Although my recovery from severe anxiety and depression has since plateaued, in the first few weeks following diagnosis I was surprised at how much better I felt so quickly.
A number of things had changed during this time:
- I had spoken to the doctor about how I was feeling, and entered the system of seeking treatment.
- I had written about how I had been feeling, and had a lot of conversations with people on and offline about mental health.
- I took on more responsibility at work and got a pay rise.
- The gym re-opened and I developed a regular exercise habit.
- I overhauled my diet: less carbs, more protein (including shakes and supplements after working out), less alcohol, and started taking daily vitamins.
- These last two resulted in visible changes to my body, with people telling me I felt more toned (I can also feel my abs move when I walk, and so have taken to keeping my palms pressed to my core).
Basically, I started doing stuff and I started seeing results of what I was doing. It reminded me that one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your happiness is to feel in control of your own life.
Granted, in the midst of depression this can be difficult. But even things like choosing to and being able to cycle somewhere (previously I had been to anxious to get on my bike) made me feel powerful. Small wins towards my goals, like making it to the gym for ten minutes or turning down a second biscuit at work, built up momentum and I was gradually more able to feel in control of the bigger things.
Once I had decided that control was a key to happiness, I started noticing it everywhere.
“My word for 2016 will be peace. I’m going to focus on staying still.” – Me in January
At the start of the year, I set my one word goal as peace. I’m still not sure whether it was prompted by trying to stay still, but the months that immediately followed setting this resolution were possibly the most emotionally tumultuous of my life. They say that if you want to make God laugh you should tell him your plans.
Emotional roller coaster sounds like such a cliche but it is the most useful way of describing how it felt. I went from not wanting to get out of bed to manic excitement in the space of a few hours. I returned home from work a nervous wreck, likely to collapse into uncontrollable tears for barely any reason at all. It was exhausting.
Thanks to a combination of medication, writing and talking, my moods are now much more stable. I’ve had a chance to think about how my year is going in terms of peace. The conclusion? I’ve learnt a hell of a lot.
When I wrote that my word for the year would be peace, I did not expect it to be such a struggle.
“Oh, it’ll be easy,” I thought “I’ll just stop doing things and wanting things.”
Oh wow. Trying to stop yourself wanting things so much is painful. Forcing yourself to wait it out rather than doing something the moment you think it would be a good idea is hard. I’m learning to be patient.
I’ve learnt that there are two different types of wanting something. There are the things I want just so that I can want something, and then there are the things that are truly worth having.
Firstly, wanting for the sake of wanting.
I feel like I need to be changing things in my life to feel any forward momentum.
In 2014 my anxiety about life became enough for me to go to the doctors and be booked on to a course of CBT. One of the things I learnt about myself is that I tend to sabotage myself using “All or Nothing Thinking”. For example, “I can’t show restraint so I’m going to eat nothing.” Or in this case, “I find some parts of Facebook problematic and difficult so I’m going to delete my account.”
When asked about not being on Facebook I’ve been telling people that it has been bad for my social life but good for my mental health. For most of the last ten months I have been super happy with this trade off, but in the last few weeks not being on Facebook has started to frustrate me. I’ve wanted to group message friends, take part in discussions that happen in a Facebook group, or stay in touch with someone that’s moving away. Of course, there are other ways of doing these things. But Facebook is the easiest. And it’s got to the point that the only reason I am not on Facebook is because I made a big show about deleting my account and I’m embarrassed about telling people that I’ve changed my mind.
As 2015 is almost over, I thought I would have a look back over some of the things that I’ve done.
I recommend that you do this actually, because when I first sat down with a pen and paper (I do my best thinking unplugged) to write a list I didn’t think I had done that much. But I discovered that not only had I done more things than I thought I had, a lot of them are really awesome things that I’m proud of.
By day I work for a charity run by and for adults with learning disabilities. I love how they quite often manage to cut through the bullshit that non-learning disabled people cloud their lives with. Most of the time, the most simple and obvious response to things is the best one.
As part of the evaluation of a funded project, I’ve been working with a group of people to rate various aspects of the life of their lives on a scale of one to ten (these scores are revisited every six months to measure progress).
Anyway, the point is that one of these people gave themselves a ten out of ten for confidence, and it blew my mind.
I recommend you read this article by Alexandra Franzen about not using social media for her business. She makes a lot of good points, but here is the line that made a big light bulb appear above my head.
In March 2013 I sold most of my stuff, loaded the rest into my car and got ready to live out of suitcase while I figured out what to do with my life. I spent the next few months extracting myself from what, with hindsight, was an emotionally abusive relationship. I had my first “summer fling”, pierced my nose, and drank more alcohol than I probably had in the previous two years combined.
John Waters famously said, “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.” People have quoted this to me when I tell them I’m giving books away. But surely the implication that somebody without books is somebody who doesn’t read became redundant as soon as kindles caught on? Even before e-readers the person who you go home with who has no books could be a minimalist who reads, they just give books away as soon as they finish them. And the person who you go home with who has a shelf full of books might not read. Let’s face it, all a shelf full of books says about someone is that they have a shelf full of books.
Often on Sunday afternoons, in order to glean a bit of productivity from the weekend, I like to organise my stuff, think about why I’m holding onto things and get rid of them if they’re not serving any purpose. Yesterday I was going through the apps on my phone.