Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Meet my demon, Frank

Today I'm going to be Frank. Libraries are not always places of peace and retreat. And librarians don't have all the answers. God, I wish we did.

Some children have imaginary friends, but many adults have imaginary enemies. I've suffered from chronic depression since my teens. I got through the years of being bullied OK, knowing that at least things were going to get better after I left school. Then, when my external tormentors left me, the inner demons showed up. I was worthless, I wasn't living up to my potential, I had no idea where I was going, I wasn't normal. I woke up one morning with a feeling of impending doom, and it stayed for 18 months. Unfortunately this was around the time when everyone asks "So what are you going to do once you graduate from university?" What I did was burst into tears.

I went to my doctor, convinced I was suffering minor heart attacks. He told me to give church a go and "get out more". I never went back. Eventually I worked out on my own that I was sitting in a protective hunch, which made my chest muscles contract and go into painful spasms. That first bout finally lifted, and I thought I was cured. I wasn't. Three years later, the depression came back, even worse. This time I would be at work, going about my daily routine, and suddenly I'd break out in uncontrollable sobbing. As I worked in a shop, this wasn't exactly a private matter. I'd have to dash for the stockroom and finish wailing in my own time. It was scary and horrible and I decided it was time for a second opinion.

I was prescribed antidepressants, which thankfully worked. Psychologists cost money, and I was grateful for something that took away my pain without being hit in the pocket as well. I was finally cured - wasn't I?

This year, my old friend came back. He's still with me, and now I realise he always will be. There's no cure for chronic depression, only means to cope for a while. There's no real cause, either. There's a lot of restructuring and change going on around here, which makes things stressful. I had a former colleague ask me recently: "So you've given up on your writing, then? You haven't had anything published in ages". Which made me furious and even more depressed. I'm single and can't afford a house in Auckland. There are a lot of issues, but none of them is enough to make me break down at my desk like I do. So I can't attack anything and fix it. It's like going after world politics.

If you're one of the people, like me, who know it's all in your head but it doesn't mean a damn thing, because it's still real...Here are a few suggestions:

Managing Your Depression: What You Can Do to Feel Better
Written by a doctor who is a sufferer herself, this book takes an overall health approach, looking at diet and nutrition, sleep patterns, exercise, routine and ways to avoid total isolation.

Scriven says: At times I just want to be left alone, or I don't have the energy to go out. And that's fine. But you need to try new things, or go to a funny movie, or have dinner out sometimes, because cutting yourself off entirely is the worst thing of all. Try to find a balance. Hopefully this book will help!

When Someone You Love Has Depression: A Handbook for Family and Friends
A coping guide for the ones on the other side of the wall.

Scriven says: One of the worst things about depression is the guilt that comes with it. The feeling that I'm boring my friends and bringing them down, or that I'm a burden on my loved ones. True, your friends will worry. But you can't take on the guilt for something that's not your fault. Try this book on them so they can understand better what you're going through, and you can deal with it together.

Managing Depression with CBT for Dummies
If you prefer to look at thought patterns and habits rather than take the pharmaceutical approach, this book is for you. Spot the destructive thoughts as soon as they pop up, and divert your mind into more positive channels.

Scriven says: When I was at my lowest, I didn't have the strength to think. I felt like I'd been navel-gazing for years, and I just wanted an instant fix, which medication very nearly provided. However, chronic depression is rarely just a chemical or mindset thing, it's both. If you're the sort of person who likes to go to the source of things, and you're ready to do a bit of work, cognitive behavioural therapy could be worth a try.

Sane New World
Comedian Ruby Wax's autobiography was a crack-up, but here she devotes her time to more serious matters. A long-time sufferer of depression, Ruby decided to study her problem in search of a cure. She shares her findings and techniques in this book - which is still funny in parts, according to the blurb.

Scriven says: I'm on the list. With an endorsement from Stephen Fry and Wax at the keyboard, I can't wait. Laughter is definitely the best medicine.

Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World
If you're like me and hadn't even heard of mindfulness till this year, let alone what it meant, here's the answer. Mindfulness is a way of being more aware of the realities of things rather than how they seem, living in the moment rather than worrying about what might be. Based on ancient Buddhist teachings, for those who value a spiritual approach, this could do the trick.

Scriven says: Not just for new-agers, the concept of mindfulness has been embraced by lettered psychologists the world over. It's huge. This book includes a CD of meditations to help you relax, but just search for "mindfulness" in our catalogue and you'll find a whole host of options.

The Fog Lifter
Whoever said men don't cry is from another planet. This is the autobiography of an Australian man whose depression led him to attempt suicide, and his struggle back to the surface. He also gives tips on how to keep yourself afloat when the world tries to drag you under.

Scriven says: A story of dark places from the man who's been there. If you don't need it yourself, give it to someone who does.

Coming Through Depression 
An ebook for those days you really can't face getting out of bed. Part One explains what happens when someone gets depressed and what kinds of experience cause depression. Part Two focuses on a step by step recovery plan to overcoming depression and Part Three considers what has been learned in the past ten years about staying well and preventing relapse. 

Scriven says: What's good about this book is it contains advice both for sufferers and their loved ones. Now you can go through it together.

Quiet the Mind
Author of the Black Dog series Matthew Johnstone has written a guide to meditation. Breathing in and zoning out from daily stresses and anxieties for a while is a widely-recognised way to recharge empty batteries.

Scriven says: It even comes with illustrations! How good is that? You can also read Matthew's other works about his struggles with depression.

All Blacks Don't Cry
John Kirwan has become the poster-boy of depression in New Zealand, and here he tells his story. You don't have to be an All Black to beat it, but it helps to know you don't have to be a loser to get it, either.

Scriven says: I used to think all rugby players were mindless thugs. So wrong.

Hot Fuzz
Finally, find a DVD that makes you laugh. This one never fails for me!

Scriven says: Books and movies are my release. Maybe exercise or going for a drive in the car are yours. Or listening to uplifting music or gardening. Find something non-alcoholic, non-deep fried and non-pharmaceutical that helps distract you from your thoughts. And don't forget to give yourself a goal, or something to look forward to. From planning an overseas trip, to walking round the block, to just eating your Nutri-Grain for breakfast! A small amount of hope every day is so important.

Whatever happens, know you're not alone.
For more help, visit www.depression.org.nz or call freephone 0800 111 757.
Help is always there.

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