One of the Gateways to a Suicidal State of Mind

As World Suicide Prevention Day was on the 10th, I would like to write a couple of posts this coming week about one of the gateways to that suicidal state of mind, depression.

One of the worst things about depression is the uncertainty of just how low the mood will go or the duration of each episode. That sense of losing control of our own mind can quickly become a terrifying prospect.

thVMG1QV7RWhen I first became clinically depressed in 2000, it felt as though a bus had just hit me from behind. I was completely drained of emotion, exhausted, and hung out to dry.  My entire body was suffering from chronic pain, eventually earning a Fibromyalgia misdiagnosis. Days rolled into weeks, months became years, and I steadily lost track of time.

The only routine I could muster was a simple structure based around a minimum of 16hrs sleep, an inadequate junk food diet, and lots of time caring for my two adorable cats, who sadly passed away last year. The quality of sleep was poor due to endless night terrors and I would start each day feeling as if I had just lived through every minute of those nightmares.

What I didn’t realise was that the SSRI antidepressants I had been using for a decade were renowned for vivid dreams and perhaps not the best choice for nightmares associated with PTSD. The Doctors held little interest in my recovery and seemed more concerned if I was suicidal. Their questions were more to do with covering their own ass than any genuine interest in my wellbeing.

I haven’t met one person that suffers from depression who has never experienced a certain degree of suicide ideation, but I was petrified of psychiatric wards and it was shameful to admit those morbid fantasies of killing myself. I will say a little more about this in my next post.

If I had been more honest, or possessed enough strength to find new Doctors, maybe there would’ve been more opportunity to manage the depression and recovery might have transpired sooner. When our mood is this low, we’re definitely not thinking straight and paranoia over losing more control can lock us tightly within that revolving door of depression and ineffective medication.

Of course, everyone’s experience of depression is different and we need to find own slow route to recovery. If you’ve ever been depressed for years, it’s easy to forget what life feels like without a degree of despair looming overhead. A perfect example of this happened to me on Friday.

I returned home from group therapy feeling unusually hyperactive with racing thoughts, rapid speech, and a general feeling of wellbeing. At one point, I wondered if someone had spiked my water with speed and even considered taking a benzodiazepine to help bring me down. While it wasn’t a bad feeling, I didn’t know what was happening or how I should respond.

After a few hours of buzzing around, doing additional spring-cleaning and bribing the dog to go for yet another walk, I realised that for the first time in fifteen years, I was actually feeling free of depression.

I was desperate to share the experience with my neighbour and friend, Sarah, but every time I attempted to say the words, “I feel happy,” I burst into tears. Sarah must have thought I had already lost it, but the tears were an expression of my relief to have come so far. This might be difficult to understand if you’ve never lived in the dark world of depressive illness.

black dogIt doesn’t seem to matter what stage of recovery we’re at, one of the biggest fears and major obstacles to reclaiming our lives is relapse. We’ve all been there, feeling relieved at that faint glimmer of improvement, only to open our eyes the next morning to find the black dog of depression is growling at the door once more.

It doesn’t seem to matter how often I’ve experienced this, each episode is fraught with grave disappointment and that familiar fear of the unknown. According to some internet figures, in a small minority of people who suffer depression, the symptoms seldom go away entirely. Those who experience two episodes of depression are more likely to have a third.

When we’re depressed or only just recovering, the last thing we want to consider is the prospect of relapse. However, a recurring bout of depression or a temporary worsening of symptoms is a very real probability and I find this knowledge has helped me to deal with the life-sucking disappointment whenever it happens. Even though I feel relatively good today, that awareness is always on standby.

Unfortunately, I’m not a lover of self-affirmation techniques at the best of times. The trouble is, I become so consumed by the depression, I just can’t be bothered telling that sad face in the mirror how wonderful and capable he really is. It just doesn’t cut it for me.

My technique has always been to accept the mood as it is for today, although I appreciate this may sound a little too much like giving up to some people. Stressing over the process was never helpful, but by accepting those backwards steps as inevitable and even an integral part of our healing, did remove a proportion of the sting.

One of the most important tactics for my own stability is to maintain a simple routine. This may only be within four walls or a short distance from the front door, but having a basic purpose in our day is enough to plant the small seeds of recovery.

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51 thoughts on “One of the Gateways to a Suicidal State of Mind

      1. Shawn

        Thanks for sharing your experience of this “Black Dog”. Interesting that on my Site I reference the “Black Dog” as well. http://thewayofjoyandease.com/depression/ I’ve slid down the slippery slope a number of times but as yet have not had to turn to medication or worse. I try a number of methods including Meditation, self help reading, riding it out, etc and last but not least have the support of a most loving family, including a boy with Down Syndrome who is my most loyal best friend. Best wishes in your situation. Will try to stay in touch.

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  1. Priceless Joy

    You have hit the nail on the head Cat. (Sorry for the cliche). When my depression began, I felt like I was slowly sinking into a black hole and then all of a sudden the bottom fell out plummenting me into severe mental illness of psychotic breakdowns and depilating paranoia. It took many years to work through all this hell and for many years after I lived in absolute fear of it happening again, knowing I was still “fragile” mentally for a very long time. I think we get to the point of almost being afraid of being happy because of the fear of it being jerked out from under us. If you are beginning to feel some happiness, I just want you to know that the longer you experience that the stronger you will become, even strong enough to fight against that horrible depression from ever consuming you again. I have sort of a funny story for when I am feeling the onset of depression. I take out a timer and tell myself that I am allowed to have a “pity party” for 15 minutes and that was it. I would set the timer and when the alarm went off, I would force myself out of that mindset. Of course, this won’t work for everyone but it helped me learn that I am control of my thoughts, they are not in control of me. Great post Cat!! I truly hope all is going very well for you my dear friend!

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    1. Cat Post author

      HI Joy, your wonderful comment is testament to your own healing. When I had a breakdown in 2000, it started as psychotic depression. I’ll never forget those very real hallucinations and the fool I made of myself when insisting something was there when it clearly wasn’t. It’s terrifying to realise that we’re not really in complete control of our precarious minds and anyone can loose the plot completely.

      You’re so right about the fear of being happy, it is quite funny, really. Thank you for such an insightful comment

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      1. Priceless Joy

        Thank you Cat! You are so right about the hallucinations. I had never realized that depression can turn into something so horrible until it actually happened to me. I think a lot of people don’t understand this and feel it is just one feeling sorry for themselves. Unfortunately, in that state of mind, we don’t have control over our thoughts and that is hard for them to understand that.

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        1. Cat Post author

          Some people don’t even realise that sort of depression exists and there is little understanding of people who are completely debilitated by the depth of their despair. Thankfully, we lived through it, Joy, thank you 🙂

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  2. Jean

    I relate to what you say, although I am one of those that has a depression that never lifts. I think of it as grey, and the horrible kind you describe as black. I run for meds when the black one starts up, and I just accept the grey. Like all depressions, it clouds the past and predicts the future. It has always been here, and always will be.

    I have been on Bupropion (Wellbutrin) for many years now. I think that it is only used to help pple stop smoking in the UK. It raises the other neurotransmitters, but doesn’t for much for serotonin. So when I feel the blackness starting to engulf me, they add an SSRI for a few months.

    Recently I started taking Gabopentin for nerve pain caused by my spinal arthritis. This is an anti-epileptic at higher doses, and is marketed in the US under the proprietary name Neurontin and also prescribed for pain from peripheral nerve damage. To my amazement, it works as an anti-depressant and ant-anxiety med for me! The baseline grey depression is very mild now, milder than I have ever known it to be. And I had no idea that I had a baseline of anxiety until it went away.

    Sounds like I deal with this by gobbling meds. Well, I do, but I also work my ass off in therapy. I’ll do anything that works.

    Another subject — I hate affirmations, too. Makes me aware that I am lying. Sometimes I can reword them and make them acceptable, but it still feels pretty New-Agey to me.

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    1. Dawn D

      I too took Neurontin for a while to help the SSRI work better. The deep sleepiness was difficult to handle with a social life and two young children. But considering the difficult relationship I had with sleep, still have, it was probably the best for a while. Helped me to rest which in turn helped the depression.

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        1. Dawn D

          My grandma got into a vicious cycle of taking sleeping tabs then being unable to go to sleep without taking one. This has been part of my history and I always wanted to try and prevent this. Not to mention that I lived with a man who was fiercely opposed to medication, whatever form or for whatever reason they were prescribed. But yes, I agree, tiredness is never a good mix with depression. Though I realised that, for me, sleep was also a way of escaping life. If I was in bed, I didn’t need to take care of things 🙂

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            1. Dawn D

              Whereas I have had to find ways to deal with my problems going to sleep. I realise now one of them was sharing my bed with a man I feared and didn’t want to touch. But when he wasn’t there, the empty bed wasn’t helping much either. At least not at night. Sigh! I do indeed have a difficult relationship with sleep 🙂

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    2. Cat Post author

      Hi Jean. Yes, we use Wellburtin to stop smoking, but they weren’t keen on me taking it for some reason. I use Pregablin (Lyrica) for nerve pain, which is similar to Gabopentin. Like you, I inadvertently found it helped with anxiety, particularly my paranoia. I’m reducing pain meds, so increased the Pregablin because it’s amazing for my type of pain. I am all for meds if they help us to tread through the treacle. It must be difficult not to ever feel free of depression. As I said, I am only just feeling happiness for the first time in many years, but I do realise this could and probably will change anytime. I am still in therapy, so I am not over it yet 🙂 Thank you, Jean.

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      1. Jean

        Gabopentin and Pregablin work the same way. Given their generic names, they are probably extremely close chemically. Glad it works for you!

        I don’t think I will ever get over it. I just hope to live with my past in a different, healthier way. I never hoped to get over the depression; reducing it is the most I can ask for and it is fantastic. I am very grateful…most days.

        BTW, there is a short article in today’s Guardian about how emotional pain is felt in the same part of the brain as physical pain. Interesting.

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  3. D. Wallace Peach

    One of the challenges with depression seems to be the loss of perspective that comes with falling down that deep well. The walls seem unscalable, the darkness engulfing. Perspective is knowledge is power. Your technique of accepting the mood as it is for the day isn’t giving up at all; it’s a function of awareness, growing perspective, and ultimately an expression of your ability to make your own choices. Continue to be gentle with yourself, accept the good days and bad days as inevitable, and trust your instincts about your process, what works for you, and feels right. ❤

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  4. jennwasfrench

    Great article and insight. I feel the same way about the affirmations. Though I do try. I try to take the advice I give my kids….”When you feel tired and weak and your feet hurt and you just don’t think you can go any further…look behind you and take a look at how far you’ve already come.”

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    1. Cat Post author

      That’s great advice for young kids and adults. Affirmations are proven to change thinking etc, but in many ways it really depends what stage we’re at in our depression/recovery. I might be more agreeable to them now, but when we’re on the bottom end of hopelessness, they won’t do much for me. Many thanks, Jenn, for your supportive comment, it means a great deal to know people get it 🙂

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  5. hbhatnagar

    That’s probably how I get through those days, think nothing, do nothing just sink in the flood and wait for the waters to recede….love your honesty, it’s not easy to admit to suicidal ideation.

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  6. mincs1

    Dear Cat, this post has moved me in a number of ways. I am thrilled to read that you wanted to share, “I feel happy.” Your honesty and candor brings a smile to my face. I have a son who is an alcoholic. I have not been diagnosed as having depression but I can relate to your words. Your statement about accepting your mood for the day is exactly how I have to cope with my son; I have to accept where he is at. When we first sent him to a treatment center I believed that he would come away with new skills (which he did acquire) and be able to go through the rest of his life without drinking. His first relapse was particularly devastating for me. I love your words “accepting backward steps as inevitable and even integral part of the healing.” I don’t know how to convey to you how soothing these words are; how hope filled they are for me. I want to thank-you for continuing to share your story. Your words are powerful. With sincere gratitude, Mary

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Mary, I know a great deal about addictions, both on a personal and professional level. I was a drug and alcohol counsellor and worked in rehab for 7yrs. One of the first important lessons I learned in rehab is that we cannot define success as complete abstinence. Of course, this is the ultimate goal, but there are so many dips and turns along the way. However, they are never a loss or a failure, each one contributes to the overall healing. For many people, in the beginning, ‘getting clean’ is very often about giving themselves a break and sometimes this is the very thing that keeps their health from deteriorating to dangerous levels, so this too is success. Relapse is devastating for everyone, including the person with the addiction, but they’re usually numbing their senses while their loved ones are feeling the full force of the pain. When I worked in the field, the recommendation was the “tough love” approach, “throw them out on the street” sort of thing, but I was reading recently that this theory is outdated. Apparently, evidence suggests addicts fight addiction better when they have connections in their life. It’s hard and I am so chuffed my post made some sense, it helps soothe a lot of my own self-doubts about the content. Thanks, Mary

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      1. mincs1

        Thank-you for taking the time to reply with sharing your experience! I have to tell you that I could never accept the tough love approach. It seems like when the addicts need you the most they are asked to fend for themselves. I do not condone aiding them with their addiction but when they are detoxing and trying to get clean again they are so very vulnerable….
        I find your writing is deep and insightful. Although we do not share the same worries I am touched by what you choose to share and I can relate. Big Hug to you 😉

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  7. manyofus1980

    Routine and having one is so important. Also finding a doctor who gets it, and gets you and who truly cares has been a life saver for me. Depression is horrible but there is hope! XX

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    1. Cat Post author

      Finding a decent doc is of major importance. So often, we put up with doctors just because we think we need to. I learned this the hard way. Thanks Carol Anne

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  8. Dawn D

    I remember the days when I finally felt happy. It was beautiful. It happened after years of feeling some degree of depression, all of my adult life, even if I wasn’t aware of it until after the birth of my first child. Then it finally became acceptable to be depressed, post natal depression is a thing, it’s acceptable, I finally had a reason and could admit to being depressed with less shame.
    When I finally felt what being simply happy meant… it was so great, I never wanted it to end. And then I had a miscarriage and my world came crumbling down. I was again engulfed by the dark feelings. And at times like these, it’s tempting to dismiss the happy feelings and decide it’s hurts less to not know happiness, because then the sense of loss is not so strong.
    Realising that you are happy and accepting it for what it is, a reprieve in a fight at first, it does help. Accepting that there will be relapses and that it’s normal to have them… it helps.
    Every little bit of self awareness helps.
    I think it’s marvelous that you can accept the mood for each day as it is. In a sense, it’s a way of accepting that if today is bad, it doesn’t mean tomorrow will be too. It’s giving yourself that hope that you aren’t stuck.
    Affirmations are difficult to do at first, but they helped me tremendously. At least the affirmations that helped shut up the negative voices. I managed to see that if someone was talking like this to a friend of mine, I’d tell them off and ask them to shut up. If I wasn’t my best friend, who would? So I needed to tell those voices to leave me alone.
    And slowly, as my strengths grew, I was able to affirm with security that I do love my body, that i *am* grateful for my beautiful, healthy and radiant body. And now… I feel it.
    Don’t worry about overblown affirmations. Set yourself small goals, if you ever decide to go back to them. Things that may make you uncomfortable at first but that you know your mind is playing negative tricks on you when telling you these things.

    Thank you for writing this post. Suicidal thoughts aren’t easy. Even less easy to admit to. But many more people have been there than we want to believe, simply because people usually don’t broadcast that information, prefer to forget about it happening to them.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Sometimes it does hurt more to know happiness, Dawn, and so easy to forget too. I would rather experience it while being aware of potential changes ahead. Maybe that sounds all ‘prophet of doom’ but realistic for many of us.

      Affirmations do help many and proven to help change thinking. Maybe one needs to be at that stage in their own recovery. Thank you, Dawn, I do appreciate your contribution 🙂

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      1. Jean

        I sometimes change affirmations so that they are still positive, but I do not feel I am lying.

        Example:
        “Even though I am depressed, I love and accept myself unconditionally.”
        “Even though I am depressed, I still believe I am an okay person.”

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      2. Dawn D

        Oh, I know. It hurts because you think that if you hadn’t known it, then you would be satisfied with he milder depression you experience on some days. Happiness gives you something to compare and contrast with. And helps you see how far you still have to go on the down days.
        But I also think that it’s what helped me eventually get to where I am.
        I agree with one of your other comments: getting better can be measured not only by the length of time one is depressed/happy, but also by the depth to which one falls back to during relapse. I believe that it’s 2 steps up one step down, but eventually, if you keep working, you do get to a higher and higher mood.
        Keep moving forward, and thank you for writing about these things. I have never suffered from psychosis, but I remember vividly the case of the psychotic American woman who drowned her 5 children… I remember how deeply it touched me, having young children of my own, and how I wondered who were these people who had left a mom struggling with mental health issues so deep and scary and were now readily asking for her death. Where was the support, empathy, all those things that could have prevented this terrible tragedy?
        I am glad that you found the help you needed and are finally able to move and see the light.
        I wish you as pleasant and short a journey forward as possible.
        XO

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  9. Glynis Jolly

    I need you to educate me here. I understand about the bouts of depression and how having clinical depression doesn’t necessarily mean being depressed all the time. What I’m not quite getting is how much time in between bouts registers as progressing toward wellness? Does a person know when he or she is progressing in the right direction or does fear of relapse prevent this?

    I find the illness of depression bewildering. The symptoms are usually clearer seen in other mental issues and aren’t as flighty as they are with depression.

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    1. Cat Post author

      For some people, one day of feeling less depressed is progress towards healing and this increases with time. If I still feel this good in another week or two, I know I have reached the top of a very steep climb. Sometimes people don’t realise things are improving, in therapy they say we are often the last to notice profound change in ourselves.

      I think all MH is bewildering and no two people experience the same condition in the same way, just like MH drugs, they are so varied and individual. Thank you, Glynis

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  10. cardamone5

    Wow! You captured what it feels like to relapse very well, and since i have been feeling this way recently, I am appreciative of your effort to put my feelings into words. Usually, like you, I try not to fight the feelings, which tends to make them dissipate faster, but yesterday, on top of the feelings, I felt (ha) compelled to fight them because I am better now, and should not be feeling this way…I should not be so vulnerable to small negatives in my life. And, wala, the feelings intensified and lingered. Today, it’s better. The event I was hoping to happen, didn’t, but for now, it doesn’t bother me. Maybe in a few seconds it will, but right now, it doesn’t.

    Love,
    E

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    1. Cat Post author

      It often feels like a rollercoaster ride. Something about accepting what is seems helpful at times, but that’s not to say trying to pull ourselves out of it is necessarily bad. It must really depend on where we’re at with the depression/recovery and what is pulling us under at that particular time. In my experience, the blip in mood seldom crashes to the depths of our past. I hope you manage to sort whatever is troubling you, sometimes we need to confront rather than live in fear of it happening. Thank you, Elizabeth… and I love your new gravatar pic, so nice to see you!

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  11. mandy

    I really needed to read this today, Cat. I’ve been away from reading blogs for a bit so I reread your last post first. I found myself getting teary when you talked about taking 15 years off from living and all you’d missed out on. I took nearly 30 years off. It feels criminal. And this post sums up the reason-depression. I just feel really pissed about it today. I’m supposed to be feeling overjoyed right now at the good things happening, yet there’s that niggling knowledge that the black cloud could come visit and ruin everything. It’s so easy to give depression power. But you have this amazing understanding of it, which you’ve stated beautifully here. So I’ll probably read this more than once! Thanks, Cat.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Sometimes it does feel criminal, Mandy, but we’ve learned from a part of life that other people will never understand. It’s like studying at an elite university of recovery. I think most of us are lifelong members

      I am not sure I do have an understanding of depression, but I’ve learned that it helps me to accept it as it is and, thankfully, the bugger has been more absent recently, but not for long. Only a few days after writing this, I too woke feeling the blues and had an uncomfortable session with Paul, thinking about dealing with the emotions from my attack. I thought, ‘here we go again, my high didn’t last long’. The truth is, it lasted longer than the last 🙂

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      1. mandy

        You make a good point, Cat. We need to remind ourselves that recovery doesn’t magically remove the bad stuff. But taking notice of the recovery time from the bad stuff, and that the feeling-good-periods are lasting longer, is pretty important. Just knowing the down times are temporary helps me recover from them faster–no more feeling complete hopelessness like I used to have… I’m sure sorry you had a bad period-but working through those horrific attack memories are important. It’s terrible to go through, but let Paul guide you through it until you can manage it. You’re doing the work, Cat. And it’s paying off.

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  12. therabbitholez

    Depression seeming comes out of nowhere, your aware things are not right, in my case I was suprised when depression was diagnosed, it’s also very hard to accept, however the signs had been there for a long time.

    I always describe it as being taken hostage, with no ransom, the severity as we know can and does have a devastating effect on your life, to the point as stated here, your world becomes very small, the routine created only allows the most basic functions of life if at all.

    Recovery I feel in many ways is more challenging, and mustn’t be taken lightly as a relapse leaves you unprepared again to deal with the ugly spectre of depression, even if you are self aware, it just reinforces the feelings powerlessness, and isolation.

    Starting over the process back to life again, is scary, though worthwhile, as we learn new lessons all the time, for me it’s not so much about happiniess but being able to face my problems head on, and mostly not being afraid to live my life.

    As always Cat an excellent insightful post, thank you

    Cay x

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  13. Sharon Alison Butt

    Wow, there is one sentence that stood out to me. You mentioned that you burst into tears. I recall a previous blog where you stated that you hadn’t cried for years. So that’s a huge improvement then? My question mark is there as I’m not sure if you’ve already acknowledged this, but it seems a big step to me. And yes, just keep doing the simple things and remember that most non-depressed people are doing far TOO MUCH and are on their way to the wards if they don’t alter their lifestyles. x

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    1. Cat Post author

      Yes, there have been many tears in recent week’s but none from a place of despair. Thank you, Sharon. How are you? I just checked your blog to see if you’ve posted

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      1. Sharon Alison Butt

        Thanks for asking. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that my words are too blunt and shocking, so I’m not sure if to tone it down or re-evaluate whether to continue. But it’s nice to have the time to read other blogs properly without the thought of what I’m going to write. I never seem to run out of things to blab about but I think I need to try and stick to my original theme. However, sharp criticism throws me so I need to establish if that’s just me battling with pride or if I can ignore the feedback. I’ve gone back and tweeked a few things but I’m almost scared to speak out now. Maybe my silence is a good thing 🙂

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  14. Alice

    “My technique has always been to accept the mood as it is for today, although I appreciate this may sound a little too much like giving up to some people.”

    Sounds like an absolutely sound strategy to me. Moods are just moods. They change our perceptions, but not reality itself. The bad ones too will pass.

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  15. D.G.Kaye

    Your posts are so intimate and at the same time educational, not only for those like me, who read to understand depression, but for those who suffer it and can find hope, understanding and solace in your analogies through your process. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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