How depression has affected me
Boredom and disengagement
My first memory of really noticing low moods in myself is when I started going to college, around age 17. I didn’t really know what it meant back then, I just knew that everything was boring and going to my room to do nothing in particular was preferable to trying to participate in life.
In a fog
I was strangely numb and seemed to go through the day to day in a fog. I had a vague sense of detachment, often felt I was living my parents’ life and it seemed that everything had lost its gusto. I hardly laughed anymore!
Black metal and dreadlocks
This was my rebellious phase, I listened to black metal and had angry dreadlocks. Though not nihilistic, I was just not interested in the world around me. I had a sort of insular view of everything and avoided contact with new people.
After college, I left for university and spent a lot of time in introspection about my life, suddenly with all this free time I didn’t expect to have (I thought there would be more work!).
Apparently I was supposed to be out drinking and partying, but instead I continued my proud tradition of ‘stay in room at all times’. I never got into the student lifestyle, choosing instead to work hard and spend a lot of time exploring the hills and countryside around my university.
The lowest point in my life is characterised by a depressive episode in which I developed bulimic tendencies. It was the summer after my first year of university. I didn’t like the way my life was going, had given up most of my hobbies and cut myself off from most my friends.
My parents had gone on holiday and I was having an existential moment. I was so unhappy with my lack of progress that I basically rejected my life outright. It was a painful and powerless interval; 6 weeks alone at home, trying to sleep as much as possible to escape the world.
It was the worst time in my life and I swear on my soul it will never get that bad again. Depression has been an obstacle to having many new experiences and meeting new people in my life. It has made me not do things I really wanted to do, and is something I have been truly ashamed of.
I am a lot younger than my two sisters, who both left home when I was very young. It was like I was an only child, and I think I have always been something of a nomad because of this. In my younger days I spent a lot of time in solitary pursuits such as reading and computer games, and I think this isolation made me quite self reliant, but also made me a little vulnerable to loneliness.
The whole of my secondary school experience was pretty much reinforcement for the angry, rebellious character I became. I grew up in an urban environment with a lot of violence and backbiting, and I became very suspicious. I think if I could go back and see myself back then I’d kick myself into shape. I was a very sad, insecure person, but I know I meant well.
Harsh self criticism
Ultimately, I believe that I inflicted depression on myself by a mixture of my extremely hard driving personality and tendency for social isolation. I am very driven to achieve and even today, I still haven’t really accepted myself for who I am. I put a large amount of pressure on myself and am my own harshest critic.
Learning from the experience
Looking back now on that summer after my first year, it was a positive experience, as it marked one of the greatest learning opportunities of my life. In the bigger picture, it was the trough and there was only upwards to go after that.
In the years following, I came out of my shell, which really helped with my moods. Now I would describe myself as a very loving, and energetic person who alternates between bone crushing feelings of emotional lethargy and hyperactive periods of intense creativity.
Finding meaning in life
Thankfully, university was where I found that life could be more than it appeared, and I started to develop myself as a person. I started hoping to make more of my future, and myself and I started to believe in things.
Being positive and proactive
This is where I really started to take a more proactive and positive approach to life, after reading an inspirational book by Maxwell Maltz called Psycho Cybernetics. Its message helped me deal with the low times better – though I still had them, I knew them objectively for what they were, just emotional waves that would eventually break, and then ‘I’ would be back again.
Talking therapy not helpful for me
In other experiences I have also had the type of therapy in which you are supposed to talk over your problems, to help better deal with your problem. Didn’t work for me! I wanted faster results and cognitive tools to treat myself.
Open to CBT
I was told the therapy process could take years of talking! After all If I wanted to talk about my feelings to a probing listener I’d speak to my mum or some of my friends. When I signed up I was hoping I’d get cognitive behavioural therapy, and that is still something I am open to.
I am careful not to label feelings as depression. I am not going to abdicate my power to some exterior force, use it as a personal label to gain sympathy, or use it as an excuse. I will not call myself depressed nor label myself as depressive. I firmly believe that I have an inferior line of script running in my mental software, and I am always taking steps to reprogram it.
Tackling suicidal thinking
From time to time in the past I have had suicidal thoughts. I always treat them like radioactive waste to be rejected and disposed of as quickly as possible.
I have noticed that when I am feeling down emotionally that I move very little. I’m a big believer in the mind body connection and have read quite a lot on NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), so I find that interrupting this low pattern through something unorthodox can help.
Energetic movement and exercise
At times when I start to feel a slump I will often do something such as go for a brisk run, lift weights, put on music and dance. Even if I really cannot be bothered, I’ll sort of force myself to dance; a stiff grimacing scarecrow – and the absurdity of the situation is definitely better than moping on my chair! Alternatively, going for a very short, very high intensity run – sprinting until my body is on fire – helps with this, as the the experience is a complete jolt to the slow and sluggish negative behaviour.
At other times I have noticed my mood is tied to my energy levels. I have a habit of really pushing myself physically and mentally, and have found that instead I can back off and lie down for half an hour with my eyes closed. I have often burnt out on prolonged periods of mentally intensive work, but I’m getting better at finding out how far I can push myself before I need to recharge..
Finding the right environment
Changing the environment works for me! I believe that low moods are often attached to tedium. I bought a laptop so I could do my work but get the heck out of whatever room my computer was tied to. There are few things I enjoy more than a hot brew in a coffee house somewhere, watching people do what they do and still feeling like I have been productive!
This may be more personal to me but I find my food intake regulates mood. Heavy carbohydrate meals are like someone putting a weight on my head and make me feel horrendous. I like the taste of pasta but it’s like asking someone to stab me in the soul, so I stay well away. If I just eat vegetables, meat, fish and fruit, my body is happy and consequentially, so is my head.
It has taken a while but I am learning to go easy on myself. I think my main source of pain is the level of emotional flagellation I administer. I compare myself to high achievers in every field and feel like a large failure in light of their accomplishments. Rationally however I know that it’s all mental bullshit – we are all perfectly good enough today, and lucky to be alive in this wonderful vibrant world.
What I’ve learnt
Depression does offer learning
Depression has been a blessing and a curse. Although the learning process has been very, very painful, depression has taught me much about myself.
Deal with paradox
I have learnt to take responsibility for my feelings but accept the fact that I am not always 100% in control.
Participate and connect with life
These days I try to participate; have a little fun; connect with life. Allow yourself to do the little things that will make you happy.
Hang out with positive people
I believe that you communicate a lot more to people than just body language and speech. Without sounding too pseudoscience-y, some people have a negative energy which doesn’t resonate with me. I have nothing against them personally but, someone who always whines and complains risks bringing me down to their level. I avoid people who leach energy in this way.
Put things into context
Look at your problems today, how much will they mean to you 1 year from now? 10 years? You’ll probably still be alive, and if you even remember what you are going though now, it’ll be just a memory. All we have is the present; and I think we need embrace it, as we never get another one like it.
Depressive thinking in me results from rigidity in how I conduct myself. Life is variance, and this I must embrace. I believe that the human personality is a fluid thing, which means that any deeply held opinion or world view can be changed, given time and correct action. I suppose you could say I am in the process of mastering myself. The universe is simply itself, without attached emotions. It’s as good or bad as we decide it to be.
Learn to see the signs
As I become more experienced with the black dog, I am starting to see the signs and plan my life around them. A proactive and inquisitive approach to new ways of dealing with my problem has helped immeasurably. Depression is just another challenge to be overcome, and nothing worse.