A cycle that’s not stopping
Some of you reading this might know that I have depression. I’ve cycled through periods of deep lows back to a level where I function pretty well on a day-to-day basis for a long time now. These typically follow a pretty familiar pattern which I’ve tried to capture in at the end of the post.
I’ve worked hard to try to stay well now for a number of years and I’ve tried various treatments both on their own and in combination to do this. I’ve not found one thing that, on its own, seems to work but I know that I need to do the following to stay functional.
- Have a regular sleep pattern
- Exercise for at least 1 hr a day
- Stick with my medication
I don’t say well, because even doing this I don’t feel at all like I’m firing on all cylinders. Also, I struggle with all three of these, particularly keeping a regular routine, so as well as doing all of these things I need something that will help me to do them in the first place.
So what next?
Well ,in the past, one thing that I’ve tried and found helpful has been Mindfulness meditation. So for the next eight weeks, at least, I’m setting myself the task of sticking with a Mindfulness programme.
The evidence seems to show that mindfulness can make a real difference, both physically and mentally. I have tried this for a brief period before as part of a set of group sessions. However once the sessions and support finished I didn’t manage to keep it up on a regular basis and gradually stopped altogether. So, this time around why do I think it’ll be any different? Well for one, I’m writing about it; I hope this will have a similar effect that signing up for a race and having to train for it has. I also hope that by taking things at my own pace rather than trying to achieve a lot in a relatively small and time limited number of sessions that I’m able to give each progression the time it needs.
The plan is to try to do each week’s practices at least 6 days out of 7 and only move on to a new week’s set of practices if I manage this. Each week I intend to recap and review how the mindfulness practices have gone for my own benefit but also for anybody else who might be thinking of trying this approach.
So Week 1 starts today and concentrates on becoming aware of the autopilot. Practices will include; eating raisins, breathing exercises, deliberate (but small) changes to break up an everyday routine and doing one or two everyday tasks mindfully. All of this shouldn’t take up more than 20-30 minutes a day and seems like a pretty reasonable investment of my time.
Hopefully next week I’ll manage to pull some thoughts together on how it’s going.
A personal take on depression
Each time I start to feel down I have the same familiar physical sensations of anxiety. These cause me to pause and reflect and I can usually look back over the months preceding this to see that I’ve been distracted, sleeping poorly and usually fairly run down. If I’m lucky I ride this out; it’s just a wee blip and I get back to trundling along fairly reasonably. If I’m not lucky, my mind gets to work on solving the ‘problem’ of why I’m down. It goes into an intensely logical state and analyses all it can to try and think my way out of this. The stream of, ultimately unhelpful, thoughts are constant; hyper-critical, self-absorbed, anxious and mildly paranoid. They shoot off tangentially to new avenues of inquiry all too frequently. I can’t focus or get even simple tasks done, which I then add to the list of failures and frustrations, and I get angry, agitated and more down on myself and everyone else.
Usually I can keep this in check. It stays internal, I fight it and quite often I win. Sometimes though I only think I’m winning and instead it’s gradually chipping away at me. Then it can be something small, apparently inconsequential, and not usually making any sense to anyone else, that floors me. In the past it’s been a regular meeting, a disagreement with someone and once even (and I kid you not) a failed attempt to wrap a sandwich in cling-film. That’s all it takes to finally break. It doesn’t seem much but really it’s the accumulation of countless of tiny self-criticisms and undermining thoughts. leading up to that point that does it.
Up until now I’ll have been depressed and anxious though outwardly appearing functional and pretty normal but when this hits I can’t function. The world becomes too busy, noisy, scary and unwelcoming a place. I can’t think. Even simple tasks will be beyond me. It feels like a huge pulse of unwanted negative emotion. It feels extremely intense but usually doesn’t last at that level for all that long. Afterwards I’m left with a crushing low that’s experienced as a physical sensation as much as felt in the mind. It exhausts me and my brain feels sensitive, raw. I am left with no resilience and submit to the depression I can’t fight off any more.
I’m lucky, I’ve always managed to come back from this place. Sometimes it taken longer than others but every time, even if its only just fleetingly, I worry that I might not get well again.
So that’s what’s appealing about the mindfulness. It’s about looking for a release from that worrying and finding an acceptance about how I am at any given moment.