Saturday, 8 January 2011

Dealing with depression (couldn't think of a cheerier title. Not too bad, honestly).

Now, I like to keep my blog light and fluffy (apart from the moaning), but the time of year has made me think of this one so I put it out there in case it is useful to anyone, and if it isn’t, then do check back next week when we will be back to fluffiness and craft, and I will be boring you with my thoughts on the Book Masochism Challenge (and here’s my advice: don’t start with Moby Dick. God).
A life belt. See what I did there, hey hey?
Anyway. Let me tell you a little story, readers – you may wish to go and get a nice cup of tea, a custard cream, and a small violin. *Mournful string instrument plays*.  Now, once upon a time, indeed, the year before last, I was doing a job where, says she thoughtfully, it was not a good situation, and while doing it I gradually watched my personality and life outside work fly off into the ether. I delayed leaving because, among other things, I knew that once I left I would reap the emotional whirlwind. Anyway, I left, and I was quite correct, I did reap the whirlwind, and went through a good few months of what I now think was depression. I tried various things to become perked up and healthier, some of which helped, some of which didn’t, but it strikes me as I forge my way into the wintry beginning of 2011 that things are looking different to how they looked at this time last year, although it’s still a bit of an uphill journey some days. But something worked. Now, this time of year can sometimes be a difficult one. You may have fallen out with your family over Christmas, you may have spent all your money, you have certainly put weight on and are sitting about in your fat pants feeling sluggish (no? Just me? Sure?). It can all be a bit difficult, so if it ever is, hugs, and this is what helped me (and on the contrary if you’re feeling great, fantastic, go you, and we’ll all be reading your blog for cheeriness and inspiration! Get to it ;-) ).

Before I do my tips, I will also just say, I think people expect depression to equal sitting about crying and feeling sad. I don’t think it’s necessarily like this at all – I never felt sad, and I haven’t shed a tear in years. Mine manifested in having virus after virus after virus – I felt like I had low-level flu for about 6 months – and not being able to get going. A Victoran novelist would have loved my lassitude, but I like to get things done, and I did not. Also – all the advice you hear about eating properly, taking regular exercise, getting out in the fresh air and getting medical help if necessary is good advice, these are just my extra suggestions that I also found made a difference.

1/ Set yourself positive goals, and achieve them. It’s the achieving them that’s the important thing. So, if your goal is ‘I will go and buy a paper at Budgens and smile at Barry the cashier even when he takes 20 minutes doing a price check’ and you do it, that’s better than ‘I will weed the entire garden’ and only managing 5 square metres, even though in real terms you’ve accomplished much less. It’s like you have to build up your Finishing Things muscle and you can start as small as you want to.

2/ Don’t cut yourself off from people even if they irritate you. If you’re depressed, some days, everything people say will irritate you. Try to ignore the actual words and react to the intent, because often people will be trying to convey everlasting emotional support in the most cack-handed way you can possibly imagine. Take the thought for the deed. The people who are wanting to see you/ talk to you love you, and will put up with your irritation.

3/ Break everything you have to do down into as small steps as you need. I still have to do this sometimes and I find myself standing in the bathroom thinking, now I brush my teeth and then I put my trousers on, which is not very impressive when you are 36 and have a mortgage and 2 degrees. But then it is better than not brushing my teeth or putting my trousers on at all. Because what would Barry in Budgens say? His job is difficult enough as it is.

4/ This one is very important. In case you find yourself a bit down partly because the World or an individual part of it has screwed you over, every minute you spend getting mad or bearing a grudge is like wearing an emotional hair shirt, and it only hurts you. Protect yourself from being screwed over again in an adequate but not obsessive manner, then move on emotionally and don’t give the person/ people another thought. This isn’t easy, obviously, but it actually takes more energy to hold a grudge than to do something more interesting, so it gets easier as you go along. And there is always something more interesting to do. Take up knitting.

5/ This is Partner’s tip. Try to concentrate on something (it doesn’t matter what – a Sudoku, a book, anything) for a while every day. Not TV (unless it is a film where you have to pay attention) as somehow this doesn’t have the same effect. Concentrating calms you down and is like a holiday for your mind. During the Bad Time I went through a period of about 4 years when I was completely unable to sit still or concentrate on anything, and all I could manage at this period were the puzzles in Take A Break. So if you ever see me featured holding up a copy looking a bit raddled, with the headline saying ‘Take A Break’s Arrow Word Saved My Sanity’ you’ll know why.

6/ My Nana Bessie used to say this and it is true, although a bit irritating. Count your blessings. If you really put your mind to it it can be very cheering, and it forces you to see the things you normally take for granted. Today I myself am grateful that I won’t have to paint the bathroom again tomorrow.

7/ Take refuge in Art. Well, I could not sit still to read and I have never particularly been good at visual art but even in my darkest times I listened to music and it got me through, although now if I ever come unexpectedly upon ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ I may collapse in a traumatised heap. Often art is made by people who are much more depressed than you are, or addicted to something very unhealthy and difficult to obtain and consequently miserable, so it is like the homeopathic principle of curing yourself with something similar. Please don’t just drink tequila and fall over sobbing to ‘Everybody Hurts’, though, listen to something a bit feisty. ‘Everybody Hurts’ would depress anybody.

8/ Create something. Knit a scarf, write a poem, cook dinner from scratch. Sometimes I feel like any tiny thing I create is like dragging order out of the Void, sometimes I think it’s just making dinner. This one has the added bonus of, it makes you feel better, and you have dinner or whatever at the end of it as well.

9/ Know that this too will pass!

OK, well I hope some of this is helpful and you all don’t think I’m madder than you did previously (hmm). Have a lovely rest of weekend everyone. Rather shamefully, especially after tip no. 8, I am just off to put a Waitrose curry in the oven (I have been painting all day, honestly) but tomorrow I must find something exciting to do with the biggest Jerusalem Artichoke I have ever seen. It's huge! It’s like a joke without the punchline. A bientôt!


Denise said...

As one who has suffered with clinical depression all my life, this is good advice.

Except for the hanging around annoying people. They might just be toxic people you should avoid. Instead go out and try to find new positive people to hang out with.

CraftyCripple said...

That's great advice. Can I add another one. Take time to be nice to yourself. Once a week take some time to make yourself feel looked after. Buy yourself some flowers, give your hair a hot oil treatment, take a long hot bath, paint you toenails a vibrant colour. The act of caring for oneself can never be underestimated especially if you are feeling unloved. You are, even if you do'nt feel like it. Everytime you do something nice for yourself you are reminding yourself that you are worth time and energy.

Marushka C. said...

This is a thoughtful and compassionate piece, Susie. I am glad that you are spending less time in the shadows these days. Me too, thankfully.

Marushka C. said...

I am smiling now... I posted my comment here a little while ago and received one of yours on my blog at almost the same time. Excellent timing!

J.G. said...

What a useful and supportive post--one I will remember for those blue days/weeks. Concentration seems to work especially well for me. When I am feeling low, I often discover the cause is NEF ("Not Enough Fiction").

mooncalf said...

Funny (tick) Interesting (tick) Useful (tick)

I've never suffered from depression in my life (touch wood) but this is damn good advice for anyone.

I'm glad you're taking good care of yourself!

Susie said...

Thank you everyone, I'm glad it was useful ;-).

Thank you also for the additional suggestions, very helpful. And Denise, yes, you're right it's necessary to distinguish between people who are just annoying you because you're fed up and people who are actually toxic. Embrace the one, flee the other! ;-).