… anywhere is a good place to read if you want to. These were all the same journey home this afternoon!
That’s my boy
… anywhere is a good place to read if you want to. These were all the same journey home this afternoon!
That’s my boy
It’s the most obvious thing you get told when you have depression: try exercise, it will make you feel better. While it’s true it’s also one of the most difficult and hopeless things to even think of.
When you have depression getting out of bed feels like a marathon. On the worse days getting through the day is like wading through quicksand. So getting out of the house to the gym or for a walk seems like the advice-giver is having a particularly cruel joke at your expense.
I have struggled with depression for a few years now. I’ve also seen it from the side of a carer so I also know how painfully frustrating it can be to suggest even mild exercise, desperate to help but knowing that it will most likely feel very unhelpful to the listener. I also have a fairly rubbish history of exercise – I hated PE and our teacher’s comments which were repeatedly cruel and hurtful, and combined with the natural grace and coordination of a cabbage, that has left me with a lifelong hatred of anything that resembles physical activity. You can guess the result – I am chronically unfit, overweight and suffer from lower body pains most of every day.
And I’m supposed to exercise to beat depression? Uh-huh.
Except the only thing I can say is, actually, yes.
I was referred to my local gp fitness scheme. I’ve been to the gym 3 times (yes! count ‘em!) and there has been an impact already. I couldn’t have done my Memory Walk on Sunday before this. I have done gardening. I have even been able to say that I don’t feel depressed – I don’t remember the last time I could say that.
So, honestly, all I can say to anyone feeling depressed (and ready to throw the nearest heavy object at the next person to use the ‘E’ word) is: don’t give up.
If you want something more specific, I’ll try. One of the least helpful things in depression is general, vaguely-positive bits of advice. When you’re depressed you don’t want to know what you should do. I KNOW I should exercise, I hear it all the **/@^*^/$* time. What I need to know is HOW.
1. Try, in the good spells (you will have them, promise) to be open to suggestions of different kinds of activity. Activity isn’t necessarily going to the gym, it is anything that lifts your heart rate and gets you moving even a little bit. As far as I’m concerned, all of the following count:
Wiggling your bum to spotify or radio or anything with a beat
Wii games – yes dance or wii fit but anything will do to start
An extra trip up the stairs
Any length walk if it’s longer than you might usually do – I mean just 5 minutes longer
Obviously, swimming, dance classes, tennis or any other vaguely sporty thing
2. If you ask me, the important thing is to do something that’s a tiny increase on your current level and congratulate yourself for it. You get the self-esteem boost and you get a little taste of the endorphins that everyone bangs on about. You might not do another thing for the next 3 months but that one little step will make it that bit easier next time, and the time after, and the time after that.
3. Be kind to yourself when you really, really can’t do it. I know you feel worthless but a) you will not always feel like that and b) when you do, it’s really not helpful to have another thing you can beat yourself up for. Activity is an amazing thing when you can do it but it’s not a crime when you can’t and any other attitude will beat you down every time you even think about being able to try something. “Oh what’s the point, I never stick to anything, I’m too unfit, some days I can’t even get off the couch so how do I expect to do exercise?” Yes, I know sweetie. Have a hug, have a lazy day (or two), then when you feel better (can’t say it enough, you WILL) have a go at something that takes your fancy. No pressure.
4. Make sure you rule out physical factors that get in the way. Yes I’m unfit and depressed but the levels of tired I felt a couple of months back were off the scale. Sometimes you know deep down the difference between the sludge of depression and just plain old bone-aching exhaustion. If so get it checked out. My thyroid levels needed checking as it turned out; you could also need to check iron levels, underlying infection, inflammation, diabetes. If there is something it is usually easily treated, so why leave yourself with an unnecessary extra burden?
5. While you’re at the doctor’s, ask about talking therapies. CBT can help you tackle thoughts and feelings that are basically ruining your life and help you solve problems like how to build gentle activity into your routine. And tackling unhelpful thoughts about one thing can lift your mood a fraction, enough to make other things seem possible that just weren’t before.
6. Be patient. It might take years, medication, courses of therapy and a kick up the bum to get you into the place you need to be to make exercise an option.
For me it was chronic pain and health risks, and I might easily fall back into depression tomorrow for all I know. But hopefully, if and when that happens, I can build on what I feel are very real victories here and it will be that tiny bit quicker and less painful to help myself again.
A few weeks ago on a whim I signed up for the Memory Walk at Chester-le-Street in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society. It is a fantastic cause and my grandma has dementia so it’s a personal cause too.
Now, it’s only 3 miles but it is worth bearing a few things in mind. First, I’m coming from a basic activity level of 0 and the fitness levels you might expect as a result. Second, I suffer from pains in my legs and lower joints so it’s going to be a bit of a push. Below I’ve written up the walk as it happened, only really cleaned up mobile-thumb-typing errors.
10.35 Arrive at Chester Park. Loads of people already here mostly in small groups. Quite a few elderly in wheelchairs.
Go to the gazebo with AS on to see if I need to register or sign in but no, it’s all done online. I’m given a tag, though, to write about why I’m walking to hang on a memory tree during the walk.
10.50 A guy is leading warmups. You need to either have the honed body of an athlete or be in a group to pull this off and I’m on my tod so I watch, kind of wishing I was in one of those categories. Ideally both.
11am Someone from Beamish is leading a Geordie folk singalong with Blaydon Races, Cushy Butterfield and Keel Row. Great atmosphere! Local MP Kevan Jones cuts a banner and we leave. The family in front of me are wearing the official t-shirts but have printed on a photo of the old lady they’re walking for. It’s a lovely, poignant touch.
11.20 Arrive at memory tree. A couple of people taking a moment. Most people taking photos. I’m fairly near the start so there’s not really many on yet.
Doubling back we can see the end of the walk. We’re pretty much back at the start now, I think that’s the 1 mile walk finished maybe.
Yes, a steward is directing us right to finish the 1 mile, and left to continue the 3 miles, so that’s half an hour and a third of the distance gone.
11.35 Passed the amateur rowing club. I had no idea there was such a thing here. There’s a group all ready to go out on the water.
A volunteer is sitting on a bench with an old man, probably in his 80’s or early 90’s. He can’t walk any further, but rather than give up and get help back to the tent he’s waiting and will rejoin the walk on the way back.
It is surprisingly hard to type on the move! Plus I want to enjoy the experience. My ankles are giving me some pain but the rest of me is fine. It’s quite warm but there’s a lovely, very welcome, breeze.
12pm Left the wilderness of the riverside path behind and cut through a housing estate. We are much more spread out now; only a group of 3 in front of me and none directly behind. Think I gave them a shock in the last wooded bit as the text alert on my phone sent the hunger games whistle out…
12.10 Keeping a nice steady rhythm going. It doesn’t matter that I’m alone or that my ankles are hurting or that I’m really hot. I feel calm and happy.
We are doing a circle, not going back the same way. I hope someone’s told the old man who was having a rest…
12.15 Arrived at finish line! I’m one of the early group back and met by smiling husband and kids. Got a medal and a perfectly timed bottle of water!
I would totally do this again. Get my fitness levels up and go for a more ambitious one too perhaps! I didn’t raise that much but it was so worthwhile; I enjoyed it, and I put myself out for something. I’m proud of myself.
I’m not having a go at Fairy Liquid itself, per se; I’m sure it really does clean with the power of an overnight soak in just ten minutes *sparkly wink*. It’s more the idea behind it. Check out the video below: beautiful, perfectly made-up mother with healthy, glowing daughter and an immaculate house. There’s an obvious, feminist objection to this, but it’s SO obvious that I’m not going to waste space on it here. What I’m really becoming aware of is the idea that life should be like this, sparkling and happy and whatever troubles you have, they can be washed away like the built-on grease that other detergents just can’t shift *repeat sparkly wink*.
I can’t take the credit for this observation, it’s my mum’s, but I am coming to realise how true and how damaging it is. Just don’t tell her, or she’ll be unbearable. The truth is that so many of us struggle with the idea that life should be perfect. Not just mothers with an immaculate house and/or a successful career, but a general Happy Ever After for everyone – the perfect job, the perfect house which is in the perfect neighbourhood with perfect decorations and perfect children singing Christmas Carols around the piano which Mother plays perfectly while Father puts the perfect star on the perfect Christmas tree. Or, perhaps, the perfect holiday in a Mediterranean resort where children splash merrily while Mummy relaxes with War and Peace and Daddy doesn’t need to check his stockbroker because his perfect PA is taking care of everything (but he might just check in anyway to make sure). And after they come home from their wonderful holiday the rest of the summer is a glow of green and gold and blue and paddling pools and fresh orange juice every morning. Anyway, you get the idea. Advertising has been drumming it into us for the last, what? 50 years? that unless you have some version of this life, you are a FAILURE. You have failed your family, your society, your own potential. You contribute nothing to the community, you are a waste of space, you’re obviously not trying hard enough. Is it any wonder so many of us end up with depression and anxiety?
There’s a growing awareness of this pernicious culture, for example Oliver Burkeman’s book The Antidote or The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris. But I’m not sure there’s enough, given the growing invasion of advertising into our lives. We still persist in the idea that there’s some elusive THING – a book, a gadget, an experience, a way of life – that will give us the life of the Fairy Liquid adverts. I was delighted lately at a meeting of school governors to hear that County Durham is intending to roll out a mindfulness programme across its secondary schools; I wish everyone had access to something like this. I’m trying to begin meditation and mindfulness myself, to become aware of the fact that this, what I’m living now, this is my life. It’s far from perfect (particularly lately) but it’s what I’ve got and the Fairy Liquid advert isn’t just difficult to obtain, something that I can aspire to – it’s completely fictional. IT IS NOT REAL. It is unattainable and two of the greatest lies being fed into our brains at the minute are that it is attainable, even necessary, and that if I’m not there yet it’s because I’m just not trying hard enough. It doesn’t help that there’s a scarily fast-growing blame culture – our problems, the reason we’re not in the Fairy Liquid ad, aren’t just our fault, they’re the fault of immigrants or single mums or the unemployed. If I’m not trying hard enough, they mustn’t be either. Well guess what – they’re trying their damndest too. We all are. So don’t blame them, or your spouse, or yourself, if you’re not in the Fairy Liquid ad.
No-one is, and no-one ever will or should be.
So, here’s a random thought that’s been building up in my mind over the last couple of weeks. Ever since I completed the political philosophy unit of my OU degree actually, so it really is very random, with no pretensions to political, economic or any other kind of expertise.
How are countries formed? They’d appear to be formed by processes of landgrabbing by various parties, usually begun centuries ago. So the country boundaries we end up with today are basically the arbitrary results of these long-long-term processes. In this way you get countries made up by the elite few in government which will contain various communities with their distinct identities, languages, cultures, and the borders are made to suit the particular political and economic needs of the governments concerned at the time. Sometimes the boundaries are set by outside governments who are remote from the countries that they’re playing around with – I’m looking at you, UK and USA.
This situation will come back to bite sooner or later. Look at the Middle East, Ukraine, Ireland, India. Those arbitrary political borders suit the top guns but cause divisions where there don’t need to be, and lump together different communities because they happen to be geographically close. And we don’t yet know what will happen in the future; there are probably many old sores caused by these types of policy. A Victorian attitude that lingers like a nasty smell was that Africa was made of savages who had tribes rather than countries; luckily for them, we went in and sorted that out and created nice civilised political boundaries (with nice, civilised armies and guns to maintain them) and rearranged the place to our hearts’ content. I think we could perhaps take another good, hard look at ourselves there, people.
It’s possible to get a better idea of actual communities by looking at the linguistic features of the landscape, as accents, dialogues and creoles etc don’t respect political borders. People who form a community influence each other’s, and their neighbouring communities’, linguistic features through natural contact; people either side of a border will share features such as dialect or cultural practices. Why shouldn’t these things be more important when the big boys are playing real-life Risk?
As an example close to home, the current campaigns for and against Scottish independence bring up interesting questions. If there is a yes vote, what happens to those border countries that share far more with Scotland than Westminster? What happens to Berwick, for example, which is de jure England but perhaps de facto Scotland? Obviously it would be impractical to have a Berwick referendum, so they are lumped, whatever the outcome of the vote, with the existing political borders. Further south, Northumbria is an area with a distinct heritage and identity, a distinct regional dialect (with its own subsidiary dialects and accents) that is often almost unintelligible to Standard English speakers, and ten times as far removed from London culturally as it is geographically. Maybe it should be independent too? From an economic and political point of view this is ludicrous of course, but I can’t help thinking that if we could get past these ancient, arbitrary ideas of country and just look at communities, it wouldn’t be quite so unthinkable.
And of course, independence (based on community) doesn’t mean that anyone is taking their toys home in a huff. I mean, surely people can co-operate? I realise this is incredibly naive and idealistic, but let’s face it, political and economic borders haven’t really done wonders for World Peace now, have they? If Scotland vote for independence, it does NOT automatically mean they want nothing to do with England, and it does NOT automatically have to mean that England snatch back everything that they cast a possessive eye over, such as the sterling or the BBC. I don’t think Scotland are rejecting The Great British Bake Off along with Cameron and his cohorts, and I don’t see how it would benefit the UK to have such a dog-in-the-manger attitude. Share and share alike, eh? And perhaps respecting the boundaries of community rather than politics might make people MORE inclined to co-operate with each other. I don’t know.
That’s my five minute rant for today anyway. I expect there’s a million reasons why this wouldn’t work, most of them involving £, $ and € and anyone is very welcome to comment with those reasons. As I said, I have no illusions about my inexpertise or naivety. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion, however unrealistic, now does it? After all, being out of touch with reality never yet stopped someone getting into Downing Street…
I’m currently reading my way through Cooked by Michael Pollan, which I’ve been looking forward to since I first heard about it and was lucky enough to pick up for half price in Waterstones recently.
I love Michael Pollan’s food writing; he takes a great deal of responsibly for slowly changing my attitude to food and grocery shopping. I highly recommend Food Rules, for more on this. In Cooked, he turns his attention to what is actually going on when we cook; the chemical reactions for example. I’m about a third of the way through and I love it. There are lots of moments when I think “ah, so that’s why that happens…”, and it makes me want to try cooking something a slightly different way.
More importantly, for me at least, is the fact that it’s reawaking my desire to cook. I’ve enjoyed cooking for a while but not lately. I was struggling with depression again in the later months of 2013 and since January our family life has been completely overturned. But Cooked is helping me remember how much I like making proper, tasty food and rekindling an urge to get back into my kitchen, get my lovely recipe books down and spend some time planning meals that I will enjoy cooking.
An example, to ponder: Pollan has been talking about the chemistry of onions, followed by mentioning the fact that they contain powerful microbial compounds which help make meat safe to eat.
Cooking with onions, garlic, and other spices is a form of chemical jujitsu, in which the first move is to overcome the plants’ chemical defenses so that we might eat them, and the second is to then deploy their defenses against other species to defend ourselves. (Cooked, Pollan,
And now after all this talk of food, I’m starving so I’m off for some chemical jujitsu…
You know when you try to think of heroes – people you’re inspired by, whose example you aspire to? I’m currently sitting in the swimming baths watching my daughter’s swimming lesson and I think my children might be my heroes.
Daniel is 6. He’s quiet, intelligent and analytical. But he’s quietly confident, an intelligent leader among his friends, and a diligent, analytical hardworker. He has determination and he doesn’t shy away from a challenge. He’s caring and compassionate and draws people to him.
I want to be like my son.
Emily is nearly 4. She’s dynamite – she lands with a splash wherever she goes and she doesn’t know the meaning of quiet. But she is confident, funny and dances through
life. She has friends and she cares about people. She lives in the moment and she can focus when she needs to.
I want to be like my daughter.
My kids make me immensely proud; not just for what they can do, though what they can do constantly astounds me, but for the strong and wise people I see them becoming. They make me more than proud though, they set me an example, and this is a fairly new and startling revelation.
My children are definitely my heroes.
I’ve been struggling with my weight for a while now. Managing to hold on to my rather apathetic (to say the least) attitude towards exercise whilst losing the metabolism I had when I was 19 means that I am *cough* stone *cough cough*, have an embarrassing BMI and am heading towards diabetes faster than you can shout “jam doughnut”. The problem is, I like food. I enjoy cooking – especially baking; I enjoy eating – especially cake; I like small social occasions – that involve cake. So any time I’ve tried, rather half-heartedly I’ll be the first to admit, to diet, I’ve fallen off the carrot wagon rather spectacularly and without much regret. Until I come to try some outfit or other on or see myself in the mirror or a photo.
I thought I’d found a solution to this in the 5:2 way of eating. Y’know, where you eat normally 5 days a week and fast, restricting yourself to 500 calories or a quarter of your recommended calorie intake, for 2 days. You can mix it up, fasting for more days a week or cutting down to 1 day’s fast when you’ve reached your target weight or you’ve had a particularly hectic social life. It sounded ideal, only limiting myself 2 days a week? Cutting out worries about fat, calorie or other monstrosity except for a piddly 48 hours a week? Plus all the other health benefits which were very convincing – hell yeah, I’m up for that.
At first it went pretty well. It wasn’t as hard as I’d expected and I lost a few pounds pretty quickly. Then there were problems – I had the start of a down time with depression, I had an exam to study for, I had mad things happening at home and basically I struggled to both fit in fast days and enjoy them when I did. And the usual problem of dieting then stopping – the weight went back on, with interest.
Today I thought I’d give it another go. And I was miserable. Not that I particularly wanted to binge on Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food (oh, but now you mention it…) but I was just getting so uptight about the calorie restriction and thinking of some actually very healthy food that I could have been eating instead. Such as the lovely sandwiches Beloved Husband and Emily had for lunch from the new village deli, or the nice granary toast Beloved Husband had for breakfast.
My next approach, ladies and gentlemen, is to try thinking rather more holistically. For a start, as I mentioned above, exercise and I haven’t exactly been soulmates over the last 33 years. I’m pretty sure it’s exercise’s fault, not mine, but I’m prepared to be magnanimous and give it another chance. Our actual diet is pretty healthy to be honest – I could REALLY do with cutting my portion sizes down a bit and being more truthful with myself about how much I snack, but our meals are fairly balanced, nutritious and varied and my repertoire is expanding all the time thanks to books like Jerusalem, Plenty and the River Cottage gang.
It’s funny though, how such an integral part of life, like eating, can be so emotive. You comfort eat (oh alright, I comfort eat), you swing from diet to diet. You turn something meant to be enjoyable into an engorgement where bigger is better (XL Big King, anyone? 32oz steak? triple chocolate fudge cake with whipped cream?) and you lose all sense of proportion. Or you become afraid of food and the horrors of carbs, fat, calories… Speaking of horrors, we turn into horrors ourselves, messing with the food chain to get those bigger burgers, cheeper chickens (boom boom. sorry.) or GM crops. You measure yourself constantly against everyone else – that sinking moment when someone says how horrified they are that they’re so big, and it’s a good 3 stone below your weight – when what you should really be doing is measuring yourself against yourself.
I am overweight, I am unfit and I need to change but not because I’m x size and the mums in the playground or on Facebook are y or z size. I need to change because I don’t want to be monitoring my blood after every meal or feeling too big to wear the clothes I want to wear or avoiding pictures with my babies. I want to graduate in a couple of years with my OU degree and wear a lovely dress under my graduation gown. But I think I need to readjust my attitude to my body fairly significantly; start treating myself with a little more respect and doing what I need to do.
For various reasons I’ve been considering the relationship between leisure and relaxation. I suppose everybody has a basic definition of these two concepts – roughly, that leisure is what you do when you’re not working and relaxation is what? Something that makes you feel refreshed and calm? It’s a slightly harder one to pin down, although, as Beloved Husband said, you know inside when you feel relaxed. I know for example that I feel more relaxed when I’m lying down reading a book but it will take a more logical thought process to think through what exactly it is about that situation that is relaxing. And if it was a game of Taboo, in which I had to describe it without actually saying the word ‘relaxation’, I’d have to think about it a bit.
Leisure is slightly easier although, paradoxically, far more subjective. There is far too much that is leisure to one person but boring slog to another. I mentioned reading above – I know several people for whom reading is boring, hard work or just not their idea of a good time. Leisure could be described as what you do outside of work but I think it needs further clarification into ‘that which is not salaried’ and ‘that which is not obligatory’. Many leisure activities are not salaried but people still have to do them – mowing the lawn for instance is obligatory if you don’t want your garden furniture to disappear into the wilderness forever (possibly taking the children with them, depending on how caught up you are in your own particular relaxing activity…); it has to be done outside of work time unless your work is landscape gardening; and if you don’t find gardening enjoyable it is not relaxing although it is, technically, done in leisure time. Cooking is a relaxing activity for many people, a chore for still more, and obligatory for all as we all need to eat (unless we’ve disappeared into the wilderness created by not mowing the lawn in which case we can eat berries or whatever).
Conversely, there needs to be a little consideration of the definition of work too. Presumably, if you’re the landscape gardener I mentioned earlier, you enjoy gardening. So your work has the double bonus of being both enjoyable and salaried. Does this mean it’s not leisure, even though you enjoy it and it relaxes you? Or does the fact that you rely on it for a living take away the enjoyment and turn a relaxing activity into a chore? What a shame! And an excellent argument for not doing what you enjoy for a living; then you would presumably finish work and go home ready to use your leisure time to the fullest; at least, once you’ve done all those rotten jobs that you don’t get paid for but still have to do. Which would take all your time and energy and boom! You’re back at work again.
Hmm – it’s a thinker…