I’ve been slowly poking through Prof Gilbert’s ‘Overcoming Depression’ book, and now trying to copy out my scrawled notes and all the bits I’ve underlined, circled and spiralled round.

Right now I’m following the suggested exercize for the chapter, Learning to Cope: Initial Steps, by identifying the suggestions that I can relate to and could find useful.

There are lots of fairly generic suggestions, and nothing totally new to me. On the one hand I had vaguely hoped for something earth shattering and amazing (dreaming on…!) but on the other hand, the generic-ness of the suggestions also means I’m bound to identify with at least some of these solutions. I suppose it is also a good thing that it’s backing up and reinforcing everything I’ve heard before, from Enise (uni mental health advisor), SG & Celine (IAPT CBTherapists), Living Life to the Full cCBT course and various other self-help types book-on-prescriptions:

  • Changing your behaviour
  • Breaking down large problems into smaller problems
  • Planning positive activities
  • Coping with boredom, increasing activity and distraction
  • Creating ‘personal space’
  • Knowing your limits
  • Dealing with sleep difficulties.

I’m pleased to find that since I’ve been making a real effort to help myself, I actually recognise that I’m already quite a lot of the suggestions already. (Though if I weren’t then that might offer more of a possibility to improve my feelings, which aren’t totally great at the moment!):

  • The reason I’m bothering to read this book is because I’m clinging to the idea I can change my behaviour to help myself.
  • I know that when I see something big, it automatically turns my mind into sticky spaghetti. So I know it helps me to break things into smaller steps, or identifying specific options to then weight up. It’s just that it’s a lot easier when the small steps are obvious. I’ve had success doing that on a few notable occasions, but it’s quite hard to do for a lot of things that are just mush from the start!
  • Planning positive activities: This is something I’ve made a point of doing, and have found it valuable. Remembering the activities is as important as planning them, I’ve found. Although it was hard at first trying to make plans and do them, to feel something more than simply going through the motions, by persevering, I definitely have started to find myself actually enjoying what I’m doing more, since the summer. It’s helped making a point of taking photos of things I’m doing or visiting, to remind myself at the end of the week that I have done something interesting, and even occasionally taking a photo that I’m pleased with as a bonus! I’ve even surprised myself a couple of times where I think I’ve had a blurry monotonous week to then see photos I’ve taken and remember I smiled that day, if only at a flower or a wave.
  • I could have done with putting the ‘increase activity and distraction’ under Enise’s nose: “Sometimes, when people feel very depressed or unptight, they can also feel agitated. At these times, trying to relax does not work so well…anything that involves physical activity can be helpful” – Too true! Despite me fitting that description, Enise still pushed for yoga and beauty treatments…urggh. Although I’m not  a complete convert either: As I said before, while I appreciate keeping active while ill helps, for me it’s not a cure, and is merely useful as keeping something going that can be enjoyed again when not quite as ill. However it is still true that doing something unhelpful, such as trying to relax when it’s impossible, is only making problems worse and magnified.
  • Knowing your limits: This is the one I think I really need to work on. “Various patients of mine have become exhausted from overwork and then couldn’t cope with the demands placed upond them. They noticed that they are failing and becoming overwhelmed, felt ashamed about their failings and then became depressed”. I recognise that pattern a bit too familiarly. I suppose it’s meant to be reassuring that I’m not alone in feeling like that, but that’s not much comfort. I try to tell myself I’m improving and being kinder to myself by going home from work not too late and simply saying to people sometimes, ‘I’m really sorry but I just can’t’. But that can’t be a solution for everything either! It makes me feel horrible in myself that I’m just giving up on things, and doubly horrible when I’m then annoying to others for letting them down when I don’t do what they asked or what I said I could do initially.

Arggh, back to the whole ‘Good enough is good enough’ dilemma. What is good, what is enough, and who gets to say?? Gilbert goes on to try to say reassuringly: “All of us vary on this. Although some may seem to be able to cope with anything and everything, this does not mean that we should.” All I can ask though is, really? What is the alternative? Why shouldn’t I be able to do as well as the person next to me? Isn’t it a depressing thought in itself to accept that? Physical disability or cognitive deficits may be one thing, but as far as I can see, the only thing really stopping me is tiredness. And that, after all, is supposedly only a symptom of depression in the first place…

Obviously this is something I need to work on, to find a balance between over doing things and not doing enough: something where both me and others are happy with what I manage….I hope that I’ll find somewhere in this book some ideas on identifying suitable levels of ‘enoughness’.

  • Finally, sleep difficulties is the last that Gilbert mentions as something to tackle. I’ve not really concluded whether this is a problem for me. Certainly I’ve noticed that less sleep=bad. But I’ve never had a problem with the sleep itself. Rather it is the letting myself sleep. Lavender oil and hot milky drinks won’t help that! The other half of the problem is that now that I’m making sure I get a decent amount of sleep, when I get a bit less than that, I suddenly suffer majorly. I haven’t worked out if that is because I’m more used to sleep now and need more of it to maintain the same baseline mood, or if my idea of a ‘baseline’ mood is lower when I have less sleep, so I don’t notice a bad mood  like I do when it is a blip in otherwise better moods?

The ‘initial steps’ section also goes on to talk about identifying if there are physical or biological causes of depression. I have thoughts on that too, and lots of scribbles on the page, but I’m making the executive decision that re-writing those notes are not worth losing sleep over right now!