Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ten hard steps in beating depression (essentially act like a caveman!)

EOver the last year or so, people I know have all been diagnosed with depression. Its a hard subject to talk about unless you have actually experienced it. Unless you have felt the depths of darkness that depression feels like, then there is no point in saying you sympathise, because frankly you don't.

There are many do's and don'ts that you should do when dealing with someone with depression, and I am guilty of all of them. Which is strange, because I have been dealing with depression for about nine years.

I was talking to someone who has recently been experiencing the lows of depression for the first time, and I was trying to offer a perspective. It's a tricky situation, because just as is the case that you can't talk about depression unless you have truly experienced it, you also can't comment on someone else's depression, because like apples from a tree, not one case is the same.

So, here is my view. Take what you want from it.

Let no man tear asunder
As much as we wish, the likelihood is that once you have experienced depression, you will never be away from it. It will always be a part of you, and your job is not to overcome the feelings you have, but to accept them and develop tools to deal with them. Accepting that you suffer depression is the biggest success you have, learning to walk with it as a friend, is the next.

This isn't all about  you
The feelings and emotions and fears you are feeling are all a part of you, however, they are most probably due to chemical imbalances in your brain and body. Depression doesn't happen because you did something wrong, or bad, or you are weak. The feelings your body is telling you, are a direct response to the biological triggers that have been set off. If you want to blame someone, blame neolithic man. If they had determined the way to deal with a big fucking predator was to sit on your arse all day and drink coffee, then none of us would be in this position.

Fight or Flight
We can't escape our inbred, biological programming. Thousands of years ago when man met an adversary, they had two responses: Fight or Flight. For some reason we feel that our bodies should be smart enough to realise that a weekly trip to the grocery store, or a marketing meeting, isn't going to clobber us around the head, but heck evolution doesn't work like that.

The anxiety we feel with modern living triggers the same biological responses as being chased by a mammoth. The problem we have, is that we fail to respond to those biological impulses. Instead we act all 'Victorian' about it, develop a stiff upper lip that could hold up a continent and quietly get through our day.  Slowly, through every day, these chemicals race around our bodies shouting, "RUN" and "Hit the bastard" and they get more and more out of balance, until we are a wreck.

We need to honour those impulses. Why do so many people cite that a good physical workout sorts out their head? Those people are accepting that basic programming and work with it. Get Physical and shout, scream, run, lift heavy things, fight, whatever... by reacting to those stress chemicals in an appropriate way, you are in fact reducing the chemical imbalances.

Dig deep for sanity
Yep, it's neolithic man again. There is a anthropological theory that our ancestors were either 'Hunter-gatherers' or 'Famers', or possibly both. The hunter-gatherers are responsible for the fight and flight responses that require us to physically move, the farmers are responsible for our need to get dirty. Green therapy has long been used for patients with mood disorders and there is a reason. Bacteria in the dirt help our body release serotonin, (The happy chemical).  Run in the forest before planting a tree, should help lift your mood.

Where-ever you can, whenever you can. Laugh at things that aren't funny, then roll around holding you sides when they are funny. The old adage that "Laugher is the best medicine" is pretty much true. Laughter and smiling changes everything from our hormone levels to our blood pressure.It changes our attitude to life and how we perceive ourselves. Laughing increases neurotransmitters and endorphins into our brain. People who smile are healthier.

Did you know a four-year old smiles about four-hundred times a day, whereas their parents may only smile fourteen? Why should our kids get all the fun?

You don't even have to have anything to smile at. Pick a random person and smile at them. They will either look at you as if you are about to commit a horrible murder, or... shockingly... they may smile back. To receive a smile is just as good as delivering it.

People always marvel at the British attitude to smile self-deprecatingly at themselves. The British are always the first to make a joke at their own expense. Some nations cite this is a quirk; I call this brilliance. If you find yourself amusing, then you will never have to go far to find a good laugh. It helped us survive the Normans, the Vikings, Oliver Cromwell and the Blitz. If you need unsubstantiated evidence, there it is!

A glass of wine is worth a thousand tissues.
One of the pamphlets you will be handed when the Doctor diagnoses depression, will probably be about eating and drinking healthily. As much as that large slice of cake helps our short-term happiness, in the long term it will do more harm than good. The glass of wine you pick up at the end of the day is more likely to make your mood worse; have you ever seen the drunk twenty-something sat on the steps at the nightclub, blubbing into the shoulder of her long-suffering friend? Yep, blame that on the fourteen GandT's she has drunk in five hours.

It's not just wine. Caffeine elevates your heart-rate and can make you anxious. Yet, Eggs contain B-vitamins that may help your stress levels. Low digestible sugars are better than white bread and sweeties. Dark Chocolate may help, but not if you eat half of Bournville out of chocolate.

A balanced diet, eating a bit of everything but not glutting out on the bad stuff, will help you more than you realise. Forget the easy fast food outlets for a quick fix to your mood, try something that your body may actually benefit from. Your caveman buddies didn't sit with a tube of Pringles and a large hot-chocolate with whip. Take their advice.

Random acts of kindness
There is a tendency to always look inwards when you are feeling down. Everything feels as if its about you; every little slight, every little disaster. Life isn't like that. The universe isn't out to get you and people don't want to hurt you. It's hard to change that perspective. A simple -but not necessarily easy- way, is to do 'Random Acts of Kindness'. It doesn't have to be large, or expensive. You don't have to restrict these acts to family or friends. Anyone, anywhere can benefit from something you can give.

Help a stranger with the door as they struggle. Allow someone who looks harassed to go before you in the supermarket queue. Stop and talk to someone who looks a bit sad. Help distract a child who is having a meltdown in the clothes store so the Mum can catch their breath. Buy a coffee for the person in front of you as you wait at the coffee shop. Small acts, that change people's day. If people are genuinely thankful, and offer to pay you back in kind, then just ask them to pass the favour forward. Karma is a wonderful thing. Not only will you benefit from the good feeling you have from helping someone, but you understand that your problems are not the only ones out there. You remind yourself that you are a good person and develop a sense of perspective. Win, win in my book.

Accept the things you can't change.
There are battles in life you can't win; physical issues, societal problems, global disasters, the fact that your kid's teacher is called 'Hyacinth'. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Nothing, Nada, Zip. Pick the battles you want to fight and make the fight worth while. As for the rest? Ditch 'em. It is not worth your time and effort plotting a campaign of harassment on Ms. H. Pumpkin-Patch because you have hay-fever in the Spring. Yes, it is not as easy as it sounds. Yes, it is probably the toughest thing you will have to do. Yet, realising you aren't responsible for everything that happens in the world, and your job is not to make the world perfect, the simpler the battles you actually have to fight are. One of my favourite phrases at the moment is, "Not my monkeys, Not my circus". Picturing your arch nemesis in a gorilla suit makes walking away so much easier. 

Change the things you can.
The majority of our lives are determined, not by the decisions of others, but the decisions we make for ourselves. Where we live, where we work, who we have as friends, how we treat our family, how we act with strangers and how we look at our life -- these are all parts of our life we have within our control. When you think about it, there isn't much in life out of our control. We all feel as if we are the puppet to someone else's play -- that life is something done TO us, not something we DO. Yet, when you really think about it, there isn't anything in our lives that we can't change.

Hate your husband - divorce.
Dislike your job - apply for a new one.
Tired of your career - retrain.
Don't like where you live - move.
Friends treat you like crap - dump them.
Don't know what to do - ask for advice.
Have a chemical imbalance in your brain - take your meds.

I accept, that sometimes the decisions we have to make for our own happiness are tough calls to make -- especially when we are dealing with friends and family. I acknowledge that the decisions we make will potentially have financial and emotional consequences. There are times when the decisions we have made, are wrong later on down the line. Yet when we realise that our life is a myriad of dots that we have created; that life is a series of decisions WE have made, then we find the strength to take control of our lives. We get the strength to acknowledge our decisions, successes and mistakes. We are not a victim of our own circumstance; we are the ring-leader of our own show.

You know I said it's not about you? Yeah, actually it is...
I was sort of telling a little lie when I said it wasn't about you. Although depression is probably out your control in respect of your hormones and body chemistry, how you deal with it is your control. There is only one person who can cure -okay, alleviate is probably a better word- your depression. You.

Only you can acknowledge you have depression and that you want to change that situation. Only you can try to understand how YOUR body works and then take steps to remedy it. Whether it is talking to someone, or taking your meds, or changing the parts of your life within your control; only you have that power.

As much as we would like to, this isn't a situation we can pass on to someone else to fix like a broken washing machine, or a bad cell-phone service. Our friends and family can only support us so much, but if we don't acknowledge the situation and take steps to help ourselves, no amount of loving-platitudes will solve the situation.

Wallowing in our own self-regret and lamenting life's hurdles helps no-one and probably alienates more friends than we have. It is not easy, but then life never is. When cavemen had difficulties, they didn't sit around their rock on a Friday night crying into their beard... but there again they only had a language of one word and had a life expectancy of twenty years - okay bad analogy. The point still stands though - Running, getting dirty, eating, drinking, and living life a caveman is better than tea and sympathy in lightening your mood. Although, I would avoid donning a fur-lined loin cloth. That look isn't going to help anyone.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Power to the People

I know I have been quiet for a while. There has been a mass of family stuff I have had to deal with over the last few months: Stuff that I am still processing. I have switched on my computer countless times and tried to write. Yet, all I have to write about is the shit I am dealing with due to my Dad, and frankly I am still not ready to write about it. I have half a dozen posts, half written and abandoned, as it is clear, I am still dealing with how my paternal family has spectacularly imploded.

So, I am not going to write about it. Not yet.

I am, instead, going to write about one of the huge ‘taboos’ that should never, ever be spoken about. (And no, its not if the twelfth Doctor is awesome, because let’s face it, we all know he is).

It’s politics. In fact, it’s Scottish politics.

I am not Scottish and I live hundreds of miles away from Scotland, but if you live in the UK at the moment, it’s hard not to be caught up in it.

I am disenfranchised from the whole process. I am not eligible to vote – and that is a whole other discussion: Should a decision that affects the entire country, only be decided by a certain proportion of the population? Regardless, this is the most dynamic the UK’s politics has been in years, and in that respect it’s joyous to see.

I am not going to comment on whether Scotland should cede from the rest of the United Kingdom. After reading the horror stories in the press, commenting on the outcome is a guaranteed way to find a mutilated haggis in your bed and the screech of bagpipes as you wonder out of your house, eating your toast and rushing to work. The passions that have been stirred up by the debate are immense.

However, that’s the point. Despite being dis-engaged from the whole process, this is the most alive I have seen British politics for a long time – in fact, the most dynamic politics I have seen in my lifetime.

The political process across the western world has become stagnant. As the parties have come to the middle-ground to woo voters, they have in turn, just turned into each other. Yes, there are fundamental views that you will find dependent if you talk to a conservative or a liberal voter. Regardless of the country you reside in, Conservatism deals with business, conventional family values and the protection of the status-quo. Liberalism is based on a levelling of society wealth as well as integrating marginal groups. Regardless of the colours of the ribbons the politicians wear, if you are richer or older, then you [generally] vote conservative. If you are young and trying to make your way in the world, you [again, generally] vote liberal. It’s a generalization that will be flamed, but hey, I am not a political commentator. I am just a hack blogger.

As the ethos of the political parties change from red or blue to an odd sort of purple, then the motivation of the electorate is decimated. I mean, why bother? If you are just dealing with shades of the same hue, does it really matter, when the people ruling your country are all part of the same ‘old, white, boy’s club’? (And yes, as much as we believe we are progressive in the western world, it is still an ‘old white, boy’s club’. Women and marginal groups are being excluded via the natural process of going to the ‘wrong school’).

Yet, the Scottish referendum is something completely different. Here is finally a choice. This is a real choice that will make a real change. It’s not based on party lines. How you feel about gay marriage, cultural integration, family values or wealth distribution has no real influence on whether you want Scotland to be an independent country.

I find this amazing, uplifting and exciting.

In my last two years in High School, I studied the subject of  ‘Modern History’. The ‘British History’ part of the course was delivered by one of the most influential teachers I have known. Mr. Hughes, tried to make us think of ourselves. During the lesson –usually about half way through- he would stop teaching and we would stop scribbling notes. He would engage us in a debate into whatever subject took his fancy at the time. The conversations ranged over three hundred years of history. Underlying the political debates we would have, was the fundamental belief that if you didn’t vote you have no right to protest the decisions the elected party makes in your name. Voting is important. At every opportunity you are given to vote, it is your responsibility to make use of it.

The right to vote has become so accepted that it has become unimportant. Its not a right to fight for because we all have it. It’s like coffee, or banana’s. If it’s everywhere, then we fail to see it as something special.

We forget that this ‘fundamental’ right we pay so little importance to, has only recently become fundamental for all.  Universal Male suffrage was only granted in 1884, Heck the house I am typing this from was only built a few years later. That’s MALE suffrage. Women below the age of thirty didn’t receive the vote in the UK until 1928.  The universal right to vote in the UK is less than a hundred years old! Alfred Hitchcock had already made his third film and the BBC was already in place. The right to vote shouldn't be taken for granted.

In fact, when we think about it, the right for a free, democratic election is still  a right that is not experienced in large portions of the world. Yet, in the UK we take the right to vote as something we do if the weather is nice. In the last General Election in 2010 the voter turnout was 65% -- which was an improvement over the 2001 election where the turnout didn’t hit 60%. Clearly voting is something we don’t take pride in.

Going back to my starting point: Scotland. Why is the Scotland vote so important? For the first time in a long while we are seeing people voting in large numbers, (they suspect the voting turnout will be 97%). The vote is –if you believe the polls- too close to call. Even if Scotland votes ‘No’, the concessions in regional devolution they have gained over the last few weeks, will make a change to how the Scottish government rules the Scottish inhabitants. If they vote ‘Yes’ then the whole of the UK will experience a dramatic change in the political landscape.

I am excited and passionate about this vote, despite not being a part of it, because I hope to see once again, the electorate becoming impassioned to use the power they have. A vote isn’t an empty thing, but something we can use to make a real change.  Perhaps now party lines will be re-worded, electoral boundaries will be re-drawn, new electoral systems re-vamped. Wouldn’t it be great, if there was a devolution of power from a central base, where everyone is in the same coloured suit, to regional capitals where the politicians are visible to the electorate that vote for them?

Who knows if this will ever happen? It reminds me of the ‘Yes,Prime Minister’ episode (which is probably thirty years old now) which concentrates on this very issue. The socialist politician who is hell bent on radical change, backs down when regional power is proposed and  she realizes that the people may have the power and not the politicians. 

This is truly an exciting time. This is where we may see real change. This is the time we are shown we could have the power if we take it and vote. We have the politicians we have, not because we have chosen them, but because we have failed to vote and protest for an alternative.