The Mental Health “Spot The Good Things” Challenge

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

GoodThings

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The Numbness Of Depression

Trigger warning: This blog post does include a reference to self harm (a very casual one with no details), but if that would trigger you please go and read something more relaxing like a manual telling you how to grow vegetables. I hear it is the perfect time to plant courgettes…

Depression is, technically, one illness named after one emotion. For me however, what depression feels like is different every day. Sometimes having depression is the experience I imagine most people picture depression to feel like, aka some days I am depressed/agonisingly sad. Over the course of any average week though, it is likely that depression will throw up some different negative emotions picked out of its sinister collection. One day the main emotion might be guilt, the next hopelessness, anxiety, anger or even intense pain to the point that I go a bit delirious and start laughing for no reason because I don’t know what else to do. For me, depression is not simply about being depressed, it is about being and feeling many different things and sometimes, in my experience, living with depression is about feeling nothing at all. Today is one of those days.

I think trying to explain what it feels like to be numb is one of the harder aspects of depression to express because…well…it doesn’t FEEL like anything…that is the point…
If I had to try to describe it I would say it’s like you turn into a robot or someone who is sleepwalking. I can walk, talk and carry out mechanical actions when instructed, but I am not really there, sort of the classic the lights are on but no-one’s home because the occupants have decided to go on a Mediterranean cruise for a few weeks (they went waterskiing and had ice-cream on the beach. It really was a wonderful holiday).

When I feel numb I am technically alive in that I am breathing, but there is no real life there, it is just a body on autopilot, a tin man who hasn’t yet been given a heart.
There is no passion, no want or desires. There aren’t even preferences, because when you don’t feel anything, everything in this world is the same so there isn’t anything to choose from.
For example, if you have taste buds, buying a tub of ice cream involves making a choice because all the flavours taste different and will therefore be experienced differently. The tub of vanilla will taste of vanilla, the chocolate of chocolate and the strawberry ice cream will taste of pistachios (there was a mix up at the factory).
If however, all the ice creams were to taste the same, there would be no choice to make, you cannot choose one thing over another when everything tastes of cardboard.
On these numb days, days like today, you could honestly walk up to me and give me the options of either a hug or a punch in the face and I would be indifferent to both of them. Logically I can see that it is nicer to have a hug than a punch in the face, so rationally I can understand that the hug should be my choice, but that choice has no feeling. I don’t want the hug nor do I dread the punch in the face, I just know the one to go for through the same logical process you might use to tick a box in an exam paper of non-verbal comprehension.

On the one hand you would think it might be nice to not feel anything, and you could say that it is better to feel nothing than to feel heart aching sadness. I do not agree.
When you are angry or sad, you get through that emotion by feeling it and living out the experience.
When you are angry you can ride that wave by shouting into a pillow to get the frustration out (be sure to apologise to the pillow later), and when you are sad you can cry until you run out of tears. I actually think that the feeling you get after a really good cry is almost worth all the crying it takes to get there.
When you are numb however, you can’t scream or cry it out because there is nothing there to get out. You can’t whip out some techniques you have used in therapy to calm down, there is no proactive action you can take, you just have to stand there staring into space (you can stare at a TV screen or a tree instead but it won’t make any difference because everything looks the same, like all of the ice cream tasted of cardboard). You just have to sit with it.

If I am feeling numb I often try to motivate some kind of feeling or life back into myself by looking at one of my lists of reasons to stay alive. Sounds a bit dramatic but these days suicidal thoughts are so frequent and loud that I have to have at least one list on me at all times to provide an answer to the question of “Why not just end it now?”.
I have lists on my phone, lists in my diary, on my wardrobe, lists of the people that I love and any possible goals or aspirations for the future.
For example I know that one day I want to be a writer, I want to go to Disneyland, I want to have a cat and a dog, I want to read all of the books I can get my hands on and I want to have a house with one of those bookshelves that has a ladder attached so that I can swing between F.Scott Fitzgerald, Harry Potter and the Bronte sisters like Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

When I am numb however, the lack of desires, want or interest in anything makes these reasons that I hold as fundamental to my survival, redundant. They don’t mean anything. They are just empty words. It makes me sound like a terrible person and there are probably people out there who think I am a terrible person for what I am about to say but the truth is that on days like today, I even look at reasons like “You need to keep fighting for your Mum and Dad” and I feel nothing towards it or my parents.
I know logically that I love them more than anything and I know they are the most wonderful, caring and supportive parents in the world, but I don’t feel that love, I don’t feel that “I love you”, it is merely a factual statement. I can read the words “You need to keep fighting for your mum and dad who you love very much” but that’s all they are. Letters. Words. A variety of marks and symbols made out of ink on a page, words with no more weight, depth, significance or profound importance than a casual offhand comment someone might make about how much milk they like in their tea. “I love my family” should have far more passion in it than “just a splash of milk please” but again, I am numb, the feelings are on mute, everything is the same. Everything is cardboard.

Similarly, there are many reasons as to why I struggle with self harm. Sometimes I do it because I feel that I need to be punished, need to release some built up anxiety rushing through my veins, need to make an invisible pain visible so that I can understand it, and sometimes on numb days, I do it to try and get myself to feel something. ANYTHING, even if that feeling is unpleasant.
Today I self harmed to try and inspire the life back into me, shock the system from robot mode to human just as you might pinch someone to wake them from a dream. I thought that if I caused the body pain, my mind would come back to feel it and then maybe I could cry and feel better, but even though I could see the damage on my body I couldn’t feel a thing. It was like harming a very lifelike mannequin.

Today then, that is what depression feels like for me. It feels like nothing. I feel numb. Everything is cardboard. Today, I have no passion. All I have are these words, so that is what I am giving to you. I hope you find some meaning in them.

Take care everyone x

RobotKatie

How To Tackle Suicidal Thoughts And The Fear That Things Will Never Get Better

So, I will be honest, I am currently in a very dark place (my parents haven’t paid the electricity bill and I ate our entire supply of candles because they smelled like Jaffa cakes…Alas they did not taste like Jaffa cakes and I am still picking wax out of my teeth. Life lesson: do not eat scented candles).
Seriously though, mentally, things with me are pretty terrible and I am on the brink of giving up entirely. I am losing hope in the idea that one day things will be better, and recently I have noticed a lot of friends or people online with mental health problems feeling the same.

I think that there have been times in my life where I have just assumed that I am going to get better, just as you grow up assuming you will naturally fall into the stereotypical life of getting married and having a few kids. When I was younger I was always watching Disney films, and when it comes to Cinderella or Snow White, there is never any doubt as to how things are going to end. When you watch Cinderella you don’t sit around worrying that she will be stuck sweeping floorboards for the rest of her life, you know straight away that the girl is going to go to the ball in a big ole pumpkin and that her poor choice of ill fitting footwear is going to result in her marrying the man of her dreams. Naturally then, I assumed that one day I would lose a shoe and automatically fall in love with and marry some Prince Charming, without realising that my mother would never allow me to buy footwear I hadn’t tried on to ensure a perfect fit, or that I was a queer little thing who wasn’t interested in princes no matter how “charming” they may be.
Similarly with mental health problems, I guess I have always assumed that somehow, no matter what happens, one day there will be a fairy godmother with a magic wand and things will get better. I do not know how or when, but I simply couldn’t get my head round the idea that this could be it, that recovery isn’t as automatic and as assumed as I imagined princes to be, that sometimes, people spend their lives as tortured mentally ill souls with no happy ending.

Thinking like this, if I am going be in this state forever, it is easy to ask myself why not just end it now? Why draw it out? Why not rip the plaster off quickly as it were. It sounds incredibly bleak, but mental health problems are incredibly bleak and I am not going to sugar coat them to insinuate otherwise. Recently I have been having suicidal thoughts every minute of everyday, and when you don’t think you are ever going to get better, it is hard to come up with a good argument to fight them.

Like I said, I am not alone in feeling this, and I have had many conversations with fellow mental health warriors who have lost hope, who don’t think there is any chance of them getting better so why carry on? Maybe you yourself reading this have resigned yourself to the fact that you are a terminal case, perhaps because a professional has given you the label of “chronic” or simply because the weight of your struggles is so heavy that trying to imagine life without them is akin to trying to imagine a penguin without the adorablessness which, as we all know, is impossible (if anyone wants to debate this issue feel free to contact my solicitor and I will happily see you in court).
There is however one thing that I do find comforting, even when I fully believe that I will be like this forever, one argument against the suicidal screaming in my head telling me to jump into oblivion and end the debates/suffering once and for all, an argument that funnily enough, comes in the form of basic mathematics (don’t panic, I hate maths too but this is cool maths I promise and you don’t even need a protractor or a calculator to join in).

If you hark back to your maths lessons at school, you may remember the point where you started learning about things like probability. The lessons get more complex as each year passes, but in the early days of primary school education, the grand complexities of probability and chance are usually explained via some kind of analogy involving a bag filled with balls, for as we all know, in later life it is an incredibly common experience to be confronted with a bag of balls and the need to calculate your chances of picking out a specific kind of ball.
In the lesson, it is likely that the teacher produced a bag to explain things, and would say something like “there are ten balls in the bag, five green, five purple” before waffling on a bit about how if you put your hand in the bag there is an equal chance that the ball you pull out will be purple as there is for it to be green. Then the teacher usually complicated matters (don’t they always), and added say ten more purple balls to the bag. This would then make the chances of picking out a green ball less than they had been previously, and you will spend the next twenty minutes of that lesson calculating chance and ratios surrounding various combinations of coloured balls in a bag.

Now for the purpose of this discussion lets scrap the balls and replace it with a bag of Smarties because let’s be honest, we are not in some official school right now, we can do what we want in this maths lesson and if we want Smarties instead of balls we will damn well have them (I told you this maths would be fun…THERE ARE SMARTIES INVOLVED).

So, picture life as a bag filled with millions upon millions of Smarties (it is a really really big bag and these are really small Smarties).
All the Smarties in this bag are pink. Except for one. One of the Smarties hidden somewhere in that bag is blue. That blue Smartie is the chance of you getting better in a world of pink Smarties telling you that that isn’t going to happen. If you put your hand in the bag you may very well be right, you may get a pink Smartie and be mentally ill and miserable forever. In your mind the chances of you getting better are as rare as that blue Smartie, but the key thing is, as long as you are alive, that blue Smartie is still there, and the only way to guarantee 100% your belief or the professionals’ belief that you will never recover and are going to be miserable forever, is for you to end it all now.

When I have days that are plagued by suicidal thoughts so loud I can barely breathe because I don’t think things will ever be better, I always remind myself that the only way to make sure they don’t get better, is to listen to those thoughts. Killing yourself is basically like pouring all of your Smarties into the ocean so that the colour washes off and they all become white Smarties with that blue Smartie existing only in the realms of myths and legend. If you hang in there, aka you keep plunging your hand into that massive bag, there are no guarantees of you getting better, but by keeping yourself alive, at least you are keeping that chance alive too, however small and insignificant that chance may be.

Now like I said, I am going to be honest in this blog, because if you are someone who reads this blog, then I consider you as a friend and friends tell the truth so I refuse to sugar coat any of this (the only sugar coated contents of this blog are the Smarties).
If you are in a dark place like me right now, and have spent the day contemplating your demise, I am not here to tell you that if you keep fighting through this rubbish it will all work out in the end. I am not a fortune teller, I do not have a crystal ball, and the only conclusion I have ever gleaned from reading tea leaves is that I seem to have run out of tea. If you keep yourself alive and keep fighting maybe you are right, maybe things will stay rubbish and maybe you will keep plunging your hand into that bag and pulling out the pink Smarties. However, no matter how hopeless you feel, if you keep yourself alive, the chance that the blue Smartie will crop up is there. I cannot tell you the probability/ratio of how likely you are to get better, but you must always remember that if you are trying, there is at least a chance. Don’t allow the fear of being mentally ill forever, convince you to do the one thing that ironically does nothing but solidify that conclusion.
Fight back, keep trying, keep safe, and even in the darkest days, no matter what, you have to believe in that blue Smartie.

Take care everyone x

SuicideSmartie

“But You Don’t Look Depressed”

Have you ever played real life Where’s Wally but instead of a man in a bobble hat and a striped jumper you had to find someone with depression? Hopefully you answered no, (if you answered yes I would advise you to make some changes to games you play for recreational purposes and would suggest Scrabble as an alternative). If you did answer no though, it is a game I do not recommend because playing such a game would be practically impossible (again, maybe try Scrabble).

Despite the fact that we now live in a time where there is a fairly wide understanding that depression is a “mental” illness, I still feel like there is the idea that somehow it is as visible as a broken leg. In fact I have lost count of the number of times someone has discovered I have depression before responding in surprise with that oh so familiar phrase to anyone with depression, “but you don’t look depressed”.
To be fair, no, no I often don’t. Then again Ralph Fiennes didn’t look like Ralph Fiennes when he was playing Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films with his nose all squished out of recognition, but underneath all that make up/genuine wizardry, he was still Ralph Fiennes.
Much like Ralph Fiennes, people with mental health problems like depression are often great actors, dare I say even better than the ones you see on TV to be honest, as we don’t even need green screen or CGI fake noses.

Whenever people say that I “don’t look depressed” I almost want to ask what exactly someone who has depression should look like considering I am clearly not living up to their expectations.
I think the traditional depressed person is supposed to look like the pictures you see when you search depression on google images or look at any of the pamphlets they hand out at doctors’ surgeries. In the majority of these images, the people are curled up in a corner somewhere with their heads in their hands, but like the images you see of skeletal anorexics in the media, this is not always the case, and it is dangerous to think so.
Admittedly sometimes in my life living with depression, there is a lot of curling up in a ball for a good cry (often with Celine Dion – “All By Myself” playing in the background), yet that is not my constant state of being and not something I allow many people to see.
Inside I may feel like staying in that soggy ball all the time, but at family occasions or social events for example, I always put on my “sane” face and play the part of “human who has life together” as required by expectations upon me, much like many other people do at work or when they are in front of their children.

Contrary to portrayals in the media, often both I and other sufferers of depression really do just look like “normal people”. However well disguised a depression suffer is though, it doesn’t mean they are any less ill or need be taken any less seriously than those who are visibly struggling. Indeed, what a person looks like on the outside will tell you nothing of the severity of their condition, and you cannot compare sufferers based on the number of tears they have cried in the last fortnight.
Depression may be one illness, yet it expresses itself and feels different to every individual who suffers from it, so how one depressed person behaves could be totally different to someone else who also has the condition.
Even single individuals can present the illness in totally different ways depending on what day you come into contact with them so you can’t even classify people in groups of “loud person with depression” or “quiet person with depression”.
Like I said there are some days where my depression means that I physically cannot talk or get out of bed, and then aside from the days I have to pretend to be a certain way in front of family members, I have days at home in private where I am so depressed that I spontaneously burst out into hysterical laughter despite being alone and “allowed” to show how I really feel without upsetting anyone. It is almost like those situations in which people without depression hear a piece of bad news and instead of reacting with tears as would be appropriate, they just start laughing because their brain physically cannot cope with the shock/that amount of sadness. Truthfully I have had days where I can be so depressed that I spent half an hour hysterically guffawing (I believe the kids today call it “LMAOing”/“Loling”) at a pencil. Yes, you read that right, I laughed for half an hour at a pencil (not even a particularly funny pencil. His jokes were terrible. No idea of timing when it came to landing a punchline).

Much like the problem I discussed in my post about people with eating disorders not always being underweight, this misconception that someone must “look depressed” to be depressed is actually a mistake that puts many people at risk as well as being frustrating.
It is often due to this “depressed people must look depressed” problem that sufferers may feel unable to “come out” and be honest with family members about their issues for fear that they won’t believe them or take them seriously. Admitting to someone that you have depression is hard, often embarrassing and can take a lot of courage as it is, but to do so and then be told that you must be mistaken because “you don’t look depressed” is a sure fire way to make someone feel more devalued, ashamed and deluded than ever.
It is when people feel the need to keep their illnesses quiet and not seek help for fear of this response that they end up feeling more alone than they already did and in some circumstances take their own lives. How many articles about a suicide victim have you read where the family conclude by saying “we knew this would happen. Too much crying/head holding in the corner”? Most likely none, as usually such columns end with the far more unfortunate “we had absolutely no idea”.

When it comes to those with depression, in this post I really want to urge people to see them/us, not as head clutching Celine Dion fans, but instead as ninjas, masters of disguise who can pop up anywhere without people realising (only without the resulting violence that often ensues around ninjas).
That jolly person who served you in the supermarket? They could have had depression. That milkman that never shows any emotion at all? They could have depression. That girl you saw cycle past your house this morning? They could be a penguin in disguise, which isn’t exactly the same as depression but it just goes to show that you cannot make any judgements based on appearance alone.
Literally the only way it would ever be possible to play Where’s Wally where the aim is to spot the person with depression would be to make every sufferer of the aforementioned condition wear a Where’s Wally jumper at all times, and thankfully, that is never going to happen… At least I hope it doesn’t… I really don’t suit horizontal stripes.

Take care everyone x

dontlookdepressed

Managing Christmas With Depression

In day to day life, I think there is a certain pressure to be happy.
People are always singing about looking on the “bright side of life”, and whenever it is time to celebrate the anniversary of someone’s birth we tunelessly make our way through the all too familiar song that usually comes prior to the blowing out of some candles on a cake, a song that urges the person to feel joy that they are no longer entrapped by the walls of a womb. Even at Easter or New Year the pressure to have a “Happy” time is plastered into the holiday by cards and pictures willing joy at that time of year (this is why I like Lent. There is no pressure to be happy at Lent. Good for you Lent.)
Obviously, this is all makes a lot of sense as people want other people to be happy during celebratory times or indeed all year round. It would be a pretty miserable world if every birthday we received cards that said things like “I hope you have a horrendous day and that everyone forgets to buy you a cake” or “I hope you spend the day wishing you were back in the womb as I have since the day you were born”, and it certainly would make party hats and balloons look a little out of place.
Nevertheless, of all the times we are told to be happy, there is no holiday with a greater pressure for merriment than the month long December festival of Christmas. If you can be happy then that is great, but when you have depression this pressure for jovial smiles and antler hats can be incredibly difficult and is one of the reasons I think people with mental illnesses often find Christmas to be one of the most difficult times of the year.

Seriously, the pressure is everywhere, both from fellow humans and even foods that pop up in the bakery aisle at the supermarket, grinning at you from their cellophane packets like it is the easiest thing in the world (yes gingerbread men. I am talking about you. Smug bastards…On another note can someone please tell me why gingerbread men have buttons…as far as I can see they are naked little creatures and without clothes I cannot see the necessity for holding those non existent garments together with bright Smartie buttons…are their clothes invisible? In which case why can I see their buttons…or is the gingerbread man actually a biscuit version of a normal man in a gingerbread suit of which the buttons are a part…Oh my goodness I bet that is it…the outside of a gingerbread man is actually a costume to disguise the nature of the fact we are all eating standard biscuit men instead of these fictional gingerbread creatures…we have all been lied to…TRUST NOBODY THIS FESTIVE SEASON).

There is even pressure to laugh at meal times what with the compulsory paper hats and jokes fluttering from the folds of exploding crackers, although I do have to admit, I rather like the prizes you get in crackers. I swear every box contains at least one cracker with a bag of marbles in, which is odd considering nobody plays marbles these days…suffice it to say I have not won a stash myself yet (I do however have a life time supply of tiny playing cards and mini screwdrivers.)
Nevertheless, all this forced joy makes it seem as if people see December as a time we can all put aside our difficulties for the month just so we don’t ruin carol singing around the tree, or setting fire to a Christmas pudding with our miserable faces in the background of every photograph.

Indeed the difficulty of Christmas with mental health problems is evidenced by the fact that suicide rates go up around this time of year. I don’t know why exactly this is, but if I had to hazard a guess I would say that it is this pressure to be happy that is the cause.
Having depression and admitting to having spent three days crying into a pillow is hard all year round, but at least all year round it is more acceptable. At Christmas any sign of negativity is immediately rebuked with the instruction “cheer up! It is Christmas”, as if a bit of tinsel and a few fairy lights should be enough to cure any depression. You can’t even cancel plans at Christmas if you are too unwell or anxious to leave the house, without being charged with the accusation that you are a “party pooper” (when really it is your mental illness that has been doing all the pooping on the party rather than something you have decided to do for laughs).

At Christmas then, the pressure to be happy means that people feel more unable to talk about the negative things going on for fear of bringing everyone down. Every time you are greeted by a family member you haven’t seen in a while for one of the annual gatherings they will ask things like “how have you been?”, a difficult topic to discuss when “Pretty suicidal and this is the first time I have got out of my duvet fort all week” is not deemed an acceptable answer. For this reason, many people feel the need to lie about how they truly feel and have to grit their teeth, lying about how they are “not too bad” whilst simultaneously having to swallow the lonely truth that they wish they could reach out to someone with for comfort rather than suffer in silence, and If there is one thing guaranteed to make a mental health problem worse, it is suffering in silence. Maybe suicide rates go up then not just because of the stress and debt as postulated in the papers, but because this pressure to be happy leaves people more ashamed than usual and unable to ask for help.

Perhaps another reason as to the rise in number of those who feel there is no escape from their pain other than to end their existence, is that everyone else in the world always looks especially happy. Of course there is a good chance that they aren’t happy and we are all hiding the truth behind toothy grins together, but seeing everyone around you feeling something and being caught up in a merriment your brain will not allow, can make you feel just as lonely and isolated as the inability to speak out honestly.

Obviously I am not criticising the general population for being happy at Christmas, nor am I blaming the rise in suicide rates on the smiley faces of ginger spiced baked goods (those would be some pretty powerful biscuits), but I guess I just want people to know that if it were possible for the mentally ill to set aside our aching emptiness of depression for the festive period, every sufferer would do just that. When we are miserable at Christmas it is not because we haven’t got into the Christmas spirit or because we want to ruin cutting the Christmas cake. I personally wish I could buck up and ensure my family have a “happy Christmas” but I can’t, and it is hard to feel guilty about it every year.

Similarly, if you yourself are a sufferer and struggling with the need to be merry and bright this winter, I wanted to write this post to let you know that not being happy and able to throw caution and anxiety into the wind so you can enjoy yourself, doesn’t mean you are a bad person nor does it mean that you are alone. As you sit there grinning at the dinner table holding back tears you know rationally have no right to be there, as lonely as it feels, you are not alone. If you are struggling please do not feel such a pressure to be silent that things end up getting worse. More people need to speak about living with depression as Christmas if the problem is ever going to be solved, so admitting that you need help is not a sign of weakness or shame. Instead it is admitting that things are not as simple as checking the date on the calendar to see how happy you should be for the day, and that depression is not easily solved by a bit of festive ribbon.

If you are reading this with or without mental health problems I of course wish you a fabulous Christmas, but then again do not feel any pressure. Maybe this year is just about having an “alright” Christmas or simply getting through Christmas at all, and it is a bucket full of “have an OK Christmas” wishes that I am sending to you now. However you feel, it is ok, you have every right to feel it, and you are certainly not alone. Take care everyone. x

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Why Being Suicidal Is Not About Wanting To Die

Before reading this post please note that it involves trying to explain what being suicidal feels like, so if there is ANY risk of that triggering you in any way please click away now.

Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about because there are so many feelings that go alongside it. For some it can be immoral, too upsetting, something “selfish” people do, too sensitive, too dark, maybe even something that people avoid talking about because it is too difficult to understand why someone would commit such an act. For all of these valid and understandable reasons, suicide is not often talked about, it is a bit of a taboo, especially for people who find themselves plagued by suicidal thoughts on a daily basis.
To say you feel suicidal sounds melodramatic and “actually mad”, so I feel that a lot of people who feel that way keep quiet because they either don’t want the judgement/stigma that comes with honesty, or because they don’t want to be thought of as “crazy” and locked up in some imagined padded cell with a straitjacket and men in white coats. However I think that if more people were honest and able to openly talk about suicidal thoughts without any stigma, maybe more people would come forward to discuss how they feel, which could then save lives. Before this can happen though, I think more people need to understand what people mean when they say they are suicidal, rather than jumping to the conclusion that the person is insane and simply wants to die.

As it happens, or at least in my case, when I have suicidal thoughts/ideations/damn annoying brain intrusions that I wish would kindly leave immediately (that is the official medical term), it is nothing about wanting to die. Obviously I cannot speak for everyone who has ever thought about suicide, but from people I have spoken to, I have found a common ground in that a fair amount don’t exactly want anything. For many, suicide is actually more about not wanting something.

Imagine being on one of those step machines in the gym. I don’t know what they are called, but I am talking about the thing that is kind of like a treadmill but with steps instead of flat space, so you can effectively walk up a constant stream of stairs without actually going anywhere (what a productive way to spend your time!).
Imagine you have been on that same step machine for hours, constantly walking up stairs that take you nowhere. Understandably, after several hours you will be exhausted, fed up, in physical pain and unsure as to whether you can continue. There is however no off button on this machine (a severe design flaw), and you cannot get off it without falling into a giant tank of hungry sharks, poisonous jellyfish and squid with tentacles poised to strangle you the moment you hit the water (please note this is not often the case when it comes to machines in your local gym, but for the sake of example just humour me).
You don’t want to keep walking, but you certainly don’t want to fall into the lagoon of doom, so you force yourself to persevere in the hopes that if you keep pushing, eventually the machine will stop and you will be free. A week passes. The machine is still going, you are in agony, yet you persist. 9 months pass. You have been walking up these seemingly pointless stairs for as long as it take for a human to be created and born and you are in pain that cannot be described. You are worn out, spent of all your best efforts, and are the walking definition of “at the end of one’s tether”. You then look down and find yourself contemplating the only way you can see out of the situation, the lagoon of dooSuicide Squidm which is no less terrifying than the first day you found yourself on this godforsaken machine. Obviously you do not want to jump into the water, (you can’t swim and have a severe phobia of marine life), but after 9 months on this damn machine, the sharks and jellyfish look like the only/best option. When thinking about whether or not to jump, you are not thinking about what you want to do, you are thinking about getting away from the pain coursing through your body
, opting for the lesser of two evils, even if the evil hovering below you is a giant furious squid with a monocle (the squid isn’t actually wearing a monocle but this post is getting a bit heavy and I am trying to lighten the mood. I want this post to inform not drag readers into a bottomless depression).

To me, that is what feeling suicidal feels like, it isn’t a case of wanting to die, it is a case of
not feeling able to carry on. That said, the analogy is not perfect and I AM NOT SAYING THAT SOMETIMES SUICIDE IS THE ONLY OPTION. My explanation is HOW IT FEELS to be suicidal as opposed to the reality.

If the person reading this is well aware of the pain of suicidal thoughts, I want you to know that the reality of the situation is very different. Little do you know that whilst you are on that machine, helicopters and cranes are on the way to rescue you, the machine is going to run out of electricity, you are not going to be walking in that pain forever and there is always a way out or an escape even if you can’t see it. Things don’t stay the same forever, even the Spice Girls broke up eventually and we all thought that was a bond that would never be broken. Machines and depression or suicidal thoughts cannot survive into infinity and whilst you fight your way through I can guarantee there are a million people out there who want nothing more than to help you off that machine. It may not be today or tomorrow but some day a giant bird is going to appear with a rescue team on its back and you are going to have a way out that doesn’t involve the lagoon of doom or actual suicide. The important thing, is that you are alive to see that day, and hopefully ride off on that giant bird/life without these thoughts, that when on the stepper you never thought was possible.
If you can relate to this post in any way, please know that I am marching up those seemingly endless stairs alongside you, not knowing what to do but just hoping that one day that bird is going to come and all of this pain will be a distant memory.
This post is to explain how it FEELS to be suicidal to people who may not understand, but if you do understand please know that the feelings are not reality. They can’t be. Squid don’t even wear monocles.

Seriously though, If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts please tell someone right away, whether that be a friend, stranger on a helpline (you can call Samaritans on 116 123) or even go to A&E. Just don’t be afraid of talking about it, because staying silent is ultimately a hell of a lot more dangerous.

Take care peeps x

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An Attempt At Explaining Self-Harm:

Before anyone reads this I just want to put out a brief trigger warning that this post discusses the purposes and reasons as to why people may self harm so if that would trigger you in anyway please click away and read Harry Potter instead.

As I am typing this I am honestly surprised at how uncomfortable I feel discussing this topic. I am fairly open when it comes to my mental health, partly because I am currently unable to hide it, and partly because I want to reach out to other people to either help or offer a bit of company in what can be a very lonely battle of the mind. Writing a post that acknowledges that I self harm however is somehow harder than waffling on about having anorexia, OCD or depression as I find it really embarrassing. I feel when it comes to self harm there is a particularly high level of stigma and misunderstanding, it being a common belief that people do it for attention. For this reason I feel a lot of shame admitting that it is something I struggle with, which is silly because it isn’t something to be ashamed of at all. Equally it isn’t something to be proud of, it is just something that exists as a problem for a lot of people, and so I am going to try and explain it here as best I can to anyone out there who can’t get their head round it. Maybe if more people talk about it and understand, we can all be open and able to deal with it rather than keeping it as a shameful secret that will never get better unless it is talked about.

As always I cannot speak for everyone with this issue but I am going to at least provide a list of three reasons as to why personally I struggle with self harm and perhaps other people will be able to relate. I also just want to preface these points by saying that in explaining the rationale behind self harm I am not justifying it as a good thing to do whatsoever, it is an unhealthy coping strategy that needs to be talked about and treated to find alternative ways of managing difficult feelings that are not so damaging. Still, you can’t find an alternative until you know what purpose self harm serves in general or for you personally, so here goes:

1. It provides a release: When I am feeling particularly anxious/stressed/upset, it can feel like I am physically bursting with the emotions coursing around my body. It is like that buzz of adrenaline you get when you are scared of something, your skin prickles, you can feel your heart beating and the extra energy pulsing through your veins. You are full of so much extra emotion that you are going to burst like the lid off a pan of frantically popping popcorn. Without the heat on, the popcorn kernels fit in the pan, but with the heat/distress they expand and burst all over the place because they, like the emotions and upset, take up too much room. When I feel like a bursting pan of popcorn (and we all know what a common feeling that is), self harm is a way that helps release some of the pressure, it is lifting the lid a little so that some of the popcorn banging around inside can get out.

2. It makes the pain you feel visible, understandable and treatable:  A lot of the time, feeling extremely depressed or upset for no logical reason can be frightening as you know it doesn’t make sense for you to feel so distressed over nothing. When I self harm I make the pain that is frightening me understandable. I feel the same pain I was feeling but I can see where the pain is coming from, no longer is it an unknown mental pain, I know the source. I hurt because I have a wound, the pain makes sense and I know that physical wounds can heal, I can do something about it, I know what to do to treat it, and I can be proactive in it getting better. It is still unpleasant, but it is a distraction from the mental pain that was previously occupying all of my brain space, a pain that I couldn’t treat, nor did I know for certain if it was ever going to go away.

3. It serves as a punishment to relieve guilt: Like many people in this world, with or without mental health problems, it could be argued that I have low self esteem. I find this hard to believe, as rather than low self esteem I feel I have an accurate understanding of my inadequacies as a human, a self awareness that I am a terrible person, but I have been told this is all lies and the whole low self esteem thing by many people over the years so I try my best to believe them. Anyway, because of the way I feel about myself, I feel guilty for taking up a place on this planet. I feel guilty for wandering around this planet and forcing others to deal with my presence when they would be a lot better off without me, I feel bad for using up oxygen that would better be spent passing through the lungs of someone else. Self harm is a sort of punishment to lessen the guilt of living, it is to make up for my crimes committed just by existing. I am also not asking for people to tell me that I am not a terrible person because I have never been able to believe anyone else’s opinion (which is hilarious really…I think I am the worst person in the world yet simultaneously think I am right about everything…), but if I had to give a comparison to try and help people make sense of all of this, I would basically sum this point up as “I am Dobby the house elf”. I am sure everyone has read the Harry Potter books (and if you haven’t you really should), so I won’t explain this likeness in too much detail, but basically, like Dobby, when I do something wrong I feel I have to do something to punish myself for it.

Sitting here and reading all of that back, I feel as naked as the day I arrived on this planet (remain calm, I am technically wearing clothes right now, I just feel a bit exposed considering I am letting people into a piece of my brain). Still, this is important stuff, and like I said before if nobody talks about it then self harm becomes this big taboo that will never be understood. Again, this explanation of self harm is not condoning it in any way and if you are struggling please seek help right away as there are certainly other ways to fulfil the purpose self harm has in your life. I myself am currently working to battle this issue and find alternative coping mechanisms. When I find some good ones I will certainly be making a post about them to try and help people if possible.
Until then, please stay safe everyone, take care, and know that I am sending a lot of love and support to you all.
P.S Just going to end this post with a quick clarification to clear up any confusion resulting from my comparison of myself to Dobby the house elf. Though I admit I have a self harm punishment style likeness to Dobby, that this is the ONLY similarity I have to Dobby. I want it known that, contrary to popular opinion, I am not in fact a house elf, and that my job last December was as a CHRISTMAS elf. We Christmas elves are indeed a very different species, so to make that plain, below I have provided a brief diagram to demonstrate some of the key differences between House elves and Christmas elves. I hope this helps. Thank you.

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P.P.S If you read all of this then as a reward here is a photo of me as a Christmas elf. Feel free to make it your screensaver.

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6 Ways To Explain Depression To People Who Don’t Really Understand It:

Living with depression is incredibly hard, but to people who don’t live with it, so is comprehending what it actually feels like to suffer with an illness that is often brushed off as “just being a bit down in the dumps”. For this reason, to try and help more people understand the condition, I have come up with 6 examples of the way depression feels for me in ways I hope are easily understood or related to by anyone.

1. The “night before dread”: You know when it is the day before something you really do not want to do/are frightened of? Like the first day back at school after the summer holidays or a rectal exam? That feeling of absolute dread when you look forward to the next day’s unpleasant events that you cannot get out of? That dread of the next day is what depression feels like, only you feel it every day, all day for no reason whatsoever. You look to the future and realise that there is no impending rectal exam or reason for you to feel this way at all, which in theory should make you feel better but it doesn’t. It actually feels more frustrating, because unlike when you know what you are dreading and know you will feel better when the looming event is over, when you are dreading nothing in particular, you don’t know how to get that “nothing” out of the way so that you can feel better and move on with your life.

2. The “head in a bucket”: For me, depression often feels like having your head in a very heavy immovable bucket. It is pitch black all around and darkness is all you can see. At the same time people are standing beside you without a bucket on their head, telling you to look at trees, pretty flowers and positive things in life, which would be all well and good if your head wasn’t stuck in a bucket. They tell you to look on the bright side, to look at the sunshine/how lucky you are and you really try. You squint and turn your head for hours desperately trying to see what they see but no matter how hard you try all you see is darkness, not because you aren’t wanting to see the light, but because that damn bucket on your head is blocking it all out.

3. The “Robot driver”: Many days I wake up once in the morning, and then again sometime in the afternoon, having lived part of my day without really realising what was going on. It feels as if my body has gone on autopilot and turned me into a robot carrying out all the daily tasks required of me without really being present or noticing what is going on at all. It is like when you drive yourself home sometimes (not that I can drive but I hear this is a common experience), and then when you get to your front door you don’t remember the drive because you were too distracted thinking about how fantastic penguins are. The difference is that with the depression robot automaton example, you don’t know what you were distracted by, what you were thinking about or whether you were actually conscious or present at all. Your body has just been moving around with no-one inside.

 
4. The “frozen mute weird coma active mind thing that I cannot think of a good name for”: Imagine someone has super glued your tongue to the roof of your mouth. They have also injected you with some weird substance that means you physically cannot move your limbs or your face and you cant really feel them either. If someone touches your arm you can see it happening but you can’t feel the other person on your skin. Mentally your brain is active and you are thinking things like “I really should get up do something productive right now” or “I have so much to do and I have to get on for goodness sake move”, but still your body is too numb to respond and you can’t even open your mouth or speak to tell anyone what is going on.

5. The classic “Wading through treacle” but with weights tied to your ankles: This example pretty much says it all in the title, but basically just imagine trying to walk across a football pitch which is filled up to your chin with treacle (an unfortunate consequence of an explosion and resulting flood at the local treacle factory. Thankfully I can assure you all that nobody was harmed in the explosion but a hell of a lot of treacle has been wasted by spreading itself across this football pitch). You also have heavy weights strapped to every limb so every step is a huge effort, yet still you try as hard as you can and use all your strength to get to the other side of the pitch. In reality though, that struggle merely corresponds to the task of cleaning your teeth, so to get through the entire day there are still hundreds more pitches of treacle in front of you that you must pass through before you can just give up and go back to sleep again.

6. The “Deserted Wasteland”: Sometimes depression feels like you are standing out in the middle of a deserted wasteland (you wouldn’t have guessed this from the title of this one but just go with me and don’t feel too surprised), where all around you there is just barren empty land. There is no grass, no trees, no sign of life anywhere around as far as your eyes can see. You can have a hundred members of your family and friends in the real world trying to look after you and supporting you through it, so you shouldn’t feel so isolated but no matter what is going on in the “real world”, mentally, in the desert, you are always completely alone.

Now I will admit that this is not the jolliest list of examples ever to exist, but to be fair depression isn’t the jolliest thing in the world, so I guess you could say I have done a pretty good job…Anyway, I hope this list helps someone supporting a friend or family member with depression to understand what they may be feeling. Also if you are a fellow sufferer/bucket wearer, I hope you find some solace in the fact that you are not the only person that feels like this and that there are people out there who understand, even if they only exist on the internet.

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