Finally, it is nap time and I wake up with my nose smashed into metal. At least the bodies aren’t here this time. Oh, it is happening again. Something weird is growing in here somewhere and I can feel it trying to scratch its way out. I’m not quite sure what will happen when it does, or if there’s anything I can or should be doing to stop it. I’m on autopilot again. This black tar-like feeling is spreading in me and I am constantly on edge, fear chewing away at me. I am so fucked. Everything is perfect right now and I’m paralysed by fear: I am slowly being forced to walk blindfolded off the plank and who knows what lurks beneath. Will she be there to steer the wheel this time? She know the rocky planes off the paths better than I do. Or will I be left powerless and lonely to keep myself awake while this dull sleep washes over me? My lips and fingers are so dry, shrivelled to perfection by sleepless nights. I feel slightly sick all the time and the pain behind my eyes pushes the lids shut. But I cannot sleep now, oh no. I cannot sleep ever, not with this fucking HD screen stuck on channel suffering 24/7. I have grown morbid again: guts and violence seem to temporarily lift me out off the torpor. Disgust is the most awake I’ve felt recently. Irreverence is my comfort blanket.
So it’s getting to that time of year where the days are grey and drawled out and moods swing low. When lethargy preposterously shoves our will power out of the way and takes over our lives. You feel less energetic, motivated and less engaged in your life. Wether you suffer from a mood disorder, or just find the winter season unbearably dull and demotivating, there are are a series of things you should be doing NOW, to make the next few months bearable.
As anyone who has had anything to do with the mental health system probably knows, there is quite a long list of things you can do to help you mood stay on the up side, without pharmaceutical assistance. These are only some of the ‘natural remedies’ suggested by websites such as web MD and Psych Today:
(1) Get into a routine, (2) eat healthy, (3) stay fit, (4) get enough sleep, (5) take on responsibilities, (6) challenge negative thoughts and (7) try to have fun.
What I would like to point out is that, although this list is indeed full of virtuous and healthy actions, it is also INCREDIBLY UNREALISTIC. As someone who has personally found it impossible to decipher words on a book (if I could even see anything other than a blank or fuzzy page) and to establish a link between mind in body during my downer periods, I know very well how straightforward and banal tasks can at times become unbearable and impossible.
I always get extremely annoyed when someone blames me for being forgetful or un-concentrated. They make it seem like I purposely forget or lose things, or like I don’t actively care that I’m broke and I just lost the seventh expensive technological gadget in a year. Seriously, it’s not like I intentionally fling Iphone’s out the window. How do you expect me to remember to remember? It defies the whole point of the term ‘forget’. Forgetting something, especially when your brain is so full of distracting thoughts, is not something you can help. What you can help, however, is taking precautions for those days in which your mind and your memory just don’t want to cooperate.
What I would like to propose in this post, is really a rather simple and primitive approach to the winter season. I suggest that, just as animals store food for hibernation during the summer and autumnal period, now that you are still motivated, is when you you should be preparing for the dull, painful months to come.
So here is my alternative (and in my opinion somewhat more realistic) list of natural precautions for the winter blues:
1. Get someone to exercise with you. You know very well that if you plan to do it yourself, it ain’t gonna happen. Fill them in on the fact that you’re probably going to find some excuse: tell them to literally show up at your place in sports gear and ready to go. It is possible that the guilt of letting them down might get you to face te unbearable feat of getting your ass off the couch.
2. Make an emergency happy file. Find artwork that is known to get you in a good mood. Music, a movie or whatever floats your boat. Store it in a file titled emergency on your laptop, where it’s easily accessible when you’re feeling blue.
3. Buy yourself a locker. If you find yourself constantly distracted by binge sessions of tv series or movies that distract you from your duties, lock them away. When you pull out your laptop, note it down! Again, the guilt of the action, as well as seeing the list of your slips in black in white, is a pretty good avoidance device. If you can, and have someone close to you who can keep an eye on you, hand them the keys.
4. Get a blocked savings account. I know how important it may feel in a manic moment to buy 50 books on your newfound interest in gardening, and how stupid the act is in hindsight, when you’re full of unread material and two grand into your savings account, with bills and rents to pay.
5. Try out phototherapy. Vitamine D (the ‘sunshine vitamin’) is a steroid hormone precursor. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to many conditions, depression being one of them. However, due to unfavourable geographical conditions or just plain demotivation, getting your daily intake of sunshine is not always a feasible option. Invest in a light box: a specially designed light, which contains 10,000 lux. Regular lighting is usually between 320 to 500 lux, whereas a light box is closer to the level of indirect sunlight during the day (10,000 to 25,000 lux). Keep in in your room, near your bed, and switch it on for 20-30 minutes in the morning.
Also, check out this journal article on why Vitamin D supplements are not the same as natural sunlight.
6. Do the whole ‘healthy food’ thing. Sure, eating a lot of fruit and vegetables is not going to magically cure your depression, and I’m no advocate for complex diets or a vegan lifestyle. However, a balanced diet does have a significant impact on health and if anything it makes you feel like you’re doing something, without requiring too much of an effort. So say hello to omega3 fishy fats, lemon and ginger tea, wholegrain cereal, nuts and blueberries.
If you’re looking for healthy ideas, check out this ginger and turmeric honey bomb recipe. Just have a spoonful a day, on its own or in your tea. Ginger is a root that has antibiotic effects and is helpful for pretty much every bodily function: digestion, detoxification, inflammation, circulation, joint and muscular pain, etc. Turmeric is a crazy strong antioxidant used in traditional indian medicine and it has strong cleansing, digestive and anti-inflammatory effects, especially on the liver. It is considered to be more effective when paired with black pepper, which helps activate its functions.
7. Get your friends in the loop and inform people. Socialising is rough when you’re feeling down and apathetic, so make sure you get someone you trust to check up on you and give you a little nudge every now and again. If you think your condition can affect your work performance and your social life, you also need to let people know, to avoid miscomprehension’s and at times, just coming off as a miserable dick.
8. Get yourself a fancy daily planner. (or one of those fancy planning app things), and write everything down. Plan, plan and plan now. Prepare your job activities and do anything you can do in advance while you’re still functional enough to do it. If you’re feeling over active and hypomanic, even better: direct your excessive energies somewhere useful.
9. Try out yoga and meditation. I cannot stress enough how important I think training your brain is in looking after your mental health. I don’t think there is a perfect philosophy or religion you must follow in order to combat you internal hardships. I do however believe that meditation helps further a contact with your emotional self and assists you towards a more balanced outlook of the world around you. It’s benefits are incommensurably useful when struggling with mood swings and persistent mind rumination.
I used to not been able to sit still and meditate for five minutes without an increasingly panicked sense of anxiety. I am however, gradually getting better and have found meditating beneficial not only for my anxiety, but for enhancing brain function, memory, concentration, empathy and perception of the world around me. It is a practice of patience and dedication to oneself, which is fundamental on a path towards healing and self-awareness.
These are just a bunch of suggestions, that have proven to work quite well for me. You may or may not find them useful, but my main and final point is:
TAKE MATTERS INTO YOUR OWN HANDS. The amount of times I have heard the sentence ‘you don’t know what it’s like…’ is ridiculous. Well you know what? It’s true. Others don’t know what it’s like to be you and feel the way you do. You are the person who, if not entirely, knows yourself the most. Which is why you are your best flippin’ hope. I you don’t want to help yourself, nobody else can.
You are the top person who is in control of your life, and thus your happiness is your main responsibility, not anyone else’s. Stop wallowing in self pity and thinking of yourself as a lost case, or a useless waste of space. Just because you suffer from a mental condition does not mean you are stupid, un-resourceful or incapable of strategic planning. You may be helpless when you’re down, but if you act now, you can avoid being hopeless.
Think of all the things you tend to do when you’re manic or depressed and take as many precautions as you can, RIGHT NOW. Make a list, and think of solutions. These points will not only be useful, they will be fundamental to your happiness. Nothing in life comes without effort, and those things we work the hardest for should be the things we care about the most. You should be your top priority, because if you’re unhappy with yourself, nothing else you do and achieve is going to make you feel any better. And similarly, you’re always going to be miserable and un-inspiring to those around you.
It’s National Poetry Day and Mental Spaghetti have published and illustrated (thank you Marie) one of my poems and accepted my offer to collaborate with them on their project!
They are a no-profit organisation that promotes art development and creativity as means to combat mental illness. Check the post and their blog out here.