Feeling Well Series – Part 6: Changing The Way You Think

Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Good 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.


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Now that we’ve seen some questions to ask and some things to do, as well as my story, let’s focus on what comes next, the deeper changes that help with recovery and becoming well. A big part of recovering from depression, at least, the kind I have been talking about, is changing the way you think.

In this post I’m going to look at three things to realize to help you start changing. I’d suggest tackling them slowly and with the help of a counselor. This is a time when you might have to be a little critical of yourself and look at yourself honestly, so it might be best approached when you aren’t in the pits of despair.

1.Realize you aren’t strong

A big part of changing the way I think started with figuring out that it is OK to not be OK. Being sick with a mental illness like depression is a valid reason for not being able to do something – and remember that depression is physical as well, so it will sap your strength. It is easy to get upset with yourself because you can’t do something you used to, but please, cut yourself some slack and remember that healing is a long process and takes a lot of energy. Realizing that it is fine to slow down and take the rest you need is really important to changing old patterns of behavior – and it will be just as important to learn to do this later on to prevent a relapse. By the way, this is also a great time of life to meditate on the parts of Scripture and mystic writing that talk about reliance on God. I’ve found learning about God’s strength really helpful to realizing my weakness.

2. Realize you can’t do everything

Connected to realizing you aren’t strong is realizing you can’t do everything. One reason why a certain kind of person is prone to depression is that they are taking on so many things and, often in trying to be helpful, burning themselves out in the process. Part of recovering involves taking a step back and thinking about the really important things in your life and putting a priority on them. For example, if I have an exam coming up, my housework and social activities suffer because I can’t spread myself over everything and still be ready for the exam. If you do try, eventually (and it took me a long time to figure this out) you spread yourself so thin that something snaps. So, learn to say no, prioritize what is really important and, although others may not like the new, “selfish” you, do what it best for your brain, both in a short-term depression and as you recover and stay well.

3. Realize you aren’t responsible

I’ll say straight away that this was the hardest one for me to wrap my head around – and it is still really hard for me to do! Figuring out that a lot of things weren’t my fault has taken a huge load off of me and really helped with recovering from depression. I come from a pretty bumpy childhood (not an excuse, just a fact) so worrying about stuff and thinking that I needed to fix things was a given. However, I’m finally figuring out that it is OK for me to leave my parents’ stuff to them to work out, or decide not to take someone’s comment about me to heart, or even to just accept that a bad day is not my fault, it just happens some times. Learning to let go of things and not control them is big step and an extremely helpful one, as is realizing that you only control how you respond to things, not the things themselves. Realizing where your real responsibilities lie is also something that takes practice and discipline to learn, especially if you tend to dwell on things like I do and run through them over and over again in your head.

 

By the way, here’s two thing I want to note before ending. First, changing the way you think is a big job. It is still very much ongoing for me and will take the rest of my life. My counselor is helping a lot, though, with the stuff that I most need to work on now, so don’t be disheartened if you feel like you still have a long way to go.

Second, the author of Overcoming Depression: The Curse of the Strong points out that the popular idea that depressive episodes are recurring is mistaken. The kind of depression his book is about and which I have been addressing hinges on patterns of behavior and ways of thinking staying the same. So, if you do the work and change the way you think there is a good chance things will get better and you won’t get bad again. But, be warned, it is IF you change and can maintain these changes in your life, as well as commit to working on yourself. Its an ongoing process, not a one-time thing. In addition and on this note, a wise person once told me that a big part of staying well and avoiding depression is to know when to take yourself back to counseling and medication, knowing when you need help to stay well. I’m going to talk more about staying well in the last part of the series too, so stay tuned for Part 7 in the next few days.

Feeling Well Series – Part 5: What To Do

Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Good 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.


 

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What we have covered so far in Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 of Feeling Well sums up the basics of what’s going on, where to start looking for help and my story. But what about some practical things to do or consider that might help ease the pain a little, get through those bland, dull, black days? I certainly found it very difficult to balance what was going on in my head with what was going on in my day, so here’s a few practical things to do between (I hope) doctors, therapy, drugs, or all three.

  • Rest

This is one of the most common suggestions of things to do, but probably one of the hardest. To begin with, I found that whenever I tried to put things aside and sit for a bit I either ended up feeling guilty for not doing things or I started thinking about myself too much and got in a state. Eventually, and with my counselor’s help, I found a better way to relax. It sounds a bit weird, and it took a while for me to learn how to do it well, but it does help to listen to your body and learn to calm yourself down.


 

Sitting or lying down, eyes closed, take deep breaths, visualizing yourself sinking further into your body as you do. Be aware of how the parts of your body feel. Is anywhere in your core tight and tense? How do your fingers and toes feel? What are you touching? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable? Thirsty, hungry, tired? Hot or cold?  Does anywhere hurt, like head or feet, or stomach? Sit with your awareness of your body for a bit, acknowledging yourself without judging or making decisions and still breathing deeply. Then, when you are ready, open your eyes and slowly return to the moment.


 

After calming myself down as above I was usually able to pinpoint what I needed to do to help myself rest, like eat something, have a drink of water, try to nap or go for a walk etc. By the way, I’m taking ‘rest’ to mean anything that helps you be calm, reduces stress and anxiety and helps you feel less wrung out. For me it was lying down with a book, watching mindless TV shows for a few minutes (Pingu is a great favourite) or knitting an easy pattern and breathing with each stitch. You’ll have to figure out what works best, but I can advise you to stay away from complex activities or thing that require concentration.

  • Sleep

Sleep can fluctuate wildly during a period of depression and is often affected by drugs. Therefore, it is natural to go from sleeping ten to eight each night, for example, to eleven to five, as I have done. I kind of like the early morning, but it is frustrating when I can’t get to sleep at night. If loss of sleep is making functioning hard, talk to your doctor, as they might be able to tweak something or advise melatonin or a new routine.

Pretty much all sleep patterns can be affected by depression and drugs and because of this you may find dreams become more vivid too. All that being said, sleep is good for your brain and helps it heal, so try not to deny yourself sleep within your current pattern, even if it means leaving a party early to get to bed or arranging your day so you can sleep in.

  • Social Activities

Talking of parties, let’s cover social stuff next. An introvert to begin with, I’ve found almost all social occasions very draining and have taken on some recluse-like qualities. This has, however, removed a large amount of stress from my life and it is only now as I am recovering more that I find myself able to do more in the way of getting out and about.

However, not everyone is like me, so you may find it helpful to connect with people or add a the occasional social activity. Really, it is up to you to gauge what helps you and what hinders you, so do what you need to do. Now may also be a good time to cut back on the things you do if you are a social butterfly, so you’ll have to learn to say ‘no’ sometimes. It can be very difficult, so take things slow and monitor yourself as you do so, whether cutting out activities or adding time with friends.

  • Eating

This one has been hard for me as I have pre-existing problems with food. However, I have found that a routine really helps with the fluctuating appetite side of depression. Good brain food is key, so things like eggs and nuts have been helpful for me, and then teas, fruit and juice have helped with relaxation and Vitamin C. Depending on your regular diet some changes may be necessary to include the nutrition you need, but it is generally better to eat on a schedule or make the effort to eat well than be tempted to skip meals and starve yourself in times of great pain.

I also found it helpful to eat with someone, even if HusBen just texted me from work on his lunch break. The other thing I found helpful was rewarding myself for accomplishing something or doing something I found difficult, like doing the dishes or folding laundry. This even worked at my job, where I would bring a cookie or some nuts and sweets to have after doing an onerous task.

  • Exercise

This was a hard one for me. I hate exercising for the sake of exercising and I already walk a lot, so it was hard to fit something more into my life. Currently I am doing a two week stretch of core and leg muscle exercises – but I only do a few minutes in the morning, so it is bearable. I did find deliberately going for a walk helped sometimes, especially on nice sunny days, otherwise a good bit of stretching and gentle exercise helped me feel accomplished and better for having done something, although I doubt I’ll be seeing much change in my body anytime soon. Do note that a common side effect of antidepressants is weight gain, so don’t get discouraged if you do manage something but still put on a few pounds. Now just might not be the time to go all-out on a diet and exercise regimen.

  • TV

Netflix was a great help for me at some very low times. For someone who isn’t terribly keen on having a TV it was extremely helpful to be able to watch simple, entertaining, low emotional investment shows rather than wander the house feeling awful, and then guilty for feeling awful.

As a book lover, it was really hard to not have the concentration necessary to get through a good book, and even if I did the level of emotional investment was sometimes unhelpful, especially if a character I liked died, or the book ended unsatisfactorily. However, I felt it less strongly if a TV show ended or a character disappeared. It was easier to move on to another show or chooses a different movie. This may be singular to me, though, and I’d be interested to hear how other people find it.

 

All this being said, a period of depression is hard and I can’t lie and say that doing all these things will fix you or even help all that much. Sometimes it simply has to be got through. Hopefully, though, as your brain heals and you get stronger, doing some of these things will help with the boredom of waiting it out and trying to stay level. A time of depression may not be the right time to learn a new hobby or make new friends, but it is a great time to learn good habits and gather the skills you need to stay healthy.

In Part 6 I will be talking about changing the way you think, which is extremely hard work, so check back in a few days to find out some strategies for helping yourself grow and change in order to feel well.

 

 

 

Feeling Well Series – Part 4: Books and Websites

Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Good 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.


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For Part 4 I want to share some resources that have been really helpful for me, both books to read and websites to visit.

Books

Overcoming Depression: The Curse Of The Strong – Tim Cantopher

This is by far the best book I have ever read on depression, and I’ve read plenty! Straightforward and honest, its analytical and factual format really helped me understand what was going on with my brain during depression. It focuses of the kind of depression suffered by people who think and care too much, the strong people who suddenly get struck down and then tend to try to fix things themselves (me, basically). This book also finally made me realize that it wasn’t my fault and that there was hope for clambering out of this and staying out, although I had to make big changes to the way I think and live. The author explains the physical side of things as well as addressing treatment options and long-term solutions.

A Secret Sadness – Valerie Whiffen

Specifically for women, this author has spent most of her career collecting data about women with mental illnesses, especially victims of trauma, and their experiences of depression. It focuses on talk therapies and how they can help untangle the particularly female aspects of mental health problems.

Dark Night Of The Soul – St. John of the Cross

The classic spiritual work on the rough patches in life. Good for helping with the climb out of the pit and with spiritual crises that accompany episodes of deep depression.

Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach – Kathryn Hermes, FSP

A good Catholic resource for those suffering from depression and bipolar disorders. It covers a lot of the basics as well as touching on some things that may be helpful for those who care for depressives.

Acedia & Me – Kathleen Norris

A memoir centered around poet and writer Kathleen Norris and her husband David’s experiences of depression and its spiritual aspect, traditionally called acedia. Helpful for recognizing the spiritual dimension and for contemplating and learning about the history of acedia.

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Websites

http://www.mindyourmind.ca –  A good first step or distress resource, this website has lots to offer. Besides its own resources, it also has useful links to places where you can get long term help as well as the phone numbers for you to talk to someone at a bad moment.

http://www.thequietplaceproject.com –  Includes the Thoughts Room, a place where you can type anything and it explodes and disappears forever. Great after a frustrating day.

Neon Flames (http://29a.ch/sandbox/2011/neonflames/)  – A calming art exercise, I found making my own nebulae (see cover picture) very helpful when I felt worthless and alone and couldn’t see anything good in my day.

http://www.lookingatsomething.com  and

http://www.rainymood.com –  Two websites where there are calm weather sounds and visuals if you need some time out.

 

In addition, the Psalms, Job, the Prophets, the story of Elijah, Jesus’ Passion, are all good texts for the really dark times. The Psalms especially express some of the most common and deepest human emotions, stretching from joy and confidence to despair and heartbreak. Try Psalms 23, 31, 34, 43, 51, 55, 56, 69, 77, 88, 130, as well as 102, which is one of my favourites. Job is also a good book for times of questioning faith and wondering why things happen.

So, here they are – the things which have helped me the most when I have sat at home feeling down and very much alone. None of these things can replace a good counselor, medical help and drugs, but they are helpful for learning more about what is going on and for starting to look for ways to manage your depression and self-regulate.

In addition, Part 5 of the Feeling Well series should be out in a day or so and I’ll be looking more at management and what to actually do in those dark times.

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Feeling Well Series – Part 3: How Did I Get Here?

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.


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This is the part of the show where I’m going to talk specifically about me for a little bit (actually, it is a long bit, longer than my other posts. I won’t be offended if you skip to the last half). I didn’t mention this before, but I’m writing this series because I myself have been struggling with depression for years and have found a lot of the advice I’ve been given to be useless as well as encountering a lot of misconceptions (some of them my own) and people (including medical professionals) who don’t understand the kind of thing that is going on and how serious it is. I also feel like I might be able to help some people in similar situations as mine by sharing some of my experiences and my story. So, here goes: my story.

My childhood was pretty crazy. My family moved to Canada from England and we were a military chaplaincy family, so moved A LOT! I was homeschooled, tomboyish, had an accent, and was a priest’s kid too… and I was never labeled or teased at all – NOT!

Then there was the family stuff. Long periods of absence in war zones does funny things to a person and it does funny things to the people left behind, at least, that’s my experience. My dad started going away regularly when I was about nine. It was hard for us all, even though we still saw him fairly often, and it was even harder for my mother. It was around this time that I started feeling very responsible for things and I think this is where my super-helpful, controlling, over-responsible side of things got a bit (ie. VERY) overdeveloped.

Anyway, fast forward a few moves and absences and I’m twelve. We’ve just moved to a small town. I stick out like a skyscraper in Lilliput (not because of my height, sadly), retreat into myself and develop anxiety, having what I think was my first depressive episode. It was bad – let’s just say that I had nothing to live for, puberty was horrible to me and I had no friends. I survived it by building a tree house and reading anything and everything I could find. I just hunkered down and absorbed all this stuff that was going on, all the anxiety, the anger and miscommunication and grudges around me, and it stayed with me.

Two years after that we moved across the country from Ontario to B.C. It didn’t take long before my dad was away more than he was home and I was back to trying to help everyone but myself. It was actually really selfish though, because I used my helpfulness and responsibility to control people and situations in an attempt to minimize the things I had to deal with. It was survival mode – a response to situations where there is no time to process, you just have to try and keep afloat for another day, another week, another year, until you get somewhere safe and just crash.

I think my second big depressive episode happened around that time, when I was about fifteen or sixteen. Being stuck at home in this situation where I was trying to survive, keep on top of schoolwork, control every situation and adjust to a new city as well as missing my dad would be a lot for anyone to take on, let alone a shy, over-responsible, analytical teenager. I blamed myself for everything – my mother’s resentment, my brother’s acting out, my own failures, the dark and deep feelings of sadness  – they were all just proofs that I was a terrible person and didn’t deserve to live or be happy.

But live I did, thankfully, and crawled my way back up to some semblance of a life through my first bout of counselling and three months working on the Sunshine Coast, really away from my family for the first time. I stayed away too, heading back to Ontario in September 2013 to go to Augustine College. There I think I was happier, freer and less anxious there than I`d been for years. It was tough, being in school for the first time, but I was doing it! I was on my own, I could fix myself and no one could stop me…

…or so I thought.

By January 2015, after dating a lovely man, graduating, getting engaged and having lots of good thing happen to me, things got really bad.

And they stayed bad. Through going to school part-time, working, getting married, moving into my first apartment with HusBen, I struggled and cried and hated myself and thought I had nothing to live for. Things are still pretty bad even now, although I have the tools to self-regulate, so in the last part of this post I’m going to talk a little more about the process I went through this last year to get here, alive and starting to feel well.

It started with a visit to a walk-in clinic in January, after I finally realized what I was feeling wasn’t normal. It was so scary to go in there and say to a doctor, “I think I’m depressed.” I almost ran away. Thankfully, that doctor was sympathetic and talked over my options with me, and, because I didn’t want to take drugs, sent me to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist told me I was too angry and just had to forgive people and feel better… It was sort of true, but the ten minutes I had with him in which he told me this were not very helpful. In fact, they made me feel a lot worse.

The questions came thick and fast and over the next few months as I floundered my way through school, work and wedding planning. I was always thinking and criticizing myself – Why couldn’t I just feel better? Why me? Why now? What if it is all my fault, just like everything else? Why am I not happy with what I have? – and always blaming myself and thinking I could fix things and simply feel better if only I tried. It was awful.

Then two wonderful things happened all at once. I finally got some helpful treatment through a counselling program at a university in which counselling students counsel clients for the hours they need to graduate, supervised by their professors. I met my counselor there, an amazing lady who had been through some of the same stuff I had, and counsels me with sympathy and skill. I feel so understood and able to talk about what bothers me and confuses me – it has helped so much to untangle the mess of my brain and life with someone who really listens and asks good questions.

The other wonderful thing that happened was that I found drugs. O_o  I finally got bad enough (and I mean bad, like freezing up, crying, running around in a super-charged haze, wanting to hurt myself, even contemplating suicide at the worst times) in those weeks that I scared myself and decided that something was needed, something that could give me the little bit of help I needed to level out enough mood-wise for counseling to work well. They weren’t great at first. Even though I was taking a tiny dose for the first four months I felt like a zombie for a few weeks before anything felt even slightly better.

Things trundled along for several months, bumpy, but slowly making sense as I continued being counselled and figured things out. I made a lot of connections in that time between what had happened in my early life and the patterns of behavior I learned, and what was going on in the present, when I seemed to have so much going for me. I had some bigger bumps in September as I went back to school. I got more drugs and a family doctor, which helped a lot, as the doctor was caring, understanding, and easy to talk to, and the drugs were strong but helpful.

That brings me to these last few months. Things have continued to make more and more sense as I’ve trawled through my learned behaviors and ways of thinking. I’ve made changes to the way I think and act, I’ve read books and practiced being aware of my feelings and acknowledging undercurrents of emotion I’d never realized were there. The way I interact with my family has changed dramatically too as we talk about things we never dealt with before and HusBen and I have grown together through all of this as well. It hasn’t been easy, in fact, it has been downright terrifying at times, but I’m glad I’m learning all this now and not after years of pain and resentment.

One of the biggest ways I have changed these last few months is in the way I evaluate my own thoughts. Not being constantly critical of myself and holding myself to unrealistic standards has helped me a lot, as has being able to listen to my emotions and let them be felt without getting all judgmental and analytical. Especially when I am getting anxious or upset about something, it really helps to be able to ‘self-soothe’. Its a fancy counselling word for finding a way to calm down and listen to myself and make decisions based on how I actually am rather than how I ought to feel.

Anyway, all this being said, I am finally feeling better after so many struggles and years of confusion and strife. I have no idea what the next couple of months hold, let alone years, but a lot of the hard stuff is behind me. That doesn’t mean I will never cry uncontrollably again, or want to hurt myself, or freeze up, or go walkabout for a bit, but it does mean I don’t have to do those things to feel better. It also means I can identify what’s going on when something happens or I get into a state and deal with it healthily. I have tools now to communicate well with others, to recognize when I am not thinking healthfully or truthfully, and hopefully to continue to grow and live well.

Feeling Well Series – Part 2: Why Do I Feel This Way?

Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Good 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.

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The next step after the basic diagnosis and beginning to assess yourself is to take that even further and ask, “Why do I feel this way?“.

Now, I’m assuming that along with asking yourself questions and trying to process things by yourself, anyone with any form of depression (and especially someone who is experiencing the kinds of things I talked about in Part 1 here) is also under the care of a medical professional. As I can attest, trying to go it alone is not the best idea, especially when it comes to mental health problems. The process of asking questions and trying to understand yourself better is no replacement for a caring doctor, some antidepressants, or a good therapist. In fact, I reached a lot of the conclusions I’m sharing while using all three, so be safe and help yourself. You can view my advice, questions and sharing of experiences as something to do while you wait for appointments and for drug effects to work.

OK,  now that that is clear, let’s move on to the ‘why’ question. A lot of people, when they are hit by a depressive episode start wondering “Why me? Why now? What did I do to deserve this?”. I’m all for some self-examination, but those kinds of ‘why’ questions won’t help long-term. Rather, a better question would be the one above: ‘Why do I feel this way?’

Asking yourself this might give some indication as to why depression has struck. One thing to note is that if you are very responsible, highly aware of people and situations, morally strong, diligent, sensitive, helpful, have a hard time with criticism or people not liking you, or some combination of these, you may be more easily disposed to getting depressed, as are people in high stress jobs, stay at home mothers included, and traumatic situations, including dysfunctional families, rape, war etc. If you are a child abuse survivor, for instance, and you never told anyone and are now twenty eight and have three kids it makes sense that you might experience a bumpy patch as your brain tells you something is wrong. Or if your dad left your family when you were six, your mom’s boyfriend had anger issues and now you have finally left home and getting a boyfriend, it is quite likely that the end of a survival situation leads to feeling down and not being able to trust men. I’m getting beyond myself here, but really what it all boils down to is that people aren’t machines and brains aren’t computers. The things that happen in life affect us, often more than we know, and if we don’t deal with them, they stick around. Sometimes they pull us down into depression too.

Anyway, these types of people from the last paragraph are often taken for granted. They are used for their good qualities, but, before they realise they need to quit and make changes, depression sets in because they won’t willingly give up. Another way to look at it is like this: in stressful, highly emotional situations (high-pressure jobs, traumatic circumstances etc.) there tends to be one person (or type) who serves as a kind of ‘lightning rod’ for all the stuff going on, and usually it is the most reflective, conscience-stricken, responsible person.As a consequence, it is often people of this kind, or who have these kinds of qualities, that struggle the most. Unfortunately, they are also the kind of people who struggle to get better the most.

That was me for most of my life. I’m sad to say from experience that lightning rods eventually need replacing – they take one too many strikes and everything fizzles out – and you end up with depression. If you keep overloading your brain and its capacities for compassion, helpfulness and responsibility you will, as I did, short something out and crash. Years of ignoring legitimate emotional needs in favour of others and their happiness, be it parents, siblings, friends, spouses, significant others, etc., does not lead, as I used to think, to sainthood and a great life, but to self-loathing, mental pain and eventually depression. So, my answer to the ‘why’ question is a difficult childhood where I took on a lot of emotional roles, a personality type that is over-responsible, self-critical and not compassionate towards myself, and many years of putting myself and my emotional needs last. This is quite a brief summary of twenty years, and I am going to talk more about myself in Part 3, but it will hopefully give you an idea of how to start unraveling the ‘why’.

Furthermore, and I’m going to get scientific here, one thing to keep in mind is that depression isn’t just an emotional response to trauma, but a physical one too. The limbic system controls hormones in the body and a deficiency or malfunction in that system, through imbalances of hormones, results in depression. The hormones control things like the sleeping-waking cycle, mood, emotions and need-drives (hunger, safety, sex etc.), all of which contribute to being a well-regulated, happy human being. When the chemicals which join the synapses (which make connections for the electrical signals which carry messages through the brain) malfunction because they are affected by stress, trauma, viral illness or any of a number of things, it deeply affects the limbic system’s ability to regulate the person’s mood or emotional well-being.

If that was too science-y look at it this way: if your limbic system and the synapses and their chemical transmitters are a circuit system and its connections that allow an electrical current to complete a circle and light up a light-bulb, a broken or frayed connection upsets the whole circuit system just as a wrecked synapse and transmitter system sends you into the wild throes of a depressive episode. Thus, depression is as much a physical problem as it is an emotional or mental one because the brain chemistry is involved too. This also means that you have to take care of it like the rest of your body and that, really, a full answer to the ‘why’ question, and thus your response to depression, has to take into account the physical side of things too if it is going to help you get better.

Asking a real ‘why’ question might also be able to lead you to what needs to be done to get out of depression. Unfortunately, it is also very difficult to do, especially for the type of person I talked about earlier. It may mean you have to draw some boundaries with friends. It might mean you finally cut your mother’s apron strings. Or maybe you need to make big changes to your job and lifestyle. Whatever it is, asking ‘why do I feel this way?’ can lead towards what needs to be done to get out of a deep dark hole. Oh yeah, and the other thing is that, unless you make big changes and really watch yourself, you will likely get depressed again. Makes sense though –  i.e. work self into ground to satisfy others or sense of self-worth – get depressed. Work on self so that can say no sometimes and have healthy relationships – self-regulate and avoid depression – at least, a bit of sense…

Anyway, what I mean to say is this: asking ‘why’ questions of yourself is a good way to start identifying areas you struggle with and maybe even start getting better. A further thing to note is that it is fine to need help to do all this work on yourself as you move through depression. I did it with a counselor, someone else might need a pastor or priest, another person might do better with a psychologist or psychiatrist. In reality, depression is likely to be a long, dark tunnel no matter what path you take through it. It’s just that working through it properly and thoughtfully might help you avoid it afterwards or get through it faster and relatively unscathed.

New Series- Feeling Well – Part 1: What Do I Feel?

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.   


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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.

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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.