Fumbling For Candles When Others Can See In The Dark

  The title of this post comes from one of my songs. It describes fairly well the way I have been feeling in the last month; trying to find some light in a darkness that only I can see.  The shadow has been looming again, working it’s usual trickery. I say this because on the face of it, many of the events of the last month should have been a positive boost to me, but instead my mind has twisted them around to failure mode once again. I am still suffering my heart problems and have been going through various tests including a CT angiogram, having a heart monitor fitted for three days, and an echo cardiogram. I for the results to be collated and a diagnosis made. It is because of this that my shadow has had a chance to take hold again, I am not in a very strong mental position at the moment due to the uncertainty.
  As I have said before, I am a singer/songwriter and usually enjoy going out playing my songs for people.  This month I have had some fantastic opportunities and played many times. One of the highlights was offering my services to stage manage the in-store stage for Southend’s Oxjam festival, stepping in for Matt Linnen who is on to bigger and better things !
  Playing live music is often a double edged sword for me because I tend to build myself up for gigs and then berate myself afterwards if I think they didn’t go well. I also suffer a constant stream of negative thoughts about myself and my music, here are a few examples of what I think on a regular basis:
 ” I am not good enough to do gigs in my own right”
 ” People don’t like my songs but are sympathetic to me trying”
 ” People think I am too old to be doing what I’m doing”
 ” People don’t like talking to me because they think I’m odd”
 ” Places I play for the first time regret booking me”
 ” No-one is going to turn up for my gigs”
 ” These people are only here because they feel the should be, not cos they want to be”
and I could go on and on.
  I fully realise the nonsense that a lot of these statements are, whether they be true or not. I am also definitely not looking for sympathy in any way, I’m just trying to paint a picture of the ceaseless negativity in my thought process that is so hard to control. What I have written above is just related to music, but this is the state of my mind 24/7.
  The problem with this sort of thinking is that it does actually change the way you come across to people, I know for a fact that many people would rather not catch my eye or find themselves left in conversation with me, because I can be hard work. I know.
  This month has been a real roller coaster. I have had major motivational issues. Even for something as simple as going out for a drink with some of my closest friends, it takes a monumental effort to get myself out of the house. I am not talking about physical effort. I am talking about mental effort; the internal battle that goes on in my head before I can do anything. The last week has been very busy for me, and every single day has been a struggle to make myself do the things I WANT to do, from getting out to work to going out with friends. Most of the time, fortunately, once I have made that effort to get out, or even to do something at home, I forget the negativity and enjoy the moment. I have had some lonely gigs recently though too.
  I’m going to leave it there for today, hopefully this gives another little insight into my world 🙂
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Anxiety or not Anxiety? That is the question.

It has been a couple of months since my last post, in that time some strange things have been happening to me which I think may serve as a reminder as to just how similar feelings of anxiousness can be to some actual physical problems.

Summer is quite often a busy time for me, with lots going on musically and with family, and this is a good thing as far as mental health goes because I tend to have less time to think about things. During a family holiday to Edinburgh I started to get heart palpitations a couple of times. Now this is not that unusual; stress can cause this sort of thing and I am now an old hand at ignoring such symptoms. A week later it was happening more and more, maybe twice a day, and a week after that my heart was behaving erratically almost twenty-four hours a day. At this point I decided to see the doctor about it for peace of mind and he said it could well be being triggered by anxiety but I was sent for blood tests and an ECG as a precaution.

Anyone who suffers from anxiety and depression will probably have been through numerous blood tests trying to find a problem to rationalise their symptoms only to be told on every occasion that they are fine and it’s just stress. I was not surprised in the least when I was once again declared to be fine (although my doctor used the word satisfactory!). At this point however, I was still hanging on to the hope that there was something specific wrong with me; that it wasn’t just stress.

A couple of weeks later I decided to try to deal with it using my depression coping strategies. I got up on Saturday morning and told my wife that I was going to have a ‘me’ day. Naturally she understood and I set off for a long walk into Southend, armed with notebooks and all the mindfulness I could muster. Normally by the time I had walked the few miles into Southend and installed myself in the corner of a little cafe, I would be starting to unwind. This time I felt worse. No change to my heart’s patterns and now I could definitely feel the anxiety taking charge and my shadow swirling around eagerly. I chanced upon some friends of mine busking in the high street and stopped for a chat. I remember saying that I wish I could just have a heart attack or something, to get it over with, something that could be defined and treated.  After leaving them I felt like I was acheiving nothing on my ‘me’ day so I returned home.

Sat on the sofa, feeling sorry for myself, my wife suggested I call 111 to see if I could see an out of hours doctor who might be able to give me something to calm my symptoms. After explaining what was happening on the phone the woman on the other end said ” we would like you to stay on the phone, we are calling you an ambulance, we think you may be having a heart attack”.

A paramedic was sent, and after confirming that I had some of the symptoms of a heart problem, I was taken to A&E to be checked out. Now although I was fortunate enough not to be having a heart attack, the paramedic and the doctor both agreed that there was something wrong with my heart and it almost certainly was not anxiety. I am now seeing a cardiologist and going through a number of tests as we speak, to find out what is wrong.

It may seem strange, but when I heard the words, ‘it’s not anxiety’, I was so pleased to finally have something wrong with me that could be treated (hopefully).

I suppose what I am trying to say is that people who suffer mental health issues sometimes get so use to ignoring symptoms that they can get blasé about it and not bother to get them checked out. I am so used to aches and pains caused by mental health fatigue that I lose track in my mind of what is real and what is not. This time I feel I have been fortunate, for some it may not end so well,

Thanks for reading.

I’m Brilliant……..Am I Good Enough ?

It has been a while since I have found the motivation to write.  Sometimes the depression rollercoaster is a smooth ride, either up or down, but lately it has been a manic, bumpy ride with high highs and low lows that have arrived in quick succession and left me feeling……….unstable………that’s the best word I can find to explain it.

The title of this blog post refers to the musical side of my life.  As I have said before, I am a songwriter and perform wherever I can, in and around the area I live in.  In the past month I have had a couple of the best gigs I’ve ever done, and a couple that that were down there with the worst. Looking back I suppose it mirrored exactly how I’ve been feeling. But even after the great gigs, I can’t allow myself to enjoy the moment for too long because the negative thoughts start piling back in: Were people telling me I was good…for me ?  Are people sympathetic to me because of my age?  Are they just being polite?

I’ve been struggling with my social ineptness lately too.  I have spent many times being lonely in a crowd recently, having pushed myself into a group, situation or event and not had the ability to quite pull it off in a normal social way. Within a few minutes I feel like an outcast; the black sheep; the quiet one; the weird one.    I don’t know what I expect, but I am sure my expectations are misplaced. In fact , in all these situations, I shouldn’t be thinking about it, I should just be doing; living in the moment, like everyone else does, but that is the crux of the matter as I explained in the last post. If I could stop thinking about everything then my life would be much better.

One question that has been bugging me this past few weeks is this: Am I the way I am because I am depressed, or am I depressed because of the way I am?  Or to put it another way: Do I try to deal with the depression or do I try to deal with the way I am?

I think that recently I have been dealing with the depression, which is why I have been on the rollercoaster. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to deal with the way I am because I have found myself back in the cycle of wearing a different mask for each different part of my life, which tends to take it out of me.

Once again, thanks for reading, and if you suffer like I do, I hope it helps.  Please feel free to comment or ask questions.

The Thought Police

  One thing that is a large part of CBT  (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is learning how to monitor and rationalise your own thoughts.  To some this may sound easy, others will never have contemplated thinking about thoughts. The depression I live with means that there is a constant barrage of negativity going on in my head; whatever happens, whatever the situation, my shadow will be there telling me I can’t handle it, I’m not good enough, people think I’m weird, I’m going to fail….etc.

  On top of this, the negativity seems to target your weakest attributes, the shadow will take the greatest pleasure in kicking you when you are down; trying to send you over the edge.

  I am a songwriter and performer. I play small gigs and open mics all around my local area. When I am behind a microphone with guitar in hand I am usually ok from an anxiety point of view. I have a normal amount of nerves before a gig, but generally I am ok because I am in control. I find it hardest when I am in social situations, which being a performer, I find myself in quite a lot of the time.  I don’t know how to do small talk, I never know what to say once a conversation goes beyond the obvious, and yet if you engage me in a conversation I am quite happy to talk. When I do try to speak I will say something weird, or I’ll stumble on my words or I’ll embarrass myself by not thinking about what I’m going to say.  This is very annoying; as a well-educated, quick-witted man who can think and write eloquently and creatively, it kills me that I can’t hold my own in a social situation, I feel stupid and naive. I believe this is the crux of my depression; I am a grown man with the confidence of a child.

  I am having a bit of a dip this week.  I was very stressed at work today and felt extremely fatigued by the time I got home, so I forced myself to go to the gym after work, something that I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing before seeking help for my depression. Exercise really does help, it provides an almost instant high and lately has been enough to get me back on track. Today however, within half an hour of coming back home I could literally feel the shadow rising again, like the tide coming in, so I’m going to have to try some other things to control it.

Today it is not helping to write this, so I’m going to leave it here until next time, but hopefully this illustrates some of the ups and downs I go through on a weekly basis…

Thanks for reading and for those that have commented either on here or privately to me, I really do appreciate it 🙂

 

 

Signed Off…

  In this blog post I will try to get up to date so that I can focus future posts on my thoughts and experiences of depression as they occur to me.

  It was two weeks before Easter, I had decided that I had to have some time off work before I had some kind of breakdown. I had discussed this with my employer and made an appointment to see my GP on the Monday. I had agreed with work that I would take a weeks holiday anyway even if my GP wouldn’t sign me off. Thankfully, my doctor fully agreed that I needed a break to reset myself , and signed me off for two weeks.

  My immediate thoughts at his response were typically negative ones; two weeks is not enough; what can I get done in two weeks; I won’t be able to go back to work ever; what if nothing changes?

  The following day I made a decision to put some of my CBT training into practice. I got myself a notepad and walked into Southend to find somewhere quiet to start a deep investigation into me, and how I was going to beat this thing. I made copious notes, writing down every negative thought that came up and trying to answer it with a realistic, honest answer. This really helped me cope, and accept where I was at this time. I also started to develop a two pronged battle plan to cope with the mental stress and also the physical stress I was under.  Everyday I went for long walks interspersed with long writing breaks in cafes, parks and libraries. I wrote down everything I was feeling, I wrote down any positive thoughts I had and i went through every aspect of my life in detail. I set myself goals to get the plan moving. These goals culminated in joining a gym and going swimming on the physical side, and setting myself social interaction goals on the mental side of things.

   I went back to work after two weeks off, with a sense of trepidation, but also knowing that I had fully utilised my time off as best I could. I was in a much better place that I had been before, and now had a set of goals, notes, questions and answers to refer to for support.

  Last Thursday I attended my last therapy session, 6 months after my first one. Now, with mixed emotions I am on my own again, my shadow somewhat subdued, and armed with an arsenal of positive coping strategies that will hopefully see me gradually climb out of the darkness. It is going to be a long road, and my last set back taught me not to take recovery for granted, but I am as ready as I ever will be to embark on the journey.

  This time I’m not hiding anything, I am who I am, I suffer with depression…

Time to Think

   Sometimes the hardest thing about depression is trying to stop the spinning wheel of thoughts inside your own head. Just before Easter this year, my thoughts were so loud and fast that they had turned in to a tumultuous cacophony of unpenetrable noise. I was having trouble putting any of my CBT strategies into practice, and could not really see a next step. My therapist was concerned that this situation was spiralling downwards and may lead to a breakdown of some kind so they asked if I had contemplated taking time off work to re-focus my mind. It sounds silly, but until this point I didn’t really think that this was feasible. As soon as the words were out there I started having negative thoughts about it; what will people say; it would put a black mark against my name with my employer; my colleagues would think I was skiving off and of course there would be all the looks and talk behind my back !

   But why not; depression is an illness, not just mentally but physically as well. If I had man-flu I would have taken a couple of days off, if I had broken my leg I would have a few weeks off. I would say the physical effects of depression are the most difficult for people to understand. I am constantly tired, my body is tense, my muscles ache my eyes are strained. My motivation, which is not great at the best of times, disappears altogether, I am living, but to all intents and purposes, have no reason to be.

   At this point in time, and despite desperately not wanting to, I decided I had to have some time out. There was no other option. I could not carry on.

  I will let you know what I did with my time off in the next entry……

My Shadow

   I suffer with depression.

     I have been inspired by a musician friend of mine to write a blog about my experience of living with this condition. I am hoping that this blog will firstly help me by recording my experiences, secondly provide a platform to let others know what I am going through, and thirdly, I hope that reading this may help someone else who is going through a similar thing.

     I have decided to refer to my depression as my shadow, for that is what it feels like; it is always there, sometimes barely noticeable, sometimes huge and engulfing, but always there. I started fighting my shadow one year ago. During this time it has become clear that the foundations had been laid early on in my life, and thirty-two years of coping mechanisms and avoidance as an adult led me to the point last year when I finally felt I had to do something about it.

     It may come as a surprise to some people to hear that I struggle with depression, I try to do my best to hide it.  Others may well have suspected, and it may even explain to some the way I come across in social situations.

   As I said earlier, I am currently one year into getting the help I need. It started with a huge motivational effort on my part when I contacted ‘Therapy For You’ which is the NHS mental health service. Since then I have been on a six week cognitive behavioral therapy course, a six week intensive group therapy session, I’ve spent four months on anti-depressants, and I have now been seeing a therapist on a one to one basis for 10 weeks.

   I don’t want to go into much more detail in this first post, but I aim to be open and honest about my shadow in all future posts. It may be that no-one ever sees this post. It is going to take all the strength I have to push the publish button and to let people know, but I truly believe that raising awareness of all mental health issues is not only a good thing, but an absolutely necessary thing !

   I will leave you with a link to a short video that might help explain some of the ways that people suffer when their shadow is getting the better of them.

                       I had a black dog, it’s name is Depression.

     Please feel free to comment, ask questions, be honest  and thank you for reading 🙂