This is a (long!) mental health awareness post. I’m not sharing this for any kind of sympathy or kudos, only to shed some light on a misunderstood topic. Before I had experienced anxiety and depression myself I really didn’t have a clue what it was like, and if I’d known I’d have been able to help others better than I had.
So I have recently reduced my anti-depressant dosage. Because it felt like I was in a good place to give it a go and because the negative aspects of being on them were starting to outweigh the anxiety / depression risk.
In two steps I cut my dose in half. Both times I felt fine for 4-5 days then my brain took a hit and scrambled around for another 4-7 days until it found its new balance.
Those days of mental scrambling were a chilling reminder of how I felt when I was at my worst, only this time it was much more temporary, and having quickly got back to feeling like myself again I have realised how stark the contrast between the well me and the un-well me really is. There are always days when I am grumpy, sad, tired, irritable, we all have those days of course. But that’s not what I’m talking about…
In the brain-scrambled days there was no enjoyment to be found in stuff I love, I’d watch the kids be gorgeous and not feel anything about it. And Dan bought me some flowers. They’re beautiful and today I can see that. On Friday I knew they should make me feel happy, only they didn’t. I knew they were an expression of Dan’s love & his belief that I was doing a good job, only I didn’t believe that & the flowers were a symbol of yet another bad thing about me that I’d deceived people around me into thinking I was better than I really was.
And in the brain-scrambled days my fuse was so short I don’t think I even had one. The sound of the kids first thing in the morning playing next door wasn’t only irritating, it actually felt like my inner ears were scraping against my skull, and I’d feel the anxiety rise trying to figure out how I could escape while leaving them safe. A cup of spilt water that at the best of times drives me mad, caused me to feel such anger that I had to leave the room for fear of what I would do. And then thoughts like “these kids can’t even drink without spilling something, there’s clearly something wrong with them, in fact there’s clearly something wrong with me I can’t believe I can’t even teach kids to have a drink without spilling it, this adoption isn’t working, I can’t believe I ever thought it was going to work” would run through my mind at a million miles an hour with no pause for breath.
And in these difficult days I actually didn’t function like the well me. I couldn’t remember something that happened one minute ago, I would be in a conversation vaguely aware that it involved me and that I should be saying something and yet words failed me (not a problem I normally have!).
During my most difficult periods I have sought Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which I am sure has saved my health, our family and what feels like my life actually. And in these recent brain-scrambled days I dragged up some methods I learned there and they helped. Somedays the fight is there, some days it’s not. Yes, some of it is about being positive, and celebrating the good stuff, which I’ve found it good for the soul to do even when it doesn’t actually help my brain to do so. For the kids I’m brave, and look happy, some days that helps and sometimes it doesn’t. Does the counselling help? Yes. Sometimes. Does prayer help? Yes. Sometimes. Does time out help? Yes. Sometimes, (until it’s time to come home again). Does exercise help? Yes, but only if there’s enough fight to actually get out and do it.
But the difference in my mind, in my brain from a well-me day to a sick-me day is just huge. It’s irrational, sometimes triggered by something tangible, sometimes not.
Depression is sometimes described as the black dog. It follows you round, it’s relentless, it pounces, it plays the same games over and over again, you can get rid of it only to find it’s come back again. And I’ve learned that to ignore the black dog when he comes to play isn’t actually the best method. You need to get to know him in order to master him and show him who’s boss. As Dan described when I overcame an anxiety attack at the weekend, “looks to me like you saw the black dog, gave him a cuddle and then told him to bu*@er off”! For me giving him a cuddle is having a cry, or listing all the stuff making me anxious, or just shutting the world out with silence, or mindless tv. And then the next step (how long that takes will be different each time, but is nearly always sooner than I “feel like”) for me is to either employ some CBT strategies, get out for a run, get on with doing something with the kids, pray, sing, dance.
If you’ve never met the black dog, then you are one of the lucky ones and I pray it stays that way. But please know it’s more complicated than it looks, and if it was as easy as “getting over it”, simply “being positive”, or “getting it in perspective” then we wouldn’t even need to be having this conversation!
If you’re going through it, know you’re not alone, and take a brave step to do one thing different today in your journey towards wellness. If you know someone who’s going through it, listen, be patient, don’t be offended if your help doesn’t look like it’s making a difference, because long term it will help. We know you care, we know you desperately want to help, and at times we feel bad that we’re disappointing you by not being better! But thank you – keep asking us how we’re really doing, we need you!