Saturday, 23 August 2014

Walking on broken glass - depression

Depression is an interesting phenomenon, but obviously not if you’re a sufferer. I journeyed through some terribly painful times from my teens until my late thirties, not knowing how to explain what was wrong and so unable to get solutions. I had a lovely husband, four bouncing children, a nice home, access to transport and good friends. On the face of it, there was no reason for me to walk around underneath this black cloud of misery. I managed to hide it fairly well, especially at work, but I must have been a nightmare to live with. I could be feeling perfectly fine one minute and then it was as though a cloud would descend upon my head and fog up my brain. I would have no control over it and no way of making it leave.

I look back and I feel very sad about the days I wasted trying to work through its mysterious mists. I would actively avoid people out of necessity because they might say, ‘What’s the matter?’ I needed to dodge those kinds of questions because I would have to admit that I didn’t know. They might see me as a whinger. I just remember that the cloud would appear and I would be powerless to resist it. Nothing seemed to work.

I haven’t suffered from a serious bout of depression for over a decade and the good news is: we don’t have to put up with it. We can be in control of it and not it in control of us.

1.  I enrolled on a counselling course.

I was 35, struggling and had this stupid idea that I would be able to help other people. I studied for two years extramurally and yet never practiced. Why? Because I spent two years sorting myself out. It gave me tools and strategies for coping with life and somewhere in the midst of turning out all my personal dirty stuff, I found the key to my own soul.

Now you might not be able to fit in a counselling course in your evenings and it was really hard. But there are enough self-help books out there to get you started. Try personal recommendations though and read reviews carefully. Not everything takes you down a good path and shouting positive endorsements to yourself in the supermarket is going to get you locked up!

You can look at this picture of my daughter riding.
Ain't nobody seeing me run!

 2.  I started running.

I was overweight and didn’t feel good about myself. It was hard at first and I went off at 6am in an icy English morning in the pitch dark because it wasn’t pretty and I didn’t want my neighbours to see me lumping down the street. I lost three stone in weight and still run ten years later; 5kms most weekday mornings unless there’s a very good excuse why not. I didn’t know it at the time but running releases happy endorphins. It’s not that the cloud can’t stick to me because I’m so fast - although that could be a possibility - it’s because I have time to be by myself and process the things in my own head. By the time I run back onto our property, I have solutions for problems and have discarded other trivia, without letting it settle on me and begin drowning who I am.

Now I don’t care what you look like or what body parts you have missing, there is no excuse for not exercising. Invest in your body and it will invest in you. All I needed was a pair of second-hand trainers and a bit of pavement. And don’t make excuses about the kids because I was the maniac running in the rain with a pram and three children under 7 all on wobbling bicycles! It’s also the reason I get up every weekday at 5am - to fit in my run above all other activities. You can walk, cycle or lift tins of baked beans in your chair to strengthen your arms. Everyone can do something.

I write my novels in the office we've made.

 3.  I started writing.

There’s nothing more cathartic that putting your own words and frustrations into the mouth of someone else. It’s amazing. I’m sure that there are lots of technical psychological terms for it - it’s probably a massive dose of transference or something, but either way it works for me. My character, Hana Du Rose suffers from bouts of depression to the point where anything extra becomes a drama. Her way of dealing with it is to run away from circumstance, her husband, the problem, anything to dull the pain for a few hours. Nothing works long term for her though. The irony is that she was my long term fix, pouring out my depressive moments into her and leaving them there.

Not everyone can write, paint, draw or vent themselves in a creative activity. But we all have something that floats our boat. Dig the garden, plant veggies, take up pottery, wood-turning. When your garden looks nice, go dig a neighbour's at the weekend to give them a hand. It's about investment - in you. When you find your gift, you will find yourself.

I paint furniture, much to my husband's
horror. I make sure he's out first.

 4. You won’t like this one.

I meet regularly with a group of Christian ladies and once, someone told how they were hanging out the washing and felt this cloud descend over her head, so heavy that it made her shoulders droop. I sat up in my seat and listened avidly because it had a ring of familiarity to it. What did she do, this woman who always had the most beatific smile?

She said, “No! I am a child of Jesus. Get off me!”

I looked around the room and nobody was laughing and she seemed deadly serious. This thing was spiritual? Why had no-one told me that?

The next time it came for me, I was wandering round town like Billy No-Mates, wanting human contact but not knowing what to do with it when I got it. I seem to remember that my hands were full of carrier bags of crap that I had bought to avoid the oncoming pain as it hovered over my head. I couldn’t remember the lovely lady’s whole sentence, but I did remember the ‘Jesus’ bit. The sentiment was the same and that cloud skudded away like a gale force wind was after it. To the non-believers I am aware that I will sound like a lunatic. That’s ok. I’m not depressed so the results speak for themselves and I will do it again and again, everytime it comes. It does come for me and I have my own words for it now. But one will suffice - Jesus. You don’t have to shout - he’s not deaf - and he’s never not come to my aid, not in over ten years. He doesn't want that miserable hairdo on my head any more than I do.

If you suffer from depression, I hope that at least one of these fixes works for you. 

Life is a journey and some of us walk it on broken glass.

People re-post kind words and posters on all forms of social media professing support and understanding for depression sufferers. But when you’ve got your game face on and are just about to descend into the Pit of Despair, they aren’t always there are they? Why would they be? We’re ugly and unpleasant to be around.
I painted this house for The Du Rose Prophecy.
Hana and Logan end up living in the old
school house.

Take control. You can do it. It’s about keeping busy. Time to process is good but time to ponder, mull and complicate things is bad.

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