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Small things first. Friday December 6, 2013

If you've ever suffered from depression, I'd hazard a guess that at some point in your life you've experienced that friend or family member's well intentioned but unhelpful attempts at "cheering you up".

Reflecting on why certain suggestions are misguided recently led me to thinking about what does really work. Why do some classic methods of "cheering you up" not work for depression? And what are the less intuitive, more surprising little things that we can do for ourselves, or ask our friends to do for us, that might actually work?

During a particularly bad bout of depression, a close friend happened to listen to some of my music on a music sharing site. She commented on how most of it was fairly downbeat and pensive and suggested that I'd start feeling happier if I added some more happy songs to my play lists.

A few days later she very sweetly sent me a mix tape of about forty of her best "happy songs". It was a beautiful gesture and made me feel loved, but the songs themselves had the opposite effect. They were all high tempo, extremely upbeat pop or dance tracks and although I love them when I'm happy, listening to them at the time was like the equivalent of standing on a traffic island surrounded by howling emergency vehicles and beeping car horns. It hurt.

We've probably all experienced this kind of sensory overload during low periods. Going to a party, for instance, and having to navigate the fast talking, loud laughing, harsh music chaos when all we want to do is hide under a duvet in the dark. It's like trying to go from first gear straight to fifth gear without first building up the speed. The engine just cant' cope and it can end up doing more damage than good.

Having said all that, I do believe that music, stories, films and even socializing can all play a big part in lifting us out of deep lows if approached in the right way. Going back to the driving analogy, we need to be aware of what gear we're in first, and then work up through the gears slowly. To engage with a new gear, the speed of the gear box needs to be correctly matched to the speed of the engine before changing.

It's that word "engage" that is the key. For me, when I'm low, I find I can engage far more easily with a pensive, sad song at first, and then often those songs contain something moving or balancing that can help lift me ever so slightly out of the depths.

Similarly, if a friend wants to meet up and I'm not so low that I'm incapable of dragging myself out, going for a coffee or a quiet one-to-one dinner would be far more preferable than braving a party.

I see depression as a sliding scale. We rarely wake up one morning at rock bottom, so catching it as early as possible by doing little things is always important. Why not make a list of small things that you know will help you change gear.

I keep list in the back of a small note pad at home. The activities range from going out with a friend, to simply having a shower or a bath. If I haven't managed to catch my slide down in to depression early, sometimes the latter is the only thing I can manage – and it works. Once you've attempted one of the easier things on your list and your mood has been lifted, it may lead to attempting something more challenging that will lift your mood further still. Who knows? Next week you might be dancing on the table at that party.

Thoughts on the above? Please feel free to post a comment on our Blogspot:

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Anonymous Fri, Dec 6th 2013 @ 9:48am

Absolutely. Horses for courses. Timing is everything.

Mary Blackhurst Hill Fri, Dec 6th 2013 @ 9:50am

Absolutely! Very wise words. Number one on my list is having a shower. Feeling clean gives me an enormous boost.

Anonymous Fri, Dec 6th 2013 @ 9:58am

Thanks so much for your brilliant blog, I can't really talk to anyone but reading this every day really helps me to understand my depression and know it's just not me, thank you x

Charlie Fri, Dec 6th 2013 @ 11:55am

Spot on Anna, small things first - one dirty mug? Wash it up. Spot something out of place, put it away - don't think, just do, gradually you get yourself going without realising! Charlie.

Quacko Fri, Dec 6th 2013 @ 1:02pm

Excellent post- am going through an incredibly rough patch at work- am in a toxic work situation that I can not get out of. There is not much work out there and I am hitting the age wall with some employers. This morning I did what you said before reading this. Ate well, took vitamins and will tackle what I can this weekend emotionally. Thanks

Anonymous Fri, Dec 6th 2013 @ 1:28pm

Love the Gears analogy: it's all about the Thynchromesh.
: )

Anonymous Fri, Dec 6th 2013 @ 2:11pm

Spot on. Appetite is one for me. "Just EAT something! What's so hard about that?!" Does not work for me. I have to build up to it. Soup, cereal w/a bit of fruit, (chocolate of course!) Scrambled eggs are good starts. My most loving friends now know to get me back on my feet they need to feed me. So I send out texts like "need help--must do dinner!" Or they send out the opposite--lets go get something to eat. Its rather amazing the posh restaurants I've been in wearing jeans & a sweatshirt!! But there's always good portions of unconditional love to pass around.
Find your personal medicine. Take as needed.

Anonymous Fri, Dec 6th 2013 @ 5:33pm

Thanks for your post - totally agree - babysteps ... I always say, break down tasks into teeny tiny steps, so small that even *you/I* can do it!


Anonymous Fri, Dec 6th 2013 @ 8:14pm

Hello, this is my first post here after 3 years of reading and nodding my head. Not ready to come out to the world online yet.....and that held me back from engaging ...So it is a very nice touch to be allowed to comment as Anonymous on Moodscope. I really cannot put into words what it has been like since finding Moodscope. For over 50 years I believed simply I was odd, out of synch, not normal etc. etc. Every post I have read on Moodscope has helped indescribably. Other people describing feelings and experience I have at least I am not alone. The words 'sensory overload' triggered this first post. The complete drowning overwhelm wave....So other people experience that too. I didn't know. Thankyou everyone who has posted and commented on Moodscope. There is comfort in the honesty and the sharing of ideas and inspiration.

Anonymous Sun, Dec 8th 2013 @ 5:32pm

Hi Anonymous

Yes there are loads of us "out there" wearing masks of bright cheerfulness and hiding behind frantic busyness ... One thought that helps me: "never compare yourself to others; because you will be comparing your inner self to others' outward selves; you are not comparing like with like ..." Frankie

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