I am prone to clinical depression. I had a chaotic childhood which predisposed me to mental health problems. I have mast cell disease which definitely affects my moods and depression runs in my maternal family, in my Aunt’s case so severely she had electric shock therapy (which BTW doesn’t work). My Mum has suffered from depression my whole life and I have three female cousins who turned 50 this year and all have suffered from depression for as long as I can remember, albeit at various levels.
I was clinically depressed during my teenage years and half-heartedly attempted to take an overdose. I was definitely depressed when I got divorced, though it wasn’t clinical depression. And I have had one serious depressive (actually more bipolar) episode since I became ill, though I think that was mast cell related because it was totally out of my control and felt more biochemical than emotional. So when I talk about depression I do have some experience of the condition.
But I am not a victim of depression. I bloody well refuse to be. I have watched my Mum suffer from the disease my whole life and do absolutely nothing about it. Being miserable seems to be a familiar comfort blanket and certainly not something she seems to want to change. I simply don’t get that. I only have one life and I’m damned if I’m spending it moping around and bringing everyone around me down. I’m acutely aware I have a tendency towards depression and am as proactive about that as I am about my physical health.
So how do I go about avoiding the pit of depression?
- Acceptance. We can’t change the past and, in my case, I can’t change the present either – I’m never going to be healthy again a day in my life and there is nothing I can do about that. So I accept it just like I accept the weather outside my window and I live as full a life as I can despite it. When I was bedridden and suffering the tortures of hell it was impossible to be “happy” but I learned to be accepting, which gave me peace.
- Purpose. We all need a purpose in life or there’s no reason to get out of bed in the morning, especially when that involves pain and illness. My little rescue dog gives me that purpose. Regardless how I’m feeling he’s awake at 6am and demanding to be fed. He then wants a tummy rub, his morning walk (paid for by me), his feet wiped, his Dentastix for lunch, another walk, more feet wiping, his tea and a bedtime cuddle. My reward for all that hard work (and, oh boy, is it hard work) is completely unconditional love and a furry bundle that makes me smile every day of my life.
- Passion. I honestly don’t know how I’d get through without my photography. It gives me a goal, pleasure, forces me to get out in the world, mingle with other people and forget about my health for an hour or two. The editing side of photography is something I can do in bed, picking it up and putting it down again when my health and energy wax and wane. I simply love it.
- Distraction. Due to all the resting I have to do my mind has a lot of time to think and not all my thoughts are helpful, so I have to find ways of switching them off. I watch far too much TV, even having it on in the background when I’m cooking or doing chores, so that my brain is distracted from dwelling on the negative. I listen to loads of talking books which I download free from the Library. I have them on when I’m out with Bertie, driving the car or lying in the bath – in fact any time I am relaxed, because I don’t want to give my mind too much space to think about stuff which only makes me sad, angry or frustrated. I even listen to a talking book as I drop off to sleep or wake in the night, so that my brain has something to focus on other than how crap I feel.
- Gratitude. I know this is an Oprah cliché but for me if I start focusing on all the things I don’t have or can’t do my mood nosedives, so when I find that happening I make a conscious choice to be grateful instead. I had my Christmas groceries delivered yesterday and as I was huffing and puffing and moaning to myself about having to put it all away (my back, neck and arm are still really painful) I stopped in my tracks, called myself an ungrateful cow and started thinking instead about how lucky I was to have all this beautiful food and a clean, safe home in which to eat it. And then I spent a cosy hour on the couch stuffing my face with Pringles and watching Eastenders. Bliss, although my waistline will never forgive me 😉
- Setting myself up for success. My whole life I’ve attracted people with issues who want to offload their crap on to me. Which is fine – we all have problems now and again and need someone who can empathise, but I began to realize that these people’s problems were never resolved. They were emotional vampires, sucking the very life out of me in order to raise themselves up and they had to go. Which is why I feel so trapped in the situation with my Mum because if she were anyone else in the world I would have dumped her ages ago. I only want to be around people who make me feel joyful, happy, supported, encouraged and understood and the relationship has to be a two way street – gone are the days where my friends and family do all the taking and none of the giving.
I also avoid negative information. I catch the news headlines so that I know basically what’s happening in the world and then I switch channels. There is nothing whatsoever that I can do about the situation in Syria, Brexit or the fact that 6 people were killed on the motorway this morning and hearing about it can make me feel emotional, so I don’t listen. I don’t embark in heated discussions online because I find it stressful and you can guarantee someone will lose their cool and start being nasty which I don’t need. I try my level best not to take on the weight of the world because my shoulders simply aren’t wide enough.
- I put in the work. I’m sure some people are born with a sunny disposition and nothing gets them down but I sure as hell wasn’t. For me, happiness takes work and it’s something I aim for each and every day. If you’re predisposed towards depression you have to make an effort to not be depressed. And it is an effort, especially when you’re already feeling ill and exhausted. But the good news is the more you practice happiness the easier it becomes, whatever life chucks your way.