Is it here?

Oh dear.  9th of January 2018 and I’m only now sitting down to write the first post of the new year… This year has started somewhat inauspiciously for me, I spent the first week in bed, with the mother of all flus, – fever, headache, aches and pains all over. Let’s just say that’s my allotted sickness for the year done and over with and now I can move on to other stuff.

A general post-festive blues is where I’m at. Anxiety, pacified for a bit by the fairy lights and Christmas displays, has been rearing its ugly head. I’m reading quite a bit, hoping to bring it to heel, leave it behind in some imaginary worlds. I’m not feeling all that colourful or brilliant, more like I’ve been leeched of all tint, left invisible and gray. Slight heartache and the cold in the soul.

I found this poem, clearly written on some other January day. The question is one that I continue to pose to myself today.

is it there

somewhere in the

smoke

in the morning

in the mist

city moist with

layers of

Dublin sounds

like a drunk acoustic guitar

at this time

of half-hearted january birds

curiosity bites

through

is it here

potent tiny part

asleep

for a long winter

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My threads are calling me

Meh. I have a cold, that seems to be spreading to my chest now, I’m on my period (ooooh, oh no she didn’t mention the dreaded p-word!), I’m a sore, clogged up, wheezy, coughing mess and generally not in the best of moods. I was planning on skipping writing today as well, and instead reading another juicy sick and twisted Polish crime novel until sweet dreams of murder and maiming came upon me, but today’s prompt convinced me to type up a quick something.

I have a quiet love for needle crafts. It’s a temperamental and seasonal affliction, it manifests itself usually only in the midst of winter, more so if I also happen to be depressed.  When my mind gets lost among the dark and slippery tunnels, when my concentration abandons me and reading and writing are no longer viable options for spending free time, I look for something to do with my hands. I knit, I crochet, I embroider.

There’s something supremely soothing and comforting about handling soft wool, or colourful threads. There is peace to be found in the process itself, repetitive but still attention requiring motions, pleasure in learning more and more demanding techniques, satisfaction of seeing how with patience something tangible, and with luck, beautiful starts taking shape.

I was never taught any of this, nobody in my family does needle crafts. I learnt it all from the internet, from books, forums and YouTube videos, the resources are out there if you want to learn. I do sometimes question what is it that gives me more pleasure – learning a new skill or technique, or actually completing a project; I seem to be doing a lot of the former and not so much of the latter. But frankly, as I see knitting/crocheting/embroidering as mainly therapeutic activities it doesn’t really matter. Knitting or crocheting is easier in application, one can never have too many colourful scarves, hats, stuffed animals etc. It’s a bit trickier to find practical use for fancy embroidery, which is my most recent, and I think strongest fascination. I mean, yes, I could embroider table linen (although I would first have to spend a small fortune on the really fine linen, which is the only material I can use for some of the techniques I love, not mentioning decent embroidery frames – since a hoop wouldn’t be much use for a project of that size), or something along these lines, but lets face it – I would never dare to use it even if I did complete it, so there doesn’t seem to be much point in that. So instead I just embroider pretty little things, not really thinking about utilizing them for anything. I’m ok with that. It’s the activity that counts, it’s the pleasure in knowing I can do that with my own two hands, and while I’m not an expert, I learnt it all myself.

I may not be up to it just this instance, but as the November is passing, and winter is coming I keep looking at my box of threads and visions of colorful flowers, strange creatures and lace are starting to swim in front of my eyes…

collage (2)

15 minutes of worries

I worry and stress a lot. Nearly all the time, and always, always before going to sleep. I’ve read recently about a technique that is meant to help with that. It’s a very simple thing really, you just assign specific time for worrying, say 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. During this time let your anxiety run wild, list your worries, try to come up with solutions, stress to your weird little heart’s content. But once the time is up, you put the worries in the box and not touch them until the next worrying session. If the worry starts bothering you during the day or night, just remind yourself that it is locked in the box. Again it’s a simple concept, and perhaps just a little bit silly and smelling strongly of pop psychology, but I’ve decided to give it a go.

My first 15 minutes of worrying starts now.

  • I’ll never find work again, ever, nobody will ever even give me an interview. The only job I have any hope of obtaining is one that no one else wants – like cleaning vomit from the cubicles of a dingy pub’s toilets.
  • I’ve no money.
  • I will never have money and will end up homeless.
  • I’ll end up old and alone, forgotten by the world, in some institution and nobody will notice when I die, for like a week, until I start to smell and rats are chewing on my decomposing remains.
  • All my friends secretly hate me. I’m not sure why they continue to hang out with me, I never said I was rational.
  • I’m not rational.
  • I’m not a proper adult, I don’t understand adult things.
  • I’m too much of an adult and I’m becoming boring.
  • I am boring.
  • My English is not as good as I want it to be and my Polish is starting to disintegrate.
  • When we get a dog it will never love me, it’ll sense my inner wrongness and will judge me for it.
  • I have an inner wrongness about me.
  • My teddy bears don’t like me.
  • I own teddy bears and sometimes I’m not ashamed of it (see “I’m not a proper adult”).
  • Sometimes I’m ashamed of having teddy bears (see “I’m too much of an adult”).
  • I don’t read enough these days.
  • Some days I read too much.

15 minutes is up. Into the box you stupid things! Aaaaand breathe….

15minutesofworries

Head above the water… Barely, but it’s possible to breathe…

 

 

Malfunctioning

There you go. I’ve gone and overextended myself yesterday (I wrote about it literally two days ago here, sigh, I should probably take my own advice on this stuff). I met not one but two (!) friends, one after another, then I came and wrote a blogpost and while I had a great time, today I’m a bit of a wreck. I hate it when I’m like this, I have no patience for this weepy, weakly creature that occasionally takes over my brain. I have stuff to do. I cannot start crying because showering is difficult. But that’s what it’s going to be like today apparently. I’ve tried to tough it out, I did get up, I did have my shower, I even ate breakfast and set out to tick off some of my to-do tasks. It’s not really going anywhere. I halfheartedly looked through some job offers and applied for a couple of them, then equally halfheartedly started to set up my LinkedIn profile but I gave it up by now. I want to do a good job of it and it’s just not happening today.

***Ok… Literally just as I was writing this sad rant I got a phone call from one of the companies I’ve applied to asking me for a job interview tomorrow, so hey, things are looking up! It’s just an interview but it’s a start.***

Still… It’s on days like today that I can’t help but impossibly wish for some sort of a golden remedy, some panacea that would take it all away – the lack of energy, the weeping, the tiredness and hopelessness, self-doubt and self-loathing, the dark thoughts, the woolly fog inside my head. Some magic pill I could pop that would, overnight, sweep the dusty and spider web covered corners of my mind and leave me shiny and golden, or you know, functional, with no side effects. Yeah, I know, you don’t have to tell me, I know full well it doesn’t work like that. I know there are no easy fixes, not just in dealing with depression, but in life. I know, I know, ok?! I don’t allow myself naive wishful thinking too often, what would be the point of that? Panacea are a dangerous myth; if it cures all, it cures nothing. Instead I try to stay reasonable and assess the situation in front of me.

Situation: I’m physically and mentally tired today and even simple tasks are difficult. My eyes seem to have relocated to a wet spot again. I feel defeated and annoyed with myself.

Reasons: I’ve been depressed, I’m dealing with a massive change in my life, I spent most of yesterday walking and socializing which is tiring to me at the best of times (socializing, not so much walking).

Pros: I got to meet up with two people and spent most of the day outside, I ate nice things, had good conversations and reconnected with friends. That is something I very decidedly want in my life.

Cons: I’m unable to complete all the tasks I’ve set out to do today.

Assessment: I have not given up on the day, I got up, I have attempted to do my tasks, I did manage to send out some CVs, I started doing my profile on LinkedIn. Upon getting the news about the job interview tomorrow I’ve researched the company and prepared.

Conclusions: Today I’m having a low day, I will always have some of these. I did the best I could with the resources available to me, there is no strict time limit on my tasks, I can take the rest of the day off to recover and get to it tomorrow again.

Additional positives: I just got a job interview. If nothing else it is a sign that someone is seeing the CVs I’m sending out, and is willing to meet with me. Whatever the outcome, it’s a positive – it is, at a minimum, a good opportunity to get used to the process again and to practice my responses to such situations.

There, assessment ready. There really isn’t much to be angry or defeated about. I’ll allow myself a little bit of dissatisfaction with my productivity today but otherwise we’re good, my weepy-me. Sometimes “the best I can” is good enough. Now I shall chill with a book or write some sad poems, or maybe go for a walk.

How do you deal with your low days? Ideas, tips and techniques are all very welcome. The most effective for me so far is the 5-minute rule. If I think something is impossible to do, I still try to do it, for 5 minutes at least. If I find enough energy/concentration/strength to continue with it and complete the task, brilliant. If not, I know I at least tried and made a start on it and so I can stop beating myself up about it.

blogpost13-panacea

Long and possibly rambling post, mainly about depression, therapy and gratitude.

It’s not often I feel the need to put a disclaimer before something I wrote. This post is a result of trying to gather some (jumbled and not entirely coherent) thoughts about my personal experience with depression and therapy.  I tend to state things quite strongly at times but please understand that everything I put down here is written from a personal point of view. In other words, I claim no absolute truths.  Even though I use a lot of declarative statements about the way I taught myself to think about depression and ways of dealing with it, it is a perspective of a person with a very particular set of beliefs, specific thinking patterns and life experiences. I’m not saying – do these things, they will definitely help you, whoever you are. I’m saying – this is how I deal with this.

Gratitude is difficult when you’re depressed. But there again, so is showering, or getting up. It’s one more thing you need to work on. Which on one hand is a bit scary, because you feel so exhausted and defeated already, and here’s another thing to add to the list that already seems overwhelming. But on the other hand, it really is something you can get better at, if you practice.

For me one of the biggest benefits of therapy in general and cognitive behavioural therapy in particular is that you start feeling more in control of yourself again, you take back the ownership for your well being. And that’s liberating and it gives me hope. Depression manifest itself in many ways, and one that haunts me the most, is the feeling of helplessness and lack of control.

Something horrible is happening to you, and it doesn’t seem fair, and you inevitably start asking “why?” Am I being punished for some unidentified sin? Do I deserve this? Am I just a really bad/lazy/undeserving/stupid/pointless/insert-your-pejorative-adjective-of-choice-to-abuse-yourself person and this is karma coming to bite me on the arse? Or maybe the world is just a horrible place and nothing matters anymore so why bother? I’m confident that all of us who live our lives with depression, at one point or another have gone down this dark and twisted rabbit hole of an inquiry. I promise you, it leads nowhere good, it offers no solutions. Asking “why?” is focusing on the wrong question. There is no “why”, there is no reason. There are mechanics of the process you can understand but it’s not all a part of some grand design. Your depression is NOT a punishment, or karma, you are not cursed, nor tested – it is a matter of coincidences, accidents, bad experiences lived through, and genes, certain biological quirks and freaks of upbringing. “Why?” does not give any helpful answers, a better thing to ask is “how?”. How do I do this? How do I learn to live with depression (and I mean live, as joyously and fully as possible, and not just exist), or mania, or PTSD? How do I learn to limit the opportunities for these states to occur again? How do I prepare and train myself? How do I teach myself to think about these things I’m dealing with, in a way that is helpful?

There are things beyond your control, there always will be. And you need to learn to recognize them. You cannot control everything in life, and if you try it will destroy you. You cannot help that you or someone else is ill, or passed away, you cannot prevent the horrific accidents so many of us encounter at some point in our lives, you cannot eliminate loss, you cannot take away the suffering of others, you cannot stop the natural disasters from happening, you cannot help how other people act, you cannot eliminate all change. But you can learn to deal with them. You can learn how to think about them. And how to react to them. You can learn how to analyze your situation and break down the overwhelming into manageable. You can learn to recognize what is within your reach, how you can genuinely help yourself or others, and learn to know when you can’t, and how to accept that fact. You can learn how to change the corrosive thinking patterns. You can learn how to limit the negative effects of other people’s actions on your life. You can learn how to change the way your brain works.

It’s not a magical solution, therapy doesn’t “fix” you by itself. If you expect to go to a few meetings to listen to the clever man/woman telling you everything you need to know, and to miraculously get better just by being there, it won’t work. And temptation to think about therapy this way is very real, we all would really like it if someone could snap their fingers and just “make us better”. How lovely would that be? Unfortunately, that’s not how the world operates. My first few experiences with therapy weren’t the best, precisely because I expected the impossible. I expected that the therapists would “fix me”, I expected them to be these all-knowing, all-powerful creatures akin to gods, with power of “making people better” just on contact. I’m being a bit flippant right now, but you know what I’m getting at.

It’s only when I accepted certain facts about therapy, that I started making progress. Therapist’s job is to equip you with the tools, techniques, ideas that will allow you to help yourself. They can guide you a bit, they can explain certain concepts, suggest ways of seeking solutions that might work for you. And that’s invaluable. When you’re in a dark, hopeless place, these guiding beacons can make all the difference. But ultimately the onus is on you. You need to put in the work. And I won’t lie, it is an awful lot of hard, frequently very tedious, work. You are rewriting your brain, that is not easy, even if it is, at its core, “simple” for a lack of a better word. Most likely, initially you’ll fail. And not just once. Sometimes repeatedly. At least I know I had. And this you’ll also need to learn, how to pick yourself up, and try again. The work never ends. Because even if you get yourself into a better place, you still need to remember that the possibility of depression reoccurring grows with every depressive episode you go through. After several major ones, I know for a fact that this can and probably will happen to me again. I need to stay vigilant to protect myself from that, or if I slide into depression to limit its impact. It does get easier with time and practice. But you must do it regularly.

The point of this whole roundabout introduction is that while therapy is hard and tedious, and never-ending work, it’s also absolutely worth the effort you put in. It really can help. Initially just by providing simple techniques you can use to get yourself more active and capable of dealing with everyday life in the reality of your condition (helping you to maintain a healthy sleeping and eating habits, introducing physical activity, understanding the value of proper rest and relaxation, socializing etc), and therefore giving you the mental space you need to progress to the possibly even more important matter of establishing healthy cognitive patterns, i.e. ways of untangling your depressive thinking knots.

The very knowledge, that it is you who is doing all that hard work has an intrinsic value, it is a reward in and of itself. It reduces hopelessness, it raises self-confidence, it makes you realize that there are constructive and surprisingly simple things you can do to help yourself. Again, “simple” does not necessarily equal “easy”. But it does mean it is doable. It means it is within reach. And while it’s continuous work, once you get to it, you start noticing progress fairly quickly. And that, again just in itself, helps you get a sense of accomplishment, and purpose. One of the things I’ve learnt in therapy was to celebrate the small victories. We tend to undervalue ourselves and the things we do. And that’s especially true when we’re depressed. We think “well, I managed to get up, have shower and make breakfast today, whoopty doo, that’s what ‘normal people’ do every day without giving it a second thought. What’s there to celebrate? I should have done so much more. I’m useless.” Come on, admit it, you thought that, or something along these lines so many times, right? When you’re depressed, everything is difficult, and tiring, and often feels impossible to do. It’s not just getting up, just having shower or breakfast. It’s doing these things when they are so difficult as to appear impossible. Comparing ourselves to others, who do not deal with the same problems as we do, or to ourselves as we are when not depressed, is pointless. Acknowledge the difficulty. And acknowledge the strength and determination that’s gone into that seemingly simple set of tasks.  And be proud.

And now I’m finally getting to the whole inspiration for this post. Today’s writing prompt: gratitude.

One of the first (of very many) exercises I’d been asked to do in my CBT therapy, was to record each week the positive things that happened. Sometimes these would be major events, sometimes insignificant happy accidents. Big changes, like moving to a new house, or to another continent, and small daily happenings, like a fact that you saw someone in a silly outfit, or a sun shone at a particular angle on a yellow leaf, and made it glow, or someone was nice to you.

This is meant to help you remain aware of the good people in your life, of your own strengths, of the beauty of the world out there. It’s tough to remember about these things when you’re depressed. Your mind just automatically seeks out the ugly, the bad, the negative and latches onto them. And when you do remember the good stuff, you somehow tend to twist even that into self-criticism. You know what I mean – “I have so much to be grateful for, so why am I so broken? What is wrong with me? I’m the worst!” sort of a thing. That is not terribly helpful to anyone, least of all to yourself.

Concentrating on the positive, or more accurately, noticing and acknowledging it, even in the darkest of times, breeds gratitude. At least it does in me. Despite the various ways in which my life did not exactly go according to the plan, despite depression, despite mania, despite PTSD,  despite the abhorrent things I’ve witnessed or been a victim of, despite the multitude of flaws I find in myself, despite the loss, despite the pain, despite how broken so much of the world sometimes appears, I remain grateful.

For my family.

For my partner and the relationship we have.

For all of my wonderful friends.

For the many random encounters with kind-hearted strangers.

For the good doctors/psychiatrists/therapists who have helped me on the way.

For the fact that I have the intellectual capacity to work on my issues.

For my sense of humour, which allows me to find a funny side even in some very dark moments.

For the strength I keep proving to myself.

For the writing which helps me organize my thoughts.

For the books, and the ways in which they inspire/educate/entertain/distract me.

For the opportunities I had to travel to or live in different places.

For the ways in which that broadened my horizons.

For my many interests.

For my love of food.

For my ability to see and appreciate beauty even in unlikely places.

For the fact that dogs are amazing.

For the wonders of nature.

For big vibrant cities.

For small, sleepy villages in the middle of nowhere.

For the fact that we imagine dragons, and dream about interstellar journeys.

This list would be enormous if I wanted to put everything I feel grateful for on it, so maybe I’ll leave it at that for the moment.

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