My dad is an incredible man and as I continue to grow and learn how to be an adult (ish!) I am constantly awed by his capacity for personal growth and his openness. He has experienced bouts of depression and as part of his coping method, recovery and reflection on his experiences he wrote what he refers to as his little handbook on depression. He has been kind enough to let me share it here. It may not be for everyone, but hopefully for someone somewhere it will offer hope and help.
Image copyright and courtesy of http://www.philsprosonphotography.co.uk!
You may not want to read this if you are really really down at the moment (but on the other hand some people might.)
If there’s anything in here that you think is rubbish, useless or not for you then fine – bin it. Bin the whole thing if you like.
I hope though that there is something in these few pages that either:
• Helps you in some small way to move forward on your own journey.
• Helps you understand how someone else may be feeling and equips you to respond more
• Helps someone else that you know that may appreciate this.
It is sent with sincerest love and compassion to whoever takes the time to read it. You are free to share it (but please don’t claim it as your own work).
P.S. I’m sorry it’s not illustrated. Perhaps someone will help me do that one day. :-)
I know what it’s like to suffer depression….
I’m not gazing out or staring, it’s just the world entering my eyes like two dark deep black holes into an empty, dark, cold, unfeeling soul.
No real mental processing – just sucking the life out of everything around me and consuming it – consuming me – from the inside.
In those desperate moments that seem to go on for ever, it seems that nothing can stir anything resembling warmth, love or joy, almost no emotion at all – empty, heavy, dark.
No real negative emotion either – no anger, no fear, no dread – nothing….
I see my wonderful lovely young children playing – but it stirs no natural emotion in me. I should play with them, enjoy that moment, lift myself up, “pull myself together”….. Ha!! If only the people that say that really knew….
The sun warms my skin and if I try hard I can hear the birds singing and the leaves of the trees gently rustling, but again this makes no mark on my deep, dark, cold, desperate mood.
My loving, caring wife brings me a drink, strokes my head and plants a kiss on my cheek – NOTHING – I’m a zombie… – a piece of barely warm flesh in a chair.
My hearing almost shut down, vision shut down, thinking shut down, smells don’t really register, textures hardly exist, I can almost taste my own death – rotting from the inside – but that does not scare me….
I know what it’s like to want to end it all….
I know what it’s like to convince myself that it would be “better for everyone” including the ones I love and who depend on me… Ha! if only I knew how wrong and distorted that is….
I know what it’s like… I really do… It’s absolutely desperate. It’s irrational, it’s crazy, but it’s real. – Oh my God is it real…..
But it can be overcome – there is light, there is love, there is warmth, there is treatment, there are m!edicines, there is therapy, there is feeling returning, there is joy there is laughter, there is LIFE!
Inside me, and I believe inside us all, even during those deepest darkest moments there is a small ember of hope and of our soul’s desire to live. There is the seed of real true unconditional happiness and love. With help, (and sometimes a little bullying and frustrated straight talking from a very patient spouse) I learn to find it, and then learn to keep searching for it, gently blowing on it, feel it warming and glowing, the flicker of a flame – I’m sure I just spotted that flame smiling, d!ancing, rejoicing in the darkness – it is!
Now the cold is retreating, the darkness is hiding, cowering in the corners like the pathetic insecure thing it really is. I imagine it burning more strongly – a deep breath, Innnnnn and Oooooout – this fans the small fire now starting to invigorate my soul, rekindling my senses – I really watch this and anchor this great feeling of emergence – I must remember this, it’s as real as the depression and it is GOOD – I am a flower opening, a bird soaring, a brook babbling, a cat stretching, I am coming alive. Eyes now want to open wide. Breathe deeply and freely, sigh, relax, smile – “Yes, go on…” I tell myself – “SMILE……”.
And I practice, at first I’m a novice, alternately plunging back into the depths and slowly managing to claw my way out of the downward spiral – it’s not easy, but it’s worth it. Turning the spiral around and getting it working for me like an eagle uses thermal updrafts to soar above the plains. I learn to recognise the depression, label it, I seek professional help, I take the tablets, I tell my friends and family when I need help – I have some great friends – they help me – they don’t ridicule me, or shun me like I feared – they love me, and tell me what I’m good at, they reassure me, they tell me I’m doing great and I learn to love myself, I learn to accept their views and praise and I learn to tell myself those things instead of “doing myself down” with my previously incessant self-doubts and negative self-talk…
I learn that I love myself enough to want to live and I make a list to remind me and cherish the things I love about life. The simple things that whatever happens I will probably always be able to afford to do and enjoy. The real things that make life worth living…
What I Enjoy About Life
Seeing: mountains, a log/coal fire, flames flickering, people/children smiling, snow covered mountains and trees, autumn trees bathed in sunlight, fields from a train window, spring growth in the sun, water falls, above clouds from an aeroplane, beautiful lakes, lagoons, bays, cliffs, waves crashing on the rocks, sunsets, sunrises, stars, moon, eclipses, heavens.
Smelling: perfumes and muskiness, woodsmoke, the sea, wet grass, cut grass, pine forests, Christmas smells, ground coffee.
Hearing: flowing streams, music, laughter, crunching snow, children playing, praise, birds at dawn.
Touching: warm soft skin, polished marble, sheep skin rugs, wooden eggs, pebbles, a woman’s hair.
Tasting: tiramisu, wine, cool fresh water, tears, creamy chocolate truffles, smokey whiskey, lips.
Doing: making a difference, cuddling, helping people, skiing, spinning/exercise, socialising, dancing, partying, singing, sleeping, walking, travelling, spending time with friends and loved ones.
Feeling: peaceful (always available through meditation), happy (there are/will be further happy times), excited, touching, warm, loved (I am loved by many people), roused, alive.
Being: genuine, still/peaceful, energetic, just being at one with myself and the universe.
There will always be a reason for living deep inside myself that does not depend on the happiness or views of other people. Connect with that reason, always.
It works….., it wasn’t psycho-babble, I wasn’t insane, I wasn’t “weak” to be taking medication, I wasn’t a sissy to cry or to be seeing a counsellor…… I’m me, I’m wonderful, I was ill, it was depression and I kicked it’s ass – So There !
So what helped……?
• Being gentle on myself but at the same time finding the inner strength to keep on keeping on.
• Trusting that however bad I felt it wouldn’t always be that way.
• Reminding myself of the good things that I enjoy (using my list) even if it didn’t feel like that at the time.
• Going to relaxation and meditation/mindfulness classes.
• Exercising hard – playing squash, spinning.
• The Tablets…..
• The psychotherapy
• Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (see “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies” – this wasn’t around at the time but it’s a really straightforward and practical book.)
• Writing really positive affirmations about myself on the backs of business cards so I had them to hand to remind myself…
• Using my support network of friends – sometimes just telling someone I was “having a wobble” helped because I knew then I wasn’t suffering alone.
• Learning to really believe in myself and to love myself and make myself the number 1 priority in my life. (It helped me to realise that if I wanted to help other people and care for my wife, my children and my family then I HAD TO put myself first – because if I didn’t take THE BEST care of myself then I couldn’t be there for anyone else).
• Basically, accepting it and working, learning to cope better, little by little, day by day……and recognising that there would be ups and downs along the way…
I also know what it’s like to feel intense anxiety…
But maybe I’ll write about that another day…
With love and deep compassion for whoever reads this,
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health then please don’t be afraid to reach out and talk to someone. You are not alone and help is available. By opening up and starting the conversation we can move forward together and look to a mentally healthy future. Below are links to a range of fantastic organisations that can provide information, advice and services.