Hi, I’m back. These past few months have been a distracting time. I’ve experienced exulting highs and bottomless lows, which just continues to show me how conflicting this disease can be. I won’t bore you with the details but, in short, I’ve been using various events in my life to distract myself from the illness. Initially, I thought writing this column would help me confront things in my life that are hard to accept. But, alas, so far it has only given me a false sense of accelerated recovery. I assumed that because I could write about it, I was better. What a delusion.
It’s easy to pretend to yourself that everything is ok. Lying is a way of protecting yourself. I fall victim to feigning ignorance to avoid tough questions, instead bandying around the term “I’m fine” to deflect the personal. The truth can be painful to admit. You can find solace in the lie – convincing yourself that what you show on the outside is reflected on the inside. But, unfortunately, with depression this isn’t always the case.
Distraction can be a useful tool in the present. When overwhelmed, attempting to distract oneself is sometimes necessary. In the midst of a panic attack I concentrate on my breathing and focus on a point on the wall. As long as that point is steady then I am also. Puzzles are a known go-to for therapists; simple problem-solving as distraction from the cobwebs in the corners of your mind. I use sudoku and am thoroughly addicted. The ability to decipher small problems, whilst not the solution to world hunger, does reassure that some things are solvable. Self-care can be a distraction. Making yourself a priority is a well-earned repose from self-loathing. Even something as small as a walk is helpful. Getting yourself out of your immediate surroundings is refreshing and offers new perspective.
But then at times, like these past few months, distraction can be a deterrence to progress. I excelled in every kind of procrastination, especially and unfortunately the bottomless pit of PS4. Concerned only with my chosen avatar, other responsibilities would fall by the wayside. My dreams, already a coupling of horror and repression, would become an entanglement of levels and points. It made for bizarre, restless sleep.
Art by Julia Veldmanc
Now, while I have come to manage my obsession with a strict regime, I am still plagued by a need for distraction. For those blissful moments, I wasn’t just this ‘sad’ girl, but someone entirely different. On the train I was confident, in game world I was talented. Triumphs that seem unachievable anywhere important.
There are times when distraction is healthy but, similarly, detrimental. Recognising that can seem impossible but it is not. Now when I feel the need to distract, I’ll instead focus on what I’m trying to distract myself from and call a friend or write it down. Writing my thoughts down has always been helpful for me; taking the confusion and translating it into physical words lessens its intensity. Words are tacklable.
I now take the time to review my hobbies. As wonderful and distracting as they may be, some can hold you back from recovery. I actively try to pick and choose my distractions; getting out of your head is important but not always. I regulate my working hours by having breaks when I need, substitute my screen time with self-care, a colouring book, or photography – making my distractions into things that make me feel good.
Depression is sometimes entirely debilitating; a full throttle assault on your senses. It can dampen your happiest moments, pervade every second with unwavering emptiness, tinge each exchange with a desperate sense of loneliness. It can be a dull ache, a nagging reminder in the back of your head. Or a forgotten thought; lying in wait until you loosen the chains around your well-built temple of self-care, waiting to snatch a precious moment. It is overwhelming and I can feel as though I’m choking with the intensity of it all.
But not always. Happiness and peace are not so far out of reach. Countless therapists and doctors have promised it will get better and I do believe that.
I’ve found that focusing on small positive things can ease the mind; indubitably happy dogs, a hot cup of tea on a cold day, church bells on a sleepy Sunday morning – things that I associate with my youth or a happier time. If we were happy then, we have the potential to be once more. Never forget that.
Art by Chibird
Recently, a friend of mine committed suicide. It is as devastating as it is shocking and all who knew him are indescribably sad. It reminded me how essential it is to communicate. To talk to those, near and far, and to not be ashamed or push down what you know to be true. I wish many things were different, but above all I wish that he could have communicated how he felt. Maybe then he would still be here with us.
So, I’ve decided to restart this column; in the hope that, maybe, someone in pain will read it and reach out. Know that they are not alone. Deter them another day. Whilst communication is vital, it is not the only step.
For my own sanity I want to change Insane in the Membrane; alter some details of its structure so that it reflects not just my personal experience with depression, but those around me. How they suffer, in their own unique ways. How everyone is flawed and no one is perfect but small kind gestures can mean the world.
If you are someone or know someone who is experiencing depression, please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org . Share a story, an anecdote, a passing thought. Let me know how you are. Make yourself a priority.
Mental health always needs more support, socially and financially. Mind, Heads Together and Rethink offer easy ways to get involved/fundraise/donate/campaign. The Arch2Arch run, London Marathon and Tough Mudder can all be done in the name of mental health. Or, if you’re like me and not a natural athlete, you can use easy ways to recycle to raise awareness and donations alike. Petitions like Time to Change and the Survey of Mental Illness in the Workplace are a click away from de-stigmatising mental illness.
There’s this free, interactive game called ‘Depression Quest’. It’s not perfect, but it assimilates situations that a depressed person could be in and helps the player understand the reaction that depression may take.
Sofa Activism is easy ways to give, and possibly the easiest of them is Savoo Search, just use it as your default search engine and it’ll donate 1p every time you search something to the charity of your choice (I would recommend through Rethink).
I’ve recently read this article about how depression can be empowering. This was news to me. But I agree wholeheartedly! Use your diagnosis as empowerment, it makes you stronger. Have a read of Ashley’s article for more on empowerment and for some interesting facts.
SAMH and Action Mental Health are aimed at Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, targeting mental health stigma on a more regional scale. Mind Cymru and Mental Health Wales focus on Welsh Mental Health.