Tuesday 12 August 2014

Sunbathing in the Rain

I've just read 'Sunbathing in the Rain' by author and poet, Gwyneth Lewis. She describes it as a 'cheerful book about depression'. A bit of an oxymoron it ever I've heard one, but it's exactly what she says it is. It is the author's account of her experience of severe depression - and she writes it very well, with wit, humour and a huge amount of honesty and humility.

One passage near the beginning of the book is particularly poignant and contains some very wise words which have arisen from her close observation of the illness.

She says, 'If you can cope with the eternal nuclear winter of depression and come through it without committing suicide - the disease's most serious side effect - then, in my experience, depression can be a great friend. It says: the way you've been living is unbearable, it's not for you. And it teaches you slowly to live in a way that suits you infinitely better. If you don't listen, of course, it comes back and knocks you out even harder the next time, until you get the point.'

She has realised that her depression 'isn't a random chemical event but has an emotional logic' which kicks in when she's not listening to what she really knows, when she's being wilful and harming herself.

Depression can be caused on the one hand by a significant imbalance in the blood's chemistry, the result of some underlying pathology of  an organ responsible for the body's day to day function; it can also be down to a combination of genetic inheritance, emotional habit and stressful life events.

Stress is the precursor to depression if ignored over a period of time. So if you're constantly feeling stressed out, then this is your body telling you something. It's saying to you that the way you're living is not working for you and something needs to change. Stress is enormously sapping of energy, but change requires energy and a lot of effort in order to initiate and sustain it. 

Depression sets in when your energy supply has been exhausted - you no longer have the resources to sustain the lifestyle you have chosen, but unfortunately you don't have the energy to initiate change either. This is the point when your body will go into recovery mode - and you may become incapable of doing anything other than sleeping. Minor day to day chores can become overwhelming and even the energy required to get dressed can seem more than is needed to climb Mount Everest. 

The solution? Listen to your body. If it's telling you to rest, then do just that. Nourish yourself - physically and emotionally. Don't be afraid or too proud to ask for help. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness - it's a sign of maturity in that you have recognised that there's something you're struggling with - and you're willing to take responsibility and to do something about it.

And tap into your support network - family, friends, GP, therapist. Talk to someone - it's always good to talk, when the time is right and when you feel ready to do so. Sometimes you just need to hear yourself saying out loud all of those things that are going round in your head. Find someone who will listen to you without judging you or giving you advice - the answers to all of our problems come from within, we sometimes need a bit of time, space and guidance to find them.

'If you bring forth what is in you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.'