There’s just no predicting whether today will be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Shit happens, it rains, people do stuff. Hormones and the brain play tricks on you, with no perceptible rhyme or reason. Besides, one of the questions you’re taught to sidestep in therapy is: why?
But you can, to some extent, control the ‘how’ – how good today may be, or how bad it can get. Because every day we make hundreds of conscious choices, and the outcomes can make the difference between just clinging on for dear life, or the sun breaking through the clouds.
Consistency is key to building a solid foundation for happy tomorrows. If I can make the following choices every day, I know I stand a fighting chance of having a good day – if not today, then tomorrow, the next day, or some day.
- Sit under my SAD lamp for half an hour every morning (especially during winter)
- Get enough sleep (eight hours if poss)
- Be social: make contact with friends and family. Don’t isolate
- Take pills: Prozac, fish oil, and Oil of Evening Primrose work for me
- 30 minutes of exercise. Normally I walk the dog(s) and/or walk to work.
- Do activities that have meaning and purpose, rather than watching TV all day and night (this rule does not apply to The Good Wife, House of Cards, Gogglebox or EastEnders)
- Eat clean: good mood food, as championed by Slimming World, bolsters self-esteem
- Cut down on alcohol: it’s a depressant anyway, and plays merry hell with melancholia. (Does 2.5 cans of Strongbow last night count as binge drinking?)
- Mindfulness meditations: I use the Mindfulness App to help build resilience by understanding moods, emotions and issues as transient, passing, temporary
To the lucky people who have never had depression, all of this sounds like common sense. I’ve learned the hard way I need these things in my life to keep me stable. But I’m only human, and I have depression, which can make the simplest tasks monumentally difficult. I can’t do all of this every single day, and taken as a daily to-do list, it sometimes seems formidably prescriptive.
Taken as a general philosophy, however, with routine lending a helping hand, it can be remarkably successful. I beat my black dog last time thanks to Prozac, a very good therapist and a book she recommended, which suggests adopting the top six tactics as listed above. The Depression Cure operates on the premise that our Stone Age brains have failed to evolve at the same pace as the rest of 21st century civilisation. Thus, they still respond to basic needs, that are thousands of years old, for constant exposure to daylight; enough rest to enable us to hunt and fight; to stay with the tribe, or risk certain death by other predators; replicate the Omega 3-drenched diet of venison and fish, and match our bodies’ design for being a nomad, constantly on the move.
Some scoff at self-help books: in my opinion, like cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), the right type can change our lives for the better, by changing the way we think. Being prepared to listen to others’ experiences, as well as finding the courage to speak out, is also central to understanding that, far from being a stigma, depression is actually pretty normal.
All we can do, for the moment, is really all we need to do – listen to ourselves. When we are trying to get better, the only truth that matters is what works for us. If something works we don’t necessarily care why. Diazepam didn’t work for me. Sleeping pills and St John’s Wort and homeopathy didn’t fix me either. I have never tried Prozac, because even the idea intensified my panic, so I don’t know about that. But then I have never tried cognitive behaviour therapy either. If pills work for you it doesn’t really matter if this is to do with serotonin or another process or something else – keep taking them. Hell, if licking wallpaper does it for you, do that.
Where’s the woodchip?