I’ll be honest, I’ve had a bad time of it recently. Since before Christmas I have been mentally circling the edge of the rabbit hole, and it only took the arrival of new year to send me spinning in for a little while. I hope I am coming out of it now, but at times like that, I think of Winston Churchill:
‘I don’t like standing near the edge of a platform when an express train is passing through. I like to stand back and, if possible, get a pillar between me and the train. I don’t like to stand by the side of a ship and look down into the water. A second’s action would end everything. A few drops of desperation.’
Churchill struggled with depression, calling it his black dog, which is an excellent metaphor to describe that feeling of waking up knowing that something has arrived or come back into your life that was previously not there. That is so often how depression can be. And as for desperation, I doesn’t have to be so extreme as being afraid to stand on platform edges. Perhaps you start to notice you think about death a lot more – not necessarily your own, but maybe you find yourself worrying about the deaths of loved ones. Maybe you sort of wonder on your drive home from work what would happen if you swerved the wheel suddenly. Maybe the thought keeps returning every time you drive that route. Maybe you’re exhausted all the time, and just feel so on edge in your daily life, so constantly close to tears, that you find yourself just wishing for some sort of illness, an accident, that might give you time off to rest. Perhaps you begin to wonder at what speed a car needs to hit you to break a leg. There it is, the little seed of desperation, planted in your mind.
So how do you keep the black dog at bay? How do stop the desperation from growing into something dangerous?
How do you climb back out of the rabbit hole?
Well, ignoring it doesn’t help.
If the dog is there, the dog is there. If the thought is there, the thought is there. Denying it will only give it more strength, make it seem worse and more illicit than it actually is. Because the reality is that whilst suicide is obviously an incredibly serious thing, having dark thoughts doesn’t mean that you are one step away from jumping off a bridge. Not at all. Our brains are complex and magical organs, and sometimes we process things subconsciously that we haven’t realised yet, and our darkest thoughts can be a product of that. Our brain trying to tell us that something is a bit off, and we need a little bit of help. These thoughts are not the whole story of who you are and your mental health, but they can be warning signs. Last week my thoughts were very dark, but rather than assuming it meant I wanted to kill myself, my partner very knowledgeably identified that it was part of a pattern. It meant I was having a rough time mentally, and I needed to step back and take a proper look at the situation. Several pressure points in my life in the last two months have lead to this; a mixture of things as big as a car accident and as small as getting a little bit sick.
Perhaps you feel this way because you’re really overworked.
Perhaps you feel this way because you really actually hate the winter and miss the sunshine.
Perhaps you feel this way because you don’t feel satisfied in some of your life choices.
Perhaps, like me, you feel this way because you have a long-standing anxiety disorder and depression and something has triggered you.
So what can you do?
1.Tell someone you trust. Speaking the thing aloud can make it much less terrifying, and also give you a sense of release. Sometimes the act of just telling someone is enough the banish the lure of plaguing bad thoughts, sometimes it just enables someone around you to be a person who can check on you, offer you extra help when you need it most. Sometimes it’s hard to tell someone in our lives our problems, and if it’s impossible for you then maybe somewhere like Samaritans, or Mind can lend an ear. They are there to listen, to be the person you can trust.
2. Be a bit kind to yourself. Don’t be too hard on yourself about it. Yes, feeling crap is annoying and frustrating, and if you have a demanding life then it can be really easy to blame yourself when you feel unable to meet those demands. But the reality is that your body is talking to you about what you need. Everyone has that one symptom that comes before a major bout of flu – for me it’s a sore throat, and I know then it’s time to boost up, get a bit more vitamin C, a few good nights of sleep. Sometimes dark and troubling thoughts can be like that one symptom, warning you that actually, your body needs some help to cope with the extra stress. Acting as a sign that actually, everything isn’t okay, and if you let it go unchecked it might get a lot worse.
2. So get a bit of help. I’m not saying you should jump straight into therapy or rush to the doctors for medication, I just mean that you should give yourself permission to ask for the help that you need, or give yourself the help you need. At the moment I have found that I have needed tasks and company to structure my day, give me a way of pushing through the darkness and make me feel purposeful again. So even though it is embarrassing and I kind of hate it, I confided in a few close friends that I had been having a bad time and arranged for some hang out time this week. I have written lists. I have allowed myself to buy fancy pens for writing. Because I know that’s what I need. That’s my little bit of mental vitamin C.
Maybe you really need a weekend off from work and away from everything, where you just stay in. Maybe you really need to call a friend when you get into your flat at the end of the day, just to touch base with another human and get rid of the loneliness. Maybe you need to give yourself time to do that thing that relaxes you; watching your favourite TV show, painting, writing, sketching. Maybe you need to skype family members. Maybe you need to purchase a daylight lamp to lift your mood (they really do work!) Maybe you need a little bit of exercise every day to pump up your endorphins. Maybe what you actually need is therapy or medication, maybe it’s time for you to take that step, I don’t know.
What I do know is that there is an end to a dark day, or a week of dark days, or even years. What I do know is that when we read the signs of our mental health and act to help ourselves, then we come out stronger and healthier. What I do know is that last week was a bad week, but that doesn’t mean this week will necessarily be as bad. And the reason I know that is in part due to the fact that I have spoken to people I trust and not let the darkness eat away at my insides. I have been honest about where I am, and the act of being honest has helped me face my own situation head on. I have been afraid, I have been anxious, but I have asked for what I need.
There is so much about mental health that can feel out of our control, as if we are in the hands of a terrible being intent on playing with us until we fall apart. But we are in the hands of those we trust, those who love us and stand with us in our darkness. When we allow ourselves to be open and speak about our darkness we allow ourselves to be helped. I don’t know where you find yourself today, what state your mental health is in. What I do know that it can be worked out, and if you are scared and don’t have someone to work it out with, get in touch. I’ll be here.