Month: May 2012

All shapes and sizes

I’m not a very big person (I mean in stature, but sometimes I feel small in other ways too).

I’ve always been a not very big person – in part that’s just the way I’m built and in part that’s because I struggle with food.  I struggle with food because I spent a fair few years of my life on a starvation diet in the misguided belief that I rather wanted to disappear completely. Thankfully, I don’t struggle with food nearly as much as I used to and I nearly always eat enough of it every day. In essence I’ve come to an understanding with myself about food and about my weight which, for the most part, works pretty well. I say for the most part because my weight is still susceptible to go up and down a little. Right now I’m hovering around the ‘telling off mark’ which is the point at which my nearest and dearest step in and ask, in so many words, if I’m struggling more than I’m letting on. I can’t tell you how important it is to me that people are looking out for me in case I stop looking out for myself and I am incredibly grateful to have those kind of people in my life. The worst case scenario for me is going back to the dreaded days of the starvation diet – I think it scares me more than anything in the world*

One of my mantras is that being too thin is bad for you in much the same way that being too fat is bad for you. Which kinda brings me neatly on to the point of my ramblings today. When you’re thin people (and by ‘people’ I mean complete strangers) feel the need to tell you you’re thin. Quite aside from this being a major case of stating the bleeding obvious** it’s none of their business and is, in my outraged opinion, incredibly rude. I know beyond all shadow of a doubt that if I was overweight people at bus stops wouldn’t say “My god, you’re soooo fat”. Shop assistants wouldn’t say “Size 24 – that’s MASSIVE”. Waiters wouldn’t say “I’d skip the pudding if I were you”. Yet the opposite of all of these things in a great many variations have been said to me. And I really don’t think it’s okay – in fact, it’s one of my bug bears.

Sometimes, comments like that hit me at the wrong time and can make me ‘go a bit wobbly’ because I’m a bit sensitive about my weight. In some ways, the fact that I’m a bit sensitive about my weight is my problem – random strangers can’t be expected to know about it can they? Then again, even normal people (I use the phrase with my tongue firmly in cheek by the way) can be a bit sensitive about their weight and I think that might be the reason most people wouldn’t dream of pointing out to a stranger that they’re on the large side. We seem to recognise that when people are overweight there might be all kinds of reasons for that fact (illness, medication, eating distress, poor diet etc) and also make the (perhaps wrong***) assumption that they’re not over the moon about it. And so we generally don’t point out to people that we think they’re too large – It’s about knowing it’s none of your business, it’s about common courtesy and it’s about recognising that rightly or wrongly quite a lot of us are a bit sensitive about the size of our bodies.

My point? In a nutshell it’s that a bit of common courtesy for those people we think are too small wouldn’t go amiss either: manners, surely, are for people of all shapes and sizes.

Rant over. The end.

* It scares me even more than moths which, for the record, scare the absolute shit out of me.

**A bit like the famous “you’ve had your hair cut” Good spot Sherlock; I’d never have known ‘cos I wasn’t there at the time.

***But that’s a whole other post.

After the storm

I had a bit of a blip this week.Thankfully it didn’t last too long and with a little help along the way normal service was resumed sometime during Thursday morning. The ‘blip’ is done with, and I don’t want to spend too much time talking about it. That said, I should be honest and say that I hurt some people who care about me and I hurt myself too – whilst I’m trying very hard not to feel guilt, I certainly feel regret and it’s right and proper that I should.

When I have an episode like that it’s very loud and it’s very chaotic, and the period that follows tends to be very quiet and very still. That’s how things are now – quiet, still and mostly calm. I’m content with that.

The storm has passed – it’s safe to deal with some of the debris and important to remember that:

Storms make oaks take root” George Herbert

Down but not out

I haven’t been ‘myself’ for the last couple of days. In fact, I’ve been having what I affectionately refer to as ‘a bit of a maddy’. A bit of a maddy is what happens when I get too close to the metaphorical cliff edge* I talk about so frequently. A bit of a maddy feels a lot like unravelling and can strike at any time, often without warning. It’s my world at its most violent and chaotic. It’s the worst of me and usually isn’t too far ahead of ‘the bottom of the pit’.

Of course, this wasn’t supposed to happen, not this time or at least not so soon. Still. You are where you are and all that, and it’s time for me to work out how I got here and then go about starting to put it right. Here goes….

Problem 1 – I’m starving hungry, which in turn makes me paranoid and even more miserable. It also stops me sleeping – see problem number 2. I don’t not eat deliberately (I think that’s the correct double negative)  I just forget to notice I’m hungry. I know this is a hangover from days gone past and I also know the only remedy is to eat!

Solution 1 – Easy. Today has to be 3000 calories day whether I like it or not. Pass the double cream and Mars Bars… (n.b. other high calorie chocolate snacks are available)

Problem 2 – I’m exhausted. It’s not just that I’m not sleeping, although that’s a large part of it – I’m emotionally exhausted too. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the things I’m not very good thinking about. The diversionary tactics have gone out the window.

Solution 2 – Easier said than done, but not optional. I need to find somewhere to put the thoughts. I’ve got a list of tasks for the day and can focus on that, I’ve got work to be at and I’ve got a really good book (the Alchemist – I can’t believe I haven’t read it before now). I’ve also got my trusty elastic band to snap the thoughts away. When I’m calmer, I’ll be able to grab a few hours of much needed sleep.

Problem 3 – I hadn’t left the flat for a few days resulting in something akin to cabin fever setting in on top of everything else. There was also quite a lot of guilt associated with not being at work**

Solution 3 – Solved reasonably easily by going into work, albeit a little on the late side. On the upside, I can stay late leaving less evening to get rid of at the other end.

Problem 4 – I decided I didn’t need the pills after all. Not the smartest of moves, but a characteristic one. Thing is, I started to feel better and came to the conclusion that if I was better there was no need for the chemicals. Epic fail as the kids say***

Solution 4 – Easy as popping a pill. I’ve only missed four tablets so all is not lost. I just need to take them and accept that if I feel better it’s probably because of them not in spite of them. Dose of realism also required.

The most important thing now is to take some action quickly rather than heading into the weekend in this state and (in a return to something approaching optimism) I think I’ve already made a good start in attempting to deal with some of the problems today. By tomorrow I’ll be nourished and well rested (how’s that for determination?!) and ready to make a nice safe weekend plan. On which note – in an attempt to find some kind of bright side – I can say with absolute certainty that the Safety Plan works, because here I am safe and sound(ish)

 

 

*I picked this up from Ruby Wax who I once heard saying “when you’re depressed you don’t know whether to jump of a cliff or get a manicure” and thought it summed it up quite neatly.

**I’m incredibly lucky to have an employer who understands and supports me

*** I felt incredibly old writing that but I’ve gone and done it now.

Smiling at strangers on trains

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Truth told, I’m a little bit over excited about the theme this year (doing good does you good) because funnily enough, I’ve been thinking about the positive impact that doing nice things for others might have on your mental wellbeing since watching this rather fantabulous Ted Talk recently:

The talk focuses on the positive impact spending your money on others can have on your emotional wellbeing, but since I don’t actually have any money I’ve been wondering whether spending other things – like time or energy – might have a similar effect; this means that Mental Health Awareness week has arrived at the perfect moment to give me an excuse to a) try this theory out for myself, b) get involved in something that I care about and c) include a link to a Frank Turner song* on my blog!**

The song is Smiling at strangers on trains which, for the record, is an awesome little song. My plan for the week, inspired by the title of this song, is simple: my daily act of kindness will be to smile at every stranger I encounter 🙂

I’m quite sure that this will be interpreted as a sign of lunacy by some of those people lucky enough to find themselves on the receiving end of my cheesy grin (I do live in London after all – sometimes just making eye contact is regarded as a sign of lunacy here) but hopefully most people will smile back and the exchange of smiles will provide a little lift and serve as a reminder that the world isn’t all bad…

* For the sake of accuracy, it’s actually a Million Dead song, but this is Frank’s solo rendition (try as I might, I can’t quite get my head around Million Dead!)

**This will doubtless be the first of many such links. For me, Sir Frank is a bit like Pringles: once you pop you can’t stop!

Back to the drawing board

I’ve spent a lot of time reading the blogs of other people who have similar difficulties and challenges to me and I’ve been amazed how many of them there are, and how many have struck a chord with me. People seem to blog for all kinds of reasons – for some it’s about therapy, for others it’s venting and for some it’s about reaching out for a little bit of old-fashioned human kindness. The obvious question to ask myself now is ‘why am I really blogging’?

When I started my blog a few weeks ago I decided I was going write about my attempts to live well and overcome depression. I knew I wanted to record my journey, and that I maybe wanted to share it if anyone was interested but above all else I was determined that the daily ins and outs of my mental health were going to be something of a side issue: I wanted to keep my writing upbeat and positive – this was going to be about progress and recovery and everything else was getting left out. I still think this was a noble aim, but after almost four weeks of writing I’m starting to wonder if my approach is a little too rigid and perhaps, unrealistic. My rules allow me to say I suffer from depression, that I had a bad day, that things aren’t going well, but they don’t allow me to spend any time explaining or analysing what any of that feels like or what it really means. And those things, are probably the biggest part of my story.

I live with the day to day impact of depression; It’s a big part of my life and in banning myself from writing the truth about it I’m leaving big parts of the story out. I don’t want to change tack completely, and it’s still really important for me to focus on achievements (one of my little aims in life is to make sure that the word ‘depression’ is never bigger than the word ‘achievement’ in my tag cloud!)  but I called this blog ‘how do you eat an elephant’, not ‘the elephant in the room’!

So I’ve decided that it’s important that I allow myself to recognise the reality of being me in my writing here. I don’t necessarily want to turn this into a mirror image of the depths of despair that my mind can come to, but I don’t want to pretend that stuff isn’t happening either. After all, the real achievement is that I carry on – getting little things done and getting slightly better every now and again – in spite of the reality of being me. What I think I’m saying is that ‘me’ is important even if ‘me’ isn’t always pretty.

As I’ve already said, nobody is ever going to want to shout about mental illness from the rooftops, but if someone like me (who has even gone to the lengths of setting up a blog just to write about depression) isn’t willing to acknowledge the truth of it then mental ill health seems destined to always have the quality of a dirty little secret.

A novel way to spend your time

Once again I had challenged myself to simply spend time in my own company this weekend without leading myself to the dreaded cliff edge. This was my third attempt in three wobbly weeks so naturally I was hoping for third time lucky.

On Saturday I was as close to bright and breezy as I’m capable of being right now. Painting the smile on, getting out and about and going through the motions came quite naturally and I didn’t have to coax myself too hard to get going. I made it to the supermarket (via the Maple Road farmer’s market, where I couldn’t quite afford to buy anything, but didn’t get disheartened!), cleaned the flat, took a walk along the river and read my book. This is all good stuff, and, if I may say, is especially good for me. But it got better! I also got myself signed up for the 10,000 step challenge, ate four – yes four – square meals, took a long, hot bath and eventually headed for an early night feeling really rather pleased with myself.

And then my old friend insomnia turned up in an attempt to pull the rug from under my feet (Boo hiss). To be fair, I haven’t been sleeping terribly well since I started taking the Citalopram but on Saturday night I was chronically awake for the first time in weeks and it wasn’t long before I started getting frightened. The wee small hours can be a dangerous time for me – it’s the absence of distractions, the quietness, stillness and the dark that does for me. Above all else it’s the notion that I am completely alone and that not a soul on earth knows where I am or what I am doing…. If things are going to get really bad for me, it’ll be in the middle of the night. And if I find myself awake in the middle of the night things almost always get really bad.

Before I knew it, everything was crowding in and I started to feel defeated. I couldn’t sleep and I was in no fit state to be awake and “I couldn’t do this anymore”…. and then a revelation: I had a kettle, a good book, a cat who would be delighted to have my company over a brew and an emergency sleeping tablet that would take an hour to kick in. Low and behold* I had a plan!

An hour and a bit later I was fast asleep and full of Horlicks….. I also felt quite proud, no, I did – I felt quite proud that I had dispensed of the hopelessness, all by myself, at my most vulnerable of moments. Go me.

Today I was mostly tired and groggy! I caught up with a few work emails, pottered up to Canbury Gardens for a wander in the rain, faffed about online and ate three meals. Incidentally, I’ve managed to put a little weight on over the last few weeks, but I’m still hovering somewhere around the ‘telling off’ mark.

Over all I think this weekend has been third time almost lucky. I’m aware that eventually I’m going to have to start getting myself ‘out there’ again but for now taking care of myself (even when the chips are very down), getting things done and finding ways to relax are huge achievements for me and I’m not ready to rock the boat just yet. I’m going for third time completely lucky next week.

Do you know what though? I haven’t hated this weekend; in fact, I’ve spent this weekend feeling moslty calm, reasonably safe and fairly relaxed. What a novel way to spend your time!

*Or is it lo and behold?!

Goodreads book review – The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ*

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel ChristThe Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I came to The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ having read the His dark materials trilogy but found none of the withering and thought provoking criticism of the power afforded to organised religion in those works here. In fact, Pullman’s retelling of the story of Christ felt a little juvenile and little lazy. It added nothing salient to the weary debate about the value and nature of religion, and at times seemed like an unnecessary and cheap point scoring exercise.

Of course Philip Pullman is no stranger to religious controversy and perhaps, given a certain inclination of faith The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ is a deeply controversial work. For my part – not being of that particular inclination – I can only set aside the apparent controversy and conclude that without it this is little more than a story about the nature of stories. I’ve read plenty of stories about stories before; the blurred lines between fact, fiction, truth, history and memory have been explored time and again elsewhere and sadly this book didn’t feel anything like a stand out example of an over familiar post-modern genre.

It’s disappointing not to find something positive to say about a novel, so I suppose it’s fair to say that there is some charm in the fable like nature of this one – although perhaps this owes more to the gospels themselves than to Pullman’s rendering of them.

View all my reviews

* A note on book reviews

Joining the back of the queue

I had a bit of a setback earlier this week. Turns out, the waiting list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in my borough is considerable and I’m at the back of the queue!

I’m feeling a little cut adrift, to be honest. The psych appointments are all well and good, and I fully appreciate that they are necessary but…. point number one: they make me feel like a bit of a mentalist (I am a bit of a mentalist so I’m allowed to say that) and point number two: I worry that the focus on the symptoms and the feelings somehow reinforces the symptoms and the feelings, if you see what I mean. I’ve followed CBT courses twice before and found the approach incredibly helpful. I like to understand and I like to have a plan and using CBT techniques provides both. Over the last month or so I’ve tried to put as much of what I have learned in the past into action, but I do feel that both a refresher course and some regular contact with a specialist is something that would be helpful for me at the moment. Nevertheless, for now I need to hang on in there by myself for a little while longer. There are plenty of excellent self help CBT tools on the web, so I guess I’ll be turning to them* for the time being.

I don’t suppose for one minute that I’m the first person to have found the energy and courage to admit they need a little help only to be told that whilst help is available it will be a long time coming. At the same time, it’s certainly no secret that mental health services are under resourced and over-subscribed so NHS waiting lists in excess of 12 weeks are hardly surprising. The question is, what can I do about this state of affairs? The depressed me says nothing – people get what they’re given, and have to suck it up and hunker down; the ‘other’ me says not a lot, but maybe a little!

Mind are a fantastic charity who do a lot of brilliant advocacy work and play a huge role in keeping the issues associated with mental ill health on all kinds of important agendas. They also work closely with those affected by mental health difficulties providing advice, services and local support networks. Mind do great things and have an important role to play both in providing much needed resources and in ensuring the needs of those experiencing mental health difficulties are at the forefront of the minds of our policy makers. I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now and I’ve decided that doing something to support Mind could be just the little thing the other me could do!

And so I’ve found this on the Mind website and I think I might give it a go. Even if I only manage to raise a couple of quid, I’ll have done something positive, right? I’m also fairly confident that the exercise, and the outdoors will do wonders for my well being and hopefully the challenge will give me an external focus whilst I wait for my name to reach the top of the CBT queue. Finally, maybe I’ll be able to do a tiny little bit to raise the profile of Mind and the awareness of mental health difficulties amongst my friends and family as well.

I’m not entirely sure that I know what I’m letting myself in for – I do a fair bit of walking and I’m not altogether averse to running now and again but I’ve no idea how many steps I actually take in an average day. 10,000 sounds like quite a lot, doesn’t it?! Anyway, I’ll be signing up this weekend and I’ll keep you posted.

Of course if anyone reading this is looking for something to do over the summer, they’d be more than welcome to join me – little things added together make big things after all!

* Mood Juice is a particularly good one.

If you’re happy and you know it….

Chatting to a friend over lunch yesterday I became aware of a frustrating misconception about depression which hadn’t really occurred to me before – the notion that the opposite of depression is happiness and that depression is simply the experience of being very sad for a long time.

Sometimes I rather wish I had just been sad for a while. Sad, I think, I could have done. Sad doesn’t crowd in during the threadbare hours to chase you out of yourself; it doesn’t turn out the lights, one by one; it doesn’t steal the things you care about and taunt you because you can’t find their whereabouts. Sad isn’t a menace threatening to stay by your side for eternity; it doesn’t convince you to abandon all hope, love and laughter.  Sad doesn’t take your life away, incrementally, until the only thing left to do is jump off the cliff edge it has led you to.

It’s funny where a throw away comment can take you, isn’t it? My friend simply said ‘I’m really glad you are feeling happier’. It was meant as a kindness and an encouragement, and it was taken as one, but behind the scenes it got me thinking about what I’m really trying to achieve here. Is this a search for happiness? My conclusion, I think is ‘no’. For me, trying to recover from depression isn’t about trying to find happiness, it’s about trying to find health. It’s about getting myself on a mental and emotional even keel which allows me to experience a range of emotions safe from the harm that my dark passenger can and does inflict.

Sad is sad. It’s the opposite of happy. Depression is depression. It’s the opposite of well and the opposite of what I’m striving to be.

Counting the pennies – an afterthought

In the off chance that my good friend (who knows who they are) reads this post, I should express some heartfelt and public gratitude for the awesome practical support, particularly on the money side of things. If my good friend doesn’t read this post, readers will at least know that I have a good friend who has been awesome, particularly on the money side of things!