A few weeks ago, I took my first ever anti-depressant, just half the dose my doctor had prescribed. The next day, I took the other half. The day after that, I popped the foil packet in my handbag and headed out, uncertain about continuing down the medication route. By bedtime, I'd decided anti-depressants weren't for me - at least not for now - and that I wanted to find a different way to lift my low mood and stem the flood of tears.
I didn't stop because of the side effects - a fuzzy head, a dry mouth, a sleepless night. And nor was it simply down to fear, although there was a fair amount of that (Will the drugs affect me long-term? Will I be able to come off?).
It was more a really deep sense that for me, there's a different path and that I know, without a shadow of a doubt, how to raise my spirits, keep myself happy and be loving to myself - it's just I'd been doing exactly the opposite.
It was a case of, 'I've got myself into this mess and I can get myself out of it.'
I completely understand the argument for anti-depressants, respect anyone who decides to take them and know they've helped many of my friends. Some people aren't in a place to get themselves out of it - their depression is clinical or they've totally run out of juice.
But I'm pretty sure a lot of my depression is of my own making and comes down to unkind choices I make. So I'd like to try and make different choices before taking the pills.
My depression, this time around, arrived following an injury to my right wrist, which stopped me from cycling, riding my scooter, swimming, getting dressed or chopping vegetables without pain. It also stopped me from writing for a while, particularly inconvenient since I do that for a living. But I didn't pause or rest or take care of myself. Instead, I carried on working, writing and chopping vegetables, ignoring the pain, and then spiralled into hopelessness when my wrist hurt even more.
On top of that, I had some relationship ups and downs, worry about my age and stage of life (43. No kids. Is it too late? Do I want kids?). And I'd been deeply affected by a run of distressing news on the TV and radio (it seems I wasn't alone in reacting like that).
All those things got me down.
Then there's the bigger picture. I've had years of emotional ups and downs and have contemplated taking anti-depressants before. I've also been on a recovery path for more than a decade - from an eating disorder and other addictive behaviours - and it's been tough at times to keep my spirits up, without resorting to the crutches I used in the past, particularly when life has thrown a curve ball (my dad's death, work and health stress and so forth).
But I've managed to lift myself out of the doldrums before and I'm determined to do it again, so I've decided to give myself a month of extreme self-care and then see where I'm at.
Extreme self-care for me involves evaluating every decision against the question, "Is this a loving thing to do?" and then making a radical choice to eliminate the things that don't make me feel good. Easier said than done, of course, but practice makes perfect.
Here's what I've come up with so far:
• Gentle Pilates - it's great to get into my body and out of my head, to focus in on one particular muscle and just work on that. I'm never that keen but once I'm there, 90 minutes passes in a flash.
• Small chunks of work, but not too much. Stopping when my hand hurts or when my mood starts to dip. Of course, the voices come in and question my level of success. 'You'll never get anything done if you only work four hours or less. You'll be broke. You'll never achieve your dreams. All your gifts will go to waste.' But I'm choosing to trust that if I can keep myself well and happy and if I can allow myself to work at my own pace, everything else will follow.
• Lots of nature, including spontaneous trips. Last week, after a work meeting got cancelled at the last minute, I decided to take myself to the beach. It was already quite late in the morning and my head told me it was a ridiculous thing to do - I'd have to get a Tube, two trains, then a bus or taxi and wouldn't get there until after lunch. But the childlike glee I felt at the thought of being on the beach won out (note to self - always listen to that) and those hours I spent lying in the sand dunes and floating on my back in the sea really turned things around. I felt myself again - happy, confident, hopeful, trusting, and immensely capable of making amazing decisions.
• More nature. Since my flirtation with the pills, I've swum twice in the refreshing waters of the Kenwood Ladies Pond, which always does wonders for my soul. Again, I've had to nudge myself over that hurdle in my head. 'It's too far, too cold, too late, my wrist will hurt, what's the point?' I've got there and I've gone in and my body and heart have thanked me for it.
• Even more nature. I'm off to the sea again this weekend and will be packing my swimming stuff and hiking boots. And I'll be having a serious think about whether it's time, finally, to follow through on a decision I made a year ago and move out of the city to live by the beach.
• Connection and kindness to others. Last week, I was sat sobbing on a log on Hampstead Heath after a pond swim (the water helped but my low mood hijacked me again). I was still feeling the effects of the pills, wondering if I should have carried on and trying to figure out how to get out of this tearful rut. Then, a stranger stopped to ask me if I was OK and hung about to listen to my woes. That connection - her kindness - turned the day around. So how can I connect with others? How can I use my experience to help people? I know this is one of the keys to staying emotionally well and leading a fulfilled and happy life.
• Making a choice and sticking to it. Ambivalence is one of the things that gets me down. The constant questioning and self-doubt is exhausting. The internal push-pull drives me mad. So I'm going to commit to decisions for a set period and every time I question my choices, I'm going to remind myself this is the choice I've made for now and I can review it at some point in the future. My first decision involves those drugs - they're staying in their box and I'm choosing extreme self-care for the next month.