Broadcaster Greg Boyed's untimely death earlier this week has been attributed to depression and once again we are being reminded of how this ghastly illness affects the life and wellbeing of so many of us. Awareness is increasing and while we are being encouraged to talk about it, sadly our growing suicide numbers suggest we need to do more and quickly.
Depression is an illness thats clever in its appearance , often masked by jovial personalities in public who retreat to a world of isolation to hear their powerful inner critic standing on the podium yelling louder than ever before.
I have been a depression sufferer for years, diagnosed with my first episode at the tender age of 20. I struggled with the diagnosis then and 33 years later while I understand it more, still battle daily with the label. Actually I am firmly in denial if I think about it.
A decade ago following a marriage breakdown I never saw coming I went AWOL for a while when it reared its ugly head again after being dormant for years. I had two teenagers living at home at the time who I credit for keeping me upright and giving me the will to get out of bed every morning. After months of sleepless nights, panic attacks , wandering around enveloped in a cloud of overwhelming sadness and just existing, I asked for help after a good friend found me lying face down on a courtyard table, silently sobbing and unable to physically lift myself to greet her. She stayed for a couple of hours that day and over that time some of the hopelessness disappeared in my world long enough for me to gather my wits about me and realise that I had to seek some professional help.
You see I felt like a fraud when the Dr suggested I needed medication to manage the situation. Indignantly I said to him “I don’t believe in taking pills to cope, its a cop out and I don’t like them”.
He looked at me firmly and said, “if you came and asked me to fix your broken arm and you said I don’t like plaster of Paris so I am not having it set, it would eventually heal but would never heal properly and what is the difference?”
On a cognitive level you know this, yet on an emotional level, you hold onto that internal voice, allowing your inner critic to win nearly every time.This voice tears at your self-confidence and passes judgement on your every move and despite how intelligent, how good your life may or may not be momentarily, you keep hearing it.
When you are outwardly nursing a broken arm, people can understand that you can’t do what you once could while you heal and they get that. Depression lurks under the cover of darkness and is often very secretive and many folk struggle to understand and how it can be as crippling and debilitating as having every limb in plaster for those who suffer.
Over the years the woman behind the quirky humour, the outrageous jokes and blunt delivery has tried many ways to manage that bloody black dog. A toolbox full of strategies gathered from countless hours of cognitive behavioural therapy and counsellor visits over three decades have made me more self-aware and able to recognise my triggers, but just when I think I have beaten the prick of a thing into the back corner of the kennel, it starts barking again. Quietly at first but I if it’s not kicked in the guts on a daily basis with as much gusto as I can muster I know that when I am least suspecting it the beast will be off like a harrier hound in pursuit of the elusive hare.
In that tool box I believe you need to have a heap E’s to manage the beast:
Exercise – get off the couch and kick that inner voice to the curb as you take a brisk walk, ride a bike, or pump a bit of iron. The feel-good endorphins that come from even a quick walk are so rewarding, and the health benefits of exercise both physically and mentally beat sitting on the couch talking to yourself every time.
Environment – Love where you are and understand where you are most at peace. The white noise of the city and the transient energy I felt while living in Christchurch drove me to the peace and tranquillity of a sleepy country town when I don’t have such a daily battle with the anxiousness that goes with a faster pace of life. My only regret is that it took me so long to do it. My head space is so much better enjoying the environment I am in. I now work in the country, walk to the beach most days and every night when I drive home from work marvel at the majestic Southern Alps I get to look at know that for now this is where I am meant to be.
Engagement – Engage with life . Don’t spend too much time on your own because your inner critic loves having you to him/herself. Most people see me as an extrovert, but the truth is I am equally an introvert who loves my own space and company. One who would prefer to collapse into bed exhausted every night after chasing my tail so that sleep is a welcome break from the constant chatter in my head. That isn’t always the best for my mental health and so when my default switch says “don’t answer that phone call or text”, or “pretend you are not at home when someone calls,” I remind myself that withdrawing from the world is the first sign for me that the dog is getting ready to have a run.
Eat well – emotional eating is a trap that we can all fall into. It sucks and eating well and understanding how your diet affects how you feel can be one aspect that can have a huge effect on your ability to cope with the daily grind. An diagnosed wheat allergy had left me with constant brain fog until about three years ago when I became gluten free. The fog slowly lifted, the joints ached less and the effects of poisoning myself unwittingly daily disappeared.
Enjoyment – for Christs sake enjoy every moment. Take steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and boost your self-esteem. Reach out to family and friends, especially in times of crisis, to help you weather rough spells. We aren’t going to get out of this alive, we all know that so make the most of it while you can. Eat the cake, hug the tree, dance naked under the full moon if you feel the need for the moment is all we really have and can count on.
To my closest friends and family who have supported me on that undulating ride that is living with depression on a daily basis – I thank you from the bottom of my heart. To those out there who may resonate with even the tiniest of my experiences, know that you are not alone. People are busy but reaching out to real people, real friends living real lives is so important to the wellbeing of us all.
Be kind to each other ;-)
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