Recurrent depression and anxiety: the rollercoaster ride continues

So, you take your pills, have your therapy, learn some lessons, write a few blog posts, and your mental health problems go away and leave you in peace, right?

Well, maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Perhaps they go away for a while, then pay a return visit at a later date. But it’s also entirely possible that your enemies will become like the horror movie franchise villains who stubbornly refuse to die, and come back for seemingly endless sequels.

The latest dip in my rollercoaster recovery began towards the end of last summer. These late-summer plunges have happened before in the last few years, but to avoid the pattern becoming too predictable, depression and anxiety – being two sides of the same coin, and being partners in crime – like to mix things up and take it in turns to lead. One weighs in first, usually triggered by some kind of prolonged stress or worry, then the other puts the boot in.

Doodle of a rollercoaster

Riding the mental health rollercoaster. See more doodles like this in my blog for the Blurt Foundation:

They seem to lie in wait for a time when I’m winding down and starting to relax, so holidays can be a prime opportunity. That’s when all the pent-up mental poison starts to ooze out and build up, like that nasty pink slime in Ghostbusters 2.

What does it feel like?

My thoughts turn dark and destructive, the despondency and lethargy set in, and other symptoms start to show:

  • irritability and anger – finding people insufferably annoying, especially those who dare exhibit any energy or enthusiasm when I have none
  • illnesses – I’ve had a different illness every month since last October, ranging from a standard cold to lingering laryngitis, suggesting a run-down immune system
  • despair and fear – seeing the worst in everything, and finding it hard to see things getting better
  • paranoia and over-sensitivity – I get wound up by any little comment aimed at me, even if meant in jest, to the point that I get embroiled in a series of long-running imaginary arguments
  • over-thinking, indecision and forgetfulness – the din in my weary brain makes any kind of thinking difficult, and impossible at times
  • mornings are hideous – I haven’t had problems sleeping with my latest episode, but getting myself up and out in the morning still feels like I’m having to physically drag my leaden body to wherever it needs to go.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

I wonder how many times a day we get asked how we are, or we ask how other people are. It’s how we greet each other; part of everyday conversation.

I’m generally a very honest person, but I have lied to people. I have lied a lot. Because many times when I don’t feel fine in the slightest, I don’t want to say so. It’s not that I mind being asked, I just want to pretend I’m fine until the reality catches up, and I don’t want sympathy, or to drag other people down.

The confusing thing about depression and anxiety is that we can also feel perfectly fine for much of the time. Once I’ve got through the first half of the morning and got suitably distracted, I might well have a perfectly decent day, unless something triggers a negative thought. Then I’m at the mercy of spiralling, toxic thoughts and feelings.

I am fine right now, and have been fine for the past few days, and that is good enough for me. If I wasn’t feeling fine, I wouldn’t be writing this and I certainly wouldn’t be sharing it.

So what am I doing about it?

As I always do with these episodes of mental ill-health, I try to face up to my problems and get help in various ways.

I went to see an excellent doctor, and – with some hesitation – decided to team up again with my old pal Citalopram, an antidepressant that I’ve just about managed without since autumn 2013. I always thought I wouldn’t want to go back on the meds, but it was a better option than struggling on without them.

I’ve been on a course, learning tips from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and am on a waiting list for some further CBT to try and crack some persistent and recurring issues.

I’m trying to get out and enjoy nature as much as possible, so am grateful for the weather improving in the past week. The continuous rain and snow was, I think, getting me down more than I realised.

And I’ve finally found another kind of exercise that I’m enthusiastic about and committed to, having drifted terminally from running. I’ve joined a martial arts class after seeing how much my son loved it. The intense workouts leave me thinking I am either going to vomit or keel over, but it’s a good way to release tension and focus on something positive.

Perhaps my biggest lesson in these last few years has been that life does not have to be about doing, exceeding or producing stuff. There is great value in doing very little, or passing time in a not-obviously-productive kind of way – things like jigsaws, favourite TV programmes, games… and trying to rediscover hobbies like drawing birds.

I’ve also made a conscious decision not to set myself unnecessary challenges this year. Why add to the pressures of daily life?

To end on a positive note…

There is one consistently positive thing that recurrent depression and anxiety do for me. Each time they gang up on me, and I go through this gruelling experience, it makes me rethink and evaluate my life. What can I do differently? What’s harming me? What’s good for me? What have I tried that worked but I’ve forgotten or neglected? What haven’t I tried yet? Is there something I should give up? Something I want to find time for?

So I keep learning and arming myself against these attacks. I’m lucky in many ways – my depression and anxiety are fairly mild compared to what many people endure, and I have the support of great family and friends.

I’m sharing this not to alarm anyone, not to attract attention, or to elicit sympathy or pity, or to be considered brave, but just to be honest about my experiences in a society that still stigmatises people with mental health problems.

Ball with smiling face


20 Comments on “Recurrent depression and anxiety: the rollercoaster ride continues”

  1. rmwk100 says:

    Fab, honest blog, as always. I’ll pray for you, and I’m here if you want to chat XXXXX

  2. M. says:

    Wonderfully honest Paul, thank you for sharing.

    “arming myself against these attacks” is a such a wonderful idea. When depression strikes, the world becomes a very dark place with no obvious way out and no willing to leave. Having some for of defense/tool may help.

    I used to compare my depression to a hot bath with a leaky plug, slowly getting cold and shallow. Trying to keep it hot and topped up can be tough, especially if someone/something suddenly pulls the plug! And the ‘bath’ must not get too hot/full either. Sometimes I just give up trying and just let the water drain out. But I think your analogy of a rollercoaster is perhaps better.

    Having been on pills for years, I’ve found they only seem to help level out subtle changes in my state of depression but not the big rollercoaster style dips.

    There seems to be no pattern; it can be quite scary not knowing when the next dip will strike and for how long they’ll last. So, thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

    • paulbrook76 says:

      Thanks very much for sharing. I’ve got through two or three dips with counselling and other things but this dip is more prolonged. I’m not always sure the tablets are helping much, but as you say, I think there is a subtle effect.
      Hope you are keeping well.

  3. Sarah Watson says:

    Hi Paul,
    I hope me almost shouting your name at the Open Shop wasn’t too arresting :-/
    I think I came across you on Twitter due to a JRF, York, mental health trilogy and then laterally nature.
    Your openness is important, especially “being a bloke”, but it helps all of us to be reminded to be mindful and give ourselves a check.

    I really relate to the roller coaster by the way. The higher my highs/ the climbs the lower the dips.
    Hope the waiting list isn’t too long.

  4. erikleo says:

    We who suffer from depression have to draw on a deep well of sufferring and it takes a lot of courage. A quote from Jung I came across which I like is: no tree grows to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell! You seem to be doing all the right things with CBT etc. I do zazen but I would not recommend it as a method of alleviating depression. It is more a way of scraping away at delusion and finding a deeper reality. The spiritual path is not for everyone but if you experience prolonged suffering it somehow beckons as there is a sense that nothing else addresses the suffering. I’m actually writing a book which goes into this in some depth.

  5. Sara says:

    That bloody rollercoaster. I wonder why we can’t dismantle it completely. You write how I feel, have felt and know I will feel again.
    Hope team CBT and Citropram help you. Keep being honest x

  6. Jan Wolfe says:

    Sorry to hear you have been having a down turn again Paul. Funny how when you are in one, you feel as though you will never get out, but when you do, you cannot imagine returning. You think you have beaten it forever. Ha ha ha. I seem to have found a key element in fighting mine, and that is a little thing called vitamin B12. But not all B12’s are made equal, and some work better than others….. Strange beings that we are. I hope you return to the upward path soon – towards the spring and summer.

  7. rzxpeach says:

    Wonderful! Wonderfully brave, informative and such a support to fellow sufferers/survivors! Amazing work. You’ve improved my day!

  8. Mary Shepherd says:

    Make some time if you can, to read “Lost Connections” author Johann Hari 😃 I have taken antidepressants for roughly 20 years & this book was a game changer for ME, I now don’t take any medication at all 😃

  9. iamjrobert says:

    Hi, Thanks For Your Top-Notch Article. Most Likely, Depression Is Caused By A Combination Of Genetic, Biological, Environmental, And Psychological Factors, According To The NIMH. Certain Medical Conditions May Also Trigger Depression, Including An Underactive Thyroid Gland, Cancer, Heart Disease, Prolonged Pain, And Other Significant Illnesses.

  10. Great post. Thanks for sharing the post. Most of the people
    who experience depression suffer with some
    or other type of anxiety.

    mental health first aid

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