No reason why

This conversation happened more than a year ago now and I’ve just remembered it this week. Something prompted me I guess; I’m not sure. I was just sitting eating my tangelo outside in the weather on my tea break and it popped into my head.

This person was very well meaning. I’ve stripped back the conversation to those parts that are relevant to the point I want to make, which is that there is a difference between being sad, and having a disease called depression. This person offered several lovely and kind offers of sympathy and best wishes, and in the end we understood each other perfectly well, which is a satisfying and lovely point to come to between two people.

I don’t bear them any ill will, either now or at the time. I just understood then and now that when they said these things, they were meaning well and just didn’t understand what depression was and how it worked. So I explained my point of view, they understood that and asked several questions to help them get the facts straight, and we parted better friends. I’ve given the pertinent parts of the conversation below. At no time do I intend to reveal the identity of my friend. Honestly, the reason this conversation stands out to me is less because of who it was that said it, than that it wasn’t the first or last time I’ve been asked about sadness, or the cause of my depression, or had interesting versions of depression presented to me.

This post is to add clarity to what is depression, what is sadness or grieving or emotion, and why the difference is of any interest to you and me.

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Person, via text: “Danika, why are you so sad? Are you ok?”

Me: Yes I’m okay. I’m not sad, I have anxiety disorder and manic depression, or bipolar disorder.

Person: “You have everything a girl could wish for! A job. A loving husband. A place of work. A faith and I’m sure you have friendships and family. You have more than most. You have more than me. I don’t quite understand the reason for your depression”.

Me: There is no reason!

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This post is about you. And me. And everyone we know. It’s about how we think about mental illness. I’m not going to even go into the issues of stigma, discrimination, fear etc. There are many places where you can read about that. I just want to talk about how you, and I, and the next person think about, and talk about mental illness. I’ll narrow it down even further to my area of “expertise” which is depression, and manic depression or bipolar.

No one has more right or claim than anyone else to suffer from the medical condition that is depression. Depression just occurs. Like coeliac disease, or asthma, or cancer. There are people that are predisposed by genes or environment but at the end of the day, stuff just happens! We all know this about medical disorders but we tend to think differently about mental illness.

The opposite is true also. No one has less claim than anyone else when it comes to what diseases they get lumped with; their environment may be better but maybe their genes are worse or there may be life events that induce so much stress that the disease pathway is triggered. We don’t have to and don’t want to be competing for who should and shouldn’t have depression. Let’s just take it at face value and focus our efforts on supporting and caring for our friends who have depression.

Depression is not choosing to be sad. Depression is not a choice, just like grief and sorrow are not choices. Depression is feeling sad, mostly without a cause, and being bewildered by how extremely awful you feel in a situation where 5 minutes ago you were fine.

Bad things, very bad things happen in people’s lives. And the badness that they bring causes great sadness, grief, stress, sorrow, pain, hurt. When the badness can’t be removed or goes on for a long time or is so very hurtful that a person is under constant stress, mental illness can follow including post traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety. I don’t dismiss or belittle any of the emotions caused by bad events. Like I don’t belittle mental illness. People suffering from either need our kindness and sympathy.

But I do believe they are two different things. And I do believe that knowing they are separate things, and talking about them in different ways will help the people suffering to know that you are trying to understand, and help them. And this is an extremely valuable thing when you are suffering; knowing you have people on your side who are trying to help as much as they can.

As far as I can see, there’s a) direct pain and suffering from specific situations, then there’s b) random pain and suffering from mental illness. I seem to suffer from random pain, for whatever the “reason”; but of course randomness doesn’t have a reason, it’s random!

At all times I have been very well aware of how blessed I am in life. That makes suffering depression worse in my view. Not easier.

I used to run this checklist over and over to find a source of why I felt so awful and like life was unbearable: a fabulous supportive amazing husband, a really nice house that we used to live in and now rent out, a satisfying career that pays well, a rented apartment in a great part of the city much closer to our families. Our lives looked picture perfect from the outside.

But looks can deceiving. Many people didn’t know then that I was depressed, my husband included to an extent. I don’t know what your life is like right now. I can look and see, but what does that really tell me? You’re smiling, wearing nice clothes, visiting your folks for the weekend and playing happy families.

I know that I don’t know you, or what’s going on with you unless I ask. Unless we have a chat, a bit of a delve into the goings on in each others lives.

So I try not to judge from the outside; easier said than done! It’s just impossible to know what’s under the skin of a person. You can try to figure it out, but there’s only one tried and tested method. Just ask.

So why am I sad? Or why was I seen to be sad at that time?

No reason. Absolutely no reason.

No fight, no situation, no happening.

I was happy, contented in my married life, satisfied with my new job, safely housed, no stress, no worry, no issues.

Believe me I have scoured my life for something to show me why.

I had the lovely-turned-awful awful ex job, the horrid horrid ex-commute of my husband’s and his very unsatisfying ex job, and the commute of mine turned solo for the part year plus not seeing each other apart from after 8pm at night. Those had brought a lot of strain over a year couple of years, but we’d fixed it, it was better now!

We both changed jobs, we both moved closer to work and to family support, we were getting on famously and then this! Just out of the semi-blue and into my head.

Crying, anxious, panic attacks, tired, exhausted, famished. .. Just spent! Barely surviving, hardly keeping on going, struggling!

And why?

There is no why.

This is my favorite saying about depression. There is no why!

I was and am well aware that apart from my mental health, I lead a charmed life. I consider myself very lucky, very blessed.

But that don’t stop those tears a falling!!! Doesn’t stop the hurt, the pain, the anguish, the struggle with to-live-or-not-to-live. Although of course it’s not really living to live with full blown depression.

It’s like this: you’ve gone to the seaside for a weekend getaway. You look at the sea. You know logically from experience, from knowledge, by other ways that the sea is beautiful. You love the sea. It’s your favorite place to be.

But. You. Can’t. Feel. It!

You can’t feel it. You stare and look and look again. You touch it, you taste it, you smell it. Everything you do increases your certainty that you should love it, you should be happy here, you should enjoy this moment.

But you can’t.

You try to put yourself through the motions. You walk barefoot on the sand like you used to love to. You let the waves wash over your feet. You breathe deeply and take in the salty, seaweedy smell. Something inside of you should be rejoicing at this moment; thrilling, embracing it, loving it, loving life.

But it isn’t.

Why?

Because. There is no why. That’s depression, that mental illness.

Just like you can’t change your thyroid function, your heart beat or the pain in your toe by wishing it, you can’t will your mind to work differently. It will happen eventually. Medications, counselling, mindfulness, GP consultations, psychiatrist consultations in my case, and simply time.

But it can’t be rushed, it won’t be hastened, and then one day you will feel something more, a bit of excitement, some happiness, some joy and it will be amazing, and you will know you’re starting up the path to regular emotions and a regular life. What a moment!!

I should explain one more thing. Depression is a lack of feeling, feeling awful, pain and hurt. But not every minute of the day. Sometimes in a bad day there are still moments that remind you of your previous life, that just work, and feel good. These can help to disguise and abate some of the depression. But going back to depression feels a little worse after that.

I think this is what throws people off, including me at the start. Did you know that the night before I went to the emergency department because I thought I might die, I went with my husband to our good friends house for dinner and we laughed for 3 hours straight until my belly ached, my face muscles went into spasms and I was completely exhausted? In hindsight it is possible that I was on a high that night, but it’s still a point worth making, that depression doesn’t take up every minute of every day, but when you’re in it, it certainly feels that way because you can’t remember happiness or the good times. So if you can, remember the good times. Write them down on your wall, set up reminders in your phone; anything to remind you that it’s not all bad, and maybe that will help you get through to the day when some of your feeling comes back, and you can see the light!

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Progress

16th August 2014

Dear friends,

It’s been a while! My apologies. Would you believe that the reason for this is that I’m moving on, happily living my life? Joyfully and happily I can tell you that this is the new way of life here around about me. It’s very exciting and I’m very relieved because for a fair while there I just wasn’t sure how it was all going to come together for me.

I read a meme recently that said that depression lies and I can absolutely concur with that!
Depression lies.
It tells you that you’ll never be happy again.
It tells you moreover that you CAN’T and WON’T be happy ever again.
It tells you that there is no change that you can make, no addition or retraction that will make enough difference to lift you up into an acceptable life.
It tells you not to bother, it’s not going to make a difference anyway so it’s all pointless.
Might as well just lie down and wait for the inevitable end.
In fact, why not help yourself out and hasten that end, save yourself and everyone else a lot of feeble meanderings and bother, all for nothing; just get it over.

And so on and so forth, forever and ever! No reason to rehearse all of that again. Even now remembering these things reminds me of the lethargy, the tiredness, the sadness, the alone-ness, the can’t-do-anything-ness of these lying words.

So when I say I’m relieved to be living happily, I mean megaly relieved! It is an ecstatic feeling to be out and away from the big black cloud, out in the sunshine, living life like the “ordinary” people.
Whoever and wherever they are. If I’ve learned anything through the experiences of the last long 18 months, it’s the fact that nobody has a easy comfortable trouble free life. Everyone everywhere has troubles and problems and you just don’t know who where is suffering what. So truly all we can do is to be kind to each other. That’s not always easy, and I haven’t learned the secrets of it but it can be a life goal to aim for at least.

I’m not saying that I’m out and away from the black dog and that I’ll never be troubled with him ever again. Far from it. But for the first time in literally a year or more, I have had two months of stable moods and this is such an amazing and thrilling thing that I could just dance!

For two whole months I have had no episodes of deep depression, no periods of mild depression and in fact have not been depressed hardly even a little bit at all! I have not had any mania, any intense feelings of can-do or rush rush rush or hilarity or overdone-ness. Not even at all. Two solid months of just being even. Sitting pretty. Same mood day in day out, week in week out and I’ve finally clocked up month in month out!! YES!!!

Ah it is truly glorious, out of the shadow and into the light 🙂 Can you tell that I’m a little bit happy and excited?!?

I’m not saying everything is hunky dunky. There are still issues. But that large top layer of major problem has finally been cracked through and it’s a beautiful thing! Being human, of course once the major problem is looking to be in good order, our brain that is programmed to scan for problems 5 times more than benefits starts kicking up other smaller, but in their own way relevant problems. Which we’ll come to later on.

But for now, I’m blissfully enjoying this feeling of having the weight of bipolar lifted up off my shoulders for the time being. It’ll be back; it’s here for life after all. But we can enjoy every last bit of this period of respite.

Thank you for every person, every thought, every word, every kindness, every message, every email, every prayer, every visit, every coffee, every meal, every anything that has given me a booster along the way. You all have helped build this success and I hope that each one of you can join in my happiness and delight right now.

Much love to you all and look forward to catching up with each of you soon,

Danika,

Summertime sadness

 

“What a beautiful day! You can’t feel bad in this weather.”

 

“At least it’s sunny outside, that must make you feel better.”

 

“You’ll feel better if you get out in the sunshine.”

 

Fact: some people can suffer from a illness called SAD (seasonal affective disorder) where the lack of sunshine in the winter months causes them to feel down or flat and out of sorts. When the summer and long sunny days return, this illness reverses and the person gets back to “normal”.

Fact: some people can suffer from major depression where a lack of serotonin causes severe symptoms including inability to enjoy life, lack of motivation, guilt, sadness and suicidal thoughts. Sunshine does not increase serotonin and has no effect on depression.

It’s odd to me how many people have suggested that sunshine will, has, should, could or might make me feel better. I agree that being in the sun makes you feel better when you have a cold, a broken leg, are having a bad day, or are at the beach. But not true for depression, FYI. At least not for me.

I actually find sunshine makes me feel worse.

Before I got sick, I loved the sun. I looked forward to sunny days. I checked the weather every day to see if it would be a good day to sit outside for lunch.

In theory I still do love sunny days. But sitting in the sun doesn’t make my head a better, easier place to be.

Sitting in the sun while the inside of my head looks and feels like a dusty, musty, fusty, dark, dingy, crumbly, decaying, spider-webby room filled with sharp things and broken glass and knives and tears and hurt and pain only points out to me the contrast.

Why would that make me feel better? How can that make me feel better?

Incongruous: adjective, meaning not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something.

 

That’s a perfect description of me sitting outside in the sun.

I am not in harmony with the surroundings. I am not in keeping with the environment. I don’t fit, I don’t match, I’m out of place.

Being out there in the sun just makes me feel out of place. Glorious sun streaming down on my face and inside I’m full of darkness and hardness and awfulness and horridness.

It’s brutal.

So actually, I feel much more at home on a cold, rainy, foggy, cloudy, overcast, snowy, icy, windy, awful day.

I do go out on the fine sunny days and try to enjoy life. I try. I take my camera, try to get some shots to record that I’m out in the sun. That I’m out enjoying life. And sometimes I do enjoy it for a while. But it’s all a distraction. Then you go back home and there it is again, the black dog, waiting.

Waiting.

The black dog does not like sunshine, or enjoying life, or going out on fine days. He likes the musty, dusty, fusty room and the dark, sharp, hurtful things.

If possible he will go with me as I head out on a sunny day. He will go with me so that he can sit next to me and over-shadow me and ruin the sunny day.

He’s such a spoil-sport!

People say you can learn to live with the black dog. I’ve always been a dog lover, but I don’t want to learn to live with the black dog. I want the black dog to die so that I can shed off all the nasty and awful effects that he has brought into my life.

Any have a method of killing the black dog that works?? I’d love to hear it!

The faces of depression

I was walking around the back of the gorilla exhibit at the zoo and saw this excellent lowland gorilla out of the corner of my eye and it really looked like exactly how I feel some days!

That made me look differently at all my photos when I got home from the zoo. I’ve put together a few pictures that look like how depression feels, at least to me.

Silverback gorilla

lowland gorilla, bushes, grumpy

‘I’m sad and tired and sulky and just want to sit here and mope! Please leave me alone’ pose from this lowland gorilla

gorilla, eating, grass

‘I’m up, I’m eating breakfast but I’m still not convinced this is a good thing’ says another lowland gorilla

Seal

seal, water, rocks, zoo

This is a seal perfectly doing my ‘do I really have to move an inch today? Please tell me I don’t have to go anywhere!’ face!

seal, rock, water, posing

And here’s a seal doing my ‘please just go away and stop being helpful, I can’t take it today!’ face

Penguin

penguins, wooden bridge, zoo

This penguin is doing the ‘weighed down with the weight of the world’ pose

fairy penguin, beach, boardwalk, water

This fairy penguin is doing my ‘please tell me the day is over and I can go to bed? Please?’ pose!

Red panda

red panda, tree, hiding away

Here is a gorgeous red panda doing the ‘if I don’t show my face maybe everyone will leave me alone and I can just hide in here all day’ pose

Giant tortoise

giant tortoise, crawling along, heavy feet

A giant tortoise moving a slow ponderous step every few seconds, just like me dragging my feet on a glum day, heavy, slow, effort-ful!

Quokka

quokka, sleepy, grass, posts

This fluffy sleepy quokka is showing my ‘there is no way that I am opening my eyes or acknowledging in any way that its daytime’ face

Lemur

lemur, striped tail

Grumpy old lemur showing my ‘don’t mess with me today, I dont have the energy to be nice’ face

Pygmy hippopotamus

pygmy hippopotamus, swimming, zoo, blocked in

‘I’m stuck. Everywhere I look there are only obstacles. I can’t do anything. There are walls and stones blocking me at every turn’ says the pygmy hippopotamus after swimming into the corner!

Mandrill baboon

mandrill, rocks, zoo

The ‘please just let me sit here for as long as it takes’ pose by a mandrill

Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo

Goodfellow's tree kangaroo, zoo, trees

This Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo says you can talk to the back cos the face just can’t take it today!

Coati

coati, south america, zoo, next, tree

‘Should I get out of bed today? It doesn’t look too promising out there; maybe I’ll just stay here for a while’ says the coati

Sumatran tiger

sumatran tiger, leaves, zoo

‘I just don’t want to talk about it’ pose from the Sumatran tiger

Apologies to the gorgeous animals that made my day at the zoo so awesome for afflicting them with depressive characteristics!

Perspective is an interesting thing I’ve found. It can make all the difference. It can shade anything black or white into shades of grey. It can confuse things, complicate things, and completely change things.

A lot of work that I’ve done with my psychologist is around perspective, or the way I view the world, and trying to change that for the better to improve my mental health.

Identifying when our perspective is blacker or darker or sadder or angrier or bleaker or “more depressed” is step one to changing perspective. It’s interesting to me to see how a thought can change perspective on a larger part of life.

Seeing this gorilla, who is probably in fact happy and satisfied and just mulling gently on life, from my perspective as grumpy and sad and depressed, led on to thinking about my whole experience in a difference, “more depressed” light. I’m sure none of these animals are really depressed; it was just an exercise to demonstrate perspective (and gave me an excuse to share all my great animal shots!).

If I can notice this negative perspective and stop it in it’s tracks, that’s a great step. If I can then take away the negative glasses and see events in a neutral way that is a second and bigger step. If I can overlay the whole experience with a positive vibe, that is the third and greatest step of all! And it’s with these steps that depression can be beaten!

A big claim!! And it comes with a catch. It’s HARD!! It takes effort, motivation, concentration, self awareness, insight, persistence, energy. And these are the things that depression takes away. So that’s a complication right there.

This is why depression is attacked with a multi-modal approach.

One: medications to increase serotonin, reverse some of the effects of depression, and bump up the energy, motivation and effort.

Two: psychologist or counsellor help to identify negative thought processes and find ways to change them

Three: self help – learning all you can about your condition so that you can find ways to help yourself. And being willing to do these things!

Some people don’t like the idea of medication. Maybe they’ve had a bad experience, maybe they’ve had side effects, maybe they have misconceptions, maybe someone has told them something that has put them off. Interestingly people believe talk amongst themselves more than doctors; even though it’s illogical.

All I know is, without medication I would not be anywhere near as good as I am today. Without it, I was a sobbing blob on the floor, unable to move, do anything, see anything but pain and blackness.

And without the medication, everything is so much harder. Because you are fighting an uphill battle against your own self. Against a state of demotivation, lack of energy, unable to enjoy things, difficulty concentrating, sadness and pain that is serotonin deficiency.

Adding in the missing serotonin is so logical and such a necessary step in getting a person back on track. It’s helps so much, gives you such a boost along the path to recovery. Without it I can’t fight the depression. I can’t get up, go out, live life, work, shop, shower, do my daily tasks. Even with a massive dose of it I struggle sometimes, mainly due to swinging moods. That’s a whole other thing.

Serotonin replacement, or anti-depressants give the needed ingredients for me to make somewhere better in my head for my life to live. They enable me, help me, boost me, push me and give me the strength to help myself. To help me change my perspective, to improve my mental health, to make a better life. Here’s to it!!