Black dogs and comics - things that really helped February 09 2018, 1 Comment

cw: depression

I actually knew I was depressed before I got the 'official' diagnosis from my doctor. I had done some online tests, I had read about it, and it all resonated with me. 

But I wanted it to be something easier. I wanted to be low on B12 or something....low on Iron maybe? I didn't want to have this huge, horrible thing called DEPRESSION!! Only really sad people got that....and I wasn't sad, was I? Not all the time? 

The stigma is crippling. Even now, over 6 years later, I still hate it when I can feel myself sliding back towards the black abyss. Self-care is becoming 'cooler', but only when it involves a skinny, beautiful, white girl, sitting on the beach in the sunshine drinking a green smoothie talking about the yoga class she just attended. It's not 'cool' to call your boss and have to say "I'm actually not functioning today, I can't string words together properly, I'm still in my pyjamas, I can't be bothered brushing my hair, cleaning my teeth, even looking at myself in the mirror is difficult....so I won't be coming in today"....and then taking a day off work to just be in that depressed mess, in the hope that tomorrow you might have shaken it. That is NOT cool, and more often than not, people don't get it, and especially so when you are high functioning. High function is basically when people are BAFFLED when you tell them you're depressed because you can hide it so well...on the outside you're smiling and laughing, but on the inside you are a dark grey sloppy mess. How can you be fine yesterday, and then not today? They wonder.

Well the answer is that actually I wasn't fine yesterday, and I just don't have the energy to pretend today. 

Anyway, I'll further address high-functioning and the whole stigma later on, but today I wanted to share with you the things that actually helped in my darkest hours. I need to be clear here that when I say 'help' I don't mean 'fix'. I will have to manage my depression forever, and I've come to accept that now. The things below helped me see that I wasn't alone, that I wasn't abnormal, that this wasn't 'my fault' for not just being 'more happy' and not 'trying hard enough'. These are things that made me laugh when I hadn't truly felt any emotion for a long time, they helped me understand what was going on, helped me accept the days that were really dark, and learn to let myself just ride them out. They helped me pick up a few tips to manage everything, and a lot of these I still use today! 

Medication 

Medication is NOT for everybody. But everybody should have this offered as an option, and be able to discuss it openly and honestly with their doctor. Meds stopped the endless chatter inside my head. The second time I started meds I remember almost instantly noticing that for the first time in a very long time, there was silence in my head. There were no voices constantly babbling away with negative thoughts. I could just be. Meds do not work for some people, and the side effects can be really hard, so do what is best for you. Medication is also not a forever thing for everyone, for some people you are on a short stint, for others you are there for years until you pull yourself back up.
Whatever you choose for you is exactly what's right. 

The Journal with Sir John Kirwin 

This was super helpful. It pinpointed different parts of my life to look closely at, how they could be improved, how simple steps could make a huge difference. It was totally realistic as well. They have real people talking about their battles, which brought this depression thing down to something totally real and relatable. The website also has a self test area, which I found really helpful when figuring out just how low I actually was, and then taking it again later down the track to see how I was improving, or whether I was low again. Having tools you can use yourself at your own pace is really empowering. 

Hyperbole and a Half comics

These brought me to tears for so many reasons. Firstly, they're hilarious, the graphics, the words, they're 100% my sense of humour...so tears of laughter firstly. But then there's the level where everything they were saying was ME....and that made me cry tears of belonging, hope, and then mixed with utter sadness. Someone out there had articulated how I felt in to an hilarious comic, and it made me feel some feelings, which at the time was amazing in itself!
There are a few of them on the page and you could get lost on there, all are pretty fantastic....but the two that really struck a chord with me were these two:
(cw: they talk about feelings of suicide, but not in depth, and not in a negative light)
Adventures in Depression
Depression Part 2

The Black Dog

I have nothing against black dogs. Or dogs at all for that matter. Some people see this as a negative association, but for me the analogy of a dog allowed me to understand that depression is a living, changing, 'being' that can be trained and tamed and monitored. This gave me immense hope. When things were rough, I knew I just had to get a hold on this wily dog, and things would be alright again. And training dogs takes time, so knowing it would take me a while felt okay all of a sudden. The video made the dog look non-threatening and cute too, which was nice.
If that's all depression really is, then I've totally got this.
Here is the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGYc 

A Gratitude Journal 

Writing a minimum of three things that brought joy to you everyday can sound monotonous and like a school kids homework (by the way, this SHOULD be school-kids homework!). It can feel so silly sitting down and writing things like "I ate a chocolate biscuit today" or "The shower was warm". But the reason they feel so silly, especially in the throes of depression, is that your thoughts have gone in such a downward spiral that you've accidentally trained yourself to give no weight at all to anything that brings you joy or happiness anymore. Even the littlest of things. So what you're doing here is re-training your mind to start noticing those little things that bring you some happiness again. You start to realise that these silly 'little' things actually have the power to overcome the feelings of despair, loss, sadness, nothingness that you're feeling if you focus on it....even if it's just momentarily. If your mind is busy focusing on how delicious that muffin tastes, or how cool that salt water feels on your feet, or how pretty that sunset looks....then there's no room for the negative thoughts in that moment. 
Another bonus with these is looking back on them...I have about 10 of them now. I do tend to forget to do my three things for days/weeks but I always pick it back up. I have notes about the first few times I met my now-husband, about fun things I did with my friends and family, about pets, adventures, and everyday things. Reading those gives me joy now too. So it's ten-fold, the benefits of these journals. You can start with anything! I am fussy with mine, and each book has a reason as to why I've used it! But you can use whatever you want! 

The LMA Community

This is a Facebook group and it has been incredible for me. This is an amazingly safe space, for people from all walks of life to come together and provide real support for one another. Every one in the group has their own journey and story with mental health, and so the advice, the support, the community, is based on real life experiences and people can share what helped them in their own times of need. I cannot describe how heart-warming it feels to post in this group on a low day, and have people jump up to tell you you're doing a fantastic job, you're not alone, and to keep going. It's also a space to share your wins, because we often don't do this enough, and these people who innately understand your situation will help you celebrate those. 
The link to the group is below. It is open to anyone and everyone, and it is a safe space for people who are journeying through the challenges of mental health. 
https://www.facebook.com/groups/LMAcommunity/ 

Exercise

I'm not talking about running marathons here. I'm talking about putting your exercise gear on (if you can even be bothered doing that) and going for a 10 minute walk around the block. When I was living with my parents we had several blocks nearby that I used to use depending on how much time I had. How much time I had was usually determined by how long it took me to get ready to go....which varied depending on what mood I was in. Some days I had hardly enough time to do the smallest block. Some days I had no time limit, so would set out on the longest loop. The pace was not always fast. I did not go everyday. But I went regularly enough and it helped. At this point in your life you do not need strenuous exercise. Chances are, your body is already depleted in a number of ways, so pushing yourself to do a lengthy boxing class, a huge run, swim 4kms....is not always realistic. If you WANT to do these things then go ahead.....but be wary of tiring yourself out to the point where you then need a few days to recover, and so you actually aren't moving forwards at all. Go slow. Get outside. Start small and build from there. I can blab on about exercise as much as I want....but the only way to understand how good it feels, is to actually get out there and do some. At one point, after a walk, I wrote down how good I felt, if not only to solidify it for myself, but also as something to look back on when I really wasn't feeling it. Sometimes it is really hard, but you need to listen to yourself and ask "am I tired because I haven't done enough exercise lately? Or is it because I need to rest?" Chances are, and this was true for me, more often than not it's the first of the two. So you've just got to get yourself out there, even if it's just for 5 minutes a day. Trust me, it's worth it!  

 

There are so many more things I have learnt along the journey, but these are the main, most easiest things I found that provided support when I was at my lowest, and these were the things I needed to keep doing as I started feeling better. None of these require any money either. So if money troubles keep you up at night, you can start by looking in to all of the above, and not have to spend a cent. (Doctors usually cost, but there are often free health clinics in most areas....so have a look around at what is available to you!)

Have any of the above helped you in your own journey? Do you have a friend or family member that could benefit from any of the above? I'd love to hear your own top few tricks that have helped you, so please pop them in a comment below. 

 

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