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FIRST PERSON: Anxiety, Depression & Things I Wish I’d Known

CALM supporter, Matt, shares some lessons he learned after experiencing a breakdown and coming through the other side…

“Three years ago I had a breakdown. A pretty big one.

I now know that it followed a long period of depression during which I kept ploughing on, working harder and harder to make my business work during the recession, to provide for my young family and of course, to not “fail”

I’ll spare you the details but it was pretty grim.

However, I was lucky and I got help and rebuilt myself with the aid  of a great team of professionals.

Looking back, there are a few things I wish I’d known at the time – there are probably a lot more, but given this piece is intended to help you if you are going through the dark journey, I doubt your attention span would want to read much more than the essentials.

1. Things will get better. Yes they will. I promise.

The pain you are going through is truly awful. I don’t know your story but I understand the pain but I am here to tell you that it won’t last forever and with the right support and the right actions, things will slowly get better and you will emerge blinking into the sunshine one fine day soon.

Three years on I am well, I am building a new career and best of all, I have changed those habits that led me to the breakdown.

I recommend you read “Depressive Illness, The Curse of the Strong” by Tim Cantopher for more info.

2. Be kind to yourself.

You don’t want to feel this way. If you could “pull yourself together” then of course you would.

More likely than not you’ve got here through relentless over work combined with an equally relentless set of rules and goals you have set yourself over the years.

Your not in this position because you are weak, you are in this position precisely because your personal strength has meant you have kept pushing and pushing and pushing yourself until your mind (in an act of self protection) has said enough.

So be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break.

That kindness extends to how you treat yourself physically as well as mentally – this is gong to be the biggest fight for your life and you need to be pumped and primed. It won’t work if you are castigating yourself for being in this position.

3. Things are not as bad as your mind is telling you they are.

Negative thoughts about your situation, your life and your future are just that – Thoughts. They come, they go but they’re not necessarily right or accurate so try your best not to get on board with them. Thank your mind for the thought but ask it for another, much happier one and get on board with that.

Read more about “Distorted thinking styles” and Mindfulness HERE.

4. Talk to a professional. 

When you are depressed, even the most well meaning friends and family might not be the right people to turn to for help. Reach out and talk to someone who has seen it all before and who is in touch with the right people who can begin to re-build you. Your GP, the CALM helpline, the Samaritans; just start talking and you’ll be amazed at what happens.

5. Don’t make big decisions.

Depressed decisions don’t generally work out in the long run. What seems right to us looking through the prism of despair rarely look the same when we are feeling better.

Most decisions can actually wait – take time to recover and then make them. If something really needs to be done now, then check your thoughts with a loved one or a professional to ensure that they come not from the depressed you, but from a point of healthy integrity.

6. Sleep and Exercise (and no booze)

Ok so that’s three tips for the price of one.

We need to get you ready for this fight. You need to be rested and healthy

Sleep deprivation is a well known form of torture and speaking as a man who didn’t sleep for five nights – it doesn’t go well.

Don’t be afraid to ask your GP for some help with this. I was scared to take any medication but in the end I learnt that the benefits of a good nights sleep far outweighed the negatives of taking a sleeping aid. The modern medications like Zopiclone are far gentler than they used to be and can really help.

Exercise can seem like the last thing you want to do. But it’s amazing what a swim or even a brisk walk can do. Remember, we are getting ready for the fight and a few endorphins will be a great aid.

Booze….a few beers certainly do take the edge off at the time, but the downsides really do outweigh the brief upsides.

Alcohol disrupts your sleep and acts as a depressant because it encourages dopamine (happy juice) to your brain. The problem is we are not good at storing dopamine so once it’s gone, it’s gone and the body has to spend a few days brewing more. So kick the booze into touch for this battle.

I could go on but in my experience, these few things will help.

Be kind to yourself and even though I don’t know you, I am thinking of you and I care about you.”

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