Over-thinking and Under-playing…

I think I have a tendency to over-think things too much. A lifetime’s history of recurring depression and therapy and medication has left me hyper-vigilant to any warning signs of yet another potential depressive episode, to the extent that my constantly guarded concern gets in the way of the rest of life, clouding my judgement and darkening my horizons unnecessarily. Being so hyper-vigilant to attack all the time is quite frankly exhausting – it drains all the fun out of life, turning me into being a wizened, dried-up old stick-in-the-mud before my time.

I can see that what I really need to do is to loosen up, lighten up – let go a bit more, enjoying the good things in life as they come to me, and just have some fun while I can. Unfortunately, though, it seems that for me the other side of over-thinking the bad stuff is a tendency to under-play all the good stuff.

It’s not that I don’t see it as good as such, more that I just don’t always rate it as important to focus on – I don’t value it highly enough for it to register as meaningful on my internal radar. I’m always on the look-out for potential trouble in all things, so anything positive I see is automatically tainted with inherently negative threat, keeping me wary – a bit like the potential threat of being caught in friendly-fire in a front-line battle-zone. And that, too, is draining the life out of me.

So I feel that it’s way past time for me to move on from holding that persistently precarious position. Perhaps if I were deliberately to allow my blog to become only a positively creative space in which to explore the possibilities of having fun in life, playing both with words and pictures in whatever way I see fit, then that might help me break the bad habit of incessant doom-mongering. After all my real life is full enough of fretting and worrying without having (inadvertently) added another outlet for indulging the inevitable negativity that goes along with it.

It’s not so much a wholesale change of blog direction I’m looking for as a much-needed tightening up of remit – I can still be as randomly meandering as I like, just as long as each post radiates positive creativity overall rather than negatively draining the energy from the page. Part of my problem to date seems to be that I don’t associate a positive mind-set with being genuinely ‘me’ – but I feel it’s time that association changed for the better, allowing me to find a happier future, not only for me but also by extension for my long-suffering family… 🙂

Advertisements

The Sound of Silence…

Screaming with no voice

Deep void filled with thoughts untold

The sound of silence

With a lifetime of recurring depressive episodes behind me I always try to remain alert to those tell-tale early warning signs, and for me an ominous inner silence often tends to be one of them. This silence does not bring peaceful harmony to my living soul, but sounds stifled, suffocated, stagnant… deathly still.

It seems it’s not just my blog that is suffering from being all surface and no depth lately, I’m not writing anything of note in my private journal either – looking back it’s been full of mindless trivia and forced positivity recently… never a good sign.

Usually I find writing my thoughts and feelings down to be very therapeutic, as it takes time to find the right words to accurately describe what’s going on in my head, which in turn helps clarify my emotional landscape and pinpoint exactly where I am within it. So when that constant creative conversation dries up it’s usually a sign that something somewhere is seriously amiss inside.

Hopefully remaining vigilant to such signs will help me work through whatever is bothering me so deeply, without depression descending… over the years I’ve discovered that avoiding that debilitating sense of helplessness and hopelessness is often enough to keep the worst at bay. So it’s not a case of fighting against it so much as consciously working within the particular parameters of whatever I find before me, in the hope of finding my own way through once more 🙂

Creative Coping…

When life gets me down I create things to help me cope – I write poems, I take photographs, I cook, I crochet – and it’s only when life gets beyond difficult that I stop being creative and just sleepwalk through the days, dragging depression around with me, soaked to saturation point in utter misery, until finally I feel the heaviness start to dissipate once more.

But being creative throws me an early lifeline, helps keep me afloat in my deep ocean of emotional upheaval, gives me a bit of respite from the inevitable storms threatening from above and below. Sometimes concentrating on being creative is enough to stop me from going under until my brooding skies clear again, but at other times it all gets too much for me and I find myself drowning anyway.

It seems a cruel quirk of fate that my creativity reaches its productive peak within that tumultuous threshold between only just coping with life and not coping at all, but it is what it is, and I’m glad to have it there nonetheless…

Goodbye 50, Hello 51…

Tomorrow I turn 51…

This time last year I was struggling through each day with low-level depression, unsure of myself and my life and my future. Earlier in 2013, having hit an all-encompassing emotional wall of depression that stopped me dead in my tracks, I took a prescribed course of antidepressants and attended talking therapy sessions for a few months, and together the combined chemicals and conversation definitely lifted the worst of my black mood, but unfortunately not all of it.

Having already suffered several severe depressive episodes over the course of my life, I decided at that point just to sit with the tail end of that particular emotional storm, and leave the last of it to pass on its own, given time. For a while things improved a little, but yet again I got so far in my recovery, then everything stagnated, plateaued all over again. So as it happened I spent my 50th birthday feeling in limbo, stuck in an emotional rut, not at all sure how to get myself out of it.

After several months of frustratingly treading water emotionally, as 2014 dawned I finally got thoroughly fed up with feeling so permanently low and miserable all the time, and made the difficult choice to push myself through a period of deliberate change in the hope of breaking the deadlock I seemed to be stuck in. To actively challenge the worst of my negative habits, however uncomfortable I may find it to do so, in the hope of creating a more positive approach to living my life.

I chose three main areas of personal change to focus on: to talk about my ongoing mental health issues and finally find my voice after years of shameful silence; to get myself out of the house to meet people again and reduce my life-long, not-good-enough debilitating self-consciousness; and most importantly to be kinder to myself, to learn to be more self-compassionate and give myself the same caring consideration I seem to find it so easy to give to everyone else.

In February I decided to start writing a blog, Quietcalliope, with the aim of sharing my lived experience of depression, and for a while, that did help me feel empowered. But I very soon found it too much to be focusing so deeply only on depression and the more negative experiences of life. After only four months I chose to stop posting to that particular blog, and to start another with a different, more positive, less fixed focus. And so Mad Meandering Me was born, and since then I’ve never looked back.

I also went back to work after a whole year off – I took on a part time, minimum-wage job in a local pub, a million miles away from my previous ten years of relatively well-paid, office-based University administration – and that too has done me the world of good. Forcing myself to face lots of people every day with a smile and a friendly word has become so much easier the more time passes – my smile and my conversation has become more natural, surprisingly I find myself smiling inside more, and that feels good.

And lastly, and probably most importantly, I’m learning to forgive myself for not being a perfect person, by trying to focus on the many good things I have achieved in life rather than constantly punish myself for my myriad failings. I can clearly see how my constant emotional self-flagellation in the past has had a sadly negative impact over the years on my ongoing relationship with my children, and I don’t want to continue this negativity through to the next generation. I still have a long way to go, but I’m determined not to give up, to keep faith with myself, to believe I can become happier in life – with life.

And so as I say goodbye to 50 and hello to 51, I’m delighted to feel more hopeful for a happier future than I have for a long time. Although I’ll never say never, at least I feel confident that my depression has, for now, substantially subsided again. I have much in life to be grateful for – a loving husband, three loving children, and three loving grandchildren (so far – we’ve very recently learned that grandchild number four is due early next summer!). There’s a lot of love out there if only I’m willing to accept it, truly appreciate it, and return it multiplied to those that matter most 🙂

Deny my Negativity? Positively not…

A few weeks ago I was set the ‘fun’ task through Facebook of recording three positives a day for seven days, and against my better judgement I played along – but by day four I’d given up in despair. It was as if through unnaturally forcing the feeling, ironically I was becoming more and more miserable every day – a recurring pattern I’ve noticed happen many times before in my life…

There’s something about being required to be perpetually ‘positive’ that really hits a raw nerve with me – I truly resent the implication that ‘positive’ equals ‘good’ and ‘negative’ equals ‘bad’. I always feel lots of emotions all of the time, some skid fleetingly along the surface this way and that like autumn leaves blowing in the breeze, and others embed themselves deep, heavy and firmly anchored for the duration. Some emotions can be heart-soaringly joyful, while others have the power to rip my fragile heart to shreds. But all are decidedly my emotions, all originate organically within me, and in that sense all are felt equally.

Yet I grew up learning that feeling happy equated with success and approval, but feeling anything less was aligned with disappointment and failing to fulfil your potential. And so I suppose somewhere inside my child-mind I understood that those parts of me that curved comfortably above the horizontal axis on the graph of acceptibility were OK and could be positively encouraged, whereas anything skulking below was to be denied, negated, brushed under the carpet and hidden away like a shameful dirty little secret. Basically, I got the message very early on in life that half of me was just not good enough. And over the years, that ‘not good enough’ message remained trapped in my subconscious, buried deep within the dysfunctional behaviours borne of feeling a constant sense of failure in life.

Because on balance, I do tend to feel more negative than positive emotions – I seem to have a lifelong predisposition towards residing at the more miserable depressive end of the happiness scale and as a result am always on a quest to find a ‘solution’ to ‘fixing’ my dark and brooding nature. I can of course always medicate it – but in damping down the extremes of my depressive moods, I also find my precious little spikes of happiness dulling too, and life becomes altogether flatter, calmer, emptier… more ‘normal’, I guess?

It seems that in reducing my desperate lows, inevitably I lose my emotional highs as well, and I’ve discovered that, occasional crises apart, that’s a price I’m not really willing to pay in life. The thing is, living my life as a bit of a depressive is not all bad. I am perfectly capable of finding and appreciating my own meaningful ‘uplifting’ magic moments as I go through everyday life, and quite often photograph (or sometimes write about) those special little somethings that catch my eye, however ordinary they may seem to others, because for me they stand out like beacons in a storm, frequent flashes of sparkling brilliance lighting up my more usual tempestuous darkness.

So finally at fifty years old, I feel it’s definitely time I stopped trying to ‘fix’ my emotions and simply learned to live with them, all of them, ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘positive’ and ‘negative’, ‘high’ and ‘low’, regardless of arbitrary social or cultural expectations of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Wherever my feelings take me as I undulate along the emotional parabola of life, I want to be able to better weather my own inner storms, experience everything to the full, learn to positively accept the more negative aspects of my emotional make up and finally fulfil my latent potential by embracing the whole, passionate human being I have always felt myself to be at heart…

A Long Time Dead…

city-of-london-cemetery

There’s an old Scottish proverb that says ‘Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead’. It’s such a lovely sentiment and I do understand the common-sense truth of it. But somewhere between my head and my heart, between thought and feeling, that simple message loses its way, and that loss, that lack, truly saddens me.

I don’t know why I just don’t feel the same about life as other people seem to. I don’t know why depression dogs me so determinedly. I don’t know why I struggle so much with everyday living. But like it or not, I just do. I so badly want to feel differently – to enjoy my life, enjoy living – and I never stop trying to fix whatever is broken within me.

I hold on to hope for dear life, and hope beyond hope that one day I can finally say to myself – ‘Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead’ – and truly feel it at long last… 🙂

Weekly Writing Challenge: Memoir Madness

The latest DP Writing Challenge is to write a memoir, in any form you choose. One of the options given is to write about the worst of times – my absolute worst time in life was being seriously depressed and surviving an overdose at the age of 24. Due to the never-ending guilt and shame it was something I struggled with talking about for a couple of decades, but wrote this prose poem while taking part in a creative writing course four years ago. So this may not be a brand new piece of writing, but it is nevertheless a one-off, straight from the heart, never to be repeated exercise that fits the remit so well I just wanted to share it with you all… thank you for reading 🙂

Life sentence…

Death is not necessarily the ultimate destination on this crazy day, but neither is continuing life. What you desire in this exact moment is oblivion, potent and pure – you want the pain of daily living to disappear, to vanish you along with it into the unbroken night. The finer details remain insignificant. Overwhelmed yet emotionally numb, already you are far beyond the reach of rationality.

Infinity beckons, drawing you in. Wretched and retching, you let the black hole envelop you; swallow you up as you swallow down the pills, one by one, on and on. Your entrails wrench from the heart of you as your world tilts violently on its axis, spinning out of control. As consciousness fades and the light dies you cling tight to the knowledge that life as you know it is ending at last.

From tumbling headlong into the spiralling void you emerge semi-conscious two days later. Poisoned and poisonous, you feel like a dark disoriented Alice deposited on the other side of your distorted looking glass. There is no going back. Fate is on your side – or is it against? You are saved; your stomach is pumped out. You survive, after a fashion. You bury your dead deep, and carry on…

Another journey through time and space, and your life flows forward twenty years. Then one day an empty, expectant silence elongates into sound as re-awakening emotions expose and express. Enraged, they come screaming raw into your tube-raped throat, no longer stripped of voice. You stay with them awhile, re-living, releasing. Such a strong response after decades of denying. ‘You survive, after a fashion’. One sentence; your life sentence. It says everything yet says nothing. It is your history, your present, your future. So much shame, so much guilt – so much distress. So much wasted time. You swallow hard and blink back lost tears, remembering.

All quiet on the blogging front…

I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately – we were away for a week, and since then I’ve had a few things preying on my mind so haven’t felt very chatty, or felt like joining in with anything much. I suppose the initial novelty of blogging has pretty much worn off for me now – it was all new and exciting for the first few months on Quiet Calliope, I had lots of quite serious personal stuff to say about living with depression (which was the main purpose of writing that blog) and it felt so good – really therapeutic – finally to have found my voice and be able to get it all off my chest.

But I also learned that an important part of having a voice is having the right not to use it if you choose not to. It soon proved all too easy for me to become too introspective, ruminating so much on talking about my own mental health issues that it became almost all-consuming, potentially making life worse again, not better…

Nevertheless I do enjoy the practice and process of blogging, so at that point I chose to let Quiet Calliope fall quiet and started a new blog, just for fun this time, nothing too serious. And here I am now almost two months into Mad Meandering Me, once more finding myself temporarily with nothing much to say…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really enjoying participating in various weekly blog challenges, in particular sharing my growing love of photography. And I’m pleased to be opening up my world a little more each day through actively taking part in those challenges, choosing freely to join in with things for once. That may be something that other people take for granted, but it’s truly a huge thing for me; joining in isn’t something I’ve ever really done ‘for fun’ before.

I’m discovering that blogging is a great hobby for depressive introverts, creating virtual contact with others without actually having to socialise in real life; no making excruciatingly difficult small-talk over after-work drinks, no uncomfortable silences to be filled so painfully, no feeling awkward and panicky in crowds, wanting the floor beneath my feet to open up and swallow me whole… And so overall I’m easily finding the blogosphere a very friendly, comfortable place to be.

But my intention with this blog was always just to go with the flow of life, and over these last couple of weeks I know I’ve been a bit quieter than I’d intended – but I guess that’s just where life has taken me for now. No doubt this hiatus shall pass soon enough, and I’ll be back to my usual meandering before too long… 🙂

Share Your World – 2014 Week 26

This week’s Q&A from Cee’s Share Your World 🙂

Is your refrigerator organised or a mess inside?

Living in London on a low income = small flat = small kitchen = small refrigerator, so out of necessity there is surprising order and method to the contents. However, hypothetically given all the lovely shelf space of a big American-style fridge as tall as myself, I’m sure I could easily create some disorder and havoc in there in no time at all…

If you could be famous for one thing, what would it be?

To be honest I have absolutely no desire to be famous for anything, I’m really uncomfortable standing out from the crowd and struggle enough with trying to appear to be the same as everyone else, not to feel so different from the norm… But the trouble with wanting to blend in like a chameleon is that it is all too easy to become invisible, even to yourself, so that you feel like whatever idiosynchratic weirdness makes you, well, effectively you, is in danger of completely disappearing, and in that sense I even feel ambivalent about being normal. So no fame for me, thanks, I’ll pass on that one!

What one thing have you not done that you really want to do?

I want to feel happier in life, not to have to wake up and struggle every day, not to have to push myself to do the kind of ordinary life things that so many people seem to take for granted. I suppose I want not to feel forever bound to the dark shadow of depression that nips hard at my heels wherever I go, however hard I try to shake it off… But I do keep trying, whatever it takes, in the hope that one day I’ll get there…

Where do you eat breakfast?

Um… on the rare occasions I eat breakfast, I’d usually eat it sitting on the sofa, on a tray on my lap 🙂