Tag Archive: depression


Happy Christmas Everyone

I do hope that you are otherwise occupied and really do not have the time to read this post. Whether you are with family, eating a special meal, enjoying entertainment, going for a walk, visiting church etc, I hope that you have some joy today.

But I do realise that, for some of us, today is a difficult day. When we are supposed or expected to be “merry” but most definitely are not feeling that way. Perhaps there is someone who is not here today whom you really miss. Or perhaps you are not well; or maybe you are not in a place you would like to be.

When we are on our own – or perhaps surrounded by other people – our loneliness, sadness, disappointment or frustration stands out all the more in contrast to the lights, laughter, excitement and music which are associated with today. There are all kinds of reasons for feeling low today. Maybe that is you.

That is OK. Believe it or not, today will not last forever.

I don’t know whether you will decide to hide away somewhere, or go away for a few days or simply put on a brave face for the sake of others. That is up to you. I would like to remind you that you are not the only one and that you have not been forgotten.

And if you are having a happy Christmas, please do enjoy it. Please, also, spare a thought and a prayer for those, for whatever reason, who are not.

May I wish you a “Happy Christmas” and may God bless you.

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In December of this year this blog will be five years old. Originally I started writing as one way of coping with depression. I have never intended to write about depression as such but I have discovered that writing, humour and making a point of taking an interest in things have all contributed to building resilience. It is not true to say that I now no longer get depressed. It is true for me to say that depression is less frequent, usually (!) not as low as before and that I have some strategies to help. Depression is managed rather than cured. The most important strategy is permission to tell a couple of trusted people when I am feeling low without them assuming that my world is about to fall apart. Often the fact that I can say what is going on in my thoughts and feelings helps to deny depression of some of its power.

Over the years I have used “Sundry Times” as a place to share what I love about England, to post photographs that have caught my imagination and to pass on the least worst jokes that have come my way. I have included prayers and reflections as well. When I began “Depression” was the biggest tag, then “Resilience”. They are still there on the tag cloud but they are no longer number one.

This is not a valedictory piece but at the end of the year I shall retire this blog for the simple reason that I am running out of memory and prefer not to have to buy on-line storage. Instead, look out for “Sundry Times Too” which I am in the process of setting up and will go live at the end of 2015/beginning of 2016. I will post a link nearer the time.

Thank you for taking the trouble to read this.

God bless, Kangerew

“This book is impossible: Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen. I was going to die, you see. Or go mad.”

So begins Matt Haig’s book, “Reasons to Stay Alive” in which describes his breakdown and how he adapted to life afterwards. I hesitate to say “recovery” because, as he himself points out, you can be a happy depressive just as you can be an alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in years. There are five sections of unequal length: falling, landing, rising, living and being which approximately describe his feelings and insights following his breakdown when he was 24. With hindsight there were warning signs – but then hindsight generally has better glasses than foresight.

I noticed that most reviews on Amazon were very positive but there were a few who either did not like or did not ‘get’ the idea. Having read it all the way through I can see that this book could be helpful to someone who suffers from depression or who is close to someone who is. If you are not familiar with it, this book may not help at all. For example, one person criticised it because it was all about the author, “all about me”. That is to miss the point: depression is indeed often “all about me” but not in a “Look at me and see how important/special I am”. It is more of an “all about how worthless I am and I don’t expect you to take any notice of me let alone agree with me”.

Some useful ideas include page 126f “How to be there for someone with depression or anxiety”. For example, “Don’t take anything personally, any more than your would take someone suffering with the flu or chronic fatigue syndrome or arthritis personally. It is not your fault.” (p 127). The list of “Things that have happened to me that have generated more sympathy than depression” rang a bell too. Meanwhile, on page 166 onwards, there is his list of famous people with depression. It may or may not help you to know that the list includes: Buzz Aldrin, Winston Churchill, Carrie Fisher, Abraham Lincoln, Isaac Newton and Emma Thompson. The point being that depression does not happen only to “bad” or “weak” people. In fact, it has been remarked elsewhere that it is “The curse of the strong“. A useful metaphor, on page 181, is that if depression is a dark cloud then you are the sky: depression is smaller than you. Although that makes sense, convincing myself of that truth may take some doing.

And finally,

Self Help

How to stop time: kiss.
How to travel in time: read.
How to escape time: music.
How to feel time: write.
How to release time: breathe.

Overall four stars or eight out of ten. Worth buying a copy to read and to lend.

Wednesday 20th May

I noticed some confusion from one writer who suggested that physical disability should be included as well as mental disability. The reason is because the topic is mental health. Mental health is to mental disability what physical health is to physical disability. Some physical disability, such as myopia, can be dealt with quite simply with the right pair of spectacles; an amputated limb, such as a leg, requires a lot more effort and support to come to terms with. Physical ill-health such as a bout of flu might knock you out for a few weeks but it is likely (not inevitable) that you will live to tell the tale; whereas there are chronic conditions which have long-term consequences.

Mental health, today’s suggested topic for the novena, is something that has begun to be talked about more openly but is still often misunderstood. A mental health problem is not the same as a disability – although some people’s prejudice can be disabling. You can have a mental health problem and yet run a country and win a war: Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s war-time leader suffered from bouts of depression.

A prayer

Be with us, Lord, in all our prayers, and direct our way toward the attainment of salvation; that among the changes and chances of this mortal life, we may always be defended by your gracious help; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer, contemporary version)

Boxing Day Blues can begin any time after sunset on Christmas Eve.

It’s a bit like Vogon poetry. You may recall, if you have read or watch “The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy”, that when Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect have been ‘rescued’ by a Vogon starship, they were invited to comment on Vogon poetry (said to be the third worst in the galaxy). The two heroes suggest that underneath it all, the dreadful Vogon poetry reveals that deep down the Vogons are really nice guys who just want to be loved like any one else. It turns out that the Vogon captain uses poetry to put his meanness into sharp relief – in other words to emphasise how really bad they are. That said, he then orders Arthur and Ford to be jettisoned out of an airlock into space (without spacesuits) and that is where, you could say, their adventure really begins.

Christmas can be a bit like that sometimes. The magic, the joy, the fellowship, the “poetry” of Christmas can sometimes stand in stark contrast to our circumstances and/or to how we are feeling. Does it make us feel better if we realise that some of the jollity is a bit forced or exaggerated? When it seems that everyone else is happy, warm and well fed and we are not (perhaps two out of three?). I can count my blessings but I have not forgotten the Christmases when my spirits were low including the year when they were bleak. The cold winter brought snow but there were few sparkles in the frost that I had on the inside.

I can’t tell you what you feel or what you could/should do. Christmas may or may not feel like Vogon poetry. The thing is, and this is not much of a plot spoiler, Arthur and Ford do get rescued.

As for the religious message of Christmas: Jesus was tested in every sort of way that we are – that is one of the meanings of “the incarnation” (sorry about the theology during Christmas). God in Jesus knows what it is like; he knows from personal experience the sort of things we go through (short of actually sinning, that is). He is with us.

Merry Christmas, despite everything.

November

A time of remembering and wistfulness – the mizzly (misty and drizzly) weather that characterises this time of year does not help.

This 19th century poem captures the gloomy spirit pretty well.

November

No sun – no moon!

No morn – no noon –

No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,

No comfortable feel in any member –

No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –

November!

Thomas Hood

For me it is a useful reminder that to feel gloomy, sad etc, is a reasonable response when the weather is dull, the nights are drawing in and there is less and less daylight as each day of the month passes.

This month also features All Souls’ day (kept by some churches on 2nd November for those who wish to commemorate ordinary folk who have died whom we know personally) as well as Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday with their recollection of those who have died in war and violent conflict. And if it so happens that November is when one or more members of your family have died … well, it can be a tough month. “Cheerless” is how James Reeve describes November in the following poem:

Things to Remember

The buttercups in May,

The wild rose on the
spray,

The poppy in the hay,

The primrose in the
dell,

The freckled foxglove
bell,

The honeysuckle’s
smell

Are things I would
remember

When cheerless raw
November

Makes room for dark
December.

James Reeve

At least it is only one month and maybe remembering happier ones can give us a bit of perspective. I have begun to learn that feelings, no matter how deep, wonderful or terrible, may last a short or a long time – but not for ever.

Peace be with you especially if you’re finding November particularly tough this year.

Falling upwards (1)

This post is really just an excuse to put up few photos of some paintings. I make no claim about their quality, relevance or artistry. They are here because they represent one part of my recovery from depression. After the initial shock, exhaustion, relief mixed with guilt, and numbness there was then a period of coming to terms with my situation. It was not the point where I started to get better; it was the point when the depth and extent of my depression and anxiety became clearer to me. If you like, it was then I began to understand how ill I had become.

Then came a stage (and I use the term “stage” only in a vague sense of ‘some period of time that followed’) when I felt that I was no longer falling down, so to speak, no longer at the bottom but beginning to ‘fall upwards’. This was not recovery or cure; my problems had not been solved – at best I had got many (but not all) of them described. This was not “the beginning of the end” but, as Sir Winston Churchill once said, it might have been the end of the beginning.

So, as Autumn came to an end I started painting. The idea was to indicate leaves falling upwards. No, contrary to a suggestion made by one member of my family, I did not do the picture and then simply turn it upside down! There are four pictures: the first with an approximate resemblance to leaves ‘falling’ off a tree; the second uses Autumn-leaf colours; the third takes one of the Autumn leaves (yellow) and puts it on a dark background; and the last reverses the colours. All are done with acrylic paints of varying quality and thickness on heavy-duty watercolour paper.

The point of the exercise for me was not to achieve great art. It was to attempt something creative. It was not so important that it was done well than that I should make the attempt. And that is the point. One of the tools/strategies for dealing with depression is to give ourselves permission to do things that we like. “Am I allowed to enjoy myself?” might seem like a strange question but for me it was one, along with “Am I allowed to be happy?”, that has hovered just beneath conscious thought for years; and the default answer seemed to be “No”. Not always ‘no’ but usually ‘no’. For me, these paintings represent my challenge to that unhelpful assumption. I did something that I enjoyed without having to ask permission. One step towards recovery.

and then it dawned on me…
Sorry about that, but when I first heard that joke it did make me smile.
Here is a little story that also made me smile.

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson went together on a camping holiday in the countryside. In the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and pointed to the starry sky above them. “Look at that, Watson. What do you see?”

“I see thousands of stars,” replied Watson.  “And what does that tell you?” asked Holmes.

Hoping to impress his friend, Watson continued

“Astronomically it tells me that there are millions of stars and galaxies and maybe life on other planets; theologically it suggests to me a wonderful creator; philosophically it makes me consider how small we are in the universe; meteorologically it tells me that we may have a frost by dawn and a sunny day tomorrow. What does it tell you?”

“Watson, old chap,” replied Sherlock Holmes, “it tells me that someone has stolen our tent!”

There are various versions of that story. The following one probably also has more than one version going round:

An alien walked into a cafe and asked for a cup of tea. “That’ll be ten pounds, please,” said the waitress when she brought it to him. “You know,” she continued, “I was just thinking, we don’t get many aliens in here…”

“I’m not surprised,” said the alien, “at ten pounds a cup.”

There are different reasons for writing a blog. Some people seem to think that the world is just waiting to benefit from their wisdom and knowledge. Others are trying to sell you something and that might be consumer goods, services or political or religious ideas. Then there are others who are simply looking for a place to put down their thoughts or record their daily journal. There was one I came across the other day which consisted in someone’s daily food journal. They needed to keep a record of the food they ate each day as part of their studies so they wrote their blog. The possibility of other people reading it was incidental to the main reason for writing it. The same sort of thing applies here. I am writing mostly for my benefit so if anyone read this, then that is a bonus. I hope you find something of interest among the entries.

When I started writing this blog is was partly to help me deal with my depression. I was off work and beginning to find strategies that would help me. As anyone who has had to grapple with depression may know, there is no quick fix and it takes more than one thing to help get better. Talking with a trusted friend is one, for example. Another is maintaining a sense of humour – hence the inclusion of jokes that have caught my fancy.

A cheerful heart is good medicine (Proverbs chapter 17 verse 22).

The curse of the strong…

…is the subtitle of a book by Dr Tim Cantopher called “Depressive Illness” (published by Sheldon Press, 2006, 2nd edition). I read this as a result of an “Amazon” recommendation – yes, I know, for once a recommendation that was actually useful. The other books I had been looking for were “I had a black dog” and “Living with a black dog”. These are both picture books for adults. The first one describes what it is like to experience clinical depression and I found it helpful for two reasons. Firstly, it helped me to know that ‘I am not the only one’ and that the symptoms can be many, varied and simply exhausting to cope with. Secondly, it helped to have a way of explaining a little of what it feels like. To be honest, I don’t think you can really know what it is like to have depression (and I don’t mean the Monday morning blues which many of us deal with simply by lasting through to Monday lunchtime) unless you have experienced it – but I wouldn’t wish it on any one.

The second picture book, “Living with a black dog”, is addressed to the carer, the nearest and dearest who have to deal with the brunt of the consequences of living with someone who suffers from depression. In fact, this book I first saw in a local library, borrowed it, read it several times and said to myself: ‘I wish I had known this earlier.’ It begins with a section called ‘Things you may have noticed’ then ‘What not to say’ (and why) followed by ‘Good things to say and do’ and so on. There is plenty of wit and humour in these two books and the content is tactfully put so that these books could usefully be left lying around. The key message of “Living…” to the caregiver/spouse is that while it may be your task to support and accompany your loved one as patiently as you can, it is not your task to try to solve all their problems and you need to allow space in your diary for you to talk with a friend/do something fun. You don’t help someone with depression by acquiring your own black dog.

By the way, the reference to the black dog, is that that is how Sir Winston Churchill used to refer to his depression. Yes, he who led his country to victory in World War II suffered from clinical depression. Others include Abraham Lincoln, Sir Isaac Newton and Ludwig van Beethoven. Dr Cantopher observes that it is strong people who most likely get clinical depression – strong in character, that is, and that says nothing about whether you are rich, poor, in work, homekeeper, married, single or otherwise. Given a lot of stress “Someone who is weak, cynical or lazy will quickly give up” (page 6) so they don’t get ill. A strong person will try to overcome them until symptoms start to appear and then most people say “Hang on, a minute” and ask for help or tell other people they have got to pull their weight. They stop before it is too late. But a sensitive person doesn’t stop for fear of disappointing other people. They keep on going, “on and on and on, until suddenly: BANG! The fuse blows” (page 7). Dr Cantopher’s book covers the causes of depressive illness (that is, stress-induced illness), medication, psychotherapies, and so on. What I found most encouraging was the idea that having depression does not mean you are a weak, lazy or a bad person. It means that, whatever else is going on, you are most likely to be reliable, consciencious and alert to the needs of others.

I am happy to recommend all three of the books mentioned here. If nothing else I have learned that having depression does not mean you are a bad person. That’s a message that everyone needs to hear.

… sat down on a nearby bench overlooking the river. So we went to the next seat along and had our sandwiches there. We had apparently arrived just as the character was having his break and were able to observe the person underneath the costume. He turned out to be she and was somewhat older than I might have guessed – but that doesn’t matter.

What struck me was that the person underneath did not look at all as happy as the cheerful grin on the character head. It was not a warm day, the sun was not shining and her expression said it. Add a cigarette to the picture and the depressing effect was complete. After a few minutes (less time than it took me to eat my first sandwich) she had put her head back on and Mickey was back on duty a few feet away from where we were sitting. So I watched.

What I saw was a smiling character waving to passers-by, occasionally having his picture taken with a young child or giggling teenager. From time to time a coin would be dropped into the basket at his feet – he never explicitly asked for any. I saw a contradiction between the smiling mask and the face I knew to be underneath: happy on the outside, sad on the inside.

One of my companions had a different take on the situation. “Look at all the people who enjoyed meeting him”. There were many people who just walked by but there were also plenty of people who waved and smiled or who stopped to have that photo taken. One couple were a bit different as they asked Mickey to take a picture of themselves! So it was that that person brought joy into some people’s lives and if it was a kind of begging at least they had found a creative way of doing so.

While I’m not convinced that that is the best way of earning a living – and I’m sure they would not have got away with taking the head off in public at a more Official Family Attraction – I had to concede the point that he did bring a smile to lots of faces even if it didn’t happen to include mine.

The further point is that wearing a character costume is a literal way of disguising your feelings and perhaps also your intentions. We  understand and expect an actor playing a part to put on a costume and to pretend to have a particular emotion or feelings. That’s because they can better tell us the story or convey the particular idea of the author, director or other artist involved in the play etc. The “mask” they wear is to help us understand.

What is really galling is when people put on a mask in order to disguise their true intentions to the harm of others. One example is the ski mask when it is worn to disguise the features of an armed robber. Worn as a protection against the cold when skiing it is fully justified – but not when worn on the High Street in order to get away with daylight robbery. And then there is the figurative mask when people pretend to feel or think one thing when in fact something else is true. Yes, we might disguise our true feelings in order to protect a vulnerable person such as a child – we hold back, perhaps, quite how angry we are by not lashing out at them but instead calmly explain that that precious vase that got broken was actually rather valuable.

But isn’t it annoying, to say the least, when someone tries to manipulate us by pretending to do, to think or to feel something when in fact it is not true?

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