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Dec 22

Are You On The Right Train?

By Vickie | Uncategorised

I did the silliest thing the other day. I really thought I was on the right train…

I was looking after a friend’s dog on the other side of my city. Now this friend and I, we were almost neighbours at one time. I lived in this area for about seven years, so I should know my way around!

Anyway, this particular day I went into the city by train and after finishing my errands, jumped on a train back to my friend’s place again.

We came through the underground tunnel and approached a station I didn’t recognise. South Kensington. Where’s south Kensington?

“We didn’t come through this station before!” I thought. “I must be on the wrong train!”

I leapt up and jumped onto the station platform.

What was I thinking? How could I have caught the wrong train? I’ve been catching public transport all my life and as I mentioned, I wasn’t unfamiliar with the area.

Oh well.  I guess I just jumped on the wrong train without thinking.

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How did that happen? Ever had those moments?

I crossed to the other platform, mildly annoyed with myself as I wanted to get back to walk the dog before he got too anxious. I hate wasting time.

Ten minutes later and I’m on the train heading back into town. I got off at the first station in the underground, because I knew all train lines went through that station and looked for the correct platform.

To my utmost surprise, when I looked at the schedule for the next arriving train, I saw that both my destination station and the station where I had jumped off, South Kensington, were on the same train route!

I was on the right train all along!

I just didn’t recognise the station (where I jumped off), nor stayed on long enough to reach my destination!

At first I was really annoyed with myself. What a waste of time!

It reminded me of my journey from the grip of chronic low mood to living free of those horrible feelings.

There were plenty of times when I thought I was on the wrong track (if you’ll pardon the pun).

Taking three steps forward, two steps back. On the right train, doubting myself, hopping off only to find I was on the right track after all.

If only I’d stayed on until the next station, then I might have realised I was on the right train.

When we’re experiencing overwhelming despair and hopelessness, it’s hard to take action, let alone stick with it long enough to feel the benefits. If you’re not completely sure that what you’re doing is helpful anyway, it’s even harder.

Take exercise for example. You know it’s good for you. It improves everything…well nearly everything. Obesity, diabetes, stress, and yes, depression.

But it’s so hard to get going when you’re low in mood. The despair sucks up all your energy and the last thing you want to do is head to the gym.

But often the thing we don’t want to do is the thing we really need to do. 

So we make a promise to go for a walk every day. We head out, maybe to the park. Slowly, you find your mood lifting. You notice the trees and plants around you. Perhaps the sun is out. Maybe it is windy. You hear the birds singing in the trees. You say a brief ‘hi’ to people you pass and after half an hour or so you head home, feeling slightly better.

The next you’re busy so you don’t go.

The following day you find 20 minutes for a quick stroll but you miss the next one because it’s wet.

You think you’re doing exercise, but really, you haven’t done enough to make more serotonin to lift your mood and you haven’t had a good dollop of dopamine either, because you haven’t stuck with your plan of exercising every day so there’s no real feeling of accomplishment.

You give up.

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You give up.

“Exercise doesn’t work” you mumble to yourself. 

But you didn’t stay on the train long enough to reach your destination.

Exercise does work but you need to sustain it for long enough to reap the full benefits.

Sometimes you need someone to show you the way.

Immediately after my dog died I raced off and joined a gym.

I must have been on auto-pilot. I think my grief gave me a kind of energy. After the workout I went home and fell in a sobbing mess but the point is, I went to the gym and I got a personal trainer.

I didn’t know how to get fit again. I felt weak and out-of-shape. He explained how to do warm up exercises and then went through 30 minutes of training with me, suggested I spend a bit more time after that on the bike or treadmill and then showed me how to do stretching to cool down.

He was kind and he understood about the depression and loss of my dog. I can’t remember his name but he was very compassionate.

And he got me back on track with fitness which did absolute wonders for my mood. He showed me that I needed to do at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise and really get my heart rate up to get the brain responding with serotonin and dopamine.

You have to keep going until you feel the results and you have to get help if you don’t know if you’re heading in the right direction!

Don’t waste time getting on the wrong train.

Most stations have staff who assist passengers make sure they are on the right platform for their train.

South Kensington was a funny little station in the middle of nowhere; just one line in each direction. If there had been staff in the station they could have reassured me I was actually on the right train line and just needed to stay on a bit longer.

I remember years back, traveling in the UK for the first time, I got on the wrong train and had to change at a similar small station only at this one, I had to heave my backpack up and down a tall flight of steps to cross to the other side. I got across but it was hard and there was no one to help me.

So without people who know what they’re doing on-hand to help you, negotiating unfamiliar terrain by yourself may be a recipe for time wasting and unnecessary expenditure of precious energy.

Have you been depressed for years because you just don’t know what to do?

I’m neither a doctor nor a therapist but I am living proof that you don’t need to struggle on with the symptoms of persistent depressive disorder.

I didn’t know what I was doing at the beginning. I tried different supplements, meditation, psychological counselling and while each might have had some small positive effect, none gave me that real surge in energy and optimism that I craved.

It was only when, after many years of trial and error that I put two and two together and built up a weekly strategy that became my lifestyle that I felt my depressive thinking slipping away.

Don’t take the wrong train. Don’t waste time or energy.

Find out how exercise, sunshine, adequate sleep, good nutrition, socialisation and a meaningful life can reduce your depression symptoms and give you back the life you deserve.

If that all sounds like too much, start with my new course, ‘Make Your Mind UP: Decide to be Depression-Free!‘ where you’ll learn how to develop the motivation and resilience to know, 100%, that you’re on your right train.

 

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Dec 08

Rumination: How Depression Speaks to Us

By Vickie | Uncategorised

Do you ever find yourself lost in rumination?

What I was 34 I fell in love with a fella at the place where I was doing some voluntary work.

I filled an entire A4 exercise book with my thoughts and feelings about this bloke, blow-by-blow accounts of what happened each time I saw him and what he said to me and how I reacted, minutiae of my feelings about what was happening, what had already happened, what could happen in the future.

On and on and on.

I was attempting to build a bricks and mortar business, out of money, volunteering at a refugee centre (which sounds very altruistic but was rather foolish as I had no money and should have been focussing on my business) and obsessing about this bloke.

I was depressed.

And I was doing something very dangerous.

Ruminating.

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Rumination disengages you with what is really going on in life.

I spent hours wallowing in my thoughts and feelings, and not only about that fella.

Day after day I moped and brooded, languished in my own misery, pined, grieved and generally felt very, very bad.

“Why didn’t I have any money? Why did I live in such a crap house? Why couldn’t I get more clients? Why was I always feeling just a bit panicked? Why was I always dissolving in tears? Why wasn’t I married? Why couldn’t I get a grip? Why was life so bad? What’s wrong with me? Why am I such a loser?

Why couldn’t I just feel better?”

On and on and on.

Rumination.

So what is rumination exactly?

It’s a nasty, nasty habit which can lead to depression and can maintain our experience of depression over a long period of time. It’s a vicious cycle.

Let’s say you’re not depressed, but something has happened, an unpleasant situation at work, the stress of an illness, an unexpected accident of some kind. You’re feeling bad.

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Rumination: it can be hard to turn off the endless cycle of thoughts.

 

You begin to go over and over in your mind how this could have happened.

“I should have spoken up about it…I should have said…why did this happen to me?  What did I do to cause this? Why is he so horrible to me? What if ….doesn’t get better?”

Your mood drops. You begin to feel consumed by this issue and it spreads to the way you feel about other aspects of your life and yourself.

But doesn’t everyone think about things that are going on in their life? Isn’t it normal?

Yes, it’s absolutely normal to think through problems. Our marvellous brains use thinking processes to help us sort through problems and find solutions. We use our cognitive abilities to consider different aspects of a difficult situation and decide on different methods and approaches which we believe might help.

In non-depressed people, thinking is used to find solutions, or to work towards solutions which for complex problems may take weeks or months, but we use our cognitive skills to set goals and set action plans to move towards those solutions.

In depressed people, the amount of value generated through rumination is quite low. Rumination does not push us to identify solutions. Rumination is fixation on the problem as a problem, not as a challenge which needs a solution.

Rumination is quite disempowering. We flounder, lost and drowning in our own thoughts. Our thinking is not clear, logical or solution-focussed. We are lost in the emotion of the situation, unable calm our feelings so that we can concentrate to finding a way out.

What do we ruminate about?

Rumination is quite generalised and abstract.

We may ruminate on past events and conversations, going over and over not only what happened or what was said, but also on what we believed was meant by the other person or event.

For example, a colleague did not spend the usual few minutes chatting with you in the tea room. You decide it means they no longer like you, that you are not worth knowing, that you are horrible, that maybe nobody likes you at work, that you are doing a bad job, that maybe they are going to sack you, and so on.

Maybe your colleague was just running late for a meeting and intended to chat with you at lunch time.

We may ruminate on our low mood. How did I get like this? Why can’t I get moving in the morning?

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Rumination stifles us. It stops us from thinking in different ways, getting a different perspective.morning? Why don’t I have any energy? Why do I cry so much? Why do I get angry so much? Why do I feel pressure in my face muscles, tension around my eyes, a sick feeling in my stomach? What’s wrong with me?

We may ruminate about our Selves, our character and our perceived flaws. Why am I such a loser? I’m hopeless, pathetic, no-good, useless, waste of space.

So what’s happening in the brain when we ruminate?

Parts of the brain which are involved in rumination are the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and the anterior cingulate. Studies have shown that these regions of the brain are active when we ruminate.

The prefrontal cortex is the centre of brain’s planning and decision-making circuit and is a large region that sits behind the forehead. Our motivation and decision-making originate in the prefrontal cortex.

However, when we are experiencing chronic and profound despair, it is also a source of problematic thinking such as worrying, guilt, shame, indecisiveness and ‘fuzzy-headedness’.

The amygdala and anterior cingulate are part of the limbic system and are located deep in the brain. This is the brain’s emotional centre and is where feelings such as excitement, fear, anxiety, memory and desire emerge. In particular, the amygdala is responsible for anxiety and the anterior cingulate is concerned with focus and our ability to pay attention.

You can see how, when you have a very low mooc, an overly active amygdala will create a very emotional reaction to a situation, and problems with functions in the prefrontal cortex with affect how clearly you can make decisions.

In 2010, researchers at Stanford University looked at the difference in activity in the brains of people who had been diagnosed with depression and those who were not depressed. The participants were asked to think about different topics, such as ‘What people notice about my personality’, ‘a row of shampoo bottles on display at the supermarket’.

The first question was designed to cause rumination. Pondering this question produced greater activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex of the people with depression than in the non-depressed participants.

What that means is that the rumination of emotionally disordered people is quite an emotional activity rather than logical or solutions-focussed. Also, the increased activity in amygdala mean that those emotions tend to be negative. Finally, malfunction in the prefrontal cortex means that decisions around problems are difficult to reach.[1]

Stopping rumination

The regions of the brain need to be exercised to maintain their effectiveness. To engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, we need to practice decision-making, which of course is quite difficult in chronic low mood because rumination gets in the way. “What’s the right thing to do? I can’t even think straight let alone make decisions”.

Depending on the subject of your rumination, make a decision to find out if what you’re thinking is actually true or not. Recall the example above in which your work colleague didn’t stop to chat at the water cooler or staff kitchen.

Could you decide that next time you see your colleague you give him or her a big smile and ask how they are? Don’t mention how their behaviour affected you. You are just testing your theory that they don’t like you anymore. If your colleague returns your greeting warmly, you have just proved yourself wrong and short-circuited the negative emotions in your brain.

The first step in stopping ruminating is to notice when it’s happening. Set an alarm to go off, say, every 30 or 60 minutes. Sit for a short time and reflect on what you have been thinking about. Were you ruminating?

Then, take action to distract yourself from that train of thought. Take a deep breath, practice mindfulness, go for a walk and observe what you see around you, have a chat with a friend or do some exercise.

Ruminating is a dangerous downward spiral into low mood and depression. It can keep you down. Stopping rumination is a very powerful and essential strategy in feeling better.

Start noticing your rumination habit and make defeating it a priority today.

 

[1] Cooney, RE, Joormann, J, Eugene, F, Dennis, E and Gotlib, IH, “Neural correlates of rumination in depression”, in Cognitive and  Affective Behavioural Neuroscience. 2010 December ; 10(4): 470–478. doi:10.3758/CABN.10.4.470.

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Dec 08

Welcome To My World: The Land of Dysthymia

By Vickie | Uncategorised

“Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen, to this “Treasures of Dysthymia’’ tour¹, brought to you by What’s Wrong with Me Holidays. Dysthymia is a lonely little kingdom to the north of sovereign state of Depression and south of Dysphoria and its dominion, Euphoria. 

I’ve been an inhabitant of Dysthymia² for many years now and it appears that some of my ancestors may have originally been from Depression, but family history research is yet to show this definitively, though there are indications that some may have shared some of the customs of that land, such as an over fondness for alcohol and its worst outcome, suicide. 

On this four day tour you will experience many of the national traditions and customs of the people of Dysthymia, who may be slightly less well known than, and often confused with, their neighbours, the Depressives.  You will stay in a typical Dysthymic hotel, enjoy Dysthymia cuisine and participate in cultural activities.  The group is necessarily small, as Dysthymics are by nature solitary and reserved, and will not respond well to large numbers of people appearing to them all at once.

First of all, let me give you your What’s Wrong With Me Holiday show-bags.  If you just open them and take out the headgear first.  This is made of heavy, grey mesh and must be worn at all times.  It is a simulation of the cultural outlook of the people of Dysthymia on life and the world.  Just slip it over your head.  Those weights which sit on your shoulders should keep the headwear in place.  Strange feeling, isn’t it?  Your view of your surroundings should be hazy, grayish and unclear. 

Let me help you, Madam.  Make sure the eyes are completely covered.  Your view should be as though you are trying to peer through the fog.  The eye covering may be removed in some instances, for example, when speaking with non-Dysthymics or for wearing sunglasses. 

Right. 

These headdresses must remain on your head for the entire tour, to give you a real glimpse inside the mind of the typical Dysthymia citizen.  You may find your head aches sometimes.  This is quite normal, all part of the experience.  I’m sure you’ll agree this is an original and insightful way of experiencing this unique culture.  

Let me now go through the itinerary with you for this “Treasures of Dysthymia  4 day tour”.  

First I’ll take you to your hotel, a typically traditional Dysthymic dwelling showing all the characteristics of untidiness, lack of attention to hygiene and a resident mouse population.  Do not, on any account, attempt to clean the kitchen or the bathroom.  You may consider doing so, but in the end, you must simply stand and stare at the chaos, possibly wishing you could do something about it and making promises that you know you will not keep to make a start on it tomorrow. 

You may use the laundry, however, bear in mind that because it is broken, the washing machine must be manually emptied and it is usual to leave full buckets of water standing in the laundry for some weeks before taking them downstairs for emptying.

Beds comprise a 1990s-style futon, with a jumble of different bedclothes donated by family members.  Please disregard the dog hairs covering the bedclothes and the carpet throughout the hotel.  Dysthymics are extremely fond of dogs and often care more about them than they do of themselves. 

You will each be assigned a dog to sleep on the end of your beds to enjoy the full experience of this method of staying on top of things.  Believe me, by the end of the four days you will be glad of your furry companion.

Meals are sporadic.  Some will be served in the hotel, depending on the availability of clean cooking utensils.  If there are no clean plates you may eat out of takeaway containers and off lids of ice cream containers.  This is perfectly acceptable in Dysthymia society

You should eat while watching television and should the telephone ring at any time, do not, under any circumstances, answer it.  Dysthymics have an aversion to human contact and will avoid it as much as possible.

“What’s Wrong with Me” Holidays Part 2: Grocery Shopping

OK, right now, the first day will take us to the supermarket where you will need to buy your own food supplies for the duration of the tour.  We will provide you each with $10 out of which you must buy food for yourself and your dog.

It is quite acceptable to buy enough for the dog even if this means you will be hungry and I’m sure that there will be many moments during the tour when you do feel a little peckish.  Don’t worry about this, there are plenty of ‘No Frills’ brand frozen dimsums in the freezer (courtesy of the tour) to enjoy for your evening meal. 

To get the full experience of shopping like a true Dysthymic, we recommend that you focus on ready- made meals, believing that these are cheaper than fresh foods (and of course in order to avoid that pesky washing up), milk, bread, tea bags and perhaps a fillet of nice meat.  However, it is likely that your budget will not extend to the meat and you will need, at the cash register, to surrender this treat, or perhaps exchange it for supermarket brand BBQ sausages (4 pack). 

As the famous Dysthymic saying goes, “As long as I have a cup of tea, I need nothing else”.

Grocery shopping done, if you have brought a little extra money for souvenirs you may like to pop into the $2 shops for a quick browse; the Reject Shop is very popular as it reflects how natives of Dysthymia really feel about themselves. 

Solitary dysthymics can spend hours browsing the shelves for junk they don’t need, as acquiring new possessions relieves them of an abiding feeling that they don’t have enough.  Another popular retail outlet is the Salvation Army and Not Quite Right supermarkets. 

Local greengrocers often have a table of overly ripe produce and Dysthymics are a dab hand at making large pots of green capsicum and cabbage curry, or fresh tomato sauce (very little chopping needed as tomatoes are self-softening, another example of the resourcefulness often shown by Dysthymics). 

You will find on this tour that there is a considerable amount of free time, so that you may make your own decisions about what to see and do.  This is valuable for really making the most of your experience in Dysthymia. 

Rumination is a traditional pastime of the Dysthymic nation.  

Of course, being new to this state, you won’t know what to do and may spend much of this free time wondering what to do, pondering and trying to make decisions.  Staring out of the window, gazing helplessly at the chaotic state of your hotel, finally coming to a decision and almost instantaneously changing your mind before collapsing into a bout of weeping on the floor will all add to the authenticity of the experience. 

This is the natural state of being for Dysthymics, until the next highlight of our itinerary, going to work.

“What’s Wrong with Me” Holidays Part 3: Working

No trip to Dysthymia would be complete without a visit to the workplace, which we will take on the second day. 

We hope to leave around 8.30, but this is unlikely as you will probably sleep much longer into the morning than you plan to.  Many Dysthymics enjoy interrupted sleep and often lie awake during the ‘graveyard shift’.  In some cases, graveyards may dominate thinking along with other people’s funerals.  We will ring a special alarm every 20 minutes from 1am to ensure that you are wide awake by two. 

We suggest you weep for a few minutes, then stagger into the kitchen where the glare of the light will cause a minor headache.  Put on the kettle and spend a short time finding a mug, which you will, of course, need to rinse out, before making a cup of tea. 

Usually, most Dysthymics return to bed with their tea, perhaps to read or just to ruminate.  Remember, ruminate, ruminate, ruminate!  The more you think about how you feel the more authentic your Dysthymic experience.  Make plans!  Go on!  Just try to keep to them!  If you do choose a book instead, bear in mind that you are unlikely to be able to concentrate on it and end up reading the same sentence forty-nine times.

Most Dysthymics do hold down jobs.  The rate of unemployment in the land of Depression greatly exceeds that of Dysthymia due to the Dysthymics ability to maintain a level of functionality in their relations with foreigners (non-Dysthymics).  

You will visit a small business owner, who established her own consultancy in a para-legal field and has operated it for four years.  She will give you a short talk and explain why she chose to set up her business after losing her job twice in two years through government funding cuts despite having little business knowledge and even less experience. 

She is a typical Dysthymic; making poor choices based on a need for a certain lifestyle.  As mentioned above, Dysthymics prefer their own company and to be masters of their own destiny, living independent lifestyles free of interaction with others except on their own terms.  She believed that she would be able to operate her own hours, walk the dog whenever she wanted, take on the clients she chose and make enough money to live comfortably. 

As you will learn, none of these things came to pass except for walking the dog, an activity which soon became the only one which gave her some small degree of joy, though this was always tempered with an extreme sense of guilt. 

With high demand clients, often refugees from the Land of Depression, the woman soon found she was running short on sympathy for her clients, despite the mounting sense of guilt this gave her.  She began to distrust them, to blame them for not paying her accounts (although in her initial sympathy for their situation and needs she had offered payment terms so generous that they were ultimately detrimental to her own) and even her sympathy was edged out by cynicism and tendency simply not to care anymore. 

At the same time, she thought if she could just take on a different set of clients, things might improve, so she set about meeting other business people (known as ‘networking’) and learning about other areas of legal practice open to her.

Sadly, but typically, the new direction for her business brought a different set of issues, each as worrying as those before.  Although the potential for greater income was there, she didn’t realize it would bring with it extremely assertive and demanding clients. 

These clients were mostly from extremely corporate lands which were known for difficult and aggressively demanding personalities.  She felt out of her depth and made a serious but not insurmountable error with one client’s case.  It did not affect the outcome for the client, but it did delay proceedings and was a cause of great stress and anxiety for the woman.  Finally, the client took his business elsewhere. 

She had a handful of business clients, but found that with each one of them, there was some aspect of the matter which meant that the work was extremely stressful and difficult.  Clients lied when she asked them questions in order to offer the best possible advice, they didn’t listen to her concerns about their situation, they didn’t provide enough or appropriate documentation. 

She began to dread turning on her mobile phone or opening her email inbox for fear of the hostile messages that lay in wait for her there. 

Through all this, she kept her problems to herself, often a common characteristic of many dysthymics.  When visiting family or friends she would shower, dress nicely, put on some makeup and her happy face, while, unbeknownst to them, the heavy grey mesh, the same that you are wearing on your heads, lay heavily over her heart. 

She had kept from all those who loved her the fact that she now had citizenship of the State of Dysthymia.  It is likely that those closest to her may have suspected that she no longer lived among them, but most were surprised to learn some years later that she had taken on this new identity. 

“What’s Wrong with Me” Holidays Part 4: Trying to be normal

Following our visit to the Dysthymic business woman we shall go to a fast food outlet for whatever you can afford to buy for lunch, following which there is free time for you in the afternoon to rest and ruminate before we head out to a nightclub for an evening of salsa classes. 

While citizens of Dysthymia are generally thought to be moody, glum and not much fun to be with, they do, in fact, enjoy some time with others as a stimulating change to their solitary lifestyle.  These are, however, fairly rare moments and tend not to bring the person the desired outcome. 

Some Dysthymics believe that if they be among other nationalities, their characteristic outlook on life will lighten, which is sometimes does, albeit temporarily.  Many Dysthymics visit the land of Euphoria and enjoy their experiences there, hoping to recreate them in their own world. 

This can lead to culture shock. 

You should be ready to leave at 8.30pm.  You may find it difficult choose an outfit and end up in the kitchen drinking a number of cups of tea while you decide whether you really want to go at all.

Driving home, you should refrain from thinking that you’ve had a good time; instead, ponder why you didn’t make more friends and have a handkerchief on hand as weeping is likely on the way back to the hotel.

“What’s Wrong with Me” Holidays Part 5: Going to the Park

The following morning you are again likely to sleep longer than planned.  Get up when you can (pushing away those feelings of guilt and laziness), drink a cup of instant coffee and then we will take a visit to one of Dysthymia’s pleasant parks as care of your canine companion is paramount in the lives of Dysthymics. 

It is important to abide by the following instructions while in the park:

1/ Wear large, dark sunglasses and put your earphones in your ears;

2/ Trudge or stomp slowly, pausing for frequent and unnecessary rests on park benches.  You are not here to improve your physical health.  You may use the tennis ball in your tour show-bag to keep your furry friend entertained.  Remember, this walk is all about her;

3/ When other walkers come into view, avoid them immediately by choosing a different track;

4/ Under no circumstances should you speak to anyone;

5/ Ruminate, ruminate, ruminate on your feelings.

Then back to the hotel for a quick lunch of spaghetti and tomato sauce, before heading off to the library, many Dysthymics preferred place due to its quiet environment and good hiding spots behind the book shelves. 

For the full Dysthymic experience, we have made sure that you have fines on your library cards, which will be loudly announced by the librarian and for which you will need to apologise and request to pay next time. 

You will then beg to borrow more books.  This is important, as the resources of the library are crucial to a Dysthymic lifestyle.

At the library we recommend a pile of books on emotional or self-help topics, perhaps a budget cook book or something to help with keeping the hotel in order, maybe a craft book or something about gardening. 

It is forbidden to borrow or even glance at the travel section, writing section or photographic magazines as these represent the hopes and dreams of Dysthymic persons and are therefore of no interest to them at this time. 

On the way home from the library we will stop at a bakery for doughnuts or the milkbar for chocolate. 

Back the hotel, you will put on your pajamas and go to bed for the afternoon, reading your books and ruminating, with a cup of tea, of course. 

It is recommended for this typically Dysthymic activity that you have a notebook and pen with you, for making plans which you haven’t a hope of making come true. 

Still, it’s nice to think of, don’t you agree?  Thinking, of course, is what the people of Dysthymia do best.

So we come to the end of our itinerary.  We strongly recommend that you spend some time in the Republic of Euphoria after this tour, as too much time spent in Dysthymia is likely to have long-term adverse affects on your mental health. 

Thank you for choosing What’s Wrong With Me Holiday’s “4 day Treasures of Dysthymia” tour.  We look forward to meeting you again on the bus!”

This, of course, is my story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1) This was written back in 2008, when I had been diagnosed with depression for some three years and was of the view that I must be sick and requiring medication. I used these diagnostic labels because they reflect how I thought of my emotional state at that time. Today, I use the term ‘depression’ as a general descriptor, without suggesting that it is an illness.

(2) Dysthymia or dysthymic disorder is diagnosed today by psychiatrists today as persistent depressive disorder.

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Nov 17

Can Depression Be Treated?

By Vickie | Uncategorised

Short answer: yes. Yes, depression can be treated.

“I am happy that I found some help, because every day life is getting easier, and I am beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel”. 

“Hope takes real courage, but I know that hope for a happier, brighter, more contented tomorrow, keeps me smiling!”

These are quotations (edited) from depression forums which show that depression can be treated and that there is hope¹.

 

Treating depression is not an easy road and sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin.

One place to start is to look at what you think about depression.

Do you believe depression is ‘all in the mind’? That is, it’s caused and maintained by the way you think and feel?

Or do you believe that depression is a physical illness, like catching a cold or developing diabetes?

One thing is for sure…depression is complex.

It sits at the junction of ‘mind’ (how we think) and ‘brain’ (the mechanics of thinking and many other things).

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How we believe depression is can affect what we choose to do to relieve the symptoms can maintain our depression symptoms.

So if you think of depression as purely physiological, you may think the only treatment is medication.

However, recent statistics show that the number of people on antidepressant medication is climbing, yet the rate of diagnosis of depression is also climbing!

If you believe that depression is caused only by your thoughts then that is bordering on believing that depression is your fault. Change your thoughts, change your depressive symptoms, yes?

Well, possibly, but more likely, depression is both in the body and of the mind.

Changing your thoughts may assist with changing the brain’s mechanics, helping you feel better.

But you can also change the brain’s mechanics in other ways, like taking more exercise, getting better sleep, enjoying social activities, practicing mindfulness and relaxation.

These types of activities have been shown to have as much of a positive impact on the brain’s mechanics as medication.

To treat depression effectively, we need to see the mind and brain as interconnected and able to exert influence on each other. It’s helpful to see ourselves as a whole being, with a powerful ability to change our mood.

Depression straddles both the mind and the body. It seems that what we think about our depression is very important to how effective the strategies we choose to use will be.

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We can impact our brain’s circuitry with our experiences and our thoughts.

The areas and circuits of the brain which are affected by depression can be positively influenced to give the person some relief, temporarily at first but then more long-lasting from the symptoms of depression.

This positive influence comes from experiences and thoughts which change the brain’s mechanics to relieve symptoms.

The problem begins with whether the person struggling with depression is able, despite their illness, to do the activities which can cause these positive changes.

And this is where the blame-game comes in.

Many people with depression report that their friends and loved ones urge them to ‘snap out of it’ or suggest they are lazy, just a bit sad, or not willing to ‘make an effort’.

This kind of response comes from a place of ignorance both of the condition and the effect is has upon a person. While this response is not at all helpful to the person struggling with depression, and while kindness and compassion would be much more helpful, if you have never suffered from depression it is actually quite difficult to imagine what it would be like.

I have never had cancer. I do not blame people for having cancer and neither can I know fully what it would be like to have cancer.

But with cancer, as with Alzheimer’s, there is a recognisable, measurable disease that people can often see the effects of, whereas with depression, all you can ‘see’ is the behaviour of the person with depression.

That behaviour can be hard to understand by others. They may feel frustrated that their friend or loved one can’t seem to change their behaviour.

In fact, if you have struggled with chronic low mood for many years, it is possible to change the habitual thoughts and behaviours which maintain emotional instability, but support from loved ones is an essential part of this process and one which I will talk about in a later post.

The message of this post is that Depression Can Be Treated and it starts with your decision to be well.

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  1. As always on this website, when I refer to ‘depression’, I’m referring to a bunch of feelings and behaviours, such as poor sleep, anxious, racing thoughts, lack of energy and motivation, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, sadness, weeping and a sense of worthlessness and hopelessness. When a person goes to the doctor and describes how they feel, the doctor may ‘diagnose’ them with a condition called ‘depression’. I use this term descriptively. I don’t believe depression is an illness. I believe depression is a form of emotional dysregulation, brought on by stress and maintained by unhelpful coping skills and negative thoughts and feelings. 

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Nov 16

Chronic Low Mood is Not Alzheimer’s: Make The Decision Today To Be Live Joyfully

By Vickie | Uncategorised

My Dad has Alzheimer’s Disease.

We know his limitations and don’t berate him for losing things or asking the same questions over and over. We understood he is ill and that his brain is affected by this illness. He isn’t trying to frustrate us.

In the early stages of his illness I thought Dad was going a bit deaf as he couldn’t seem to follow action on TV shows, asking who characters were and what they were doing. I thought he just couldn’t follow the conversation.

Now we understand that Dad was experiencing some mild cognitive disorder (the name given to the symptoms before a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s is given).

When the diagnosis came, we were not surprised, but it was still a devastating shock.

What we didn’t do was blame Dad.

Why is it so different with depression?

Why are people with chronic low mood often blamed for their despair and distress?

Have you experienced that? The sneaky suggestion that you’re something other than depressed, maybe lazy or ‘doing it on purpose’?

We would never tell Dad he is choosing to have Alzheimer’s and just needs to pull himself out of it.

But Alzheimer’s is different to depression too, in its effect on the brain. It relentlessly diminishes the brain physically; the brain actually shrinks away and as parts of the brain are lost, so too are the capabilities for which that region is responsible.

While there are certain activities which seem to make Dad more alert, such as going for a walk, these effects are very short-lived and cannot reverse the disease.

Depression is different. Performed regularly, there are many activities that will make a lasting, positive effect on the depressed brain.

But the chronic low mood – with it’s negative self-talk, low energy and interrupted sleep – itself makes taking action very difficult.

If going for a brisk walk will make you feel better, why don’t people with depression just go for a walk?

If having a coffee with a friend will make you feel better, why don’t people with depression just ring a friend for coffee?

If setting goals for the future and starting to work towards them will make you feel better, why don’t people with depression just sit down and set a few goals?

With chronic low mood, which can go on for decades, people typically feel that they lack energy and motivation to do the types of activities which can activate the brain’s systems and regions to create chemicals and connections which can lift your mood.

If you have experienced years of struggling against your emotions every day, you’ll know what I mean.

So even though you know that exercise will help, the effects of years of chronic low mood itself can hold you back, keeping you weighed down and sluggish.

However.

But many people with chronic low mood do hold down jobs, raise families and look after households, all of which takes action.

My proposition is that if you can function in your daily life, you have enough energy to

choose to do something which can lift your mood and make you feel better, at least temporarily at the start.

If you believe depression is a physical illness, then, like all physical illnesses, you take a course of medical treatment and get better.

Unfortunately, depression seems to be more than a physical condition in the sense that breaking a leg, or getting a tummy upset when travelling is.

Because depression involves the brain, and the brain is changeable, what we do can alter the chemistry

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Which way will you choose for your life?

and circuitry of the brain. Things we can do include physical activities we do and the ways in which we think.

But if we choose not to do the things which could change our brain and give us relief from our sadness, are we choosing to remain in our low mood?

Should we take control of depression, with the new science of brain plasticity, and decide to take action against our emotional dysregulation?

Making a decision is changing how we think, and now we know that changing how we think, like taking physical action, can alter our brain’s function and create a brighter mood.

With the support of loved ones, a compassion for oneself and a simple decision to do what we can to make ourselves feel better, we can make the empowering decision to free ourselves from this debilitating condition.

It’s not an easy road. But it’s far more empowering and ultimately effective.

If you choose not to take these different methods of reducing depression, are you to blame for your depression?

No.

You just haven’t gathered the resources and allies you need to make it happen.

Did you cause your depression? No, not any more than my Dad caused his Alzheimer’s. But you do have the chance that Dad does not.

Make the decision today to create a joyful, rewarding future.

The future you deserve.

 

 

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