Tag Archives: depression

Under the cloud

9 Nov

It’s been one of those weeks.

I saw the dark cloud approaching, hovering on the horizon, probably about ten days ago. I spotted it and I ignored it.

For some reason, I thought that denial might work – this time.

And as the cloud approached, I remained naively optimistic. It will be different this time. I can do this. I can win this battle.

I started feeling slightly disconnected – from those around me, from conversations, from life. And I still carried on thinking I would be ok.

Then. Then – the crash. Unable to get out of bed. Unable to answer my phone. Unable to connect – with anyone, anything.

The cloud had enveloped me. I could no longer deny its presence. I could not fight, I had no resources or strength. Nothing.

I felt so sad. Overwhelmed by disappointment. A sense of loss. A sadness at the world we live in, at the suffering of those I love. A sadness and a questioning – of the path I am on, the world I occupy.

I could no longer see, enveloped by blackness. Bleakness.

I have been under the cloud before. And it is horrible. Awful. It is lonely, isolating, enveloping, all-consuming.

No-one should ever have to live under the cloud.

And today? Today, the cloud is still there but there are some rays of light too.

So please don’t worry. I write these words not to alarm anyone, but in the pursuit of honesty and truth. Of vulnerability.

For I spend many years pretending I was strong. And I am not.

I cannot do this on my own.

And I cannot pretend anymore. It’s been one of those weeks.

We all struggle

11 Oct

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day.

Yesterday, a very brave friend of mine spoke out about being diagnosed with bipolar earlier this year.

Yesterday I was reminded of Elyn Saks Ted Talk – one of the most open, compelling narratives I have ever heard from someone living with a long-term, isn’t-going-to-go-away mental illness.

Elyn Sacks is a legal scholar. A highly-qualified, highly-respected woman who does not want to be defined by her condition. A woman who doesn’t want to be labelled ‘schizophrenic’, preferring to be understood as ‘a person with schizophrenia’.

I love this distinction. It helps us all. Who, after all, wants to be defined by their struggles or scars? Who wants to look in the mirror and see the label ‘depressive’ or ‘loner’ or ‘addict’ or ‘loser’ stamped on their forehead (and all over their heart – where no-one else sees it)?

Who wants to be ‘the other’ when we are all, actually, in the same boat?

As Elyn says – so beautifully – “there’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life … we are people, not diagnoses”.

How true.

Yet how we forget this: that we are people, each of us brimming with hopes and fears, dreams, struggles and potential. We are people who need to be loved, accepted and included. We are people. Human beings. And all of us struggle – some with physical ailments, some with emotional heartache and others with mental illness.

Let us not forget. We are all human, whatever our struggles.

We might try to cover them up. Yet we all struggle.

We all struggle. Maybe every day should be World Mental Health Day.

Life observed

18 Jun

I haven’t felt “right” for a little while now. Under the weather physically. And in my mind and heart too.

Not sure that I can articulate why (and why do we always need a “reason” anyway?). And so I find myself retreating – it seems easier than trying to explain that which I don’t understand.

These times – of discombobulation, of uncertainty and anxiety – are hard. I find myself retreating from “normal life”, struggling to do the simple things. The basics – like getting out of bed, getting dressed, going to work – feel, each time, like a mountain that needs climbing, rather than the everyday habits of a 35 year old urban dweller.

I am not used to these sort of mountains, they scare me and I feel so ill-equipped. Life becomes a battle rather than a joy, an unknown rather than familiar.

And so it is, during the difficult days, that I feel like I am observing life rather than living it. I am watching others “live” whilst I just “get through”.

It is the strangest feeling.

As though life is passing me by, happening to others. While I am on the sidelines.

I am trying to learn how to respond. How to not simply “get through” but live – even when life feels hard.

How do we embrace uncertainty when we crave the feeling of being-in-control?

How do we find peace when anxiety is intent on crowding it out?

How do we enter into life – in all its fullness, ups and downs – and not stay stuck on the sidelines?

For the sidelines might feel safer, but they are – after all – not the main event.

Beautiful words, ugly illness

10 Feb

Just discovered this website Depression Marathon, full of beautiful words about an ugly illness. The writer is candid and bold, harnessing writing as a response to the black clouds that engulf her. She also runs to combat her lows. I felt inspired as I read her posts – coping with depression requires courage, honesty and a willingness to ask for help. None of us can make it on our own. Yet asking for help can seem like the hardest thing in the world. In fact, it’s sometimes easier to write about depression on a (very public) blog than to talk about it with close friends and family. Ironic but true. I don’t want to use this blog as a means of avoiding real-time conversations with real people, that would not be brave. But I do want to use it to put some of my struggles out there, in the hope that others find hope in the breaking-of-silence.

Today I am recognising again that life rarely proceeds in the way we expect. Or want. Maybe periods of depression are simply part of the journey. Some of the lows amidst life’s highs. I feel low right now. I feel alone, isolated by my feelings and confused thoughts. I need to say it, put it out there – so that it does not swallow me up, so that it cannot engulf me.

I took hope from reading someone else’s blog, someone else’s honest struggles today. I hope my blog helps at least one other person in the same way today.

Lost for words (sitting in the pain)

9 Feb

It’s s been a bit quiet of late. I’ve been a bit quiet, a bit lost for words. Trying to make sense of how I feel, confused by the complexity of my thoughts and struggling to navigate my way through the maze of ‘me’. Usually I find that writing helps me to make sense, to find sense in confusion and ambiguity, but this time I have found myself lost for words. Unable to find the words that will articulate and bring peace.

As I’ve been reflecting on the last few weeks, one thing I have realised is that much has been taken away. And there remains a chasm yet to be filled. The last few months have brought much change for my husband and I. Some of the transitions have been brilliant, others less so. Much of it has felt painful, yet sprinkled with hope and adventure. The reality is though that, mid-change, I feel lost somehow. Not sure where I ‘fit’ anymore, not sure where I belong. Uncertainty about the future exacerbates the feelings of temporality and insecurity.

During this time, I have been learning some important lessons. I have been learning to accept pain and to resist the temptation to escape it as quickly as possible. Our quick-fix culture – of ‘instant’ painkillers, instant credit, instant online purchases and interaction – encourages us away from pain and into a comfortable (yet possibly bland?) way of life. We learn to run quickly into these narcotics – into the warm arms of shopping/alcohol/cigarettes/exercise/starvation/co-dependent relationships/isolation/online escapism. I have started to recognise my escape routes. And their futility. The thing is – we become so used to numbing our pain in these ways that we no longer recognise our behaviour as anything other than ‘normal’. Everyone else does it – why wouldn’t I?

This morning, I read these wise words from Richard Rohr: “We must be taught how to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. In terms of soul work, we dare not get rid of pain before we have learned what it has to teach us.”

I feel challenged by this thought – that staying in pain may be the right choice, not wallowing but resting. Staying still rather than running away. Waiting rather than escaping. Dare I wait? In the pain? Is this how we find the healing we long for?

Non-coping strategies

1 Feb

Well, it’s almost the end of January, only a few more hours until we start afresh with a new month. I am not at all sad to be moving on – I tend to struggle in January with the darkness, the cold and the short hours of sunlight. I find January a bit depressing and, if I’m going to be honest, it often finds me a bit depressed too. Sometimes it seems that no amount of good news can shift the (January) blues.

This morning, I was thinking about how so many of us only survive the harder times due to some well-tuned coping strategies. We work hard, we play hard, we eat more, drink more, eat less, drink less, we cut ourselves off from others, we attach ourselves to others, we spend more, buy more, dream more, stay in bed longer, sleep too much, struggle to sleep at all. As a race, human beings have become adept at avoiding the real issues – using these and other ways of coping with the stress, sadness and solitude. We’ve become so sophisticated at it, that many of us no longer recognise what we are doing – we deem it “normal” and carry on with our busy lives.

What are we hiding from? What is the “pain behind the problem”? What are we so afraid of? Why am I (and I can’t be the only one!) so afraid of exposing the “real me”? So intent on hiding it and covering up my fears through food/fake smiles/frivolity? It seems as though we live in a world intent on keeping the “real me” (or the true self) in the corner; somehow we think the world requires us to be busy/stressed/multi-tasking/thin/beautiful/clear-skinned/self-disciplined and able to let our hair down and party hard when needed. What are we all hiding from?

Sometimes I think that those least able to hide their pain have something to teach the rest of us. Those who have been through the gutter and managed to climb out the other side. Those who have developed “non-coping strategies”, giving them a much healthier, more balanced perspective on life. Those who have recognised their own weakness, flaws and messiness – and realised they cannot overcome them on their own.

An (ex-)alcoholic, an (ex-)addict who has found support and strength through AA or NA has thrown out his or her “coping strategy” and found a “non-coping strategy” instead – where relationships and community are vital, where a sponsor is available 24/7, where reliance on a “higher power” is critical to making it through the next day. Where days are lived not in a blur of busyness, but mindfully, thoughtfully – literally one day at a time. Where the power of temptation – and the addict’s weakness in the face of such temptation – is not seen as minimal and overlooked, but rather recognised as the behemoth it really is – and avoided at all costs. Where pain must be confronted, rather than drunk away. Where bad days lead to reflection and asking for help, rather than another drink, another bet, another (three) slices of cake. Where identity is always constructed around “the great weakness” so that the addict remains humble and contrite, rather than giving in to pride and self-sufficiency.

I would like to be less private and “independent” during my own bad days, my own darker moments. Rather than hiding away, turning to chocolate or other escape routes, I would like to call up a friend and ask for their support. I would like to constantly remember my own fallibility and need for strengthening from a higher power. I would like to face the pain head on, rather than smother it in comfort food/drink/busyness/deadlines. I would like to develop a non-coping strategy that actually works! Throwing away – onto a massive burning pyre – every single friggin’ “coping strategy” that has let me down, time and again, and so predictably, over the years.

Maybe a few of us could get together and discard our unwanted coping strategies on a huge bonfire all together – recognising the truth that we all need each other anyway. Maybe we could build a new community – not defined by success/outer beauty/achievements/serenity, but instead constructed around the human need for true love, empathy and acceptance. Surely it’s got to be better than what we’ve got right now?

Coping strategies

17 Jan

“Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are not a sign of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long.”

I didn’t used to realise that mental health issues can happen to anyone. Until it happened to me. I went through burnout in 2008. It was a terrible and terrifying time – the end of life as I knew it, the end of a dream, the beginning of something new. A new compassion. A new understanding. A new perspective on life.

I had being trying to cope with a lot of stress, to stay strong, to keep going. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was under a lot of pressure – much of it self-inflicted. I think that burnout was my body’s way of keeping me alive – letting me stop, slow down, recover and resurrect. At the time, I felt devastated, utterly devastated. Now I look back in gratitude, not only that I was forced to change the way I lived – slowing down, becoming more honest about my weaknesses, learning to be kind to myself – but also that I now “know”  burnout and depression (or anxiety or a panic attack). I know now that these are simply attempts at coping with stress and pain – the body’s way of telling us something is out of kilter, the heart’s way of letting us know that our coping strategies aren’t working. I now know not to judge others, not to make assumptions, not to categorise people as “them” and “us”. 1 in 3 of us will struggle with mental health issues during our lives – it can happen to anyone. Money, “success”, fame, adoration do not insulate someone from depression or anxiety. Nor do loving relationships, solid friendships or a supportive family. It can happen to any of us, at any time.

There is no shame in depression/burnout/prozac/counselling. There is no shame because these are not signs of weakness. Being able to talk about them is a sign of strength. Listening to others talk about them is a sign of love and empathy. Let’s learn to talk, and to listen, more.

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