Only the lonely

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I’ve written before about how depression can isolate you and keep you at a distance from family and friends. It’s a form of self loathing,which tricks you into thinking that everything you do is pointless and you cannot comprehend why anyone would want to see you or be with you. After all, you can hardly stand to be with yourself.

The problem is isolation from others really does make matters worse. It gives you time to ruminate, if gives you the excuse to stay in bed, do nothing, stare at the walls, mooch around in an old dressing gown and, worst of all, feel really sorry for yourself.

You give yourself the time and space to play over the relentless sound-track of self-criticism in your mind. You allow the distorted reality of your condition to warp good people into bad, enjoyable memories into meaningless ones and hold up the lens of fault to everyone and everything in your world.

The only person who can break that cycle is you.

Mental health services, even the expensive private ones, can’t do it for you. There is no-one who will take you by the hand and force you to go out into the world again. You have to change your own mind. You have to say “Enough” and start to live again. It’s like slowly turning a telescope inside you to look outward rather than inward. You have reflected on yourself and your shortcomings long enough.

Start small. Depression is exhausting and you will have little energy and motivation at first. Say something, anything, to someone at the local shop. Communicate a little bit. Go to the library and ask for a book recommendation. Anything to stop you thinking about yourself and the emotional burden you carry.

From those tiny victories, you can try forcing yourself to do a few minutes of something you used to enjoy. Your depressed brain will tell you it is pointless, but do it anyway. It might be reading three pages of a book, watching 15 minutes of a film, sitting in a tea room with a magazine and a cuppa for 20 minutes. Just don’t over do it. Do as little as you can, then repeat. Don’t expect to enjoy yourself, you probably won’t. But by building this up, bit by bit, you are turning your inner telescope outwards, a little at a time.

Ask your gentler and more positive friends to pop in for half an hour. Make a time limit, explaining your lack of energy. Talk or just sit quietly and listen. With good friends some periods of silence won’t feel awkward. Try to build this up to something more regular. Then meet them outside in a coffee bar or to do a little window shopping or a walk. Catch up with someone else’s life because you have been examining your own too deeply.

With each positive achievement and interaction your battery gets a little more charge.Build this up very slowly and take your time. Don’t see people who drain you rather than light you up, even if they are family. Don’t accept invited to social occasions where you won’t be able to get away if you feel tired or overwhelmed.

I made the mistake early in my recovery by doing several catch ups over a long weekend with people I had isolated from during my illness. I didn’t set time limits, or control the environment we met in. I ended up in a noisy restaurant that stressed me out and other friends visited but ended up out staying their welcome because they missed me, so that I spent hours and hours in conversation.

That experience set me back, made me ill again. It proved that I had to carefully control my limited energy reserves. One thing a week is enough to start with. Go gentle on yourself, you are physically as well as mentally ill. Treat yourself as if you are recovering from double pneumonia and accept you’ll tire and be over-sensitive to stimulation.

When I reached a turning point in my illness I realised that I was thinking about the future as a time of possibilities rather than endless doom, that I was seeing myself taking part in the outside world once more and had identified some things I would like to do, that was finally a good sign.

The world will not come and claim you from your depression. You have to go out and re-claim your place in the world. Even if you don’t feel like it.