Some of you will have read my blog a few months ago about habits to help beat depression. You’ll know that this year I’ve had to face the challenge of living with depression for the first time in my life really. I thought I’d share with you a little about what it’s like so that you might better understand and be able to help others you know who will experience it. Of course, these are just my experiences and everyone is different so always bear that in mind and remember three things…
1) Nobody is defined by an illness, no matter what it is. They are not the illness, they are still themselves, they just happen to have a condition
2) Listen - never presume you know what it’s like, even if you’ve been through it yourself. Each person’s experience is different, so take time to listen to them
3) Ask - find out from them how you can best help and be patient, they won’t always know the answer straight away.
What is it like for me?
Let’s start with what it’s not - it isn’t a constant thing, it comes and goes, sometimes suddenly, sometimes creeping up over days. Sometimes it lasts a few hours, sometimes it lasts a few days. Many days it isn’t there at all whilst on others it’s ever-present
It also isn’t feeling sad, down or upset, rather it’s feeling empty, lacking in my usual drive to get on and do things which for me is a weird experience. All of my life has always been so driven thinking about my next work or exercise challenge, pushing myself to the next level. But when I feel like this, it’s a challenge to do more than a few hours of work each day, it exhausts me. Many people I’ve worked with find it hard to get the motivation to exercise when they feel this way; for me it’s the complete opposite - the simplicity of putting one foot in front of the other or jut turning those pedals appeals greatly, it’s the effort of thinking for work that’s the real challenge
Some people might say ‘but you know how to deal with this as it’s you job to help people, so why don’t you just do the things you should and snap out of it?’ It doesn’t quite work like that; depression has many causes and the habits I talk about in balance are just one part of the process of recovery. They definitely help, I know they do - I exercise, I eat well, I drink very little and I don’t smoke or do drugs and all of these habits make me feel good
The one area I have struggled with is socialising - it’s a strange contradiction as you know that being around people is good for you, yet the malaise you feel makes it hard for you to get out there. Withdrawal is a common challenge in depression and I’ve not quite worked out how to overcome this one yet. I find myself deliberately waiting in bed until my housemate has gone to work, not wanting to communicate. I think you also sometimes don’t want to be seen when you’re not on top of your game, or maybe that’s just me because I think I feel the pressure to always be energised and positive because of what I do
That pressure to be ‘Mr Balance’ is a bigger one for me than I’d ever thought it would be. One of the main points of balance is that none of us is perfect, myself included - we all have days where we can’t be bothered to exercise, where we make poorer food choices, where we don’t feel perfectly balanced, but I’ve felt more expectation on me in recent times to be ‘perfect’. As an example, I recently posted a little rant on my personal page as I was just frustrated with the state of the world and with many people - I wasn’t feeling depressed or down that day, it’s normal to have a balance of emotions. We should feel positive, happy and energised at times, whilst at others we might feel anxious, sad or tired; most of the time we’ll probably just sit somewhere in the middle feeling not very much at all. For whatever reason, my whinge led to many well-meaning checks that I was ok - I guess it’s my own fault having created the persona of balance. Funnily enough, it was this that actually made me feel down that day, as if I was expected to be Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela (and I don’t look like either of them…yet).
I started this short blog piece with some suggestions about things you should do with those challenged by depression, so I’ll finish with some considerations for what not to do:
1) I probably wouldn’t ask if they’re ok - they’re not right now. Instead, treat them as you normally would - talk about football, Love Island, the annoying lady at work, just be how you always are with them
2) Don’t make suggestions - ‘why don’t you…’ or ‘have you tried…’ aren’t always what’s required. As I said at the start, listen to them if and when they want to talk and then ask what would be most helpful for them.
Have a balanced week all (and remember, that means ups, downs and just fair to middling).