Taming the black dog – An ongoing battle

Like many people who have ever been or experienced depression one of the hardest things I have struggled with is maintaining perspective.

Having heard many horror stories from friends and patients who have been through the mental health services I know that I am extremely lucky to have had a good experience with my treatment and services I received.

Getting over depression is not something which happens overnight. It takes time, a good support network, treatment plan and a lot of perseverance.

After a long build up of family problems, confidence issues and external events I was eventually admitted to a hospital for clinical depression age 17 where I spent 7 months recovering as an inpatient. I received follow up care with a therapist and a mental health social worker as well as being referred to other services such as family mosaic and Barnardos. It wasn’t long after leaving hospital that I was able to get my life back on track and completed college and got a part time job. The problem I had was once I was in full time work and living independently, I was deemed too ‘well’ to need support and found that suddenly all the services which had been put in to place to support me were just as quickly taken away.

Like many others in similar situations, without a functioning relationship with my family and unable to express my thoughts and feelings to my friends, I was reliant on the mental health services as my sole support network.

My moods can drastically change to an extreme low without warning and a few weeks ago I spiralled into an extremely low episode, triggered by a seemingly small and insignificant event.

My trigger was in the transition between jobs, where I had finally taken the leap of leaving a job that made me unhappy yet I found myself plagued with doubt and filled with uncertainties about the future. Out of my comfort zone and afraid of what might go wrong. Suddenly all of my insecurities were creeping in and I was talking myself out of something I hadn’t even done yet. In a matter of days something which I had said was the best decision of my life had turned into my worst nightmare.

Once again I found myself struggling to cope, shadowed by the black dog looming over me reminding me of feelings I thought I had left behind.

Feelings that your whole world is caving in and everything as you know it is crumbling around you. Feeling empty and fear you have nothing to give. Scared you will be left behind as everyone around you carrys on with their lives. The uncertainty that life brings, the not knowing where you stand or what the future holds and it scares you. Emotions so strong you feel as though this is it, you will never get over this moment. To you it feels like it will last forever and the though send you into despair. Suddenly you feel isolated and alone.

If you feel or have ever felt like this, then firstly let me tell you, you are not alone. The first thing you need to do is get some control back into your life. You feel at your most helpless and vulnerable when you feel you are no longer in control of your life. I find when I feel like this the best thing is to write myself a list of things I need to do. Small achievable goals I can work towards. It could be anything from tidying my flat, to enquiring about some voluntary work I am interested in. Slowly you can work your way through the list ticking off each task you complete, reinforcing the fact that you are in control.

The worst thing you can do when you are depressed is nothing. You need a plan. Something or somewhere to focus and channel your negative energy. Never underestimate the power that structure brings into your life.

When you start your day open your curtains, and let the light in! Try and get some fresh air. Even if it’s just sticking your head out of the window, every small step counts. It’s the small things which help lead up to the big things. When you are at your lowest there is nothing worse than being down and lonely. Being alone or on your own will make you feel even more isolated and alienated than you are already feeling. Whether it means having to call someone, or just taking a walk outside to be around people it does the mind and the soul good to be around people. Even if you are not able to talk about how you are feeling, just being in the presence of people can make all the difference.

Coping mechanisms.
It is really important you are able to spot the signs of when you are having an episode and are able to counter it. For me writing helps to alleviate my anxiety and reduce stress. Talking on the phone is how I cope with being outside and in crowds. I am also a keen gym goer and my sport helps me focus my negative energy into something positive.

Keep a diary.
Write down the positives. Believe me it works. Anyone who has been or experienced depression will know how hard it is to stay positive. It is much easier to remember and hang on to all the negative and bad feelings and thoughts. Start writing down everything and anything that makes or has made you smile. Keep a list of things you like about yourself and things you have achieved. Every time you doubt yourself and need cheering up refer back to this. It sounds silly but it really does work. When you are in a dark place it can be impossible to look past the bad. You end up stuck in a feeling of despair and your mind becomes impaired and clouded of any rational thinking. Writing a list becomes personal and I find that re reading something I have written can often take me back to the mind frame I was in when I wrote it.

Find your identity.
Who are you and what do you stand for? It is important to know what you are all about and to embrace it. Learn to love the person you are and everything you are about. What are your passions, what are your interests and hobbies. Once you learn to develop a passion and create interests suddenly you are giving yourself more reasons to stay in this world. When you are at your lowest it is easy to forget that you as an individual have so much to give. Find your gift and share it. Use your talent, or your interest or your hobby and turn it into an everyday part of your life. Express yourself through your writing, or art or music. Teach others how to do the same. However you are feeling there will be others who have gone through or are going through the same.
If you can help just one person who is going through what you have gone through then maybe one day your suffering will not be in vain.

With so many cuts being made to the services which are there to catch people when they fall it is inevitable that as a result people are left without the sufficient follow up care we so need and require.

Once you have had a run in with it once, unfortunately it is something which will always be there no matter how small in the back of your head, waiting for it’s opportunity to creep back up on you and take you by surprise.

It becomes about making the best of a bad situation and acknowledging that mental health care may still have a long way to go but it is down to you to help yourself as much as you can.
So whilst I get to go to schools and events and talk about coping with and battling depression, I also make very clear that I am not quite there yet, but I’m getting there. It’s not easy but if it was easy then it wouldn’t be worth fighting for. Sometimes you just have to say to yourself, I know this isn’t going to be an easy ride but I’m prepared to buckle up and give it my best shot.

Recovery is about finding what works for you.

I found my way out through sport and through writing. You may find your escape through something else.

Just like any physical illness the road to recovery is an ongoing process. Yet the hard part is that unlike physical illness there are no tests or scans which tell you how far you have to go. There is no all clear, or one fits all type cure.
Truthfully. It is hard. It can be exhausting and progress can be slow. There will be times when you feel like giving up. There will be days when you don’t want to wake up. But for all the bad there will be just as many days which are good. And it is the good you should hang on to with the hope and the belief that tomorrow is another day. And things will get better. It may take a while but every step you take is a step closer than you were yesterday.

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