Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Currently I am... #2

Currently I am...

Excited to: return to Leeds this weekend to visit Rupert and Oliver.

Admiring: the most beautiful (and under-appreciated) Instagram account belonging to Laura Mauger. Especially her photograph from the top of Snowdon which makes my heart hurt and my soul happy (below).

Snowdon | Laura Mauger via A Little Grey

Wearing: a (beautiful) Missguided Active Wear sports bra, my trusty Zara flannel shirt and some trousers - if you can call anything this large 'trousers' - I got made in a Kenyan market. I hope nobody expects me to apologise for this ensemble.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

"Riding the Wave": How I Cope with Down Days

Riding the Wave: How I Cope with Down Days

Depression is exhausting; it's constant. It sucks the life out of you, again and again and again. In the years since my diagnosis, I've learnt that it's not so much about recovery. People recover from depression, yes, but I try not to think about that. For me, right now, it's more about minimising the effect a bad day has on me, learning how to maintain some control on those days, and doing my best to take full advantage of every good day, too. It's an uphill struggle, but I hope that one day I'll master it. Maybe not recover, but control my depression more than my depression controls me.

I started this post in the wake of a really bad week; I took a number of days off work because I'd been so down and so anxious that I ended up with a horrible migraine and no energy, physically or emotionally.

I've been much better since, but I've been thinking a lot about the strategies I use to get myself out - or at the very least, through - my lowest points; I thought I'd finally get this finished, a month after starting. I've got a long way to go when it comes to learning to manage my depression, but for now, here's an insight into my coping methods, or, simply, how I force myself through my 'down' phases...

1. Accept the day as a bad day

Give yourself a time out and let yourself feel. Know the difference between acceptance and submission, though; there is a very fine but important difference between allowing yourself to feel low without punishing yourself and 'dwelling' (although I hate to use this word) on how low you feel until you make yourself worse. The latter is a one way ticket to spiralling a bad day into a really, really bad day. Practice the art of acceptance without submission; don't let a bad day envelop you. Know that you will not feel this bad forever. It's a cycle you've been through over and over again; ride it out.

But if you don't feel like you can do it on your own...

2. Talk about it

Tell someone you feel low, just like that; simply and plainly. I find that in my lowest moments I just need to feel like somebody gives a shit, and people can only care if they know there is something to care about. I'm lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive family, and a number of close friends I can talk to openly about my depression. Even still, on the worst days, sometimes all I'm able to do is tell someone it's a bad day, just to let them know that I need them.

Try not to expect too much of anyone, though; supporting someone with depression and understanding the illness is not easy.

Also, remember that there is a difference between needing support and needing attention. Depression is manipulative sometimes, and selfish often; though I still find it hard to admit, let alone talk about openly, when I'm at my worst I am very guilty of manipulating and guilt-tripping people into giving me the attention I think I need. Recognising these traits in yourself is incredibly important when it comes to preserving friendships and relationships; ask for support before you feel yourself grappling selfishly for attention.

If you don't feel like you have anyone close to you who you can talk to...

3. Talk to a counsellor

Before you turn your nose up (or cower in fear), counselling is not like Hollywood would have you believe (you know, stern-looking therapist holds excruciating eye-contact while you lie on their sofa bearing your soul). In fact, it can be really beneficial.

Personally, I don't struggle with talking about my illness, and, having spent most of my life figuring myself out, am incredibly self-aware. For those reasons, counselling has never benefitted me as much as it might someone else, I don't think, although I'm keen to give it another go at some point.

If you find it hard to talk to your friends or family about your depression, though, or simply feel like you want to understand it a bit more, counselling is definitely something to consider.

If the idea of counselling doesn't appeal to you, you're scared to take that first step, or you don't want to have to wait weeks for your initial consultation, have you thought about online counselling? Plus Guidance offer immediate access (with optional anonymity) to hundreds of counsellors, and their clever matching system ensures you'll get the counsellor best suited to your needs.

4. Do what you need to do, and then don't

Whatever gets you through a bad period, do that; hiding away in bed, a long sleep, a cry, a bath, a day off work or university... whatever you need to do. I've learnt over the years that when I'm down, simply staying in bed for a while, away from everything, can be completely life-giving.

That said, there is always a very tangible moment when it stops being healthy and starts becoming damaging, but it takes practice to recognise that change, I think. These days, I am much better at identifying that moment and forcing myself to face real life again, but it's certainly a work in progress; it's all too easy to become complacent and get comfortable in hiding. If I've learnt anything over the years, it's that depression is a million and one excuses not to face real life, and it's a million and one reasons not to bother trying. Depression is poison, but you don't have to let it overcome you.

If you're not quite there with recognising when your hibernation is becoming unhealthy...

5. Monitor yourself and be mindful of what beats you down

This is more general than the others, but there is a lot to be said for mindfulness when it comes to mental illness; get to know yourself. Use logs and apps like Optimism to keep track of anything that might trigger your bad phases, and learn what makes you tick. After a day or two of hiding away in your bed without showering or eating properly, knowing there are simple, practical and, most importantly, achievable things you can do to boost your mood (or avoid making yourself worse) can seriously help. You'll start thinking more logically, and gradually feel less and less overwhelmed by everything.

Baby steps, though; you might not be able to go to the gym just yet, no matter how good it is for your mental health, but you might be able to get up and dressed, and that is something. Pick the mountains you are able to climb.

6. Be nice to yourself

Bear with me, I'm not talking about that airy-fairy, pep-talking-yourself-in-the-mirror stuff, here. Just... don't be a dick to yourself. Whatever you would tell your best friend to do for themselves on a bad day - do that.

I always, always think about something Hannah Gale wrote in her article on ways to make yourself happier right now:
"...put on clothes which are comfy yet don’t make you want to punch yourself in the face".
It might sound silly, but it's amazing the difference a change of clothes - from slob-wear to lounge-wear, if you will - can make to your mindset.

Get dressed.

Have a shower, put on some nicer-than-pyjamas clothes. Cook yourself a healthy meal. Brush your teeth. Wash your face (because there is nothing better in this world than a good double cleanse) and put on your favourite makeup. Do something you love doing.

Reward yourself.

Treat yourself well.

Disclaimer: I was finally diagnosed with depression three years ago, after many years knowing something was wrong. These are just some strategies I use to help myself, and I am in no way claiming that they will work for everyone, especially not those suffering with more serious forms of depression. Depression is different in everyone, and comes in many forms. This is just how I personally cope with my depression.

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