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.

 

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Struggling with weight loss

Like many women, I first started struggling with my weight as a teenager. I seemed to go from being a bit chubby to being very much overweight in no time at all. Unfortunately, with no real idea of what to do about it, I crash dieted. I lost weight very quickly and felt happy about it (or at least I thought so at the time). People commented on it, asking what my secret was and laughing when I said I just didn’t eat much.

About a year down the line, I looked in the mirror one day and it was like an illusion had broken. I wasn’t dangerously skinny – a size 8 – but it looked ridiculous. I have a naturally curvy figure so my hips kind of jutted out and I had a tiny waist but a large bust that just didn’t match at all. I snapped out of it and started eating more. I went up to a size 10 and looked so much healthier. I stayed at that weight for a couple of years, thinking my troubles with weight were far behind me.

Then when I got pregnant at 19, I inevitably gained weight. I didn’t really think about it. Gaining weight during pregnancy is just the norm and somehow I assumed it would just come off again once I had the baby. It did not.

If anything I gained even more since having my daughter. I think it was a mixture of a few things. In my teen years, any stress killed my appetite but now, stress makes me comfort eat. Struggling with depression only made it worse. When my daughter was a baby, I stayed at home most of the time, dragging myself to playgroups so that she could make friends. Then we moved to Cardiff and I became a bit more confident, less anxious and made a few friends myself. Then I realised that I’d put on quite a bit of weight. I was 14 stone, about 4 stone heavier than my ideal weight. I actually tried a crash diet again, thinking it had worked so well previously (remember, I wasn’t mentally healthy at this point). It didn’t work. I didn’t have the willpower to stop myself eating constantly.

Once I started dealing with my mental health, dealing with my physical health became easier.

Now I know I’ve gotten into a habit of yo-yo dieting. I’ll manage four weeks of a really strict diet and lose maybe half a stone, then I’ll have a bad day or week and fall back on my bad eating habits. I need to change that. I’m back on a diet. But instead of trying to stick to 1200 calories per day, I’m going for 1600 calories per day. The weight loss will be slower but it’ll be easier to stick to. I can allow myself a few treats and not feel like I’ve failed.

I’m also meal prepping more. Yesterday I made a 4 portions of black bean chilli, some roasted chickpeas (never tried these before but they are So Good), boiled some eggs as snacks and bagged up lots of fruit, veggies, nuts and dried fruit so that I’ve got healthy snacks on hand. Hopefully this means it’ll be easier to avoid unhealthy foods.

For a while I tried exercising for an hour every day. But with family and work as well, it just isn’t something I can do. I started feeling like a failure when I didn’t manage it. I also forgot that I can count the walking I do as exercise. I walk my daughter to school each day – that’s about 2 hours altogether. Plus, I’m always on my feet at work. I’m not an inactive person, really. So I’ve cut down my exercise goal to half an hour, at least four times a week and added in some yoga, which really helps with depression and stress. I’m trying to take more long walks. Like if I have a day off, I’ll drop my daughter at school then go walking for hours in the park or to somewhere interesting, like Cardiff Bay or Castell Coch.

I’m starting to learn that I need to focus more on being healthy than on being thinner. Yes, I should lose weight. But the way I’ve going about it makes my depression and anxiety worse. I’ll have a pizza takeaway then feel terrible for days afterwards, like I’ve failed completely. Instead, I need to realise that if I eat healthily most of the time, the occasional takeaway or slice of cake isn’t going to hurt me.

Most importantly, I need to keep in mind that healthy eating (as opposed to either crash dieting or overeating) makes me feel happier. Bad depression days are more likely to occur when I’ve been strictly dieting or after I’ve binged. It’s all about balance!

My goals used to be to be a size 10 again. Now my goal is to feel good.

Wish me luck with it!

 

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.