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How we smile through Depression and other lessons from Robin Williams.

The sad sad news about the suicide of Robin Williams this morning has brought the conversation about mental health back into main stream media. It saddens me that I have to say “brought back” because it should never leave.
This day in age we are inundated with new tragedy and pain, every minute it seems. There are some who have attempted to create perspective by reminding us about Gaza and the atrocities being perpetrated by ISIS right now. Unfortunately we have to take in them all, and we should care about them all. It hurts, it’s hard but it is our reality.
Many of us have been baffled how such a man of laughter can be brought so low by Depression. It is a lesson, laughter, humour and comedy does not happiness equal. It’s a solid reminder that any body, the funny man on the desk next to you at work, the musician with talent and cash in spades, the friend who only calls you to go out and get trashed, your best friend or lover who you know so so well, can be sick and sad on the inside. Never ever neglect the ones you love. (Please don’t read that as believing Robin Williams loved ones were neglectful, it’s merely a reminder.)
All depressives do it, we smile over the pain, we laugh despite the falseness of it, we attempt every single day, until one day… We fail.
Most of us living cannot fathom the pain any one who has gone that far has felt. But to anybody who is sad, who is not sure how to take those next steps, smile those fake smiles of survival or reach out to ask for help, don’t let yourself get there.
Ask for help, carry on, be strong, find a reason to be alive.
You never know how the world will react.

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Continuing to Live the Questions | Am I better?

I am so happy to share that I came off my medication two weeks ago, I have some advice about how to approach that, but I will come to that later on in the post. What really feels good is knowing that I did it.  

There are so many people who spend years and decades on their medication, I can understand now the fear that comes with coming off. Not only do you have to accept that you and your emotional triggers are going to be all alone in your brain again, you also have to deal with the fact that there are symptoms to removing it’s influence from you body.  But I feel free. Some mornings I wake up relaxed, un-afraid and content and I am elated. Other mornings I wake up in a bad mood and still I feel a strange delight in knowing that I am free to feel a little grumpy. I am grateful for how my medication really helped me through a tough time, but now I am so very pleased that I am back in control of my feelings.

Now that isn’t to say that every feeling is wonderful, every decision is now easier, every eventuality, happenstance or occurrence flows over me like water off a ducks back. No, I have to be conscious of my feelings now more than ever, I have to be aware of what I feel when something doesn’t go my way, I have to be conscious of when I start to feel sad, or down or scared or stressed. And the biggy, I have to accept that these are all important emotions and I must embrace, accept and utilise each emotion to allow myself to move forward. 

The questions are still scary and I definitely still don’t have the answers. I am accepting that questions are questions, and to live them takes time. Taking your time is scary, we live in such an instant gratification culture it’s difficult to remember that not all of your efforts will reap reward immediately, we must be tenacious. Tenacity has now become one of my more important skills. Rather than being afraid, I am giving my all and sticking to all these new projects I have undertaken to make myself happier, to bring my life into a better place.

I have to check myself when I start thinking that it would be easier if I just went back to a job where I earned quite a bit of money, but that soul-sucking environment was a trigger in the first place. I feel like I want to write, post here on the blog or work on some of the short stories I am working towards publishing, but I decide that I don’t feel like it, or maybe I’m a bit tired. I have to check that, ultimately I am working towards making myself happy, doing something I love and enjoying life as much as I can. Why would I want to take that away from myself? At least do a little bit, start something and I end up doing a lot!

On a daily basis I am deciding to invest in the questions, to which I have no idea what the answers will be. It’s risky, but it’s life. If something doesn’t work out, I want to be able to say to myself, I did give it my all, I wasn’t afraid to dedicate time, resources, blood, sweat and tears to trying, and then I will know. Then I will look for the next question and work toward that answer. 

So, my big question right now is, am I better? How do I find out? I live better. If I find myself living better, I am better. If I find myself giving into fear and negativity then I am not better and I need to figure out how to make myself better all over again.  Some days, I can be better in the morning, not better at some point mid morning, better again by mid afternoon and then better all the way until four days later when I am not better again. We are only human and this journey is not going to be 100 km/h straight through on the highway, it’s going to be bumpy and we’re going to stall and the road is going to wind and weave and we’re going to get tired. Sometimes we’ll rest, as long as we keep going on that road, it’s okay.

Right, the medication. Coming off isn’t easy, you need to put a plan in place to make sure you can minimise the side effects. Some medications are harder to come off than others, I was on Escitalopram, which is one of the more difficult drugs to come off. Your Doctor will recommend coming off in phases, this can involve either cutting your dose down daily bit by bit, or alternating days on day usually over a two to three week period, this helps your brain adjust to the changes it is undergoing.  If you are coming off or thinking of coming off, do it slowly, take your time. Absolutely aim to come off the medication but do it so that you don’t risk feeling worse a week after you stop taking your pills. 

My first week completely off the pills, I hardly noticed anything. On the 8th day however I had one of the worst series of mood swings I have ever experienced, culminating in a rage that I felt wasn’t normal. My partner, Alex, looked at me shocked and asked if I was feeling like myself, I definitely wasn’t. At this time I really didn’t know whether it was the medication and I was scared. I spoke to my Dr and he assured me it was withdrawals and they would go away soon. That was all I needed to know. However over the next week I experienced nausea and headaches, more mood swings and this strange zapping sensation. It did go away after a few weeks, but those few weeks were certainly tough.

As with living the question and moving forward, just take your time. There is no rush.

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Jigsaw Puzzles and Questions | Starting to accept the Positive

Here we are, some time later, ready to enter the surgery phase. Otherwise known as the tear it all apart only to put it back together phase.  This is mind surgery people, this is dissection at its deepest and most emotional.

You could also describe it as similar to cleaning out the attic, you are up there all ready to go. First thing you notice, there is a bunch of stuff just to heavy to lift alone, so who do you trust in your attic? Keep looking and you notice there are broken pieces and jagged splits in a lot of the most precious and important keepsakes in the attic, how on earth will you put these back together? What tools do you need? You also notice that some of the most beautiful pictures are dust-covered and mite ridden and need to be cleaned up, will it just take a spit-shine or do you need some professional cleaners to restore your pieces to their former glory.  Finally, there are all those cobwebs, slowing the whole process down, making it all look so much darker than it really is, the cobwebs only you can clean up, with a lot of elbow grease, dedication and love to keep everything else in tact.

This attic, can take weeks, months or even years to clean out properly. Each corner needs care and attention, every little thing broken needs dedication and detail to fix, most importantly – the attic needs time. To remember what light feels like, to appreciate the feeling of the cleansing. To bask in the glorious release of the hateful airs that have been circulating for, what seems like, forever.

The moment I realised that my sadness could be positive felt like the first ray of sunshine after weeks of grey rain. Yes it still hurt, but realising that this whole experience could really be a precursor to positive change made all of it seem worth while, made the sadness and the pain feel inconsequential, in short – it was a revelation!

In that strange way the universe has of placing opportunity at your feet, I was able remove some of the worst toxins from my life. Whole situations, personalities and responsibilities that had stopped being good for me, were out the window.  I removed myself from anything that didn’t fit right, that didn’t sit well with how I wanted my life to be. This upheaval was and continues to be huge, as complete Life-U-Turns tend to be!

First thing I had to do was get out of my Netflix phase. Even though I was still in the middle of some excellent television series’, I had to try to limit my escapism and attempt to face my issues head on. For each of us this process is going to be different, for some a round of golf gives you the head-space you need to think things through, a long walk through the woods or a long drive. For me, art and writing have always been a way for me to explore my thoughts and express some of my angst. I was definitely one of those teenagers writing angsty poetry about how beautiful some boy or that was, about how painful and confusing my very existence was.  I recall there were definitely some lines about my “life going down the drain” and “hello pain, my old friend.” etc!  Sometimes I read some of it back, it wasn’t all terrible but I was definitely writing about a lot of things I didn’t understand.  Interesting how 10 years later I had come full circle, the realm of my understanding changed, the pain had changed, the confusion and the questions were much much different – and yet it all felt somehow the same. A lot of questions about existence, purpose and life were circling around my head then and now! I would pessimistically say that I must not have answered my questions then, so how do I know I’ve answered my questions now? I think, these are not necessarily questions that need answers – they need to exist and the questions need to be lived, à la Rilke;

…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 1903
From Letters to a Young Poet

I was recommended a book called “The Artists Way” by Julia Cameron.  It was written based on a college course she teaches to help artists, whether they be writers, painters, singer/songerwriters to unblock and release their creative potential. It has since grown into a tool for sufferers of depression and anxiety to unlock some of the questions we have and play around with them, explore, expand and embrace through creative activities.  You don’t necessarily have to want to become a writer or an artist, the activities are designed to really pull truth, emotion and feeling out of you and onto some form of medium.  It does not require skill or artistic talent, it taught me that we as humans generally don’t allow for a  release of the more difficult emotions and questions we have. The Artists Way simply gives you basic activities which outlet a lot of these pent up feelings.

It was at this time that I decided to start this blog. I didn’t start writing right away, I brainstormed, spent some time just writing small paragraphs and reading them over and over.  What was most interesting about this practice is that a lot of where my pain came from was linked to how I initially approached writing this blog.

With Fear.

I had lived a large part of my life with a constant inner dialogue saying; “I should, I would, if only something would happen, why don’t good things ever happen to me? Why aren’t I lucky enough? This person was just at the right place at the right time, that never happens to me.”

It was all words and no action, all desire and no initiative, all negative and nothing positive.  If I actually came up with a viable path to start working towards any of my goals, there would always be some huge hurdle – a mountain made out of a mole hill. Finances wouldn’t allow, how can I find the time, I’m happier living in my fantasy world. (Random side note, It was at this time that I decided that somewhere in my family I must have a royal connection and everything would be fixed when they discovered I was alive and available to inherit some title. I haven’t completely dispelled this idea, it’s a nice dream to hang on to.)

Even if I had Royalty in my family, what had I done to try to get discovered? It’s a funny little dream, but even something silly like that, couldn’t happen unless you are out there. Being “Out There”  sounds like advice girls give their girlfriends when trying to find a new relationship. “You have to be out there, you know, available, open to the possibility of love.” Well, the same goes for life, how do you expect the universe to recognise that you are ready for a relationship if you are hiding away in your jammies on your couch watching hours and hours of Game of Thrones re-runs, as fun as that is it’s not exactly us at our best.  Much like I said in my last post, only you cure you and only you can show the world you are ready to live the questions.  I didn’t know what would happen if I started sharing my deepest darkest emotions in a blog, I initially shared more on here than I ever did in conversations with my friends. I didn’t know what would happen when I started digging deeper and deeper into those questions – but I had to go without fear.  If you trust it, the universe will provide.

 

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How can I put this into Words? | Sharing your Depression with someone you Love.

I finished my last post with a plea to family and friends of any one who is suffering with depression, here it is again:

I think the worst though, the absolute worst is when your family will not support you. This I just don’t get. I would ask any Partner, Brother, Father and Mother – if you found out that a member of your family was diagnosed with Bowel Cancer would you simply stop talking to them? Would you tell them they were being over-dramatic?  As a friend, if you were approached to just be understanding of how someone felt following a major surgery, would you tell them you just don’t feel able to help because you’ve never had major surgery and really don’t understand how they feel? I would hope not

I almost want to finish this post here because I hope that that would be enough to put the feelings of a sufferer into perspective, they are sick, they know they are sick, but many will not tell their friends or family, will not ask for help because they feel they just won’t get it.

I wish I could say that being there for a loved one when they are going through Depression is easy, you are carried by your Love for them and never ever have fear, doubt or frustration during the process. That is obviously flowery love bull crap. It’s hard, you doubt, you have fear, you are frustrated, but the best of us stick by and fight alongside this loved one because you do love them.

All of my posts so far have had “I’ve been lucky”, or “I was lucky because,” or “I’m so lucky to have …”, well I am. Not lucky to be one of so many inclined to depression, but lucky in that I am surrounded by the most loving, understanding and caring group of people that I could ever ask for. For the good, I have my own experience to draw from.

I am so lucky to have my partner. Alex has been (prepare to gag), my cornerstone, my resting place, my rock, my sanity and so many times my sounding board when the roiling thoughts in my head just needed to get out.  I know he won’t mind me saying though, that he didn’t necessarily start out this way, because neither of us had any idea how to start dealing with my depression.

First step is to talk, even this can be an incredibly difficult, no matter how good you are at opening up to your partner, no matter how close you are, this is that next step to admission, admit it to yourself, admit it to those closest to you. The problem is, how do you say it?Somehow “I’m sad” doesn’t do it justice, if you start ranting and raving about how shitty you feel, either your partner could end up feeling attacked, like something is wrong with them, that must be the reason you are ranting and raving like this! Or, if you start talking after you have already gone to the Dr, gone to a Therapist/Psychiatrist/Counsellor, your partner could wonder why you couldn’t trust them with the admission sooner. This can be a mine field of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, miscommunication and fear.  You do need to tread lightly, which is much easier said then done. There are quite a few potential issues here, a) really, you’re not quite in your right mind, sensitivity and compassion may not be your strongest points at the moment, b) your partner could react badly no matter how you put it, your emotional state then could be further fuel on that fire and c) typically your fuse is a lot shorter when you are depressed, if your partner doesn’t react how you imagined they would, KABOOM! An explosion could ensue and that is not good news for anyone!

My advice, only some of which I followed with Alex, but in hindsight have learned; prepare for the conversation, have a strong idea of how you want to word what you have to say. I would start by asking that your partner allow you to finish what you have to say before asking any questions. I would have some print outs or websites open that detail the symptoms of Depression to help put your symptoms into perspective, and most importantly, be 100% honest. If you feel like aspects of your relationship could be a trigger point, then you need to tell your partner. If your trigger is something else and you haven’t told them up until this point, perhaps you should try to tell them now. This will not be easy, no matter what the cause, the background or how understanding your partner is, someone you love telling you that they are incredibly unhappy is fucking scary! You should also be prepared to answer any question they have, don’t be surprised if some of them are irrational, such as: is there someone else? Have I made you unhappy, etc.  You should keep reminding them that it is in no way related to them, or if it is, how you would like to fix it and that you love them very much.

As I said, I didn’t prepare to tell Alex, and I wasn’t prepared for his reaction because I was unable to be sympathetic to his emotions when it came to my illness. I had just returned from my final EAP counselling session, (the one in which my counsellor told me I needed further help). Alex asked me how it went when I got home and I blurted out, ” I’m depressed, I need to take time off work and see a counsellor and fix this.”  I can hardly blame him for how he reacted.  Alex and I are your typical 20-somethings living in an over-priced city, working our butts off to try to make ends meet, so of course his first reaction was, “Take time off work? We couldn’t afford it if you lost your job.” My reaction to that was to burst into a flood of tears because how could THAT be a priority right now.

You can see how being prepared to have this conversation, thinking ahead of how to say it, and being aware of what may concern your partner will absolutely be beneficial to all involved.

I don’t think Alex was prepared for the floodgate that ensued, the shock and guilt I read on his face reminded me that he wouldn’t, ever, intend to hurt me like that. This reminded me that I needed to give him more information, he needed to be taught what being depressed was about, and that was in no way his fault. It was at this point that I started searching the web for further information on Depression, I gave him a few links and asked him to spend some time looking at them, and that we would talk further. As Alex could now come from a view-point of understanding rather than confusion and fear, he was much better able to listen to what was hurting me, what the symptoms were (Psychological and Physical) and support any thoughts I had on the next steps, and offer a few of his own.

While going through Depression with your partner is difficult, I have struggled even more with friends, I will admit that I wasn’t there for a friend who herself had Depression, I had no idea how.

When you or your partner is going through Depression, you are there with them, day-to-day, dealing with the emotions, the confusions. You typically have opportunities to talk, or just to be there and to hold the other and make them feel like everything is okay, just so long as you are cuddling. However, with friends it is easy to continue on in your life without thinking about what a friend is going through constantly. Furthermore, every one is different with what they need, each stage of depression requires a different approach, if you don’t see each other every day it’s tricky to understand what they need at that time. This is a difficult one, and I don’t think I’m best placed to give advice on how to deal with friendship, but I can share my experiences.

At the beginning of my depression I was in my avoidance phase, if I wasn’t in the right frame of mind I didn’t want to talk about it.  If anybody asked how I was doing at this time I was doing fine, that was it, don’t want to talk about it, how are you? Move on. I didn’t want to talk about it, I didn’t want help, I didn’t want comfort, I just wanted to know they were there, like before to have wine and a laugh with. I had to learn that these are the people who know you best, talk to them, tell them what is going on. Going to a counsellor is great for the third-party unassociated point of view, however your friends can have insights into you, your history, your personality and the best of friends can be your own Portrait of Dorian Grey that you need to see.

From that point onwards I just needed to know that they were there, whether I needed a laugh, a cry, a hug or a beer … or seven. For me, that was plenty. I’m often telling friends who have other friends with Depression that you cannot constantly ask how they are, how they’re feeling or give suggestions on how to feel better, constantly try to be chirpy because you think it will help – it doesn’t, it just pisses us off.

All of the above is from my personal point of view and I think it is important that if your friend tells you they are suffering from Depression you should ask them just to tell you what they need from you and you will be there.  These communication lines are incredibly important. As I said above a friend of mine suffered from Depression, we didn’t have these communication lines open, I got so caught up in my life I forgot how it felt to feel so alone in Depression,  I didn’t ask what she needed from me, I didn’t forgive her turbulent moods nor did I make myself available, just when she really needed me.

My lessons from this comes down to open communication. You cannot get through any relationship without communication, but it is even more important when the people around you need to understand what you need at any given time. Be honest and don’t be afraid to talk, remember that not every body understands, not through any fault of their own, but because Depression is difficult to understand.

Communication. Understanding. Patience.

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