Regardless of the weather or whatever else is going on in my life, the sight of an empty road stretching into the distance always brings me cheer. Especially in the countryside – the photo above was taken just north of York, UK where I live. The road leads off and in the distance you can just about make out some local ruins of a castle in a village nearby.
It’s a hard thing to hear, but we all have the power to be the person we want to be. Believe me I have difficulty believing it too, but it is true. We can all take little steps towards becoming a better me. And that is the key to it, little steps. I have posted before about the importance of taking the first step, this one is more about having the focus to carry on making those little steps until one day you realise that you have walked a hundred miles in steps of just a few feet at a time. Each little step feeds the positive wolf.
This blog itself reminds me of how true this is. Six months ago I was terrified of even picking up a pen, convinced that nothing good would come of it. I was sure that I would be laughed at, that no one would want to read anything I wrote, and that I could never be anything of a writer. It was a blog post that convinced me to try actually. Dumb Little Man had a post on 5 reasons to start a blog and it really got me thinking. I made some little steps :
Step 1 was remembering that I had started this blog so long ago, and let it stagnate.
Step 2 was finding it again, and eventually remembering the log in details!
Step 3 was reading what I had written and discovering that I actually liked it!
Step 4 was opening the “new post” screen
Step 5 was an important one, and not immediately obvious. I didn’t apologise for being away. I carried on as if it was the day after my last post
Step 6 was looking at the stats the next day and seeing that people had actually read what I wrote, and clicked the “like” button.
Each of those tiny little steps was a mouthful for the good wolf. Each time I did something towards becoming a regular writer it felt a little bit better, and I felt a little bit better about myself. OK so I haven’t had an epiphany and become Tony Robbins (I shudder at the thought…) but I can feel the difference between the me I am now and the me I was 6 months ago. Other areas of my life need work too, but I am writing, and that feeds the right wolf.
When I was first diagnosed in my late teens/early 20’s pretty much the first thing that the Dr asked me was “How much exercise do you get?” and the second was “When you wake up in the morning, what do you do?”. These questions surprised me a little. I was here for my mind, not my body. It turns out that the two are very much linked though…
To be my usual topsy-turvy self, lets take the second one first. One sure way to invite the black dog to spend the day with you is to lie in bed after waking. It’s the perfect time for thoughts to run around in your head. In a person that doesn’t have a mental health issue this is fine, it can help start the day, provide solutions to ideas that you have ‘slept on’, and generally be a nice snuggly lazy way to start the day. For those of us that are unfortunate enough to have depressive tendencies however, it’s very different.
Lying in bed with nothing to do but think is a terrible idea. In a lot of ways, thought is the enemy. Well that’s not quite true. Undirected thought is the enemy. As I have written about before, well focussed thought can be a mindful relief, but that isn’t what happens the first thing in the morning when you have just woken up. Doubts and fears swirl and grow in the quiet dawn. Those nagging little gremlins that can be kept at bay with day-to-day action have no barrier when you are just lying there.
So, some of the best advice I was given very early in my depression ‘career’ was to get up when you wake up. I still do, and I still find it helps
Excercise. The bane of modern urban living. We don’t get enough, I think that is generally accepted. Your average bloke or girl in the street gets half of the aerobic action they need, and that’s being statistically optimistic! We are a world (Meaning the western, plump, rich world) of ageing, fattening people. This aside though, your brain needs exercise too. The same Dr that got me to jump out of bed in the morning also told me to take a hike. Literally. It turns out that one of the best things that you can do yourself with no help at all is just to go for a walk. It can be difficult when you are having a black dog day, but boy does it work when you can manage it. I have lost count of the times where I have managed to drag myself out of the depths with an autumnal stroll. Nothing more than that. No stern talking to myself, no mantra, no yoga (although that would help too), no pills (other than the usual daily ones). Just a stroll.
Breathe the air. Look at the sights and sounds. It doesn’t matter where you live, it could be next to a steel works or an airport but there are still things to see, hear and smell just as if you lived in an idyllic forest. Focus on the external. Let the internal conflict, fear and hatred flow away and wonder at the beauty of the world.
Excercise stimulates the release of chemicals in your brain called endorphins, which contribute to that ‘natural high’ that keen excercisers mention. Swinging your arms and legs shakes out any stiffness, holding your head up and looking around clears your airways and helps with neck and back pain. There are myriad physical reasons to just take a walk. Add those to the mental benefits and it becomes impossible to argue against.
So get out there and take a hike!
Some useful links :
Today this blog passed it’s 400th view. Thank you to everyone that’s reading and coming along on this journey with me. There is lots more to come, and hopefully another proper post later today.
There was a time in my life when I used to sleep with a sharp knife beside the bed. I still own the knife, it’s quite small, probably about a 6″ blade which is serrated, and a black plastic handle. I didn’t have a bedside table then so it sat on the floor. When I sleep I usually lay with my back to the centre of the bed and my face right at the edge, so the knife was placed where it would be one of the first things I saw when I woke up. I can remember waking up every morning for quite some time and I would alays ask myself the same question. Can I do it today? Can I reach out and take that knife and draw it across my wrists? I can remember imagining what it would feel like, how much it would hurt as the jagged edge bit into my skin. I can remember thinking that I had to be careful because I didn’t want to sever the tendons on my left hand and be unable to ‘do’ the other wrist.
Every morning I would lay there and cry. I would sob until my body was pulsing and my chest hurt. I was crying because I didn’t have the strength to pick up the knife.
For several years after this period (It was a bout 10 years ago) I felt like I was a fake, a phony. I was imagining that I was depressed and I was just looking for attention. There was nothing wrong with me because I couldn’t make myself pick up the knife. It was survivors guilt.
Now when I think about it I am usually (almost always) glad that I didn’t pick it up on any of those dark mornings. I look at my wonderful partner who I also knew back then although we weren’t together, and I know what she gets out of our relationship now. I look at her daughter, now 5 years old, pretty much the only positive outcome of the relationship she fled several years ago, before we got back together, and I know how much this clever loving girl loves me and our family. I look at my parents with fresh eyes, with love and genuine friendliness that I can’t remember feeling prior to about 5 years ago. I look at this blog, and the wonderful people that have taken time to read it and even comment. I look at the great job I have with really interesting people and enough pay to keep us in a nice house albeit rented.
Still some days I feel guilty for not having picked up the knife.
The black dog never let’s you fully escape. I am learning that it will always be there with me. Barbara Woodhouse couldn’t dream to train a real dog to heel so well. I now have many sources of support to help me survive my encounters with it. I have medication. I have family. I have a partner who lives with her own black dog and is much further along the path than I am, she has kicked the meds, I really look up to her strength and try to model myself on her.
It’s all about learning to live with it. It’s a part of who I am, but it doesn’t have to be all that I am.