Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Takings steps to beat depression - York Press Column March 2015

This is the *extended Wellbeing column from York Press on Monday, March 9th.


Last Monday morning and before I settled down to put the final touches to this column, I read The Press, giving special attention to my fellow columnist, Dr Andy Field. I agreed with him about antibiotics, but then winced as I read on. He’d written about what I had written about. Bother! Did I have to start again? I decided to build on his sensible advice.

Dr Field wrote about this time of year and low mood. I didn’t expect to have first-hand experience last month. It is often thought that people who have an optimistic, outward-looking, positive attitude to life, as I generally do, don’t have low moods and depressive thinking. They do. I thought JK Rowling must have experienced depression when she created the Dementors in Harry Potter. “Get near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you…” 

*This from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In workshops, I have used the full, descriptive passage, without mentioning JK Rowling and Harry Potter, to describe depression. Then I inform people, what it's actually describing. Later on Harry is given the antidote - something described as a Patronus charm. But unpack the description of a Patronus Charm and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can be indentified in another form.

In the past, I have felt as if I was under duvet made of lead, pressing down, making movements impossible. That’s where, in the past, I have wanted to stay, in bed, not confronting problems, just introspecting and misusing my imagination. But nothing gets solved lying in bed. 

*A client said to me, "As I lay in bed, I suddenly realised that nothing was going to change in my life if I stayed there, so I got up." I recall a morning many years ago, where the Dementors were forcing the duvet down, while I struggled to get out of bed. The force seemed so strong and I wanted to give in to it, but I didn't. From the actions I took that morning, my life changed.

I had a brush with that duvet last month. There wasn’t one trigger, but a variety of all sorts, topped off by a book, which I found demoralising. 

* Someone suggested that I could just live an easy life and I wondered why I didn't make life easier for myself. That led to guilt from not helping those less fortunate. I developed a cold. I read a book called Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre, which confirmed what I already knew, but despaired about.  I was left questioning my actions, as in, "What's the point of trying to make a difference?" and it unsettled me.

The Dementors were nagging away in one ear, while Pollyanna was attempting to be heard in the other.  Age, experience and knowledge has its benefits and I now know how to fight these Dementors. The highly emotional state needed to be broken and only I had the power to challenge and change my thoughts, attitudes, beliefs and actions. (See Patronus Charm above.)

Step by step, I waded through the treacle that my mind and body had become stuck in and the demented thoughts slowly faded away.

These were some of my steps:

1. Get up, showered and dressed. Tough, but crucial. 
*Little can be achieved otherwise and sometimes beating the demons and winning a challenge feels good. Thus releasing the 'feel good' hormones. 

2. Ate healthily. The mind and body need the correct fuel to work properly. I fought the urge to self-medicate with my choice of chocolate and alcohol. 
*I didn't abstain, but didn't overdo it.

3. Fresh Air. I unearthed an old pedometer and set a target of 10,000 steps a day. Gardening.  Helps sleep too. 
*If I managed 10,000 steps by 2/3pm, I knew I would be tired.

4. Enjoyed the simple pleasures in life. Signs of spring and hope. In York I looked at The Minster and wondered at its magnificence.  Another day I sat overlooking the sea, marvelling at the always changing scene. 
*Watching the waves coming in and going out can be relaxing as it slows down the breathing.

5. Spent five pounds on a bunch of flowers. 
*Just putting them in a jug on the table lifted my spirits. Worth every penny.

6. Telephoned two friends and talked about their lives and problems. Counted blessings. 
*In fact, I rang one long-time friend for a long chat and the very next day another long-time friend rang me, out of the blue. Then I exchanged long emails too. Both have challenges in their lives with family members, so it was good to listen.

7. Booked a neck and shoulder massage. 
*A massage, manicure, pedicure etc: can all help aid relaxation for a period of time. Touch is good too.  I believe that these treatments should be offered in all mental health units and elderly care homes. Far more effective than medication. 

9. Restricted TV watching. A demotivating, energy sapping activity.
* Dark days, multi-channels, a comfortable sofa and the remote control makes this activity so easy to get sucked into. 

10. Stopped worrying about what I can’t do in a troubled world and concentrated on what I can do, which is to help a few people, not thousands. 
*It upsets me to see good people having their lives ruined unnecessarily and scandalously.

I also recognised the truth in ‘This too will pass.’ It has. 
*The memory is useful here, as it can act as a reminder of how a change of thinking and behaviour made life better in the past.


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