Tag Archives: Moving on

Resolutions & Stepping Stones

The leap year of 2016 is also the year of the Fire Monkey on the Chinese calendar. Mercury makes a rare transit between the sun and the earth, and many have already sailed through the first week of their New Year resolutions.

Many of the New Year resolutions we pledge each year can be a little on the ambitious side. Nevertheless, we press ahead with sword and shield, eager to prove they can survive beyond the average four-week lifespan. It’s not long before our Christmas inspiration encounters the cold, procrastinating winter months, and we begin to question just how realistic our goals were.

I sound like the New Year Scrooge, casting a shadow of doubt over the resolution party. But, as with the festive alcohol, naughty nibbles, and gut-busting meals, we need to apply equal amounts of moderation to our plans for improvement.

Many countries across the globe have conducted research into the success of New Year resolutions. Some of the more optimistic findings come from a University in Pennsylvania, where 77% of their participants made it through the first week. 55% stuck with it for one month, and 40% squeezed their way through six months.

Introducing healthy changes is hard enough, but breaking bad habits can be extraordinarily difficult, sometimes impossible. An old Therapist used to say, “Change is a process, not an event, and each stage of that process is preparation for the next.” Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at self-discipline. Add depression to the challenge and it’s not long before the mix becomes toxic with failure and self-doubt.

Battling with mental health problems can be a destructive journey for anyone. My own self-esteem tumbles to an all-time low and faith in any prospect of change becomes distant and weakened with time. Even though I plan and exercise different steps to recovery, it’s hard to maintain motivation, when depression zaps every ounce of strength to function on the bad days.

The advice offered by millions of google articles on how to stick to New Year resolutions, sound similar to the strategies I learned during the therapy programme. Be realistic. Be specific and be prepared to divide each target into smaller goals.

I used to make the same annual resolution of enrolling on a full-time Diploma or Degree course. Somehow, studying became a gauge to recovery. But, I would lose a little more faith at the start of each term time, when my name failed to appear on a college register.

The ‘college’ word hasn’t come up on this year’s ‘to–do’ list, although the smaller goals aspire to the same objective. Weekly support groups, trauma therapy, and short vocational courses, comprise a set of sub-goals that feel more solid and doable. This doesn’t mean the process won’t escape the usual apathy, or the prospect of failure. It doesn’t seem to matter how small the goal, most of us fear any kind of failure, even though we should be embracing it the most.

Failure forms a necessary part of the human experience. They encompass a wide array of wonders, from the miracle of a child’s conception, to every invention witnessed by humankind. Yet, despite witnessing a solid record of success, we still regard failure as the enemy.

Whenever plans take an unexpected nose-dive, I’m soon berating my good-for-nothing-abilities and interpret the minor setback as major defeat. I’m guilty of one-track thinking and fail to see that there are other options, sub-goals… stepping stones.
Sometimes it’s better to hold off on some of our aspirations, until we acquire a better position. This doesn’t necessarily signify procrastination. We’re still moving forward, advancing on the same objective, only from a different angle. One of the group Therapists once said, “We need to step back and ask ourselves what can be done differently… what will help to conquer the hurdles?”

One of the most intriguing articles on New Year resolutions appeared in last week’s Independent newspaper in the UK. Scientists behind a study claim that people were more likely to stick to their goals if they discard the statements and present them as questions instead. Apparently, a question creates a psychological response beneficial to willpower and self-discipline.

Wishing everyone a very Happy and Healthy New Year and many answered Questions!

The end of Therapy

I often contemplated the end of therapy, anticipating a time of fear and doubt. Now that I’m here, the experience isn’t the Armageddon I imagined. This might be due to exhaustion, or it could be the wobbly relationship with my Therapist, Paul.

I would say that our therapeutic relationship has been a comfortable one. His calm, laid-back character oozed an impartiality and empathy that only encouraged conversation to flow effortlessly. The initial months of therapy were testament to a life that had wadded through its fair share of trauma. I don’t know whether to cringe or laugh at some of the dysfunctional beliefs and statements from those earlier days, but it’s comforting to realise that I’ve come a long way.

It will take some time to appreciate the finer details of the therapeutic journey, but one important element missing, is my Therapist Paul. His absences have littered our therapy space since the beginning of the programme. The first few didn’t mean too much, but the strain intensified slowly, as we climbed through six, eight, and then twelve cancellations.

I wrote about most of this in my last post, so I won’t go over old ground. By the time he returned to work last week, I had managed to plough through most of the transference and the anger dissolved into a minor irritation. His absences haven’t ruin therapy, but the constant dripping of disappointment, could corrode the trust within any therapeutic alliance.

When Paul and I met two weeks ago, it was obvious that he had been talking to the Psychiatrist of the therapy team. He knew already that I had seen him on his knees. Perhaps she asked him to justify praying during work time… on my therapy time. I pretended not to notice how our accounts seem to have different timescales. I’m not stupid and know exactly what happened that day.

He would’ve looked for me in the reception area at 2pm. I’m typically a couple of minutes early, but seldom do I run late. On this particular day, I imagine how he seized the opportunity for a quickie – a prayer that is – before returning to fetch me from the waiting room five minutes later.

I wasn’t expecting him to sit in a chair and wait indefinitely, but I arrived at the therapy room approximately three to four minutes late… this is hardly enough time to apparently form a conclusion that I wasn’t coming.

We had a frank conversation two weeks ago, but it can’t be easy for a Therapist to get an earful of transference, especially if they’re not okay within themselves. It would be so easy to assume that his unreliable history demonstrates a lack of investment in my therapy. I don’t believe he’s irresponsible. Some of his clients from the distant past, are as surprised as I am.

Paul said the therapy service is offering to extend my time, but my indecisiveness changed the subject quickly. Rather than leave on the 9th December, I can stay until the end of January. I was probably being flippant and bitchy when I doubted his ability to fulfil the commitment.

Two days later, Paul phoned to change the time of our next session. He called back five minutes later to say, “Thank you.” When our appointment day arrived, I received an email from his boss.

“Dear Cat,

Apologies, but your appointment today with Paul is cancelled. Please contact re any concerns

I should’ve been annoyed, but my time with Paul is over and that feels strangely satisfying. It’s not all negative. The value of our time together far outweighs his absences.

I replied to his manager’s email. My leaving dates are Wednesday 9th Dec with Paul and Friday 11th for the group. Paul’s still off sick and won’t be available for my last session tomorrow, but it makes little difference. The end is disappointing, but it has been a wonderful experience.

 

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.