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Neuroplasticity

I read Ruby Wax’s ‘Sane New World’ recently.  On television she unnerves me, but I’ve always found  her writing on depression to be heart-crunchingly direct and sort-of-painful to read.  Which is the only way to write about it, isn’t it?

In order to write this book  she developed expert scholarly knowledge of the brain.  She then set about explaining all sorts of complicated stuff in ways that made it seem simple.  Phew.

My interpretation of some of this stuff is extremely basic; the more we do a thing the better we become at it.  Ergo, depression makes us good at being depressed.  You practise playing the piano to become a better pianist, the only difference with depression is that we’re not choosing to play, depression is playing us.   There’s a bind.

Neuroplasticity means that we can make physical changes to the brain (Ha, think happy thoughts and you can fly! )  If we can make an intervention in our brains and pause one depressive thought whilst we evaluate its’ actual truth we can find ourselves getting better at not-being-depressed.  Knowing that is the simple bit of course, doing it is another thing altogether.  I like this little ray of hope though.  That’s where the Mindfulness part comes into play in ‘Sane New World’ but call it whatever you like there are plenty of methods of dealing with our ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) if we can be in a good enough place to make a start.

Years ago I had sessions with a therapist who pointed out to me (ouch) various coping strategies I employed when discussing anything emotional.   Mostly by responding to my hilarious little asides by not laughing and saying something like ‘I just want to point out to you something I’ve noticed…you’re making a *crack about (whatever) when we are talking about (whatever)… why do you think you’re doing that?’  He didn’t label it, he just did it.   *hilarious and sophisticated comment

Aaargh.  I hated that.  But he was right.  And now I have a tiny Jiminy Cricket- esque echo of his voice whenever I’m about to derail a serious & uncomfortable conversation or situation.  It doesn’t always stop me, but I know I do it and so it’s less automatic.   It also happens when I begin to have catastrophic thoughts ‘It’s the end of everything, I have forgotten to do something at work  and I will lose my job…then my home…then I will be cast out by society and have to live on a leper colony and the lepers will ignore me because I don’t have leprosy…waaah.’ Jiminy Cricket Pause.  Check the facts.  For example – Do leper colonies even exist now?

Again, I can’t say it always works, this time last year I was floored by a depression that has really only just lifted.  But I will say that it maybe wasn’t as dark  as it could have been.  It has worked best for me in dealing with anxiety rather than depression.

Some people use the ‘grateful thoughts’ technique  to train their brains Neuroplasticity-style.  Or there’s good old CBT for ANTs

One side-effect of all of these methods though is that I sometimes find myself staring off into space or tuning out whilst I do a brain intervention.  This probably looks pretty weird.  But I am pretty weird, so it’s ok.

Peace x

May Challenge – Up close and personal (within the bounds of decency of course).

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May hasn’t been good so far, that’s why I’ve been rather quiet.  I tend to go off radar when I’m feeling grim – they say you should avoid talking politics and religion at dinner;  despair and a pervading sense of pointlessness are similarly party-wrecking topics …

“Anyone care to join me in a slice of existential dread?” 

“Er, I think I’ll stick with the stuffed peppers thanks”

“Sure?  Can I interest you perhaps in a breadstick of doom?  No?  An olive of despair maybe?  I can fully recommend the…I see, leaving already?  You haven’t finished your…Oh”  *sighs*

Of course none of the above applies if you are dining with  Kafka et al, or  Ingmar Bergman or indeed any of the Romantic poets.  The problem in such circumstances would be getting a word in about your own miserablist issues.  Fun times, eh?

Anyway, I believe this current little shiver of dread began as a result of feeling ill and (since feeling under the weather seems to mimic some of the symptoms of depression) has grown from there.  I also suspect that feeling so unwell is linked to my medication – I’m steadily accruing a list of pills for things like insomnia, dizziness, nausea, headaches… basically I feel sort of vertiginous all the time.  Whine, complain, moan.   Either that or I have a particularly determined strain of flu that makes you sick if you watch anything spin/dart/dip.

But, moving along, this ( finally) leads me on to May’s challenge.  It’s time to stop for a moment and do a bit of a review – how do the side effects of my meds balance against their benefits?  How often does my mood change currently?  What impact has therapy had overall?  Have the life-changes I have made really been the right ones?  And, you know, other stuff like that.  I’m not suggesting that ditching medication and opting for acupuncture (which I would actually recommend, but not strictly for dealing with bipolar) is the way forward, but it might be smart at this juncture to work out…well, what’s working.

I started by using a little tool I found at https://www.beatingbipolar.org/   Now it’s hideously cheesy (with some appalling acting, just awful) and partnered with a number of companies which might suggest a certain interest in promoting a pharmaceutical diet  (GSK etc.) but there are a few useful things to be accessed if you can deal with all that, including a life-map to help you work out any events which might have triggered episodes and look at any potential patterns.

To offset any bias you might encounter you could also read BadPharma which is an enlightening, and frankly scary, look at the pharmaceutical world.  The title gives it away I guess.

So then…May means a bit of a BPAD review.  This means I’m probably going to whine a bit, I’ll try to keep that on the low down though and share anything that might be useful.

First however, I’d like to briefly moan about insomnia – It’s wrecking me.  But that’s all I have to say on the matter.

Peace x

Comfort zone? What comfort zone?

I’ll begin with a confession – I only managed two gym sessions last week.  But I have reasons which are in-keeping with the spirit of this breaking B.A.D endevour…I have been chipping away at the old routine.  Wild eh.

My trip to London last weekend may have been a lazy one, but it still involved getting to stations and travelling on trains and even negotiating the underground (erk).  Now my friend in the big smoke is one of my favourite people in the world, but sometimes I just can’t do all of the above.  During periods of intense gloom I expend all my energy on the must-be-done stuff and then get stuck in a working/sleeping rut that is hard to shake off, even when the gloom begins to clear.   So not only was it brilliant to see her, my trip also felt like confirmation that the depression has really & truly lifted.

I was quite tired on my return, but surprised myself anyway by venturing out on a school night (another train!) to deliver my partner-in-crime some TLC and his suit; abandoned in my wardrobe since a wedding last year and required for his nan’s funeral (he scrubs up well, she’d have been proud).  This was hardly a mountain-climb of a mission…but staying out on a school-night means smashing the work/sleep routine which has only just begun to be cracked with interludes at the gym, writing this stuff here and having cups of tea at the dining table with my daughter.

Following this crazy diversion from the usual, at the end of the week I joined some lovely work-people on a dinner n’ karaoke night out.  I haven’t been to a work thing for a couple of years, so y’know, it was new.  Plus I’m scared of karaoke.  I love singing, I used to teach it, I’ve been in the quietest band ever (last gig, 2013 🙂  ) for years – despite all this I’m still scared of karaoke.  But I’d forgotten how much I love a good sing.  I’d forgotten how easy it is to care less about sounding like an angry cat with access to reverb once you’ve got hold of a microphone.  Ha! And I’d forgotten how nice it is to just hang out and be silly.   I have to psyche myself up for such things you see, I get a bit be-stranged when I’ve been hibernating for too long but it’s likely I think I’m more odd than I actually am.  Most of the time mildly eccentric probably covers it.  Most of the time.

The Platypus, one of nature's little oddities.

Darwin The Platypus, one of nature’s little oddities.

Anyway, I enjoyed myself.  Hopefully not at the expense of anybody’s hearing.

Finally, to round off the week, I managed to get involved with St Valentine’s day in a candles and dinner sort of way ( although if saints were my thing I’d be much more about St Jude…).  Even though I hate the generic tat attached to Februsary 14th it can only be good for a rubbish romantic like me to get a bit of a nudge from the calender as a reminder to do something nice…Aw  *vomits sparkly heart decorations*

So.  Yes. These are the things I did last week which didn’t involves being at the gym.  And they’re all to the good.  Hooray.  But I am going to meet my 3 sessions this week.  Even though Ben & Jerry’s is no longer on special offer, thus quashing my appetite for ice-cream, I still really need the exercise.  Just as soon as my gym socks dry.  Once I’ve washed them.  They’re all the way upstairs.  I’ll probably need a cup of tea before I bring them down.

Peace x

Lest ye be judged. Crumbs it’s gone all serious. Sort of.

“I'm afraid I can't explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”  ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

“I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

I don’t know much about ex-footballer Clarke Carlisle or actor Ralf Little but both came to my attention this week after a tweet by Mr Little caused  tw-outrage, coming as it did off the back of Mr Carlisle’s release from hospital following a suicide attempt.

ralftweet

A reference, I imagine, to Carlisle’s impending court date for failing to provide a sample when stopped on suspicion of drink driving. The two have some history having once been housemates, which at least gives context to Little’s position.  But the whole uncomfortable saga resonated with me, and I am going to burble a bit about it now.  You have been warned

One of my closest friends described knowing me in my teens and twenties as like watching a train derail over and over again.  This friend’s  reaction to the breakdown which saw me begin to seek help was less than compassionate.  I was in poor shape and bewildered to be, frankly, kicked when I was the down-est I have ever been. I understood the lack of empathy in part – being a bystander to perpetual disaster had finally proved too much.  Fair enough.  The part that hurt though was the insinuation that they felt they were expected to, and would therefore absolutely not, excuse my bizarre behaviour, a kind of  So you’re ill now are you?  And that means we have to forgive all of your f*** ups  and feel sorry for you?  

As if I’d been in touch saying come and have a beer to celebrate my mental illness – it’s a moral Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card!  Everyone’s memories will be wiped and my sins forgiven! Woohoo!  rather than to apologise for being a rubbish friend.

To me it was simple – illness explained my behaviour, but it didn’t make it all ok.  

And so, reading Ralf Little’s snipe at Clarke Carlisle,  I recognised the tone Woah!  You feel sorry for this guy?  I could tell you a thing or two….

Wow.

The trouble is, you have to be aware what depression and other mental illness do to a person to afford them a level of understanding.

Depression makes you not care.  About anything.  Not in an I’ll do what I want and damn the consequences kind of way  because consequences are things that happen in the future.  Depression takes the future away.  You can’t see beyond the moment you’re trapped in.

I think that throwing yourself in front of a lorry is probably one of the purest examples of that.

It’s hard for some people to understand that there’s illness at play.  What other illnesses have deliberately stepping into moving traffic as a symptom?   Never mind the whole mess of self-medication and co-morbidity (or rather, dual diagnosis) which seems to be a factor in Carlisle’s case.

The way I see it, the best you can hope for is that people will understand that there is a difference between your choices & behaviour during an episode of illness and your choices & behaviour when you are well.  If they understand that then they can at least accept that you are not quite yourself when they arrive home to find you have not moved in 10 hours or, flipside, have thrown away all the living room furniture because…reasons.

Because when you wander downstairs of a morning and wonder what sort of f***wit could have binned all the chairs … and then remember it was you, well you want people to know that you, yourself, normally, are not a furniture- hating- monster.  Y’know.

Of course that’s easier when you 1) know people really well 2) don’t have the type of disorder which has you in a chronically, or even permanently, altered state.  And if you’ve only ever met me when I was in bouncing around like Tigger or monosyllabic & Eeyore-miserable then I’d like you to know that I’m one of the good guys really.  Well mostly.  I try.

Anyway, I forgave my former close-friend a long time back.  I think that she has forgiven me some stuff too.   We’re in touch a little, because neither of us is the same person we were ten years ago.  Which brings me round to Clarke Carlisle’s response to Ralf Little.

Explaining the reason for your behaviour does not automatically equate to making excuses for it. Speaking out about what you did because you were depressed is not the same as saying I was depressed so what I did is ok and Clarke Carlisle has been speaking out for some time, proving that mental illness can affect anyone.

So yeah.  All that.

Anyway I will try to keep the monologues to a minimum, it’s just that I would really have struggled to write this many words about my gym visit yesterday.

I went.

It was sticky.

I listened to Eminem.

I am not an olympian yet.

Peace x

Final Thoughts on the January Challenge – I am a zen master and a teller of cheeky lies (only one of these statements is true)

Ok, I’m not a zen master, it’s only been a couple of weeks, but I do feel a little more calm and collected.  Here are my five best and worst discoveries, realisations and cogitations from Challenge 1 – a meander through meditation and mindfulness

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First is Best

  1. I have remembered that am not a brain in a jar.  Forgive the cheesiness of the forthcoming statement – I feel more in touch with my physical self.  Although not enough to have stopped walking into door frames and table edges, my spatial awareness still does not seem to extend to registering  where  my shoulders and knees end and other objects begin.

    My brain.  The Platypus situation needs some explanation.  Another time I promise.

    My brain. The Platypus situation needs some explanation. Another time I promise.

  2. I have learned that there are loads of meditation techniques out there.  Since my natural cynicism is generally outweighed by my curiosity (the kind that did for the cat)  I’ve tried to reserve judgement until I’ve learned a bit more/tried it out.  There have of course been times when I should have listened to my inner cynic, but y’know,  it’s been a learning curve.
  3. It is wonderful to not think about anything, even if I’ve only managed it for about ten seconds of a day.  I can’t think of a time before now when my brain has shut-the-*@£!-up.  Even when it’s all mushy and miserable it likes to go on about it.  A bit of not-thinking is bliss and worth the surprising amount of effort.
  4. I have noticed little and lovely things more, although I stopped to photograph a spotlight of sunshine falling across some grass the other day and decided that it was possible to take things too far.  Plus I am a pretty terrible photographer.

    A step too far?

    A step too far?

  5. This blog has got me writing and doodling again.  And I have been inspired, informed and entertained by other blogs, articles and essays along the way.  Long may that continue.

Worst

  1. My boss is never going to think that stopping to be in the moment is a valid reason for being late to work.  No matter how lovely the birdsong/ river sparkle or angle of sunlight I have been enjoying.
  2. Mindfulness is a discipline really, and that takes work.  Which is fine, it’s just a bit tougher than I realised.
  3. It can be hard to stay awake during some of the exercises.  You’re supposed to stay awake to benefit.  Sigh.
  4. I have an aversion to pipe-music.  Just sayin’.
  5. There are individuals and organisations out there offering theories, resources and services that involve parting with a lot of money.  And  they are targeting a demographic (ie. me) that is often vulnerable to promises of psychological relief. Maybe some of these truly are brilliant and life changing (I admit, I didn’t spend any hard cash finding outbecause I am a cynical, wallet full-of-moths creature)  and I am horribly wrong.  But in my humble opinion there’s a world of difference between spending a bit of cash on an App, CD (they still make them you know) DVD or book that will teach you something and signing up to an expensive course that promises to make you a wealthy and healthy zen master if you invest in various talismans along the way.  Unless you’re loaded, in which case…well, have a go and let me know.

To conclude: I’m going to try to continue investing a little time in mindfulness and other forms of meditation.  Even the guided sort involving tinkly bells and waterfall sounds in the background.  I think I’ve discovered a few things to store away for the dark days too – if I can be bothered to remember.  Depression makes you forget to be bothered to remember things doesn’t it?  Like how to get dressed or form sentences.

layering

But, like I seem to keep saying, I am going to try.

Namaste.

A not so brief aside – and why February will be a workout

I’d just stepped out of the shower when I heard one of those sorry-you-were-out -enjoy-your-lengthy-trek-to-collect-your-parcel cards slide through the letterbox.  That’s why, when the mental-health-assessment lady arrived for our appointment, I was running after the postman in a towel.

After apologising to the postman and my visitor, I threw on some clothes and then listened as she, somewhat apologetically, explained the reason for our meeting.  Restructuring in the local MH services meant that all outpatients were being re-assessed and that meant that, since I was well, I would no longer be automatically seen by a consultant but referred back to my GP and assigned to a care cluster.

And on a beautifully sunny April day, bouncing right back up from a wintery depression, that seemed perfectly reasonable. Besides I’d only seen a psychiatrist a handful of times and one of them had almost nodded off mid-appointment.   I suppose when you work with inpatients in crisis I’m a very dull prospect…

…but the trouble is I’m working half the hours I should due to regular episodes so I’m financially screwed.  I’ve given up any propect of career progression for the forseeable future.   Each episode leaves me on the back foot in every corner of my life, and the bleakness of a crash, especially when it follows a high, is unbearably grim.    I’m reasonably good at hanging in there through those times because I know that they have to pass eventually. But the moments of desperation are as frightening as ever, even after 20 years.

And, as if irked by my Spring optimism, the Summer brought with it a protracted slide into miserablism which lasted until December was well underway.

So I’ll soon be sitting in front of another yawning consultant, after a long and winding road of GP visits and re-referrals, to review my medication, which is so far failing to adequately squash my depression.

Ironically I’m well now, and as always I’m rather excited to be alive.   And I’m grateful.  And, at the same time, ashamed because I know that there are people battling awful things and staying upright whereas I periodically crumble, seemingly for no reason.

So I have to keep trying.  Meditation won’t fix me, nor the next thing, but it at least makes me feel that I am doing something.  Not to mention the fact that I’ve made some interesting – and weird- discoveries so far 🙂 which might keep me occupied should the black dog return.  And if I hit a spike I’ll have a whole raft of ideas to obsess over and then abandon.

With new meds on the horizon I have a nasty feeling that February is going to mean a gym challenge.  Plus a reduction in my ice-cream intake.  Man I love ice-cream.

*It hasn’t surpassed my notice that this whole post could easily have been nailed in just that last paragraph.  Oh well.  Why use 50 words when 500 will do.

Here’s to not giving in.  Mostly.

Peace.

Learning to be less easily distracte…ooh look, pretty lights…

Being distracted by a good cause- Letters Against Depression

My 10 minutes meditation was lovely this morning, it felt relatively easy to tune out, although I hadn’t had much sleep so that might have helped.   See, upon finding myself sleepless last night I chose not to listen to a guided meditation or hypnosis track (why go for something that’s proven to work?)  instead I thought I’d go retro & deal with my dash of insomnia by reading a book and doing a bit of investigation into possibilities for February’s challenge (so much for living in the moment).

So, whilst yawning my way around the early-morning internet I remembered a conversation with my partner-in-crime about blue light and how it can mess with your circadian rhythm (and who wants their circadian rhythm messed with?).  Anyway, he was showing off the blue-light-filter on his phone so I decided I needed a blue-light filter too – obviously that’s not the only reason I wanted one, y’know there’s all those mental health reasons and stuff (ok, it was a key factor.  I am essentially a massive child).

Being a bit more low tech I had to find some software compatible with my ancient laptop.  After a brief search I stumbled into f.lux and it is now giving my screen a pretty pinkish glow. Which is, er, really exciting for me.

Still awake, I then turned to twitter to find out if there was anything I needed to be outraged about.  In the process I wandered across a tweet about  lettersagainstdepression.com and was curious enough to check it out.   It’s a very simple idea –  you are sent a list of people who have requested a letter and you write them a little note.   The main message being you are not alone.  All of the details are on the website.  I’m putting pen to paper when I get a few spare moments but I’m finding it tricky to work out what to say.  It’s so easy to be trite.  This got me to thinking – if I struggle to know what to say to someone who is depressed, being a depression-veteran and all, it’s little wonder that people who’ve never experienced it regularly bumble about also not knowing what to say, or saying all the wrong stuff.  Hmm. I might become more tolerant and accepting of such things.  But I’m not making any promises.

Anyway, the upshot of this whole post is that, thoroughly distracted by all of the above in spite of my best meditative efforts, I am no closer to deciding what February’s challenge should be.

And I still haven’t done any  yoga.

I had a stretch this morning, does that count?