Tag Archives: depression

I Quit Being Sensible

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I haven’t told you this yet but I have done something bold and decisive and honest and potentially foolish. I quit my job.

This, as you can imagine, was not a light decision. This was my first ‘normal’ job after years of bar working and freelancing and I was chuffed to finally have a regular and stable salary and free weekends. Hooray! I graduated the same year that the Credit Crunch took hold in the UK and the jobs market was literally ‘Dodo extinct.’ So I was thrilled to finally be able to pay my ever increasing London rent, and to cook a massive dinner with all the trimmings for all my friends without worrying about how much it cost. Hell, I even shopped at M&S.

For months and months I trudged through a thick soup of depression trying to work out whether it was my job or just me that was making me sad. When you have depression, the difficulty in differentiating between what is a ‘depressive episode, so you’re perceptions are all skewiff’ and what is actually a ‘genuinely shit situation that would make anyone sad’ is incredibly difficult. I tried hard to imagine someone else in my shoes to work out whether they would be unhappy too, but of course, that didn’t work because I am and will always be me. I was crying at cute dogs and old people on the tube, for God’s sake, something had to give.

When I was signed off work for anxiety and depression and trying to fill my days with mind nourishing things to make me better, I gradually realised that although I am prone to periods of depression and big bouts of anxiety wherever I am in the world – it was a great deal worse when I was at work. Being away from work made me feel human again. I explored and I read and I walked and swam, I got back in touch with a childlike curiosity for life, and the simple things that make life wonderful (like growing cress in pots, climbing trees, making banana bread, talking to my Mum, reading the Beano.)  I realised I was actually quite happy about most of life, but that I hated my job.

I had been telling my therapist that I had survived a breakdown. He didn’t like the term ‘breakdown’ and so he did something incredible which was to flip it completely. “No” he said “You’ve had a realisation, a catalyst for change, an exciting epiphany.” I wanted to throw a heavy object at him and tell him sternly that feeling like you can’t get out of bed ever and that you are wading through mud on a daily basis does not feel like an exciting epiphany to me. But now, after a bit of time, I can see exactly what he means. This was a realisation, an arrival at the idea that something in my life had to change, something in my life was making me unwell. It was liberating and it was scary. I knew I couldn’t stay in my job. It was a lovely job, a sensible job, but it wasn’t for me.

I realised that too many of the decisions I have made in my life have been because I think I should, and not because I have wholeheartedly and passionately wanted to. I studied Sociology instead of Art at College because I thought it was more sensible, and I did Hospitality Managament at Uni because I thought I’d get a stable job at the end of it, I chose baked potatoes instead of chips in restaurants because I should, I even went to church because it would be ‘me being good.’ Too many choices taken out of wretched fear or a sense of obligation.

Ever since the day I realised that I would have to find a job when I grew up, I’ve been suffocated and worried by the idea of fitting into the world, and by the question ‘what to do’ with my life. This, I think, has been the real root of my anxiety. I took my full-time stable job because it looked like the safest option, it wasn’t my dream job but it was something that would pay me money and was vaguely connected to the thing I’d trained for. But it didn’t make me want to live. The truth is, I took the job because I didn’t know what I wanted to ‘do’ next with my life. And because the pressure and alienation and guilt felt when not knowing what to do with your one-and-only-life is hideous.

From childhood we are conditioned to find our place in the world, a place that will earn us money. Money is a necessity, I know, and there is a mind-bogglingly large number of ways to get it. But after a breakdown/realisation something changes in the very core of your being. In a way, things become simpler. You have seen what the bottom looks like, and you don’t want to go back there, so you need to follow what feels good in your very soul, what is quite literally your guttural instinct.  You have a need to find something that makes your life worth living each day. So now, the only option is to feel my way through life. Does this feel right, working in this office? No? Then get the hell out of there. Life’s too short. Do you feel good working with this tree and this soil and these worms? Yes? Then keep doing it. It’s about using your intuition and it’s smart. Surely this is a route to contentment.

The luxury that wild animals have that we don’t, is that they can and do simply act on instinct. Generally speaking, the animal kingdom goes through life doing exactly what it feels like doing. Starlings migrate to the other side of the world because they feel in their bones that that is the right thing to do. Us humans however often have to disregard instinct because we need to earn money to survive and life just ‘gets in the way’ of doing what we really want to do. I’m not sure if anyone’s instinct is to sit behind a screen for 8 hours a day in a stuffy office doing budgets, but I’m sure it’s lots of peoples instinct to tell stories, to run in fields, to make art, to swim in the sea. Perhaps this is a simplistic way of looking at life, but to me it feels right.

So, to follow my nose I’m taking time out from the pressure of ‘having to be something’ in the world. As part of my healing process and my recovery I’m just going to be me.  It means I’m absolutely stone broke of course, but I think it will be worth it in the end. I’m going to try everything, everything that I feel like. Eventually I want a job that is going to make me sing when I wake up in the morning; so I’m going to volunteer all over the place, with elephants and the elderly, with nature reserves and Buddhist monks, I’m going to explore explore explore like Phileas fucking Fogg until I find the thing that makes me tick. I’m on a grand new voyage, a quest for realness, wholeness and not for obligation. So I say bollocks to being sensible. Life – I’m coming for you.

Annie x

 

Turmeric Tonic

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I have been swotting up on foods that can help us feel extra good. Frankly, if there are natural wonder foods out there that can help us with the battle against feeling depressed / like a wooden plank then I’m going to gobble them all up!

Luckily I stumbled upon a book called ‘Healing Spices’ by Bharat B. Aggarwal which, as you can imagine, contains hundreds of healing remedies and wonder spices. In the book there are 11 pages, that’s eleven pages dedicated to the super powers of Turmeric.

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Curcumin found within Turmeric is the special thing, it is said to be a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory which can benefit the health of almost every organ in the human body and help fight against cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. WOW right?

The extra special thing about Turmeric is that it is said to help fight depression. YES! Aggarwal refers to animal studies which have found that circumin boosted serotonin and dopamine levels in mice and reduced depression-like behaviour.

This is why I have now added Turmeric Tonic to my morning routine. If you want to join in you just need to mix together:

  • 1 mug of boiling water
  • 1/2 tsp of Turmeric
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Honey to taste (if required)

I have to admit, this is definitely not the most delicious thing I’ve ever tried. It’s kind of earthy, and you have to keep stirring it otherwise the spice just floats to the bottom and you end up with a nasty surprise. but the health benefits far out weigh the not-particularly-yummy concoction.

I’d love to hear about your recipes for Turmeric Tonic, or any other pearls of wisdom about different spices we should try. Let me know below!

Annie x

Depression = Guilt

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The worst thing about depression – when it has you by the balls / boobs and is holding your head underneath the pillow, when it’s at its most debilitating and downright exhausting – is the guilt. There is guilt about the fact that this might all be your fault. The guilt that you lack normal amounts of energy because you’ve been worrying too much. The guilt about feeling like a big fat lazy sloth whilst everyone else is whistling along cheerily to the sound of their 7am alarm. The guilt that your brain isn’t working properly and it might be your fault because of that time you got absolutely shit-faced on ecstasy and didn’t sleep for two days. That your life choice and your lifestyle may have some how had an adverse effect on your brain and therefore this depression is most definitely YOUR fault. There is also the very unhelpful thought chewing away at the back of your mind that you might be making this all up and that you’re actually OK because you managed to laugh at Deliciously Stella’s Instagram earlier so you can’t be that sad. Therefore you feel very, very guilty about it all.

 

Deliciously Stella being unashamedly brilliant.

 

Then there is the guilt experienced by those closest to you. Your Mum, your Dad, your Dad’s Dad, your best friend, your dog, your spider plant. In my experience, they too feel guilty. They think that perhaps they could have done something differently, and they should have tried to program your brain not to feel anxious about speaking in meetings or cripplingly worried about the fact that you have to do a speech at your best friends wedding and you are festering at the thought of fucking it all up. Maybe it was something they said to you when you were three that made you feel like you should be worried about life. This might absolutely be the case for some, but from my experience and from listening to lots of other people, it isn’t always. I would like to say now that even though there are certain behavioural patterns learnt from our parents and those around us in our early years, depression is not necessarily any bodies fault. The worst feeling I have felt when opening up about my anxiety and depression to my parents has been the reaction that they are worried they did something wrong and it made me like this. For me to experience my parents hurting because of me is incredibly painful, and, you guessed it, makes me feel VERY VERY GUILTY. So I would like to expel the idea from everybody’s minds and let them know that none of this is any ones fault.

The thing that makes the guilt extra horrible, is the idea that we can’t be open to people in our daily lives about what we are going through for fear of not getting that promotion, or not being trusted in our decisions or appearing weak. It breeds a feeling of shame, that there is something to hide. I can wholeheartedly say, that this lack of discussion and understanding about depression is stiflingly unhealthy to everyone, and actually if people felt comfortable to discuss the fact that they are having a bad time mentally as freely as they feel discussing their head cold, then things would be much easier for everyone.

Recently I spent 5 weeks off sick from work after suffering from a nervous breakdown (my therapist doesn’t like this phrase but I’m going with it.) Prior to this, I had developed a shiny exterior of lovely bubbliness in the office. I was positively bouyant around all of my colleagues and I undertook my work with gusto. This meant that because I was pretending that I was doing brilliantly, my brain was trapped in a pressure cooker and I would cry in the mornings at the sight of a very small needy pooch on the tube, or be overly empathatic to anyone expressing any kind of emotion. Basically, I packed my emotions into a tiny tiny box for work, and I wouldn’t let them out all day. Of course the emotions eventually out grew the box and the box would be forced open, resulting in me crying in meetings or having to vacate my desk to sob in the park (there are many small needy dogs there so you can imagine my state.) I’m telling you this because I feel that if I had allowed myself to be more honest with my colleagues about my mental health, then I might not have ended up in such a ball of pickle.

During this period of ‘sick leave,’ I made the decision to be honest with everyone and I sent an email to my colleagues explaining what had happened to me. I told them frankly that I had been suffering with anxiety for a long time which had resulted in a nervous breakdown, and that I missed them very much. I had to tell them that last bit because I felt guilty (that old chestnut) about not being able to do my job and for leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. After I sent that email, a steady stream of messages began trickling into my inbox from colleagues offering genuine support and incredibly kind words. They too had each been through their own mental pickles, and it was clear that they valued my openness.

I know of course, that this is a very sensitive and personal subject to discuss in public, and I know it isn’t practical for everyone to be this open. But what I’m saying is that if one person opens up, then five others might feel better about doing so too, and by discussing what it is like to experience depression will no doubt enable others to understand and therefore help break a taboo that is exceptionally unhelpful and therefore help to dispel THE GUILT.

So, I stick to my decision to go forth boldly, and when someone asks me where I’ve been or what I’ve been up to, I’ll tell them. Unashamedly, just like Deliciously Stella does about how she’s just eaten 10 donuts in a row. I can already tell you that this has not been as painful or awkward as you might imagine. Instead it has been an empowering exercise, and I haven’t felt guilty or ashamed once.

Annie x

The Taming of the Dog

They say you need to be settled down to own a dog. You need to have bags of time and money, a home with no sharp edges and a garden where it can poo. I was given my dog when I had none of these things.

I dreaded Maths on a Monday, I worried I wouldn’t make friends at Brownies, I worried about my Mum having a car crash on the way home from Sainsbury’s, and about making conversation with my teacher as she drove me to school. I was gnawingly anxious that underneath my gingham school dress I was wearing a Country Companions vest while my friends were all in training bras. On bad days, I worried that my entire family would die and I would be homeless. You might have called me ’a bit of a worrier,’ and you might think It’s all a little bit dramatic. But this is all very real for someone who has what I like to call an ’apocalyptic view of the world.’
My dog was tiny at first, and sort of manageable. I got used to having it around, it had been there since my mum dropped me off at the creche. But as I grew, it grew too. As I became an adult It became so big that people couldn’t see me anymore. It sapped my energy with its demands for attention – and there was absolutely no room for anything or anyone else in my life. When I was 23 it left me hopelessly looking for a way out in a messy heap on the kitchen floor, staring at the bubbling brown plastic lino.
The peculiar thing about my dog though, is that it isn’t always big and suffocating. Yes, I have days when it’s alarmingly larger than the day before, it makes me dizzy and my words get jumbled. But more often than not it is small and discreet and we can exist quite happily together. In fact, I need the dog sometimes. We all need some anxiety, some worrying thoughts and some stresses to stayed switched on to life and to physically go forward. So through a lot of trial, error and therapy, I have learnt a pack of survival techniques to keep this over-anxious dog at a manageable puppy size, and snoozing in the corner.
My biggest lifeline during my darkest moments has been writing. Under my bed I have notebook upon notebook of anxious scribblings, mythical stories about magic, diary extracts and silly poems. I’ve written about all sorts to stop my mind ruminating or running on a never ending chain of unhelpful thoughts. None of these notes have seen the light of day. But during the recovery of my most recent depressive episode spurred on by months of writhing anxiety in my abdomen and broken sleep, I decided to create something positive out of a big fat negative. I decided to get my writing out into the open and I decided to create this blog.
It is going to be simple. I am going to write openly and honestly about this condition, and I am going to record the things in my life that help keep the dog in the corner. I might write a comedy sketch about a conversation, or about an uplifting song, an experience, a recipe, a particularly helpful meditation practice or a place. I want to join the conversation about mental well being, a conversation that is thankfully getting louder. I am one of over 8 million anxiety sufferers in the UK, that’s an enormous number of anxious dogs. That makes this conversation a conversation worth having.

Anxious Annie.

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