It has been a long time since I wrote about my depressive illness. In fact it has been so long that I have archived my previous blogs. As much as writing them was part of my journey and helped with my illness, so too was archiving them. It felt right after a while to put them away for now. It wasn’t because I was feeling better. Not at all, at the time of doing so I was still very much suffering and relied heavily on my tablets. Those who suffer and those with close friends and family who suffer may already know that you never really beat depression but YOU can control IT rather than IT controlling YOU. And that is what I have achieved now 6 months down the line.
I did this through a mixture of the following things. They worked for me but may not work for you.
- Education and awareness
- Identifying the cause and doing something about it
I will briefly explain each of the four stages and how it has helped and is still helping me to control my black dog in hope that somebody might benefit from it and begin to gain some control over their own black dog.
Education and Awareness
When I was first diagnosed with depression back in September/October 2013 I already had quite a good awareness and knowledge of the illness. As stated in my other blogs I have seen and helped other family members suffering with depressive illness and got to see the different stages develop. However, observing is completely different to experiencing depressive illness and although having a knowledge of the illness helped me to recognise I was suffering and begin various self help techniques when it got too much and I was put onto medication I decided more research and education was needed.
I immediately took to the internet to read up on Depression but found everything so clinical, so boring and so black and white. Everything I read simply repeated what previous articles had said and what I already knew. I took to twitter and was, from the very start, open and honest about suffering with depression. I told people, whether it be on social media or in person, about MY depression and how it made ME feel because no two cases are the same. It was then somebody, and I wish I could remember who so I could thank them, pointed me in the direction of this book…
Depressive Illness – The Curse Of The Strong by Dr Timothy Cantopher is a MUST read for anybody suffering any form of depressive illness. The book takes everything there is to know about the illness including why it is a PHYSICAL illness and not a mental illness, the various chemical imbalances in the brain, the symptoms, why certain people are more prone to depression than others… All the way through to recovery and control of the illness and it presents it in such a down to earth, easy to understand fashion. The book also manages to be humorous at times too. This one book not only educated me and helped me to understand the nature of the beast but it also counselled me through the last 6 months+.
“To know your enemy, you must become your enemy” – Sun Tzu
In order for sufferers of Depressive Illness to be able to start recovering and getting better and also in order for society to be more accepting and understanding of the illness which in turn helps the sufferer they must first KNOW the illness. Understand it. Know what is happening internally to their brain and body and why they feel the way they do. Understand that contrary to popular belief depression is not something that impacts upon weak people but quite the opposite, it is the curse of the strong.
Working within the Police Service I found the lack of knowledge, understanding and awareness of what is now the 2nd biggest cause of human sickness in the WORLD frighteningly non existent. The Police spend a lot of time learning about mental health or how best to deal with a member of the public suffering with mental health problems but they do not actually pay any attention to depression and how not only to handle those members of the public we come across who may suffer but also and perhaps more importantly, how to identify it and manage it within the workplace.
For this reason I set up SIREN SUPPORT (@SirenSupport on Twitter). I set up the twitter page followed by a blog website in an effort to raise awareness of depression within the emergency services as a whole, not just the Police. The idea behind it was firstly to try and help those who may be suffering and not realise, those suffering and are too afraid to tell anybody or those who have suffered a long time. The aim was then to educate and build awareness of the issue amongst those who do not suffer and do not know what depression is other than “it’s just a mental illness isn’t it?”. Even amongst the highest levels of management within the Police, Ambulance and Fire Services the level of knowledge was and still is appalling. Via SIREN I reached out to unions, federations, training facilities for the emergency services such as the College of Policing, Chiefs, Commanders and even Government. All my emails were either ignored or responded to with empty words. Sadly this is still the case and SIREN has now slowed right down because I can not manage it on my own and became tired of being ignored by those in power who care very little about the subject. I do however plan on coming back with a new strategy in the near future and seeing if things can be changed.
Building my own self awareness of depression and then helping others to do the same has played a major part in me now being in control of my “black dog” and dark days are virtually non existent now.
Those who know me and who follow me on Twitter (@CanisLupusPC) will know how much I love my music and love to sing. I have posted more than enough videos to my YouTube channel and Twitter to bore you to death (there a more on the way for those who like them). Music has by far been the number one tool on my belt to help control the black dog. When I first realised I was suffering with depression, way before I took the big step of going to the Docs or telling anybody else how I felt, music was one of my self help techniques. I had a number of songs or pieces of music, including things like wolf song and sounds of nature, which I could listen too and instantly begin to feel calmer, happier and more relaxed. I found that when I was stressed or becoming angry or upset, locking myself in my office and recording a couple of songs, even if I never went as far as uploading them, helped to calm me right down. Singing released me. Singing and listening to music helped me drift into another, much happier, place. Music was and still is a wonderful therapy. Music has long been my passion since I was a little child and so perhaps this is why, for me, doing anything musical helped. My other passion is photography however my depression sadly made me lose a little enthusiasm for this passion (it does that to you) and it fell by the wayside but thankfully, because I would hate to live in a world without it, music remained with me. Music, they say, is what emotions sound like.
IDENTIFYING THE CAUSE AND DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT
One great thing to do if you are suffering from depression is identifying factors in your life that may be contributing to or causing the illness. By this I don’t mean dwelling on things which happened in the past of which you no longer have any control or ability to change. I mean things which are happening NOW. It may be certain people, social events, commitments, relationships or, as I found, your job. Without going into the details of why the Police Service is going to ruin under this government (this isn’t the blog for that) or some of the things I experienced (you can read that in my future book hopefully) I realised that it was my job and certain people I worked with that was causing the majority of my stress and depression. Thankfully I had a few good and honest friends at work, especially my buddy Steve, who kept me sane and stopped me losing the plot completely. He was one of the very few who recognised depression in me but was the only one with the balls to tell me. I can honestly say that had it not been for him then I would probably have screwed up at work and gotten into bother due to certain individuals being out to make me snap and I dare say it, (if you knew him you would laugh at this) that he was my calming influence at work.
I found myself angry at work, angry as my rest days were coming to an end, angry at the thought of going to work. I lost interest in the job, lost motivation, lost the drive I had always had and then one day following an argument with a colleague who I know had leaked some personal information about me to criminals (long story for another day) I lost it and ALMOST went for him. I saw the red mist and had it not been for Steve I think I would have been facing charges of assault. It got THAT bad. That was the day I decided to take time off work and the day I had made up my mind that I had to leave that job.
And that is what I did. I took the HUGE but necersary step and I resigned from the Police Service. I have since moved into the Pub trade and I can honesty say, other than missing my mates, I have no regrets whatsoever. It is by far the best decision I have ever made. Even handing in my resignation felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I thought I may get nervous or change my mind as my final day approached. I didn’t. I was glad to be free from working in the Police Service. I spent a decade in the world of law enforcement and it will always be a part of my life.
One of the other major contributors to my stress and depression was my lifestyle and lack of exercise which as some may know impacts upon the hormone balance within the body. So the final piece of my personal puzzle is Exercise.
Exercise balances and manipulates hormone levels within the body. Depression is a result of imbalanced hormone levels within the body. So it stands to reason that in order to re-balance the hormone levels you need to add some exercise into your lifestyle and perhaps change your lifestyle completely.
I have been a pretty lazy slob for about 2 years now. After inuring my spine and having scans and treatment galore I was advised not to do any form of exercise as it will aggravate the problem and to simply stick to the stretches shown to me by the physiotherapists. This did wonders to fix the neck/spinal problem but did little to stop my gut growing outwards and extra chins forming on my face. It also did nothing at all to help with my depression and I believe this contributed a lot to my depression too. I started putting on weight, going from 16 stone to 19 stone in less than a year! I watched as I gained the extra stones and could do nothing to try and shed it. As depression took its toll I honestly don’t think I would have had the drive to do any exercise even if my neck got better over night.
As time went by and I stuck to taking my 20mg of Citalopram a day as instructed by the doctor I got my get up and go back. I started doing little bits of exercise at home. I would work my arms shoulder and chest by spending hours chopping firewood. I began being more active. I also live in a pub and so the temptation to have a pint or two each night was high and so I used what little will power my black dog allowed me to muster and I decreased my alcohol intake too.
In the last few weeks however I decided enough was enough. My neck was much better but still not perfect and I was feeling much more motivated. A good friend of mine had been training since June in power-lifting and his transformation so far has been impressive. I watched him pull a transit van 8.6miles to raise money for Yorkshire Air Ambulance and I thought “I want some of that” and I signed up right then.
PowerBurn involves high intensity weight training 3 times a week focusing on different parts of the body on each session as well as a strict diet plan. It is very hard work but I LOVE it! I am trained by one of the strongest women in the world Gemma Magnusson and after only 3 weeks I already feel like a different man. Not just physically but mentally.
I did a silly thing and stopped taking my tablets 3 weeks ago. I ran out and kept forgetting to put my prescription in. I intended on visiting the doctor to have them reduced to 10mg anyway and then wean myself off of them BUT I did what I always tell others not to do and I stopped taking them altogether. However I honestly feel that PowerBurn is already working to rebalance my hormone levels and doing what the tablets were doing. I feel GREAT. I feel happy. I look forward to getting up at 0550hrs on a morning to train. I am on a zero carb diet right now so am completely off the booze. I do have one strange feeling which is my head feels a bit wishy-washy. Almost like I have flu. But this is the exact same feeling I had when I started taking anti depressant and they started rebalancing the hormone levels. For now I will continue to NOT take them and I am going to see the Doc to let him know and I am going to stick to this new found passion in training.
I would strongly advise anybody suffering with depression, whether diagnosed or not, to start adding exercise into their daily routine. Just one hour of high intensity training 3 times a week could make a vast difference. Also start eating healthy. What you eat effects how you feel. You are what you eat they say. One brilliant little gem of knowledge I learnt from Gemma was that a handful of Cashew nuts has the same hormonal impact as a prozac or anti depressant tablet. So finish this blog and get ya backside up and DO SOMETHING. Whatever you can manage. Just be active and you will feel a difference. Small steps to start with if you struggle with motivation or drive because that is one of the worse side effects of depression. After all you do not want to burn out and end up feeling worse.
So there we have it. These four simple things have helped ME to control MY black dog. I don’t know if it is under control for good or whether the leash will break at some point but for now I feel better than I have done in YEARS.