After grinding to a halt last year (when I was 64), I’ve had 12 months of resting and recuperating. It’s been great to have no time pressures, be able to catch up on household jobs and generally just ‘chill’. However, I still don’t feel like giving up on my working life altogether and have just started a new job. It’s part-time and temporary – just for a few weeks – and has tested my ability to keep calm in the face of new technology (use of a smart phone is an intrinsic part of the job). With some effort I’ve been able to keep my anxiety levels within manageable parameters – breathing through the stress and repeating my ever-faithful affirmation of ‘I choose to be peaceful and calm; everything is unfolding as it should’. There have been times when I have felt anything other than peaceful and calm but I seem to be settling in. It’s tiring, but I’m doing it.
When I was going through the worst of my breakdown, one of things I hung on to, to haul myself through, was the knowledge of how hard I’d worked when I was younger – dealing with anxiety without any coping mechanisms for a long time – to develop work skills and experience. I was determined that all that hard work would not go to waste.
I do believe that if more people had more help with anxiety and associated difficulties when they were younger, it would help to avoid the devastation that having a breakdown can bring. As a society we still have a long way to go before we can consider ‘inclusion’ a reality rather than a pretend game.
Ironically, I’ve recently been feeling too tired to write about what I have wanted to write about: sleep. Until today.
Breaking the cycle of inactivity is massively difficult during a period of depression. It feels impossible to know what to do or where to start that will make any difference in any meaningful and lasting way. And then sleeplessness takes hold and so it goes on.
I still have variable experiences of being able to get to sleep, and sleep long and deep enough to feel rested. However, any current difficulties I have are nothing compared to what it was like for me, years ago, when I became addicted to sleeping pills (Triazepam).
In the end, to detox, I took myself to Turkey in the hot season, walked and sweated for miles and eventually screamed myself off them.
The process of detox itself, especially in unsupported circumstances, is very dangerous, and, to anyone contemplating taking tranquilizers of any kind, I would say, “Don’t!”.
It might be easy for me to say that now, as I did take them then and felt that I needed to – desperately – at the time. Maybe I did. But that was before I had explored all the other options and possibilities, mainly because I didn’t know about them.
There is much more awareness and access to mental health coping strategies than there used to be over twenty years ago when I was going through some extreme experiences. Meditation courses and apps, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, affirmations (I use these a lot), talking therapies, the benefits of exercise and so on. Even so, despite drawing on these approaches and applying them in my day-to-day life as best as I can, I don’t always sleep well.
Now, though, I’m much more able to sit or lie with the lack of sleep and rest into it, be patient with it, rather than going for a quick fix with all the associated draw backs. If I’m really struggling to settle I might get up, watch a bit of telly (reading is usually out of the question at these times, such is the impact of depression on my capacity to concentrate), make a cup of tea or – even better – hot chocolate. I also occasionally indulge in a glass or two of wine or a gin and tonic. (I’m conscious of the drawbacks and addictive aspects of alcohol reliance but it does sometimes do the trick; a couple of paracetamols – again as a very occasional alternative and never at the same time as alcohol – also eventually send me off.)
I’m gradually working towards having a kinder and more balanced relationship with myself, doing what I can to be good to my body and my brain. I work on being thankful, get my brain into ‘glad’ mode and accept that I am getting “there”, which is “here”, with every day a blessing.
It is much easier for the me that I am now, than the me that I was twenty years ago, to not fall back on the quick fixes, partly because I have worked hard to find out about and put self-management strategies into practice and partly because I am in a much better place on a personal level. It is much easier to get to sleep on an evening, knowing that in the morning I will wake up in my partner’s loving arms.
Maybe there was a time when I did shoot the Albatross, and paid the price. But sleep is a very gentle thing, and doing my best to let sleep slide into my soul is part of an essential process of healing.
Grey island you spin and swirl around me (or is it the sea?) as I sit and wait for my thick-headed brain to clear which it does almost, but elusively and all too briefly teasingly still tense tension immense
Four seagulls soar one sits probably shits (or is that on the wing?)
Thrift, rock, heather purple, black, yellow, mauve green, grey, white weather wild mild quite
Walking, talking, inwardly I sit (still) and wait for my thick-headed brain to clear and allow me to feel the joy of the sea and the splendour of the trees and everything around me
So, I sit (on a rock) and wait for my thick-headed brain to clear and know that someday soon it will be free hopefully
A quarter of a century after I started my self-directed journey of recovery from a complete personal breakdown, it would be easy to think at this stage that I never will get that sense of mental clarity that I have been seeking.
I hoped by now that I could have been sailing instead of struggling to find the energy to get through each day in a remotely positive way.
There are significant differences though, between then – when I started out – and now – when I’ve arrived at a particularly low down point, wondering how on earth I’m going to summon up the motivation and momentum to start going ‘up’ or ‘forward’ again.
The most significant difference for me is that now I’m in a loving relationship. My partner and I care for and about each other in ways that make us both feel good. He suffers from depression too, so we often alternate in terms of who most needs support from the other at any one time. We’ve both had almost catastrophic life experiences to contend with in the past, both just come through by the skin of our teeth, both had to learn to trust again – often the most difficult thing of all, including trusting ourselves as well as each other. And we’re both now thankful that we’ve found each other. ‘Together Forever’ is our motto. We want to make the most of the time that we have – both now in our 60s – and that, in itself, is a motivator. At the same time, I’m still feeling profoundly exhausted and know that I need to do some more work on myself to pull out of this and finally put the traumas of the past behind me.
I know that it’s important to sometimes push myself and at other times do nothing. Doing nothing is hard as it brings with it the fear that it will become a permanent state and that I will vegetate from doing nothing to being nothing. At my age, fear of dementia also comes in to the mix. But in the depths of depression, doing anything at all feels like just too much, so where do I start?
I keep coming back to affirmations. Affirmations, some gentle regular exercise, healthy eating, not too much alcohol. All sensible things.
The affirmations I’ve identified for myself at this time are for depression and hearing problems. While I don’t really have hearing problems as such – other than age-related deterioration – I do have problems with ‘itchy ears’ and I have also had problems in the past with being heard.
I set about learning and practising active listening skills when I trained as a volunteer bereavement counsellor – it must have been about 20 years ago now. I’ve found those skills invaluable in different jobs and roles that I’ve held, although more latterly I’ve found it increasingly hard to concentrate. Active listening, by definition, means giving another person full attention. I think my body and brain have been telling me to give myself full attention for a change; had I ‘listened’ to what they were telling me earlier, I might not have arrived at the state I’m at now, although by the nature of cycles, they do have to go full turn.
Anyway, the affirmations that I’ve found, to say to myself when I can and when I need to, are:
“I move beyond other people’s fear and limitations. I create my own life.”
When I say each of these, at the very low ebb that I’m at now, I get a sense of uplift in my spirit, even if my body and brain are running well behind. I hold on to the belief that they will catch up though. Eventually.
Oh, and of course writing – something, anything – can be therapeutic as well. I’m going to keep writing, and affirming. And washing up, and doing a bit of gardening …
“I choose to be peaceful and calm. Everything is unfolding as it should.”
Affirmations can be hard to take on faith at the best of times. At times like this – and especially with an affirmation like this – it can be even harder.
On my daily walk with my partner, in the beautiful spring sunshine and along the peaceful country lanes around where we are lucky enough to live, I’ve stopped and said this affirmation out loud, and it has helped; helped me to remind myself that I can choose to respond to any given situation in a calm and peaceful way, providing I have control of my emotions and my mind. It might be hard, but not impossible. It is something that I can keep working towards being able to do, even if I can’t do it now.
I first started to use this affirmation a few months ago, when I was struggling with some very difficult work situations and high levels of associated anxiety.
I discovered it in a slightly different form at http://thinkup.me/affirm and my thanks go to the author of that article. (5 Recommended Positive Affirmations for Anxiety by Yvonne Williams Casaus, 26 December 2017)
After struggling with anxiety and depression for many years, I keep thinking that I’ve beaten them, only to be hit again by another wave.
The difference, though, between when I first started my personal battle with depression – in my teens – and now – in my 60s – is that I now have a well-stocked resource bank of strategies to fall back on.
Even so, the nature of the disease- and it is a dis-ease – is such that it can be hard to fall back on what we know works when we are at our lowest ebb. I also find that I no longer have the reserves of fighting energy that I used to have, but if I can at least find an affirmation that resonates with me – even on a leap of faith – then I am doing something positive to pull myself through.
The first time I came across affirmations was when I was going through a breakdown in my late thirties.
Suddenly reaching out – desperately, as I knew I was in danger of drowning and was definitely not waving – I found that there were sources of help and support around that I had never even heard about before or could imagine being available.
Counselling was one of these, meditation another, and I also came across a book called You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay (1984).
In that book , as I recall, I identified an affirmation that reflected the exact opposite of how I was feeling:
“I am the love and beauty of life in full expression.”
At the time, I was feeling like the worst wretch that ever crawled the planet. But I knew I had to do something to turn my life around and so I took on board the affirmation and kept saying it to myself again and again and again. And it worked. Not on its own, not without me doing all sort of other things at the same time and ever since, but it helped to cure my warts (literally) and set me on the path to keep working and trying, never giving up.
This brings me to some more poetry, and Poetry Rule No. 28, Stand your ground when you need to; move when you don’t
Sometimes it isn’t as bad as you think it’s going to be it isn’t even worse as you hesitate with anticipation and brace yourself to curse
Sometimes you’re presently surprised more than you thought you could be when you’re met with some small kindness unexpectedly
At times like these it’s good to be wrong in fact I would go so far as to say it’s a blessing that’s been missing for a long time so, no messing seriously
Sometimes are better than no times never wouldn’t you agree?