I sat in my psychiatrist’s office last week feeling terrible. I was severely depressed. We went through the usual motions:

  • “Are you sleeping?” “No.”
  • “Are you eating?” “No.”
  • “Are you doing any activity?” “No.”

I expected him to tell me that I was in another depressive episode and he would change my medication and in about three weeks I’d start feeling better, but that’s not what happened. He didn’t want to change my medication at all. He wanted to do nothing. What was I paying for if he wasn’t going to help me? I was bitterly disappointed but said nothing. I left his office feeling miserable and hopeless. If nothing was going to change then nothing would change. I would be stuck in this miserable pit of darkness forever.

Then I had a visit from a friend. I downloaded my woes to her and told her that my psychiatrist was doing nothing to help me. She, being the very good friend that she is promptly kicked my arse. She reminded me very clearly that medication is only one factor in the process of getting better. There are so many other variables. So many. Some of them I can’t control. Some of them I can. I needed to focus my attention on the ones I can control.

Great Depression of 08

I’ve learned this lesson before. Eleven years ago, to be precise. My family called it the Great Depression of 08, and a Great Depression it was. I was suicidal, bedridden and lost.  The clearest memory I have from that time is being driven to my doctor’s appointment by a friend and every telegraph pole that I saw along the way, I heard it scream at me “come on, hit me.  Hit me and it will all be over. You know you want to.” And I did want to. I wanted the pain to stop, for the torment to be over and the noise in my head to cease.

I suffered through my depression for months. I saw my doctor, my psychiatrist and my psychologist regularly and took all my medication that prescribed. For several months however I just didn’t get any better. Then one day my life changed. I walked into my psychologist’s office an absolute wreck. I was extremely anxious and trembling with dread, I was severely depressed, dishevelled and untidy. A complete and utter mess. I sat down opposite my psychologist and waited for her to launch into her usual strategies and techniques. This day was different. She took one look at me and put down her pen and paper. She sighed and she said to me,

“Is this how you want to live your life? Is this how you want it to be?”

Of course, this was not what I wanted. I didn’t want this life, I hated it.  I was being tormented and tortured.  Of course, I didn’t want to live like this. I shook my head.

She said “Then do what I’m telling you. Work hard on your thinking. Take control back over this illness. Practise these techniques and you will get back control.”

At that very moment, my life changed. Instead of just attending my psychology appointments I started participating. Every technique she taught me I took on. Every strategy, I took home and I practised every day. I worked my arse off to get better, and get better I did.  

I still needed my medication, without question, and I needed to see my doctor and my psychiatrist, but what got me better was essentially hard work on my behalf. So often when we’re depressed, we feel like we have no control. The thoughts in our heads are automatic, we can’t stop them. The way we feel we can’t change. There is so much that we can do though. There is so much within our control. We can choose to work hard and give ourselves the best chance at getting better. From this day on I became so very well. I had eight years of remission and I had never felt better. When I was in the depths of depression I could never have imagined being so well. I finally could make a life for myself. I could function and could grow. Finally, I could live.

Yet here I was again eleven years later in the same situation. Depending desperately on someone else to make me better. I had fallen in the same hole and not even realised it. So, what can we do to make ourselves better? What are the things that we can control?

  1. Practise good thinking
  2. Move and exercise
  3. Manage stress
  4. Eat a good nutritious diet
  5. Plan and do activities no matter how small

These are the factors that make us better. Medication does a very important job. Absolutely. But these are the factors that we can control. This is what we can actively do to give our medication the best chance of making us better.

So once again, I have a lot of work to do, and it is work that I will need to do every day for the rest of my life. Please don’t think for one minute that I am minimising the struggle that doing these things is. They take commitment and hard work. Every day you must battle your mind to remind yourself that these things work. That you have to work one more day to get better. Living a fulfilling life is possible. For those of us with a mental illness we just need to follow some golden rules to make it possible.

I’m going to take you through my golden rules in the next few posts. Stay with me as I know these rules help.

Sometimes we all need a reminder to get back to basics and do all we can to recover.