This week, when I sat down to write my blog post, I was determined to try and make it about something positive. Over the past few weeks I have gone on about drowning kidneys, an exploding appendix and suicide, and there is nothing fun to read about there. Admittedly, this is a blog about mental health so things aren’t going to be all fun and games (except for on Wednesdays when we play snakes and ladders…I say we…it is just me…talking to the green snake on the board…nobody else ever wants to play…not that I mind…*Sobs in a corner whilst rolling dice pathetically*).
Still, I have lovely people reading my blog, and as much as I want to talk about all that deep important stuff, I would like to think that people enjoy reading it a little bit, and enjoyment is seldom found when one is talking about exploding organs.
Therefore, determined to write a chirpier post, I sat down today, opened my laptop, placed my fingers upon the keyboard…and wrote nothing. I so desperately wanted to say something happy, but when you have depression that is quite the challenge, and suddenly, as the word challenge arose in my marbleless brain, I became even more determined to succeed. If there is one thing I love nearly as much as penguins and Helena Bonham Carter, it is a challenge (as long as I win of course), and so it was that an idea came to me for a challenge that I would like to invite you all to join me in today (it is a team challenge so we can all win don’t worry.)
I think one of the most frustrating things about living with depression isn’t just the suffocating sadness and inability to feel positive emotions, it is the fact that those things feel so infinite and you cannot imagine an alternative.
If we knew our suffering was temporary, depression would be an easier ride, get through the storm to reach the nice happy place kind of thing, but depression doesn’t let you think that, it tells you that it is here forever and that because you cannot feel or appreciate good things, those good things do not exist. This, as recently proved by an intense and vigorous lie detector test on the embodiment of depression itself, is a lie.
Just because you have no apples left in the fruit bowl, it does not mean that all the apple trees in the world have perished, and even if those apples are incredibly difficult to find and maybe you can’t even taste them when you find them, they are growing somewhere.
In Harry Potter, the Dementors that guard Azkaban/suck people’s souls out/generally float around in shapeless black sheets that Gok Wan would surely improve by accessorising with a nice belt, make you feel like you will never be happy again, much like depression, and the only way to get them to go away is to whip your wand out and throw animals at them made of good things (J.K.Rowling explains it better but that is the gist). It was this that gave me the idea for this challenge, the challenge being to write a list every day of at least three good things to look at as a reminder that good things do exist when depression is sucking the life out of you.
Now you may be thinking “Katie, this is not an original idea, I have seen people make lists of things that they are grateful for or things that make them happy and it doesn’t work.” Well no, in my opinion those lists often don’t work, but this is not one of those lists.
I myself used to keep a list of three things I was grateful for every day and it has been an activity suggested to me many times over the years in my battle with depression. However, as great as it is to feel grateful about things (and believe me when I say I really am), I found that writing those things down sometimes made me feel worse. For example if you are having a really bad day and then you write that you are grateful to live in a house with running water, you can be pleased about that yet then become frustrated and angry at yourself for being so lucky as to live in such conditions yet STILL not be happy. It is like when people say things like “I know you are sad but just be grateful that you don’t live in North Korea”, and of course I am grateful that I don’t live in North Korea (I hear the weather is terrible), but reminding someone of another person’s pain doesn’t take their pain away and is more likely to make their pain worse by making them feel guilty about complaining.
Similarly, I have struggled with the “three things that made me happy today lists” because when you have depression, a lot of the time you simply CANNOT feel happy, even if you know you should. Someone can give you a hug and you can mentally register that that person is a lovely person who is showing you kindness and that it should make you happy, but the logical identification of “this is good” never reaches the emotional sensors that are being held captive by depression, so you never FEEL that good. You could watch a film that you know is your favourite and feel totally numb, hear a joke that is funny yet be unable to laugh, and writing down things you should feel happy about but don’t is yet another miserable and fairly disheartening activity.
This list involved in this challenge however, is not a list of things that you should be grateful for or that you should feel happy or any other emotion about. It is not subjective or about feelings at all, so you can do it even when you are as numb as an anaesthetised turnip, because you are writing down the things that are objectively good, not to make you feel better, but just to remind you that they can exist.
After my post about suicide, I received such lovely comments reaching out to me with hope and kindness, and though it didn’t cure my depression, it served as a reassuring and helpful reminder that that hope and kindness is there. People told me how they or friends and family had been in similar situations but had made it through and though I may not be able to see or believe that possibility for myself right now, it shows that that possibility DOES exist, and for me, that was a very good thing. When I went to sleep that night I still had no apples in my tummy, but I knew that somewhere there was an apple tree growing, and right now, knowing that is enough.
Now, as someone who has been doing this challenge for a week now, I will admit that it is incredibly hard (hence the word challenge) because depression is so good at the whole black and white worldview that “EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE”, and finding good things on some days has taken me hours. Some days I have even written my list and thought screw it I don’t even care about those good things, and a lot of the time you won’t, but again it doesn’t matter if you care or not or even if you hate all those good things, this is not a list about how you feel, this is simply a reminder to the objective factual part of you devoid of any emotions.
Things on this list don’t have to be big at all, you don’t have to win the lottery or suddenly gain the ability to fly, it can be ANYTHING that is objectively good even if it doesn’t affect you.
For example one day I was out shopping and saw that a popular shower gel was half price. I do not buy that shower gel so the half price offer was going to have no impact on my life, but I knew that objectively that offer was good for someone and I liked to think that someone who used that shower gel would come into the shop later, appreciate that good thing and maybe even make more good things by spending the money they saved on a hot chocolate to take home.
Maybe you were so depressed that you weren’t able to leave the house that day, or week or month, maybe you couldn’t even leave your bed, but still the key is to force yourself to think of something good even if you have to kind of make it up or get really creative. Even if you were under a duvet and didn’t see the outside world, you can be pretty sure that the sun rose that day and objectively that is good because somewhere a nice hedgerow enjoyed an afternoon of photosynthesis (unless it rained and was cloudy…which is also good because then the hedge had a drink…).
One day, one of my positives was the fact that after taking one of my medications that is absolutely vile, I only wretched uncontrollably over a bowl four times. Why is that good? Because the previous day I had wretched at least five times, and today I already know that one of my positives is that I did a big sneeze (I flipping love sneezing).
Admittedly a lot of the time during this challenge you are going to feel like you are sieving for gold and only finding dirt which you are then painting to fool yourself is gold and maybe that is true, but I still think it is important because even little bits of dirt painted like gold are somewhat of an argument and challenge to the overriding emotion that EVERYTHING is dirt.
So that is my challenge to you if you struggle with depression or indeed if you are reading this blog at all. If you can think of three things that actually made you feel happy then do that, but if that is a bit of a stretch right now as it is for me, just write three things that are scientifically objectively good, even if you feel absolutely nothing positive about them whatsoever. Then at the end of the week when you are feeling useless and like you have just wasted another seven days staring into the abyss, you will have 21 tiny examples that things DO exist outside of that abyss. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe them now, the main thing is that you see them, acknowledge them and simply know that they are out there. Seeing good things isn’t as good as feeling them, but if seeing is believing, then my dears, we are at least a step along the way.
Thank you so much to everyone who has been sending me endless and wonderful support at this really rough time. You are all of my good things and I hope that this week, this hopefully less morbid post/challenge can partly repay you for all of that kindness and be a little support and help for you too.
Take care everyone x