If you’ve had depression, it’s hard to shake the nagging, niggling feeling that it might come back. Every bad mood, every negative thought, feels like it could be a way for this evil force to return. To help me fight the fear I’ve recruited a very wise consultant – Yoda (see my photo below).
Yoda is a tiny green chap with funny ears. He’s more than 900 years old and lives in a swamp. But his strange and underwhelming appearance is deceptive – he’s extremely powerful, with incredible knowledge and power.
OK, I know, he’s just a character from the Star Wars movies, but when it comes to understanding fear and the Dark Side of the Force (a perfect metaphor for depression) he’s well worth listening to.
Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering.
He is absolutely right. The fear of depression at stressful times is the first step down a path to its return. That fear can make you tense and angry. And anger is a very destructive force that leads to suffering for you and others. Even the name of the film this quote comes from – The Phantom Menace – seems to describe depression and its stealthy, shadowy presence.
He also knows what it feels like when depression does strike.
Hmmm. The Dark Side clouds everything. Impossible to see, the future is.
Yes, Yoda. You’re right again. Depression possesses your thoughts, switches off your memory and clarity of thought, and makes you doubt and fear everything. I certainly don’t want to go back to that. Ever.
Yoda clearly knows his stuff, so I am going to listen to him.
Do, or do not. There is no try.
OK, Yoda, I’m with you.
Patience you must have.
You’re right again. It’s difficult though, isn’t it?
You must unlearn what you have learned.
True. I learned in my counselling to unlearn what I’d learned – to unravel the way I’d come to think of myself and my life and start again.
Always pass on what you have learned.
Yep, that’s what I’m doing. I hope it helps.
If you liked this post you might also like:
- Stress, depression and Star Wars (Sept 2011)
- A match for the Dark Side (Feb 2012)
- The shadowy power of depression (April 2013)
This is the story of how a hamster taught me a valuable lesson about life.
Here is the hamster in question.
His name is Nibbles, and he’s our family pet. He is better known as Nibs, but will also answer to Nib Nib, Nibby or even Nibby Nibby Nib Nib.
You know when Nibs is awake because you can usually hear one of us calling “Niiiiiiiiiibs” in a silly pet voice. One of the grown-ups usually. The children are much more sensible
I’ll have to cover Nibs’s ears for a moment because I have a shocking confession to make. I didn’t want a hamster, or any kind of pet for that matter. Not right now.
I love animals. I just didn’t want another responsibility; another thing to worry about or care for; another thing to become emotionally attached to.
My daughter had been quietly but steadily campaigning for a pet for a while, and my wife and I had always said “Not yet,” but there came a turning point.
One night at Brownies, another Brownie brought in her hamster to show the girls. He was easy to look after, she said, and a lovely pet. Somehow or other, my wife had a kind of enlightening Road to Damascus moment and became converted to the hamster cause on the walk home from Brownies, and joined the hamster recruitment campaign.
She was far more persistent and persuasive than my daughter and did her research thoroughly. A hamster would be easy to care for, inexpensive, a good starter pet… I started to receive texts and emails throughout the next day, saying, quite simply, “Hamster”.
In the end, I conceded defeat, and we went on a family outing to the pet shop. We saw two hamsters, but Nibs was immediately the one for us. My little boy named him Nibbles, we loaded up the car with a hamster house, bedding, food and various forms of hamstery entertainment, then took him home.
Needless to say, I am the one who’s become soppiest about Nibbles. He’s such a cute little chap – surprisingly good fun and full of character. He and I have some kind of father-hamster bond. He looks for me to let him out of his cage for a stroke, a whiz around in his ball, a treat or just the chance to try and escape. I love him and won’t try to deny it.
What he’s taught me is this – there is always a teensy bit more room in your life for pleasure; for new things to enjoy and look forward to.
He’s also reminded me of an important lesson from my counselling for depression. There’s no point fearing the worst and worrying about things that might never happen. Yes, Nibs is another thing to care about, but the added pleasure he’s brought to us all far outweighs that.
When I was going through the worst of my depression, I seemed to spend a lot of time looking down.
I’d be walking along hunched over, staring at the floor, feeling smaller than my real height. My head seemed to be bowed a lot of the time. It was heavy, dragged down by the weight of my intensely negative thoughts. Staring at the floor is useful for avoiding dog poo and falling down holes, but beyond that it doesn’t have much going for it.
Looking up, on the other hand, can be a rewarding and glorious experience. Sun, moon, clouds, stars, sunsets, rainbows, birds, bats, treetops – you don’t see any of those things by staring at the ground. It can feel like a big effort to lift your head in the darkest times, but there’s a world up there to lift your spirits, however fleetingly.
On my favourite album – The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society – there’s a song by my favourite songwriter, Ray Davies, called Big Sky, and it sums up rather nicely what I’m saying:
And when I feel
That the world’s too much for me
I think of the big sky
And nothing matters much to me
Another wise man, David Lindo (also known as the Urban Birder), lists ‘look up’ as his number one birding tip. You never know what might be flying over. This week I’ve watched a heron and two buzzards flying over while I’ve been stuck in traffic on the way to work.
I try to get out for a walk as often as possible now, and looking up is a big part of the pleasure I get from doing so. I also find inspiration in the sky for photos and often stop to point my mobile up in the air (it does have a camera – I’m not just thrusting a phone skywards).
Here are some of the pictures I’ve taken this year by doing just that. Why not lift up your eyes to the uplifting skies and let the light in?
First posted by Time To Change
There are three things everyone should know about depression:
1) Depression is not the same as feeling depressed. Feeling depressed – like feeling sad or grumpy – is a mood. Depression is an illness.
2) Depression is not a choice, any more than other illnesses or diseases are. Nobody would decide to have depression.
3) Anyone can experience depression. You can’t look round and spot the kind of person who ‘gets’ it.
A friend once said to me – when I told her I was taking antidepressants – “oh Paul, but you’re not the type”.
So what ‘type’ is meant to have depression? Is it a lifestyle choice for a particular breed of moping miseryguts?
No, of course it isn’t. The whole notion of ‘choosing’ to have depression is preposterous. But that idea is – incredibly – still widely held, and kept alive by phrases like ‘What have they got to be depressed about?’, ‘Everyone’s sad sometimes – get over it’, and ‘Man up’. People who say these things have no idea what they are talking about.
One in four people will suffer from a mental health problem – depression being one of the most common – in any one year. Unless you know a remarkably small number of people, this means that several people you know either have, or have had, a problem with their mental health. Think you can spot them?
Men are not always great at talking about how they feel. When I was first diagnosed with depression, I didn’t want to talk about it either. I kept it hidden and obviously managed to do so very effectively. A family who ran a local sandwich shop called me ‘Smiler’ because I was ‘always smiling’. They only saw me for five minutes a day, when I was buying something for lunch, at my best time of day. They weren’t to know I would be walking back to my desk wishing I didn’t exist.
I thought that if I told people about my illness they would draw certain conclusions about me – that I couldn’t do my job as well as I used to, for example. I didn’t want them to know I had to take tablets because I was too stressed to cope with everything life was throwing at me. They might think I was weak.
Actually, I’d been coping incredibly well for months and years, balancing a busy job with a hectic and demanding family life, as a father of two young children getting a pitiful amount of sleep. It gradually caught up with me.
Dr Tim Cantopher, in his brilliant book Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong, describes stress-related depression as a blown fuse. You overload your body and brain until something inside goes bang. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of time and treatment to repair that damage.
The ignorance and stigma surrounding mental illness persist. Some comments, like my friend’s, are not meant maliciously. It’s just a case of people not understanding depression because they haven’t been through it themselves. Others delight in their ignorance and enjoy belittling those who are courageous enough to talk openly about their experiences.
This playground bully mentality festers among the male population – that desire to show how tough you are, how strong you are, how brave you are. You want to see those qualities? Look at someone who’s gone through depression – that’s what they need to get through each day.
You could be young or old, black or white, gay or straight, big or small; a boxer, footballer, actor, rock star, plumber, joiner, journalist, manager, truck driver, artist, fisherman, builder, pub landlord – whatever. Depression isn’t picky.
Let’s not be ‘strong, silent types’. Let’s show our strength and courage by standing up to this crippling illness and fighting the stigma.
First posted by the Mental Health Foundation
There was a time – not long ago – when I felt it would be easier if I didn’t exist.
I was never suicidal, but I did wish the world would stop turning and let me get off, because I wasn’t enjoying the ride. I was worn out – a grey, washed-out, spent force before I’d reached my mid-thirties.
For a while, I wasn’t really living. I was a zombie, drifting about on some kind of invisible treadmill with a brain full of anger, worry, frustration, hopelessness and self-loathing.
Everything had become too much for me and I couldn’t cope any more. Life had become too serious. As a father of two young children, juggling multiple responsibilities, I wasn’t getting the rest that I now know I needed, and there seemed to be no end to the stress and pressure.
On hindsight, the first warning sign of trouble ahead – before the dizziness, headaches and dark moods – was that I wasn’t looking forward to anything any more. Instead, I was dreading everything. All the things I could have been enjoying were another source of anxiety.
It’s hard to admit that you can’t cope, and I soldiered on for a few months before I eventually realised that I had to do something, and went to see my GP. He went through a checklist of pretty much everything I was feeling at the time, and told me I had depression.
We take a lot of pride in being ‘strong’, but when it comes to protecting your mental health, the strongest thing you can do is admit you need help and to go and get it. Professional support and advice will help you to get better. ‘Manning up’ will get you nowhere.
Depression, take a good look at these shoes. Why? Because they are going to kick your backside so hard you’ll never want to come back.
They may just be a pair of running shoes, but there is something special about them. They are the shoes I’ll be wearing as I train for the Jane Tomlinson Run For All 10K in York this August, and on the day itself.
Not the most remarkable sporting feat you’ve ever heard of, I know, but this is more than just a run for me. This is personal.
I’ve done the York 10K twice before.
In 2009, before stress and depression entered my life, I trained well and enjoyed the event. I surprised myself by finishing in under an hour.
In 2010, I felt nothing, like I was running on autopilot, and when I found my time was slightly slower than the year before, depression mocked me and told me it wasn’t good enough. I had failed, and I lost what was left of my enthusiasm for running – and most other things. I just couldn’t see the point.
When I eventually returned to running at the end of last year, I vowed to get my own back on depression. Not only would I do the 10K again, I would take the opportunity to raise money that would help other people with depression.
The Blurt Foundation’s online mentoring scheme is a fantastic, free, confidential resource for people with depression. You’re assigned a mentor who understands depression because they’ve experienced it themselves.
When I need extra support and want to blurt something out, I turn to my mentor, who gets what I’m chuntering on about and helps me put it into perspective and to think things through. It has helped me to cope and ride the storm.
So, sporting my Blurt ‘Run it out’ T-shirt and wearing my new running shoes, I am aiming to raise £1,000 towards the mentoring scheme and to take my vengeance on depression.
Depression walked all over me and trampled my self-esteem under its big, black boots. This is payback time.
Every time I make the effort to go running, it’s a mental victory for me over my shadowy nemesis. Every step I run is a kick up his posterior. Every pound I raise will be a punch in his vile mouth. I am going to hit depression where it hurts, over and over and over again – just like it did to me.
- If you’d like to sponsor me, here’s how to do it: http://blurtitout.org/give/paul-brook/
- This blog was first posted by the Blurt Foundation.
First published by York One&Other
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and, with The Apprentice back on the telly, now seems a good time to talk about stress.
No doubt the candidates vying for the dubious honour of a most-likely temporary and thankless job with Lord Sugar will be telling the business tycoon how they ‘go the extra mile’ and are ‘passionate’ about something or other.
For however long they stay in the competition, they will put themselves through all kinds of stress, trying to prove themselves.
These candidates, along with conscientious or ambitious people up and down the land, will be constantly battling to meet and exceed expectations and targets, to make money, or to impress and please people. If it works, I’m pleased for them. But for many of us, one extra mile leads to another, and another, and those extra miles amount to a steaming mound of stress.
I’m cynical about these extra miles for a good reason. I’m one of those people who has always ‘gone the extra mile’, and it made me successful – perhaps seemingly invincible – for a while, but the extra miles became some kind of marathon effort to prove myself to… well, to myself. I felt that if I didn’t excel in every situation and please everyone then I was failing to meet my own punishing, perfectionist standards.
Yes, some stress is necessary in most jobs and helps to get the job done, but if it goes on and on unchecked and unbroken, that stress will get you. It will stop being your catalyst and become your nemesis. It can turn into anxiety and depression.
And once you’re in the mire of depression, there are no extra miles, because everything is too much effort. Goodbye energy. Farewell motivation.
Depression is not like most natural hunters, which prey on the weak. It targets the strong and brings them down. People who have coped with everything suddenly can’t cope with anything.
So here is my warning for Mental Health Awareness Week. Don’t let stress take over you. Don’t give depression a chance. Trust me – you don’t want it in your life. And you are not invincible. Nobody is.
Keep an eye on your stress levels. Be kind to yourself. Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you’re feeling run down, frequently getting ill, getting regular headaches or interrupted sleep, give yourself a break.
Those who always go the extra mile often win medals, but they can also end up with a booby prize that hangs around their necks for years to come. By all means go that extra mile when it’s really necessary, but remember that it isn’t ALWAYS necessary. Sometimes ‘good enough’ is perfectly adequate.