Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Truth

I'm going to start by saying it's taking quite a lot of my courage to write this post. I hope if anyone reads it they will understand why I'm writing it: not as a cry for help or to beg indirectly for sympathy, but as more of a way of explaining what a depression feels like for me. No doubt it'll help get it off my chest and perhaps someone will read it and recognise the feelings and maybe that will help them in a roundabout way. Or maybe not.

Most of the time I like to write when I'm feeling strong. I like to write mostly about behaviour I observe in others and how I feel that behaviour relates to myself. I like to feel I'm giving suggestions, answers maybe... But this time I'm not going to talk about anybody else and I'm not going to give any advice. I'm going to talk about myself.

Beginning with the fact that just writing that one sentence immediately brings up feelings of insecurity and... it's not self hate... self dislike would be a better explaination of the feeling. Because what gives me the right to broadcast to the world my own feelings of self pity? Why would I want to trouble people who clearly have bigger problems than I do but who keep them quietly to themselves and deal with them? Why would I want to inflict my own misery onto friends who have put time and effort into finding a happy place in their lives- why would I want to bring their mood down? Why am I being so stubbornly self centred? Why do I feel the need to feel sorry for myself? Why can I not just pull myself together? I can hear my own Dad's voice in my head: memories of a fourteen year old me being scolded for those very things. I can remember childishly wanting sympathy but in an awkward adolescent way not being able to ask for it correctly, and angering my parents instead.

Those and many other thoughts race through my mind quicker than I can decipher them when I say something like 'I'm going to talk about myself' and I'm just left with a sickening feeling of guilt.

Over the past months I have been working on finding a balance in my life and in my head: a place where instead of swinging violently between over-the-moon and bottom-of-the-ocean, I could maybe laze on the beach instead, metaphorically speaking! And though it has felt like a hard graft at times, I do believe I am learning to settle my emotions by a process of understanding what drives my behaviour, coping with my symptoms of PMT and finding ways to step outside of the usual emotional loops.

But there are still times when everything I've learnt gets swept away in an emotional tidalwave and I find myself back at square one.... exactly where I find myself today.

So far 2012 has been a bit of a whirlwind. I have had fantastic highlights: social events, trips to the countryside, winter camping, tai chi... but behind that I am still struggling with relationships, money and unobtained life aspirations. Rocky terrain to traverse. So when insomnia and PMT kick in, back to the ocean bed I sink.

The truth is I am exhausted. And there again is that feeling of sickening guilt. How dare I feel tired? How many of my friends are working 50 hour weeks, cycling to and from work, putting in overtime, spending most of their spare time busy with whatever other things fill their lives... and not complaining? I work from home, I can have time off if I need it, I can wake up late if I need to... how dare I feel tired?!? But it can't be avoided and it can't be denied... I am simply exhausted. Maybe it's years of internal conflict, maybe it's more to do with the last year of trying to sort out that internal conflict, maybe it's just this time of year! I just don't know the answer to that. But over the past couple of months I keep finding myself so low on energy I can barely make it out of the bedroom. And some will say 'that's entirely psycological'. Fuck, I even tell myself that! But all I can say to that is- do you think I choose to feel this way? I'll tell you right now that I don't! I know that it's a sypmtom of depression to dig yourself into a reclusive little hole and stay there, but I would imagine the people who find themselves comfortable in that hole have lost the will to get out of it (and I honestly understand how a person could feel that way) but I have not. I am trying with every inch of me to scramble out of this hole, and let me tell you now it is as knackering as physically trying to scramble out of a deep muddy-banked hole!

And then there's the insomnia. Always kicks in when I hit the bottom, and that is the least helpful thing my brain and body can do when I'm there. I feel immensly tired but it's like a door's been wedged open somewhere deep in my brain, letting a stream of consciousness through that I just can't block out. So then I've got hours in which to lie there, trying to entice sleep but instead finding myself going over and over things in my head: and some of those things are inevitably, very unhealthy things to think. Then of course, the next day, through lack of sleep, I find myself over emotional and the root of the insomnia is increased tenfold and even if it was just a niggle the day before, now it is a mountain I have to climb... a mountain I have to climb on 3 hours sleep...

I need a hug. It's on these days that I feel hideously single (there are, of course days when I feel gorgeously single, but today is not one of those days). Logically I know that even if I was in a relationship, my own reluctancy to accept that I deserve sympathy would prevent me from asking for it, but in my head, if I had a boyfriend, now is the point at which he would take me in his arms and stroke my hair until I felt like myself again.

I might at this point, send an encrypted text message to a friend, hoping they will read between the lines and ask me if I'm OK, and then I can say 'no actually I need a hug' and they will say 'Oh poor you! Hope you feel better soon' and then I will feel better. But I will never actually ask for sympathy and I will very rarely get it because of that.

And that is my depression in a nutshell. Maybe tonight I will sleep right through the night and maybe tomorrow I will read back through this passage and, with a twinge of embarrassment, tell myself I was being self centred and over emotional, and that I should never ever show this side of me to anybody because they will think less of me. But if I spend my good days denying to myself or anybody else that this side of me exists, won't that just widen the gap between the happy me and the sad me? After all, I am trying to combine the two rather than seperate them.

Look after of yourselves.

Monday, 6 February 2012

"It's a great burden being holier than everyone else, but I enjoy it"

I wrote about a week ago "Hello universe, please give me something to look forward to..." and the next day, I was invited to a tai chi retreat. A friend had booked the trip with someone who hurt their back at the last minute, so it was all paid for and sorted, I just had to turn up!
Strangely enough, for anyone who believes in coincidences, about a year ago I had decided I wanted to learn tai chi and looked into courses; hadn't booked anything and eventually forgot about it. Then recently a friend  started going to a class nearby, and I had also noticed funny little references to tai chi around the place which got me thinking about it again. And then I was offered it on a plate!
Now, when I was looking into courses, I was paying special care to find people teaching tai chi as a martial art, avoiding as much of the "hippy shit" (as I call it) as possible. Of course, tai chi originated in China as a martial art, but I think as it spread west and got mixed up with our own and various other cultures, it became kind of diluted with our own ideas of stress relief. I suppose now if someone mentions tai chi, most people will picture groups of middle aged women on hilltops a la Calendar Girls and won't realise that the movements are actually fighting poses (or rather defensive poses, but I won't go into that in detail... check out Wikipedia if you want to know more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T'ai_chi_ch'uan )
So, I've just arrived back from the retreat. I feel like a different person to the stressed out, tired, ill one who left for the hotel on Friday. In fact, as we were driving away, I had the strangest feeling that I'd left part of me there: not a part of me that I missed though, a part of me that had been so wound up I ended up in bed for 3 days with a migraine!
But when I woke up this morning, instead of finding myself floating carelessly out of sleep in a relaxed haze, I felt angry. Why was this?
Now, I'm not in any way being ungrateful for my free spa weekend! Let's get that straight right here: I couldn't be more grateful, it was a beautiful and incredibly relaxing experience... but this was (to a large extent) despite the retreat organisers and not because of them, and it's got me thinking...
You know what, I prefer people who are looking for answers to people who think they have the answers.
The owner of the hotel was a rich businessman who apparently used to own a number of nightclubs in London, now owns one, but never visits it. He had a calm demeanour which I later determined to be more passive aggressive than simply passive. He taught the tai chi and took the meditation session on the second night. He told us many interesting and eye-opening lessons about the principals behind tai chi, and to begin with I liked his no-nonsense teaching style. But as the lesson went on, I began to doubt his motives for pulling complete beginners up in front of the rest of the class, watching like an eagle, correcting every move and letting us sit down only when we had it right. Talking to other members of the group, half of them were scared of him and desperate to get it right so they wouldn't be told off... even though the words coming from his mouth were 'you need to loose the ego, there is no aspect of competition here, you shouldn't care if you get it wrong' his actions were telling us quite the opposite!
By lunchtime we had been concentrating and practicing the form for three hours, and were all starving. The soup and salad were tasty, but didn't really hit the spot, especially after the small portion of chicken and brown rice we'd had for dinner the night before. When my friend and I went to the office we found the boss sitting with some salad next to his receptionist who was tucking into a Macdonalds. My friend expressed jealousy at her box of chips and I agreed.
Back in the hall, boss walks in and says 'Who here smokes, put your hand up' (a number of sheepish hands go into the air) 'Who drinks?' (more hands) 'Who eats unhealthy food?' (most hands in the room reach apologetically for the ceiling).
'What's the point in training in self defence if you're doing these things? You don't need to worry about someone else killing you, you're doing it yourself. You might as well be hitting yourself repeatedly in the face with a brick' I think later... was that a dig about the chips comment?
That night, after a tiny portion of chilli and more brown rice, the whole group get together and do their best to polish off the hotel's entire wine cellar. Someone makes a trip to a nearby shop and on their return, tips a carrier bag of crisps, sweets and chocolate onto the table. Half of us dig into it, the other half are outside having a fag. I think to myself 'Mmmmm, it's like hitting myself repeatedly in the face with a tasty, tasty brick.'
Rewind back a couple of hours. My friend and I are taking part in a 'sacred earth meditation' which involved dancing around for five minutes, standing in a circle and jiggling up and down for five minutes, repeating this twice more, then lying flat on our backs for ten minutes, followed by hugging the rest of the group one by one and promising to look after our earth. All this was done to the most horrendous 'hippy shit' soundtrack: bad trance music with a voice over the top spouting empty sermons on loving our earth and walking hand in hand with our fellow humans. I think to myself 'Well, this is like my worst nightmare but I'm here, might as well enjoy it' and I throw myself into the activity, dancing like I dance when I'm alone in my bedroom, jiggling with vigour, shaking every part of my body and concentrating on loosening up all those muscles I'd had tensed for so long...
Boss spends the dance sessions moving slowly around the room doing a bad Dad dance. During the jiggling session he breaks off into the centre of the circle and walks slowly round, watching everyone. He heads towards me and I say to myself 'If you're coming to tell me I'm jiggling wrong I'm going to be angry.' But he just looks at me and moves on.
When the meditation is over we have to sit in a circle and, one by one, speak for two minutes about our experience. There's no way I'm going to lie and talk about my incredible emotional experience when I just didn't have one. I say I love to dance, I do it a lot and I love dancing in nightclubs: I love the trance state you can get into when you just dance and forget everything around you, how you can just let the music fill you up and go with it, but that personally I have trouble letting go completely if I don't like the music. I said that the jiggling was really good for loosening up, but that all I could think about was how much the blood was rushing to my fingertips, and that I do a bit of meditation at home, and always find that fantastic for emptying your head and relaxing. He doesn't seem best pleased but he just says 'Ok' and moves on around the circle. Most of the group say exactly what you'd expect... 'I really enjoyed it, it was nice.'
When it's the Boss' time to speak, he says 'I like this sacred earth meditation' and then just goes on about the hippy shit speakers and where we can hear more if we want. He says he has done this meditatation in the past with a group of over a hundred. My friend jokingly says 'Sounds like a rave!' and I laugh. He stops in his tracks, turns to us seriously and asks my friend to repeat herself. We both say 'sounds like a rave' and people laugh. This doesn't go down well. He turns away from us, addresses the rest of the group and starts spouting about how there's much more to this mediataion than the contrived dancing you might do in a nightclub. Me and my friend just look at each other.
Putting aside the fact that it's just insulting to be dismissed and picked on it this way, my problem with his reaction to our telling the truth about the less-than-life-changing experience is that he's not allowing for difference of character. I totally understand that for half of the group, this meditation was a new, eye-opening way of relaxing. Some of these people would never have been to a nightclub, never experienced that incredible sensation of moving as one part of a huge surging crowd. Some of them would never have meditated in their lives. Some of them would have loved the music. For some people there, it truly was a life changing experience, and I think that's absolutely brilliant for them. All we were saying was that personally, for us, we have found other things that work better, and we were having a bit of a laugh!
I don't go back to the tai chi class the next day. Surprisingly, I'm not too fussed about being picked at and used as a self-righteous, passive aggressive example of what he sees as 'wrong'. I may have the wrong end of the stick here but it certainly felt like he was trying to tell us that we don't understand, that he knows how to become 'zen' and that we weren't doing it right.
Instead, I head to the pool and sauna (which I have to myself for the whole morning), and spend my time swimming in the bath-warm water, watching the ripples form and dissipate, contemplating energy and emotions and friendship and togetherness, writing, reading, and just quieting myself. After that I felt like I was walking on air.
Now tell me that's not a better meditation than standing in a circle jiggling whilst being watched by a creepy man with authority issues.