Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Well and focuses on depression and the stages of moving through a very low or difficult time in life. Unless you are feeling well and able to function it is really hard to start living well and as God intends, so let’s start with the basics.
In moving from a deep and overwhelming depression to better mental health a good first step is to get properly diagnosed by a medical professional. Once you have a diagnosis though it isn’t always clear what you should actually be doing.
One place to start is to ask yourself “How do I feel?”. The answer can be a number of things, or a combination. You may feel nothing, you may feel down, or low, or tired, sad, angry, or, yes, even clearly depressed. It might be very difficult to do anything or feel interested in anything. You’ll probably be sore and exhausted, or maybe numb, or really highly strung. You might even cry a lot more than usual and probably won’t be very hungry. You can also be super active or restless and unable to settle on anything or concentrate very well. All of these things come with a depressive episode and even if they are really hard to deal with on their own, any combination mixed with the low and terrible thoughts that pull you down during a bad patch can be debilitating. I spent months in this phase, feeling terrible, but completely at sea when it came to doing anything about it. I was feeling lost, worried, depressed about being depressed, guilty and angry as well as all the usual things.
Bad as it might be, the first step is, of course, seeing a doctor. But a doctor’s appointment may be only fifteen minutes or so once a week if you are lucky. What do you do the rest of the time while you wait for an appointment, or therapy, or for meds to kick in?
[By the way, if your questions are more like ‘What if a doctor doesn’t understand or can’t help me?’ or maybe if seeing them and following whatever treatment they prescribe doesn’t help? Well, I would encourage you, if they won’t listen, to see another doctor and, if it is the treatment that is the problem, ask them to change it or see another doctor who can change it for you. The thing about depression is that it takes a long time for the brain to heal, so if the meds aren’t working after two to six weeks, or the therapist or doctor doesn’t fit for you, find another because you are probably in this long-term. Chances are you may have to just try a few things and see what is best for you and for your brain. However, I know how hard it can be to ask questions or advocate for yourself, so take a friend if you need to and do everything possible to have the right tools to help yourself feel better. Anyway, back to my stream of thought.]
Well, besides resting and reducing activities and situations that put you under a lot of mental or emotional strain you can start to ask yourself some questions while you work through the waiting. The first of these, besides the basic one above, is this: “What do I feel?”
Now, this is different from the ‘how’ because it will (hopefully) help you to start thinking about what you are actually experiencing besides the surface symptoms of a depression. Some of it may be emotional, such as anger that you can’t locate the root of, or heart-centered pain or a sense of loss or of missing something, or even a more existential or self-worth -related pain. It can also be physical, in the sense of unexplained backaches, or stomach aches and muscles cramps, or physical in the sense of a tightness around your chest, stomach, shoulders, throat etc.
This second kind of pain, often in the core or trunk, can be lingering, or perhaps connected to thinking about a particular person, to a situation, or to a specific memory or sensory experience. Sometimes it can become the point of origin for a panic attack. For example, pain in your chest might make it very difficult to breathe and then lead to you experiencing intense feelings of anxiety which block out reason and leave you open only to very dramatic roller-coasters of emotions. There may also be times when you ask yourself the ‘what’ question and you feel nothing. Absolutely nothing. (There are also other things you may feel which I can’t properly comment on, because all the above are from my own experience of depression. Let me know about other things though if anyone reading has their own experiences of this stuff and wants to share.)
All of these things are ok. They really are. They don’t feel like it, but they are your body and brain’s way of telling you that something is wrong and you need to slow down and pay attention to them or something is going to blow. It is also OK if you get to the point where things do blow. My only advice would be to be with someone when that happens, preferably in a safe place with things you can distract yourself with when emotions peak, like warm showers, 80’s metal music, or pillows. I’ve been through my fair share of these times and from my experience it is far better to be somewhere familiar than running around a park in the middle of the night.
You see, intense emotions tend to follow a pattern of rising quickly above normal levels, at which point you may suddenly get very angry, sad, or agitated or maybe want to hurt yourself or someone else, and then they sink to lower than normal levels, where you get crying, feelings of worthlessness, embarrassment, shame, guilt etc. After all this up and down you tend to return to normal levels fairly soon, albeit with a side order of tired, shaky, crying, exhausted, sick, happy, relieved, flat, frozen, angry, and so on. So, the most important thing to tell yourself when this roller-coaster of emotion happens is that things will be different. Just hang on, stay safe, and don’t do anything drastic because you’ll probably feel better later.
Anyway, the point of all this is to start asking yourself questions, such as “What do I feel?”, that will help you figure out what you are experiencing and, when you have done that, to accept that this is what you are feeling without judging yourself or feeling bad for not being OK. Once you can turn inwards and start accessing yourself truthfully, then you may be able to begin to work on yourself and feel a little better. Like most things, though, it takes practice and is often very, very unpleasant. But more about that in Part 2.