MENTAL HEALTH – THE LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY FROM DEPRESSION
Mental Health – I never thought when I started my blog, I would reveal so much about myself but over the last two years, I’ve found it cathartic to be open and be honest. It’s actually been like therapy writing about my own struggles with mental health which started about eight years ago. A post I wrote in January about my depression was praised by a lot of people but I didn’t write it for praise….a pat on the back, “well done Helen for opening up” no, I wrote it because it felt right. I wanted to let other people know that it isn’t anything to be ashamed off, something dirty to hide, it’s not taboo anymore, it’s important to open up and talk.
Writing that post was so therapeutic, so much so I vowed to put myself first, I also realised that there is a lot in my life to be thankful for. In the six months since that post, have I put myself first? I’ve definitely tried which is sometimes difficult when you have a family. It got me thinking actually about the little things I could do to make 2019 happier, no resolutions, just 20 little things to help make my day/week happier. I wrote a post about it which I’ve printed off and have on my fridge – 20 tips to make your day brighter. I look at it and remind myself that I must set myself a tiny goal if not every day, at least once a week. I’ve definitely ticked everything off on my list because they’re achievable and that’s the thing with mental health, do things that are achievable. Don’t set big goals which ultimately, you can’t achieve, it just sets you up for a mighty big fall bringing you crashing right back down again, a vicious circle of misery and hopelessness which was so often how I felt.
So far this year, I’ve had good days and I’ve had bad days as we all do. I learn to cope with the bad days by not beating myself up about how little I’ve done if I’m not working. I only work two days a week because the rest of the time, I work on my blog but the days I’m at work helps me leave my “other self” at home. When I say my “other self” I mean that horrible black side of me that is constantly down and in pain, I go to work, and I forget because I have to. You become so good at hiding depression, you put a mask on for everyone else, the outside world hasn’t got a clue what you’re going through, the demons that you’re battling with. I do however understand that there are many people who are severely depressed, so chronically depressed that they just can’t get out of bed. This is a condition that’s altogether different which I’ve thankfully not suffered with. Yes, there’s been a few dark days where I just haven’t been able to get out of bed, but I give myself a pep talk and force myself up, bipolar, chronic or manic depression is a debilitating condition that needs urgent medical help.
A few years ago, I attend CBT therapy, what’s CBT therapy? It’s Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which you attend at a clinic or hospital provided for by the NHS in the UK so a visit to the GP is your first point of call. Usually this is the first stage of therapy or counselling. CBT is a 6-8-week course of treatment where the emphasis is on weekly group activities which cover the reasons you’re feeling down, coping strategies, meditation and mindfulness, rumination (as looking back doesn’t achieve anything) and lots more. I found this kind of therapy really helpful because I came away with the tools to help me cope. Suddenly there were other people out there in the same boat as me who understood how I was feeling, it was empowering.
Planning my day.
One of the lessons which I found really useful was planning my day. We had a specially made day planner which was laid out in blocks so morning, mid-morning, lunchtime, afternoon, early evening and evening. I got to fill in my day and plan my day, much like setting goals. The theory is, if you know what your day looks like, it becomes easy to embrace the day ahead when you know what you’re doing. So for example, my morning would be the day-to-day chores (washing up, laundry, make beds) then a bigger task would be my next job so cleaning my bedroom or the lounge or kitchen, maybe the ironing; whatever, this would be broken down in chunks so this bigger job could be achieved over the space of three days for example. Another task in the afternoon after starting the bedroom off would be go out for a walk or go for a coffee. Then I would take time out just do nothing, read or watch a bit of TV. CBT taught me not to feel guilty for doing nothing, it’s the body’s way of healing. I would often nod off in the afternoon because I was mentally exhausted, depression makes you tired.
take time out.
Over the years that I’ve suffered with depression, I’ve never wanted to go down the route of taking pills. In fact, my GP steered away from them siting my otherwise buoyant mood in the past as I don’t have a history of depression; I never suffered post-natal depression when I had my children. However, I have often thought about taking them just for a short while to see if they help a bit like taking HRT for the menopause. Menopause can be another trigger for depression and mood swings which I’m suffering with, but I manage my symptoms with a mild dose of HRT, supplements and minerals. HRT isn’t for everyone but the one year I’ve been using it has helped but I plan on coming off it at Christmas because I don’t want to get too reliant on it. The same goes for depression pills, I didn’t want to rely on them as I feel they just mask the problems, first you have to deal with the underlying cause of your depression in order to understand it and the triggers that set off an episode of this horrid condition.
This post isn’t intended to harp on about my problems with depression but it’s really about recovery. Mid-way through the year and the weather is lovely and summery, the nights and long and light so it’s been a mood-lifter for sure. I’ve tackled my fear of travelling to Paris on my own which I did in January. I was invited to write about a hotel in the Marais so off I went on my own and it was absolutely fine, I got in a cab on my own and I was so proud of myself; I faced my fears and it felt good.
Going out for a walk embracing nature.
I then started going for a daily walk, just to get out into the open air, feel the chill on my face in the dark January, February and March days was crucial to my recovery. I started going out on my own, whether that was coffee, lunch or Afternoon Tea for my blog, I felt more confident to do so. I went for a drive to listen to some music while being in my own little space, the comfort of my car. I tried to stay away from the booze which I found I was slowly relying on. I’m not saying I am over that, but I’ve made big steps and I’ve promised myself to eat better. I went away to the Cotswolds for my anniversary, we had a couple of days in a beautiful country house hotel and had dinner in the hotel’s new Chef’s Table which was so much fun, haven’t laughed like that in ages.
I’ve gone back to work and although I am finding it a bit of struggle to have two days out of my five where I can’t work on the blog and the chores are taking a back seat a bit of a struggle. But I keep telling myself that the pay-check at the end of the month will be a reminder of why I’m going to work. Knowing I have my own money, the ability to save for something nice or a holiday spurs me to get up at 6:15 am on Thursdays and Fridays plus I work with a lovely bunch of women who make me laugh. It’s a slow recovery but I’m getting there.
If you find yourself suffering from depression or anxiety or other mental health conditions, please see your GP first. Perhaps if CBT isn’t for you, he might recommend one-to-one therapy or counselling. Below are some helpful tips which I find help me and there are also some links to websites that might help you cope with your condition, the best thing for me has been talking about it, don’t keep it inside, talk to anyone, a doctor, a friend, a parent, a therapist but talk. Mental health isn’t taboo anymore, the sooner we can deal with our problems, the easier recovery will be.
MY TIPS FOR RECOVERY AND GOOD MENTAL HEALTH
A daily walk – go out for a daily walk, at least 30 minutes to brush away the cobwebs, it’s essential for good mental health. If you’re lucky enough to live by the coast, make the most of it. Can there be anything nicer walking by the sea which is something I always do when I’m in Cornwall……Cornwall is good for the soul and a place that makes me feel instantly better.
Meditation & Mindfulness – Practice both, there are lots of on-line tutorials, reading materials and downloadable aps like Calm and Headspace.
Yoga – or other exercise, it boosts endorphins, the “feel good hormones” yoga goes hand in hand with meditation and is the ultimate in relaxation, I’ve often found I was nodding off during the last 10 mints of a session.
Make time for yourself – take time out even if its 10-15 minutes, sit down and watch a bit of TV or read, have a cup of tea, don’t feel guilty.
Read a good book.
Bake – cooking and baking is a real passion of mine, I find baking so therapeutic, even making bread because I get to take my anger out on the dough when I’m kneading and bashing it around!
I love bakkng!
The finished product!
Go out – doesn’t have to be every day, on your own is good. Get used to being on your own, your own company is a positive thing. Go to a gallery or an art exhibition, go to a café for tea and cake or just a coffee! Café Rouge have really good deals for tea & cake in the afternoon. It gets you out and in the company of other people even if you don’t know them.
See a friend – as above, human company is a good thing, a hug, a touch, talking is so important.
Go for a drive – your car is your own space, it’s my sanctuary where I’m all alone and can listen to my favourite music.
Have a routine – I learnt this in CBT and it really helps keep you focused, remember the daily planner? It’s a similar thing.
Eat better – I can’t stress this enough and I know it’s challenging sometimes as good food can be expensive but try to eat fruit and vegetables. I make a juice (you can buy cheap juicers, wait for the sales) use, carrots, oranges, ginger, grapes, mangoes. kiwi, pineapples, green apples and spinach. It really does invigorate you especially if it’s a pure ginger shot, add a green apple with it to tame it down. Avocados are so good for you because good fats have been proven to help with the symptoms of depression (omega’s 3,6,9) and take a good B vitamin, this also helps with your mood as does 5HTP which I take in the evening before bed. Low serotonin levels can contribute to weight gain, difficulty sleeping, anxiety and depression so it’s a natural mood enhancer as is vitamin D, another very important vitamin. St John’s Wort is another supplement to help with mild depression, but it can conflict with other medication so please be aware of this, check with your doctor first.
Eat better, I love this smoothie bowl I make quite regularly.
Gardening – I’m not a big fan but I realise some people love it and prefer it to baking.
Plan – I love planning whether it’s a holiday, my trips to Paris, what I’m going to do at the weekend, how I’m going to spend Christmas. I find surfing the internet for a good restaurant, recipes for Xmas or hotels so therapeutic, it’s like a drug.
Finally, please seek professional advice if you’re feeling very down or have suicidal thoughts or feel you’re a danger to yourself or anyone else. Samaritans are there to listen and are experts in talking about all sorts of mental health issues.