April 17, 2024

Have you tried talking to your GP about how scared you are? You might feel that you are “bothering” them by going back, but I am here to tell you that your doctor wants you to bother them. That is what they are there for. That is what you pay your taxes for. If you find it hard to advocate for yourself, imagine you are advocating for one of your children instead. I find this often helps when I am in a depression. 

A couple of years ago I was very low, and a dear friend who is a psychotherapist suggested I follow her daily prescription for raising my spirits. I wrote it down on a piece of paper that I keep in my dressing table drawer alongside my Prozac, and I’m going to paraphrase it here in the hope it might help you.

First, identify what it is you are experiencing. Recognise that the fear and the terror and the overwhelm are all symptoms of an illness, and that illness is depression. You speak of an “unnamed beast”. Name it! That way, when your head starts being unkind to you, you can tell it to politely – or not so politely – take a hike. I like to call my OCD and depression “Jareth the Goblin King”, after the character in the movie Labyrinth played by David Bowie. 

I remember him as evil yet ever so slightly enticing, which to me perfectly summed up what mental illness feels like. You could call yours anything you want, from Donald Trump to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but I find the sillier the better, as the name will not only help you to get some critical distance from the depression, but also inject some much-needed levity into your life.  

Do one nice thing for yourself each day. It doesn’t have to be big. It could be making yourself a cup of tea or putting a song on that makes you smile. This will seem pointless and inconsequential to your depression, but remember that you are more than your depression, and by doing positive things for ourselves, we are sending a valuable message to our neural pathways: that we are worth it, and deserve nice things. 

Similarly, try and avoid those frightening news stories you speak of in your letter. I’m not sure our brains are meant for this constant digital bombardment of bad news, and if you must read it, please try balancing it out with something a little lighter, too. Watch a comedy series. Download the excellent Insight Timer app, which is free and contains a wealth of uplifting talks about wellbeing (my favourites are by Tara Brach and Sarah Blondin). 

Like many others who have written in about this illness, you speak of the guilt you feel, and the burden on loved ones. Others describe feeling “self-indulgent”. Remember: this is Jareth or Donald or whatever-you-choose-to-call-depression talking. You are not your thoughts: you are just the person who hears them. You are not a burden on anyone. You are a human with a brain, and like any other part of the body, that organ sometimes misfires. 

Get out for a walk as soon as possible each day, even if only for five minutes. Check out mentalhealthmates.co.uk, which runs walking groups for people experiencing mental health issues – they are brilliant and a great way to bond with like-minded people without fear of judgement. I find mornings the hardest, as there is just so much day ahead of me, and doing the thing I really don’t want to – which is getting up and out – always resets my brain a little bit. Also, fresh air helps to remind me that the world is still spinning and it’s just possible that the rubbish depression is telling me is not actually true. 

You are going through a tough time, but you do not need to be “fixed”. You are a glorious, complex being who is experiencing some darkness, that’s all. It really does happen to the best of us. Please consider getting outside help by going to bacp.org where you can search for counsellors nearby. (I really think therapy is the most valuable investment anyone can give themselves). 

If you can, read Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, which provides the most beautiful snippets of wisdom about depression, perfect for anyone who is finding it hard to concentrate (another symptom of the illness). Lost Connections by Johann Hari is great for when you are feeling a little bit brighter. And you will feel brighter soon, I promise. You have had the courage to write this letter, so I know that you have the strength to get through this horrible depression. 


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