Overcoming Depression: Thoughts and Feelings

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I’m rather too familiar with the inner workings of vicious circles of doom, so skipped on to the bit in the book, Overcoming Depression, about what to do about them.

On this, Prof Gilbert has to say: “Another way you might break the circle is to say, ‘Even though I’m not achieving much right now, this doesn’t make me a worthless human being’”.

Meh. The upside is that within the same paragraph, he writes:  “Now if you are depressed, don’t be surprised if these arguments don’t impress you”.

Good we might yet be in the same solar system.

I didn’t have much luck the last time I tried thought diaries. But this book gives quite good explanations, so maybe it would be worth tracking and challenging my thoughts. Also, I’ve noticed that, while earlier last year my mind felt like a mix of festering soup stains or sticky spagetti, as I think I variously tried described it, now my thoughts are more like piercing icy gusts through my mind. I suppose the clarity is a bit of an improvement at least.

Still, looking at my written down list of thoughts that have upset me the past couple of days, (all in the context of people asking me, probably innocently, how work it going, or else when I’ve been in a group of people, at work or at the rowing club, but not feeling comfortable enough to talk), no wonder I was feeling mentally exhausted this weekend!

I’m going to see if avoiding writing down the ‘evidence for’ these thoughts helps me – I know from experience that the more things I think up as ‘proof’, the more things I give myself to worry about! I’m trying my best at shielding myself from new worries on top of what I’m already thinking about!

I’ll also try to accept my thought and not try to trash them altogether, which wouldn’t be believable to me.

Here are some of them, and alternative kinder thoughts and things to change:

I can’t cope, look after myself, organise things, without help

Alternatives:

  • it’s ok to need help.
  • Second opinions are always good, not a weakness that I ask for someone else’s thoughts on something big like what house or flat would suit me best.
  • Most people would involve their partners in decisions, and make a joint decisions. Just because I’m single doesn’t mean I have to, or should, do everything single handedly.
  • People who live closer to home would naturally pop home once in a while for a meal see friends, family. Just because I’m living 1,000’s miles from home doesn’t mean it’s weak to wish I could do that too.
  • People are willing to help because they can, not because I’m useless and couldn’t do it myself. Other people might be better at certain things, like arguing over the phone with internet companies. If someone’s offering to deal with them for me, I should accept gratefully and not see it as yet more proof I couldn’t do it myself. If I were good at something and they asked me to do it, I’d be chuffed they asked and not see it as a weakness on their part. So I should think the same towards me.

I don’t know how to ask for help with a question.

Alternative: That is true. But could be solved by being more aware of how I ask for help. Try not to make it sound like a comment to myself that I’m expecting to be ignored. Try to make a specific question to a specific person, so that they can’t shrug it off.

I am so slow with work

Alternative: I haven’t got much experience yet, and everyone around me knows that. I won’t have any possibility to get faster if I give up now, so might as well keep practicing.

I am incompetent, but saying so, with the expectation of help, only confirms that I am.

Alternative: that’s just a negative assumption. I won’t get anywhere without at least trying something myself first and then asking for help if I’m still stuck. I could ask for help on something and test out what their reactions are. I could also follow my notes I’ve already written for myself here.

I’m not a fun person to be around, I don’t contribute to company

Blah. Still a major sticking point for me. Smile, (pretend) eye contact. Worrying isn’t helping me be a better person either. Try to move conversation on to something else or onto the person I’m talking too. Except…

I don’t know what to say to people, how to break into a conversation or start one

Make up lists of easy things to ask people about themselves or what they’ve done recently. Ask others who I’m comfortable with on conversation topic ideas, which could be a topic of conversation in itself.

I don’t have anything interesting to say. I don’t know how to show I’m interested in people. I don’t know how or what to say or write to people

Alternatives: 

  • Blah again. Make list of conversation topics to refer to, as above.
  • Actually I haven’t been totally mute. I can think of a couple of things I’ve chatted to people about. (eg about a co-worker’s prize guinea pigs, another co-worker’s son’s A-level choices, and today I asked after another’s baby who’s been ill, also talked about the type of stone Bermuda is made of,  and found out where the local running club meets)
  • Although mostly that was in December and I can probably count the number of conversations I’ve had my fingers I have been able to chat to people, so I can do it.
  • At least I’ve got myself into the situation where I could be talking to people. That must be better than sitting in my room totally alone.

Well jury’s out if that exercise will have helped me, and I probably have the wrong end of the stick over all it this, but I guess I should keep it up and not ignore it as a one-off.

Overcoming Depression: Learning to Cope, Initial Steps

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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!

Formulating plans

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Someone mentioned in my office today that 5th January is the day that people most commonly break their New Year’s Resolutions. I suppose it’s a good thing then I haven’t properly formulated a plan yet for mine, at least I can’t have messed it up yet!

Anyway, my resolution was to trust myself. However beyond crossing my fingers and toes, I haven’t come up with a good way to achieve that (plus recently I’ve also done too many stupid things, or forgotten them altogether, to realise I can’t trust my subconscious to take care of things anyway).  I realise that I need to put in a bit more effort than simply hoping for the best if I want to be able to trust myself. So without totally throwing that aim totally away, I think it needs to morph into resolving to be more capable. To keep things realistic, I don’t expect to become Capability Zee by the end of the year, but at least enough to get things done and for me and others to be happy with what I do.

My plan so far…

  • Write things down. No one’s memory (except my mother’s) is perfect, so no point trying to force it as that will never make me reliable. In the same vein, write notes of what I want to ask before talking to someone, and make notes as I talk to someone on the phone. (Also find out how to work the phone at work so I’m not flustered before I even begin)
  • Try three easy ways to solve things. If that doesn’t work, ask for help. If I need help, explain what I tried to do myself – hopefully that will make people see I’m not helpless, and show myself I’m not 100% useless.
  • Thank people every time for anything they’ve done (as well as being genuinely thankful, hopefully that will convince them and me that they did it out of the goodness of their heart and not because I was so useless that their action was necessary. Also will remind me not to assume others know I’m grateful)
  • Don’t assume or guess, or second guess either. Ask what I need to know, say what I know.
  • Tell myself I can be capable. (I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…)

I guess this is a combination of being prepared, asking for help, and telling myself that I can do it. None of it is new, but if this serves as a reminder to me to do it (and now it’s written down too-I can check the first off my list!), then it’s a good thing.

This hasn’t solved the idiot stuff I do when I’m not concentrating, or what to do when things go wrong (maybe that’s a time to ask for help?). Those can be for next year.

First impressions on ‘Overcoming Depression’

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For one reason or another, a couple weeks ago I ended up buying a copy of Prof Paul Gilbert’s Overcoming Depression from an Oxfam book shop.

When I’d looked at the book before on Amazon Look inside preview, I’d found it condescending. I don’t remember quite why, as now I’m finding it reasonably readable and mostly friendly. I have a feeling it is more likely me who has changed, than the book itself!

That first impression this time came when I read the first I flipped to, which happened to be a chapter called, ‘Thoughts and Feelings’. Gilbert gives a quick example of how one might change thoughts in an everyday situation: that someone bumps into you and your initial reaction may be anger. But when you turn and see they have a white stick, that reaction may turn to sympathy and/or guilt etc. I don’t think I’ve had it shown to me so simply how it is actually a natural thing to do to change feelings and thoughts depending on your understanding of a situation, and that it doesn’t need to take superhuman abilities to understand something differently, or that changing a thought is only ever going to be superficial.

Another first impression is how I’m enjoying having my own copy of a book. For however many years I’ve been a student, I’ve always put up with borrowing books from libraries to not shell out for my own copies. Now I can make notes all over the page and margins in glittery gold pen if I like, and fold down as many corners of pages as I want, in origami fashion even! As a bonus, I get to see the previous owner’s underlinings too. At first I thought we had a lot in common and it would be strange to bump into them (I’m fairly sure this particular Oxfam has a small catchment area!), though we’d never know a way of identifying each other. In fact further into the book we’re not underlining and highlighting the same things so much.

This post (and subsequent ones as so far I’ve only got through the book’s first section) isn’t meant to be a review of any kind, it is simply me working my way through the book: at the end of the first chapter in the ‘Learning to Cope’ section, Gilbert suggests making a list of all the things in the chapter that are relevant to you. Also, as I’ve got notes scrawled across a lot of the pages in sheeny gold ink which is difficult to read in the best of lights, I think it will be useful to me to type them out anyway. I haven’t got that far yet, though!

 

Catastrophising on some random disjointed introspective thoughts

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In London there is something pleasantly anonymous about being there. I can confidently sit on the bus or walk round in any state and not have people pass judgement, or they even actively ignore me. While I was living in Cheltenham, that I may bump into someone I knew was always slightly in the back of my mind. Though that was fairly unlikely, and if they did know me then actually seeing them may have been some comfort. But here in Woodbridge, it is actually reasonable to assume I may see people I know out on street on a Saturday afternoon. The main problem with that, unlike previously at uni, is that they are, at least so far, only ‘people’, rather than friends. People I work with. People I’ve meet at the sculling club or boxersize and zumba classes. People my landlady has introduced me to while out on dogwalks. All people who I really don’t want seeing me upset on what would only be the second or third time of meeting them.

So when I found myself walking down one of the main streets here this evening in tears, at first I thought it best to avoid people, and walk down to the quay. Except that by myself there was no stopping my tears. It’s funny how quickly I forget how to deal with these things. So I went back onto the main street to distract myself with the shops. Though the shoe shop was a bad idea. Too many people too quickly asking me if I needed any help – a sure sign to get out quick! I found the Oxfam bookshop next door a much better place to go, quieter and I could pretend to be reading a book blurb very intently if anyone came near, which in the dull evening light could also explain my red eyes too. I happened to come across a dog eared copy of Paul Gilbert’s Overcoming Depression. I couldn’t figure out if it would be considered good or bad form to buy a copy of it while with blotchy eyes and cheeks?

I haven’t ever read the book, having originally found it too condescending (on Amazon ‘look inside’ preview), then, when I accepted it might have some useful ideas regardless of its tone and tried to borrow it from the library, it was on loan, and then more recently I tried telling myself I didn’t need to bother with it anymore, anyway. But maybe now that I know where a copy is, and evidently that I could still benefit from some ideas for ensuring today/future househunting stress is just a ‘blip’, I’ll go back for it…that is when I’m feeling a bit more confident in myself to actually take it to the cashier.

I can’t remember what the point of this blog post was going to be:

  1. Comparing the sizes of places I’ve been in recently and the relative risk of being seen upset by people I know.
  2. ‘People I know’ versus ‘friends’ and the implications of being seen upset by those categories
  3. Forgetting whether it is god to be near people or alone when upset
  4. What types of shops are best for distracting oneself in
  5. Irony in the dilemma of buying an ‘Overcoming Depression’ book when already visibly upset
  6. ? Main point of the post

I think I wanted to get my thoughts down on why I randomly ended up in tears this afternoon anyway. Except I don’t know why, which is partly what worries me. All I’d done was try going to an estate agent to see about renting a studio- or one bed- flat, with the specific aim to find out typical council tax costs and utility bills so that I can have a better idea of what my budget can cope with. Really there’s nothing in that which should upset me. Except it did and I ended up only going into one agent and then walking out and down the main street in tears, contemplating how to avoid people I may know. I guess what gets me is the thought that if I’m incapable of managing to ask the right questions (whatever they may be) to an estate agent, how on earth am I meant to cope with living by myself in a flat if I ever get one?? Pah, maybe I’m catastrophising. I should see what Paul Gilbert says about that.

’10 Things’ Reloaded

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I’m going to try that final Living Life to the Full cCBT module again, this time with a happier hat on than I wore last night!

1. A banana a day

I can do this!  Especially considering I’m used to having to eat bunches at a time, one a day will be easy.

2. Breakfast every day

I already always do this, so that’s an easy tick on the list

3. Exercise

I do already do a bit, and will look forward to doing more when the weather cools off/move to England where it’s cooler anyway.

4. Get some wow glasses

Yup, looking at the emulsion paint right now…strange to imagine that some of the ingredients started life as itsy bitsy creatures that collected up to form oil beneath the deserts or sea. And while that was happening (well maybe some millions of years inbetween, have no idea about ages), tiny coral polyps were growing and dying one top of each other to build calcium carbonate rock that was ground down and resolidified as limestone hills. These were quarried out to make the stone for the building that the oil-based paint now covers…pretty cool I guess!

5. Music

Firstly I realise that listening to BBC World Service, although not music, does fulfill the intent of this point: to break silence and give me other thoughts to think about besides stewing in worry.

Secondly, why not listen to Mozart or Portuguese folk music if that’s what I like?!

Thirdly, being open to listening to other music that others also like might help me widen my repertoire of acceptable noise.

6. Do a small act of kindness

I will do something for someone every day.

As I, like all other children in my country, have been brought up to be courteous to others, I’m already often saying the right things. I just need to make sure I am sincere with my ‘good mornings’ and ‘good afternoons’, and that my ‘thanks’ are said genuinely, and not just for fear of being told off for forgetting!

7. Take away a takeaway

If I find myself eating takeaways unnecessarily, then I will change and make the effort to cook myself an meal from this type of fast food. (But I will not stop eating a takeaway or readymeal if the alternative is to go without food!)

8. Heavy breathing – get out of breath and get your heart pumping by doing some housecleaning

Point taken, will endeavour to houseclean, quickly.

9. 5-a-Day

Smoothies! Yum!

10. Let memories make you happy

My 101 Things to make me Smile list is growing! Today’s things (and it’s only middle of the afternoon):

  • Daisy Chains (thanks to Nosebody[who happens to be #24!] for reminding me!)
  • Beating Pringles can lids (bongo style!)
  • Lizards

’10 things to make you feel better Now!’

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Nope, sorry I don’t have the magical keys to a happy life, but this is the title of the 8th and final Little Book module on the Living Life to the Full cCBT website.

I seem to have had an ugly negative hat on when listening to the online thing, but anyway, here goes a summary of it and a few of my thoughts.

1. A banana a day

Bananas are a natural source of typtophan, an amino acid required to make serotonin. Well, as for much of the last eight years I’ve had serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and then serotonin antagonists coursing through my veins, it makes sense that having the ingredients to make more of the serotonin in the first place is a good thing.

Aside from the chemical stuff (which I find more interesting), bananas are meant to be good at releasing sugary energy slowly.

My only problem is trying to get myself to eat one banana a day. Having been brought up on homegrown bunches of bananas, the trend I am used to is to gorge myself on bananas for a week, and then feel sick of them for the next couple of weeks til the next bunch is ready. So now I tend to just remember that sick feeling when I think of bananas, and the thought of actually having to buy one, part with money for it, puts me off too.

2. Breakfast every day

Muesli and porridge every day.

I already do this. Porridge in winter, generic weetabix+generic alpen+granola in summer. I am certain breakfast helps, but it hasn’t been the tipping point into guaranteed good moods.

3. Exercise

Don’t be unrealistic: you don’t need to splurge on gym memberships just yet, start by simply choosing the stairs over the lift (like when going out to buy bananas)

I can relate to the realism conundrum: until the weather cools down or I find a silver bullet to energy, I have had to accept I really can’t keep up my morning runs, as they too predictably leave me in a snotty exhausted heap four hours later in the day.

However, I tend to avoid going out to shops like the plague, and I guess I can’t expect the lovely Dr Chris Williams doesn’t know where I live, but in my country we have the silliest planning laws that prohibit any house over two floors. Thus I have a grand total of one (random) step in my house to crawl over every day. It will take a lot of climbing up and down it to call it ‘exercise’.

4. Get some wow glasses

Oh dear!

The online thing tells you to put them on (figuratively is ok) and “look with joyful wonder at the things around you right now. Don’t take things for granted. Think about all the amazing things it took to make the surroundings you’re sat/walking in… even to think about the processes it took to make the emulsion paint on the walls.”

My first thought was oh dear! Then after the emulsion paint line, I had to think, ‘hmmm I’d like to have a bit of whatever the lovely Dr Chris Williams is on!’. But I have to agree that in my heart I know the idea is right. Sometimes I forget to appreciate the good things around me. While noticing the good things doesn’t make everything right, and sometimes in the the short term makes me feel worse about myself for still feeling bad, I also know that being blasé about the good things doesn’t help!

5. Music

Silence = space to worry, so music must be used to drown it out.

Good in theory. Slight problem only in that I really don’t get on with music very well. I can cope with classical music, and even traditional toe tapping stuff if I’m in the right mood. But on an every day level where mainstream music is expected (ie what I can admit to listening to and/or when others might be listening too), I can only put up with it for so long before I have to remove myself from the scene.

As exemplified by conversation with music-college-student-cousin:

MCSC: “Zee, what sort of music do you listen to?”

Me: “Umm, not much, nothing in particular”

MCSC: “What, not even the radio?”

Me: [eyes light up] “ooh yeah!”

MCSC: “Great! What station?”

Me: “Umm, 1160AM…BBC World Service”

MCSC: “God you must be dead”

Point taken.

6. Do a small act of kindness

Eg write a thank you note, put someone’s bins out, say thank you to the check-out girl

I can’t argue with this one. Except for that last one. Again, the lovely Dr Chris Williams can’t know where I’ve been brought up, but let me say it’s in a place where ‘thank you’ to a check-out girl is more likely to be said in the context of “thank you for letting me pass my ‘attitude adjustment‘ exam and letting me out alive!”

7. Take away a takeaway

Cut down on your takeaway meal diet by cutting out one meal a week.

Good in theory and probably for many people, but to be honest it’s rare I do ever get a takeaway meal in the first place! Though I know I should try hard to actually cook myself something, rather than resort to a another sandwich or a bowl of cereal.

8. Heavy breathing – get out of breath and your heart pumping by doing some housecleaning.

Good in theory. I guess doing any sort of cleaning would be a good start!

9. 5-A-day

And drinking them in smoothies is a fairly quick and painless method for getting lots in. Plus you can check off the banana from Step One too!

Just slightly worried by the small print at the bottom: ‘Kidney problems? Please check with your doctor before drinking smoothies’

10. Finally, let memories make you happy

Don’t forget the good things. Write down 3 things everyday.

Funnily enough I started a101 Things to make me Smile list a month ago, completely independently of this cCBT module! However I have now stretched it to 31 things, so that is only 1 thing a day on average (I must not smile much!).  I will make more of an effort to smile and then remember what it was, with the aim to complete the last 69 things in 23 days.

The things I smiled about today and added to the list are:

30. Putting tourist sunglasses on and going sightseeing!

31. Remembering the New Forest Show Heavy Horse Dressage display (and double smile to find they’re still using the same theme tune compilation as they did from my earliest memories when I was 4 or 5 years old!)

I also slid in 21. Explaining geo-caching to others 😉

It feels like this is a rather downbeat post to end my journey with Living Life to the Full.com. I don’t think that has been my overall feeling from it, so I will plan to gather my thoughts on the website course and write a summary post about it. (I know I said I’d do the same thing after my sessions with Celine, the CBT lady, ended, but I haven’t yet. I keep wanting to, but at the same time don’t feel I’m ready to draw a line under that experience.)

read the Reloaded version for a more positive account!

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