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A sense of perspective. Thursday September 29, 2016

One of the hardest things to hear when I am at the bottom of the pit being smothered by the Black Dog is that 'things could be worse' – when that well meaning friend tries to make me feel better by saying that elsewhere someone is probably having a tougher life than me. Logically, they are right. Intellectually, I totally understand. But when I'm down there, in that dark pit, where the pain is not physical, yet is intensely full of pain, where normal feelings are dulled, yet somehow there is this other acute feeling of tragic despair that seems to curl around my body and soul like a snake, defying all attempts to break free by squeezing tight around my chest, binding my legs together so it's almost impossible to move, squirming through my thoughts ensuring the light can't get in – what could possibly be worse than that? I mean really?? They have no idea...

But of course they do have a point. It's just that another thing that the Dog (or Snake, or whatever image we may like to use for our depression) manages to achieve is to remove completely any sense of proportion and perspective that we otherwise might have: Nobody loves us. Everybody hates us. Nothing is right with our lives.

The only way I find to restore that sense of perspective is to experience others' trials myself, to learn about others' lives and to do whatever I can to help. Last weekend, I took part in two separate activities which helped re-calibrate my perspectives. I ran a charity auction for a friend of a friend, raising money for an organisation which provides support to babies and children suffering from terminal illnesses. The parents, aged 18 and 21, had just lost their baby. Ouf. Where do you start?

And then on Sunday I volunteered in a play group for children affected by bereavement - children who had all lost their Mum, Dad or a Grandparent to cancer. Ouf again.

I know that the next time I experience a depressive episode, the lives of these brave brave people will be furthest from my conscious mind. But I also know that such re-calibration activity does give me strength, when I am well. Strength to appreciate what I have, and hopefully strength to keep the dogs and snakes at bay for a little longer.

A Moodscope member.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment below.

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Sally Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 5:34am

I do like your title Andrew, and the blog did not disappoint either, thanks very much.
I totally agree with your comments as advice of the "Things could be worse" variety are not useful when you are down/ flattened/ feeling hopeless etc. I don't even know what i call it myself, but just know that the feelings you write about resonate with me too, and terrify me...for instance, when booking ahead, i never know if i will still be able to make the event, and it's very frustrating then having felt it was a good idea say, 3 months before, to book...only to find the black mood has taken over, and that one's heart just isn't in it, to such an extent that you become really fearful. Just recently, we had arranged a trip to London to meet up with friends passing through, i had to put on a fake smile/ mood/ everything, and was just not in the mood. So frustrating as these are friends who don't come to this country often, and i wanted to see them, but just couldnt do justice to the event at that stage/ on that day. What should have been a joyous occasion became a "Thank Goodness that's over" one.

I was very interested to read about your volunteering experiences. What worthy endeavours both. Best of everything to you, Andrew.

Jul Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 8:33am

Hello Sally. I just wanted to say how much I identify with you about making arrangements in the future and worrying I will almost certainly feel awful when the date comes and having to make the decision either to cancel or to go ahead and put on your fake smile etc. I don't know which is best. It stops me agreeing to social invitations or issuing them as I know I won't want to go ahead with it at the time. I wonder if many people are like this even those without depression? I attempt to trick myself into thinking this might be so and when I do go ahead with invitations etc, I tell myself that maybe the other people feel the same as me and are making a monumental effort too. Julxx

Andrew Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 9:01am

Hi Jul and Sally...that booking ahead feeling I'm sure is not uncommon....and I suspect many reading this will share it. Often, we worry too much about the future (and the past) - and also FAR too much about what other people might think of us....I think the answer lies as ever in not 'catastrophising' - in other words, if we look at all situations as a series of small baby steps, rather than a huge COMMITMENT - that 'skydive' or 'firewalk' if you will! It doesn't need to be like that - so huge and dramatic and overwhelming... If an arrangement has been made in the future, when the day arrives, see it as a series of small experiences. In amongst the difficult ones, there will always be a positive one trying to get through. A meeting with a friend - a sight of natural beauty - a ray of sunshine in the darkness. And always try to remember that other people are NOT thinking ill of us. They simply aren't. Any more than we think ill of someone we meet who is clearly having a rough time. It takes strength, I know. And perspective (see above!) Best to both of you x

Jul Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 8:41am

I love your writing Andrew. Can you write like this when feeling depressed? I have to wait for a good day to write a blog. When I read your words "where normal feelings are dulled" it just clicked for me . It's sad to realise the truth of this. On good days normal feelings are heightened for me and on bad days (most days) they are dulled. I suppose if I wasn't depressed, sleep deprived, whatever, I would know what it's like to feel normal. I often ask my husband how he feels on a daily basis but he can't explain! He doesn't think about it and has to only when I quiz him. I guess getting out of ones comfort zone as you did with the charity work is the answer to forgetting how we feel when it gets really bad. I need to challenge myself but always think of the most dramatic like skydiving or going up in a light aircraft, terribly frightening and totally silly goals. Julxx

Hopeful One Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 9:01am

Hi Andrew- thanks for sharing your your ideas and putting a perspective on the events in your life.Depression is notorious for installing a distortion in our thought processing . Psychologists call it 'all or nothing'or 'black and white' thinking.A good example is your line 'Nobody loves us. Everybody hates us. Nothing is right with our lives.' When one thinks about these statements one realises that they are not really true.NOBODY? loves us.EVERYBODY? hates us. NOTHING?is right.Surely not. The trick is to remind oneself that at least one person loves us(oneself if nobody else), not everybody hates us and some things DO work out right. Here one has to watch out for the Inner Critic stepping in and discounting the positive alternatives one has generated and perpetuate the original thought distortion..

A little humour will also go a long way to loosen the grip of this type of thinking.

This joke contains adult material which some may find offensive.

A woman is in bed with her lover who also happens to be her husband's best friend. They had sex for hours, and afterwards, while they're just laying there, the phone rings. Since it is the woman's house, she picks up the receiver. Her lover looks over at her and listens, only hearing her side of the conversation... She is speaking in a cheery voice) "Hello? Oh, hi. I'm so glad that you called. Really? That's wonderful. I am so happy for you. That sounds terrific. Great! Thanks. Okay. Bye." She hangs up the telephone and her lover asks, "Who was that?" "Oh" she replies, "that was my husband telling me all about the wonderful time he's having on his fishing trip with you."

Andrew Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 9:08am

ha ha! Great joke! And your thoughts above sum up perfectly what I was trying to get across - thank you!

Andrew Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 9:05am

Thanks Jul. In answer to your question, if I can be bothered (aye, and there's the rub!) I can write some of my best pieces when feeling low. But usually I can't be - however I often think of what I may write whilst running. And the ideas germinate. Don't fall into the trap of challenging yourself to do the impossible by the way. Not everyone needs to run a marathon or climb Mount Everest. But I would hugely recommend volunteering. That is both rewarding and therapeutic. And sometimes challenging!

Jul Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 10:17am

Thank you for your very helpful and kind comments Andrew. They really help. Julxx

Mary Wednesday Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 10:40am

Great post Andrew, thank you.

The Gardener Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 11:03am

Andrew, how I agree with the infuriating habit of people trying to cheer you up (or criticise more likely) by citing those worse off.Always takes me back to childhood in the war and soon after - when I would not eat something - my Ma would cite, ad nauseam, the starving millions. I am sure I was not the only child who said 'well sent them my spinach/swede/rice pudding/crusts'. I have had a dreadful few days - now it seems as though our house might be sold. I was reeling from things undone - even self neglect of minor physical matters - this morning I took my brain in hand 'something must be done'. Got respite for Mr G till Tuesday - so I just got stuck in with all the important paper work, solicitor communications, and most important deep piles of paper on my desk which conceal things which MUST done. First, all the haphazard lists lying down - do I combine them? Or chuck them away on the grounds that if they were lying around they weren't important.Big week-end here - hope my voluntary work on genealogy and local history will draw visitors - and that I might sell some of my bookz/knitting for our kids in India. Our fourth sponsored child is said to be in 8th grade and doing well. Oldie has an excellent article on depression this month.

The Gardener Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 11:04am

The article is titled 'Time-poor GP's may fail the depressed'

the room above the garage Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 12:29pm

Great blog Andrew! I volunteer too and even just the requirement of being 100% present can be very restful from depression. Add to that a needy case and perspective is a given. Great thoughts and words thank you, love ratg x.

Andrew Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 4:40pm

Thank you - you're so right - presence it in and of itself more restful from absence!

patricia Thu, Sep 29th 2016 @ 6:58pm

Thank you Andrew your blog very thought provoking, do admire your volunteering.
I remember one day saying to my CPN about something that was troubling me at the time, oh! there are loads worse off than me, she said yes but that doesn't help you does it, which of course it doesn't.

Orangeblossom Fri, Sep 30th 2016 @ 8:29am

Thanks Andrew I am in complete agreement with you. However, yesterday was a full-on and fulfilling day & I wasn't tormented by snakes or wild beasts of the creepy crawly variety. I had to make sure that I built in some me time amidst the hurly burly of a busy week. Loved your blog.

LP Fri, Sep 30th 2016 @ 8:59am

I totally agree Andrew. When I'm not in a good place, comparing myself to others is just completely irrelevant. Someone may as well start talking about bad times in history, yes that was awful but I still feel awful! In fact if anything feeling empathy for someone in a bad situation would only add to my misery! We dont put out a fire with an inferno!!!
And who needs more guilt when they're down?
It's good that you've shared this reminder, that it's not that we don't care. Like you I have alot to give when I am well and do. Many of us are givers, sensitive and caring. It's the character of someone who would say things like that when we're down that I'd question! I'd steer well clear!
Thanks for an uplifting blog Andrew! LP :)

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