Downer

When  you suffer with anxiety or depression in any of their various forms, it doesn’t take much to get you down. In fact it takes a lot to keep you up!

I find this with a million stupid little things that turn a perfectly good day into a gloomy do! Usually its something that I’ve done that I’m annoyed at myself for, and I just can’t let myself off the hook about it. My husband can just cruise through these things and flick them off, just like water off a ducks back, as the cliche goes; it also helps that he doesn’t seem to make dumb errors in the first place! We have a joke that he’s always right…and it’s nearly always true! But I find myself berating myself over and over inside my head, mentally abusing myself for being so idiotic, self flagellating for my mistakes and lack of memory, or of thought, or of judgement. That just can’t make for a happy day.

I spent a lot of time with a psychologist when I first got sick and one of the main points of therapy involved reframing my thoughts, and interrupting a snowballing chain of thoughts. Reframing means to look at a situation and how you usually react, and try to consciously change your reaction to it so that you put yourself through less stress and hurt, and therefore are more well mentally. Interrupting a snowballing thought process means recognising when you’re starting down a line of negative thinking that is escalating to the dramatic and trying to stop it early, while its something that can be dealt with, before you’re almost to the point of a panic attack. I spent a lot of time working on this, and when you consciously and deliberately look at your thoughts, you do recognise a lot earlier where you can intervene and save yourself a lot of drama! Having said that, it does take a lot of energy to do this at the beginning. It gets to take a little less effort as you get more used to it, and you have less of these thoughts because of dealing with them in a better way. Eventually its more of a habit, but as soon as you think to yourself that you do it automatically and don’t need to put so much effort in, it can creep back in.

It is almost indispensable to have another person around who understands the work that you are trying to do with your head, and who can remind you what to do when you’re working yourself (unintentionally) into a bit of a tizzy! Someone who can remind you to breathe, that the drastic thoughts you’re having are just that: drastic thoughts; and of the techniques that you’ve learnt. I say it all the time but I have the utmost admiration for people on their own dealing with their beast. Kudos, and I don’t know how you do it!

Today started out as a great day. I had a good ride with my Wheel Women. We rode from Docklands to the pink lake in Westgate Park and back, and I had a superb raspberry jam donut (apparently it’s a “bombolini” according to this bakery) to top it off! I also had one of those San Pellegrino chinotto flavoured sodas in lieu of my usual Coke; that was not a highlight! Tastes like medicine!

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I was planning on doing a bit of extra riding today. I had planned to ride from Hawthorn velodrome to the start point of the Wheel Women ride, and then ride back there after the finish of the ride to add in some extra ks, but a little glitch with snoozing the alarm prevented me! Sometimes that would be enough to get me down, but I smiled through that mix up. I mean, just the fact that I wanted to do extra ks is a pretty good indicator that I’m sitting well up on the scale of blue.

I got to the start almost on time, and marvelled with everyone else at how stunningly beautiful Docklands and the water looked in the unexpected sunshine and after the rain. I really expected to get a bit wet with rain today after 2 days of LOTS of rain, but we lucked out. It was beautiful through the whole ride, and we agreed we could just keep riding and riding on a day like this where it was cool so we wouldn’t overheat, dry so we didn’t get cold with wet, not windy…perfect! Shame about me not getting up on time to do the extra riding; it would have been the ideal day for it. Oh well, let’s enjoy the ride I’ve got going on right now, instead of worrying about what I’ve missed. And there is some great re-framing and preventing of snowballing thoughts! And so the ride was just lovely!

And then, the error. The trigger.

Stupidly (it’s always stupidly by the way) I put my phone on the roof of my car.

I know!

Always a first. And last. Then some other first. Or another first if I just haven’t learnt my lesson. And so on.

3 blocks down the road from my car park, I went to put my phone in the holder and an adrenaline shot went right through my gut! I instantly KNEW what I’d done! On the bonus side, I’d been creeping along slowly since leaving the car park, hadn’t cracked 40kmph, maybe not even 30kmph…maybe it was still on the roof?!?

No!

Dulp!!

So back I go to re trace my wheels. I couldn’t get there fast enough; itching at every red light and pedestrian crossing until I got back to where I had been parked. There was a ute there now, so I got out and checked under it for my phone, once, twice etc. Then I carefully drove even slower where I’d driven already, retracing, scanning the street and gutters, wishing, hoping and more.

And back around again, and a third time! Nothing!! ARGH!!

And that’s how it starts. The adrenaline shot depletes a bit of your good mood, the persistent bad results of looking and not finding get you down more, knowing this is all your stupid fault hacks away at your confidence and suddenly you’re berating yourself and the day is not the same day it was before. It’s plummeting down through the levels of good into mediocre and before you know it, it’s not a good day anymore.

Although lately, I’ve been well, and more resilient. I knew this about myself, but this incident proved it without doubt.

I was SO bummed out over this stupid accident which should never have happened in the first place! How could I have been so thick as to put my phone on the roof?? I knew it was a bad idea, and I did it anyway. Who does that?? Typical! I make a rule, and I break my own rule, and of COURSE this is what happens! It’s okay to put the keys on the roof, because you can’t leave without them. But your phone? Idiot!

This is how my thinking goes, left to its own devices. Berating, accusing, bullying, incredulous of myself, throwing insults.

This is where the challenge lies. Putting my psychologist’s knowledge into practice in this moment and not letting the snowballing of negative thoughts get off to a head start. Re-framing the thoughts: instead of calling myself an idiot and stupid and dumb, realise that accidents happen (even if it’s often and always to me!) and this was just that, an accident, and give yourself a break!

So, having proved that my phone cannot be found and doesn’t seem to be anywhere that it should be, I head home. On the way I think of half a dozen reasons why having my phone right now would be so good: to find out the best route home, to take a photo of the city shining in the sun, to pop a starter note for this blog into my notes section, to check my calendar for what else I’m meant to be doing today, to use the Optus app to put my phone plan on hold, to call my hubby and let him know about my phone!! It really is my right hand and its going to be a bit painful without it. Stupid, stup…no, we agreed: not stupid; unfortunate. Accidental. Breathe.

But then, halfway through sliding down the blue scale into the depths, I slowed up and stopped. I stopped. That hasn’t really happened before. And it wasn’t like I put a heap of work into it, into stopping my thoughts. But my head is just in a better place lately, and this didn’t seem to be as big of a deal as similar events have been before, where I could wrap myself in guilt and grief for a whole day. Now I was stopped somewhere around the “okay” mark, still realising the inconvenience and bother I’d caused myself, but not fatalistic like many times before. What is this new feeling? Is this being well? Could it be?

I got home and flicked a message off to hubby about being out of phone contact. Then got out one of my comforters and I was pleasantly surprised that before long I was smiling and feeling quite serene about the whole thing! What is this? It was still annoying etc but it didn’t feel like it was taking up my whole world with distraught stress but like it was just one part of the picture. I like this feeling!

I believe that this is how you know you’re well. You can recover from events that happen, instead of collapsing into various levels of despair and misery. I’m not sure how this state came about, but I feel like the chemicals in my brain are finally aligned and things are just easier. It’s very exciting!! To say the least.

As to what happened with my phone? Hubby told me all the things I could do and so I went through Google’s ‘find my phone’ function online (just search for it) and I used that to lock my phone, to put a message on the lock screen to say please return my phone and to give the number to call, and to track my phone. I have to say that was the most satisfying and frustrating part, watching someone driving my phone along. It travelled the Bass Hwy towards Phillip Island via the koala park, and then stopping at the Nobbies, and I was unable to do a single thing about it!! But it was awesome to be able to watch them in the first place. I made a full report to the police and they were very helpful. But then my husband got a phone call from the person who picked it up: turns out they were a coach driver who found the phone in Docklands super close to where I’d driven past, and they planned to bring it back the next day! How kind and honest! So all’s well that ends well in the end. My husband biked from his work into the city in his lunchtime to pick up the phone, and everything is as it should be once again.

Lessons to be learned:

  1. Do NOT put your mobile phone on the roof of your car in any circumstances!
  2. Do leave your GPS function on so that you can track your phone if you ever lose it, it was accurate down to 6 metres at one point
  3. Do be aware of Google’s find your phone functions
  4. Ideally always have your screen locked, but know that you can lock it remotely in an emergency
  5. One day, after so much pain, stress, medication, therapy and time, you will be well again. Believe.

Perspective

[Written in 2014, finally finished today!]

One of the techniques that I’ve been working on is looking at life differently.

My psychologist first got me onto this with a technique called cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which tries to redirect thought processes.

For example, people with anxiety and depression often catastropise. I would have a thought like, I’m not working at the moment, which would then lead to, I’m not contributing to our finances, my husband is looking after everything and I’m doing nothing, and, what if I never work again and become a vegetable, and I’m totally useless and live forever with other people having to take care of me, and hating me!!

Obviously, to an outsider this is a drastic way of thinking and a rapidly snowballing thought process! Which is not even factual, as I’ve never had it suggested to me even once that I will be doing anything but returning to my previous active, contributing life. Neither is it at all likely! But depression just has to nut out the worst case scenarios and get you to think, ‘what if’?! And the thing is, at the time, you can’t see it for what it is. It feels totally real, and scary, and awful even though other people may dismiss it as illogical.

Depression, does not have logic.

But depressive thoughts can be changed. It isn’t easy, but if you work at it in the right way, you can slow or stop the snowballing and start to prevent the catastrophising.

Around the same time as I started to see my psychologist, I was already involved in the 100 Happy Days photo challenge that I’ve talked to you about before. Happy. Depression. The two don’t naturally go hand in hand. They’re kind of opposites. Making this a real challenge! This involved, every day, taking a photo of something that made you happy. I knew I was suffering generalised anxiety when I took it on, and during the course of the challenge got diagnosed with depression and bipolar.

Finding something in the day that makes you truly happy takes a real change in thinking. It takes noticing the detail in the day, the little things that are often overlooked, appreciating what is often taken for granted.

These were not the happiest days of my life! Needless to say. In fact, some of the worst days that I have ever experienced were smack bang in the middle of the challenge. But did you know that it never once crossed my mind to not go on with the challenge? I never once considered not doing the challenge, even when I was sitting in the emergency department beside myself with suicidal thoughts and in so much mental pain that I didn’t know how I would live. My happy day photo that day? I was wearing my favourite dress with the huge rosettes around the hem and I was eating my favourite Snickers bar!

There’s always something. That’s what the challenge taught me before I was even conscious of it.

Depression is called depression because it’s depressing.

It lowers you down, it lowers your mood, it lowers your mind. It’s the mind version of walking along in life looking at the gutter. All you can see is the dirty, the trashy, the boring, the bleak, the wasteful, the dead, the mundane.

I’ve always been a stare at the ground in front of me and watch for snakes kind of girl. You know, just in case. But now, instead of physically looking down and stomping along to the train to go to work, I started looking up, casting my eyes around me and began to see all kinds of things in that 10 minute walk alone. The wood ducks nibbling on grass beside the path; never even knew they were there! How beautiful the pond looked shimmering in the morning like. How green was the grass, how blue was the sky. How beautifully kept that lady’s roses are so close to busy Box Hill Central!

And it got me mentally looking up. Instead of snoozing my alarm until the last possible minute, and dragging myself begrudgingly out of bed, I started to wake up wondering what I would see today that would make me happy. There is no mistaking that my mental health was in a dire situation, but at least for a few moments of the day there would be something that I found that would give me a glimmer of a smile, a bit of satisfaction because I found it! That thing that could make me happy. And the memory of it could be taken with me throughout the day. It truly proved to me that if you put yourself to the effort of looking up, mentally or physically, you will surely be rewarded.

So in an effort to lift one’s mind’s eye to a more beautiful view we try this technique of purposefully, intentionally looking up. Some call it mindfulness, some call it practising gratitude, some people call it thankfulness; doesn’t matter what it’s called, it’s a thing. A method to get out of the grunge and into the pretty meadows, or paddocks since this is Australia.

Probably this is the most powerful method of changing perspective, although I’ve way under used it! I came to it as a compulsory part of my insurance, and having someone tell you that you have to do something that you think is stupid is never a good starting place!! But I had to change my thinking. I had an amazing logical sensible teacher who was on my wavelength, and the lessons I learned were incredible!

Mindfulness teaches you to slow down, to take more time to take in the things that we usually just rush by. By doing this, you get greater fulfillment out of life.

I’ve also always been a person to try to scrape the most out of every second, minute, hour, moment. I always got up at the last possible moment, showered for as long as possible til I absolutely had to get out, dressed as fast as possible and left the house only when leaving a minute later would make me nine minutes late instead of eight! Because I was always rushing I’d often leave my lunch, my wallet, my phone, my brain at home! I always squeezed the most time possible into my breaks, felt jibbed every time I had to go back, put off going back to bed so I could fit more into the day. Etc, etc!

But anxiety made me realise that this is not a feasible way for me to live anymore. The extreme anxiety I feel when I’m rushing, late, overcommitted is so awful with the nausea, the sweating, the palpitations. And mindfulness reinforced this again. What if you could walk slowly and calmly without a care in the walk on your way to work? How would that be? Wouldn’t that be nice? Mindfulness is kind of addictive in it’s own way, because it’s highly rewarding to your brain. Of course then there’s the real world, but for a little while, you are in total control and that is amazing!

Mindfulness also teaches you how not to judge yourself and others!! Could there be a more powerful tool than this? In mindfulness, you sit with yourself, which sounds funny to start with, but you just sit with your thoughts and all you have to do is acknowledge each thought as it comes, without it being “good” or “bad”. Do you know how often we are bagging ourselves out in our head and we don’t even consciously know it? It’s terrifying! That’s the worst 3 second wrap ever, but I do highly recommend it, and not only for people with mental health disorders; it can help with a lot in life.

Changing perspective.

Looking for the happy, the good, the joyful things in life.

Some people call it being positive, but I’m not a fan of that description. I feel like being positive is ignoring the reality and the badness, and trying to paste over it with being chipper and perky and upbeat!! Maybe that’s unfair but I feel my arm hairs raise and my spine tighten when positive comes up!!

I prefer to fully acknowledge exactly what is present, what the problems are, and try to work with that to change it for the long term good, not for the short term glossing over it. I’m sorry if that’s offensive; but I feel that if the problems aren’t realised, the treatments won’t be effective so it’s important to be honest.

Changing perspective is hard. It’s hard. It takes effort. It takes perseverance. It takes time. It takes motivation. It takes emotional energy, sometimes physical energy.

Most of these are the things that depression takes away from you. Before you even have a chance to notice, depression whisks away your energy, motivation, ability to exert effort. And leaving you a blob sitting in a chair, staring at a wall wondering what to do next, and how on earth you’re going to do it?

Looking up. Changing perspective. Mindfulness. Gratitude.

The outcomes are so worthwhile if you can put yourself to the trouble.

I highly recommend engaging a psychologist, a mindfulness coach, a doctor trained in CBT because it’s much easier to be guided than to have to do it all yourself. If the session is pre-booked and all you have to do is turn up and be coached, you are already on an easier path, from someone who knows.

Of course you have to participate, and at some point in time you will have to do it on your own, but let’s focus on getting started and you will absolutely benefit from whichever path you go down.

100 happy days is different. You can do this on your own, and unlike me doing it all through Facebook, you can do it by yourself in a notebook and nobody has to know. I can’t recommend blurting everything about your journey onto Facebook like I did; it worked for me, but not so sure about all the poor readers, and it might just not be something you are comfortable with. It’s your call, and there are lots of other options out there.

I wish you well on your perspective changing journey!