Excerpt from Beat Your Depression, one of a series of books edited by Denise Robertson, Agony Aunt for ITV’s This Morning and published by Hodder Arnold in 2007 (Â£7.99)Chapter 8. Keeping Your Life Together
Being depressed changes a lot of things. It impacts on your work, your home life, your social life and your love life. That’s what makes depression such an awful thing. It can spoil so much, but there are things you can do to minimise the damage.
If you’re getting over depression you’ll now be wanting to put your life back together. Don’t expect it all to happen at once. There will be good days and bad days. You’ll have to be prepared for that. Take courage. It can be done. Thousands have done it before you and are now enjoying life once more.
Coming Off Antidepressants
If your doctor suggests the time is right to come off antidepressants it wouldn’t be at all surprising if you had mixed emotions. Obviously you don’t want those awful feelings to return. So how much of your improvement is due to the antidepressants and how much is due to you?
Don’t worry. If your doctor wants you to come off antidepressants it’s because you’ve not been suffering from clinical depression for a significant amount of time. While the antidepressants have been keeping your spirits up your body has been working behind the scenes to sort out the problem. Now that’s been done and it’s time for you to ‘stand on your own feet’ just as you would discard a crutch after a broken leg had healed.
Of course, you can see when a bone has mended, but, if you’re on antidepressants, how can you ‘see’ if your depression has gone?
As a general rule:
- The happier you are now the higher the chance of remaining happy without antidepressants.
On the other hand, it may be you’re impatient to get off antidepressants but your doctor wants you to continue. Impatience is understandable if you’re suffering side effects. But while there’s no point in taking antidepressants unnecessarily it’s even more vital that medication is continued for a sufficient time. So don’t rush to come off antidepressants. The rate of relapse is doubled when sufferers cease antidepressants and/or therapy prematurely.
Although you could be on antidepressants for as little as three months the general rule is that you:
- Continue taking antidepressants for at least six months after you start to feel an improvement.
- Take antidepressants for a total of at least eight months (because that’s the average amount of time for depression to go away).
However, the doctor will make a decision based on a number of factors. Quite a lot of doctors favour continuing antidepressants for a year after you feel better, rather than six months. If you have had depression on two or more occasions then your doctor is likely to suggest you continue with antidepressants for at least two years. And in certain circumstances – for example, bipolar disorder/manic depression – it may be decided you should continue with a ‘maintenance’ dose of antidepressants or mood stabilisers indefinitely.
If it should happen that you have to continue with medication please try not to feel despondent. There’s really no reason to. Millions of people have to take medicines of various kinds on a permanent basis for such problems as thyroid deficiency, diabetes, glaucoma and asthma. The list is huge. It doesn’t make you any less of a person. Antidepressants are just one more substance that some people need to take. It’s no big deal. If you need to take antidepressants on a permanent basis then just do it, forget about it and get on with your life.
When the moment is right you’ll almost certainly be told to come off antidepressants gradually. There’s no need to be anxious because you’ll be in control of the pace. It won’t be a case of suddenly stopping one day. Rather, your doctor will probably tell you to:
- Slowly reduce the dose over a significant period of time.
Often, if you’ve only been on antidepressants for a few months you should be able to taper down in a week or two. If you’ve been on them for a couple of years then withdrawal might take a month or so. And if you’ve been on them for a decade or more then you might have to taper down over six months.
During this period if you’re finding it difficult to judge the effect talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking a depression test, along the lines of the self-test in Chapter 1. The result, when compared with an earlier test or tests, will indicate whether or not you’re relapsing.
If you start to feel depressed again on a reduced dose then tell your doctor immediately. It can be a difficult time and your doctor is there to help you through it. Usually the best thing to do is increase the dose again just a little. You should find that your depression goes away. If your doctor agrees, you’ll probably keep on the slightly increased dose for a couple of weeks and then, once again, resume the phased reduction. This time things are likely to go better. You’ll almost certainly find you can wean yourself off the antidepressants in this way. Being in control of the process is good for your confidence and reduces anxiety.
- Don’t jump to the conclusion that problems during the tapering process mean you’re relapsing into depression – they could be due to withdrawal symptoms.
‘Quite frankly it was a relief when my doctor told me I had bipolar disorder because at least I knew what the problem was. So I have to take something. So what. It’s no sweat’.
Q: What should I do if I start to feel depressed again while tapering off antidepressants?
A: Discuss the matter with your doctor. It’s more likely to be withdrawal symptoms. It will probably be suggested you slightly increase the dose again until you feel better then, after a week or so, resume the tapering process.
Q: How will I know if I’m suffering from withdrawal symptoms or a return of the depression?
A: This is always difficult. It could be either. If the symptoms disappear as soon as you increase the dose or go back on the antidepressant then it’s probably a problem of withdrawal. If you have new symptoms you never had before (such as flu-like feelings) it’s probably withdrawal. But if you continue to feel bad after two or three attempts at tapering then it’s probably a relapse.
Maintaining And Rebuilding Your Career
It’s not unknown for people with mild depression to do very well at work. They put in long hours as a way of forgetting about personal problems. But when you’re depressed it’s far more common to encounter difficulties at work. It may even be that work problems were the cause of the depression. Or perhaps you haven’t even been able to go to work for a while.
Whatever your precise situation there’s almost certainly some sorting out to be done. Maybe your role at work needs to be changed a little. And if you’re just about to go back after a long break for depression then you may be having these kinds of thoughts:
- Will everybody know why I’ve been away?
- Will I be able to cope with my work or will I get stressed?
- Is this going to be affecting my prospects for promotion?
If you work for one of the larger companies there’s unlikely to be any problem about switching roles. Have a chat with:
- The company doctor
- The personnel department
- Your boss
Understandably, a small company may have less room for manoeuvre. On the other hand, there’s often more of a ‘family atmosphere’ at a small firm which can make up for a lack of resources.
From your own point of view, and also for the benefit of your employers, try not to talk about depression in a negative sort of way. In other words, don’t focus on the things you believe you now can’t do. On the contrary, depression can be a very positive experience. Almost certainly you’ll have a better understanding of yourself as well as a better understanding of other people. So that’s a new skill you may be able to bring to your work. Don’t be modest about it. You have an insight many other people do not.
So talk to your employer in these sorts of terms:
- I now realise I’d be much better suited to Role B.
And not in these sort of terms:
- I now realise I can’t manage Role A.
Nevertheless, it may be that you’ll have a different perspective on work now. Perhaps it will assume less significance in your life. Perhaps you want more time for other things and can manage with less money. That’s absolutely fine. We don’t all want to make a career the focal point of our lives. Success isn’t something that’s measured only in terms of work and pay slips. In fact, as they get older a lot of people feel they want to ‘downsize’ and have an easier life. That’s a perfectly legitimate goal. It can be done.
By contrast, you may have become depressed because you felt you weren’t being promoted fast enough, or given enough responsibility, or, indeed, paid enough.
These are the sorts of issues you need to give thought to and discuss with your boss.
As to how much you’ll want colleagues to know about your situation only you can decide. However, if you do take the bold step of admitting to depression your courage will be admired and you may find other people coming up to you and revealing that they, too, have suffered in the past. So don’t fear isolation if you admit to depression. It’s quite possible the reverse will be the case.
Whether you decide to continue as you were, to accept less responsibility or to seek out more responsibility it’s important to keep away from situations you don’t enjoy and which you find stressful. Of course, this may involve having to say ‘No’ to other people from time to time. And that can be very hard. How can you do it without upsetting people or, for example, risking the sack?
Let’s say your boss has asked you to take on additional work you fear might stress you too much. So you have to find a way of refusing without causing a confrontation or any bad feeling.
There is a classic formula in these kinds of situations in which you:
- Acknowledge the other person’s point of view
- Next put your point of view
- Finish by suggesting a way forward
So you might begin by saying something like this: ‘I’m really pleased you’ve asked me to do this because I can see it’s very important.’
Your next step is to state your position. Like this: ‘However, given my existing workload I just can’t see how I can give it the attention it obviously deserves.’
Note the use of the word ‘however’. It’s less harsh than ‘but’ which can tend to provoke the response of ‘No buts.’
The third step is to put forward some sort of constructive proposal. Like this: ‘Can I suggest that someone else takes over my work on the X Project and then I’ll have the time to devote to this new client, which would be very exciting.’
Your boss now has the opportunity to take up your suggestion or to put forward an alternative. No offence has been caused.
Merely organising things well can reduce stress enormously. If you don’t have a good system in place for prioritising and processing work then have a think about what you can do. A device as simple as a diary can bring about a big change. Simply write down all the things you have to do each day. Then:
- You’ll have fewer things to keep in your head.
- You’ll no longer feel anxious about missing tasks or appointments.
- You’ll be able to see very clearly when you’re taking on too much.
Say Goodbye To Perfectionism
Perfection isn’t possible. So striving for it is bound to cause an enormous amount of stress. It’ll be much better for you and everybody else if you aim instead for a standard that is reasonable and appropriate.
- Will your boss really be more pleased with one piece of almost perfect work rather than three pieces of perfectly satisfactory work?
Perfectionism can lead to depression. When you fail to live up to the impossibly high standards you’re setting for yourself you’re bound to feel frustrated, self-critical and diminished. You’ll never be good enough for yourself, no matter how good other people think you are.
So try to be more realistic. Aim for a good standard but not for perfection.
Learn To Get Help
If you’re the sort of person who finds it difficult to delegate then you may be getting overloaded quite unnecessarily. It may be that you:
- Feel too proud to admit you need help.
- Don’t want to burden others.
- Feel awkward at telling other people what to do.
- Think you would do a better job yourself.
The secret of successful delegating is:
- Finding the right person to delegate to.
- Giving clear instructions (not orders).
- Letting the other person get on with it.
- Accepting the job may not be done the way you would have done it yourself.
Maintaining And Rebuilding Your Finances
Almost everyone has financial problems from time to time. It’s just part of life. Perhaps financial worries were a cause of your depression. Even if they weren’t, it’s quite possible you have financial difficulties now as a result of your depression:
- Maybe you’ve been earning less than usual.
- Maybe you’ve been spending more than usual in an effort to cheer yourself up.
Your first step should always be to draw up a budget so you can see exactly how much money you have each month and where it goes. You can then look for economies.
If that’s not enough you might like to consider debt counselling (see Chapter 13 – for Helplines see Chapter 12; for books on managing your finances see Chapter 14). An expert will then go through your finances with you and advise on your best course of action. Nowadays there are far more options than there used to be. Don’t become despondent. It’s a long, long time since people were sent to Debtor’s Prison when they couldn’t pay their debts. These things can usually be worked out.
From time to time we all need to just ‘chill out.’ When pressures are getting too much for you, when stress is building up, when conflicts are becoming too intense, when your head is buzzing and whirring, STOP. Don’t have anything more to do with the situations that are causing problems. Take a few hours off or, even, a day or two if you can possibly manage it. Relax with the things you enjoy. When you return to the fray you’ll see everything in it’s true perspective and respond far more effectively.
Maintaining And Rebuilding Relationships
When you’re depressed it may be that your partner, your children and other members of your family have to make adjustments in their own lives. Over time they’ll get used to a whole new lifestyle. When you recover they’re going to have to adjust again. So this is going to be a very difficult period for all of you. Good communication skills play a big part in coming through successfully. Don’t expect your family to change to one style of living and then back again overnight. A little patience is going to be required all round.
- If there were any problems in your relationships before you became depressed they have to be put right as soon as possible.
You And Your Partner
There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect couple’ who match one another exactly in every detail. In all relationships there are differences and you have to find a way of dealing with them. In other words, you have to learn to communicate effectively without attacking one another. The first thing you have to realise is that your partner is going to be subject to a great deal of extra stress as a result of your depression. Obviously, the focus is on you but you also need to be sympathetic and understanding towards your partner’s situation:
- Encourage your partner to get breaks away from you, if only for a few hours.
- Encourage your partner to seek out self-help groups for ‘carers’ and other forms of support.
- Don’t be resentful when your partner does these things.
These are some examples of the wrong way to communicate:
- You and your partner criticise one another by using ‘labels’. For example, your partner might not want to spend money on something and you then call him ‘mean’. Or you just might not be in the mood for sex and your partner then labels you as ‘frigid’.
- One of you tries to steamroller over anything the other says, rather than paying attention to it.
- One of you tries to get your way by sulking or threatening to sulk or by withholding emotional support.
How then should you go about communication? First of all, unless something has happened that means you have to talk urgently you should wait until a time that’s convenient to you both when there will be no distractions. Certain ‘ground rules’ should be understood:
- Agree that you will not interrupt one another.
- Agree that you will summarise back whatever the other person has said before going on to make your own points. The reason for this, of course, is to make sure you both listen as well as speak.
- Agree that you won’t label one-another with tags such as ‘mean,’ ‘selfish,’ ‘arrogant’ or worse.
- Agree that you won’t speak in anger.
- Agree that you’ll mention good things as well as bad.
So how does this work in practice? Let’s say you’ve decided to sit down together one evening at the dining table. It might be a nice idea to put on some quiet, soothing music but certainly nothing distracting. The person who has ‘called the meeting’ begins. If it’s you, you can start by explaining what’s upset you. Try to include some recognition of your partner’s situation, or what you imagine to be the situation. For example, you might say something like this: ‘I know you need time to yourself but I get very upset when you sit in front of the TV and don’t speak to me because it makes me feel you don’t love me any more.’
So let’s take a look at some of the ‘tools’ you and your partner might bring to bear in this situation.
- Identifying the problem.
Things are already off to a good start. But there’s a need to pin down the real cause of the problem. Is it that he doesn’t love you any more? Let’s hear his reply: ‘I’m sorry you’ve been thinking I don’t love you. My real problem is that things are going very badly at work. I didn’t want to talk about it because I thought it might worry you.’
- Finding a solution jointly.
Now what’s your reply? You might say this: ‘I’m sorry things are going badly at work but I told you not to take that lousy job. I want you to give it up.’ That’s hardly finding a joint solution which is what you need to do. A tool to help you achieve that is:
- Laying out all the options.
Using this additional tool you might have said: ‘I’m sorry things are going badly at work. Poor you. Hopefully, things will improve but if they don’t let’s think of other solutions.’
And here are some strategies for coming up with those solutions:
- Break down big problems into a series of smaller problems. In this way problems that seem intimidating at first can become more manageable.
- Tackle those smaller problems step by step.
- Be creative. Use ‘lateral’ thinking to come up with less obvious ideas so you have various options to choose from.
- If your chosen option doesn’t resolve the matter then learn from the situation and try to come up with an even better idea.
- Keep your expectations realistic – your partner is a human being like you.
- Be forgiving.
- Be patient.
- Be clear.
When two people have a relationship they often ‘fight’ for control. This happens all the more if they aren’t really very compatible and want to impose their ideas on one another. One way of trying to achieve that – the completely wrong way – is to destroy the other person’s self-confidence. When one partner gets something wrong the other immediately jumps on it with criticism and belittling words. Thus the downward spiral of negative thoughts is set in motion.
This is the complete opposite of what a relationship should be all about. If you feel your partner is always putting you down then try to initiate a discussion about it in the way that’s been described above. Life can sometimes be very tough. What you want from your partner, and what your partner wants from you, is support:
- Build one another up, don’t knock one another down.
- Always find something to praise.
- Let other people do the criticising (there’s never any shortage of them).
- Never withhold love as a ‘punishment.’
- Never take your relationship for granted.
- Never let a day go by without saying ‘I love you.’
- Never let a day go by without doing something nice together.
You, Your Partner And Psychotherapy
If you’re having psychotherapy you may find your partner feels threatened. He or she may even discourage you from attending sessions. It’s an understandable reaction. Your partner may be worried about:
- Being blamed by the therapist for your condition.
- Being usurped by the therapist as the most important person in your life.
- You forming an attachment to the therapist.
- Your personality being changed.
These are completely understandable reactions but wrong. Be open about what happens at your psychotherapy sessions and the subjects that have been dealt with. Your partner will then see there’s nothing to fear.
‘My husband made me feel so stupid. I could never do anything right as far as he was concerned. He criticised the least little thing. I used to be full of confidence but within two years I was almost frightened to go out. We went for counselling. He didn’t change but I did. I got my confidence back and I left him. Now I’m happy again.’
If you’re feeling down you want plenty of hugs. When things are going wrong there’s nothing like a sympathetic arm around the shoulders or a hand holding yours.
Touch is absolutely vital for human beings. If you don’t believe it then reflect that without enough of it, babies don’t thrive and can even die. Youngsters’ self-esteem is directly linked to the amount of cuddling they’ve received in the past. And at the other end of the spectrum, elderly people who live alone age faster and are more prone to senility. If you’re fortunate enough to be living with people you can touch – your partner, your children – then don’t neglect it.
Touching (appropriately, of course) isn’t a small matter:
- If you aren’t receiving enough touch it’s almost certainly a factor in your depression.
Women are generally much better at touching than men. So, men, remember this:
- Don’t neglect the hand-holding and the cuddling in your relationship with your partner.
What’s It All About?
Knowing a little bit about the science may help you understand how vitally important touch truly is. It’s as essential as air and water. There are at least two lots of chemicals involved:
Q: What is oxytocin?
A: Oxytocin is a highly beneficial hormone that increases in response to touch.
When someone you like touches you your endorphin level goes up. You feel pleasure. You feel alive. You feel happy. Your oxytocin level also goes up. Oxytocin is a bonding chemical. It makes you feel calm, it makes you feel contented and it makes you feel good about the person who is touching you. The more you touch someone the more both of your oxytocin levels go up and the more you’re likely to stay together.
Q: How can I get my husband just to give me a cuddle without him always wanting sex to follow?
A: Explain how you feel – that you want cuddling several times a day. Touch is habit-forming, so try to establish the habit and he’ll quite probably come to value it for itself.
If you have children make sure they get plenty of cuddling as well (see below).
Rebuilding Your Sex Life
Sex is essentially the most intense form of touching and with the right person it can be hugely beneficial. But when you’re depressed you may not feel very much like sex. And if you’re on certain antidepressants you may have find they lower your sex drive even further. So it may be a very difficult time for your sex life.
You need to discuss sex with your partner. If you’re not used to talking about sex you may find it embarrassing. And, of course, you may feel humiliated by your current situation. Both reactions are understandable but quite unnecessary. Try to be as open as possible.
Sex can certainly play a role in your recovery. By flooding your brain with endorphins it can:
- Combat depression
- Create the sensation of pleasure and wellbeing and even euphoria and bliss.
However, men who have reached middle age and more need to be aware that sex can actually cause depression. It can deplete various chemicals including serotonin (the same neurotransmitter that antidepressants increase). This is known as the ‘sexual hangover’ and it’s as real a phenomenon as the hangover that follows too much alcohol.
‘After sex my wife wanted cuddles and I just wanted to get on with something else. I never felt very lovey-dovey. In fact, I’d feel quite down and my wife would get upset. Then I read about the sexual hangover and it was like: “Wham! That’s so me!” I’d never linked sex with feeling depressed before. Now I’ve got the hang of the new way of making love our life together has been transformed. The loving feelings never go away.’
Q: Where can I get help with my relationship problems?
A: See the contact information in Chapters 13 and 14.
You And Your Children
Most children grow up expecting their parents to take care of them. They believe their parents to be invincible. So, understandably, it can come as quite a shock to see you suffering from depression.
Your children may feel anxious, betrayed and even resentful. Your natural inclination will be to protect them from knowing about your condition but, in the real world, you can only do so much. They’re going to know something is wrong and your best course is to explain to them in a way appropriate to their ages.
If your depression makes you withdrawn your children may also worry that you don’t love them any more:
- Try to give them plenty of hugs. If you’re lying in bed or on the sofa feeling down why not all cuddle together?
- Reassure them about your love at every opportunity.
- Ask your partner and relatives to explain to the children how much you love them.
- Take advantage of ‘okay’ days to have quality time with your children – but also reserve some for yourself.
Don’t feel guilty about being a ‘bad’ parent. You didn’t choose to be depressed any more than you would have chosen to have a broken leg. And you’re certainly nothing unusual. Millions of parents suffer from depression. If your children ask you questions try to answer them as honestly as possible considering their ages. They may ask you the same questions over and over again. That’s just the way children show their anxiety.
You may be able to involve the children in certain aspects of your treatment. For example, if you’re starting an exercise programme as recommended they may be able to join in with you. That way you spend quality time together and everybody has fun and benefits. Similarly, when you’re switching to a healthier way of eating you should include the children as well. What’s good for you is good for them.
You may also like to think about ways you can enlist your children’s help with tasks you no longer have the energy to tackle. Apart from anything else, the children will feel needed and develop a sense of self-worth rather than feeling left out:
- Make a list of the most vital tasks and, as far as possible, let your children choose the ones they’d like to do.
- Make sure the chores are appropriate to their ages and abilities.
- If you have two or more children get them to work together on the bigger tasks – for example, one can clear the table and dispose of leftovers while another washes up.
- Forget about things that aren’t a priority and don’t expect the children to complete tasks as well as you would have done.
- Always thank your children and praise them for their help.
Of course, there’s going to come a time – hopefully, quite quickly – when you start to feel more energetic again. Naturally, you’re going to want things to return to the way they were before you became ill. But don’t expect too much too soon:
- Don’t suddenly change the routines that were established when you were depressed – take things gradually.
- Don’t immediately overturn any rules your partner may have established when you were ill.
- Don’t try to force your way back into your children’s schedules. Rather, explain how much you’ve missed doing things together and ask them what they would like.
- Don’t suddenly take on too much responsibility for the children all at once – ease your way back into things.
- Above all, as you get better, make sure you still have some time to yourself.
MYTH: Boys shouldn’t be cuddled by their parents especially not when they reach the age of about 11.
FACT: Everybody needs physical contact throughout life (see Touch above).
You And Your Relatives And Friends
If they don’t have any experience of depression, friends and relatives are likely to be a little wary of you. They’re going to be watching for signs that you’re ‘going crazy’ and asking themselves these sorts of questions:
Shall I go and see her/him or will that be too tiring?
Should I let on that I know about the depression?
Should I discuss depression, or will that make things worse?
And once you get better they’re also going to be asking themselves:
- Is it all right to say/do this or might it cause a relapse?
To a large extent, they’re going to take their cue from you. So it’s going to be up to you to reassure them and define the way they need to behave. For example, if you’re secretive they’ll imagine that you do, indeed, have things to hide.
- It’s far better to be frank and open.
- Explain what treatment you’re having and what it involves.
- Suggest they read this book or another from list in Chapter 14.
Don’t imagine for one moment that you’re boring or that you’re a burden to other people. Most people will be sympathetic and even, privately, a little intrigued. At worst, you’re not going to be the life and soul of the party. But your presence certainly isn’t going to stop anyone else having a good time. When you’re asked to join other people don’t turn the invitation down on the grounds you’ll ‘spoil’ things. If people have asked you to go it’s because they want you. If you feel up to going, go. Make the effort.
With luck, you’ll have one or two particular people you can discuss your problems with in a fairly profound manner. Some people are very happy to take on that role. They’re good listeners and they like to help. You’ll know instinctively who these people are.
It’s almost certain that, among your circle of friends and relatives, there will be others who have suffered from depression, or are suffering from it right now. You may be able to get together and create your own ‘support group.’ For example, you could:
- Agree you can phone one another at any time of the day or night if you’re feeling bad.
- Agree you’ll draw attention to any strange behaviour in one another – for example, non-stop speaking that signals the start of an ‘up’ phase in bipolar disorder.
- Agree that you’ll all cut down drinking – for example, when you go to the pub together you could all drink halves instead of pints.
- Organise exercise sessions together.
It may be that some of your friends and relatives will blame your partner (if you have one) for your depression. That’s an understandable reaction. So put them right otherwise quite unnecessary tensions are going to be created. Above all, explain how difficult it is for your partner to live with you and:
- Ask your relatives and friends to support your partner (or other carer) by taking on some of the tasks you can no longer manage whilst depressed.
When Relationships End
It can happen that relationships break up under the strain of depression. Or it may even be that you became depressed because of the break-up of a relationship. Either way, it’s always very sad when a relationship comes to an end. Especially, if it’s been a long relationship.
These are some of the signs that a break-up has damaged your self-esteem:
- You find it difficult to get on with things.
- You find it difficult to take responsibility and prefer others to do that for you.
- You don’t take up new opportunities.
- You put yourself down all the time.
- You become emotional and withdrawn.
If this does happen to you here are some things you could try:
- Experiment with a completely new style – for example, you could change your hair or buy those clothes you always wanted but which your partner hated.
- Catch up with those friends and relatives you may not have had much time for in the past.
- Pamper yourself a little bit with presents to yourself and a few treats and luxuries.
- Make a list of all your good points.
- Set yourself some goals that are attainable and yet exciting and stimulating.
- Don’t give yourself a hard time.
- Try to look forward to the new things that lay in store for you.
Where can I get more help following the break-up of a relationship? See Chapters 13 and 14.
Rebuilding Your Life Alone
If you’re living alone and finding life lonely and even pointless it may help to remember that some people are perfectly happy in that situation and wouldn’t want to change. Is there some secret they possess? In fact, they’re people who focus on what they see as the positive side to their situation. You, too, should try not to focus too much on what you haven’t got and focus instead on the things you can do:
- You have the time to explore yourself and all the things that interest you.
- Whatever you discover about yourself you can implement – you can be exactly how you want to be.
- You have the opportunity to develop self-reliance.
- You have the opportunity to learn to develop inner happiness.
- Being alone is better than being with the wrong person.
Why not make a list of all the things you can do without a partner, such as, say, going to the cinema, walking your dog or joining the local drama society? Better still:
- Make a list of all the things you believe you can’t enjoy on your own.
Then go and try them anyway and, afterwards, rate how much happiness they gave you. You may be surprised at how much pleasure you received, despite being on your own. You could set out a table like this:
The Pleasure And Pain Of Being On My Own
Activity Anticipated Pleasure Actual Pleasure
Going to the cinema 2/10 6/10
Walking in the countryside 4/10 7/10
Shopping for antiques 5/10 8/10
Almost certainly you’ll find that, when you make an effort, you enjoy yourself more than you thought you would. It’s a very important lesson to learn. You can enjoy yourself alone. Things that are pleasing are no more pleasing because there are two of you. It’s your attitude that counts.
If you’re estranged from your immediate family for some reason give careful consideration to getting back in touch. It may be that something so dreadful has happened that you just don’t feel able to. On the other hand, family rows can sometimes start with something small and get blown out of all proportion. If you’d like to be in touch with your family again but don’t feel able to initiate things maybe a more distant member of the family or a mutual friend could try to act as a go-between.
If you don’t like living alone but don’t want to or can’t live with your family, give some thought to sharing a flat or house with friends. Alternatively, take a look through the flat-sharing adverts in your local newspaper. You may be able to find somewhere to live and make new friends all at the same time.
In the meantime, while you’re waiting for that special person to come along, you may be able to find the human contact and emotional warmth you crave through an activity that brings you into contact with people, such as charity work (See Chapter 7). Apart from anything else, the more you get out and about and the more people you meet the greater the chance of falling in love.
You might also like to consider getting a pet you can stroke and cuddle. Of course, they’re called pets precisely because they’re there to be petted. Some of us are dog people and some of us are cat people and some of us are both. They’re the nation’s favourite pets and there’s no doubt they’re the best when it comes to touch. If you’re not able to keep a pet you might like to consider doing voluntary work at an animal rescue centre or something like that. Another possibility would be to take up horse riding. The idea of animals helping to treat depression may sound trivial but it has proven benefits.
Once you feel robust enough to go to new places and meet new people you might like to consider joining a self-help group. These groups are invaluable for anyone suffering from depression but especially:
- If you live alone
- If you don’t have anyone with whom you can discuss your problems and feelings.
You’ll be in the company of other men and women who are experiencing the same feelings that you are. Some will just be starting their battles with depression, some will be making progress and some will almost be back to normal.
In this atmosphere you’ll be able to:
- Express your feelings
- Hear about other people’s experiences
- Gain useful, practical information.
There may be people on antidepressants alone. There may be other people on psychotherapy alone. Still others may be using both. And some may be following quite different paths. By listening to what they all have to say you’ll be better placed to make decisions about your own treatment. Overall, these groups can be an invaluable resource and a vital source of support and comfort. And you may make some very good friends, too.
Self-help groups are usually headed by a volunteer who has already gone some way to overcoming depression. But these people are not trained therapists. For that, you’ll need to see a professional.
Where can I get information about self-help groups in my area? See Chapter 11.
Towards A Happier Life
You now have a lot of ‘tools’ at your disposal with which to tackle depression. Don’t give up just because they don’t give instant results. It all takes time and the longer you’ve been depressed the longer it takes to get better. Just keep in mind the advice that the more things you do the more successful you’re likely to be.
In the next chapter we’ll be looking at some of the final pieces of the ‘jigsaw’ including how you can protect yourself from stress and how you can set about solving the problems that may have been responsible for the depression in the first place. Try to keep as positive as you can. Every day that goes by brings you a step closer to the normal life and happiness you deserve.