Sunny Spells Ahead
I have a long and reasonably complex history with depression. I’ve been hospitalised twice, tried many and varying medications, had two extended periods of sick leave from work, and been attending therapy for over five years. I’ve been suicidal more than once, and have gone through several phases of self harm. As an added bonus, I was also recently diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which may go some way towards explaining why it was so hard to get my depression under control.
Thankfully, right now, I’m well, possibly better than I’ve ever been. It’s taken a lot of work to get this far. Over the years, as well as medication and therapy, there have been other things that I have been able to use to either keep myself well, or help me recover from a difficult period. The one that has stood to me the most is yoga, which I’ve been practising since I was 17. That said, I’ve walked away from it many, many times, often for long periods of time. In fact, one of the most significant signs that things are starting to slip a little for me is that my practice will begin to lapse.
I tend to be very all or nothing – I’ll practise daily and feel absolutely amazing, because as well as the obvious physical benefits, yoga also really helps to quieten my mind. Anything that will give me respite from the racing thoughts and extremely loud and persistent inner critic that I’ve been carrying around is worth doing. But then, I can go to the other extreme, and for one reason or another, I’ll miss a day. Missing one day very easily becomes two, then three, then before I know where I am a week will have passed with my mat staying firmly rolled up in the corner of the room. At that stage, I’m already out of the habit and it’s all to easy to let it slide entirely. It’s hard to know sometimes whether missing my practice is a cause or symptom of a lapse, but either way the result is the same – a dip in mood.
The same goes with a lot of the other ways I can look after myself physically. I have two dogs who need walking daily, and I’m trying valiantly to enjoy running (at the moment I mostly enjoy the fact that I get to stop afterwards but I’m assured that some day I might even enjoy the running part). I also have two young kids, so there doesn’t tend to be much time alone during the day, so unless I work hard to make time, it’s all too easy to skip my practice, skip my walk, ignore the fact that I haven’t run for weeks. When this happens, there’s a pretty narrow window of time during which I need to catch what’s going on and turn it around, or things can spiral out of hand all too easily.
Increasingly over the years, and in particular the last year since an episode that saw me in hospital for five weeks, I’m coming to realise that there are certain things that I need to treat as necessaries, as vital for my wellbeing as medication and therapy. Looking after myself physically is one of those things. Exercise has so many knock on benefits – when I’m more active, I’m more aware of what I’m eating and less likely to fall into the patterns of comfort eating which always appear when I’m not well. If I’m being mindful of my diet, I feel physically and mentally better – I’m less sluggish, more alert. If I’m more alert, I’m likely to be aware of other potential triggers. I’m still trying to understand BPD and all that it means, and being alert to actions, reactions and thought patterns that are disordered is a huge part of that. It’s much, much harder to do this if I’m tired, or not looking after myself properly.
That said, everything I’ve described above is a best case scenario. It’s only in the last four months that I’ve finally found a combination of medication that seems to be working for me. That’s the first step, because without that, I simply do not have the wherewithal to do everything else I need to keep well, but as I’ve been reminded before, medication is only 10% of the work, the rest is up to me. For now, things are going in my favour, so I’m going to make the most of it. I’m back practising yoga as regularly as I can, although this time, rather than giving up entirely if I miss a day or two, I’m allowing myself to take the break and then carry on. While I haven’t run in a while I’m making an effort to walk as often as possible with my dogs. Getting out every day is challenging, but again, I’ll go as often as I can. I hope to find my way back to running over the summer. I’ve recently reduced my work hours from full to half time, which is going to have a hugely positive impact, both for me and by extension, my family.
I’m under no illusions that it will be all plain sailing from here. I still have bad days. I still struggle to control my moods, need to take medication, and attend weekly therapy. But if I can do all that, and be consistent with it, it’s a huge, huge step on the road to recovery, because it gives me the space to take positive actions for myself, by myself, and the sense of empowerment arising out of that is invaluable.
I’m slowly beginning to reconcile with the fact that I’m likely to have to be extremely mindful of my mental health for the rest of my life. I’d rather that wasn’t the case, but I can’t change it. What I can change is how I approach it. I can be defeated and overwhelmed, or I can try and look back, see how far I’ve come, and appreciate the lengths I’ve gone to get myself well. I can also reap the benefits of the mindfulness, exercise and self awareness that comes with managing mental health problems. In this moment, as I write this, I can see all of that. That’s incentive enough for me. I’ll keep going.