Depression, anxiety and finding my embers

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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.

About the Author

Dr Chris Whitaker is a disability blogger who writes on impairment related issues.