NB: A bit if a different post today. No crafting or sewing or baking inspiration to be had, but something close to my heart and a major reason for me even writing this blog, so please, have a look and let me know what you think…
I’ve had something strange happening to me lately. Over the past couple of months I’ve had several people talk to me about depression, in particular their depression. The first was a very close friend, then another close friend. Most recently it was someone I probably haven’t seen for a decade but are friends via Facebook.
In all cases it’s people I never thought would be struck by such an awful illness, but that’s just it isn’t it? When you look at me you’d never suspect the dark places I’ve been to. When people look at me I assume they see a confident, put-together business woman who also calmly raises two children. They see how I am with my kids, how I am with my friends, my family, my husband, and how I handle my job, plus running a home business/farm and assume I’ve got it all together. At least that’s what I imagine people think. (If I’m wrong, please correct me).
What they don’t see is what I’m like when I’m with myself, when I’m in the depths of a bout of depression, and when I’m there I don’t like to talk about it. I don’t want it known. I don’t want to be anything other than that fabulous woman people see when they look at me from a distance.
It’s when I’m better that I talk about it. When the dark, scary thoughts have gone away, when my body is no longer weighed down by the concrete-like weights, when the light has come back, and the laughter and the good times. It’s then that I talk about it.
I talk about it when I’m better because I hope it will help. I hope it will help society in general (a big call, I know). That depression becomes something that is talked about. I know I can’t do it on my own, but if my openness about it leads to someone else’s openness, then we can start a snowball.
In the other hand, if my talking about it helps even one person feel like they aren’t weird, or abnormal, or doomed, then I’ve done my bit. And it turns out, I have helped people. People have come to me for advice, for my thoughts, for support. I’m completely gobsmacked.
I’m also very honoured, that they feel they can talk to me about it, about something so hard, and that they think my advice and experience will help. I also feel a little bit lost each time, because I have no clear, concise advice or explanation in my head. And that’s hard for me. I’m such an organised and structured person, I hate feeling put on the spot. But when someone asks, I can’t say “hold on”, then go and write my thoughts neatly in a pretty bullet-pointed list. So I’m taking this opportunity to write down my thoughts, to make my list, to create something that may or may not help anyone. But regardless, here goes.
When someone asks for my advice on depression, what do I say?
Spend time with friends
Keep busy, find a hobby or resume one (make time for it, make yourself do it).
See a professional.
Exercise for me is a massive one. My life coach who I work with regularly (as in every month) also conveniently owns a gym. It’s a special kind of gym that isn’t really very gym like. Well it is, but it’s set up to be an amazing, motivating place. You book a time to go, they text to remind you and if you don’t turn up they send a very concerned sounding and guilt inducing text asking if everything is ok since you didn’t turn up for your workout. You also work closely with staff to make sure you’re actually getting benefit out of your membership. Anyway, when I suffered my first bout if depression, that place was my saviour. Four times a week I was there for an hour. I got super fit. They made me run a half marathon. I survived it. As well as the massive boost in my health and fitness, the depression subsided, in conjunction with a few other things.
When I feel myself slipping the first thing I force myself to do is get on a treadmill, or go outside for a walk. (I used to run but these days walking is my limit – I blame the pregnancy thing). Instantly things are clearer, I can think better, I feel less tired, more motivated.
I follow up exercise with good food (as I sit here typing and eating my way through a selection of chocolate biscuits. It’s a Mother’s Day gift, I’m allowed this once off!). Then I schedule a date with my friends. Or if I can’t actually see them in person I get on the emails of Facebook messenger and go for it.
I remember very clearly having a really bad day and thinking there is no one I can talk to about this. Then I made myself think and counted about ten people I could have talked to and who would have been more than happy to help lift my mood. There are also people I avoid like the plague when I’m unwell. You have to pick your people right, but once you do, make the most of it! That’s what friends are there for!
Another thing that really helps me is having a hobby. I think it’s more to do with keeping busy. I never experienced depression when I was kept busy, when I was overwhelmed with study or work. It’s when I was unemployed that it hit me. My first major bout continued through the unemployment and into my job, and that’s where I came to meet my life coach. We used my job as a major tool in my recovery. Lots of goal setting and achievement and things. When I gave up work to be at home with the girls I was at a bit of a loss if what to do all day that gave me some enjoyment (thousands of loads of washing will never bring me joy, ever!). It’s at that time that I resumed two of my favourite childhood activities: baking and sewing.
First of all, I bake. It’s basic, there’s steps to follow, it’s methodical and after a fairly short period of time you have a result. There’s something sitting on the kitchen bench that you’ve created. And best of all with baking, is you can then go and give it to someone. Share the joy, show gratitude, interact with other people. Or you could eat it if you really wanted.
It also has the ability to be not very basic. I can push myself and create something amazing, if I feel up to it. Or I can whizz up some cupcakes in half an hour, but still feel like I’ve achieved something wonderful.
Secondly, I sew. My mum is a big time sewer. She makes the most amazing patchwork quilts these days, but way back when she made all sorts, including a lot of clothes for myself and my brothers. I had many flouncy dresses and skirts that were never to be seen in stores. It was awesome. I wanted to be able to make unique and one-of-a-kind outfits for my girls. Plus I had several half finished projects that mum had got me to start when I was in a not busy patch of my life. So some of them really needed to be finished.
Again, I find the joy in creating something. Sewing a few seams and creating a gorgeous skirt, making the pieces fit together, again it’s simple processes to make something you can hold, touch and see.
Of course sewing and baking might not be your thing. So rebuild a classic car, construct model airplanes, write, paint, sing or dance, just find something you love and keep busy, and most importantly, make the time for it.
Probably more importantly than all of the advice above, there’s this bit. See a professional. And I don’t just mean your doctor to get a prescriptions for meds. I think antidepressants have their place and are useful. But to me, they are a fairly last resort. In particular, if you are taking medication, I’m even more inclined to tell you to see a life coach, counsellor or psychologist (or what ever else they might be). Because when the time comes that you feel better and want to come off the medication, you’ll need to know how to handle it. You’ll need to know what triggers you and how you can fight back. I cannot stress the value of “talk therapy” enough. I have been well for almost 18 months continuously now, yet I still see my life coach every month, without fail. And I’m in regular contact with her, so we can catch me before I fall. I’m a little apprehensive about what may come along with this baby later this year, but because I have such a strong relationship with her and see her so often, I’m fairly confident we won’t slip right back to the bottom again.
But then again, you might be one of the lucky ones who never experience it again (though I still think professional help is important, but that’s just my two cents worth).
I do a bunch if other weird things (run a star chart etc) but those are just things I’ve worked out are particular to my personality. I’m also reading as much as I can about depression and happiness. Some of my favourite reading has been:
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin (and the follow up, Happier at Home). To me this is a book about increasing overall happiness in your life, through simple, easy steps.
All Blacks Don’t Cry, by John Kirwan (sorry, Sir John Kirwan). An incredible story about John Kirwan’s battle with depression, while being one of the world’s best rugby players. This is also a great book for people close to those with depression to read and for men (I’d assume, being as I’m not a man I can only speculate).
Both books have given me tools, ideas and thoughts I use on a daily basis.
So that’s my (really quite long) take on it. That’s what I do when I feel unwell, it’s what I do when I’m well to prevent myself becoming unwell, and if you were to ask me what advice I would give someone dealing with depression, that would be it. I know it’s drawn out, but perhaps it can’t be written in a neat, pretty, bullet pointed list.
What do you think? Do you have other advice? What would you tell someone? Or do you have any recommendations for further reading I can do? I’d love your feedback, please comment below.
And most importantly, more than any other post on this blog, please share this! It’s so, so important we talk about it. And it’d mean the world to me.
And next week I’ll post something nice, light and trivial to make up for bogging you all down this time round!