Tag Archives: depression

World Health Day 2017 – Depression

“This weather is so depressing”

“I’m so depressed about Manchester United losing at the weekend”

Depression, depressed, depressing – they’re all rather overused words. And yet they don’t do justice to what the reality of clinical depression is.

“Sometimes”, says a fellow depressive, “I wish I was in a full body cast, with every bone in my body broken. That’s how I feel anyway.” Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog. (1)

It is a brilliant description for a terrifying and sometimes life threatening mental illness which affects 1 in 6 people in the UK – and this year its the focus of World Health Day. So often because everyone feels “depressed” at one time or another, it can be all too easy to trivialise clinical depression, easy to brush under the carpet, to instruct the sufferer to “pull themselves together”.

And yet.

Can you imagine what life is like for the person who lives each day desiring death? Where you wake up in the morning exhausted and stagger through the day in the same haze of exhaustion. Where food tastes like sawdust, your eyes struggle to focus and your heart is crushed with a heavy sadness. These are just a few of the symptoms of clinical depression and a diagnosis of depression can be made with five or more of these symptoms and it is vital to see your GP as soon as possible so that you can get the help and support you need.

Depression can suck the life out of people, and drain the energy and compassion from those around the sufferer.

There is, however, hope.

It is a serious illness, but it can be dealt with and helped. It can sound simplistic; but a healthy lifestyle with enough food, water, fresh fruit and vegetables with regular exercise can help to release “feel-good hormones”. Whilst these lifestyle changes don’t necessarily “cure” depression, they can go towards alleviating some of the symptoms.

Talking therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and psychotherapy can equip people to deal with the things that have happened in their lives and the thought patterns which may have become entrenched.

Personally, what has helped me the most is the love and care of those closest to me. For the times when I have been unable to face another day, or to speak through my tears – and those I loved would hold me close and assure me that I am not alone.

Because that is often the depressive’s worst fear. That people would see the darkness within and run for the hills.

All too often, sufferers of depression push their nearest and dearest away. But in the midst of my own darkness, I found the following words profoundly helpful.

Andrew Solomon writes in his aptly named “The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression”

“Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.” (2)

Above all, cling to God. When you feel as if He is further than He has even been – hold on. Because He is there and He will always be there. On one of the worst days of my life, I was given these verses to reflect on from Psalm 40:

“I waited patiently for the LORD, he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet upon a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in Him.”

They are verses which have become my prayer and it is my pleasure and privilege to try to put some of the darkness to good use.

I will not say, cannot say that the darkness has gone completely. It hasn’t, sometimes it remains and drains me. But there is hope. Hope because I have learned, over the years to hold on. Hope because there are those who love me. Hope because we have a God who does not let  go. Hope because there is medication which helps to balance the chemicals in my brain which go a little haywire!

My message for World Health Day 2017?

There is hope.

Even when you can’t see it.

Even when everything feels hopeless.

There is hope.

(1) Brampton, S. Shoot the Damn Dog, London: Norton, 2008.

(2) Solomon, A. Noonday Demon, London: Vintage Books, 2002.

Guest Blog: A Mother’s Love – Mothering Sunday Special

She was a beautiful baby.  And so say all parents of their children!  But really, she was a beautiful baby.

To be honest it wasn’t a great start.  From the very first breath came problems with her health, and as one issue resolved or improved another seemed to take its place.  But these were physical problems, all thankfully treatable and eventually controlled to some degree, be it with time, or medication or both.

So as she grew it was perhaps understandable that she was a bit clingy, often reluctant to take part and always resistant to anything new.  She spent lots of time with other children, was taken along to places and put in situations where social skills could bloom; the constant prayer being that she would gain confidence and embrace life.  We tried ballet (dis-aaaa-ster!) and swimming (Mmmm…), theatre school (ok-ish) and trampoline (better!) and lots of activities based at the church we attended.

In some ways it appeared to work – she was lively and lovely and found her (singing) voice at an early age.  There she was on stage at school in the leading role of Mary and the ‘Littlest Angel’ singing her heart out, taking part in church productions, her small frame belying the huge and glorious voice that erupted from her often ineffective lungs when it came to simply breathing!

But then came the teenage years.  No, not drugs and alcohol and rock and roll.  Not staying out all hours.  Not shouting bitter words of recrimination at the restrictions of youth.  How I longed for those signs of teenage angst.  No, my beautiful baby was afflicted with an altogether darker, untameable malaise – depression.  A word does not even begin to encompass the width and depth and breadth of its meaning.

Watching your child fall into the abyss and not even want to climb out is soul destroying and unbearably painful.  Every time you think you avert one disaster, another potential tragedy lurks in the corner. You keep getting it wrong, you misread things, you make mistakes, you make errors of judgement. Oftentimes you feel an utter failure because she isn’t well and happy and ‘normal’.  Sometimes you cannot share it all with anyone else; the usual sources of comfort and support might not be possible for all manner of reasons – it can be very lonely.

But you never give up, you never relax, you never stop hoping, you never stop praying.  Because there is God.  God is there for you, even when you think he isn’t.  And God is there for her (or him), even when she (or he) doesn’t believe life is worth living.

Sometimes it doesn’t work out.  No easy answers and not always a happy ending.  But more often than not it does.  Maybe not always a fairytale ending – well, probably not ever a fairytale ending! -but slowly and surely the good days outnumber the bad and the bad days when they come, are a bit less bad.  She holds on to her faith.  She chooses life. You learn to breathe again – and more importantly, so does she.

She was a beautiful baby.  She is a beautiful young woman.

I thank God that I can write that last sentence in the present tense.  That she has come through the darkness of  those years and, together with her scars both inside and out, survived.  And not only survived, but blossomed and flourished and used her hard gained experience and wisdom to reach out to others so that they can access the kind of help that was not always available for her.  So that parents and friends and church leaders can access the kind of help that upholds and supports others like her.  Like me.

My beautiful baby is the founder of ThinkTwice.  She really was a beautiful baby.  She really is a beautiful young woman.  Thank you God.

Hoping and Healing

I do not have a victorious healing story.

I did not have a flash of light which made everything ‘okay’.

I did not wake up one day sick, and another day, well.

I have not been healed.

Yet I have hope.

For me, hope has been healing.

Choosing to hope when everything has seemed hopeless has taught me more about the God of hope that I would have dared to dream.

I’ve recently been reading Matt Bays brilliant book “Finding God in the Ruins” and in it, he says this:

“Healing has no map; every person’s experience is different. But if your journey is going to be successful, expect at some point to end up back at the scene of the crime. staring at the wreckage… And then you must tell your story without making it palatable.”

Quite often, when I tell my story, it centres around the parts which I found God. When mental illness went on a rampage but I emerged with a new calling. The darkest night in which the embryo of ThinkTwice was conceived, the times when I made the right decisions and found the light of a star in a dark night.

I’ve been challenged recently, however, about those times when I’ve surveyed the wreckage and not just found God, bit experienced something of who He is, without ‘making is palatable’.

The truth is, I do attempt to make my story palatable.

I edit my life to hide the parts of my story that I cannot face.

I do not let the light touch them.

It’s not that we need to tell our stories to everyone we meet.

 

 

But allowing those who love us to see us in the dark is a gift, not only to us, but to those who hear our stories and hear in our words that God moves even in the most unexpected of ways and in the most unexpected of places.

I have found hope and healing in telling my unpalatable story just a few times, because I think I’ve seen something of how God responds to us in compassion in the faces of my closest friends.

It’s still unpalatable for me.

But it doesn’t seem to be for others, perhaps because they see more easily a God who sits in the wreck alongside us and sheds light in the darkest places, and I have to believe that God created the darkness knowing we would find Him there.

As The Message Bible puts it:

“Everything was created through him; nothing – not one thing! – came into being without him. What came into existence was Life, and the life was Light to live by, The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” John 1:3-5

 

Friend in Need? #BeAFriend

I used to feel quite sorry for my friends.

They’ve had a lot to put up with.

Depression ravages the best relationships. And it’s not just the obvious things.

Aside from the fact that I get very tired and sometimes disappear off the radar for a week or so every now and again – there are the unseen effects of depression.

Personally, one of the ways depression manifests itself in me is what the psychologists call “inappropriate or excessive guilt”.

Some of my friends actually banned me from apologising because it took up half of our conversations! At my darkest – I apologised for my very existence.

One of my favourite writers on mental illness (and you will know this because I quote her a lot in these blog posts!) Kay Redfield Jamison, writes

“Mental illness sabotages the best of relationships, and even in the most steadfast, generates an unrelating bone-weariness.”

It is not easy to be a friend to someone in the grips of depression.

They may flicker between wanting you there every minute of every day, to sending you away – claiming you’re too good for them.

What your friend really needs to know – is that you aren’t going to run a mile. Equally, you can’t be there 24 hours a day. It might be appropriate to ping them a text to see if there is anything they need… but less so to camp out in their house!

Listen to what your friend needs, don’t barge in with what you think they need.

Friends with depression might not be the easiest people to be around – but they’re still good friends – friends with the ‘flu might not be great company either, but they’re still good friends!

Friendship can’t cure depression… but it can make it a load easier to bear.

The Aftermath

In her critically acclaimed memoir “Wasted” , Marya Hornbacher she writes of the aftermath of her eating disorder. It is not the happy ending we would wish to read after a memoir of such an acute and destructive eating disorder. She writes the following about the aftermath:

“It is the distance of marred memory, of a twisted and shape-shifting past…And it is the distance of the present, as well – the distance that lies between people in general because of the different lives we have lived. I don’t know who I would be, now, if I had not lived the life I have, and so I cannot alter my need for distance – nor can I lessen the low and omnipresent pain that that distance creates.” (1)

I was chatting today with a friend about the effect a suicide attempt has. The effect on the family, but also the lasting damage and impression it leaves upon the one so consumed with pain that they thought death was the only way out.

We don’t like to talk about it. Who would?

It is uncomfortable and painful to think about that kind of despair, that kind of blinding darkness.

And yet as pastors and preachers, mental health workers, doctors, friends, parents and children, the likelihood is that we will meet someone in our lifetime who has tried to take their own life.

And the damage it causes can leave long-lasting scars in their wake. It scars families, when a member tries to remove themselves from the world.

Samaritans estimate that 5% of the population attempt suicide over the course of their lifetime – but what happens next?

It is my belief that something like attempting suicide leaves its own private and painful legacy. The guilt at the pain you’ve caused family and friends, the knowledge that you have pushed an invisible barrier to breaking point. The body is beautifully designed to protect itself, and once that barrier as been destroyed – suicide never ceases to be an option. It is this which makes a previous suicide attempt the single biggest risk factor for suicide.

It sounds like a hopeless situation.

And yet, there is something about great pain that allows for great compassion. A fight for life in whatever form that takes. One of the most beautiful things about the Christian faith is that Jesus shows us that our pain can heal. Not only that, but He forgives us when we repent – we are not left to dwell on our sins for our whole lives. Wolterstorff writes:

“And what of regrets? I shall live with them. I shall accept my regrets as part of my life, to be numbered among my self-inflicted wounds. But I will not endlessly gaze at them. I shall allow the memories to prod me into doing better with those still living. And I shall allow them to sharpen the vision and intensify the hope for that Great Day coming when we can all throw ourselves into each other’s arms and say, “I’m sorry.”

A suicide attempt does not define you. It will always be a part of your story – but it isn’t the end of your story – far from it! With hope and help, it can be the beginning of a new chapter.

There is an aftermath. There is grief and regret. But there is also forgiveness and hope – the very ingredients of life.

Present Tense

Over the past five years I’ve written many words on mental illness; its effects, the shadow it’s cast over the last decade of my life. I’ve written about my own years learning to breathe and struggling for air. And yet most of the time I have written in the past tense; I have written of past pain, relapses over and sanity restored. Today, for this Mental Health Awareness Week, I write in the present tense. It hurts; it’s the familiar pain that sits at the base of the neck. In the place where I sing and speak from; there is an ache. At times it feels cruel that the pain sits where my purpose feels fulfilled, but it serves as a reminder that this too shall pass and when it does; I have a job to do. These things are for another day, however. Today is heavy; with unspoken pain and impossibly high demands which argue that I should be better by now. These thoughts are my own; many before have told me that I’m my own worst enemy. Then there are the symptoms that are less voiced. The unwanted and unbidden images which flash through the mind, splitting the darkness like lightning. The overwhelming exhaustion which begs for bed within minutes of consciousness. An anxious foreboding which cannot be quietened. And the less dramatic expressions of brain-wiring gone wrong; the fact that deciding what to wear was a paralysing decision with anxieties crashing into one another in my head. It is not a day for cliched comfort, nor resolution. It’s a Psalm 88 day where “darkness is my closest friend”; a day to look to scarred palms and know that we have a God who weeps with us in our present; and yet cannot help but point to a tearless future.

Relapse

I mentally wrote this article whilst doing my cleaning job, yesterday and If I’m honest, I didn’t really want to write it. Even as I type, I’m not sure I want to. You see, in the past few months, I feel like I’ve gone a long way to putting the mental illness stuff behind me. I’m still passionate about the work I do and awareness raising – but I kind of thought and wished that my own journey through mental illness was over. I write about depression, I don’t live it anymore. After all, 2013, has so far been the happiest of my life. I love my family, friends, boyfriend, my work, my home – life is good. What is there to be depressed about?

And yet.

The other day I realised I was crying driving to a meeting with my dissertation supervisor. I’d cried most of the day before. I was heavily, bone-wearingly exhausted. The smile fell off my face as soon as I was alone and the tears came hard and fast.

There is some acutely painful about relapse. You forget, during periods of rest and wellness, the horror of it. You forget how exhausting it is, how the pain sits heavily in your stomach and at the back of your throat. For me, in the past few weeks, the months of feeling happy and lighter, have felt cruel. They’ve felt like a snapshot of what life could be. When I began to realise that the darkness was creeping in, I raged at God.

Why did I have to feel like this, again? I’ve done my time. I talk about mental illness, I don’t live it.

I felt like a petulant child, asking why? why? why?

Of course, there is no real answer to that question. There is no reason that it shouldn’t have returned. Depression has its’ own timetable. I am beyond grateful that this time, its return has been short.

Relapse, in any illness, is particularly painful. It feels like you’ve been let down by recovery, remission. It makes any work you’ve put into recovery feel pointless.

For me, I think I was putting so much effort into my work, so much effort into being the person I want to be, the 100% better version of myself, I began to forget. I began to forget that there are things I have to do, that help me stay well. Getting enough sleep, being one of them.

That isn’t to say that I’m to blame, it could have happened anyway. But it’s something to keep in mind. In part I resent that I have to keep anything about my own daily battle with the illness, ‘in mind’. I still wish it would disappear, never to darken my doorway again. And it might. I believe in a God who heals, sometimes in small steps and sometimes in dramatic flashes. It’s a hope I hold, but it is not a hope I take for granted. It might happen… but I might have to wait until heaven. Relapse is hard because it reminds me of that fact and I’m an impatient person. Relapse also reminds me not to take the light for granted, to appreciate it, for as Andrew Solomon so poetically writes:

“I can see the beauty of glass objects fully at the moment when they slip from my hand.”

If this relapse has taught me anything, it’s to appreciate the beauty of the glass before it slips.

 

For more information about depression you can read our post here: https://thinktwiceinfo.org/2012/04/26/depression-awareness-week-2012/

Or visit www.depressionalliance.org/