Depression Daddy

It’s no secret that I suffer with diagnosed depression. It’s something I’ve tweeted about and mentioned in my Blog a number of times.

Depression effects people in many different ways but for me it’s both physically and mentally debilitating to the point that I can barely keep my eyes open or even muster a conversation. Thankfully my depressive episodes are a lot less frequent these days and I put that down to the various self care tools and mechanisms I have put in place such as taking daily medication, exercising and abstaining from alcohol.

That said I have just come out the other side of a pretty bad episode. I try not to scale my depressive episodes in terms of severity but they have varied in both longevity and symptoms over the years. On this occasion I saw a nosedive in my mood first of all on Thursday which quickly lead to an increase in agitation, extreme fatigue, thoughts of self harm and by Friday Evening – a desire to drink alcohol.

On the one hand I didn’t practice what I preach because I didn’t talk to anybody but on the other hand I used AVRT to crush my addictive voice. I felt good on Saturday morning reflecting back to the nauseating battle I had the previous evening.

I went for a run on Sunday morning but I was already downplaying the positive energy a run normally brings by the time I set off out the door. I knew I wouldn’t be running far as I’m carrying a small injury plus it was my daughter’s birthday so wanted to get back for her day ahead. I hobbled for 3km and returned to the house in a foul mood. I recognised my foul mood wasn’t fair on my daughter celebrating her 4th birthday which just intensified the self-loathing.

Now if I was comparing my various depressive episodes I would say that this wasn’t so bad because I actually managed to get out for a run which also meant I managed to get out of bed, put clothes on and brush my teeth. Some of life’s little basics which depression can so often turn into climbing a mountain! I remember about 3 years ago I struggled to get out of bed for several days due to my depression – not washing, eating or getting dressed. I suppose there is little to no value in comparing the severity of my depression when it surfaces because I can only focus on the present. What I experienced, felt and did three years ago is irrelevant.

By Sunday afternoon I was struggling to stay awake and focus on what was in front of me. I had no interest in doing anything and just wanted to be alone. Not easy when you live with two young daughters who want their Dad’s attention. I had thoughts of just leaving the house and driving far away. I guess I was in the early thinking of suicide. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last time I think of this, in fact it’s common for people to have fleeting thoughts about it. I think there is also a misconception from many that just because you admit to having these thoughts you suddenly need locking up.

The only way I can describe my most recent thoughts about suicide is that I was consciously thinking about the mechanics of planning it and luckily this lead me quite quickly down the path of who would be impacted and the mess it would cause for them. That’s why it stopped there and then. I realised it was the wrong way out. I will never understand the final thoughts of somebody else who has taken their own life and they are no longer here to tell us what was at the forefront of their thinking in the final moments of their time on this Earth.

Yesterday (Monday) wasn’t a sudden return to Happy Daddy but I did wake up feeling as though some of the heavy weight had been lifted from my chest. My eyes and mind didn’t feel as cloudy and I had the desire to get outdoors. I chose to go for a walk around a local park along with a coffee, grabbed a sandwich then took a trip to the local library to return some books. It gave me an opportunity to feel the Winter Sun on my head, the crisp air in my lungs and to move my legs at a pace which doesn’t constitute running!

I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. One of my favourite quotes is “Storms don’t last forever” and with that in mind I know that healthy mindfulness tools such as my running, blogging, self gratitude, yoga, sobriety and connecting with my family and friends will help minimise the damage that my mental health conditions try to do to me. What I won’t do is NOT write about it. Some people would prefer I don’t share my private life and how I feel but I know it helps likeminded people out there to read about a story which resonates with them. Not everybody will want to share their struggles publicly and that’s ok but I find it not only helps me but gives hope to others. After all I’m still here!

I don’t have the answers to defeating poor mental health once and for all but I certainly know how to fight it.

The Philosophy of Ever After

The Greek Philosopher Aristotle worked out there were four aspects of human nature that we should all follow in order to flourish in life.

These were, in no particular order;

1. Caring for our bodies by eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest

2. Finding Emotional Balance by avoiding things that make us unhappy and doing more of the things that make us feel good

3. Humans thrive in groups so we should live and socialise with others to develop our individual happiness

4. Learn, create and express ourselves

Now, it’s hardly rocket science is it? And nearly 2,500 years ago when Aristotle was alive and kicking he said as much himself. The four aspects he mentions are accessible by the many not the few. We can achieve this wherever we live in the World and regardless of how rich we are (to a degree).

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that when we look for self improvement, whether that be recovering from addiction like me or maybe somebody who has just come out of a long term relationship we could do a lot worse than to look at the philosophical teachings of an Ancient Greek with a curly beard.

I write regularly about mental health and even without alcohol in my life I still have periods of struggle. It’s no surprise that when I’m regularly exercising, getting food quality sleep and eating nutritiously I feel better mentally. I think when I first stopped drinking I naively thought it would be a significant enough change alone to make me feel so much better day to day. Sure, as the days turn to weeks and the weeks turn to months you feel and look less bloated. Your sleep improves and you have more energy in your day. Your thinking becomes less cloudy and your anxiety levels reduce – but if you continue to eat poorly and avoid exercise you’ll struggle to shift that feeling of fatigue and before you know it you’ll be substituting your once unhealthy consumption of alcohol with food equivalents. I certainly saw my appetite increase in the months after I got sober and developed a sweet tooth (which I’d never had before) – your body misses the sugars alcohol gives it.

Aristotle talks about emotional balance too. I think this is very true. Think about it simplistically for a moment. You are invited on a work night out. You don’t really socialise with your work colleagues and you aren’t a big drinker plus the function is in the City Centre on a Saturday night. You get anxious about it all week leading up to the event. You are only going because you feel obliged to go.

Now imagine how you feel if you politely decline the night out – you aren’t the only person who can’t make it. You choose to order in some food and have a night in watching a film with a friend. After all, you work hard all week so it’s a treat to chill out with your favourite food and a film you’ve been wanting to see for ages!

Whilst Aristotle isn’t saying avoid things for the rest of your life (being out of our comfort zone can be good for resilience and confidence) we shouldn’t over analyse all of our day to day life events. Most of the time the other people involved won’t care half as much as you are catastrophising and worrying about it. I’ve noticed that with me not drinking. I thought I would stand out on nights out and people would be quizzing me about not consuming alcohol but it very rarely gets mentioned – and even then I get the standard response of “Good for you, wish I had your strength”.

Humans are social animals. We have been for thousands of years. It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your own company or not like living alone. Aristotle doesn’t mean that. But look at it from another angle. Would you be happy without engaging with another human being all day? Every day? No contact through social media, texting, on the telephone or face to face? Control how often you socialise but make sure you do. The chemicals in your body will thank you for it.

Ever get that warm feeling when you finish a book? The enjoyment you get from successfully finishing a crossword or answering a question correctly on TV’s University Challenge? Aristotle encourages us to explore, create and learn new things. On our terms. I ran my first Trail Race last year and started Yoga classes. I began to read more often. All of those things make me feel happy.

I’ll certainly continue to bear in mind Aristotle’s four aspects of human nature as I move forward. It’s certainly one of the easier parts of Philosophy to remember!

And so I’ll leave you with one last piece of Philosophical Thinking for today whilst I’m in this type of head space. I think it is so ‘me’…

“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.” – Aristotle