10 Ways to Combat Depression

If you’re regular reader of this blog or if you know me in real life, you might already know that I suffer with PTSD, with symptoms of depression and anxiety.

I first realised I had depression when I was about 21. I was diagnosed with PTSD a little while after that then took anti depressants for two years and had some counselling. These things helped me reach the point of accepting exactly what I’m dealing with, that it’s not my fault or some kind of weakness and that I will probably have to cope with it for the rest of my life.

Actually learning how to cope with it has taken me years and it’s by no means something I’ve perfected. I still have bad days, weeks and months and I know I probably always will. But at least I’ve worked out some things that help (and some things that make it much worse!). I’d like to share these things with you. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, do try them out. However, I’m totally aware that mental illness is different from person to person so I cannot make any kind of guarantee that any of this will work for anyone other than myself. I’m also not a medical professional and I have no training or qualifications in this field. I’ve just done a lot of research and have my personal experience to go on.

If you use any other techniques, please share them. I’m always open to any ideas that could help me or anyone else coping with depression or anxiety.

So here’s my list of ten ways to combat depression:

  1. Healthy eating. Notice, I did not say dieting. My struggle with weight loss is really tangled up in my mental illness but dieting, for me, isn’t the answer. When I diet, I do it obsessively and not healthily. Instead, I’ve learnt that making healthy choices and making sure I’m eating lots of fresh, nutritious foods really helps me. Feeling guilty and shameful about treating myself to an ice cream or a pizza does not help me and I doubt it’ll help you either.
  2. Exercise. This does not have to involve going to the gym or taking part in any activities that you really hate (unless literally expending energy is something you hate, I suppose). Exercise could be walking, jogging, running, swimming, yoga, pilates, cardio, group classes, gym, cycling….really the list is endless. Just find something active that you can do that makes you feel good. Personally, I love long walks outdoors, somewhere peaceful and full of nature. I also enjoy cardio & pilates but only in the privacy of my own home!
  3. Get outdoors. As I said, long walks outdoors can make me happy. But just being outdoors, preferably somewhere natural, makes me feel so much better. It could be in the woods, by the seaside or a lake, or even in my local park. Just being out of your house can make you feel better, although I’m all too aware of how challenging doing that can feel some days.
  4. Read a book. This one feels very personal to me but from what I’ve read, it’s true of a lot of people. It probably feels personal because it’s a personal experience. I love to read generally anyway but if I’m having a bad day, there are a few books I can dip into for an hour or so and feel so much calmer and even a bit happier. Harry Potter is top of that list for me. If you’re stuck on what to read and you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, try reading ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by Matt Haig. Reading that book helped to pull me out of a really bad depressive phase and I know it’s done the same for many others. In fact, the other two books I’ve read by Matt Haig (‘How to Stop Time’ and ‘The Humans’) both really helped my mood. Watching films can have a similar effect, I find, though not as consistently. Oh and ignore book snobs. If a book makes you feel good, read it, whatever some critic said.
  5. Treat yourself. This does not have to involve spending money. Given that for many people, money is something they’re often anxious about (myself included), it’s good to have a few ideas of things you can do that feel like a treat but are actually low cost or free. Having a bath, could be one example, or taking a walk (when you’ve been super busy with work or being a parent or whatever else, taking a walk on your own somewhere peaceful can feel like such a treat).
  6. Spend time with friends and/or family. I know that sometimes socialising can feel so draining and so anxiety-inducing but if you feel like you can face it then do. It doesn’t have to be meeting new people or being in a crowd or going somewhere loud. It could be a coffee with an old friend or relative. It could be sharing a special dinner with your partner or playing a game with your children.
  7. Spend time alone. Yes, I know this appears to contradict no. 6 but this isn’t a list of things to do all at once. Sometimes I really need to be with other people but sometimes I really need to be on my own. Just some peace and quiet without any expectations or obligations.
  8. Writing. Okay, so writing is something I love. But I’m not saying everyone needs to take up blogging or writing fiction. Writing in a diary could be really helpful, especially when you’re trying to work out triggers. It could just be a space to express your totally honest thoughts and feelings without worrying about the judgement of anyone else. I occasionally write letters to people I feel angry with. They’re never sent, obviously, but it genuinely makes me feel better.
  9. Practice calming techniques. This could be yoga, Tai Chi, breathing exercises, meditation. There are loads to try and I recommend giving a few a go. That way, when you’re having a bad day or feel really panicked, you’ll have a few ideas of ways you can quickly calm down, even temporarily.
  10. Take care of yourself. This is something important that I forget quite a lot: I am worth taking care of. And so are you. You are worth having a shower and putting on fresh clothes. You are worth eating proper meals. You are worth having some time to yourself for what you want to do. Yes, sometimes other things have to take priority, like work and childcare. Yes, some days just getting out of bed feels like such a challenge. But you’ll feel better if you’re clean and healthy. You’re not doing it for anyone else’s benefit, you’re doing it for yourself.

 

So there’s my list. Do comment with any of these that work for you or share other things that work for you!

If you’re having a bad day or week or month, I hope tomorrow is a better day for you. Even if it’s just a tiny bit better.

Thanks for reading.

 

Let’s Talk About Mental Health

Mental health has been in the news quite a bit recently, with the Heads Together campaign by the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Price Harry.

I listened to Prince Harry’s frank conversation about his mental health with Bryony Gordon on her Mad World Podcast. It was inspirational and deeply moving. This is exactly what’s needed for the stigma of mental illness to end: people talking about it openly.

I’ve been fairly open about my own mental health issues. I suffer from PTSD, caused by childhood abuse. This causes anxiety, depression and panic attacks. I cope with this much more effectively than I used to. I spent pretty much all of my teenage years trying to hide everything I was feeling. When I realised that this coping technique wasn’t going to work long term, I had to face everything that had happened to me. I became very introverted, I spent most of my time at home alone for a couple of years. Even when I had my daughter, I’d force myself to take her to play groups only to sit in the corner and hope that nobody would try and approach me.

Moving to Cardiff was a big turning point. I tried making friends for the first time since high school. But I still needed help. I went to my GP, was prescribed anti depressants and put on a waiting list for counselling. The medication did help. The counselling was better, even if I did have to wait a whole year for it and even then only got six sessions. My counsellor suggested lots of books I could read. Books about other abuse survivors and how they cope with PTSD. I also read up on why people abuse, which was difficult but did help me realise that it was nothing to do with me and everything to do with my abuser’s issues. Late last year, I stopped taking medication (which was very difficult). These days, I still have bad days (and the odd bad week or even fortnight) but I’m better equipped to deal with it now.

Talking does help. Husband was the first person I confided in about the abuse. He was, simply put, brilliant. But talking to a professional was important too. We need to encourage people to seek help for mental health in the same way as we all would for any physical illness. With 1 in 4 adults suffering mental illness of some kind during their lives, we need to stop viewing this as a weakness or abnormality.

I’ve taken this into consideration in how I talk to my daughter and encourage her to talk to me. She knows it’s okay to say that she’s not okay. She knows that if she has any problems, little or big, she can talk to me and/or her Dad. Even if she’s done something wrong, it’s always better to talk about it than try to hide it.

As adults, we might think that children’s problems can’t be nearly as big or important as our own but we need to remember that what might look quite insignificant to us can be overwhelming for a child. We need to at least attempt to see it from their perspective.

I still struggle with how to discuss my own mental health with my daughter. She knows very little detail about my life before she was born. She asks questions that I don’t know how to answer. I want to set a good example of being open and honest about feelings but I know my issues are just far too complicated for her to understand, even aside from her being too young to be burdened with such things. It’s that tricky balancing act of protecting children while also introducing them to the real world and properly equipping them to live in it.

How have you approached the subject of mental health with your children? Have you suffered mental illness and, if so, how have you coped with it as a parent?

So many of us

Trigger warning: This post is about childhood sexual abuse, although it does not contain any graphic descriptions. Please do not read if this will distress you.

During my life, partly from writing this blog, I’ve heard about many other people’s experiences of sexual abuse. When someone shares their experience with me, I feel a few different emotions. Firstly, I’m glad that they felt that they could talk to someone about it and that they felt they could trust me with it. Secondly, though not every time and actually not for a while now, it can trigger anxious feelings, like the beginnings of a panic attack or even bring on a flashback. Thirdly, it makes me feel some level of despair.

So many people have had to suffer through abuse. So many people had their innocence taken away from them so early in life. So many people had years of their lives ruined by another person, so often someone they loved and trusted. When they should have been so carefree and full of joy, they spent those precious years frightened and feeling so alone.

When I’m having a bad time and I keep getting flashbacks and those anxious feelings, I feel like shouting out that it’s not fair. I didn’t do anything wrong. Why should I have to struggle with this? Why should anyone have to struggle with this? No child has ever deserved it, no matter what they might have been told by their abuser or their abuser’s enablers.

I think the most terrible thought I have whenever I hear another story of childhood abuse is that it will never be the last. We can campaign and raise money and awareness and help children out of terrible situations and help people cope with the aftermath of the crimes committed against them  and we can lock away those who perpetrate them. These are all good things to do and we should absolutely keep doing them. But we can never make it stop altogether. There will always be individuals with the capability to be that cruel, to put their own perverse needs before that of a defenseless child. The only thing we can do is try to protect children and people in general from those individuals.

When I feel like this, I know I must try to grasp at some hope from somewhere. Usually it’s from the fact that so many of us who suffered are still here. We have struggled through and even if the struggle may not be over, we are still here. Most parents will protect their children from such harm or at least support them when things do go wrong. Most children have wonderful childhood years and never have to feel afraid of such terrible things happening to them. I can look at my own daughter, so full of life and joy and humour and know that life can be better.

Thanks for reading and sorry if this post is a bit of a ramble!

Mental illness in culture

The other day I was watching Friends, a programme that I’ve been watching since I was about seven years old, and something occurred to me. The character Monica’s fixation with cleanliness and order is referred to throughout the ten seasons. It’s made a joke of. She’s called a ‘clean freak’. Does she suffer with OCD?

When I think about it, this isn’t very strange. Sheldon Cooper from the brilliant comedy show Big Bang Theory (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it) has many compulsive behaviours. While it’s never identified as OCD, a fairly recent episode actually created quite an interesting way of explaining the anxious feelings of OCD and other anxiety disorders to people who don’t experience them. When Leonard has forgotten to return Sheldon’s DVD to a rental shop, he must wear an itchy red jumper until the situation is resolved. I know that when I’m going through a phase where I feel very anxious about everything, it could definitely be likened to the niggling discomfort of an itchy jumper. You can never stop thinking about it and it will make you uncomfortable until it’s sorted out.

There are plenty of other examples. Miss Pilsbury in Glee admits and has treatment for OCD, Sherlock Holmes is quite open about being a higher functioning sociopath and I believe there’s currently a programme called My Mad Fat Diary on E4 about a girl with bipolar disorder, although I’ve never actually watched it.

So how do these programmes portray mental illness? For the most part, they’re made into an entertaining part of the shows. Occasionally, they’re talked about openly. Rarely does the person concerned actually receive treatment. On the other hand, it’s not always seen as a negative. Sherlock just wouldn’t be Sherlock without that near complete lack of social awareness that actually seems to help him focus more on being a genius. Isn’t being creatively brilliant often linked with mental illness? I’ve read that there studies looking into an actual genetic link but if we look at examples, particularly of musicians, writers and artists, I think we can really see a link between the two. Vincent Van Gough, one of the greatest artists in human history, famously suffered with severe bouts of depression and eventually committed suicide but captured the intense beauty in nature so amazingly well in his work. Ernest Hemingway and Silvia Plath both suffered with depression and both committed suicide too but are often celebrated as two of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. There’s the so called ’27 club’ of musicians such as Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Kurt Cobain, who all died either of drug overdose or suicide at the age of 27 all suffered with depression. As a side note, studies into this have shown no increased risk of death in musicians at that particular age, although the parallel between creativity and depression does seem to exist. While I’d never describe myself as a great or even good writer, I certainly find writing a great way of dealing with some of my own issues.

Now it is becoming more socially acceptable to speak out about depression and other mental illness and I think this is, in part, thanks to people like Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson who have spoken openly about their own battles with mental illness. We now accept that mentally ill people can be verbose, charming, intellectual and hilariously comical, just as they could have any other characteristic that one could attribute to a human being. You could speak to someone every day and never know what demons they grapple with.

Mental illness is all around us. As, according to the Mental Health Foundation, around 1 in 4 of us suffer from a mental illness at some point in our lives, I believe it’s something we all need to become comfortable speaking about and learning more about.

Moving on from PTSD: Another Step Forward

After being informed that it was impossible for me to have a GP appointment at a time convenient for me, last week I wrote a letter to the practice manager, explaining the situation and asking if something could be arranged. She called me hours after receiving my letter and said that there were actually doctors available on week day afternoons, although only on a Friday would there be a female doctor available, which would be preferable for me. I made an appointment for yesterday afternoon.

On arriving at the surgery, I was informed that a medical student wished to sit in on my appointment. As difficult as I knew it might be to have another person making notes while I speak about childhood abuse and PTSD symptoms, I accepted. Students need to learn how to handle these situations. The last GP I tried speaking to handed me a leaflet and a prescription for ‘mood stabilising’ medication that I didn’t really need or want and got me out of her office as soon as she could.

I sat nervously in the waiting room, wondering how to begin telling the doctor why I need help. I’ve had to tell many people now. It’s always difficult to know where to start. There are words I have trouble saying. With the GP, I decided to simply describe my symptoms and how I went to a doctor before and was on a waiting list for therapy but we left the area before I was given an appointment. She asked what the cause of my PTSD was. I practically whispered the words ‘I was abused in childhood’. It’s so easy to type it out but actually saying the words out loud is so hard sometimes. She asked what kind of abuse. Again, I very quietly said the word ‘sexual’.

She was really helpful. She asked a lot of questions but kindly explained that the more detail she can put in the referral letter, the more likely I am to be higher up on the waiting list. She also asked if this was the first time I had told someone and if I had spoken to the police. I told her the whole story of how I told the police but the case didn’t go to court due to insufficient evidence and how we’d had to move to Cardiff after receiving threats from my family. The medical student sat near the back of the office, scribbling notes occasionally. I found that it didn’t make me as uncomfortable as I thought it might.

I’m now on a waiting list to have a consultation to see a psychiatrist. The GP did mention that the practice has a councilor but the waiting lists would be just as long and she thinks I’m going to need more in depth treatment.

I know I’m still a very long waiting list away from actually receiving therapy or anymore professional help with PTSD but I’m another step towards it and I know that help is, in a sense, on the way.

Thanks for reading.

Talking about childhood abuse

Trigger warning: This post won’t go into the details of abuse but will discuss telling family members and friends about the abuse. If this is going to affect you poorly, please don’t read on any further. I have included details of a couple of helplines at the end if they’re helpful to you.

If you suffered any kind of abuse as a child, talking about it is very important and I would encourage it very strongly. Telling my best friend was one of the best choices I ever made, even though it was also one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But as soon as the words were out and he gave me a big hug, I felt a million times better. Also, in recent times, I’ve had much more positive reactions and attitudes from friends I’ve talked to about this.

But what nobody seems to prepare you for is how people might react negatively when you tell them that you were abused as a child. I’ve experienced three different reactions and I’d like to share this to help prepare anyone who is preparing themselves to talk to someone.

First reaction was when I told my best friend (incidentally, now husband). He knew something was wrong and asked. I could barely get the words out. As I said already, he gave me a big hug and  basically offered all of the support I needed. He’s listened to me talk about it as much as a I want and he came with me to the Police station when I decided I wanted to make a statement and press charges. At the same time, I don’t think he’s ever treated me differently because of it. He doesn’t tiptoe around difficult subjects or not be straight with me about everything.

Second reaction was when I told members of my family. If I’m honest, I expected them to be extremely angry with my abuser, my older brother. I expected it to be treated like what it is: a huge issue. Something that had wrecked my life for years and made me feel incredibly depressed. Instead, they wanted it forgotten and never spoken of again. They seemed far more concerned about what other people would think if this ever became public knowledge, that it would be some kind of scandal. I have no idea if they even believed me. Neither of my parents ever asked me how I felt about it or if I was OK. They seemed shocked and confused when I left home, giving the reason that I couldn’t live under the same roof as my brother anymore. Even now, this makes me feel so angry and some of my PTSD symptoms are actually more about this than about the abuse.

Third reaction was when I told other friends. They believed me and showed sympathy. Many offered to go and physically assault my abuser, which I obviously said no to – nobody should be getting arrested over this except him. But they started treating me differently. They’d avoid talking about sex or anything related to it. They’d avoid talking about their own families, especially any older brothers. Eventually, one of my closest female friends admitted that she just didn’t know how to be around me anymore. While I appreciated her honesty, I was so hurt that admitting that this horrible thing that had been done to me, that I couldn’t have stopped from happening, was the reason we couldn’t be friends anymore.

Although I didn’t experience it myself, I do know that others who have spoken out about the abuse they’d suffered were not believed by some. I can only imagine how terrible it would feel to summon up the huge amount of courage needed to finally tell someone that something so horrific had happened to you, only to be called a liar.

Ideally, you would be able to expect support and to be believed and treated like a normal human being (for that is what you are!) but, as abuse victims are all too aware, the world is far from ideal. People do not behave well or as you would hope all of the time. Although I didn’t, I would now recommend to others that you have the number for a support helpline at the ready so that, if the person you choose to talk to doesn’t have a positive, supportive reaction, you have someone to talk to who can help. Perhaps you should call one of these helplines, and I’ll list a few I know of at the bottom of this post, beforehand to help prepare you.

I’d like to finish on this note. Despite everything, I’m so glad I decided to speak out. Keeping that secret, I really do believe, might have ended my life if I’d kept it for much longer. It eats away at you. So, if you have suffered abuse, please tell someone, whether it’s a good friend that you really trust or a professional or a volunteer on the phone. It’ll be a first step towards life getting better and life won’t get better until you do it. Just be prepared for what the reaction could be.

Thank you for reading.

NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood) have two free helplines:

If you’re calling from a UK landline or a mobile provided by Virgin, Orange or 3, call 0800 085 3330

If you’re calling from a mobile provided by O2, Vodafone or T-mobile, call 0808 801 0331

Rape Crisis (England & Wales): 0808 802 9999

Monthly Review: January

My blog is now a whole month old! I have really enjoyed writing posts every day and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them. At the beginning of the month, I set myself goals for the year. My original plan was to have weekly updates on what I had done towards those goals but I had so much to write about that I think monthly updates would be better. Here’s how I’ve done in January:

1. To help my daughter prepare for and settle into her first year of school, starting in September.

We’ve done a lot towards this goal. Not only have we done lots of activities designed to help Pip develop those basic skills that she’ll need when she starts full time education, I’ve also looked into an alternative to school: Home Education. It’s made me look at her education in an entirely different way, even if we don’t decide to home educate. Helping her to learn won’t stop being my responsibility after she starts school and it’ll still be up to me to make sure she’s learning everything I am able teach her.

following the lines

2. To improve my business, through better marketing and making a larger range of products.

I must admit, I have not done as much as I could have towards this. Unfortunately a few plans for craft fairs and other events fell through and so I’ve needed to concentrate more on freelance work to keep some cash coming in. However, I have had a few ideas for new products and I’m determined to get a few new things made in February. In the mean time, there are still products for sale in my Etsy shop so do take a look and remember that I happily take custom orders!

sewing box3. Complete my current Open University module and register for the next. This includes actually deciding on which the next will be as currently I haven’t a clue!

I have completed and submitted two assignments since starting the blog. The first has already been marked and I was pretty pleased with the score I achieved. This month I’ve got another assignment to be finished and I really want to look into my options for next year.

4. Deal with PTSD. I feel like it’s been holding me back for too long. It’s very much time I took control of it.

I’ve taken a few steps forward with this. I’ve contacted MIND for support, although they still haven’t responded. I think I may need to follow this up soon. I’ve also read other people’s experiences of PTSD which has made me more hopeful for the future – I know this can be beaten! I also shared my story, which I feel has helped me view it as something in the past rather than something that should be affecting my present and future. This month I’d like to look into what options I might have for treatment when I can finally access some professional help.

5. Not to diet. Instead, I want to make simple and easily kept up changes that will make my whole family a little healthier. If this leads to a few inches disappearing from my waist, that’s an added bonus!

I think yesterday’s Ed’s Easy Diner review proves that I’m definitely not dieting! On a day to day basis, we’ve been eating more grilled food, reduced our carbohydrates a little bit and increased our vegetables. I really want to find ways to exercise more this month but hopefully in fun ways and at least one thing I can do with Pip.

6. Add to this blog every day, even if it is just a photograph.

Done! I’ve really enjoyed coming up with post ideas and writing every day. I’ve also enjoyed reading lots of other blogs and seeing other people interacting with mine through lovely comments. I’m so grateful for every view I get, I really appreciate you all reading what I write.

So January has been a good month but I think February could be even better! Have you had a good start to 2014?