Tag Archives: Recovery

Why ‘Depression Island’?

A 2016 update

trainers and pillsHello! Just wanted to pop in and add some notes to this post. It’s 3 years since I wrote it and since then my mental health has fluctuated and changed quite a lot. I still manage depression but trying to come off my antidepressants really increased my anxiety for a while. And a complex combination of this and the pressures of getting married led to a significant relapse into disordered eating and an exercise addiction.

These experiences have changed my perspectives, helped me move forward with my recovery and improved my relationship with my medication. I’m getting there. I intend to keep writing but my blog should more accurately be called ‘From depression, anxiety and muddled eating island’. That’s not a very snappy title though. So I’ve changed the title to ‘Writing my mind’ until I can think of something better.

And here’s what you came here for – a bit more about what the whole island thing was about in the first place.

Where the metaphor of ‘depression island’ comes from and what it means to me.

Mental trickery
http://www.flickr.com/photos/funtik/

I find that knowing and understanding how my thought processes work and what influences my mood is one of the best ways to manage my mental health.

One of the hardest elements of depression and anxiety is that it encourages types of thinking which can go on making it worse. Things like reverse motivation and discounting the future (read more about these here). For me recognising and responding to these tricks is key to recovery.

Part of what I wanted to capture was the sense that when you are unwell you can’t imagine that you will ever feel better. And not just that; you can’t imagine that anything you might do to try and improve your mood could possibly ever work.

Whenever I feel better, I feel better in a way that I couldn’t have possibly imagined when I was feeling low.

I find metaphor a helpful way of trying to get a grip on my own experiences of mental health and communicate them to others( if you’re interested, have a look at my post on metaphor, mental health and online support).

I was searching for a metaphor that might help me and others better understand this phenomenon and I came up with the idea of two islands.

The islands

It’s as if my depressed, anxious mind and my healthy mind are two totally different islands. Continue reading

Five good things a day for World Mental Health Day and beyond..

Happy World Mental Health Day everyone!

Looking after your mental health

If you don’t have a diagnosed mental health issue then you’d be forgiven for thinking that dancinngWorld Mental Health day isn’t for you.

But we all have mental health in the same way we all have physical health – and that mental health needs to be understood and looked after to help us stay happier. And the better we do that, the more resilient we become. This means that when things do get difficult we’re more able to cope with them.

It’s pretty similar to physical health really – if we don’t look after ourselves we’re more vulnerable to colds, flu etc. And when we do get ill our overall health will help determine the speed of our recovery. Continue reading

What’s in a letter? Creative letter writing for self guidance and managing mental health

A blast from the pastScreen Shot 2013-10-25 at 11.38.47

Last week, through the magic of social media, I made contact with a penpal I’d last written to over a decade ago (she has since written a wonderful piece on catching up with old friends here).

Exchanging letters is a wonderful way of making and cementing a bond. You share a little bit of yourself on paper and then give that unique incidence of it away to someone else. There were no ‘sent mail’ folder or saved files back then.

From one meeting (and exchange of postal addresses) on a boat when we were 7 or 8, a friendship grew in letters that survived well into our teenage years, through cross country visits to each others houses and now to brunches in London as we approach our thirties.

Arranging to meet this weekend has necessitated the use of faster forms of communication and it was in an email this week that Bee told me she still had all of my old letters. I’m excited and a little nervous about reading them.

I expect that they will take me right back to the time when I was writing them (dotting the i’s with stars or smiley faces of course), drawing in the margins, writing the address (I can still almost remember it now) and putting them in the postbox across the road from the bus stop. Not just the details of life aged twelve, but back into a sense of what it felt like to be me when I wrote them. Luckily, we were writing before the particularly difficult mental health years kicked in so I don’t expect them to be painful reading – but I expect the physical reality of a letter, the feel of the paper, the biro scored into it and the handwriting upon to make it clearly from another place, another time and another ‘self’. Continue reading

Happiness – an emotion, a mood, a goal or a way of life?

What would we describe as a ‘happy life’?

“The idea that humans can capture a mere mood – ‘happiness’ – and somehow preserve it seems absurd. As an aim for life it is not only doomed but infantile.”

Sebastian Faulks – A Possible Life

The idea of ‘happiness’ seems to have been popping up everywhere recently. The 20th March happywas the International Day of Happiness. This was established by the United Nations General Assembly who said in doing so that they were ‘conscious that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal‘.

Later that same week I attended the launch of a new information app for young people in London called WellHappy. The twitter hashtag conversation for the event was ‘what makes you #wellhappy?. In attendance at this event was CALM (Campaign Against Living Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 18.52.32Miserably) and Mindapples (five a day for your mind) – both of whom aim to promote action against misery and towards wellbeing. One of the (very impressive) creators of WellHappy Kat McCormack ended her speech with the wish ‘that all young people would be well happy’. Her app, a directory of mental and sexual health resources in London, was described as a step in that direction. But what would any of the people there, charity representatives and young people alike, have described as a ‘happy life’?

Continue reading

Managing depression and anxiety in relationships; early days and long term.

Tips and suggestions for managing depression and anxiety within relationships.

A version of this article was published in the Summer 2013 edition of ONEinFOUR magazine.

Managing mental health when meeting someone new; the early days of uncertainty and strong emotions.

Four years ago I was pretty happy. I felt I was finally managing to keep all life’s balls in the air. depression and anxietyIn meeting someone new, another ball was introduced. This ball brought strong emotions with it: uncertainty, interdependence and allowing someone else to influence my feelings. Fitting this ball into the show without dropping the rest proved difficult.

In the early weeks the obsessive, over thinking part of my mind – the part that makes me ill – stirred and breathed its negative fog over everything. It was poked awake by the healthy but strong emotions associated with falling in love. And then it distorted them horribly.

Liking someone brings vulnerability, uncertainty and risk of rejection. Could I keep this experience separate from the part of my mind that worries over things until it’s wrung out every negative conclusion? Could I stop myself seeing every uncertain incident as an example of my inability to conduct relationships?

Recognising and distinguishing between the emotions that come with the territory of falling in love and those made worse by my depression helped me to focus on the former and disregard the latter. I’m very glad I did. I wrote a little more about how I worked through some of these emotions in my post ‘Writing my mind – writing in the immediacy of the moment’.

Managing depression and anxiety in a committed relationship

That was the early days. And despite the uncertainties being countered by excitement and the rushes of dopamine and norepinephrine, I’m glad they’re over. But how do you manage when depression or anxiety are part of a committed relationship? It isn’t easy. Depression and anxiety can magnify and distort emotions. You need to be on your guard. When looking through their unnatural or distorting lens you can start to feel that there is a problem with the relationship itself – or with one person within it.

When you have to manage mental health in a relationship you need to ensure that that your safety net is strong and maintained by you both to avoid regularly hitting crisis point. So what can work? Continue reading

Christmas, comparisons, media and mental health – thoughts on having a more realistic Christmas this year.

Internal comparisons

Perfect Christmas? Only in Legoland..

Perfect Christmas? Only in Legoland..

Do you have an internal picture in your mind of how your life ‘should’ be?

When you are feeling low, do you ever find yourself judging your experience as ‘not right’ and comparing it to how you feel you ‘should’ be feeling or what ‘should’ be happening?

By this I mean thinking thoughts like;

 

“Things should be different to this”

“I should be doing this”

“I shouldn’t be feeling this way”

“I should be able to cope”

“ I should be better at managing this”

“I’m on holiday, I should be happy”.

As someone who manages depression, I often have to note and fight against my tendency to make comparisons and judgements about how I feel my experience ‘should’ be. This doesn’t often happen consciously, but takes place in the flow of automatic thoughts that run like a tape through my mind when I’m not really paying attention.

The comparison itself isn’t a very pleasant experience. It is made worse by the fact that thoughts like this can (often without us even really noticing) lead to further negative thoughts and judgements about yourself, the world and the future. This can lead to a downwards spiral into a low mood – one that you can’t work out where it came from or how to get rid of it.

“I feel low this morning”

“This is a really rubbish thing to be feeling”

“I shouldn’t be feeling low, everyone else is happy”

“What’s wrong with me that makes me feel this way?”

“Why can’t I ever just be happy?”

“Nothing is ever going to change”

What if you were able to catch yourself and stop making those initial automatic comparisons? Instead of this downwards spiral making your negative mood more deeply entrenched, what if you could be more accepting towards your initial low mood? Instead of making things much worse by judging, comparing and trying to intellectualise your emotions, you could just try taking a positive action to help yourself feel better – or just wait for the experience to pass. Continue reading

Finding a breathing space – eight weeks of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy

Over the past month I have been working on a series of posts for Mind about my experience of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT). My own original post about Mindfulness – ‘Keeping the beast asleep’ is by far my most popular – and Mind are interested in how users of their services can develop resilience and ongoing mental health management skills. It seemed like a good fit.

I have written eight posts, each one reflecting one of the eight sessions that I attended as part of the Breathing Space ‘Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for depression’ course. These are based on the diaries I kept of my experience, as well as the handouts we received and my reading of Segal, Williams and Teasdale’s book on MBCT.

The process of revisiting the course, and reading more about it was a really positive one for me. I found myself re-remembering elements I had forgotten and using the techniques more and more. It was great to put down in words some practical examples of how the course helped me, and revisit the feelings and thoughts I’d recorded at the time.

There were also elements of the writing process that I found difficult. Fundamentally, the course is one based in practical experience and ongoing practice. I wanted to emphasise that just reading the posts wouldn’t help in the way that attending a practical course would.

Having said that, I definitely feel that there is a place for a simple week by week exploration of the basic concepts and ideas. Putting these alongside some explanation of some of the practical activities we underwent and I how I experienced them could give people an introduction and a sense of how a mindful approach could help in practice. I hope that is what I have managed to do – to some extent at least.

I also wanted to replicate the development of the course over the eight weeks, the gradual build of skills and understanding which helped me to really grasp some quite new concepts and perspectives. It was tempting to try and explain everything at once – but to really replicate the course and embed the concepts and ideas, I needed to take it slowly.

The first four posts, like the first four sessions, explore and develop new skills and perspectives. These build a foundation from which, in the later posts, we can introduce some new ideas and suggestions for using these skills to improve our lives. At the first session of the course we were encouraged to stick with it, even if we didn’t see initially how it would help. Trusting in the course and keeping going, even at the points when it didn’t seem to be helping, or even making much sense, led to a really positive experience for me. I found myself wanting to do the same for the readers of the series.

The eight posts will be published weekly by Mind. As they are published, I will link to them below with a short summary. Continue reading

Writing my mind – some thoughts about the benefits and impacts of public and private journalling

Childhood diaries

I’ve always used writing to know and to guide my mind in one way or another. Usually, this haswriting taken the form of a diary or journal. In thinking about the part that writing has played in managing my mind, I had an interesting evening going through my old diaries and notebooks. The entries were initially quite amusing and nothing but a day by day record of what went on.

‘’Today Richard got his new high chair it was white with blue stripes and the seat dad got was the same pattern with frills round the edge and mum said she didn’t like it.  Me and Paul might be able to have the box” (3rd Feb 1992)

 

“I dumped Simon today. He practically ignored me all the time. I did it nicely. I haven’t seen him since I did as he is in a different technology group. Had lots of fun second lesson of technology”(28th March 1996)

However, it wasn’t long until they became more difficult to read. This still one causes me pain, and shame at how I treated my parents when I was down.

“Mum says if I treated my friends like I treated my family, I wouldn’t have any. Why do I have such twisted anger and tension in me I have to take it out on people and get in moods” (1999)

Continue reading

How can exercise help depression?

what role does exercise play in managing depression

Earlier this week, when the ‘exercise no help for depression’ stories were published on the BBC and the Guardian, I quickly pulled together some of my initial thoughts and frustrations with the way the research was reported. Since then, I’ve had a chance to think about it in a bit more depth.

The debate on exercise and depression

I watched the debate and discussion throughout the day. Those involved came from a range of perspectives and angles. Many people who got involved had experienced depression themselves. Some were in the middle of a bad episode, others had experienced it in the past or felt that they were ‘managing’ their depression to prevent relapse.

Some had found exercise improved their mood or helped them manage, others not. For some it depended on the severity of the depression experienced. For some, exercise was not considered ‘helpful’ unless it formed part of a ‘treatment’ leading to a cure. For others if it enabled them to manage better on a day-to-day basis this was enough.

What was interesting was that while some were supporting or arguing against the research itself (that one particular form of facilitated ‘encouragement’ to exercise doesn’t help in treatment) many were responding to the simplified message in the headline – that exercise doesn’t help depression.  And many responded with the simple answer, ‘Well, it helps me get by.’ While the Department of Health can conclude that TREAD, in the way it is currently delivered, does not work, the mass of anecdotal evidence that this study has generated should give them pause for thought. Continue reading

My thoughts on exercise and depression

Bad journalism

The BBC  headline ‘Exercise ‘no help for depression’, research suggests’ (note – the BBC have 

photobikequietly changed this headline now!) – and indeed Guardian headline Exercise doesn’t help depression, study concludes (note – this link has since broken and I can no longer find the article) – really frustrated me today. It’s classic bad science reporting, which we all know is nothing new, but it touched a chord with me on a personal level so I wanted to get down my thoughts and personal experiences over my lunch break.

There is a lot more to be said and I’m really aware of my own experience biasing my opinions so do add your comments and thoughts.

The headline is misleading

 

The main frustration is the misleading nature of the headline. If you read the article, what patients were actually given was “advice on up to 13 separate occasions on how to increase their level of activity. It was up to individual patients what activity they chose to increase and by how much.”. The report – which you can read in full here – is actually investigating one particular method (the TREAD method) of encouraging depressed patients to increase their activity. This is a very different study than the one the headlines lead you to believe. Continue reading