get involved and I’m slightly afraid of what I’ll do to the person who has deemed it appropriate to say such an insulting thing to me. I have no doubt there are people in this world that fake mental illness but to generalise to that extent about a struggling community, and then casually throw the comment around is obnoxious.

 

  1. You shouldn’t take medication, it’s not good for you.
    1. You shouldn’t take blood thickeners, they’re not good for you. Or I am not a doctor and I have no knowledge of your medical history or current symptoms but I know better because INTERNET.
    2. It is irrelevant if you have your own personal experience with medication, with bipolar or anything similar to me. I do not care if you are even qualified in certain areas related to my diagnosis. If you don’t know my symptoms and my medical history or you aren’t my psychiatrist you should back the hell away from my treatment. Medication is right for some, it is wrong for others. It just so happens that it is right for me at this current time. I can appreciate that someone telling me this may have my best interest at heart but I can also tell you that it is an inappropriate thing to lecture me on and you are not within your rights to tell me what to do with my illness.

 

  1. I think everyone is on the bipolar spectrum.
    1. I think everyone is on the spine bifida spectrum.
    2. That’s genuinely how stupid that sounds. Yes, everyone experiences mood swings, some more than others but that does not make them mentally ill. Saying so is insulting to mentally ill people. The “Bipolar Spectrum” IS a thing but it refers to a wide array of mental illnesses and does not encompass every living person. Admittedly I have, often, agreed with people on this, if only, to get them to stop talking!

 

  1. Bipolar? Oh cool! Like Stephen Fry!?
    1. Cancer? Oh cool! Like Morrissey?!
    2. This, I cannot stress enough. Not fucking cool. I hear this so, so, so many times and I hate it each and every time. I want to punch you square in the jaw for your blatant stupidity and insensitivity.

 

So there we have it! Can we have a big cheer for everyone involved! I would like to take the time to thank everyone that inspired my list, always a privilege never a chore, without you, none of this would have been possible!

On a more serious note though, these comments have come from strangers, friends, best friends, employers, teachers, my parents, maybe even your parents (who knows!) my point is, is that mental illness is a minefield, for those who have it and for those who don’t. As a result everyone makes mistakes, puts their foot in it and on occasion comes across as insensitive and stupid. A good general rule to keep to is, if it doesn’t make sense when substituted with a physical illness it probably won’t make sense with a mental one. Another general rule is never assume you know someone, know their life or their state of mind.

Or, put more succinctly by Jerry Belson in 1973…

“Never ASSUME, because when you ASSUME, you make an ASS of U and ME

Hi. My Name’s S and I’m an Alcoholic.

Now that I’ve sat down to write, I have no clue where to start. Do I want to start at my first drink, age 7, when I tasted a thimble of Baileys and subsequently crept back in to the kitchen steal sip after sip, straight from the bottle? Do I want to start with my first depression, which albeit light, was heavy for an 8 year old? How about my first manic episode at 16, unable to sleep, eat, constantly wild-eyed? Or maybe my first psychotic episode when I began to believe I was two personalities; Max and Me (When I was out of psychosis and not talking to the “other me” in the mirror I used to use the “Max” name for confidence). Trying to pick a starting point is as frustrating as trying to narrow down five pizza toppings to four. Rarely will the answer be the right one so I’m just going to take a deep breath and jump. Continue reading “Hi. My Name’s S and I’m an Alcoholic.”