Reprise: My Top Ten Depression Tips

Three years ago today I posted what has since become my third most liked post ever. This really pleases me, as the whole point of starting this off was to try to encourage others who might be suffering from depression by sharing my own experience. Many current readers won’t have seen this before, so I thought I’d mark its anniversary by sharing it again. If this helps just one person that will make it worthwhile – though of course I hope more than that will derive some support from it. If you are currently having a hard time I hope these thoughts help. I make no claims to any kind of professional background: these ‘tips’ are from the heart and experience.

This is what I posted:

MY TOP TEN DEPRESSION TIPS

A few weeks ago I was emailed via my Contact Me page by a website called TalkersTen.com, inviting me to write something for them. As you do, I did a little research to check out their site and their claim to get over 50,000 hits per day. They sent me a screenshot apparently proving that, but given that their Facebook page only had around 50 likes I was still a little sceptical. I should point out that this site is based (I think) in India, and isn’t to be confused with the better known American site Talkers.com. They promise to let you know within 48 hours if they will be using your piece, which is important to a small blogger like me, as they would claim copyright over what I wrote for them if they used it. Two weeks went by and I heard nothing, so I emailed them again yesterday and told them not to use what I had written, as I would be sharing it with my regular readers instead. My writing – my copyright!

The format used by TalkersTen.com is to go in ascending order, from 10 to 1, and though that isn’t really appropriate to a subject like depression, I did my best to fit in with them. As I said in that article, I’m not a doctor, or qualified to give medical diagnosis or advice. But I have experience, which can count for a lot! So, although those 50,000 daily readers of TalkersTen.com won’t see them, these are my top ten tips to help you get through depression, if you are unlucky enough to suffer it:

  1. Seek help

Try to be honest with yourself and seek help. The hardest part is to make that initial judgement on yourself, recognise that something might be wrong, and to do something about it, but if you don’t things may never improve. I finally plucked up the courage to call my doctor about four months after the first signs were there, but I had tried to put them out of my mind until the point where I just couldn’t do that any more. As a result, I was off work for nearly 10 months, when I may have been able to get back into my regular life much sooner if I had sought help earlier than I did.

  1. Talk to someone

Talk to friends and/or family: it can make such a difference if you know that others are aware of how you feel and can be there for you. If friends give up on you question how valuable they are as friends, maybe you don’t really need them in your life. Consider if you would be there for them if things were reversed: if you would, but they aren’t prepared to support you, drop them. It will make things worse for you if you waste time and energy worrying about why they are treating you the way they do. Find the people who show you that you can trust and rely on them – their support will be invaluable.

  1. Don’t shut yourself away

Don’t make the same mistake that I did and shut yourself away from other people, or block them out. People can help, and you need them, and I don’t just mean close friends and family by this. Even if you aren’t the type who makes conversation easily with strangers, don’t be afraid of mixing with people. Try if you can to get out of your home, even if it is just for a mooch around the shops, or maybe a coffee somewhere. The worst thing you can do is to isolate yourself – our brains can go into overdrive when we have a mental health problem, and trying to work it out on your own won’t solve anything.

  1. Don’t be afraid of it

Especially if this is the first time you have ever had such a problem, a mental health issue can be a very scary place. In many of us there is a natural tendency to fight against things we fear. Don’t! Try not to fight it: try to work around it and through it. If you treat it like a battle you’ll exhaust yourself. And you probably won’t have done anything constructive towards a longer-term improvement, either.

  1. Do something – anything

Try to do something – anything – to occupy your mind. If you can rebuild your ability to concentrate on activities, however trivial, it will help you take your mind off yourself. One of the signs that I was depressed was that I no longer enjoyed reading, watching TV or listening to music, all of which were a mainstay of my normal day. Part of this was that my illness meant that I couldn’t concentrate for very long, and ended up repeating what I had already done. I tried to read a novel, and must have read the first chapter at least five times before I gave up. But I can still recall the first time after I became ill when I managed to watch a TV programme for a whole hour, without losing concentration. That was five years ago, and the memory of that realisation is still very vivid to me, so I can’t understate the importance of persevering. It will help you through – I know that from experience.

  1. Take your meds

If you are prescribed medicine, take it! I know that it doesn’t work for everyone and you will hear people say disparaging things about dependence on anti-depressants. But depression is a form of chemical imbalance in the brain and the meds help to adjust that. If you feel uncomfortable about taking them, or if you think they are giving you side effects, talk this through with your doctor. Don’t decide on your own just to stop taking them, as this can do more harm than good.

  1. Eat and drink well

This is probably stating the obvious, as a healthy, balanced diet is always important to us, but particularly so when we are ill. Depression is an illness, and our body needs to be at its strongest to help us cope with any illness and, hopefully, to overcome it. It can be very difficult to go through the chore of cooking a meal when you are depressed, but do try to make the effort. Fruit and some vegetables can be eaten without the need for cooking, and they are all good for our health. There are plenty of simple recipes that take very little effort and help sustain us. Drink well too: regular liquids, especially water and juices, are essential. But try to resist any temptation towards alcohol: it doesn’t help! If your depression prevents you from eating, it will take longer to recover from it. Again, I know this from my own experience – a classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I did!’

  1. Exercise

Regular exercise is known to have lots of benefits. It can help you concentrate, sleep better and boost your self-confidence. The benefits of good physical health on your mental health – and vice versa – are well known, so it is important to take as much exercise as you can. This doesn’t have to be a strenuous gym session, even a walk around the block is better than doing nothing. Try it, you’ll feel better for it.

  1. Be proud of yourself

When you have depression, your self-esteem is usually very low. You have negative thoughts about yourself, or worse. But try to recognise that this isn’t the real you, it’s the illness speaking. I know how hard it can be, but try to think of the positives in your life: your achievements, your job, your family and friends. Look for the good things in all of these, and build an image of who you really are. Then be proud of yourself, and feel valued by yourself as well as by others.

  1. Never, ever give up hope

It is very easy, when you are depressed, to feel that things will never get better. Life seems impossible, and you question where it can go. But, again, this is the illness at work. I know it is hard to believe when things feel at their worst, but there really is a light at the end of that dark tunnel. Try to remember that, and never, ever give up hope.

I’m not pretending that this list is in any way definitive or exhaustive, and no doubt anyone who has experience of depression can tell me lots of things that work for them but which I’ve left out. However, these all have some meaning for me and, if you are a fellow sufferer, I hope that at least one of these ten tips is useful for you. 

Stigma – A Reminder

This one came up in my Timehop this morning, and as it was from three years ago – when most of you weren’t following my blog – I thought it worth sharing again. There are several reasons for doing so. Firstly, and most importantly, mental health issues are why I started to blog in the first place, although more recent followers could be forgiven for not noticing that – I do tend to wander off piste a lot! Secondly, this post was about the stigma that many attach to mental health problems: that was true then and, despite a growing awareness of the issues, I think that stigmatisation is still there and will take a long time before – or even if – it is eradicated. Thirdly, the timing of the post. As I said back then, I was running a series of posts on mental health in the lead up to World Mental Health Day. This happens on 10 October and I’m intending to post for it nearer the time: this is kind of a trailer for that. And fourthly, there is a link in the original piece to the previous day’s post, Mental Health Matters, which has become my most ‘liked’ post ever, and is a very important one for me.

Two personal updates to round off this commentary. Firstly, I’m happy to say that my friend and I have reconnected – although the others who deserted me in her wake haven’t. That’s life, I guess! If she sees this, I hope she can forgive me for using our story – as I said in the original, I was doing that to illustrate the point about stigmatisation of mental illness, not out of any wish for some kind of petty revenge. I didn’t want that at the time, and certainly don’t now! Secondly, the family member for whom the occasion I attended was arranged is, sadly, no longer with us. I’m reposting, in part, as a mark of respect.

Take It Easy

Continuing my theme for this week of posts on mental health, I’m turning my attention to the stigma that society attaches to mental illnesses and those who suffer from them. To illustrate this point, I suffered this in a relatively modest way last year and am sharing this story with you.

I lost a friend. Nothing major in the great scheme of life, it happens all the time. But not as a result of someone’s ignorance. Briefly, I had been due to attend this friend’s annual house party weekend, but a family event was arranged for the same weekend and, given the distances involved, it wasn’t possible to do both. I decided, as I think most of us would do, to put family first and gave my apologies. Things were strained for a month or two until the weekend of the event itself, when I was treated to the worst…

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Migraine Awareness Week 2019

Those of you who weren’t reading or following my blog in the early days will probably be unaware that I used to do a series of ‘Dates To Note’ posts – if you’re interested they can be found in the menu above. These ran through 2013 into 2014 but I decided that they had run their course and, apart from a few reblogs – and a spoof –  there haven’t been many more since then. I have, however, decided to do a new one-off to recognise that this week (1st to the 7th September) is Migraine Awareness Week. I first posted about this in 2013 and have followed up on that a couple of times, but felt it was about time to do something new.

I’m sure many of you have experience of migraine, either yourself or with someone close to you. I was first diagnosed when I was 15 – to save you the maths, that was around 50 years ago. Since then I’ve had several migraines a year apart from one blissful period in my 20s when I went three years without one, and foolishly hoped I was somehow ‘cured.’ Not so. And the older I got, the more migraines I had and the longer they seemed to last! Five or six a year wasn’t uncommon, and they lingered for up to three days instead of just the one when they first started.

I hope you follow the link above, which takes you to the Awareness Week page on the Migraine Trust’s website. The Migraine Trust organises this week as a means of educating people about migraine, and their website has a lot of helpful information and links. Their headline statistics are frightening: every day in the UK there are 190,000 migraine attacks. The condition affects one in seven people, and is more prevalent than diabetes, epilepsy and asthma combined. In other words, it is a big issue! They have undertaken much research into the underlying causes of migraine, but their aim is ultimately to find a cure for this debilitating illness. This is especially important as only about half of those who suffer are actually diagnosed with the condition: if a cure could be found, that might encourage more people to seek help.

One of the things the Migraine Trust encourage you to do is to keep a diary of your migraines and share it with your doctor. I did this when I was first diagnosed with depression, as I seemed to be getting headaches and migraines all the time, and it was very helpful to see what pattern – if any – there was. In particular, the site might help those who say they have a migraine when it is actually a bad headache: believe me, there is a difference and you’ll know it if you’re a fellow sufferer! When I was running the Dates To Note series I always gave a link to the NHS website as this is a very good source of information, and their coverage of migraine is as good as everything else they do.

My diary showed that there was absolutely no pattern to my migraines, which often seemed to occur with no prior warning. Most of mine started the moment I woke up: there was no build up to them throughout the day, as some people experience. That made it difficult to assess, but we managed to find a tenuous link to late night tea and coffee, or eating, before some of my migraines. I cut these out on doctor’s advice, but was never convinced that this made any difference. Like most migraine sufferers I just shut myself away in a darkened room until it felt safe to open the curtains again. Medical science has yet to agree on a set of defined causes for the illness: whilst one of the causes is believed to be emotional factors, such as stress, mine have always been noticeably different from regular headaches, which tend to fall into the category of ‘tension headaches.’ Migraines are believed to be a result of chemical changes in the body affecting the genes, and the genetic effect can mean that they are passed through the generations within a family. My Mum used to suffer badly with migraine and it has always been believed in our family – and by doctors – that I inherited this from her.

So how can you explain the fact that I have had far fewer migraines since I retired? I now live a life which, as far as I can possibly make it, is free from stress and tension. And the frequency of migraines has dropped noticeably – go figure! Does this mean that what I have believed for around 50 years was wrong? Even if that is the case, I can’t really see how I could have changed my working life to remove stress factors, which were part and parcel of any job I had. But I do find it interesting that a reduction in the number and length of migraines since I retired may somehow be related to that major lifestyle change. It is nearly six years since I retired, and I can only recall seven or eight migraines in that time – when I would probably have endured something like 40 in a similar period whilst working. I can recommend retirement for a number of reasons – apart from having to be old to do it – but for me a dramatic reduction in migraine frequency is one of the biggest benefits!

If you’re a fellow sufferer you have my sympathy. If so, or you’d just like to know more, do take a few moments to look at the Migraine Trust’s website – here – as I’m sure it will be of interest and help to you.