Oh, wait! Nope – it’s me that’s been away, isn’t it? I really hope you’re doing okay and that this summer has helped you feel better? Have you started hunkering down for autumn yet? I can barely believe we’re into October and I’m looking at how few posts I’ve added this year and feeling guilty. I’m really sorry that I haven’t kept to my original intention to post every few weeks. I’ve strayed pretty far from that goal this year, haven’t I?
I was discussing the reasons for this with a friend a few months ago and he encouraged me to be honest and dare to be a little more personal in my posts. I haven’t taken his advice until now because, being honest, life’s been manic and I haven’t been in a good place to write. It’s also a bit scary because I don’t want to be too personal or come across as self-indulgent without giving you something of use. That’s not the point of this blog. But having said that, I did say I would offer a more personal perspective on living with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
You may have picked up from my few posts this year that it’s not been the easiest year. Actually, the last twelve months have resembled, to my mind, being dragged backwards around a rollercoaster in a shopping trolley! There’s been a lot of tough times, but thankfully some lovely ones too…
In June I had said to my friend, “If you had told me this time last year that in the next 12 months I’d end my nine-year relationship, lose my home, move twice, lose my current job in a restructure and be demoted because I didn’t perform in my interview, take on a demanding course, fall out with and lose people I really care about, and have other close friends move away, I wouldn’t have believed you! What a rubbish year! I have never felt so lost in my life.”
I was having a right pity party! I’m not looking for sympathy now, though I was then from my friend! It’s mostly just been change, but it’s been relentless! People go through much, much worse though, and I am very lucky to have a fantastic support network in my friends and family.
Back in November when I ended my relationship and moved out, the restructure was under way and I worried that with major areas of my life changing, I was going to really struggle with managing my SAD symptoms on top too. I therefore tried really hard to ensure that I was consistent with my light therapy and took a Calcium, Magnesium and Vitamin D supplement, which I think helped. I reckon for the most part I managed pretty well during the winter, all considered. That we’ve had our best summer for at least six years has also been a huge relief!
That said, I have been firmly down in the dumps at times and I’ve cried more tears this year than I can remember at any other time of my life. There were a couple of hairy times when I worried that I’d tipped into a depressive episode and I think it’s possible I may have; I was numb. My body was showing me signs that I was stressed and very sad, but I felt nothing. It scared me.
I mainly attributed this to what was going on in my life and to be honest I couldn’t have blamed myself, though I know that SAD will have definitely had its part to play. When you’ve suffered from depression before, you know the warning signs; I’m sure that if you suffer from SAD or Winter Blues, you’ll be nodding your head right now? You know what I mean – when you can’t take anything more and feel like you over-react to things that normally wouldn’t bother you? When you feel hopeless about the future – when will things get better? When you want to curl into a ball and shut out the world?
So there, I said it – and it is hard. I still feel the stigma of depression when I tell people I suffer from SAD. Broadcasting it on a blog isn’t something I ever thought I’d do. But I’m writing this post, this blog, because I want to play even a tiny part in helping people to understand. If we continue as a society to brush mental health problems under the carpet then there will continue to be too many people out there who could be helped and aren’t because they’re too ashamed to admit they are struggling.
Before I get on my soap box too much, what I really want to share with you though, is my friend’s fab outlook on life in the hope that if you’re feeling ‘bleurgh’ right now, his outlook might inspire you to look at your situation differently too. He is the sunniest, most positive person I know.
He re-framed what I’d said to: “Okay, well as I see it, you’ve achieved a lot this year. You have had the courage to walk away from a relationship that was making you very unhappy and would have made you ill had it continued. You’ve been kind and considerate to him and still been there for your friends. You fought for your job and learned some lessons when you didn’t get what you wanted. You’re also thinking about some entrepreneurial ventures that are really exciting and your course will lead to better things for you in the future. I think you’re on the cusp of re-building the life you really want and that’s great!”
What a difference! Re-framing is something he naturally does straight away when faced with challenges. I, on the other hand, sometimes wallow a bit and feel sorry for myself, before giving myself a kick and taking some action to improve things. A bit of straight-talking from my friends usually helps too! Some of them in particular really know when I need some tough love!
As you can see, re-framing is simply taking a given situation and considering different ways that you could look at it. It’s a popular technique used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The idea is that if you can change your thoughts about a situation, then you can change your feelings and behaviour for the better.
It is really helpful and effective, but it takes practice and you need to be disciplined in doing it. I can usually analyse a situation afterwards, but I’ll admit that I’m not yet so great at seeing the alternative possibilities when I’m in the middle of a difficult situation. CBT is recommended by the NHS as an effective treatment for a range of mental health issues and it is often used alongside medication.
I have used a book before to learn the techniques and have practised some re-framing with a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) practitioner recently. I’m not going to recommend NLP to you; it’s not seen as being a valid psychological therapy. However, I have found it helpful in the past and in the present for helping me to pull myself out of a rut and I like the approach. I might cover this some more in a future post. Let me know if you’d be interested in this?
Of course, I’ve leaned heavily on my wonderful friends and family this year too; I’m so lucky to have them. I am also quite bloody-minded at times and I hate letting people down. So I have forced myself to keep going; to get up, go to work, study and socialise. I felt alternatively like staying in bed and running away at times – my brain trying on some fantasies of jumping on a plane and disappearing for a while. I knew it wasn’t an option for me though!
If you’re going through tough times and are struggling with depression, anxiety, too much chronic stress, SAD, winter blues, life throwing you a curve ball… anything… then I want to say to you to keep going no matter what. Lean on your friends and family. Or reach out here, or on a forum like Time to Change or Lumie – you’re not alone. Please also think about going to the doctors to get help – they will take you seriously. Above all, treat yourself with kindness. Too often we treat ourselves so harshly, speaking to ourselves in a way we wouldn’t dream of speaking to our friends.
I realise that this post has been a long and pretty unfocused one, but I wanted to explain, honestly, why I’ve been neglecting to post. Hopefully something in what I’ve said may help you too. I’m not going to commit to posting regularly for now, but please know that I’m here if you want to ask me a question or to let off some steam – just email me: email@example.com.
Image credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/764423