Monday, 30 May 2011

When your best just isn't good enough...

Just another rainy day...

Sometimes you can do everything you’re supposed to do, but it still doesn’t work out.

Maybe it’s the weather – a typically British rainy bank holiday, or maybe it’s being overly tired. Or maybe it’s a memory hidden away, or a regret that’s too late to fix. But whatever the reason, some days it’s hard to pick yourself up – the CBT tools are harder to remember/implement, the medication seems to be not quite compensating for the probable chemical imbalance, and you're on your own.

This is me today, and it got me thinking about how this translates to the ‘bigger picture’ of life.

I’m reading a book at the moment and it’s making me sad, so I’ll probably not finish it. It’s a non-fiction book about relationships and the author has been talking about all the things a woman ‘should’ look for in a man, things like being trustworthy, faithful, safe to talk to, caring and respectful. I found myself thinking, “I’ve done all that, and still ended up alone.”

I’m not saying I’m perfect, because no-one is. I just mean that I feel as though I did everything I could, and it wasn’t enough. (Clearly I’m not as ‘ok’ with being single as I sometimes make out…it’s no secret that relationships are a major trigger for me with Depression, so perhaps that’s my excuse for a pre-occupation with the subject!)

It can be true of work as well – a person can produce excellent work, be punctual, do everything they’re asked and more, but still lose their job if the company hits hard times. Doing everything ‘right’ doesn’t guarantee success. It’s a worry for me in my quest to be a writer too – I can study the right courses, make the right career choices, work hard to be creative, original, or engaging, but I could still fail.

I’m trying to make this blog positive but not at the expense of reality, and the above is very ‘real’. The positive is less obvious, but I think it can be found within the fact it’s better to try, and maybe succeed, than to definitely fail by giving up.

And, with relationships, well, I wonder: if I/you really were all those wonderful things, then whose loss is it really that the relationship ended?

But anyway, as so often seems to be the case, perhaps the wisest words today come in song-form:

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Putting it all to the test

Bad news isn't necessarily wholly bad, that’s the bottom line of this post!  (Well, ok, it’s not, for those of a literal mind!)

Last Friday I had my final session of CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), having impressed both my therapist and myself with the progress I’d made in the last four months or so.  And, almost immediately, I’ve been thrown an opportunity to put my new ‘skills’ to the test.

I received some bad news at the end of last week and the days since then have been something of a challenge.  But I’ve taken a certain degree of satisfaction in being able to deal with it far better than I might have done last year.

I decided that the situation – and I guess this is true of many situations – is what it is. I can’t do anything to change what has happened or what is happening, the only thing I can change is how I respond to it.

Instead of panicking, throwing in the towel and imagining my world was ending (which has nothing to do with Harold Camping!), I chose to sit down and consider all the options I now have available to me.  Panicking and giving up was never going to solve anything; considering my options a) focussed my mind, thus keeping me calmer and b) showed me that the situation wasn’t necessarily as bleak as I could’ve imagined given the chance.

I found I had several solutions I could then work on, helping me feel like I was doing something about the situation.  Pretty satisfying when you consider I believed I couldn’t do anything about said situation!

Of course, I’m still somewhat stressed about it, and now have yet more things on my task list, so I have to work hard to keep my emotions under control.  But that’s alright; it’s nice to know I’m not completely numb to ‘pain’ – something I’d been worrying about prior to this week, with being on anti-depressants.

So, I make that at least two positives from my ‘bad news’.  Bring it on, Life, what else have you got for me?!

(Now excuse me while I go hide behind the sofa…)

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Ordnance Survey for life

Sometimes I like to think about how I got to where I am in life.  It’s an interesting exercise, and one that I feel can help in planning a future direction.

There are a million different ways things could have turned out but, because of a specific set of choices, I ended up…here.  I find it fascinating.

Updating a CV is an interesting exercise, because it puts on paper the path you’ve taken career-wise until now. Looking at mine, I can clearly see how I progressed from one job to another, each time discovering things I wanted to do and things I didn’t, shedding some of the ‘unwanted’ and gaining more of the ‘wanted’ with each new job.

Eventually, I’ve arrived at a place where I have a clearer understanding of the career I want.  But it’s only in hindsight I can see the path – back when I was 20 or 25, I had no idea what I wanted to do and it was only through experience I found out.  I guess this goes back to my post, Caught up in the moment, and the idea of trying stuff until you find what you want to do.

Looking back in this way helps me remember that not everything happens overnight, which relieves some of the stress and urgency.  It can be frustrating not being where you want to be – I may want to be a writer, but some days I feel a long way from being one.  And I might well be!  But I’m on the right road.  So, whilst I might not be a published author today, I can still rest in the knowledge that I’m making progress this week, this month, this year.  And in ten years’ time, who knows?  Maybe I’ll be able to look back on the path and see the progress I was making.

I think we can apply this to all sorts of areas in life, not just work.  Want a relationship?  Meeting people is a sure way of making progress towards it – even people of the same sex have family and friends you might meet!  You never know who might turn up at that next birthday party…  Want to live in a mansion?  Maybe start with a small house and progressively up-size over the years…!  (Ok, so we’ve established you shouldn’t employ me for my real estate savvy!)

Of course, sometimes things happen just by happy chance.  I didn’t move to Leamington for its social scene or music life, but I’ve stumbled upon what seems to be a unique little oasis of cool musical events.  I couldn’t have planned for that, I probably couldn’t have even researched and found out about it.  I just so happened to land in this town.  Call it luck, fate, chance – whatever.  Personally, I think things happen for a reason, and it’s nice to see such ‘reason’.  But I can’t plan for things like that.

So I guess I’m left with thinking about where I’ve come from, being mindful of where I am, and remembering that the journey isn’t over.  The things I’m doing now are all on the map of this thing we call ‘life’.

And, if I keep making twee statements like that, one of these days I might apply to Hallmark…

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Being single

For only the second time in my life, I am genuinely enjoying a period of singleness and I’ve been reflecting on, firstly, why I’m enjoying it and, secondly, why I haven’t liked it before.

I think the key is that I now recognise the positives of being single, of which there are many!  I guess the main one is obvious: I can do as I please.  Not in a selfish way, or at least not in a hurtful selfish way, I just mean that I can spend my time, money and space on things I enjoy without having to worry about whether a partner enjoys/likes/wants it.

For example, I am getting a giant poster of a DeLorean car to go on my living room wall.  Find me a lady who’d be willing to allow this in our front room and I may well choose to marry her tomorrow.

My weekends and evenings are free for me to use for my own projects – I can work on writing, or my university coursework, or music or…anything.  I can, if I choose, spend an afternoon racing virtual Formula One cars around the world’s race tracks on my computer.  Or I can take a book to a coffee shop and read it, undisturbed, for as long as I choose.  I can go out, meet friends, male and female, and enjoy the time and the company without having to worry about making a partner jealous or whether they’re having a good time.  In many ways, life is just a whole lot simpler.

Of course, it’s sometimes less than enjoyable coming home alone and we all suffer from loneliness at times I guess.  But, I find that loneliness usually passes by the morning; my experience of relationships is that they can cause heartache which can last for months, even years.

But does it have to be like this?  I’m finally beginning to think not!

I’ve discovered that, whilst I used to believe I was (more) sad when I was single and (more) happy in a relationship, I am actually capable of being either, whether single or not.  It sounds obvious, but it wasn’t for me.

Now, I’ve started to carve out far more time for the things I enjoy – some I’ve listed above – that, if I were to find another girlfriend, I would still want to make time to do.  Because if I stop doing them, I’ll end up sad, even though I have a relationship which was supposed to make me happy.  If that happens, the ensuing inevitable break-up will undoubtedly make me far unhappier than I’d ever been previously, and the vicious circle goes on.

So it isn’t about avoiding a relationship to avoid a broken heart, to stay happy, it’s about becoming a ‘healthier’ human being in general, able to enjoy life with or without a girlfriend.

I used to think that it might not be fair to ask a girl to deal with my Depression – living with it is hard, for anyone.  But, actually, it’s beginning to look/feel as though I have a firmer grip on the condition myself, and so she wouldn’t have to deal with it, at least not as much.  By identifying the triggers, and the things that can stop me getting to such a low point, any prospective partner will have an easier time…

But she’s still going to have to deal with large, time machine-based d├ęcor.  Fact.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Genius is akin to madness.

I discovered a list last year, courtesy of my friend Jo Swinney, of famous creative people who suffered with Depression.  The list can be found here.

It’s funny how so many of the world’s greatest thinkers and artists suffered with Depression.  What is this link?  Why does the old adage in this post’s title so often prove to be true?

I’m not claiming to be a genius by the way (well, alright, maybe I am a little…), it just seems that my ‘madness’, Depression, is intrinsically linked to my creativity.  I do feel able to create things which can emotionally move others – songs, poems and stories, and I think much of this ability comes because I tend to feel things very strongly.  I’ve also spent a long time dwelling on my emotions – particularly the negative ones – and so developed ways of describing the feelings.  Is this why I’m able to put them into writing more easily than others?

We can all relate to broken hearts, loneliness or perhaps even despair – we’ve all heard songs that we felt could have been written specifically for us at a difficult time, so apt is their presentation of the feelings involved.  I remember the song, ‘Fix You’, by Coldplay, seemed to follow me around everywhere I went during one particularly low time after a break-up!  It’s still one of my favourite songs.

I wonder if it is Depression which allows me to feel emotions strongly enough to be able to articulate them more eloquently.  But why ‘art’?  I could just as easily have written a very dry, prosaic treatise on the emotions involved in being depressed, why do I, and other creative/depressive types, seem so readily turn to music, or poetry, or other art forms?  I don’t have an answer…

Or perhaps it just depends on the particular person, for example, Einstein, who appears in the list, wasn’t an artist as such.  I wonder whether people who suffer with depression are simply deeper thinkers – we spend more time, perhaps, sitting on our own, chewing things over, trying to explain the whys of life, the universe and everything, which Douglas Adams (another depressive, apparently!) helpfully explained as being ‘42’.  Albert Einstein, a more scientifically-bent mind than my own, turned his thoughts to the physics of such questions, and came up with world-changing formulae and ideas.

After thinking about all this, I came across an article in The Independent, which seems to back up the theory that creativity and mental illness are linked.  I like The Independent, so if they say it’s true, I guess it must be.

Whatever the reason, I firmly believe that because of this apparent link, having Depression is not all bad.  However, once again, I reserve the right to change my mind next time I’m in the pits…

Saturday, 14 May 2011

To thine own self be true.

 I thought I was someone who eschewed all labels but this week I’ve realised there are a number of labels I am actually proud to be associated with.  

I’m not really talking about clothing labels or other brands, although these can be important.  I’m talking about the descriptions about ourselves that we are given or that we promote.  

For example, a while ago I became very reticent about being called or known as ‘a Christian’, because I didn’t want to be associated with many of the things people think of when they hear the word.  The same applies to my job title: I don’t like giving it out because it could give people an impression of who I am which actually says very little about the real me.  It’s just my job, not what I’m passionate about. 

The labels and boxes we put ourselves and other people in are probably to enable us to decide whether someone fits in our world.  Do we want to be friends with that person?  Are they likely to make us look better, or worse?  Will we have fun together, or will they bore us?

Some of the labels I am comfortable with would be things like, ‘creative’, or ‘thinker’, or ‘funny’, or ‘Liberal Democrat’.  In fact it was this blog that made me see that I am not averse to all labels: my introduction described me as at least three things before I even started.  ‘Depression-sufferer’ can also be a label for me and, although people who meet me now would probably find it hard to believe that it’s true, it is still something I hold because I believe it gives me a unique insight into life, and enables me to empathise with others.

I think it is important to know what messages we are giving the world about ourselves, otherwise we may be saying things that we really don’t want to.  Whether it is right or wrong for people to make snap judgements about us is pretty irrelevant: we all do it, so it’s better to acknowledge it and work around it.  And we’re all affected by our immediate social circles and what they are thinking, wearing, saying and doing.  

One piece of advice: if you want to expand your social circle, then be aware of how certain labels you ‘wear’ may well be putting others off.  Regardless of whether their opinion of the label is accurate, it could be getting in the way of forming a friendship.  Would we rather be precious about our labels, or about relationships?  

I want to make sure that my labels tell people who I really am, or help to show others who I want to be.  If I’m aware of how others view me – and I can only do this by learning what people think about certain things – then I can make adjustments to my image if necessary.

Or, I may worry too much about what others’ opinions... I just don’t want any false barriers to forming relationships.  I think there are enough genuine barriers to deal with already.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Caught up in the moment.

Following on from my last post, I’ve also started thinking recently about how I use my time, I suppose building on the idea of experiencing each moment, and then wondering, ‘How best can I use this moment’? 

When I think back on days, or weeks, or even months, I know that I waste so much time it’s unreal.  There are so many things I want to achieve, or that I want to be, yet many of the activities I spend hours on
get me nowhere nearer to doing or being any of those things.

I want to be a writer, I want to be a good friend, and I’d love to be someone who people think of as cultured and intelligent (harhar).  I keep playing at writing a novel, and there are many books I want to read; I’d love to spend more time in quality conversation with friends, and meeting and making new ones, or just generally being the person I want to be or dream that I am.

But the reality is, in spite of all these ambitions, I often spend whole Saturday mornings sleeping through till lunchtime, or afternoons and evenings watching movies I’ve seen before, or  naff TV shows, or trying to get Kidderminster Harriers to the top of the Premier League on Football Manager (though, admittedly, I would really love to achieve that last one!).

I guess, in some way, I’m talking about prioritising: I’m trying to carve out more time for the things I really want to do with my life, so that when I next look back on a day, week, month or year, I can feel satisfied and proud of my achievements, instead of never reaching my goals, dreams or ambitions.

Ask yourself: what do I want to achieve?  Who is the person I want to be?  What can I do, right now, to take even just a small step towards it?  And if you don’t know what you want to be or achieve, perhaps that’s the first answer: to find out what it is that you really want to do – think big, try things, try anything, until you find something that sets your heart on fire.  Then do whatever you can to be or do that thing.

I no longer want to look back on a day and regret spending a morning hung-over and unable to work, or an afternoon fruitlessly trying to get pixel-based footballers to bend to my will.  I want to make the most of the time I have, before I end up 40 years old still having not done the things I hope to in my life.

I know that I will probably not succeed in many of my dreams – for example, it's highly unlikely I will ever become a bestselling novelist.  But one thing is for sure: I definitely won’t if I don’t try.

Right, I’m off to buy a new striker…

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Put it down to experience...

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is the idea that life is not something that happens in the future, it is something that is happening right now.

This may seem like a fairly obvious thing to say, but, when you think about it, we seem to spend a lot of time figuring out and planning ‘what we want to do with our lives’, and sometimes we can forget to live.  I had a conversation a while ago with a friend of mine who asked me the very question, “What do you want to do with your life?”  I suppose I was trying to be profound and wise when I replied, “What do you mean?  This is my life – I’m doing it, right now, here, drinking coffee with you.” 

Contrived in its profundity or not, I think the sentiment is still true.  Whatever we’re doing now – whether drinking a cup of tea, texting a friend, listening to a radio show, or simply reading this blog – these are the things that we are doing with our lives.  Maybe it’s time to stop imagining that life is something we will get around to doing in the future, maybe when we’re married, or have a settled career, or we buy our first house/car/take a holiday abroad.  

All these things are perfectly valid things to aspire to and want in the future, but let’s not lose sight of the here and now, of the time we have each moment to do something that we want to do, and can enjoy.  Savour these moments, experience them, enjoy them – they won’t come again, and who knows what the future does or doesn’t hold.

I’ve been looking at the concept of Mindfulness recently, something that has come from my Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.  Here's a video from one of the developers of Mindfulness therapy talking about it:

I think this seizing-of-the-moment relates to being 'mindful': taking the time to hold each feeling, activity, and the sensations they bring.  In this way, even a negative emotion can hold a sense of fascination – we are alive, with the ability to experience so many different things, even the negative things.  To have such experiences is a gift; they are things we can look back on and say ‘I did that; I felt that’, building up a rich tapestry of…life.  

I want to be someone who, at 70 years old can say I’ve been through both the highs and lows of life, for they are both worthwhile, they are both part of existence.  The joy is in simply being alive to be able to feel them.

Of course, the next time I get hit by the steam-train of an unwanted event, I may not be so pleased about feeling down.  But it’s certainly something to aspire to.

A new 'B'log...

Hi there!  And welcome to my new blog.

I’m a writer, musician, and thinker; some of my musings have been recorded online before.  I have also suffered with Depression for a long time, most of my life, in fact. But recently I have started to find ways of dealing with it - or, at least, things that help.  I thought I would now like to create a blog in which I can maybe pass on some of the things I’ve found – and will find – helpful in the fight with Depression, and in life in general. There may be times when I document the struggles too, because life without integrity is nothing more than a stage-play – and I am not an actor, I am a human being, and we all wear too many masks anyway.

I thought I’d begin with something I feel is the most accurate depiction I have ever seen of Depression.  It came last year in the form of a Dr Who episode, which many of you may have seen.  

Here's a great little video someone has put together on YouTube, with clips set to a song used in 'Vincent and the Doctor' from series 5. It gives a good feel of the whole episode:

The episode is wonderful from beginning to end, delicately and brilliantly handling the subject of Depression, never trivialising it, but never over-emphasising it; keeping it in its rightful place: the place of a constant stalker, lurking in the shadows – unseen, like the monster Vincent and the Doctor fight in this episode – not always noticed, and not always impacting on life, but always there, always affecting the way a sufferer moves and behaves and lives.  It is like the smog in the air of a Beijing summer’s day – tangible and tasted, filling the lungs, weighing a person down, sapping energy and strength, yet still capable of appearing ‘normal’, at least from ground level.

I may be over-doing the analogy, but it’s the best I can do.  Depression is something hard to describe, and we always fall back on metaphor or simile.  Personally, I usually describe a period of depression as like being trapped in my own mind, stuck in an impenetrable box.  I can claw at the walls, fighting this way and that, desperate to find a way out, or for someone to find a way in, but there is none.  And if I try too hard, it can feel as though I am going completely insane.  It’s a very lonely place – the loneliest, perhaps, where it seems no other soul can understand or truly empathise with the suffering.  Regardless of how true that may be, there is no escaping the feeling that it is true.  And thus the walls of the box grow thicker and higher, and the light grows dimmer and darker and still more lonesome….

There. Now I’ve bummed you all out, I’ll move on to cheerier things in my next post...!  Thanks for reading, I hope I can be some help to some of you out there, if not for yourself, then for those you live with or encounter.  It is always better if we can understand what others are going through, I feel…