Tuesday 12 August 2014

Oh Captain, My Captain.

The sad news about Robin Williams' death on Monday was accompanied by talk about his 'battle with severe depression.' I didn't know him so I can't possibly know how it felt for him or how he dealt with his depression, but I'm sad for his family and for those who did know him.

It does seem that his untimely death has opened up the public conversation about depression and how to live with it. I don't say 'cope with it' as I'm not sure I, or anyone else, does, but I know that I live with it. Depression is a constant in my life and one that has taken most of my life to learn to live with. As part of the general conversation about what being depressed can be like here is my take on it. Please accept this with the proviso that we all have different ways of feeling and managing and at times 'not coping.' These are the things that help me, they may work for you, they may not. I offer them here in the spirit of openness and honesty.

Fake it to make it: 
I smile, I make nice, I meet friends, I post happy photos on Facebook and make jokes on Twitter. It's not that I'm lying about how I feel, but sometimes you just don't need sympathy or empathy or platitudes. You just want to act like it's all ok. Also, when you're around a small child all day there are few opportunities for self -reflection or being morose, so there is a kind of enforced jollity that you find yourself employing. There can be few things more heartbreaking than a toddler asking "why are you so sad Mummy ?" and not having an answer.

Keep on moving: 
I have to exercise every day. If I don't I get agitated as all the anxiety courses around my body and my ability to deal with every day life becomes fraught. The irony is - of course - that with depression can come almost crippling exhaustion so I am constantly forcing myself to go to the swimming pool or to put on trainers to go for a run or a walk. I would much rather lie down on the sofa and try and sleep, but I know that exercise acts as a dopamine hit and for a moment it feels ok. It may not last, but to not exercise is just not an option for me.

Eat well, Sleep well:
I find that I either over or under eat when I am depressed. It isn't an exact science so I can't possibly say what will help me. Some days I want to eat lots of bread others I want chocolate and some days I don't eat for hours and I'm not hungry. I know that I should eat regularly or I feel horrid and that I must drink lots of water to feel well. Instead I often spend an entire day carrying round a full bottle of unopened water and lots of fruit. Then there is the sleep issue. I can be flat out dead on my feet tired and still not sleep. Or I'll get up at an unearthly hour, feed the cat, the goldfish and then go back to bed and fall asleep again for another few hours unaware of the time. There is no 'normal' for me and I'm sure that is not unusual.

Make space: 
Just as I try and keep company and be sociable I know that sometimes I need space. This means asking for help and I don't do that very well. Whether it is asking Hubbie to take the boy out so I can have some quiet time or asking family if they can have him overnight I am only just becoming able to do this. At it's worst a few weeks ago I wanted to take myself away and out of all of it. There are times when a bit of room and nothing to do just makes it all feel different. Not necessarily better, but different and that is ok.

Know who to tell: 
There are people who can hear you be honest and those who just can't. I know who these people are. Last week I spoke for a long time to a friend who I've known for almost 25 years (yes J, it's been that long !) about how it all felt. I spent a lot of the call in tears. In the time we've been friends we've been through and talked about our: 4 marriages, 2 divorces, many miscarriages, post-natal depression, love affairs and indiscretions.

Between us we now have 4 healthy, happy children and we are totally honest with each other - to the point of being beyond embarrassment when asked anything. If I ask J to be honest with me she will be. I do the same for her. It's not easy and it means there are periods of time when we just don't talk for a while as there is a lot to process and we know the conversation will be raw and the questions will be unavoidable. Just having even one person who will not judge when you tell them about the awfulness that is you makes a world of difference.

Knowing who not to tell:
Either because they will judge, or offer unwanted advice or just not listen. I shared a house at uni with 'friends' who sat me down for a chat/intervention and one of them harangued me to tell them "what is wrong with you ?" This neither inspired me to share, nor made me feel it was safe to with such a cold and unfeeling audience. Sometimes you want to spare other people's feelings and not worry them that you can't cope. Most days are functional and fine - some are difficult and require effort. Telling some people that you feel depressed might lead them to picture a neglected infant and to over-react. No-one wants that.

It's not going anywhere: 
Trying to pretend it will all go away and not be there any more is at best a wild dream and at worst a delusion. There is nothing wrong with being depressed. It's not who you are, it's how you are feeling. I've been feeling this for nigh on 33 years and there are times when I believe that it's just part of who I am. It isn't. I can't magically make it go away, but I can do my best to manage how I live through it. It is, however, persistent and always just there waiting to make itself known. Accepting that this is real and owning it is not giving in, it is ensuring that I am able to live with it.

Feelings are ok: 
I spend an inordinate amount of time telling myself not to be angry, or upset or to 'try and be normal' - whatever that is.  Don't punish yourself for having feelings. There are times when it seems like I feel too much, or I feel everything and am not able to disassociate from what is outside my head. Hearing the news at the moment is very difficult for me as I feel angry, sad, upset, powerless and this becomes overwhelming. I'm not alone in that, but if the feelings make you want to harm yourself or others then it's time to tell someone how you feel. That's not easy, I'm not saying it is, but you have to try.

Always look on the bright side:
Ok, this one is partly tongue in cheek. I succumb to such black clouds of depression that I really can't see anything else. While on holiday the boy was having a wonderful time and watching him I appreciated how lucky we are to have him and that he is active, healthy and cheerful. I wasn't always feeling things or wanting to be involved, but I did them anyway. Maybe somewhere along the line in the future I'll have a memory that might feel positive and happy, even if I wasn't happy while it was happening. I might feel it in hindsight because the depressive moods don't remain so photos and mementoes are really valuable reminders of what happened rather than what I was feeling.

I hope that something here might help someone else. I'm not an expert, I'm just another person living with depression and willing to talk about it. 

If you would like professional support here are some links you might find useful:


I wish you the best of luck.


  1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience Swazi xx

  2. Nothing helpful to say, but wanted to let you know I was here.

  3. This post will resonate with people coping with or have been touched by depression. This is sincere advice to both parties. Your section on 'who to tell' stood out for me as perfect info and I would offer my own tidbit - play music everyday that will help you soar out of your current moment, for just a little while.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. I absolutely agree, music and singing are amazingly uplifting :)

  4. Xxx totally agree on the exercise front. I hate going but it calms me down.