25 Years of my life and still trying to get up that great big hill…

Sometimes things just happen out of the blue.  Since I last posted I have been on a general low that has been highlighted by some great moments. As I said in my last post, I have taken a lot on recently, and over the past two weeks some of that has taken its toll although I think it is mostly worth it. One downside of being busy is that I don’t have the time to look after myself mentally, the mindfulness and the CBT techniques go by the wayside and I find myself getting very physically tired thru the mental stress.

At times like this I need a bit of a kick up the backside, something that normally comes from within. This time however it came from a chance conversation with my younger sister. She had been clearing some stuff out and had found some letters I had written her in 1993 when she had just gone to university. In one of these letters I was telling her that I had been going through some hard times mentally and had been having some therapy whilst being off work for six weeks. Now I know that I went through some anxiety issues back then but I must have blanked out the therapy and six weeks off work because it was quite a shock reading about it.

The best thing about the letter though, and kind of the point of this post, is that I had written down a list of  ‘ 10 challenging ideas to think about ‘, and I thought I would share them with you. So here they are, and I hope they help some of you 🙂

  1. This is it !  There are no rehearsals. Your life is up and running.
  2. There is no way that you can get everything you want. You may satisfy some of your needs but you will always feel some dissatisfaction.
  3. You cannot completely control or own anything, especially people. Everything is temporary and everything changes. Get used to change.
  4. Nobody is stronger or weaker than anybody else. We are all made up of a collection of strengths and weaknesses.
  5. All important decisions are made on the basis of limited information. Everything has an element of risk.
  6. All life’s important battles and conflicts are fought within ourselves.
  7. You are responsible for everything you do. All excuses are unacceptable.
  8. We all make mistakes.  We are all selfish,cheating,vain, greedy and tell lies. Nobody is perfect. learn to forgive yourself and accept your humanness.
  9. We are all free to do what ever we like. All we have to do is accept the consequences.
  10. The world is not always just or fair. Being good offers no guarantee of a happy outcome.

I think some of this stuff may be a bit too hard hitting for the therapy of today, but sometimes you get caught up in the darkness and you need some challenging things to think about. I just wish I had written this to myself a few years ago.

Thanks for reading……

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Brain Mush

It is six months since I last wrote in this blog. There has been a lot of talk about mental health this week which has spurred me on to writing a long overdue post. I guess the reason I haven’t posted is that I was trying to fight the shadow, and on the whole I was winning for a few months after Christmas. ( Christmas itself is a whole different matter and is so difficult for most sufferers, but I won’t go into that here).

Over the last few months. however the shadow has been rising again. The best way I can describe this is it’s like slowly losing your vision; everyday my mind would get a bit more hazy, the thoughts I have swirl around faster, the negativity pokes out at every chance. Don’t get me wrong, as a result of getting the help I needed last year and the therapy sessions and CBT, I am now in a good position to fight the battles in my mind. One of my latest tricks is to personify my shadow so that when it misbehaves I picture it as being submissive to me and I mentally put it in a cage and lock the door until it can start behaving properly again.  This makes me feel like I am gaining some control back in my mind, although it tends only to work if there is a specific focus of my anxiety.

The much harder thing to deal with is the constant fog in my head, swirling with questions and negative statements.  Someone like me really struggles with decisions, quite often because we can see so many choices, and we have to analyse each and every one to make sure we are making the safe one ( not necessarily the right one). A simple question like: Are you coming out tomorrow night?, begs the following analysis:

  • Should I go out tomorrow night?
  • Will they think less of me if I say no?
  • Will I be too tired?
  • Why are they asking me?
  • Will I drink too much?
  • I want to go but I know I will feel awful the next morning?
  • Who else is going to be there?
  • Will I need alcohol to cope?
  • I don’t want to look stupid, is there going to be someone there I relate too?
  • It’s safer just to say no?
  • If I don’t go then I’m just wasting my life away
  • I will regret not going, I’d better go even if I don’t really feel like it?   etc.

Why can’t I just say yes or no without thinking about?

Another thing I have been doing is to keep myself busy.  I am focusing on health and fitness this year, trying to lose some weight, with the idea that it will help my mental well being.  I would really advise going to the gym, or the equivalent as a great mental flush. It really works, even if only for a short while.  Mental fatigue is still one of my biggest problems, so being busy can be counter productive. I have thrown my self in headlong to my music, I now have a small band together and we are fast approaching our first gig. I also sit on the committee for the Leigh Folk Festival and have agreed to run one of the events for them. I’m also organising a big charity gig in the summer for MIND, to try to give something back. I am also taking on more responsibilities with my involvement in Soslam  ( a local music collective). I really enjoy doing these things but all this takes a huge toll on me mentally, however, I think it is on balance, a good thing with the positives outweighing the negatives.

I have a lot of gigs coming up soon, if you read this blog and you happen to see me out and about, I want you to feel like you can talk to me about it if you want to, so please come and say hello to the awkward man with the guitar 🙂

Thank you

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 🙂

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…