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The dark hole of depression

2. The Tactical Smoothie/Run Until You Can No Longer Run

This one is a bit of a double header (which is good, since the title of the post sounds like a movie). It may seem a little obvious and maybe even trite to tell someone to go and exercise and eat well. Many people told me it would help and indeed their advice seemed misplaced considering the severity of my symptoms when I heard it.

The problem with self-managing depression is that the manager... or captain if you prefer (manager sounds a bit like an office worker)... is asleep at the helm. Worse than that, even: the captain is very much awake and is intent on steering the ship into an iceberg, hoping for scenes much less poenient and much more depressing than those in Titanic, if you can imagine that*. The iceberg in this analogy is maybe a huge tub of ice cream or a bed that has been thoroughly slept in already (besides that, it’s only 4pm).

So, how are you supposed to subvert the chain of command and get what you need. What you REALLY need, to get a little better? A little goes a long way when you are trying to course correct from a terrible, and potentially one day life-threatening set of coordinates.

I found this strategy to be very useful for pulling myself out of a nose dive**. After a particularly punishing spell of self-negligent/destructive behaviour brought on by my illness (perhaps for a few days or a week without stopping) I would - unfailingly - have a moment or two of respite. A moment when my inner voice of compassion for myself would have to pipe up and make itself heard. Let’s call this my first mate.***

It turns out, or it did in my case, that a moment is all that’s needed. If you can pounce on that little bit of positive volition and leverage it into some positive action, you can wrestle hold of the ship’s wheel and set course for AMERICA! Or, at least a slightly less self-destructive course than you were on before.

This was how it played out for me:

1. The self-destructive habits and actions come to a whimpering halt after many days.

2. I decide I’m not that bad after all, or perhaps I am that bad, but even bad people have to eat.

3. I go to the shops and decide that buying vegetables and fruit mightn’t be the worst idea in the world. I may be useless but for the moment I’m willing to try and make things a little better for myself.

4. I get home and make a healthy smoothie and put it in the fridge. I may by this point already be edging back towards darkness.

5, The negative, self-hating voice comes back and prevents any further improvement in behaviour. An amount of time passes in which the symptoms again are hitting me hard, but I banked that positive will from earlier, so there’s still hope to pull it round.

6. At some point, maybe at 11am the next day when I’m trying to sleep my way out of unhappiness, I get thirsty. Then I remember my smoothie. I hate myself but now the only bit of positive volition that is needed is to walk to the fridge. You see where this is going.

Many years later I met a cognitive behavioural therapist in a pub, and she told me that this was kind of a form of that. She also said that she was only referred patients who had struggled with the initial prescription of this treatment and asked for more help. I thought back to when that was me - I was given a load of worksheets which seemed to me to be very much like school homework and so a total waste of time.

Later still, I managed to work exercise into this technique. If I could just convince myself to put on some running gear and get out of the house, even to jog for 5 minutes, that would be enough to satisfy my first mate. I always ran for longer than that and I always felt better. Sometimes I didn’t stop running until I was totally physically exhausted. That was one hell of an anti-depressant.

Keep reading these posts for some less commonly recommended techniques that I used, but would never suggest to anyone else (until now - I’ll explain why).


* the Oscars were just on, so I am making a topical yet also totally dated and irrelevant reference. But it’s kind of on theme and analogies are greater than Olivia Colman, so I will persist

** OK, fine, analogies only go so far. Maybe it’s time for a metaphor instead. What’s the difference? How long’s a piece of string? Wait, that’s more of a riddle...

*** Didn’t think I could pull it back, did you? We’re back in the room... I mean ship.

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