THE BLOG

Depression: How To Defend Your Mind And Why It's So Important

08/05/2017 16:53

I've been dragging my feet about writing this, because I feel a bit... silly.

After I very publicly declared in my June 2015 blog that I'd suffered from - and beaten - depression, receiving hundreds of messages from friends and strangers alike thanking me for giving them hope, it wasn't so much embarrassment as not wanting to destroy the illusion.

But here's the thing: I was depressed. Agaaaaain.

And was I ready, like I said I would be: 'Armed, ready and damn determined to fight'? Was I fuck. I mean, why would I be exercising and practising mindfulness, and doing all the things I know help, when I didn't need the help? These are the words... of an idiot.

It was around October when I began to feel that I might be teetering over a depressive cliff-edge. As I thought to myself, "I don't want to slide into depression," the memory of saying those exact words last time stopped them in my throat, where they jarred like painful deja vu.

I was in denial at first. I could not succumb. During Depression: Part One, therapy really helped because for the first time, I saw depression in a clinical light which helped me to rise above it. From knowledge, I gained power.

What was terrifying this time, was that I knew all the bloody theory. And this wasn't enough. But that's the sinister trap; no matter how much you know, once depression applies its filter to your brain, even your knowledge about depression must pass through it. The indisputable fact that I'd previously overcome depression helped, but this logical, reasoning part of my brain wasn't my almighty saviour, because it too was in a depressive tizz. It just fired back, "Well, you won't this time."

My original blog post has now had over 32,000 views, and I was still receiving messages of thanks, and requests for advice, when I was back in the pits. Feeling like an absolute fraud. Hilariously, I was still doling out advice that was actually useful to people. On one occasion, a friend dashed to get her phone, requesting I say it again so she could record me. (This actually cheered me up because I found the irony so funny.)

Yet, I'd lay in bed in the morning, punching my pillow and garbling, "I'm sorry," to God only knows. I'd often drag myself out of bed with as little as 10 minutes to leave the house and get to work on time. Needless to say I looked pretty shabby on arrival. While carol singing (one of my favourite activities) at Waterloo station, I had to walk off because I couldn't get through it without crying.

It was actually worse this time. And, despite everything I knew, like the first time I found myself believing that this would be it, forever. I went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and felt sick reading about his deteriorating mental state, unable to separate his story from mine and imagining that I'd end up in an asylum hacking my ear off. The fact people know me to be an unwavering optimist shows just how far depression can take you away from yourself.

I worked out how to fight depression the first time round. What I hadn't worked out, was how to protect myself from future brain hijacks.

Here are my tips for defending your mind:

1. Practise mindfulness/meditation REGULARLY
It's a practice, not a skill to be honed and then abandoned. What skill is even like that? (Maybe riding a bike but I'd argue that isn't that complex.) It's not just about learning a mental approach and remembering it, it's about training your mind so that you maintain control of it.

2. Exercise
Oh my God, this one is SO important. I'm not the only person I know who runs to stay sane. I read a post recently where a girl said that after 16 YEARS of taking medication for anxiety, she'd finally realised that exercise was the best drug going. I've recently started going to GoodGym which I LOVE - it combines running with community volunteering, giving you the added pick-me-up of feeling useful.

3. Don't think (so much)
You don't need to think half as much as you err, think. Your brain is a useful tool but I no longer let it play dictator of my being, particularly when it comes to decisions. I switch it off and go with my gut, and this way of living obviously goes hand in hand with number 1. Rather than churning thoughts over in my head, I shut down my blathering brain and am fully present, filling up on the presence of the people I'm with and what they're saying.

4. Learn something new
This was actually advice I saw on the NHS website, and it's not a common tip you come across but it's gold. I view it as mental exercise and it has its own magic power.

5. Try Landmark Forum
I took this course in February, and it was life-changing. It's an immersive experience that combines ancient wisdom with psychology and personal development theory. Upshot: I left scared of nothing.

So I guess what I'm saying is, look after your mind. I find it absurd that we go to the dentist regularly, but neglect to have regular check-ups for our mental health.

I'd argue that there's more at stake in losing your mind than losing your teeth.

If you're feeling shitty now, first and foremost know that it won't last, no matter how insistent the voice is telling you it will. Have a read of my original blog, and I also highly recommend Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive for helping you feel that you're not alone/crazy.

And finally, don't panic if you think you've outwitted depression, then find yourself back at the bottom of the pit. Get over the fact you're down there, and know that you'll climb back out. I did.

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Photo by Rebecca Pitt / Starling Arts

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