Depression, Mental Health, Uncategorized

My Black Dog

Today #BlackDogRunner has asked me to guest tweet for him. This is because part of the aim of inventing #BlackDogRunner as a masked vigilante black dog was to make him the voice of every (wo)man on Mental Health issues. So while the “real” Dog is on holiday this week he has asked 5 of his anonymous friends to tweet on his behalf. You can read my interview with him here. Regular readers of my blog will remember that #BlackDogRunner is an online friend who has supported me lots during my most recent period of Depression (read about it here) so I am of course only too glad to help, and it seems like an appropriate time to blog a little about my Black Dog.

I remember the first time I saw the short film, ‘I had a Black Dog, his name was Depression’ by Matthew Johnstone and feeling like someone had finally described a lot of what I was feeling that I hadn’t been able to describe in words.

The film is here and if you haven’t seen it please take a look…

http://youtu.be/XiCrniLQGYc

I feel the film may not exactly replicate my experience but it certainly helped me to explain it better to people who have never suffered with depression themselves. I certainly think it shows depression is much more than “feeling a bit down”

Officially I was only diagnosed with depression around 8 years ago, but I feel my Black Dog has been around since my teenage years. Up until then I feel the Black Dog had, on the whole, been fairly manageable but all of a sudden, and out of the blue, he had taken over and it resulted in me taking a fairly large amount of time off work, medication and some therapy. After over 2 years of fighting he became more manageable again and I was able to stop the medication.

I had about 6 years of “remission” but then last year the Black Dog returned. I had felt the symptoms creeping up on me for a while, and I had even mentioned to my (now ex) husband that I wondered if I needed to consider medication, but then last summer my marriage falling apart along with my mum being diagnosed with cancer pushed me from mild depression to major depression within a matter of days. Luckily, my knowledge of the illness meant I didn’t delay asking for help as I had in the past. I went straight to the doctor for medication and to request a referral to counselling.

A year on I am still struggling every day, but I think a combination of therapy, medication, selfcare and the support of my friends (both in real-life and online) is starting to make a difference. I know the road to recovery is a long one, with hurdles along the way, but I am determined to try to keep fighting.

I feel my Black Dog will be around my whole life, but I’m hoping that overall I will be able to keep him under control.

If you have, or know someone who suffers from depression I’d love for you to show your support for #BlackDogRunner who is running the Great North Run on 7th September 2014 for Mind. Give a #PoundForTheHound by texting PFTH70 £1 to 70070 (UK only) and if you are on twitter use the hashtag #PoundForTheHound to dedicate it to the Black Dog in your life.

If you want to know more about the #PoundForTheHound please read #BlackDogRunner’s blog post here.

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Uncategorized

Why #3goodthings works for me

Anyone who follows me on twitter (@depressednotsad) will know that I have been doing #3goodthings for a month now. I wrote a previous post on why I started it, but I guess I wanted to tell you WHY I think #3goodthings is working for me, and why I’m still doing it!

Firstly I want to say I am not a natural “positive thinker”. I’m a bit* of a (*big) pessimist, and I’m very self-critical. During an episode of depression this is probably worse than normal. I think over the last year I have felt that many of my self-criticisms seem to have come true….”I’m ugly and I’m a rubbish wife”-and my husband left me, “I’m terrible at my job”- I took a secondment as I couldn’t cope with the stress of my usual role, “I’m damaged and broken”-I’m struggling with an episode of depression again (yet still not properly dealing with the problems that helped caused the damage in the first place). I’m also in a house I just don’t love anymore, my closest friends have partners and families so I feel I don’t fit in and often feel lonely. Overall I’ve been feeling pretty rubbish! And to cut a long story short after nearly a year of not feeling significantly different I felt desperate. Desperate for something to make me feel “better” as I felt my usual “toolkit” had been exhausted. I thought I knew all the things I *should* do to feel better….but I didn’t have the energy to exercise and not eat junk, nor the concentration to read or meditate. So I felt worse as I couldn’t even find the strength to do things to make me feel better anymore. In fact I’d lost sight of what it was that actually *did* make me feel better. So many people had so much advice I didn’t know which to take. I’d totally forgotten who I was. I’d spent so long just surviving that I didn’t feel anything made me happy anymore.

But then something happened. It was “suggested” that I attend a resilience course at work. I was cynical about it! How the hell was some trainer going to teach me about resilience in 3 hours? They were bound to have a “pull yourself together” attitude and not understand what it was like to suffer with mental health issues. Except when I got there that wasn’t the case at all! The trainer opened up the course by telling everyone a bit about himself, including that he has bi-polar. Immediately I took more notice, as maybe this guy might actually “get it”? Maybe he won’t preach at me and tell me all the things that I’m doing “wrong”? I was right, he didn’t. In brief he delivered a course that helped everyone decide for themselves what they needed to do to help themselves to be more resilient. One of my goals was better selfcare-doing one thing every day that was just for me! But I still struggled as I still didn’t know *what* I should do for myself.

Then I was offered individual coaching, and part of the initial process was working out what I wanted to achieve -which for me was as basic as “feeling better” . He made me think about what feeling better might look like, who or what may be involved in that, what my core values are and how important they each are to me. It was really difficult but it made me think deeply about who and what was important. Then the first piece of homework he set me was #3goodthings. He told me that it would not take away the “bad” things or the depression, but may make me “re-frame” my day. He also reminded me that the #3goodthings could on a “bad” day be just getting up, or eating, or taking meds, or surviving. I was cynical! But what did I have to lose? I was desperate remember?!

But #3good things has been fantastic for me! It started off as a bit of a chore, as it’s not always easy to think of 3 good things when you are struggling with depression. Some days I felt I was using the smallest and most random things. But quickly a pattern emerged. The things that I realised were on my list most days were my daughter (probably predictable), my friends (both real-life and virtual), exercise, music and eating well (although not always healthily). So as someone who had forgotten what made me happy I suddenly started remembering. This is turn made me realise
this is where I should invest my time and (limited) energy. The funny thing is when you start doing more good things you feel happier, which in turn gives you more energy, which you can then use for more good things (as well as for the other more mundane stuff like work!) I also found that as I was posting them on twitter other people started joining in. But it also had the effect of making other people feel more positive. Which in turn makes me more positive.

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(Thanks to @aweebithopeful and @bdogrunner for letting me use this screenshot)

I also found myself doing the one thing I thought I’d never do, which is to do something just so I had something for #3goodthings. One Sunday a few weeks ago I’d had a rubbish, “no energy” day where I’d spent most of the day in bed. My little one was with her dad. It was teatime, and I had nothing! So I literally dragged myself to the gym. I even sat outside having a tantrum to myself that I didn’t want to go in. However I decided 10mins was better than nothing. But 10mins turned into 40mins, and when I left I was starving so had some nice food. Before I knew it I had #3goodthings.

Do I think that #3goodthings has “cured” my depression? NO!! But, what it has helped me tap into is #selfcare. As I already said, I’m not good at being kind to myself. I’d forgotten who I was and what I liked, so how could I be kind? But the reminder that it’s the little things, not necessarily the big things that make you happy has massively helped. I’m re-discovering me! I feel more positive. I’m remembering the reasons to keep fighting the depression. I think I might even be turning a corner and feeling a bit better! 😊

I don’t know if #3goodthings would work for the people reading this as I think different strategies work for different people. However perhaps it’s a good reminder not to be so cynical and to try things. Because sometimes the little things make a big difference.

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Depression, Mental Health, Twitter

How I’ve Found Support Through My Depression

I was first diagnosed with depression 8 years ago, although in hindsight I have probably been struggling with it intermittently since my teens. When I initially went to the doctors 8 years ago I didn’t go because of my mood, I initially went with stomach cramps and to cut a long story short was diagnosed with stress. This was the beginning of some self-recognition of my low moods, and when a series of mildly stressful events started to significantly affect my mood, and I couldn’t shake it off, I eventually went to the doctor to request some time off work. Even then, I did not want to be labelled with any kind of mental health issue. When the initial week off work didn’t make me feel better the doctor recommended trying anti-depressants I point-blank refused. Because I did not want the stigma of taking medication. Only a few more weeks later when nothing worked did I finally concede that I needed to try medication. However the first thing I did before taking them was do some research. That was the first time I discovered Mind, the mental health charity. I guess I was vaguely aware of their existence so I knew their website could be trusted in terms of information, but over the coming years the website became my “go to” place for information on depression, both for me and for my family. I used it for all kinds of information not just about medication, but for all kinds of information from what depression is, to how I could help myself, and how my friends and family could help me! It was a really useful resource.
Unfortunately my depression got significantly worse before getting better but I am fortunate enough to say that after approximately 2.5 years of treatment, which included therapy for some long-standing issues from my childhood, I was lucky enough to have a long period of “recovery” from depression. Although I still struggled with low moods at times, I recognised the symptoms creeping up on me and found I was able to self-manage things before I ended up in a crisis.

That was until last summer. I had felt the symptoms of depression creeping up on me. Work was stressful. Home was stressful. I was constantly tired. I considered going to the doctor as my usual strategies weren’t working, but for a number of reasons decided I wanted to try and manage on my own. That was until my marriage started to fall apart. At the same time my mum was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Within a matter of days I went from feeling mildly depressed into full blown major depression. I immediately went to the doctor to ask for medication….an acceptance over time that depression may be something I would have to manage over my life meant I felt less stigma about doing this. I was prescribed a different anti-depressant than I had taken before, so I returned to the a Mind charity website to do some research. I also started following them on twitter, alongside other mental health charities and organisations.

Over the coming months reading about other people who were struggling with their mental health became important to me. I was not brave enough to talk on my own twitter account about how I was feeling, but knowing I was not alone in my thoughts and feelings was helpful. Then in February of this year I stumbled upon a blog post from #BlackDogRunner called “How Are You?” It seemed so appropriate to how I was feeling. I’d taken a long period of sickness from work, followed by an equally long phased return, and I was starting to be asked the dreaded “How are you?” question a lot. I was so pleased to find someone who seemed to articulate exactly how I was feeling that I immediately followed the blog and read and digested his previous blog posts-which I found equally easy to read, funny and insightful. Over the next few weeks it also gave me an idea. #BlackDogRunner had an anonymous twitter feed and an anonymous blog, which meant he could be totally honest about how he was feeling without any stigma, and without any of his real life friends, colleagues or acquaintances knowing what he was saying (unless he chose to reveal his identity). I was feeling very stifled at the time. Many of my followers and friends from social media included people I knew in real-life, and many people knew my ex-husband too. I felt I couldn’t be honest about how low I was feeling about my depression, about my marriage break-up, about my mum’s illness, and at the time all I was doing was existing. Just getting up for work and looking after my daughter took all my energy, I didn’t have much energy left for much else, and whilst I do have real-life friends it wasn’t practical for them to be around for me 24-7. So without realising it #BlackDogRunner gave me the idea for an anonymous twitter account. My previous blog post “How Twitter Helps My Mental Health” explains how important it has been for me to be able to talk freely about how I am feeling, and over time I have become less anonymous (in that I now share my first name).

#BlackDogRunner was one of the first people I followed on my new twitter account, and over time he has become a real friend. He is very kind and considerate, always there with a piece of positive advice-usually about self care and self-compassion. On a personal note, he has become a “virtual shoulder to cry on” but also someone to have a giggle with. He was someone I confided in about “The Thing I Can’t Talk About” before I felt ready to blog about it, and he talked to me and helped calm me down when I was having a major anxiety attack a few weeks ago. I am very proud to call him my friend, and I hope one day I will get to meet him in real-life so I can give him a proper hug to thank him for all the support he has given to me over the last few difficult months. It’s become a running joke that I have turned into #BlackDogRunner’s #NumberOneFan.

Since I found out that #BlackDogRunner intended to run the Great North Run I have felt that I wanted to support him to show him how much he means to me and to show I do appreciate the time he has given to support me. When I found out he was running in support Mind, it felt even more appropriate as he has really helped fulfill one of the charity objectives to “make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone”. He has always managed to make me feel I wasn’t alone, whether it was by writing his blog, or being there for me when I needed someone. So I’ve sponsored him at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/blackdogrunner and I hope you will too.
I also hope you will be cheering him on on 7th September. I only wish I could be there but not only is Newcastle a little far for me to travel, but it’s also my daughter’s 4th birthday so no doubt I’ll be surrounded by 20 screaming children all demanding birthday cake.
So as his #NumberOneFan what will I be doing? I guess I will be wearing this, so he knows I am there in spirit….

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I really hope you will show #BlackDogRunner some support to help make sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone, so if you can afford it please sponsor him at
http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/blackdogrunner

You can also follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/bdogrunner
Follow him on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blackdogrunner
Follow his blog: http://www.blackdogrunner.wordpress.com/

For more information on Mind, the mental health charity you can
Follow them on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/mindcharity
Follow them on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mindforbettermentalhealth
See their Website: www.mind.org.uk

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