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Monday, 29 October 2012

The In's and Out's of Depression

I think it's about time that somebody did an in detail description of what feeling 'depressed' is actually like. Of course the term 'depressed' can be used in many contexts and to describe a vast array of emotions, but what I will describe here is what clinical depression feels like.
Firstly, there is the medical side of this illness. I use the word 'illness' here because one type of depression is actually due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Either not enough serotonin is produced or the receptors in the brain are unable to detect it for some reason. This can be treated in many ways, with anti-depressant drugs being one such method.
There are also many other psychiatric conditions which come with bouts of depression: borderline personality disorder, seasonal affective disorder, bipolar, post traumatic stress, need I go on?
What I'm trying to get at here is that depression is common - very common. Plus it usually comes with a side order of other things that you didn't want too.
The causes of depression are varied. Some argue that traumatic events are the main cause, other go for genetics and some even claim that it's caused by certain medications and other medical type things. I say: who gives a crap? Let's just deal with the damn thing.
To give depression a definition is pretty much impossible because every person will experience it differently. You can, however, safely assume that you would feel sad, low, blue, whatever you want to call it. I'll call it feeling utterly shite.
When I'm at my lowest, I feel all the usual things: sadness, loneliness, not enjoying anything, no appetite, difficulty sleeping etc. All the symptoms you find on 'are you depressed' quizzes. But what is this actually like? Feeling sad and lonely is inevitable at some point in your life, but does it make you depressed?
True depression cannot be categorised this way. When I am in that place, I feel numb. It's like there's a barrier between me and the world and I can watch everyone go by, smiling and laughing, but they can't see me or they just don't want to. I feel so alone and I know that nothing will change it and nobody will ever care.
I'm so tired that you can barely even get out of bed. Washing and eating are definitely not your priorities.
I also feel extremely guilty for feeling this way, like I haven't got a reason to justify this feeling. I blame myself for it, but then feel guilty for being so hard on myself and blame myself for that too. It's basically a vicious circle.
I don't enjoy things at all, even the things I love the most. If I'm around people, I can't connect with them. I don't enjoy eating my favourite food or watching my favourite film. In fact my concentration is so bad I can barely get through an episode of a television show.
Anxiety usually accompanies depression with me, and I'm constantly on edge, waiting for something bad to happen. My chest feels tight and I feel like I can't breathe. Then the paranoia starts and I feel like everyone is against me somehow and they don't want me around.
Sometimes I start to cry and it just doesn't stop.
During these times I can't remember positive memories or have feelings of hope; they just aren't there. It's nearly impossible for me to do day to day things like read or listen to music or leave my flat.
It's at these extremely low times when I am vulnerable to suicidal thoughts. Of course I do not want this, and I'm terrified when I have these thoughts, like it's somebody else planting them in my mind.
Then there's the physical side. Not only does depression affect my mind, but my body takes a good beating too. The tiredness is one such example, but it goes further than that. Tiredness prevents me from doing a lot of things: washing, eating and even just moving, which of course has negative effects on my health. My muscles ache for no real reason, like they are constantly tensed - I usually blame this on the anxiety. I feel as though I'm in fight or flight mode, again because I am so anxious, so my digestive and immune system are not fully functional. I suffer irritable bowel syndrome because of this, which is horrific, and it takes me longer to fight off simple illness like the cold.
I often have the shakes, be it because of the medication or the anxiety or whatever, it's still impractical for simple things like writing, buttoning up a coat or getting a key into a lock.
Sometimes I have to get people to do simple things for me, just because my body won't allow me to.
It's like I'm elderly already but I'm only 20 years old.

I used to think that depression wasn't a real illness and that you just needed to pull yourself together and move on. I was wrong. When you are in that place, there is nothing you can do to get out of it. You can just wait for it to be over. The only way of ending it sooner is...well, ending it.


People may wonder how you cure depression. The simple answer is that you can't. You can't cure depression; you can simply live alongside it until you are ready to part ways with it. What you, and I to be honest, need to remember, is that it is an illness, not something that is yours or anyone elses fault. And we also need to remember that we are needed in this world, not for something big like ending poverty or curing the common cold, but to prove that depression can't rule us.
For me, beating depression is accepting it for what it is and finding a way for me to lead a happy life with it. I believe that my depression will not go away, but I am ready to accept this and move on with my life. I can live with this, and for anyone reading this, so can you. Fight it, get rid of it, live with it, whatever. Just don't let it beat you.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Rough day? Try being a tree.

Trees have it bad. Really bad. The poor things stand there day after day watching the world go by without being able to do a single thing.  Except ocassionally shed a leaf. Nobody really cares about trees either, not until they're gone.
There are many different kinds of trees and every single one is unique. Most of us don't realise this; we just walk under one thinking 'hm, a tree', but they really are. Every twist of each brach and vein in each leaf is particular to that tree at that time depending on it's type, genes and environment. I was thinking about this the other day while walking home in the dark. I was looking up to feel the rain on my face (which I would highly recommend by the way as it's very refreshing) and I noticed the light of a streetlamp shining through the leaves growing around it to create a green leaf-textured sky effect. It was pretty cool, and when little droplets of water fell, in the light they looked like drops of gold - until they hit my face and just felt cold and wet, bringing me back into reality. 
The canopy of leaves above was preventing the full amount of rainfall from drenching me, but equally, it was not keeping me dry and the previously friendly canopy loomed over with an unnatural electric glow, stinging my eyes and blinding me from the once beautiful detail of each leaf. As I looked away I thought about how that even though the horrid streetlamp had ruined my view of it, the tree itself had not changed - it remained green, beautiful and magical. But I had resented it for that moment, simply because it seemed unfriendly due to something else - the streetlamp.
The next day I returned to the same tree but this time viewed it in natural light. It's an ash tree, which is the one with lots of small, pale green leaves gathered around one stem. Overall a very average tree; one which I certainly wouldn't have picked as particularly special compared to the ones around it. But still the night before, this had been the tree that had caught my eye, because of the light shinging through it's branches - the same light that I came to dislike later on. This very plain tree had become special due to something which I disliked: the streetlamp. So, was it the tree or the streetlamp that was special and caught my eye? Or the combination of the two? Would I have even noticed the tree if the streetlamp hadn't been there?
You might be a bit lost at this point. What I'm trying to get at is that the tree was simply trying to get by and grow and all that and I came along and judged it - for something that wasn't its fault. 
Compare this to people: along we go in our lives, minding our own business (most of the time) and someone comes along, takes one look and immediately categorises you. Usually that wouldn't happen unless you did something that made you stand out: having a panic attack, for example. So it comes back round to me, you think. Well of course it does, this blog is sort of about me you know. Anyway, there I am in the middle of a busy street of busy shoppers completely frozen with fear. I most likely looked like I had seen a ghost, obviously distressed and hyperventilating. What happened? Funny looks and I ran home. Overall a horrific experience. What caused the panic attack remains a mystery to me, as it does with every single one I have. If that hadn't happened I probably would have walked home and not a single person would have glanced my way. So I am only noteworthy based on something that reflects me in a negative light. 
I walk by that tree everyday. I never ever notice it - apart from that one time (well two if you count the next day). It obviously holds no special place in my mind or any significance in my life. But say it was chopped down and it was suddenly gone. I would probably feel a bit sad that it had disappeared and remember the encounter we once had. I wouldn't really care about it unless it was no longer there. This is true with people too. Though it may be a sad truth, its one I think is worth saying. If I ended my life now, I would most definitely be noticed for not being there. People would talk about what a sad story I was and what a shame it was. But right now, while I'm still here, I'm 'OK' in other peoples eyes. I'm getting on with stuff and managing. But what do they know? Nobody knows. Nobody notices. Not until a streetlamp is shining through me anyway.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

So you had a bad day.

I woke up this morning feeling utterly shit. Excuse my language. I didn't sleep well at all last night and was tempted to just stay in bed for the full day. Luckily I didn't have any lectures today so I wouldn't miss anything important, but I did have a social event planned.
Planning is always difficult for me because I never know how I'm going to feel. I just have to take it day by day and do what I can. Usually, I would have just given up and stayed in bed, but it was my friends birthday and I didn't want to let them down.
As I lay there thinking about how on earth I would make it through the day, I remembered a piece of advice my mum gave me once: sometimes you have to prioritise yourself. This was definitely one of those days. I decided I would do the things I wanted or needed to and somehow everything would fall into place.
I got up and got dressed and headed out to my counselling appointment. I needed that and I'm so glad I went. I arrived and I waited.
Waiting is another thing I struggle with. It's all I ever seem to do. Waiting for medication to kick in, waiting for uni to start, waiting to see a doctor, waiting to see a psychiatrist - the list could go on. It's so frustrating feeling like you are really trying to get somewhere, but it doesn't seem to be happening, like in the movies where a character is running along a corridor to get to a door but it just keeps getting longer and longer. It just makes you feel so lost and so useless, but at the same time going back would be even worse.
After seeing my counsellor, I didn't feel much better, though I do really find talking very helpful and I really enjoy going.
When I got home, I attempted to put my mask on. I invented the mask as a way of pretending that I'm alright so I can function normally (I will go into further detail in a future post). But, no matter how hard I tried, it would not stay on. I cracked. My friends tried to convince me to take a time out and try to sleep or rest and just relax. I wasn't having any of it. I had decided that I was going to do everything in my power to get through this day as I had planned and guess what? That's exactly what I did.
Mind over matter. Or in this case depression.
I can't believe that I actually did it. I really can't. It was an incredible feeling. I took control of my own mind and lived this day on my terms, and not the terms of my illness. I don't know how, but I'm happy enough knowing that I did it. Me. And nobody else.
Although I crashed by the end of all the socialising and such, I still went out and spent time with my friends and had a laugh and made new friends. To me, that is the best thing I've achieved in a long time.
I have hope that there are more of these days to come and that one day everyday will be like this, but I'm also aware that after a good day I usually crash and become low again. But I can still hold on to the fact that I can be in control, and that is a comforting thought.
Even though I had planned to do this day for other people, I did it for me. It's important to remember that sometimes you can be selfish and you have needs too. This day was bad, but I took it for what it was and enjoyed it. I am taking control of depression. I am my own person and it's going to have to get used to it. It can take the majority of my days but it will not take me. I am mine.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

50 Shades of...Blue.

Feeling blue: that term is tossed around a bit, don't you think? But what does it mean? Even the internet doesn't know. Historically it is related to Greek mythology, because Zues made it rain when he was sad, the slave trade and Blues music and also old Navy traditions, where a blue flag would be flown if the captain or any of the officers were lost at sea. That's what came up when I searched anyway. It basically means feeling sad, depressed and generally down in the dumps. One website actually said it meant you felt physically ill. I suppose in some cases this is right.
So how does one desribe the feeling of 'blue'? I guess it's different for everyone, depending on what shade of blue you go for. Some days I am definitely a light turquoise, a rather bouncy and upbeat colour, whereas other days I might slip into a dangerous navy. All these shades of blue can be very confusing, especially when you don't get gradual shading in between each one - a valuable lesson learned in high school art lessons.
So, here's a grand tour of the 50 Shades of Blue (see what I've done there?!).

Pale Blue

Here we have a very pleasant coloured blue, with many desirable associations such as new born babies, the sky and the chalk we used to draw on pavements with when we were kids. For me, this colour is when I feel most stable. I can only really describe it as 'normal' or 'fine'. It's not perfect, but at least it's not one of the other colours. Sometimes when I'm in this phase I feel like it could last forever, which would be quite good because I'm 'normal'. However, I'm not exactly happy. Other times I know that it won't last, even though I feel OK, which can be offputting, but mostly I just try and get as much done as possible while I'm functioning normally.


Steel Blue

This colour is slightly more grey than the 'normal' pale blue and I would normally be in this stage when I'm on my way to a low period. I'm still able to do things and go out and function but I also have a cloud hanging over me constantly threatening to starting pouring rain. The cloud keeps getting darker and darker and I know the rain is coming and there's nothing I can do to stop it. I will sprial downwards until I reach my lowest point, like tumbling down a hill: you can't get up and climb back up until you stop at the bottom.
 

Royal Blue

In royal blue I find a state of almost bliss. Up in the high end of 'normal', I feel optimistic, energetic and happy. I thoroughly enjoy this colour while it lasts because I'm jolly and upbeat and having fun. But (there's always a but) I know that it's only so long before I climb too high. I can compare the feeling to parachuting off a mountain: you are floating along gently feeling very relaxed and enjoying the view, while still getting that adrenaline rush from the danger, but you are aware that you are drifting towards a cliff face where the wind is deflected upwards and eventually you will be caught in the updraught. So I can feel uneasy at times, but I mostly just try to accept my mood as it is so I can enjoy it, rather than worry about whats to come.

Electric Blue

Electric blue is a fantastically dangerous colour. Think of lightening and e-numbers. Lightening zips across the sky with immense speed and excitement, lighting up anything it passes, but burning whatever it touches. E-numbers give our favourite sweets and drinks an exciting colour and makes snack time way more interesting, before we feel sick from the sugar and chemicals. This pretty much describes a high phase: my mind jumps from one thing to another and there's no thought pattern, I talk uncontrollably and have huge amounts of energy. Decision making is irrational and I don't need any sleep. Sounds fun, doesn't it? Do check the terms and conditions before you try it though, it comes with severe side effects such as confusion, dizziness, headaches, sickness, memory loss, bad decisions and the ever looming burnout.


Dark Blue

What springs to mind for me when I think of dark blue is old, creepy forests and the deep bits in the sea - two things which I personally find a bit scary. When I am this colour, I am most certainly scared and also very sad, although this is definitely the less severe part of my depression. In this phase I feel horrific: sad, lonely, vulnerable and pretty much any other negative emotion you can think of. Except anger: I am too exhausted to be angry. The physical effects are strong too, as I am often mentally drained so nothing seems to work properly. It's also in the low phases where I am most likely to have a panic attack, which brings about anxiety and all of the baggage with it. But I do see a small light in this phase, like a single star in a vast sky, and I know that eventually it will change. I can hold on to that and get through.

Navy

Navy is the darkest colour, so of course it is the darkest time. Down in this murky colour I am trapped in the depths of my depression. There is only one way out. When I am this low I have no hope, no reason for living, no energy, no nothing. I am completely lost in a dark shadow, wondering aimlessly having given up on everything. I cannot do anything: get up, wash or even eat. These times are when I am at my most vulnerable and I cannot be left alone. I hate it. I dread these times more than anything. And it is this colour that I will go into more detail about when I am ready.



Monday, 22 October 2012

Stalkers.

What do you do when you're feeling crap? Read a book? Go for a walk? Have a bath? Whatever it is I can guarantee I've tried it. Right now I'm snuggled in purple blanky (a friend I'm sure you will get to know very well if you keep reading my posts) listening to rubbishy 90's rock music while writing this.
This day has been supremely worse than average. A horrific nights sleep last night probably didn't help. Though I did make it into uni this morning and had a fun three hours composing. However the fact that Jeremiah (the presence I feel, as I mentioned in my first post) was hanging about definitely put me off, lingering threateningly at the back of the room for no reason whatsoever. Its scary. And so vivid. It feels so real to me but it simply is not possible that its real. That would be completely ridiculous.
Its hard to describe what I actually feel when I get this sensation. Its obviously all in my mind but I also get a very physical reaction. I literally freeze up as if all my muscles have contracted and I feel as though I can't move. I get a tightness in my chest as though my heart has stopped and I feel like I can't breathe. I begin to shake and hyperventilate and everything becomes blurry. Sometimes its so bad that I think I'm going to throw up or pass out. And there's the fear. My anxiety levels increase so much that I can only describe it as a feeling of dread and terror.
Usually if I feel low, I can pretty much assume that this will happen at some point so to deal with it I just don't go out. Totally sad I know, I'm practically a hermit, but I just don't know what sets it off so I can't avoid it. The medication I have is not fully effective though I just got a new dosage today and another type as well so it might improve.
Apparently the 'presence' (Jeremiah) is a symptom of anxiety, sort of like a negative outlet. I find this very confusing. Basically that means that my brain is so rubbish, that the way it's dealt with anything that's made me worried is by building those negative feelings into an external being, which then freaks me out. Great logic.
It's really difficult to accept that all of this is caused by a mental illness. It feels so real and so physical to me. Which, of course, makes it all the more debilitating. You really cannot fully understand unless you have experienced it.
I imagine that being physically stalked would be fairly similar. Imagine you know somebody is following you, but when you look they've turned a corner or somehow hid. It would reach a point where you're just waiting for them to appear. You get too scared to check behind you just in case you do see them and then they try to make contact. Eventually you get so used to it that you just expect it. But then it's no fun for them so they try even harder to scare you, breathing right down your neck when you're alone. What makes it worse is that you can't get rid of it, you can't call someone or force them out of the door. They aren't real. Everybody knows that something is wrong and asks 'are you alright' but you just say yes. You can't really say 'no, I'm being stalked'. As for the people who do know about it, they just don't know what to do when he is around.
I always wonder can they sense it too? Obviously you can tell by my reaction that something isn't right, but would they know anyway? A small part of me does think this and does believe that something is there, even though my rational side is telling me that it's not possible.
But what if it is real? What does that mean? I'm being stalked by an invisible being?
It's not exactly impossible, is it?

Friday, 19 October 2012

Let's start at the very beginning.

Scratch that. The beginning is not a good place to start. In fact it is the worst place to start because then I would  be dredging up memories which are long gone and which nobody cares about - including me.
We shall start here. Right here. Exactly where I am now. Which, in case you are wondering, is on the incredibly squidgy sofa in my flat. It is 8.30pm on a windy autumn day and I have decided to start a blog, the reasons for which I hope will become clear.
So you're probably wondering about the box thing right? In case you haven't heard of it Pandora's Box originates from Greek mythology and it was essentially a container for all the evil in the world like disease, malice, hatred, violence and all that. The story goes that Pandora was created to reap revenge upon the mortals, who had tricked Zeus and angered him. The God's sent Pandora to them, and one of the men fell in love with her and married her. Zeus then gave Pandora a box (well actually a greek jar) as a wedding gift but told her to never open it. Curiosity got the better of her and she eventually took a peek and all the evil inside escaped. She slammed it shut too late, leaving only the spirit of hope in the box.
My box wasn't a gift and I certainly do not want to open it. And to be honest I don't really know what's in it.
I created the box as a coping mechanism, sort of like when your room is messy so you shove everything in the wardrobe. And here is why.
In 2010 when I was 17 years old I was diagnosed with depression. At the time, I was aware that there was a problem but didn't tell anyone until it was really bad. My problems manifested themselves into what felt like a physical presence which followed me everywhere I went. It was like being studyed or tested and under constant threat. I could hear clicking in my ears and around the room and could not do day to day things or even leave the house. The anxiety was unbearable. What made it worse was the guilt. I felt like I was bringing everyone down and that I was a burden. When I finally told my sister we had to do the sit-down-and-talk-about-it thing with the full family to decide the best course of action. Of course it was off the doctors: the only solution for anything - apparently. Then I filled out a questionnaire. Rate from 1-5: do you feel sad/lonely? Duh. It all seems very odd to me. Let's find out what's going on in your mind by asking you a few short questions. Then your score comes out high and you have depression. That's it. After that I was referred on for some talking therapy. I liked it. I did find it helpful, but only at the time. I had missed a lot of school and had my AS levels coming up. So I did what any sensible student would do and I created my very own state-of-the-art coping mechanism: Pandora's Box. In go the problems, down goes the lid. Job done and back to school and I don't need my therapist anymore!
Well here I am two years later. And now the box is full. And I can't keep it shut.
To be fair to myself I did manage to get ABB in my A-levels and land a pretty decent university place too, but at the cost of my mental health.
The first year of university was hard. New place, new people and all that. But I made friends and I fitted in and everything was going well. Unfortunately I had a couple of episodes, but I still carried on and made it to the end of the year before everything fell through.
Jeremiah (that's what I named that 'thing' that 'follows' me) made a long awaited return and the box began to slip open, and I began to spiral downwards. After some more family discussions the best decision was made: to the doctor! Another questionnaire. Another high score. Another diagnosis of depression. This time round I got medication which I must admit I was somewhat relieved about because it would kick in before I was due back at university so my studying wouldn't be disrupted.
That didn't exactly work out as six weeks and numerous panic attacks later I felt exactly the same, if not worse. And university had started. So guess what I did? Went to the doctor and did another questionnaire! I bet you weren't expecting that. Yes, it seems you are depressed, I was told. Really? I would never have guessed! Increase in medication pescribed and on we go.
And here I am now. Still not feeling much better. Still being 'followed'. Still having panic attacks. I'm in a bit of a rut.
However, depsite all of my sarky comments and negativity, I am still here. Still living. Isn't that fascinating?
So basically, the box is a problem and it's definitely time to get rid of it. I want to change the way my mind works so I can cope with stuff; I want to deal with the stuff I never dealt with and I want to move on with my life and most importantly enjoy it. And on top of that I'm doing a degree. Is it possible to recover from a mental illness whilst living an everyday life?  Let's find out.