Tools of the trade.

No, I haven’t become a plumber or carpenter. We all need tools though to help us navigate through this thing called life.

As somebody who has lived with depression for nigh on twenty two years I’ve been blessed with people who have imparted there precious pearls of wisdom. I thought I’d share some with you.

Jane an acquaintance. Jane once said to me, ‘Rachel, find one thing that gives you pleasure in each day. It doesn’t have to be grand, a cup of tea, or a bath but be in the moment with whatever you choose, be consciously there, hear the water as it runs from the tap and hear the sound as it fills up the kettle. Be totally present and when you are sat with your cup of tea really truly relax and just enjoy!’ This piece of advice has been invaluable, I’ve used it a million times and although the depression might be pretty deep it’s felt like a soothing lotion, offering light relief.

Allow yourself your bad days. This took years of practice and a deep understanding of myself, my abilities and my limitations. When I’m having a really bad day I allow myself the sanctuary of sleep. I know instantly if I’m going to be able to work through the depression or be crushed by it. I used to fight it, the voice in my head battering me even more as it failed to lift me from my bed. These days though I’m not so hard on myself, I recognise my limitations and I allow them. Be gentle with yourself.

Reach out! John was the person who taught me to reach out. It takes courage to recognise and verbalise that you are struggling. I have found this really challenging and still to this day it continues to be such a really difficult part of my depression and yet once I have verbalised, (tears being the companion of the verbalisation) I usually feel relief! To share whatever it is that is pushing me under enables a connection, the isolation that I experience from my silent world diminishes and the warmth of connecting is once again a soothing balm. So…reach out!

Anxiety. The biggest weapon I have against anxiety (well there are two actually) is to move! Yes…movement! When anxiety strikes I find that real exertion helps. I clean, I garden or I go for a brisk walk. There is something about moving that connects with the anxiety but as with the depression it will very much depend on just how receptive my mind/body is, for there are times when movement is not possible, when that fails I use alcohol. Now I’m not advocating that you resort to using alcohol without any boundaries and of course if you have other commitments then you definitely should not but for me when the anxiety is just too overwhelming then alcohol helps, it numbs, it soothes, the warm fuzziness takes over and for a while there is relief!

Distractions. For me it’s films, tv or a good book. Coming out of your head and absorbing yourself into something that requires little or no effort, the only thing you need to really think about is the content. Or get yourself out in nature, there is something so effortless about nature, it’s beauty a feast for the eyes. It has a way of grounding you. Thank you David for this piece of wisdom.

Music. Sing loud and sing proud! It doesn’t matter if you are tone deaf just open your mouth and sing along to whatever music lifts your spirits, for me it’s the sixties and if you can, dance. Dance like you’ve never danced before, there is something very freeing about movement and music.

Family and friends, if you can share your worries and fears, there is no greater gift than that of a listening ear or a gentle hug especially to those whom you trust. It’s not always that easy! As children if we are lucky we will have parents, aunties or uncles to offer comfort, as adults I’ve observed that we aren’t always good at supporting each other. Sometimes all you need is a gentle hug. Buy a teddy or hug a pillow if you have difficulty with the human touch. Mike is my teddy bear. Thank you Mike.

If I can help just one person with this blog, if one little nugget of wisdom can ease you through your day then I will have achieved my goal. 💝💖

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Withdraw, retreat!

This morning the tears have come to say hello. They’ve been around for a few days, making there presence felt with the pricking behind my eyes.

There’s an army inside my head, the army of thoughts that create such havoc as they take me to the battlefield. I tried to escape them, took my wee dog for a walk, pounded the pavement whilst the army pounded the inside of my head.

How do you measure your worth, what makes you feel valuable, like you matter in this world? How do you argue with a mind that’s telling you that you are of little importance in this world, when it’s backed up by those that you love both family and friends, not all of course but so very many.

The pain of not feeling like I was enough started with my mother in very early childhood. There is no blame here, no anger towards my mum, not anymore, counselling, years of it helped me with my feelings around my mum. I’m I guess mostly ambivalent towards her, it is a nice state really, sort of peaceful. I resigned myself to the feeling of not being important, not worth any sort of effort.

I’m all at sea though…today anyway. Grieving lost family, lost friendships. Struggling to understand why others are accepted for who they are, even though they’ve been really cruel, they’ve been forgiven. The phone calls are made, visits and efforts made to keep the contact. I am wondering why it is that I’ve accepted people for who they are, their strengths, their mistakes, their joys, their sadness, in short the whole person and yet that same gift is not reciprocal. I’m thinking about the efforts I’ve made and continue to make. I’m wondering about family, about friendships. I’m thinking, ‘What’s the point?’

I reached out, I shared my thoughts with my husband. I shed my tears and he gave me a hug and I thank god for this man who has shown true love, friendship and loyalty. I reached out to a friend, who reminded me to embrace the positives, to focus on the positives. I’ve heard her, it’s resonated and I thank this truly lovely lady.

If your reading this and you’re feeling sad, alone, all at sea. Then reach out, reach out and connect and please know dear friend that I too am here to listen, to hold your hand, to give you a hug.

Today though the army feels to big, to powerful. I shall retreat, withdraw, surrender to what is!

So, today I am sad, terribly sad.

The intruder!

Mr suicide, yes I’ve given him a gender, Mr suicide definitely feels like a male entity, he’s dark, powerful, moody and unpredictable!

I can’t recall my first suicide attempt, funny that, it’s not something you would think you’d forget is it? Strangely I can’t remember how many attempts I’ve made either. What I know is that when Mr Suicide decides to pay a visit it’s usually unannounced, no phone call to say ‘Hey are you free, thought I might pop in and say hello?’ No, he doesn’t work quite like that, well not in my case. The suicide attempts have been made during times of huge stress, unplanned, spontaneous and brought on by events that have quite literally knocked me off my feet!

The depression was insidious, it crept up like a black panther, stalking, circling, stealthily waiting to pounce. I was unaware of what was happening, I just remember feeling tired a lot. Days out with the family were becoming harder, where there was once joy all I felt was an overwhelming exhaustion! Work became harder too, starting off with the fatigue and ending with me feeling so totally out of place. I felt uneasy, like I was on a completely different planet, everything felt unfamiliar. It finally followed me home. I remember sitting listening to my daughter with her friends, they were all having a sleep over, a bunch of teenagers just hanging out, normally I would love the feeling of the house being filled with fun and laughter but I just felt so totally disconnected, like a stranger in my own home, like a stranger on the planet! It’s the loneliest feeling I’ve ever experienced and I hope I never have to go through it again!

I would in fact separate depression from suicide, which I know sounds odd. Depression I would say has saved my life on many occasions, as I write this I can see in my minds eye a look of confusion in you, the reader. My experience of depression is black, exhausting, there is no energy, the mind is saying, ‘Get up, move, c’mon move!’ My body though would not move, no matter how much cajoling or scolding or bribing, the weight was just too great! So although in my state of depression I might wish to be dead, the energy it would take to actually take my own life simply wasn’t there.

The depression was brought on by a series of life changing events, blow after blow, powerful gut wrenching, they just kept coming, it felt like I had just enough strength to pick myself up to recover a sense of equilibrium when wham the sickening thud of another boulder hurtling towards me and I hit the decks! Now in my middle thirties my marriage was in crisis, two children who, independently of each other, started their own struggle with life. Men who were in relationships with people I loved started behaving inappropriately, a move to a new home and I fell in love with my therapist. The catalyst though, the final straw, the event that brought my carefully constructed internal scaffolding crashing down was the loss of my job. Bullied by a teacher almost half my age, a teacher who had bullied the previous teaching assistant, a young lady whom I’d successfully worked with for a whole school year suddenly became unfriendly, uncommunicative and systematically dismantled the role that I had so enjoyed. Unable to find an answer I turned to the line manager. There were countless meetings along with the countless upsets. I stuck at it for around nine months trying desperately to find a solution. I’d had seven years of an unblemished record whilst the teacher had two years. I had worked successfully with my colleagues, the children and parents with no problems, the teacher on the other hand had managed to make two grown women very ill, using the power of her position to destroy their careers but of course we were just teaching assistants and clearly easier to replace. The feeling of impotence and injustice for me was the worst, I couldn’t ‘fix it,’ in fact the school paid for me not once but twice to go and see a private psychiatrist in order to get a diagnosis. He was brilliant, picking up the characteristic of taking the blame, the people pleaser working tirelessly to try and make amends. There was however nothing to be done and although the school found a different classroom for me to work in I never fully recovered. In the end I became so ill that I had to take time off. Occupational health were finally brought in to do an assessment. I remember a very kind lady sitting in my home telling me, “Rachel you need to give up work and concentrate on your health.” That was it, that was the end of my career as a nursery nurse/teaching assistant, the end of me being able to work in a nine to five job! That was the start and that was twenty two years ago.

Suicide on the other hand requires action, it needs energy, like a lightning bolt, it strikes with such force, such power, no thought processing going on. It’s completely reactive. Agony it’s an agony and a panic that creates the belief that death is infinitely the better option! I realise as I’m writing this that what actually happens is that a situation occurs that pushes me into a crisis, that my body goes into the flight, fight mode but oddly enough it’s not looking to survive! Suicide also is completely disassociated with who or what you’ve got in your life, completely disconnected from love, success, good health, popularity or wealth! Your mind is sick, terribly terribly sick, the unwanted intruder makes his presence felt. He taunts, provokes, robs you of clear thinking, he denigrates, bullies, he’s persistent an ever pervasive dark entity and he sits in your head, he’s so very patient and he’s waiting for the next ‘crisis!’

Repair or make do?

Repair or make do? Now there’s a question. Making do I guess is fine if your life’s journey is smooth but what about ambition? Is ambition a good thing do you think, this striving for goals, the posts being moved every time you blast a ball into the net? Surely this thing called ambition, if the former is your reality, then becomes a treadmill?

Making do, it’s easier I think, accept your lot, take pleasure in the comfort of knowing that what you have is enough. My dad was accepting, or at least that’s my perception of him. I wonder if he was happy? He seemed content. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of his book and just be content. Ah, see that struck a chord, I’ve felt contentment, it’s a lovely feeling, like floating on a cloud, the million little ants of anxiety sent to sleep and I can bask in the glorious feeling of still waters, of utter calm, the tranquility, the peace, such a truly beautiful sensation.

Repairing, it’s the opposite feeling, for me anyway. Such effort, such activity! Those pesky ants making their presence felt. Repairing propels you forward and suddenly the goal posts are there, the empty net sitting waiting to catch that ball of energy. Gosh this thing called ambition though, the very word makes me feel exhausted! This world we live in, although, it’s not the world but the society, the culture of striving! It seems for most of us it’s not even striving to buy the latest possession but more the need for survival, to pay the rent or put food on the table! The unnerving sensation that nothing is safe, no stability! You need money to create stability, not just money of course but there’s no doubt that money certainly helps.

We can’t just be can we? The moment you are born the competition starts ambitions are born along with that little human. The ambitions don’t yet belong to that newly born, not yet! The ambitions belong to the parents but whose placed that ambition, whose put it there and is it welcome? Has it come from you or from outsiders…’Is little Freddie feeding himself yet, is he walking, is he ready for pre-school? You can’t just be the proud mummy holding her wee tot, love filling every ounce of your being, tending and caring. Little Freddie not yet born and you’re having to think about whether you should go back to work, having to think about child care! I get that for some going back to work would be of great importance, for me though, there is nothing more precious than spending time with your child, of being a family, of creating a home! As I write this I’m thinking this could be an ambition but the culture we live in doesn’t recognise the value of family life. Do you think?

Repair? Make do? Ambition? Just be? Which one floats your boat?

The dark side.

Today I am sharing what it feels like to live with depression.

I’m caught in the grasp of a deep depressive episode, seven days now! I knew it would come. Reactive depression it’s called brought on by the events of two weeks ago. It’s dark and terribly lonely. I feel like Darth Vader or that man in The Iron Mask! The world has turned grey it’s lost all its colour! I just want to sleep, to sleep my life away to take a pill and just drift away. Life is hard, really hard when the darkness comes to visit. It’s a feeling like no other, no energy, no joy, just dread, I open my eyes and deep dark dread, a sticky black tar that sits in my body, a weight that pushes me down. I am heavy, too heavy! I have felt worse, I know I have, I’m reminding myself as I lay on my bed with the sun streaming through my window. I’m remembering days when I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t shower, no food consumed. Yesterday I went to the job centre (I did at least manage to do that) to fill out the forms to claim benefits, fighting to hold onto the tears that were threatening to spill out. The chap was a kind man, I even managed a laugh whilst inside I was drowning. I feel shame, dreadful humiliating shame at the fact that I’m now unemployed! The effort it took, it was exhausting! Hubby was there, god what a support he is, his kind words of wisdom as he spoke. I kept hearing the chaps voice telling me how lucky I was to have such a husband and I am indeed very lucky but oh how vulnerable I feel. Money or not earning is for me huge, I want to say if I can’t work, if I become a burden then why can’t you give me a pill to end it all? I don’t want to live off the state, don’t want to have to rely on the generosity of another….I’d rather be dead!

Today I took my dog for a walk, the tears hiding behind my eyes, thank goodness for dark glasses and then as I approached my home hubby there with arms outstretched, a welcomed hug. I made a card too, at least I’ve done that! Sleep is what I crave, to go under the duvet, to close my eyes and drift off! It scares me this feeling for it feels like it will go on forever. When I’m like this nighttime becomes my friend, I welcome the dark that comforts and soothes along with the brandy that numbs the anxiety, the feeling of a million tiny ants crawling inside my tummy calmed with a nice wee tot. Oh I’ve listened to the doctors and psychiatrists too…’Do you drink Rachel? You know it acts as a depressant!’ I’m not stupid though, for I know when it’s useful, I know too that the drugs won’t help, well not unless it’s a diazepam!

So to all you fellow sufferers, who might be reading this. You are not alone! And tomorrow might just be the day when the darkness lifts.

Mary Poppins bag.

My mind feels like Mary Poppins bag, the amount of stuff in there, it seems endless! Thought after thought being pulled from what feels like the wreckage of life. well actually pulled is the wrong word, I’m not doing any pulling they are positively flowing, gushing like water from a broken pipe, it feels like my mind is broken as I try and fathom what’s going on in there.

I’m teary today and have been since returning home from the holiday from hell! I thought it was a gift from the universe, ‘Here you are Rachel, you’ve earned this.’ Ten days in the sun with a man whom I have much love for and two carers whom I really liked, what’s not to like? I knew of course that ‘ The man’ would be challenging to be with but felt unperturbed as I was for the first time in eleven years going as a friend and not in the role of ‘carer.’ It went horribly wrong, my worst ever holiday and I’ve had a few over the years that have been pretty bad!

Whilst mowing my lawn this morning I look up to the universe and say, ‘Cheers for that, I thought you were giving me a gift…yeah…thanks!’ Sarcasm in full flow. I sat with the thoughts feeling very negative when suddenly the gift manifested. You see the universe works in mysterious ways and this negative dark road that I was travelling was suddenly lit up with the light bulb moment because the universe is showing me very very clearly that this relationship that was so full of hope, so full of joy and of positivity has turned into something quite unsavoury. The universe is saying, ‘Wake up!’ I have been living in this relationship for a good few years on the ‘happy memories’ but there are no more new happy memories being made.

It’s a bit like when you make an investment, you start off getting a good return on your money but then the investment suddenly stops paying the dividends. You wouldn’t think twice about cutting a bad deal would you? This leads me to the wonderment of why I’m finding it hard to cut ties with a relationship that has turned so unsavoury, the dividends dwindling year on year, of course love is the major factor because when a relationship dies the love doesn’t, well not for me anyway. Love, it’s probably the most powerful force in the universe, no wonder I’m struggling then! The universe is sending me a very strong message though and that too is a powerful force. It’s telling me, showing me through my mental health that all is not well and that it’s time to face the music!

And so I sit, in a sea of pain of what is to come, of recognising that a chapter in this book of life is coming to an end but I’m not ready for it, I don’t feel ready, hence the battle, the pain! I’m not good at letting go of the people I love, to those that hold such significance in my life, however much pain there is. But when your life becomes more painful with that loved one in it than when they are absent, well, it’s time to act isn’t it?

My dad the teacher of Love

One of the most powerful forces in life is love, it can make your heart soar or take you to the depths of despair and when it goes horribly wrong it can cause pain like no other. I have been blessed, for I have felt loved and loved deeply.

As I cast my memory back my first real experience of love was with my dad. He was the epitome of love, kind, soft, gentle, a quiet man, a man of few words and yet such a powerful force, for love oozed out of him, you could feel the love even though no hug was being given, no words being spoken, his eyes were full of the kind of love that wrapped you up. When my dad looked at me with his loving eyes it was like being wrapped in a duvet, or being given a hot chocolate. Sitting in that love was a place of safety, I felt safe, like sitting under the rays of a gentle sun. I was just twenty when my dad died, I felt robbed, cheated, for I never got to know him, the man that he was, the life that he had, the stories to be told were left unsaid. It’s like finding a book with a beautiful cover, excitement filling you as you look at the gold leaf words that cast a soft warm glow filling your eyes and bringing such delight, fingers trembling as you feel the texture and weight of the book, anticipation fills you as you lift that beautiful cover only to find the pages inside are blank! The introductory is there, no doubt in my mind of the importance of that, my belief being that all that is good in me started with that introduction, my dad set the bar of love and kindness and I will be forever in his debt for his teaching. The heart never really recovers from the loss of that kind of love, the wound too deep, the scar too big. The darkness of grief has struck and life will never quite be the same.