Return of the black dog

Written March 2015

I’ve been feeling very low this last week. I had a very difficult month before that, culminating in a week with too many people in hospitals and a funeral to go to at the same time as trying to finish my last essay of my Masters degree. When it was all done I thought, I should take some time off so I don’t burn out. Unfortunately, after only a day of doing nothing without feeling guilty, I started feeling like I should be doing something. I should be doing some reading, or doing some work. But half my brain was still saying, no, you need to rest or you’ll get ill. So I got stuck in no man’s land, not relaxing but not getting anything done properly either. So, as predicted, I have burnt out, and I am now feeling pretty shitty.

If you’ve never suffered from depression or anything like it then this might not make any sense to you. So I’ve had a tough few weeks and then not really taken any time off – so what? Get on with it. In the words of my old boss, ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ (her exact words to me when I told her I’d been diagnosed with depression. What a charmer). But the sad and deeply frustrating truth is, I can’t cope with this kind of strain without something giving, and that something is my brain. I hate the fact that I can’t push through like a lot of people can. I’m working on getting stronger and I’m doing pretty well – I haven’t felt this crap for nearly a year. In a way, that makes this even worse and even more difficult for me to deal with though, because I thought I was better and I didn’t have to put up with this anymore. It means I’ve kept trying to push on when I should probably have given up before and accepted that I am not doing well and I need to read my own tips on fighting depression – which I did today and I haven’t been following them all that well, so I’d better start now.

Treating myself nicely. I haven’t been doing that much. Even though I’ve been trying to relax I’ve also been beating myself up constantly for not getting more done, for not ticking all the things off my ‘To Do’ list. The problem then is that you keep saying to people you’ll do more, because you’re fine and if you could just get a few more things done then you’d stop panicking and you’d feel better. But when you try and make yourself do something, your brain isn’t up to it. I have been trying to work for the last fortnight with a brain that is running on empty, so that I can’t focus on things for any period of time and quite often I’ll make silly mistakes or forget things that should be obvious. The other day I was thinking of the word ‘sliver,’ and I couldn’t picture how to spell it. A couple of days later I couldn’t be sure which type of ‘there’ I needed for ‘that house is theirs.’ I did know, really, but I didn’t trust myself to be certain. In the end it gets to a point where I try and concentrate on something, and it’s like pushing the two positive ends of a magnet together. They get close, but then there’s that invisible bubble which stops them touching, no matter how hard you try. That’s what it’s been like trying to work with my brain likes this. I try, but I can’t.

I have still been getting a fair amount of exercise – I went dancing three times last week, and mostly it helped. If you’d only seen me at those classes and dances, you’d probably wonder what on earth I’m talking about as I won’t have seemed any different to normal. I did go to one class which is more difficult than my usual one, which was possibly a mistake when I’m feeling this tired and unsure of myself. I got into a very negative train of thought which meant I was too tense to dance properly, and everyone who’s ever danced blues knows that the key is to relax as much as possible without being a puddle on the floor. Instead, I went in thinking that most of the people were much better than me and feeling very intimidated. I convinced myself I couldn’t do the move properly and, sure enough, kept messing it up and then hating how confused the leads were getting that it wasn’t going right, thinking that they all must hate dancing with me and that I should just sit down and do everyone a favour. The more tense and worried I was, the worse it got, because if I wasn’t trusting myself to get the move right then I sure as hell wasn’t putting any trust in my partner to get their bit right, and although I calmed down a bit and managed to improve slightly I still felt like a loser and like my dancing was getting worse instead of better. Even though dancing is a great stress reliever, when you’re feeling low probably isn’t the best time to start pushing on to higher ground. It’s only because of long-standing evidence that going blues dancing improves my mood that I managed to go to the other two dances of the week – and I am glad that I did, as the dancing was easier and I didn’t put so much pressure on myself.

I have still been doing some of the things I enjoy, not just dancing but reading and also baking. They all help for a while but I am still aware of carrying around this negative tiredness. Unusually for me, instead of not getting enough sleep and waking up in the early hours, I’ve been sleeping like I’ve been drugged. I might still wake up in the night, but I won’t be able to get up in the morning. I’ve been sleeping nine, ten hours a night and I’m still exhausted by the afternoon and falling asleep at ten. This has been quite disorientating and very annoying, because I then wake up feeling like I’ve missed too much of the day or like I’m coming out of a coma. But if I set an alarm I’ll just keep hitting snooze until I have to get up. My appetite has also been all over the shop, which I hate. I’ll be so hungry I’m starting to feel queasy and then when I try and eat, I have no interest in it. Very irritating.

One of the things which should be on my list of how to fight depression is to talk to people. I am very lucky that I have several good friends who I can call on in times of need, as well as my parents and my family. If you ever get a message from someone saying ‘I feel really low and rubbish,’ all you have to do is say: ‘ugh, poor you. I’m so sorry. Do you want to go for a coffee/see a trashy film/go to the pub’ etc. Please, do not ignore it. I have sent people messages in the last few weeks and they have ignored them completely or replied but skated around the bit saying I’ve been feeling awful. Obviously you don’t need to reply instantly, I don’t mean that, but don’t just ignore it. I know it can be awkward, and it can be frustrating, but they’ll already be feeling worthless and like they’re annoying people so if you ignore them, you’re reinforcing all those negative pictures they’re holding of themselves.

I don’t have any answers today. For the first time in a long time, I’m considering trying some other medication. I’m hoping that taking some proper rest will do the job for me, but if it doesn’t, I can’t carry on like this. Someone asked me what I would do if my depression had a physical manifestation, for example, as a coat. My overriding thought was that I’d like to set fire to it. I can’t even explain how difficult it is not being in control of your own mind, especially when you know that so many people are going to doubt that there’s anything actually wrong with you. All I can hope is that I am back to normal very soon, and that the black dog stays away even longer next time.

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