Monday, 4 May 2020

Re-calibrate Your Instruments

If you're unlucky enough to be hit by severe depression - you may need to re-calibrate the way that you measure things.  For example, a normal barometer will no longer be of any use to you.

When severe depression strikes there are unlikely to be any fair days. When I became ill five years ago I quickly realised that I only had three types of day:

  1. Bad
  2. Very bad
  3. Suicidal
I can honestly say that in all that time, I've never had a good day; I haven't even had an average day. So I needed to look at things differently. I know it sounds desperate but, some days, the only break I got was the microscopic gap that exists between two consecutive bad thoughts. I used to try and squeeze my mind into that space. In reality, the longest I've gone without thinking about anxiety or depression  in the last five years is probably about half an hour. This often occurs at work when I'm driving the forklift truck. However, a good day for me would be, maybe, a ten minute gap in hostilities.

That's why it's important to re-calibrate your thinking. With depression/anhedonia good times can shrink to almost nothing - but even in the worst day there can be some tiny moments of relief. Here are a few examples of small things that sometimes offer me relief: the sugar rush from eating a yoghurt, washing my hands in warm water, listening to a track by Peter Hammill in the car, making tea for my daughters, scrolling through Twitter, visualising myself on Happisburgh beach, wheeling a trolley at work listening to the birdsong.

Another good thing to try just before going to sleep is listing five good things that happened during the day. If you can't manage five, then try three. They don't have to be big things: just minor moments. Feelings of gratitude, even amidst the deepest depression, are possible. 

In sport these days, there is a lot of talk about 'marginal gains' - things which may seem insignificant on their own but which combined can start to make a difference. I remember watching a programme once about the Sky cycling team working in a wind tunnel to evaluate the drag created by different types of clothing material. Well, the same approach can be used with depression. Any 1/100th of an inch that can be shaved off it may make the difference. If you can identify a couple of things then so much the better. 

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