From a colleague
My name is Rachel, I work in the medical field. I enjoy writing and sharing my experiences with others. Over the last 25 years I have experienced periods of deep sadness, anger and thoughts of not wanting to be alive anymore. Thankfully they do not last long – perhaps a few days.
As a doctor, It’s very tempting to “diagnose” myself. Is this depression? Having that sort of label can be very comforting when in pain. It appears to make the whole experience understandable. It places it in a container and it feels easier to understand something tangible. It’s also easier when talking to others, “I’m struggling with depression.” Most people have heard of “depression” before. They know the Royals talk about it and there are various campaigns out there designed to raise awareness. I applaud this work. It’s important to talk about how we feel.
I started writing articles around 20 years ago. I was probably experiencing similar feelings then, although back then it felt normal and it lasted longer. I found writing down my thoughts helped. These days, I am more interested in finding out what I can do to get myself out of this head space. This helps me to help others to do the same. I find this very rewarding.
At the moment, I am struggling myself. This article is hard to write. In actual fact, its much easier to write about the “difficult stuff” than the “positive stuff”. There is a critical voice screaming at me and It feels as though my head has become stuck and the usual fluidity of my thoughts has stalled. But I know it will change and that gives me hope.
So what helps? These things help me and perhaps they will help you too. I should say that if you are experiencing thoughts of wanting to harm yourself and you feel unsafe, please do seek help immediately and talk to someone. This may be your GP, or the Samaritans or someone who you trust. This article is very helpful https://metanoia.org/suicide/
1. Sitting and thinking about how bad things are doesn’t help. It actually seems to make things feel much much worse. This is a habit for me and I can kid myself into thinking that I am doing something productive. It increases the feelings of stuck-ness and inertia. Doing something, anything other than this is going to be helpful. This might mean getting out of the house, walking briskly or a change of scenery.
2. Taking the pressure off is helpful. I have a tendency to be self-critical at times and I drive myself extremely hard to perform and succeed. This is another habit and these habits can feel normal and comfortable. A few months back, I started to see the price of this behaviour and now painful it could be. So I started to give myself permission to rest. To do nothing at times. To accept that a “good enough” piece of work was ok. To tune into myself and pay attention to what it was that was needed at this moment in time. To be kind. Interestingly I also found that when I was kinder to myself, it was easier to be kinder to others and that helps to make the world a better place. Self-compassion for our humanity is really important. Kristin Neff’s work on compassion is really worth looking at. Here’s one of her TED talks http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=lvtZBUSplr4
3. Get out of bed, shower and dress. It helps.
4. About social media. I think social media has many positives. I think it can also be a miserable place at times. The key I find is to cultivate an awareness of how we are feeling and asking the question – Is our social media experience making things better or worse for us at this moment? If the answer is that it is making things worse, stop for the moment. I think a key for understanding and getting out of these head spaces is noticing the supposed cause / effect nature of things. The things that make the situation worse (and better) are usually pretty predictable. Do less of things that make things worse and more of the things that make things better. It’s about getting to know yourself better. This takes practice and is not an overnight job. Be kind to yourself.
5. Spending time with people. Spending time with people who accept where we are at the moment can be very helpful. There is also a human need to be understood and accepted. I’ve certainly noticed a real need to communicate how I am feeling to others. If I sense that they accept me as a person despite how I’m feeling, this is deeply helpful. People may not understand and I think it’s important not to take this personally because they may not have a frame of reference for the experience. They may not be able to cope with strong feelings in others. There could be something else going on – who knows? I tend to choose the people I spend time with when I am feeling like this. I have many good relationships but some people don’t really know what to say or do and that is ok. It is what it is. The only person who can change me is me but being with others sometimes helps to facilitate this.
6. Do something for someone else. This is helpful. I know many people who volunteer or help the homeless in their spare time.
7. The comparison habit. This is a common one. I think I heard the TV presenter Fearne Cotton describing it as to “compare and despair” If you think about it though, you are not really comparing “like with like” as people are so individual. I think it is more helpful to compare “oneself with oneself” over time. To see progress and to celebrate progress.
8. “This too shall pass” This is a slogan from the 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. I’ve found it best applied after the event. Once we have experience of knowing it passes, we can apply that experience the next time. I think Winston Churchill described it well when he said “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” It does and it will pass.
9. Damage limitation. For me, getting through these episodes is akin to preparing a boat to ride through a storm. It’s generally a good idea to batten down the hatches, reef the sails and make things as straightforward and simple as possible. Put off large decisions that can be put off, protect close relationships by avoiding arguments and allow people to be supportive. Sleep, eat sensibly and make time for rest.
10. Remember these experiences are not you. They are things that the brain and the mind do and the totality of what makes “you” “you” is so much more than this. It like confusing the trombone with the entire orchestra.