A Welcome Return

For various reasons, I have been unable to go to my voluntary job for several weeks. My anxiety flared up, then my medication was changed and I had problems with feeling very drowsy… and then I was getting anxious at the thought of going back after so long away.

Yesterday, I tried to go in. I got as far as the town centre, but then the anxiety started rising up again and I had to come home.

Today I tried again. I e-mailed my manager to let her know there was a problem, and suggested some adjustments. When I got in, she explained that she couldn’t do exactly what I had suggested, but offered a compromise.

It worked. I took things slowly, started off by having a cup of tea and a doughnut, before starting to pick up the threads of my work.

I stayed for a shorter time than usual, but I got all the way through, and the longer I stayed, the happier I felt.

I am now back at home, so pleased that I made it in, and managed to stay in, and feeling positive about going back again next week.

Little adjustments can make a huge difference. It was a big step to go back, but the fact that I felt listened to and that a small change was made, enabled me to overcome the anxiety.

Thank goodness for supportive environments!

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Sharing Recovery

I am participating in a group on building self esteem. The topics are interesting (some more than others), and the peer support leaders do a great job. But for me, the best part of the group are the other participants.

We are all struggling. We are all struggling in different ways, and at times it is hard to grasp why someone else is finding a particular aspect of the session so difficult. But at the end of the day, despite our different labels and difficulties, we have this one thing in common: we are all fish-out-of-water in a mentally healthy world.

We have all been let down – by mental health services, by our co-workers, friends, even our families.

We are all struggling to find our way in this world… to identify a way of being which meets our mental health needs but also fits in with what the rest of humanity require from us.

We are united in our desire to make progress… and in our uncertainty as to if we can do this.

This creates a sense of camaraderie, of fellowship. The three hours we spend together once a week is valuable, not so much for the content or the progress… but for the sharing.

A problem shared is a problem halved, they say, and in finding this little community I have found a space where I have felt able to share my problems… even issues I have never really imagined sharing with anyone before.

Next week is our last session. I am already wondering how I will fill the space.

Annie the Anxiety Butterfly

Yesterday I woke up feeling really anxious. I had had disturbing dreams, running on an all-too-familiar theme. I had been ill, and my illness had prevented me from doing something (in this case studying and doing coursework), and as a result I was going to fail in some way (in this case, my exams). Never mind that my school days are long behind me, in my dream it was a very real and present danger, and I woke up feeling sick and tight with anxiety.

I was supposed to be going into my voluntary job. But after half an hour of lying in bed trying to talk myself into that, I realised it wasn’t going to happen. I’ve had an up-and-down week, and clearly there was more down to come.

So what was I going to do? My instinct was to reach for my anxiety medication, but something stopped me. I’m trying not to take that too often, and besides, there was the personification technique that had worked so well when I felt depressed the other day. If making Glooming (my depression) feel uncomfortable had helped me to move forward when I’d been feeling depressed, perhaps I could overcome this anxiety in the same way?

So what was my anxiety like? I decided that she was called Annie, and that she was a butterfly. But not any butterfly. A half-and-half, or gynandromorphic butterfly. These half male, half female insects are split down the middle, as can be clearly seen by their mismatched wings. I imagine they find it hard to fly.

And this is how I thought of Annie. As a butterfly-like creature, desperately fluttering around but unable to really take off and escape. This is how I feel when I am anxious.

I then attempted to follow the thought process I had applied when Glooming came to stay, and ask myself what Annie would hate for me to do. But I couldn’t. Whereas I had wanted to make Glooming feel uncomfortable, so that he would want to leave, I felt sorry for Annie. She hadn’t come of her own accord, she was trapped in the room with me and was unable to leave.

That was when I hit on it. What can I do to help Annie to calm down, so she can fly away and leave?

I felt much more comfortable with this approach to Annie. I decided that a cup of tea would be a good first step. And e-mailing my voluntary job so they knew not to expect me.

I spent the next hour sitting in bed, sipping tea, browsing Facebook, and generally taking my time over getting up. Annie’s flutterings grew less and less frantic.

Then I put my normal morning routine into place, but I took care to go slowly. Annie was now fluttering gently around.

By the time I was up, dressed and breakfasted, Annie’s flutterings had diminished enough that I was able to think of activities I would like to do that day. Annie hadn’t flown away yet, but I was confident that if I continued to take things slowly, and treat her gently, she would.

… And eventually, she was able to fly away.

Dealing with Glooming

The other day, I posted about trying to personalise my depression by giving it a name and imagining what it was like. I decided that my depression was a heavy fog-creature called Glooming.

It amazes me how much this simple act helped. Instead of saying to myself, “I am depressed”, or even, “I feel depressed today”, I said, “Glooming has come to visit.” This helped me detach the depression from myself. It gave me the message that this was a temporary state of affairs, something that would not last forever. A visit is a stay of finite duration, whereas depression often feels like a permanent state – or there is the fear that it will last forever.

My next approach was to try and persuade Glooming to make his visit as short as possible. I thought of him as an unwelcome guest, and I asked myself, “What would Glooming hate for me to do right now?”

At this point, it was 11:45 am, and I was still in bed. So my first thought was, “Glooming would hate for me to sit up, read my Bible and pray.” This is part of my morning routine, but when I am depressed I struggle to open up the book. But I didn’t want Glooming to feel at home, so I went ahead and read.

I’m not going to say it was the most wonderful time of Bible reading and prayer I’ve ever had. In fact, it was a real struggle. But I did it.

“Ok, what would Glooming hate for me to do next?”

“Glooming would hate for me to take a shower…”

And so I went on. I showered, got dressed, and then went downstairs to sit with my family and eventually eat a small lunch.

By this point, Glooming had retreated a fair way. He had wanted me to lie in bed all day, wrapped up in misery, not washing, eating or doing anything to take care of myself.

It wasn’t that I wanted to do those things. I wanted to stay in bed too. It would have been the easier option, and in the past it is one I have often taken.

But that morning was different. I wasn’t making myself do these things because I should do, or even because they would make me feel better.

No, I was doing them to make Glooming feel uncomfortable so he would go away.

In the afternoon, I decided that Glooming would hate it if I gave myself a treat and watched a cookery programme. I decided he wouldn’t want me to be doing something that might give me pleasure… or at least distract me from his presence. And I was right. He retreated further.

Then in the evening, I decided to draw Glooming. He was much, much further away than he had been in the morning… and I wanted to keep things that way. And they say you need to know your enemy… so I drew Glooming, to remind me what he is like.

And to remind me what to do the next time he tries to come and stay.

Glooming and Me

Recently, I have been attending a course on building self-esteem. One of the techniques they have introduced us to is personification – to characterise and personalise our issues.

This morning, I woke up weighed down with the fog of depression. I spent the morning curled up in bed, hiding from the world.

Then I remembered this technique, and I decided to try and personify my depression.

What is his name? (I don’t know my, but my depression is definitely a ‘he’.)

Somehow, I didn’t want to give my depression a human name…

Then a line from Romeo and Juliet came to mind:

“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

That phrase, “a glooming peace”, defines depression for me. It conveys a heaviness, a peace that is not restful or pleasant, but deadening and oppressive.

So I decided to call my depression “Glooming”.

What, I asked myself, is Glooming like?

Glooming is not human. Glooming is not an animal. Glooming is not really a recognisable being.

Glooming is a fog-creature. A thick, heavy fog-creature, with the insubstantial and creeping nature of fog, combined with the heaviness of a very wet, cold blanket. A creature that can at one and the same time penetrate every nook and cranny of your being, and weigh you down and submerge you. A creature with no legs, that hovers as it moves, but with many, many arms, reaching out for me, to pull me back down into his dark embrace.

That is Glooming. That is my depression. And strangely, having named him, I felt as if I had a slight measure of control over him.

But knowing and naming my depression is only part of the battle.

I will try and tell you more tomorrow.

Pacing Myself

The last few days, I have been taking things slowly. Frustratingly slowly.

I find that I am generally in one of two states. Either I am feeling really low, and unable to do anything… or I feel positive, and energised, and that I can do many things.

I have been told I need to find a balance. To try and do something when I am feeling low, and to avoid doing too much when I am feeling well.

On the whole, since my last post I have been feeling a little better, and with this improvement has come the desire to be doing.

But I am trying to listen to the advice I have been given, and to go slow.

I find it hard. I find it hard to keep a rein on myself.

I also find it hard to judge how much is ‘too much’.

But I am learning. Learning to do little at a time. Learning to stop, to think, to listen.

Learning to pace myself.