The Fight Back
If you have found yourself reading this blog then there is a good chance that you are suffering from depression. If you are then welcome to the, not-so-exclusive, club. Think less Mayfair gents club, and more National Trust – there’s a lot of members, none of them really know why they joined, and all of them wish they had the energy to cancel the membership. Globally, it’s estimated that 350 million people are affected by depression. If you throw in all the other mental health problems into the mix then you are talking about a very significant number of people. Why then, if so many people are suffering from the same thing, does the experience of depression feel so lonely? This really touches at the root of why the condition is so cruel. Depression produces an overwhelming sense of isolation, a dark, insipid sense of being stranded, shut off from everyone and everything else. When you most need help you are least able to seek it out. However, seek it out you must.
Everyone needs a plan, a blueprint for a fight back against the illness. Unfortunately, depression can make planning almost impossible. If you’re feeling a little foggy please don’t despair. Have a look at the ten steps below:
Where to start
- You need to first accept that you are ill. Trite as the analogy has become, you’d readily accept you were unwell if you had the flu, and you’d certainly accept you weren’t in great shape if you had broken your leg. Depression, for a number of complex social, experiential, and psychological reason seems to resist letting the sufferer say ‘I am ill’. You are, however, ill. Tell yourself that and take it from there.
- Speak to a family member, friend, or colleague. It’s proverbial, axiomatic almost, but a problem shared really is a problem halved. Do not suffer in silence. Depression can be like an ever-swelling balloon of negativity, knotting your stomach, and reducing you to absolute inactivity. Pop it by sharing how you are feeling with someone you can trust. Be frank with them, it’s likely that whatever you are worrying about, probably irrationally, will seem like something very small to their objective (and undepressed) eyes. Trust them and try your hardest to share everything that you are thinking and feeling. If you don’t feel that you have anyone to talk to then it is even more important that you make contact with Samaritans. They can offer you support and a trained person to talk to.
- Tell yourself, however unsatisfying it might seem, that you have not done anything wrong. Neither you, nor anyone else, deserves to feel like this. It is not your fault, regardless of what your brain is telling you. Your mind will play tricks on you, but you must bravely continue to remind yourself that that is all they are. A heady cocktail of neurochemicals is causing your brain to send false messages. Ignore them and forget those feelings of guilt, impending doom, and shame.
- See your doctor. Your GP has seen and heard it all before. You are not going to shock, annoy, or concern them. They will simply be glad that you have made the appointment and will offer you some calm and non-judgmental advice. Doctors are much better equipped to deal with mental health issues these days and will discuss the most appropriate course of treatment with you. This could include medication, talking therapies, or a combination of both. It’s really important that you follow the advice of your doctor.
- Rest, relax, and recuperate. Depression can be absolutely knackering, even the smallest task can leave you feeling shattered. This is completely normal and you shouldn’t be too harsh on yourself if you feel like this. Slow everything down and try and take some rest. If you’ve found yourself in bed with the curtains closed and the lights switched off, why not migrate to the sofa, switch on the lights, and open a window? Rest, but try not to wallow. Being cooped up can exacerbate the negative feelings. Also, don’t forget the ‘S’ word. Getting more sleep is one of the most important things for helping you to recover. Aim for 8 hours, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage this. Depression can interfere with your sleep pattern so you might find that you have trouble getting to sleep, getting good quality sleep, and waking up in the morning. This is all normal. You can improve your odds of getting a good night of zzz’s: stay away from any t.v/ phone/ Ipad/ laptop screens at least an hour before bed, try to do a ‘wind-down activity’ (e.g. bath, reading, meditation app) before you go to sleep, don’t go to bed on a full tummy, make your room a little more zen (fresh sheets, no distractions, operational curtains), cut the caffeine after 12pm (no sneaky afternoon lattes), try to tire yourself out for the evening (exercise, or if your libido is still intact a good session with your partner), wear ear plugs, open the window in your bedroom. If you are having severe problems with your sleep then contact your GP. They can provide you with some medication to help your sleep. If it’s not quite that serious then try an over the counter remedy like Nytol, that stuff is pretty good too.
Where to move on to
- ‘Look up and get some light into your eyes’. This little trick is great, and comes courtesy of a kind and very knowledgeable nurse. She pointed out that we spend most of our time wandering round looking at the floor. Lift your head up and look at the sky. A little extra natural light can have a really positive impact on how you are feeling and adjusting your posture can also offer a little mental boost.
- Take some time off work. Everyone takes time off work when they are ill. The more unscrupulous, (and let’s face it cooler), amongst us also take time off when we’re not ill. The sickie is a British institution. However, if you’re feeling down, you definitely fall into the former category – you’re ill, and you should legitimately take some time off! There is no way that you can function effectively if you’re not feeling you’re best; you might be putting on a brave face simply to build up to that ‘volcano’ moment when you finally give up. It’s also unlikely that you will be able to completely hide how you are feeling from you colleagues (especially if they are your friends too). You have a legal entitlement to take time off work when you are ill, and if you are worried about ringing in sick just speak to your doctor. Your GP can provide you with a sick note to inform the HR department about what’s happening and how you’re feeling. It doesn’t matter how important your job is – everyone can take time off, and no one’s boss has the right to be a twat about that.
- Stay active, stay social. Much as the Guardian magazine has been trying to sell the trendy side of living like a hermit (think weekend breaks to Shetlands, wearing hemp trousers, and growing your own veg), it’s the worst thing that you can do when you are feeling blue. Try to stay connect with your friends, family, and any other positive people that you know. This is a perfect opportunity to dispense with any naysayers in your social circle. Meet your best friend for a coffee, call round to see your aunt, or, if those two options are a bit too tough, get some friends round to your place and watch a bit of T.V. If you’re not feeling great it can be so easy to withdraw, cancel plans, and avoid the phone, but you have to persevere and keep interacting with those close to you. It’s a good distraction and can really help to add a little perspective to your situation. Your friend Chiara’s break up with James can feel a bit trivial, but little bits of gossip or a funny story from the weekend can offer a little bit of relief.
- Be kind to yourself. I’ll repeat this one in capitals, that’s how important it is: BE KIND TO YOURSELF. If you are suffering from depression then you are not functioning at 100%. Don’t make unrealistic aims or ask too much of yourself because this can lead to frustration and exacerbate how you are feeling. Try simplifying your life for a little while, and don’t perceive the need to do this as a weakness. It’s much braver to acknowledge the need to slow down than it is to power through and end up feeling worse. The illness might make you feel like you don’t deserve any kindnesses, and definitely don’t deserve any treats or indulgences, but this is all a nonsense. If it’s December, you’re facing a 50 minute walk with a load of bags, and it’s pouring down then don’t punish yourself with the plod. Scramble the Uber, ring a mate, or flag down (the dreaded) black cab. You can always swerve the two coffees next week to make up for it. It’s all about reducing your stresses as they occur, and also in the longer term (more about that in another post).
- Fuel the tank. Beethoven said ‘Only the pure in the heart can make a good soup’. I’ve got absolutely no idea what he was talking about, however, it’s clear that he knew that food has a direct connection to how you’re feeling. You wouldn’t expect your car to run on empty so please don’t expect your body to do so either. Make sure that you’re eating regularly and healthily. Prioritise quality over quantity – fresh fruit and veg, protein, and complex carbs (e.g. brown bread, sweet potatoes, and brown rice). Why not buddy up with a friend and take it in turns to cook fresh for each other? This is a good way of killing two birds with one stone – eating well and staying social. N.B. You don’t have to go on an extreme diet to improve your mood, just try to eat a little better. Small manageable habits (like cutting processed food and eating meals that keep you fuller for longer) are better changes in the long run. It’s probably not a good idea to give the Dukan diet a whizz as soon as you start feeling sad. Eat good stuff often. This can also be done on a budget, it may just require some time, planning, and shopping in your local market. Check out our recipes for some good ideas.