I think I've said before how, some time ago, I came to the understanding that depression is a monster that tells you lies. I've used this analogy a lot in my psychology sessions, and it's come to represent depression itself as a beast. I've described the experience of depression probably as many others have done - like being in a deep pit. Whilst it's quite an easy and obvious metaphor, it's also quite useful, because emerging from depression isn't usually (unlike my previous miraculous experience) a change that happens in an instant. Rather, there is a slow recovery, a gradual relief that can be difficult to see happening whilst you're in the experience. Using the analogy of the pit kind of gives a scale to the depression ... it means you can sort of describe how far down or up the pit you are; whether or not there are any signs of life in the soil or above the hole; whether or not you can see light at the top of the pit; how muddy the pit is and whether or not it's sucking you down further; and whether or not there's anything around that you can use to get out of the pit. I also imagine that the vicious beast - monster - of depression lives at the bottom of the pit, and the closer I am to the bottom, the louder and more numerous are the lies it is telling me about myself.
I was talking with my psychologist again during the last session about where in the pit I see myself as being at the moment. A couple of weeks ago, when I wrote Away with it, I/we thought that I was maybe half way up - things were still very difficult, but there was a bit of light at the top of the pit, and perhaps there was a worm (a sign of life) wiggling a little way out of a hole in the side of the pit. Talking in the last session, I said that I felt that I'd sunk a bit. I'm not on the bottom, like I was when at my worst point, but there was no sign of any worms for company, no signs of external life.
I often talk with my psychologist about the things that make me sink in to the pit, how I ended up there, etc, but my homework this week is to think about those things that have perhaps helped me to get off the bottom of the pit; the things that have helped me to ignore/challenge/not listen to the lies the monster tell me; the things that helped me to get as far up the pit as I managed to get before slipping back. It was suggested that perhaps I might write my thoughts about these things on my blog, and before the end of the session I'd decided that yes, I'd write about it here because, after all, I've shared with my blog readers much of my depression experience. This might take me a while because I haven't actually thought about it a great deal since my psychology session on Friday as my mum's been staying with me over the weekend. What follows will very much be me thinking out loud, so if it doesn't make a great deal of sense, that's why.
So, Things that have helped me so far in surviving/recovering from depression:
1. My psychologist and the sessions with her
S has been a constant for me during all of the distress. I have felt able to talk to her about anything and everything, sharing my darkest and most frightening thoughts, the true extent of my desperation. I've cried a thousand tears in front of her, broken down in uncontrollable sobs, and known that I've been safe to do so. I've trusted S with the most vulnerable and broken pieces of myself and known that none of it would be turned around and used against me (this is in contrast to someone else in an on-going situation, so has been a very pertinent point, and a significant trust). Unlike the multiple faces of the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team (CATT), and the unreliable presence of the CPN, S has been there throughout without sessions being cancelled or postponed, and she is one person with whom I haven't continually had to relate the origins of my distress. Yes, S has been, and remains, vital in this process of defeating the beast and finding a way out of the pit.
I was terribly afraid of telling my friends that I was in the bottom of the pit and being devoured by the monster (and that's not how I put it to them when I did tell them). I was afraid because of all that I'd put them through during my previous severe (and very long) depression. I thought that maybe they'd be too afraid to stick around, not so much afraid of depression, but afraid of what depression has done to me before and how difficult that was for them to watch. So I tried to keep it from them this time. I tried to separate myself from them to pre-empt the pain I would feel if they couldn't cope with the depression again and opted to separate themselves from me. It turned out that all of that was one of the lies that the monster was telling me and got me to believe, because when I did ultimately 'come clean' to them about how desperate I was, they held me in their friendship. My close friends came to me, sat with me, and took gentle care of the pieces of me that they came across. They still do. They text, email, tweet, talk to me on FB, and come round to my flat. They encourage me to do things with them, to go places, and when I'm not physically well enough to do that, they come round. One of them has started tidying up my huge back yard for me so that it's a nice area for me to sit in or just to trundle through as my wheelchair access is at the back of the house. They encourage me to go out with them, meet them in the park for a trundle. They suggest that maybe they come over to bake cupcakes, just because it's a nice thing to do. They take me to shops I didn't know about to buy games for my Wii. One of them has sometimes phoned me in the middle of the night when she knows that I'm likely to be at me lowest, and she has talked with me for five hours, six hours, all through the night, during which time we've cried, we've laughed, we've done the whole spectrum of emotions and covered every subject imaginable and some you might not think about. They 'keep me safe' in all my insecurities about seeing mutual acquaintances in group situations that terrify me simply because I haven't seen others for so long and I dread the question, 'How are you?' One or two of those friends occasionally read my blog, and if those friends happen to read this I would like to say a sincere and heart-felt thank you. You are so very precious, and I hardly dare believe that I deserve such wonderful friends. Thank you.
I've written a little about playing the piano again, and spending hours immersed in playing the violin again. I haven't been physically well enough to do any of that for several weeks now, but those were things I was doing when I was a little further up the pit than I currently am. But they haven't been the only musical things I've been doing. The choir I helped get up and running last year - Flotsam - is very important to me. Since being ill with the pyelonephritis again I've been too poorly to go to choir and I've found that really difficult. Choir gives me time with people (very important when I spend so much time on my own, unable to work, unable to get out much because of chronic ill-health) without having to interact too much with many if I'm feeling fragile. Choir gives me a place to belong, somewhere I can be a part of something good, a place where I'm the same as everyone else because we are all singing. Okay, so I can't be the same when they all stand to sing, but I'm kind of used to that, and it doesn't change the fact that I'm still singing just as they are. Flotsam's choir master is a dear friend who has known me (and I've known, obviously) since I was thirteen. He has seen me through some of the toughest times of my life, and even if I don't tell him any details, I always feel able to tell him if I'm not doing too well, and that has made Flotsam a very safe place to be. Of course, music itself can have an emotional effect, as I'm sure most of you have experienced for yourself, and the music we sing in Flotsam tends to be either uplifting or soothing. Music is also a part of me, something that has always been in my life, and has sometimes been my only way of expressing anything at all. It allows me to connect with the world - something in the world - that nothing else quite reaches, and it has been a creative outlet for me at a time when I've felt extremely stunted in my ability to creatively express myself in writing. It's not the same, but it helps.
During most of my previous deep depression I was largely unable to talk to my mum about any of my feelings. For various reasons I was angry with Mum, and I closed myself off from her. It was kind of necessary at the time, but there's been an enormous amount of healing that has gone on between us and we now have a wonderful relationship. Mum's support throughout this horrible time of depression has been invaluable and constant. She's phoned me often, but not intrusively so, and during the calls I've been able to tell her a lot of how I've been ... yes, at times I've held back from telling her everything, but in the end - maybe a few weeks down the line - I've been able to share most of those things too. Mum's been down to visit a few times, which has been very supportive, great company, and has provided much-needed TLC. Of course, there was also my trip up north to stay with her and J that unfortunately culminated in a hospital admission with pyelonephritis. Before I took ill, I was having a lovely, relaxed, gentle time with Mum and J, which felt nurturing and lightly refreshing. It was bad luck that I got so poorly and didn't really get over it while I was away so that it came back almost full-on shortly after getting home. The goodness gained by staying with Mum was largely erased, unfortunately, except that it helped me with number 5...
5. Making some decisions
Out of necessity, I'm going to be quite vague here. Firstly, there has been an on-going situation that has caused me a lot of distress. I'm not currently at liberty to expand on this for various reasons, but time with Mum, talking with Mum, and several in-depth conversations with my psychologist about the situation have led to me reaching a decision. I've yet to act on the decision made, but I'm working on it, and even coming to the conclusion that I have has helped.
There is another decision that I'm going to be equally vague about, but concerns something I've thought about a little in the past. I mentioned it to Mum when I was with her in Edinburgh, and since then have thought about a great deal. It's probably something for the long-view rather than to implement immediately, but I am beginning more detailed thinking about it, and have decided that I will most likely follow it through at some point. I think it's a good decision to have made, but will take considerable work. Anyway, enough of being vague.
6. Getting out
I've been too unwell with the recurrent pyelonephritis since coming home from Edinburgh to go out much at all. My days have been pain-filled and isolated as I've lain in bed or on the sofa trying to rest, trying to get/keep my temperature down, watching the clock for when the next antibiotic is due or pain killer can be taken, cuddling the cat whenever he's wanted and sometimes when he hasn't been too keen on it, watching daytime telly, and whiling away time on FaceBook. Before that I was trying really hard to make sure that I got out at least once a day. It might just have been to the shop, the park, a trundle around the local streets, or it might have been to town for some window shopping, or a wander along the quayside. I was avoiding driving anywhere because my concentration was so poor that I didn't trust myself to be safe, which meant that I couldn't take myself off to the coast - a place I usually manage to find some solace.
Okay, so this might sound strange to some, but I've found the contact with others through FaceBook valuable. At my very worst, when I wasn't able to tell my friends how I was, I didn't go there - I found it very, very difficult to interact with anyone in case I let it slip how I was - but when I did tell folk what was happening, FaceBook helped a lot. While I was isolated in my depression and by my difficulties in mixing effectively with others, I could roam around FB in the ethereal presence of others online. I have wasted many, many hours playing Bejeweled Blitz (sic) and Scrabble, clicking on links to You Tube videos posted by others, reading every status update of everyone on my friends list, and looking at millions of pictures of cats. To those of you who have never experienced depression and have busy, active lives may see all that time on FB as a total waste, but actually it's kept me connected to the world and reminded me of all people I know who are out there. It's given me something to do, and 'somewhere' to be.
I'm finding it very difficult now to think of other things that have helped. I'm sure there are more things, but I've been trying to write this list for three hours now and I'm brain-dead. Perhaps more will come to mind in the coming days, but I have more 'homework' to do ... and it's difficult, so it may be a while until I get back to you.