Monday, January 24, 2011

A few Thoughts on Surviving Depression

 So, you have the flu. Your body aches, your head aches, your throat hurts, your eyes prickle, you shiver with sweat-drench high temperature, life sucks.

So what do you do? Do you lie naked on a bed of nails outside in the pouring winter rain, wear a hair shirt and self-flagellate? Do you cuddle a metal ECO tanka drinking flask filled with water and frozen hard? Do you eat your most hated foods and drink unsweetened boiled strong tea with soured milk? Do you play heavy metal and original old punk with the volume turned to full? Because if you're stupid enough to get the flu you deserve to suffer as much as possible.

Or do you curl up in a warm, soft bed, with crisp, clean sheets changed regularly by whoever comes by. You cuddle up to a hot water bottle, refilled hourly. You eat only treats and drink the most soothing liquids. You suck pleasant lozenges and swallow paracetamol as needed.  You have a good book at hand and read a paragraph or two as you are able, and if you feel like music, it is soft and sweet. You nurture yourself and ask for care from others, making your world as comforting as possible until the flu recedes and you can live again.

So, you have depression. Your soul is desolate, black, oppressive, helpless, hopeless. At it's almost worst you are so deadened, you cannot walk and talk at the same time. At the next step down you can't do either. At it's very worst you rise up from your bed and kill yourself.

So, what do you do when you are depressed? Do you see the worst in everything, taking note of every wrinkle in the sheet, every un-dusted shelf, every flaw on your skin, every word said or unsaid, every glance, every caterpillar bite out of your lettuce, every tiny cloud, every mosquito, every milligram of weight gained or lost? Carefully chronicling all the things that prove that you are horrible, undeserving, unworthy of love and life. Do you berate yourself with self-abuse? Do you gorge on chocolate until you are sick, then call yourself disgusting? Do you eat food you dislike because you don't deserve better? Do you pour your vitriol against self and others all over your friends before shutting them out completely?

Or do you nurture yourself and ask for care from others, making your world as comforting as possible until this depression illness recedes and you can live again?

 Frankly, in 40 years of bouts of depression, this latter had never occured to me as a possibility.

There have always been plenty of people to tell me what to do:

Just pull yourself together.

Don't be so selfish. You're upsetting others.

There's plenty of people worse off than you.

Have another drink.

Get over yourself and get a life.

Then there's the perennial You just have to make the choice to think positively instead of negatively. Like I was waking up each day and thinking, "Today, hmmmm, yeah, today I'm choosing to be really fucking miserable."

Some would tell me that all it takes is to repeat 'affirmations' to myself in the mirror and soon all my problems would be solved. "I am beautiful just the way I am." Ignore the doctor if he says, lose weight or you'll get diabetes / heart disease / die. "I am beautiful just the way I am." Yeah, right.

I always found the count your blessings, be grateful for what you've got suggestion particularly annoying. Count my blessings? I have a lovely husband (but he won't go dancing with me.) I have a lovely house (but it's not finished.) I have four sons whom I adore (but I don't get to see and talk with them enough.) Blah blah blah but but but. Then there's the guilt. I should be grateful and happy because I have it so good compared to people in the refugee camps on Christmas Island, enslaved children in Africa producing chocolate for me to make myself sick on, that woman who is beaten daily by her abusive husband.....and so on and on.

Others would tell me to cheer myself up by doing things that I like doing. Well, duh! When depression stomps all over me, I don't like doing anything!

It wasn't until recently that I discovered that these suggestions have a degree of truth to them. Perhaps these truths are obvious to the people who offer them, but to a depressed person they seem trite, simple and insulting.

Then someone said, When you're down, do things you like doing when you are well, and keep doing them even if you are not getting any pleasure from them. And you know, I have found that he's right - eventually  there's, well, not more pleasure immediately, but perhaps, less displeasure with life. It's like the nurturing we give ourselves or our children when we have a physical illness like the flu. I need to make everything I can as pleasant and comforting as I can while I suffer through this bout of mental illness. The other day I could feel myself falling downwards and took myself off to the sea. I swam in the Ngarunui Beach waves for an hour and a half, not emerging until I started feeling better (albeit very wrinkled!) I'm trying to make myself do things I enjoy when feeling good, even when I feel bad. Like writing, walking, making books, spending time with friends, gardening, swimming. It's really really hard when I'm slipping down, but so far it seems to be working, in that I hold where I caught myself rather than slipping further.

Count your blessings, be grateful for what you've got has similarly taken on new meaning since I let go of the big blessings. Instead I find that meditative mindfulness of the small things is what works for me. The loss of sense of self, and immersion in the universe that I have always got when swimming, I now find in scything too. But beyond these physical activities, I find that simple mindful observation of the beauty and intricacy of our world can also lift me out of the oblivion of the self and into the oblivion of the all.

St John's Wort Hypericum perforatum - I don't have to swallow it - with determination, just looking at it can bring a smile to my face.

(PS - Surviving depression takes a lot more than this, but these are just a couple of the new (to me) ways that I have been making my life more bearable.)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Back Again!

This time last year I wrote about the acquisition of our new kitten, Spike, after finally giving up hope of one of our old cats ever returning: then on 17th January, just two days after we got wee Spike, Shadow returned after 7 months away.

About 5 months ago, after several absences, starting off with a couple of days then building up to longer absences, Shadow disappeared again.

Would you believe that just one day less than a year since his last reappearance, we got a call from our neighbour to say that our cat was there! Shadow is back! This time he has come back looking tired and very thin, and a bit scared of the dog and of strangers. But he seems happy to be back, and is distributing lots of cuddles to anyone who sits down. We're even letting him sleep on our bed - an unusual treat for him.

Monday, January 10, 2011

So there I was trying hard not to cry, trying hard not to mind too much that my 'baby' had gone away again, out of my life and into his own. The plus of having more than one child is that Steven was still here, and Simon decided to visit too.

Simon is the one who always makes me see things in a new and different way. When he was in his teens he taught me, literally to see things, shapes, colours differently: like a child or artist living in the magic of shifting reality. He always brings with him a magic duster to sweep the cobwebs from my eyes.

Shortly afterwards two of his friends joined us: Tim shot a possum in the orchard and was rewarded by one of Mac's beloved plums.

On Saturday we all went to the beach (have I mentioned that it is the best beach in the world?) for a long swim after Mac and I had cut some more gorse - the bonfire and firewood pile are growing . The water was so warm it was almost not refreshing! Even my skinny Simon, who usually gets cold very quickly, stayed in for ages.

In amongst the gorse I cut, I found two birds nests. The softness of these seems oddly contradictory against the fierce prickles of the gorse, yet it makes perfect sense to build them in such an inhospitable place - the cats don't seem to like the gorse any more than I do.

And how better to end such a satisfactory day than with the sweet sound of a flute playing in the garden?

The following evening an other day of gorse cutting and swimming was brought to a close with visual rather than musical delight. In the west, the sun sets...........

................ In the east, it sets not just our hearts on fire but the windmills too.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

2011 Week One

The first week of 2011 has involved lots of gorse: chainsawing it down. Yes, it is that big! It's hard work, but we really want to clear the bank beside the driveway so that it isn't so threatening as we (and visitors) drive up. First I chainsaw it and Mac follows along painting the stumps with waste oil in the hope that will slow the regrowth. Then I throw the cut gorse down onto the driveway where Mac and I load it onto the trailer (second handling). We then take it and unload (third handling) onto a pile which will later be burnt. One cloudy day we managed five trailer loads, but most days it's only two or three.

It's very satisfying to see the bank getting clearer, the bonfire piles getting higher - and the firewood pile also growing.

On the second day of the New Year, I spent 3 1/2 hours shut in a small almost airtight room helping my bee buddy Barbara extract 70kgs of honey from their frames. It's very hard work, very hot work, delightfully messy, sweet, aromatic work - I love doing it. And the result - honey to take home.

On Monday 3rd January Mac helped me to take a thorough look inside my beehive. I had been worried about how it looked, but put off looking inside because of all the busyness around Christmas / New Year. More fool me - it seems something had happened to my queen. And to lots of my hive. I have no idea what - other than that the plants in my top garden were also looking pretty damn sick, so possibly som kind of spray drift. After ringing several people and doing my best to get some local help, I turned to the internet and bought a box of bees plus brood and a queen on Trade Me, and went and collected them on Friday. I have merged them with the original hive as instructed by a professional I talked to - here's hoping it works and my hive survives.

Jeff and Konny organised a LAN party for Monday night, which involves 11 0r 12 computers and bodies lining the sitting-room for the night. Heidi, Mac and I escaped outside and spent a long time star gazing. The stars are amazing from our place but we don't get out to look at the enough, so it was good to have been driven out of the house by the LANers.

On Tuesday I went to Greg's place and collected Ti'ana and Ethan who came to spend two nights with me. I do love having them, and they seem much happier and more settled these days.

I had found a few left over fireworks and had bought some marshmallows so we had a fun first night.

After I took them back to Greg's on Thursday, I met my friend Violet for coffee before going to the supermarket. It was so good to catch up - it seems that the friends who live close often get neglected - we put it off because we can do it 'tomorrow' or 'next week' - this year I want to make more effort to see people in person, rather than just chatting on the phone or online.

Friday was sad - I took Jeff and Konny back to Auckland. I miss Jeff so much. We were such good friends for so long, doing so much together, but now he lives in Auckland, and has a better friend to do things with anyway. That's the downside of parenting: you spend years helping them to grow up to be independent adults - then that's just what they do! Trouble is, no one trains us mothers how to handle the sadness this brings. A beloved child cannot be replaced by any one or any thing else - there is a hole left by each one that leaves, and the youngest is the hardest. But that's just the way it has to be.

Swimming at the beach in Raglan takes all thoughts away though. In the waves I stop being me and just become the world. It is the best thing in the world, and our beach is the best beach in the world!

New Year

 I follow a number of blogs and the ones I enjoy most these days are not so much the stimulating, thought-provoking, argumentative blogs, but rather, the blogs that offer snapshots of the writer's world, the apparently simple day to day thoughts and pictures of what brings pleasure to them.

Although disappointment and sadness are very real, it is important for me too to start to focus also on the joys of life, however small. As someone who has suffered from depression for decades, and who has been badgered by the positive-thinking-born-again-Amway types of this world, I have a tendancy to steer well clear of positive thinking in any form. I'm coming to realise that focusing on the positive things in my life doesn't mean I have to lie to myself in the way that many 'positive thinkers' do. I don't have to tell myself that I'm world-shatteringly beautiful - I just have to stop telling myself I'm ugly, and hey, I've got quite a nice tan at the moment. But it is also okay - necessary even - for me to acknowledge the sadness and disappointments.

Twenty two years ago my mother died, just nine months after the death of my father in the same year. Now that was a hard year! Consequently, New Year's Eve is always hard for me. For the last ten years I have filled that day with fun by having a party at our place (except for one year when we went to a friend's party.)  This year I started asking people, but it seemed other people had already made plans to go elsewhere, and so it was just Mac and me at home, and I struggled to find anything to feel positive about. Jeff and Konny were home but spent the evening in their room. I had broached the idea of going into Raglan to watch the fireworks but no body had seemed interested. However, at 11.30 Konny came out and asked if anyone else wanted to go. So we did. Awesome!