Monthly Archives: May 2021

Depression, anxiety and finding my embers

Trigger warning: The following may not be easy to read but is shared in the hope that it helps someone.

Dear Reader,

Whats the first thing that comes to mind when I mention the words “depression and anxiety” to you?

Picture in your mind someone who has a very happy marriage, wonderful family, a good job and is relatively successful.  Doesn’t sound like someone who is a good candidate to experience depression and anxiety does it?

No? Well you would be wrong.

I’ve had depression for years, and by and large, have managed it well, often achieving things and getting on in spite of it.  Throw in a global pandemic and a few other things that are going on personally and you have a bit of a perfect storm.

I think I’ve been quite resilient.  Fran and I have been self isolating now for over a year and have only left the house on a handful of occasions.  Literally. Our most frequently visited locations have been hospitals and GP’s surgeries.  Faced with a choice between risking getting covid, especially during a peak, and staying home, we chose the latter. It didn’t feel like there was much choice.  

During that time we’ve also both worked on a fairly constant basis, and this has helped us, providing structure and routine, together with a sense of purpose and that we were making a difference.

That time though and a few things have come together to mean that I’ve needed to take a bit of time out to regroup.  I’m fortunate to have received support to do so, which means a lot.

What does depression and anxiety feel like?

I should caveat this section, where I will describe what depression and anxiety feels like by saying that it might feel different for everyone, so I can only talk about my own experiences.  I can’t, don’t and wouldn’t want to speak for everyone, especially about something as personal as this.

In order to set this into context, I need to introduce you to my life a bit more.  You see I came to this life with an impairment and was lucky to get here at all, being born many weeks prematurely.  Not much was expected of me, and its fair to say that I have enjoyed demonstrating what I can do.  

That’s not to say I’m some kind of Nobel laureate or something (even the spell checker had to help me out with that one!) but I’ve always felt a particular kind of relish and energy.  Its sort of like being the underdog in a sports match.  Nobody expects to win so you have the drive, and determination to do so. It spurs you on, and its really satisfying to experience each minute striving.

However.  There is always a however to throw a spanner in the works isn’t there!  It’s a tricky balancing act.  Trying to constantly strive and defy the odds can be very tiring.  This is especially the case when it can sometimes feel like you are playing on an uneven pitch, constantly kicking the ball against an uphill pitch, with the wind in your face and mud making it harder to progress.

Here’s where your team mates come in.  I’m really lucky to have the best team mates.  They pass to me, I pass to them and we certainly work together and win more than we lose.

Sometimes I can feel like I have to play the game on my own, as well as doing all the officiating, and getting in my own way by being my opposition too.  Oh and by the way you have to put up the goalposts too, and drive the team coach home.

Being your own opposition. There’s the rub, and where depression and anxiety combine with an inner imposter to make a formidable combination. For me, anxiety is that constant feeling when it takes hold.  That sinking feeling that dominates everything and is really intrusive. It literally anchors your feel to the floor and can even make it hard to breathe.

At its worst, it can make it hard to even put your football boots and kit on, let alone even make it out on to the pitch and remember your tactical instructions to beat the opposition. The biggest opposition comes from inside your head.  My inner imposter is like the most angry half time team talk ever – every move berated, not good enough, I might as well not have bothered.  Worst, because you are playing like this you are actually a burdento your team.  They are better off without you.

Imagine that shouted into your face.  That’s the combination of anxiety, depression and inner imposter working.

Where has the successful happy person gone?  Gone. Far away.  And yet, the embers of this still burn.  You know they are within you, and that somehow you have to reach deep within you to get your spark and fire burning again.

Getting the fire going again

Right now, getting the fire going is where I’m at.  I’m reminding myself that I am useful and capable again.  Even that I am enough, and that I can (and do) make a difference. I’ve written about my counter attack too.

The signs are positive. Just as the signs of that anxiety and depression are recognisable, so too are the positive ones.

Last night I was able to sleep.  My first decent night’s sleep in a long time.  The first uninterrupted one in months.  Sleep for me, or the lack of it, is always the first sign that all might not be well.

I’ve also been able to read.   For pleasure!  Miraculous. So too meditation via headspace.  The freedom to escape, to put things into perspective.  To rationalise.

This next thing might make you laugh.  I have a PhD and yet sometimes I can’t even remember whether I’ve taken my anti depressants.  I can be thinking about quite complex things on the one hand and not even remember whether I’ve taken a tablet on the other.  How to address that?  Well I have bought a pill box!  A £5 device which eliminates the “yeah but have you taken it today? Really?!” questions. 

I’ve also been remembering to see life in the round.  In this, I’ve been helped by the arrival of a family wedding.  One of the quirks of the pandemic is that my sister (congratulations again sis!) has a fiancé that I have not even met.  Yes really.

Once more, I am hopeful. I have started to laugh again.  

Lots of people might be struggling at the moment.  If you are reading this, know that that’s ok, and you can find your embers too.  Try to be kind to yourself.  To talk.  To take even the smallest step…even if that is just a few deep breaths.

Take good care of yourselves, and those around you too.

If you have got this far, I hope this has been some help, and thanks for reading.

Working at altitude: Self Isolation, Struggles and finding strength

Setting the Scene

The last few weeks have felt quite hard.  I wanted to open up about this so that I could hopefully help someone else too. Even if you only read to this point, know that if you are struggling then you are not alone.

Setting the scene, due to our impairments Fran and I have now been self isolating for some 15 months.  Even as I write that figure it feels like a long time.  During that time life has changed beyond recognition.  The things we used to take for granted – seeing friends and family, even a trip to the supermarket, all gone almost overnight.

I should be clear that this was a choice, but against a backdrop of some sobering coronavirus statistics, it felt like the only prudent choice to make.  By sitting it out, we could live to see the other side.  Literally.  

There have been some great positives from this time too it has to be said.  Life has become very simple, and I have learned to appreciate the little things..fresh air, flowers, even the disproportionate excitement of a supermarket delivery without substitutions!

Like many during the pandemic, my mental health has been impacted. More positively, I have found resolve that I never knew I had, and have been able to be proud of what I have been able to accomplish during this time.  

Struggling and counter attacking

I have been struggling more over the last couple of weeks, and reached out to a friend to talk about this.  I compared it to working at to working at altitude: The air is thinner, the work is harder, and oxygen needed to maintain progress.

We have also had the odd knock too lately, and because we have been working at altitude and a few have come along at once, our capacity to deal with them has been stretched. These things always tend to come along at the same time! Add in a knock or two, tiredness and self isolation and you have the equivalent of a Petri dish where depression can thrive!

I know what depression and anxiety feels like.  It positively thrives on tiredness and Fran remarks that it is a contortionist – it can find a way to get into any space that it can fill.  Once it has that foothold, it is all too easy for it to grow and it can have a debilitating effect if left unchecked and unmanaged.

My latest counter attack has begun.  I have reached out to a couple of friends and I actually had my first social trip out today.  Make no mistake..this wasn’t just tea and cake at my local pub.  This was the first time I had been out for a cuppa in over a year.  I felt apprehensive but it was quiet and I was with a dear and trusted friend.  

She knew the words I needed to hear: No pressure..anything goes.  The reassurance that provides is so vital.  For what its worth, I’d commend this approach to anyone readjusting at the moment: Be patient with yourself and each other, and just take things as they come.  Many of us have been living in ways we are not used to, and it may take some time to get back out there, and that is fine.

So what else is part of the counter attack?  Well, I have looked at joining a health club and have made arrangements to visit one.  Having a bit of an oasis where I can go and have a sauna and spend time in a nice hot swimming pool sounds like a good plan.  Fran and I are also due to have our second vaccine on Tuesday. I’m lucky to work with supportive people who have been fantastic too.

I have also been having self-compassionate but firm words with myself about self care.  It matters a great deal, especially as the world begins to open up again.  Reframing is key too.  At a time when depression does the talking a deficit model of thinking takes over and days become about not messing things up.  A positive Chris will always approach with the mindset that his experience and ability can be used to make a difference.

This blog, though slightly daunting, is also a good thing I think.  I’m always slightly worried that I’m over sharing but my fear is that in doing so, I’m sharing too much and opening myself up to negative judgement. If though it reaches one of you and makes a difference, then it has done its job. I hope it helps someone somehow.

I’m confident that I’ll be climbing again soon.

Some tips

I’ll close with some tips for working at altitude.  These aren’t medical or clinical advice but are things that I have found to work from my own lived experience.

  • Practice good self care.  Rest.  Eat well.  Have outlets to help disperse stress.  My x box has been great for this.  Reading for pleasure is another option.  
  • Develop a support network.  It doesn’t need to be huge, but having friends that you can open up to can make a difference.  I’m also a big advocate of counselling too, which can help.
  • Take things one step at a time, and reward yourself for progress you make.  Writing down positive things you have accomplished is a good exercise.
  • Breathe.  Just breathe.  Taking even just a few seconds out to take some deep breaths can help improve composure.  Listen to your favourite song.  Having a short, purposeful ‘time out’ can help you to regroup.