One aspect of depression that is a constant struggle is finding something – anything – to build up my self-esteem. To a certain extent I’ve learnt to live with it, knowing that the worst moments pass if I rest up and tune in to parts of my brain that I’ve trained, using positive processes such as meditation, and affirmations: “I choose to be peaceful and calm; everything is unfolding as it should.”
I’ve identified my own truths and ‘root causes’ of past problems, and arrived at a point – in a very long and arduous journey – where I felt I didn’t need to have any aspects of these verified or vindicated by any one or any thing. However, I have found it helpful recently to have discovered the work of Imi Lo. I went through her book – Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity: how to manage intense emotions as a highly sensitive person (John Murray Learning, 2018) – highlighting many passages that I felt applied directly to me. I urge anyone who has been deemed ‘over-sensitive’ and felt alienated one way or another as a result, to read and take hope from this book.
The author states in a key point (p.45):
We are not here to dismiss the validity of all mental health diagnoses, or the importance of appropriate treatment in the case of severe psychological trauma. But it is important to examine the root of your suffering: often, it may be a reflection of your natural tendencies, and a result of being misunderstood, rather than as a sign of defectiveness. We must be extra cautious to not reinforce any restrictive categories, diagnoses and stigma around emotional intensity.
In the final chapter of her book, Imi Lo identifies possibilities for tapping in to our creative potential.
It’s possible to be creative in many ways – not just through the arts. I’ve been as creative as I could be at different stages in my life and through many different types of work. However, having arrived at the point when I’m now retired, giving me a new-found freedom that I relish, I’m loving being able to re-immerse myself in solving problems associated with art and design, construction and concepts.
A significant difference that I’ve noticed between how I feel about work that I produce now, compared with work that I produced when I was younger, is that now I can feel a sense of satisfaction about having produced it. I can ‘own it’, take pride in it, see it for what it is in the context of my life; a life that I’m glad to have.
My self-esteem still falls by the wayside sometimes, but – generally speaking – I’m in a much better place than I’ve ever been. It takes a bit of getting used to, but I’m determined to make the most of it, knowing that I am – after all ‘gifted’ rather than the waste of space I often felt myself to be.
The predicted weather was cold, with possible snow and hail. Even so, we set off, determined to make the most of the chance to meet up outside and walk with others, following the ‘Rule of Six’.
Although it did turn out to be cold, there was no sign of snow or hail. We walked through glorious countryside in bright sunshine and completed an 8-mile circuit. Not bad considering the effects of ‘lockdown winter’ with gyms closed and the impetus to exercise at home starting to dwindle. We needed those hills, that fresh air, that blast to the senses.
With 38 years between the youngest of the group, at 27, and me, at 65, our walking speeds were variable. Our younger friends waited patiently at regular intervals for us to catch up – me and my partner plodding along at a steady 2 miles an hour. We’re not going to break any records but we’re not aiming to. What we do want to do, however, is maintain reasonable levels of fitness as we progress through our sixties and beyond.
We’ve both struggled with long-term depression but also both never given up on pushing ourselves – and now, sometimes, each other – to keep making that effort – massive though it is – to maintain an exercise regime, in one form or another.
For me it’s tended to be a bit ad hoc – I find routine difficult – although for years I did cycle to work regularly. It wasn’t a long distance but there was quite a lot of uphill on the way back. I often cursed at the end of the day when I wished – how I wished – that I’d driven there in the car. But I’m sure it’s helped me a lot and I’m glad of it now. Glad to have kept going, pushing those pedals.
Every so often I used to try jogging. I found it hard to psyche myself up, sometimes got into a bit of a ‘stride’, and even completed a 10K run once. Jogging wasn’t for me though, long term. My knees complained and I had to call it a day on that one.
There were times in my life when I simply set off from home and walked until my heels bled. Not recommended but at least it got me out and active.
In later years I did volunteering involving hard labour with a sledge hammer (and called it a holiday!). For that, I set myself training targets, carrying a back-pack loaded up to 50lb in weight with books, tins of beans and bags of flour. A good friend used to come with me on some of these training walks, to make sure that I didn’t fall backwards off the hillside – with that load I would never have stopped until I landed at the bottom!
Now, I enjoy our leisure walks – sometimes with friends, sometimes just the two of us. We’re planning to do Helvellyn later this year. Must get into training again soon.
We all know this and are likely to have had direct experience of these benefits.
Why, then, can it still be so difficult to find the motivation to exercise?
It’s an issue that I’ve struggled with all my life, experiencing barriers associated with body image when I was younger. I knew swimming was good exercise but would only ever go to a swimming pool or wear a swimsuit on a beach if I’d starved myself to be thin enough to feel able to do that. And even then, I felt morbidly self-conscious about how I looked. It took a long time and a lot of working through masses amount of personal ‘stuff’ before I could stop worrying and start enjoying swimming. My partner and I even go wild swimming now, and it feels wonderful.
I tried jogging, but always found it so hard to build myself up to a regular routine. Lacking in willpower and discipline some people might say. Struggling with severe depression, anxiety and low self-esteem was the real reason. I’ve continued to struggle ever since, but have also never given up. Now 65, I’ve been doing on-line exercise classes, including yoga and pilates during lockdown. Last summer we did some cycling around our local lanes. We still both find that it’s an effort to go out, sometimes, but give each other a push and/or moral support when we need it. Whatever it takes.
What’s the alternative? An inactive old age with all the complications that brings?
I’ve always found it difficult to go to a gym or to exercise classes after work. Just getting through a day involved such a major effort for me. So I looked for ways to combine exercise into my daily routine. Cycling to work meant that I often turned up looking like a drowned rat, but it did help.
Even so, I continued to struggle with depression, and continued to find it hard to motivate myself to exercise enough to help it lift on anything more than a temporary basis. I felt like the only way I could sustain the ‘lift’ would be to train as if I was an Olympic athlete. I have neither the physique nor the talent to be anything remotely akin to athletic and, like most people, have had to commit a significant amount of my time to earning a living and keeping up with the usual day to day domestic activities.
There were times as well when I felt that the more I exercised, the deeper my depression went, after the initial ‘buzz’ fell away.
I continued to have to do a lot of work to try and shift it, with exercise being one of a number of tools and techniques that I’ve tried and tested over the years. It has been, and continues to be, a lifetime endeavour. I think that this is in part because of the way emotions are stored in the body, a matter which has been increasingly recognised and written about including the following article by Sean Grover (2018):
For years, I’ve made a study of where people tend to store their unwanted emotions. Certainly, not all body aches or illnesses are psychosomatic. However, as I studied people’s bodily reactions to stress, recurring patterns emerged.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Repression
Fear is the driving force behind repression, and is frequently rooted in your past. Repression is often necessary, particularly when you feel overwhelmed or experience trauma. But an overdependence on repression fuels psychosomatic symptoms and self-destructive patterns.
In his article in Psychology Today, Sean Grover goes on to identify the ‘Top 10 Tension Areas for Unwanted Feelings’ as:
1.Lower Back: Anger 2. Stomach & Intestines: Fear 3. Heart & Chest: Hurt 4. Headache: Loss of control 5. Neck/Shoulder Tension: Burdens 6. Fatigue: Resentments 7. Numbness: Trauma 8. Breathing Difficulties: Anxiety 9. Voice & Throat Problems: Oppression 10. Insomnia: Loss of self
I find this interesting and helpful, relating these areas to recent and past experiences.
I did a lot of work on repressed anger at one point, including going to a workshop where I was encouraged to take a lot of it out on a punch bag. The physicality of the release at the time was phenomenal (although I did go into a kind of ‘toxic shock’ afterwards, so I would not recommend anyone trying this approach without a very strong support network around them).
Some years later, experiencing stress at work, I searched out volunteering opportunities, finding an outlet by doing trail maintenance work where I could break big rocks into smaller rocks to make hardcore with a sledgehammer. I came back refreshed and invigorated. Although the effects did wear off after a while, I have so far – touch wood – not suffered from lower back problems.
Fatigue and resentments strike a chord with me – I’m so good at hanging on to them, no wonder I feel tired all the time!
So, while I’ve done a lot of work on myself to get to this point, and to feel largely positive about the position I’m in, there’s still a lot to do.
It’s often the enormity – or perceived enormity of the challenge – that puts us off dealing with it, which leads to repression, which leads to depression….
There are no easy answers or quick fix solutions, especially when difficulties are deep-rooted. I just keep reminding myself that it’s all about the next step. And the one after that. And the one after that. It does get easier. Miraculously – it feels to me – my steps feel a lot lighter, at the age I’m at now, than they did when I was young, all those years ago! Something must be working, somehow. Barriers can be overcome. It’s not easy, but it’s worth working at it, bit by bit.
Anybody who has had depression knows that one of the most difficult things to deal with is that awful desolation that drowns you as you wake up from whatever sleep you can get.
It is an experience that you have to have had to know what it feels like, when the thought of even having to get up and get dressed, let alone do anything else, is beyond daunting.
There was a time when I could only wake up and get up by setting a first alarm clock to go off several hours beforehand, then another some time after that, and another later still. When I finally did get out of bed, my first port of call was a strong cup of coffee (appropriately named ‘Rocket Fuel’) with which I swallowed my anti-depressant tablet. Eventually I could then get dressed and ready for work.
I’ve started to struggle again with this aspect depression, after years of having trained myself to get up without too much snooze time between alarms. The fact that my partner now brings me a good strong cup of tea helps enormously, as does not having any time pressures at the moment. Even so, the tasks associated with waking up, getting up and getting dressed should not be underestimated for anyone who is suffering from depression. Like a lot of things, breaking the process down into small steps can be a good strategy. First one sock, and then the other.
I’m working towards being one of those people who springs out of bed in order to ‘seize the day’. Just because I’m slow to start, though, doesn’t me I don’t appreciate and value. It just means that I have to take my time to get myself (literally) geared up, even at a basic level.
This is one place (of many) where the poem in my recently posted Poetry Rule No. 9b comes in. Don’t judge a book by its cover …
“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?