Bad day

Wow I’m feeling a bit fragile right now. Bad week and my first strangely personal negative comment on my post on antidepressants. Don’t really want to start a dialogue with this person, I know how nasty people can be on the internet. That’s life I suppose! I’m not a punch bag, I’m a person with feelings and I want to talk about my experience because I know how many times I’ve been comforted by others talking of their experiences. I want to help but I also want to get better, if I get many more negative comments I am just giving up because it’s not worth it. I do not need it. I am suffering and I need to surround myself with good and get rid of the bad. So anything else and, poof I’m gone!

Maybe I have been a bit naive and trusting of people. Maybe I’ve gone searching for an output in the wrong places. Maybe I’m not secure enough to put myself out here. Maybe I just stop now. I don’t need it and I don’t deserve it, no one deserves to be criticised like that. I have done nothing, I have hurt no one. The only person who is suffering is myself. What part of that person is helping anyone?

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How I became depressed: Part 3

Here we are at part 3 of my depression retrospective. Here’s the prelude, part 1 and part 2. Right now my depression is very much at the forefront of my mind, I’m at day 3 of a low period. It’s unusual for me to feel like this in the middle of summer, I’m more of a winter depressive gal. It’s one of those things, the worse you feel the harder it is to get out of it.

So far I’ve talked about the feelings of isolation at university and of losing a friend and gaining a boyfriend. It’s spectacularly hard to try to sum up all the different pieces that got to together to conspire and cause my depression, the whole does seem to be greater than the sum of its parts. In the end I just have to conclude that I’m a sensitive person and these situations were enough to cause my mind significant, lasting trauma. There’s no shame in that, I just want to get better.

There’s two other major factors: the house and the university course itself. The house was a shithole. It was damp, the kitchen hadn’t been refitted or decorated for at least 20 years and the bathroom was much the same. The toilet broke, the fridge broke, the microwave didn’t break although it looked like one of the first microwaves ever to have been built so we pretended it broke in order to get a new one in fear of the radiation it might emit, my radiator broke, my boyfriend’s radiator broke, there was slugs in the kitchen (in the drawers and on the cutlery) the damp caused mould to grow on my clothes, it was freezing constantly and it STANK. My boyfriend (or friend as he was for most of the first year) C was, like I’ve said before, a very responsible young man and a pleasure to live with. He shouldered pretty much all of the responsibility of looking after the house when things went wrong and I did most of the cleaning, until I got so down I could barely look after myself. We had a couple of terrible landlords, they were Thatcher’s children, seeing their student houses as a nice little earner so they could jet off on regular holidays, completely lacking in any kind of responsibility towards actually maintaining this house. I have to say that I despise them, the landlady especially was a really nasty piece of work, I don’t think I’ll ever trust a Wendy again. At one point in my last year we had a screaming row, afterwards I cried tears of joy because I hadn’t felt so alive for months. Of course a lot of my self-compassion work is trying to deal with these people. It takes time.

So there we are, a nice dose of resentment that we were struggling in this horrible house with no help from our housemates or the landlords. I began to despise people in general, not trust anyone. Other people became strange creatures, I was not one of them, they only were nice to you when they wanted something. They’d hurt you and ignore you and make you feel alone and insignificant and stupid for caring. The only person I trusted was my boyfriend, everyone else was out to get me. It became us against the world. This was terrible for my thought patterns, especially because my boyfriend is a bit of moaner and a ranter. We’d spend hours ranting about our former friend, the other people we lived with, the landlords, the students, the lecturers, the people in the world in general. I knew it was bad but I couldn’t stop, I just sank further and further into this belief that the world was a terrible place, inhabited by terrible people. I didn’t belong in it.

I think I’ll have to leave the second factor until next week. If you’re reading this and suffering, or even if you’re not, just do something nice for yourself today. Or if you know someone who needs a bit of kindness, reach out to them. Everyone deserves kindness so be kind to yourself and to others.

Antidepressants

Another sad day today but this time it’s glorious sunshine. I’ve got my running gear on but I honestly don’t know if I’ll make it out the door today.

I wanted to do a little post on antidepressants. Mainly because BlissChick has been writing about the definitions ‘mental illness’ (or mental injury) and the pills that are prescribed to ‘help’. I have always shyed away from talking about these issues because I believe I’m ‘not ill enough’. There’s only 2 or 3 days out of the 7 in the week when I feel the effects keenly of the depression, it’s been 2 weeks since I had a debilitating depressive episode, when I get an episode it only lasts for hours, not days or weeks, some days I don’t feel sad at all…. blah blah blah. Enough! Now I can only talk about my experience but my experience is not worthless. There are people on medication who do things that I can’t even imagine, like hold down a job or go on holiday. I can’t do these things, is that not debilitating?

I have never been on antidepressants, I have never wanted to go on antidepressants and I hope I never will. When I was first ‘diagnosed’ in December 2007 I just wanted to go to counselling but I was offered the pills. My doctor, who was an incredibly good doctor, referred to them as like a ‘course of antibiotics’. But… I got depressed because I was alienated, isolated, bored, lonely, in horrible living circumstances, unfulfilled, NOT because there was anything wrong with any chemicals in my brain. So my thinking is why would I need pills? So I didn’t take them and he was ok with that.

To be completely honest I haven’t had too many bad experiences justifying my not taking pills, mainly because most people don’t want to talk about depression. I wanted to heal my mind properly, I somewhat naively thought that when I came home after university I would get better. I didn’t, my mind was damaged already. I thought about pills then but I didn’t go for it. I wanted to know why my mind wasn’t functioning like it used to. Plus I didn’t trust the pills, not since it came out that they were no better than placebos. I could have started taking sugar pills in the hope they’d help me.

At the root of it all, I don’t believe that my depression is due to a whatever imbalance, or that it’s genetic. I had a bad time, I got sad, I learnt bad thought patterns that made my sadness persist. I do believe I will get better and I don’t believe (now) that I’m condemned to either be depressed for the rest of my life or that it will reoccur.

I think my stubbornness and my thinking (the same thinking that many people believe has caused my depression, more on that sometime) has saved me. I am the only person I know who has been through something like this and cured themselves. I say that with no pride, just wonder.

A Painful Reminder

It’s bucketing down today and I feel a bit sad. To be honest it’s a bit of a relief, it’s been so bright recently I’ve been waking up at 6am in the bright sunshine. Also, while I’m being completely honest it’s a bit of a relief that I’m sad. Terrible as it is to say it I’m so used to this feeling that when days go by without me feeling that strange and daunting ache I miss it. It makes me panicky. I feel like I know how to deal with the sad feeling. Normal life, maybe not so much. I want to get better, I do but it doesn’t mean it’s easy and I’m used to the idea yet.

I truly believe that one of the main reasons I became depressed was because I let other people’s beliefs on what is ‘right’ for me cloud my own very good judgement. The depression served as a very painful reminder that I know what is best for me and I should not bow down to what society or any individual loud, overpowering voice says is the best thing for me.

Sometimes the decision is hard and I choose the wrong one. For example on Wednesday I spent a lot of time on my computer working on my site as well as an application and the painful depression-retrospective for this blog. That explains the truly terrible quality picture I posted on here of my cat. Need to learn how to use photoshop! Anyway after all that work I was very tired and had a headache. But I wanted to go to a yoga class. In the past I would have just written it off but since I’ve been recovering I’ve been able to do more and more. So to prove something to myself I went anyway.

Terrible idea. The room was so hot and it was a tough class. After it my headache grew to such a pitch I felt like I was going to be sick. I could barely move, it was the most horrific headache and put me out for most of yesterday as well. Another painful reminder: do what is right for you, not what you think you should do. You live and you learn right? Then you make a mistake and you repeat… and repeat… and repeat. Wait, how long do humans live again?

I have a project for this rainy day: prettify the blog. Now I am an artist but that doesn’t mean I’m good at illustration and decoration. I’m terrible, I’m messy and I can’t be bothered most of the time. But I want to get better! This blog is way too wordy and black and white. Plus that tree picture leaves much to be desired. It reminds me of that biblical story of the man who built his house on sand. Not the message I want!

How I became depressed: Part 2

Marmaduke the comfy cat

Aww look at his little paws!

Above is a not very good photo of a drawing I did earlier today of my lovely ginger cat Marmaduke. It’s here to lighten the mood because it’s that time again, it’s Depression Recap Wednesday! So get a good eye feed of that calm, happy kitty because it’s 100% misery from here on in!

Here’s the links to the prelude and to Part 1.

There was another circumstance that contributed significantly to my depression. As I’ve said before I moved in with my 2 closest friends from school, a girl I shall call B (because that’s her initial) and a boy I shall call C. There was another boy called A who was B’s (and also C’s) friend and together we lived in a crappy two up two down terrace house in Crookes, Sheffield. I had no say in the house we lived in and for reasons unknown to even me we all stayed (except for there was a brief roommate swap in my second year when A went to France) living in that house for the whole of my 3 year degree. We called it the House of Fun. Oh bitter, bitter irony.

B is a bit of a depressive herself, she was very worried that living together would wreck our friendship. I couldn’t possibly see why, I knew her and although she’s not an easy person to be with but I had been friends with her for so long I thought I knew what I was getting myself in for. I was wrong. Our friendship imploded in the most spectacular and yet mundane way. At school we were both pretty unpopular, B being very insecure as an in-the-closet lesbian. At university she came out, got a girlfriend and loads of new gay friends at the LGB. I was very happy for her but unfortunately me being straight I was not allowed into a lot of this new world. I never found a place for myself at university, there was no place for sensible straight people who didn’t want to just drink and shag. Maybe I would have had a great time if I were gay! Anyway me and B grew apart and as I got more depressed I got more angry about this. The angrier I got the less chance we had of repairing our friendship. We argued a bit but then unable to see any way out of it we just stopped talking. So our high school-long friendship disintegrated within those years and I haven’t spoken to her since.

One of the main worries B had was my growing closeness to C. I should explain that unlike B and A, C was a straight boy who had been a close friend since we were about 17. It had been hinted at many times that we should get together but we always brushed it off. In my first year C was invaluable to me, the most considerate person I had ever lived with. He was also in the same boat as me, an untypical student. When A and B were off out me and him would hang about playing computer games, eventually spending most of our time together. As we grew closer B grew more and more jealous. It got to the point when we did get together (which was a surprise for us but not for anyone else) we felt the only course of action was to hide it from everyone until we left for the summer.

My relationship with C is the only continually good thing about the past 5 years. It lifted me temporarily out of my misery and confusion at university. I was lost and I hated my whole existence at university, but I had him.

Wow I didn’t realise how sprawling my tale is. So I lost my friend, I had no life at university. Next time my proper descent into depression.

On being an Outsider

Just a quick one today, it’s a gorgeous day and I want to go sit out and eat hummous on bread and drink green tea whilst reading my new Yoga Journal.

Building on what I was talking about yesterday: the book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion. In it Christopher K. Germer talks about ‘personality types’. In his thinking it is useful to know what patterns are predominant in your personality if you want to cultivate self-compassion. Self-compassion comes easier to some personalities than others, for example it is difficult for ‘caregiver’ types to be self-compassionate because they are much more comfortable with the idea that others deserve care, not themselves.

Now I was a bit sceptical when I read this part of the book. By and large I don’t like the idea of dividing people into ‘personality types’ whether it’s astrology or ayurveda. I find that people will force themselves into the moulds of these labels, whether they apply to them or not. Plus most of the time they’re so broad as to be completely redundant (for instance in western astrology if a horoscope trait doesn’t apply to you it may be that another planet was in another house… hmm) So I read through the types: butterfly, floater, perfectionist, workhorse… with nothing applying to me. Then I got to outsider. Wow it was me!

I’ve talked a little bit about considering myself as a bit different. Nothing I can really put my finger on, just a general unwillingness to do what everyone else does ‘just because’. I’ve always been curious, always questioned why people do things and whether they’re the right things for me to do. Even that small trait has always marked me out. Of course this makes me create a gulf between me and ‘them’ as if everyone else is one entity and I’m separate. I’m always wondering why people act the way they do: why are people so inconsiderate when driving? why do people drink until they damage themselves? why do people care so little for others’ feelings? why why why all the time until I can’t help but come to the conclusion: I am DIFFERENT!

Back to the book. At first I thought that it didn’t apply to me because Germer only talks about people who are marginalised, for instance because of their sexuality or race. As a straight white woman this doesn’t apply. But then he goes on to say:

Even exceptional personal strengths like artistic ability and spiritual sensitivity can be invalidated by the dominant culture and make us feel like outsiders.

He goes on to use this fantastic metaphor which I’ve often thought of since reading.

Consider the metaphor of a fish swimming in water: as the fish lives and breathes, it draws water through its own body. We’re like fish in the water of our culture, and when the water is polluted with racism, sexism and ageism, we draw those prejudices inside.

It makes so much sense! My thoughts and views are different to a lot of mainstream society, what I value is not valued by what I perceive to be most people. Because I go against the prevailing view my thoughts are devalued and so I feel devalued. Reading these insights has given me security. Someone knows! It’s a fantastic feeling as an outsider to find someone who knows.

I’ll leave you with another quote, by Ecuadorian essayist (how exotic!) Juan Montalvo. This one sums up my descent into depression in one line.

There is nothing harder then the softness of indifference.

 

Books that have helped

Before I was depressed I was an intellectual cynic. Self help, I believed was for gullible people, full of fluff and crap and was no good for anyone. I regarded the Mind, Body, Spirit (MBS for short, sometimes I would call it the BS section) section at the bookshop where I worked with its bizarre mixture of angels, crystals, meditation and ‘heal yourself’ books with great suspicion. I wouldn’t have said it (to their faces) but in my mind it was for weirdos.

So it was with a heavy heart that I have to admit that I was wrong. Well, partly. I don’t agree with a lot of those books still. I do retain a bit of my inner cynic.

The first thing I did when I realised I was depressed was I decided that it was not worth hanging on to the belief that people who looked for help in such places as a self-help book were somehow different to me, that these books didn’t apply to me because I was a rational, staunchly atheist, scientifically minded philosophy student. I needed help and I was going to find it and to hell with those who would laugh at me.

So now 3 years later I’m a fully fledged yogi, meditator and it turns out no one actually cared too much about any of this. I suppose I’m not at school anymore (I was friends with a very stifling group of girls at school who would laugh if my hair was parted strangely, no joke) This is a relief. I like being an adult!

So the two books that have helped me beyond all others are: The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion and The Mindful Way Through Depression. Yes, mindfulness is the way ahead! It is miraculous.

I read The Mindful Way Through Depression first last year and this was my introduction to a sustained meditation practice. At first I thought it’d be too easy and obvious for me because I’d been practicing yoga. I was wrong again! Before then I had only been able to practice my yoga when my mood was not so all consumingly awful. It was beyond my comprehension to sit with a low mood. Learning how to be with myself when all I want to do is watch tv and forget I exist has been one of the hardest but most rewarding things. I know myself better now, I know my feelings are nothing to fear, they have no substance. They’re just thoughts and they come and go just like my tears sometimes do when I’m sitting there.

Having this knowledge of my mind and my moods for the first time gave me a sense that I was helping myself recover, I wasn’t waiting in the hope that the depression would somehow just go away. I realised that in some ways it was my thoughts which were keeping me in my depression. I understood for the first time that desperate cycle: I have a bad feeling, I have a bad thought, I feel bad, I am bad, I will feel and be bad forever and ever and ever. With sustained practice my thought patterns now have become more like: I have a bad feeling, I feel bad, end. I feel the feelings, in my chest (that hollow ache), in my throat (that clawing) and I know what they are. I am not scared of them.

The second book The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion I have only just finished. This book builds on my mindfulness by adding the idea of self-compassion to it. I think I feel more compassion (self and otherwise) than a lot of people but that doesn’t stop me beating myself up about this or that trivial thing. My counsellor pointed out I was very hard on myself and it’s true, I am. That needs to change.

This book has helped me, it has introduced the metta meditation which I practice everyday on strangers when I’m walking around. This sounds odd but it helps connect me to other people because I usually feel so alienated and different. According to the book that means I’m an ‘outsider’. There’s some quotes that applied fantastically to my experience but I think that merits an entire post.

Self-compassion helps me cope. It helps when I wake up sad and all I want to do is stare out of the window and cry. It helps me realise that this is not my fault, that I am suffering as everyone suffers. We have to acknowledge our own suffering and others but not condemn ourselves or them. We just have to wish us all well. This book has given me some fantastic tools to help this process and I can feel it healing me.

These two books, no exaggeration, have given me my mind back. I can’t say if reading them has helped my depression along but when I wake up sad or I have a sudden downturn I know how to help myself. I truly hope if you, or someone else you know, is suffering that you try to read these books. They are well worth putting aside any cynical misgivings.

Headstand update

I’ve been working fairly intensively on my headstand. For me intensively means I do it at least once every practice when I feel slightly up for it, let’s not go mad here. Also the idea of doing lots of one asanas at the expense of other asanas is just not on! I have to do equal amounts of all the different types of poses. Frequently I’ll lie in savasana and realise that I haven’t done a twist, or an adequate amount of forward bends and it worries me. Is this normal?

Anyway my point is I’ve been working on the headstand. Last week I briefly swore off it forever and ever. I was having a bad day and I decided that I’ll never do it and I’ll never try again either in a pool of tears on my yoga mat. All I needed was the lower lip pout and a stamp of my foot to make my tantrum complete. This swearing off headstand lasted all of 24 hours because I’m a bit of a methodical asana practitioner, my strange mode of thinking seems to be my asana practice is only as strong as its weakest asana. Don’t ask me, I don’t know, I don’t control my thoughts I just say them. Maybe I’ll explore this idea in another post. So headstand is the weakest link at the moment for me, as in I can’t do it!

I’ve learnt more about getting into it recently. There was a very useful post about handstand on yoganatomy which explains the importance of the pelvis in headstand. So once you’re balancing in the little curled up fetal position that is the beginning of a headstand you can either straighten your legs or you can straighten your spine by tilting your pelvis. I’ve been mainly thinking in terms of legs so the past couple of times after reading this article I tried concentrating on my pelvis and spine. It’s magical! The legs just follow, it just unfurls beautifully like a fern frond greeting the sun.

Unfortunately my thinking when practicing headstand is quite short term. I think: hips over spine, legs into chest, hips over spine, legs over chest and if the miraculous balance is achieved I don’t know what to do! I haven’t planned that far! Do I try to establish balancing in this position to familiarise myself with it thus making it easier to recreate next time? Or do I try to straighten my legs/unfurl my spine? Usually I try a bit of both which is fairly successful but then I panic because I could fall over! I could die! I could bang my head and break my neck and I could die! Somewhere along the line I forget the wall is inches away. And no one has died from doing a headstand. Perhaps at this point I should remember that my mum always told me I’d ‘break my neck’ if I so much as dangled upside down over the end of my bed. Thanks mum!

Even worse that me panicking the first time I manage to balance, after I’ve balanced once I cannot do it again! It’s like there’s a quota of balances per practice. Done one? That’s your lot I’m afraid, try next time. My fingertips are sweaty (I’m the most un-sweaty person ever, my fingertips not my palms sweat) I’m jittery and ready for more but I flail and I kick and I gasp until I think “that’s it, I’m done for today.” I seem to lose the presence of mind that allows me to align myself right after one go. My mind goes away, to where? Who knows.

This fear, is it going to get better? I hope so. I did feel something similar in wheel pose for the first year or so I practiced it. Even though I never hurt myself I worried I would and I liked the pose but I panicked everytime it came to do it. I would hate being forced to hold it or repeat it. I’d do it but I didn’t feel comfortable for months. This kinda makes me feel better about the headstand but also it makes me think… a year?!?!

Patience please!

There is!

I was meditating the other day. Recently I’ve been doing a centering meditation which involves concentrating on your breathing and then asking yourself for some words of wisdom to use as a mantra. Something to heal you that comes from within. It’s been doing wonders for me, when I felt defeated I sat and got ‘keep going’, when I was feeling separate I got ‘I am a part of everything’.

There was nothing remarkable about this last meditation, I was feeling insecure and a bit of a failure (about this blog if I’m honest) and nothing much came to mind. That’s ok, I just sat there. A couple of minutes from the end (I know because I cheated and I peeked at my timer) a thought struck me, I realised I was feeling happy and it wasn’t because of meditating, it was because I’d finished my alloted ‘tasks’ for the day and I could relax. This unsettled me because it reminded me of a time when I was working in the book shop after I left school and my dad commented at the end of one workday that I was seeming happier. I told him it was only because I’d finished work for the day and to this he said “that’s enough, for most people”. This struck me as the most uniquely depressing thought, it can’t be true. Can it? Is happiness just the absense of bad things? There has to be more to it!

So I’m back on my zafu thinking about this and I realised: I’m not that confused girl being told pessimistic ‘truths’ anymore. It’s crap what my dad said, absolute crap! Life is not just a procession of meaningless, unpleasant duties and happiness is not just the relief from not having to do these meaningless, unpleasant duties for another 16 hours. Now my life is rich and I know what happiness is. I spend my days doing yoga, meditating, painting, thinking, learning, talking, listening, reading, enjoying the world around me and I know that there is more! There is!