I am a 51 year old, life-long sufferer of clinical depression and anxiety – there’s a book in me, I should write it as I think it could be of value and assistance to other sufferers and their families/loved ones but that is not something for this blog.
I’ve had my ups and downs, some of the downs have been deep, one was so deep that I almost disappeared for good. I also, besides the meds for depression, take meds to keep panic attacks at bay and I live my life in the cage that is my obsessive personality (though I do try to engineer that characteristic in a positive direction).
I guess the major difference between how I am now and how I was in the past, up to about 5 years ago, is that I am more aware of myself now, more able to distinguish myself, the real me, from the me as I am when I’m being mauled by the black dog of depression. I don’t think I mistake the mauled me for what and who I really am – when I sink below the surface, I think I appreciate what’s happening, that it’s not really me – I know that I just have to sit it out and wait, just like my wife has to do when she finds herself in a migraine zone which can last for days.
My meds don’t live my life for me, they ‘merely’ allow me to live my life. My meds allow me to function on a level playing field.
I do struggle to maintain active participation in life – my default/’natural’ state is one which would, if I didn’t fight it, have me go through life passively. I have to work hard NOT to fall down, I have to work hard to stay in control – it’s a constant fight/battle against that part of me which is constantly saying ‘give up’. That is the priority I MUST focus on, staying ‘in control’, it’s the foundation on which the rest of my existence, my living, stands.
A positive state of mind, it does not come naturally to me. If I walk into my bedroom during the day, I often want to get into bed, regardless of what time it is! Those on the ‘outside’, even our loved ones, no matter how close, emotionally and/or physically, they are to us (people with depression), they don’t see us battling, they don’t realise what a success it is for us sometimes when they see us out of bed, showered, dressed and downstairs with a coffee – that can be quite an achievement for us in and of itself!
I met a lovely couple last week – in their 70’s/80’s – I’m not sure why I’m mentioning their age as I guess it’s irrelevant. We, that’s my wife and I, and this couple, were sitting next to each other in a hotel bar and we got chatting. We got on very well, lots of laughter and we chatted again at breakfast the next morning. I can’t remember how it came up but I mentioned my depression to the guy and he was stunned, in shock…. “YOU??!!” Depression is often an invisible illness. It is often the people you’d least expect to be suffering from depression who are the sufferers! It happens a lot of the time, I meet someone, he/she is larger than life, jokes, laughs, sociable, appears relaxed, at peace, but I can see in that persona an act, an absence of authenticity.
So many of us, we put on a show. I often feel like that, like I’m on a stage, performing, playing a character or doing ‘stand-up’ – it can be quite an effort. I don’t think the character I play is completely fictional, I think it reflects inherent elements of my character/personality, perhaps the inherent elements which are simply smothered by the simmering depression. There are times when there is a big contrast between how I’m feeling and how I appear – there are other times when the contrast is not so great, when the effort required in public is less than at other times.
[An aside: I remember reading that someone once went up to Cary Grant and told him that he would love to be him, to which Cary apparently replied that he would, too! Cary said that there were three sides to him, 1), the character he was playing in a movie, 2), ‘Cary Grant’, the character he played in public, 3), Archie Leach (his ‘birth’ name), the authentic man we only knew as ‘1)’ and ‘2)’, Archie Leach, the private man].
As I said, for me, part of the battle is my taking control of my life and two of the manifestations of that have been:
1) my attention to diet/nutrition;
3) latterly, sleep – quantity and quality.
Before April 2015, I was doing, to all intents and purposes, no exercise and I was eating ‘like there was no tomorrow’. As an obsessive, I can ‘flick a switch’ in my brain – I cut out sweets, biscuits, cake, alcohol, I watch the complex/basic carb and protein etc mix, I closely watch the calories, I lost 28kg [61.6lbs = almost 4st 6lbs] (from my heaviest back around 2013) and I decided to exercise. I said I’d do anything but running but my eldest son got me into it (from 300 metres in 2015 to half marathons now) – I caught ‘the bug’!
(Update: I ran 30km, almost 19 miles, on Friday 5 October 2018, almost 3/4 of the way to the marathon).
I wasn’t, however, until now, paying much attention to sleep – that’s a new obsession, and so it should be – or, rather, it is an aspect of all of our lives which most of us ignore and though it’s not for this blog, I will say this much:
we ignore the importance of sleep and the quality of sleep at our peril – it’s as important, if not more important, than the right nutrition and exercise!
My running has changed my life!
The benefits go well beyond those related to the cardio/physical/physiological elements of exercise. Running has lifted me out of what was a perpetual state – a chronic lack of self-belief, a chronic lack of self-esteem and a chronic lack of self-concept.
My real, working and effective ‘mantra’ is:
“YES, I CAN!”, “I WILL DO IT!”, “I MUST DO IT”
I say these words and I mean them – the boost I get from successfully fighting that “YOU CAN’T” voice, from finishing a run which seems, at times, to be never ending, I, as one not usually stuck for words, I can’t express in words that feeling.
The point is this: my paying attention to sleep, nutrition and exercise, it’s not just a physical health thing, it’s not a narcissistic thing, it’s a physical and mental holistic approach to living. How I feel physically, how I feel mentally, what I see in the mirror, a far thinner, younger-looking person than I used to be, it reinforces that sense of ‘being in control’ – without that sense, I’d sink.
Now, the next thing I need to address: CLUTTER.
I think my being a hoarder, it’s a consequence, a symptom, of my being obsessive – I prevaricate, I can’t make decisions easily and, because of this, I find it hard to convince myself that something can be binned. It’s much easier for me to NOT bin stuff, to just keep it but that physical clutter leads to disorganisation and that leads to a cluttered mind and an inability to see and think straight.
I have imposed a lot of discipline on my way of life – eating right, exercise, sleep, the fight to think positively and I must – NOW – impose discipline in this organisational element of my life. I must DE-CLUTTER!
I’m not going to do it half-heartedly – major surgery is required.
I’m going to do this as I would if – and I know it’s morbid and dramatic but it’s the obsessive in me – as if a doctor has just told me that I only have a few months to live. That sort of thing can, I imagine, focus the mind!