This is a tough blog to write for me as recently I’ve been at my lowest since hitting rock bottom just over a year ago now. But I’m writing it for two reasons.
Firstly because I find it helps me to write things down, to process how I’m feeling, and get out my thoughts and issues. It was my first psychotherapist that taught me this.
And secondly to share with you in the hope that it might help others going through similar issues, but also help people that are living with and supporting people in my position. I hope it may give them an insight into something they might find difficult to understand.
OK, so what I want to cover in this blog is the:
- Dreaded ‘spiral’ as I call it,
- Drain of energy and the mask,
- Return of anxiety,
- Back to basics,
- Moving forward.
Dreaded ‘Spiral’ as I Call It
Before I get started, we should remember that as I write about depression and anxiety, there are many forms of mental health issues, it’s just that my main issues are with depression and anxiety, that’s what I know about. So just be conscious of this.
OK then, people who live with depression and anxiety will know that the road to recovery is not a straight line on a graph, as I thought and expected it to be once I started my recovery just over a year ago now. I also thought I’d have it all boxed off in a few weeks…I got that one wrong.
But lets not dwell on the length it takes, lets focus here on the fact that it is a road to recovery, it does get better.
Once I recognised that down days are normal, and that they only last for a day or a few, it got easier to manage and experience when they happened. I found it was also important to recognise that even though these low points happened, it didn’t mean that I was back to square one and all my hard work up to this point hadn’t been wasted. It meant that yes I had to start again, but I was starting from a stronger starting point than the last time it happened.
However, this last few weeks, possibly last couple of months as I now look back at it, was not something that I recognised happening to me, neither did I expect or appreciate that it could happen again like this.
To some up this period for me in one sentence, I would have to say it is my lowest point since I hit rock bottom just over a year ago now.
Before I get into explaining what I mean by the dreaded spiral, the first thing I start asking myself and actually the first thing people ask me is, “why has this happened?” And this is the worst part for me, I DON’T KNOW. Simple as that. There are several things it could be or a combination of them all?
Coincidentally, this was one of my problems when I suffered in silence. I didn’t want to talk about my issues at first for several reasons, but one of them was that I didn’t know why this was happening to me. I hadn’t lost a loved one, hadn’t lost my job, hadn’t had a marriage break up,. What was happening?
This last year I had made great progress, yes there have been ups and downs, but I was managing my mental health, was helping others with theirs, started this blog, was back in work.
The self doubt starts to creep back in and this leads me perfectly into the dreaded spiral! Now if you’re reading this and thinking, wow this guy is good at writing, the way he seamlessly brought the subject into explaining the dreaded spiral, well I must confess. It was a fluke, I felt I was rambling a bit there and just about managed to pull it back. I will take your praise though 🙂 You are right, I am awesome 🙂
Anyway…the dreaded spiral, so what do I mean by this?
When I have a down day, or sneaky down period like this, sneaky because I didn’t see it coming until I was right in it, I struggle to do the things that keep me on track and centered.
So things like getting out of bed when I should, doing my daily mindfulness and meditation sessions, doing things that make me happy, getting outside, exercising.
All these things are difficult when you have no motivation, no drive and no energy.
So if I’m not doing these things, I’m not managing my mental health, so I drop into the spiral even more.
Now, I have spent the best part of the last year in counselling, learning about myself, what makes me tick, what has caused my mental health issues. So I have a good grasp of what I need to do. My daily routine includes the things I’ve mentioned above.
Well what do you think it does for my mind, my confidence and general well being, when I am already in a position where my self doubt and self criticism is increasing and is the added to because I start beating myself up for not doing the things I know I should be doing.
Exactly right, I get even worse – I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt there assuming you got that answer right, because you are clever intelligent people, you must be as you’re reading my blog 🙂
And so the spiral is in full effect. I feel low, I stop doing the things I should be doing making myself worse. I then beat myself up for not doing the things I know I should be doing which makes me feel even worse about myself. I feel really bad now and start again with behaviors I’ve not had for a long time, like not getting out of bed, dreading the day ahead, shutting myself off from people and the world, making myself feel bad about myself even more. I then question if I’ll ever get better, my anxiety is shooting right up again.
At this stage I start to think about my previous suicidal episodes again. However this time round it’s different. I’m not thinking about going ahead with suicide, but thinking that when I was at my lowest back in 2018/2019, in a weird way, suicide was like a comfort blanket to me, and I’ll explain what I mean here. When I was feeling really bad, I knew that I had suicide as an option and this made me feel better. It was my escape route.
I now know that I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the pain to end and to me, this was the only way of doing it. I now know this is not true and there are lots of options out there.
I will say at this point, if you are having suicidal thoughts, there are other, better ways out of what you are going through. Please speak to someone you trust. Go and see your GP. Or use a service that’s out there specifically to help you in this situation such as The Samaritans.
This time round, I am a different person and in a different place, so I knew suicide was not my comfort blanket, but in a weird way this also made me feel worse. Previously that gave me some comfort. This time round I was looking for that comfort and I couldn’t find it. I hope that makes sense to you.
So there it is, my dreaded spiral. I hope you can see how easy it is to slip back, but also how it can happen and that it’s never as simple as just “pulling yourself together and getting on with it.”
Drain of Energy and the Mask
OK, so this is the next stage for me. I’m tired as all this thinking, questioning, doubting, worrying, is exhausting. Then throw into the mix the lack of sleep.
When you are experiencing mental health issues, it’s almost impossible to sleep. You just can’t turn you mind off. That’s when it’s really easy to fall into the trap of self medicating to get to sleep, and by this I mean alcohol.
OK, so it’s question time again. Who has ever had a drink and woke up the next morning feeling revitalised and full of energy? Exactly, nobody. Well maybe not nobody, but I bet if you did wake up feeling OK it was because you were still drunk 🙂
So you think that drinking will help you, but you don’t get a proper nights sleep, making you more tired. If you’re already exhausted you can see that this just adds to it.
So with the mental health issues and the lack of sleep you are now feeling really tired.
It’s everything you can do, just to get out of bed, eat something, brush your teeth, get washed and go to work.
At this stage you don’t have the energy or desire to talk to people. So here comes the MASK! Not Jim Carrey cracking jokes with a green face…if only :)…the mask that we put on to hide how we’re really feeling.
Person: “How you doing Dave? Good Christmas break?”
Me: “Yeah it was good thanks, had a great time, glad to get back to the routine now though.”
Person: “Kids and family enjoy it?”
Me: “Yeah we all had a great time thanks. You?”
Person: “Yeah we had a great time too thanks. See you later.”
Now there’s nothing wrong with the person asking me how my Christmas break was, in fact it was quite nice of them. But all the time I’m thinking, I’m too tired for this! Am I a bad person for lying to them about it? Am I a bad person for not even listening to them? Have they noticed I’m not listening to them?
Then after the conversation, my anxiety means I’m running the conversation over and over in my head. Did I make a show of myself then? Was I rude to them? Etc etc, you get the idea.
This happens all day, I just want to get home and crash. But this get home and crash plan doesn’t involve doing anything positive. Spiral time again!!!
But for anyone suffering like this, feeling you’re worthless and weak. Just think about how much strength it has taken to get into work, in this example, face the day and have that conversation. It’s no easy thing believe me.
I’m going to end this section with a quote from a guy named Gabe Howard, who is a speaker and writer who lives with bipolar. He said,
“Moving forward with depression is like running a marathon in concrete shoes, except no one can see the shoes…And you are judged the same as everybody else.Gabe Howard.
Return of the Anxiety
Now I’ve briefly mentioned the anxiety above but mainly focused on my depression.
But in my experience, when one is about the other one is never far behind!
So what does this anxiety look like?
Well for starters, I am now feeling like I am letting my family and friends down, as I was making such good progress. Naturally I don’t want to let people down so I start to wear the mask again, but whilst doing so, I’m anxious about if they can tell or not, is the mask working? If not, are they disappointing in me for getting so low again, and for lying to them?
I’m so down and exhausted that I’m shutting myself off from people again, so my social anxiety is building. Every time I have to engage with someone, I have knots in my stomach – hopefully some of you remember my blog on the Gut-Brain Connection – I feel sick, I can panic and I spend time running over the conversations beating myself up about it.
I also start to doubt if I’ll ever get “better” or if it will always be like this. Of course the answer is yes it will get better and no it won’t always be like this. But when you are in the spiral it’s so so difficult to see outside of it.
Back to Basics
OK, so I may have painted a rather dreary, grim and depressing picture there of what it can be like to live with depression and anxiety. There is more but I think – I hope – you get the idea.
If you do think it sounds grim, then good, to be blunt about it, IT IS. It’s not sunshine and lollipops. It isn’t as simple as just “pulling yourself together” and “snapping out of it”.
I really hope that if you’re reading this and can relate to it, then you can also see that you’re not on your own.
And if you know someone going through mental health issues that you can start to get a glimpse of what it is really like inside the head of those suffering. And how there is no simple fix, but that they need your continuing help and support.
Anyway, so back to basics, what am I talking about here. Well for those of you that have entered your email address into HuckleberryGrove.com , you will hopefully know about my free daily mental health checklist…and I really hope some of you have used it and got some benefit out of it.
I created this because I need a plan to keep me going and make sure I do the things I need to. The key here is to recognise that I’m not going to stick to any plan I create. But to not beat myself up about it and certainly not to spit my dummy out about it and pack it all in. Simply to start again the next day. I’m back to taking each day at a time.
Right then, I feel this has been quite a low and negative blog, but that’s where I am and sometimes we need the truth to show us that there are other people going through the same struggles as us. To see that through all the masks and filters, life isn’t always fun and sunshine.
But also to show us that there are positive ways out. There will be sunshine again. No matter how down you feel, you do have strength enough, and often with the help of others that you trust, to get back to feeling good about yourself and life again.
So start small, don’t over face yourself with doing too much at the start. From my experience you are just setting yourself up to fail.
Set yourself some realistic goals. When you achieve them, no matter how small you think they are, celebrate reaching them. Then set some more goals, maybe a bit bigger. Without sounding cheesy, these goals are your journey and for mental health I can’t stress enough how important goals are.
Again, if you enter your email address at HuckleberryGrove.com , I’ll send you a free simple to use ‘Goal Planner’. Take the first steps, I know they are the hardest and I must confess, sometimes I find it hard to practice what I preach, but I do know it’s worth it.
And I know I harp on about this next point quite a lot, but I won’t apologise for it, TALK TO SOMEONE.
Talking to someone was a totally new concept to me. Here come all the classic stigmas, but I used to think, it’s weak to admit you have a problem to someone. Men should make fire and babies and just get on with it 🙂 OK, so I’m exaggerating with that one but you get the idea.
All these stigmas are nothing short of forking bullshirt!
You’re not on your own, in fact you’ll learn that by talking to people and reaching out, there are actually people out there that want to help you.
The same goes here for people living with and supporting loved ones who live with mental health issues. I know it can be tough for you too. So reach out if it gets too much, reach out if you can’t understand whats happening! You too are not alone.
So there you have it. I hope you’ve managed to stick with me throughout that blog, I know it was heavy going in parts. But I really hope that some of you can relate to it and it’s helped you realise you’re not on your own. And also that some of you saints out there, that are living with and supporting those of us that suffer with our mental health, can gain some insight into what it is you’re supporting and take comfort in the knowledge that we do need you and you are helping more than you will probably ever know.
Take care of yourselves.