Health

Black dog days

Depression is a bitch. I know from personal experience; years of it!

I remember waking up and it feeling like an elephant was sitting on my chest; that I couldn’t breathe. I remember being constantly overwhelmed by emotion, whether that was snappy irritation, irrational anger or heartbreaking tears. I remember sitting on my bedroom floor, with Momma P sitting next to me, as I sobbed my heart out over, well, not much really. Great big racking sobs that shook my whole body as I struggled to breathe and left me feeling physically exhausted. I remember coming home and just wanting to go to bed. I remember not leaving bed all day. I remember calling Momma P on the way to work and crying until I reached the tube. I remember calling my family doctor while she listened in silence to my tears.

I’ve suffered from depression at several periods in my life. The first time, I was a young teen and had just suffered from my first break up. It all sounds terribly over-dramatic and self-indulgent, but I’ve always been very emotional, and I genuinely thought my heart was broken. Within a few months, I wouldn’t say I was ticketty boo but things were looking up, and I stopped taking (with the help and advice of a doctor) the antidepressants.

When my second break up happened, several years later, I’m sorry to say I struggled again. In both periods of depression, I’d also dabbled with self-harm (specifically cutting); I say ‘dabbled’ because I strongly suspect, with hindsight, that I was only doing it because I’d read that’s what teenage girls did. I mean, if you’re really truly utterly going to cut yourself with intent, I dare say you don’t go down to the kitchen, boil the kettle, and sterilise the knife you plan to use. It wasn’t a great period in my life, and I’m 100% ashamed of it, although, arguably, there is nothing to be ashamed about mental health issues.

Anyway, I, with the help of friends and family (invaluable help!), I arrived at university antidepressant-free and had the time of my life for the next three years and met some amazing people who I love dearly.

Then, I graduated, and went to London to work for GMTV. And it was awful. To be honest, I think I realised from the very first day I walked through the door that I’d made a terrible mistake. The hours were ridiculously long (75 hour weeks, anyone?), and every three weeks I had a week of night shifts to contend with. It messed with my mind big style! London can be a very lonely city, and I suffered in the worst way.

I eventually got the help I needed, quit the job, and moved back up to Yorkshire. But I was back on the antidepressants, seeing a counsellor, and back living at home feeling like a failure. It was a tough time. The counselling really really helped, and I can’t recommend that enough. I was entitled to about six free counselling sessions through the NHS, but if I ever had some proper disposable income, I’d definitely ‘treat’ myself to weekly therapy for the rest of my life.

It’s been four years since I came back from London, and this has undoubtedly been the hardest bout of depression to battle, but I think I’m just about getting there. I made the decision about two months ago, that it was time to wean myself off the antidepressants again as I was feeling the happiest and most settled I have ever felt in my life. I’m really lucky to have the full support of Mr T and Momma P, not to mention all the other lovely people in my life, and I’ve always been open about it at work, so they’re pretty cool too.

The last few weeks haven’t been a breeze, but I am now completely off the antidepressants. I’ve found that swimming is absolutely invaluable – if I swim a mile each morning before work, it sets me up for the day; it calms me, it stimulates the all-important endorphins, and it’s also really good to combat all the ice cream I eat…

I’m also trying to be patient and kind to myself (how ‘bleurgh’ does that sound? Sorry!). I’m trying to take deep breaths before I erupt, and to take some time for myself if I’m feeling weepy. I’m not going to lie, I’m terrified that I’m turning back into a moody teenager, and that Mr T will finally realise what a horrendous mistake he’s made. It’s also really disconcerting having to deal with emotions and responses that I genuinely thought I’d sorted years ago!

Earlier this year, I took Headspace up on their offer of a free trial of their 10 day guided meditation online course, and I actually really enjoyed it, and found it very useful. Obviously, being an idiot, I didn’t renew the subscription when I had to pay, despite the fact that it costs from as little as £3.99 a month! When I was having a little stress with/at/to Momma P the other day, my phone suddenly pinged, and there was an email from Headspace offering a subscription deal. It was serendipitous and I’m now signed up for a year.

Erm, what else? I’m actually trying to take more care with the food I eat, because I know I feel better when I eat well. That being said, when I opened a healthy eating book the other day and saw they recommended you use Himalayan pink salt, I threw it across the room. I mean, honestly! I guess I’m just focusing on meat, fish, fruit and veg, and trying to limit/moderate everything else. I’m such a flaky individual, who knows how long this good intention will last?!

But I have to try. This isn’t the same as going on a diet because you want to look good in a bridesmaid dress or a bikini; to be honest, it’s not even about physical health, although that’s definitely a good side effect; what it comes down to is that if I don’t look after myself properly – exercise regularly (that’s swimming for me), eat reasonably healthily, get enough sleep and learn to be calmer with myself – I am seriously jeopardising my mental health, and the last thing I want to do is either end up on an ambulance gurney (been there, done that), or down a dark alley one night with a broken beer bottle in one hand (been there, done that), or with people I love and care about crying over me (been there, done that).

I want to live my life to its fullest. I want to love Mr T to the best of my abilities. I want to make a success of my career. I want to have kids (even though I pretend I don’t), and I want to be the best possible mother to those kids. I want to wake up every day (or at least most of them) feeling positive and powerful. And now, finally, I think I know how to achieve that. It’s not infallible. There will be blips and bumps in the road, but life will continue with me in it.

If you suffer from depression, I can’t stress enough how important it is to seek help. The NHS has great facilities and whether you opt for drugs or counselling (or both), or go down a completely alternative route, you will feel better eventually, and I do know that ignoring the problem won’t make it go away. And remember, one in four of us (I reckon it’s a much larger number actually) suffer from mental health issues at some point in our lives. You are not alone. And finally, when the black dog days are behind you, you’ll begin to see why life really is worth living.

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