Feeling Calmer

I took this photo in the Yarra Valley outside Melbourne in 2011

A lake in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley region, taken by me in 2011

I’m feeling much calmer today than I was 1 week ago. I don’t feel as angry. And my head feels much clearer. I think this is in part to do with the fact that I have been meditating most days (I managed 5 out of 7 days). I’ve been trying to get myself out of my head – through exercise and socialising. I’ve also been trying to focus on the future a bit more than usual, as well as trying to remain more in the present when I’m doing things. I know this sounds contradictory, but bear with me.

One of the most important things I’ve learned from meditating is appreciating the moment when I’m in it. This means, for example, enjoying food while I’m eating it, rather than playing with my phone, listening to a podcast and thinking about what I’m going to be doing next – all while attempting to eat. It means bringing myself back to the present moment when my head starts snowballing into chaotic thought. It requires practice and it’s something that I struggle to do when I haven’t meditated, but the more I meditate, the easier it gets.

As for focusing on the future, I’ve been trying to get myself to think about what I might do in the long term. Although in the past I’ve been guilty of “the grass is greener” type thinking, my experience of deep depression over this past year has taught me that I need to build up to change, to prepare myself slowly. I think that I live an enviable lifestyle, but I often have to remind myself of this fact as I wallow in dark moods and negative thinking. When the black dog comes to visit, I turn to fail-safe ways of making myself feel better. I cook, I take long baths and I immerse myself in someone else’s story – whether through a book, a film or a TV programme. When the depression becomes all consuming, I give myself a break and eat whatever is convenient, and try to get myself back to a place where I can look after myself again.

I used to think that my depression would some day go away. I’ve come to the realisation now that it is something that I will have to continuously manage for the rest of my life. And I really will have to manage it, because it’s the only route to a long life for me. This has required lifestyle changes. Perhaps some of these changes are part of what happens as you grow up – sleeping well, drinking less, eating better, exercising more. But for me, these changes aren’t just a choice, based on how I want to live my life. They are also necessity.

I used to be a crazy party animal. Now I get drunk after a bottle of beer, I get tired by 11pm and my hangovers feed into my depression making it much, much worse. Sometimes I can have a few drinks and I’ll be fine. But my head knows when I can’t drink, and I have frequent periods during which I don’t drink alcohol at all. If I were to party like I used to, the lack of sleep would affect my mood significantly. I don’t know how I used to do it, to be honest. I have been depressed for a very, very long time. I think I just drank (and snorted) myself into oblivion, crashed out every once in a while, made less and less frequent attempts to live a healthier lifestyle and dug my grave a little bit deeper each time.

When I moved to Belfast 2 years ago, I crashed completely. I had finally reached the limits of my reserve. I had abused my adrenal glands and fucked up the balance of chemicals in my brain so badly that it’s taken me two years to finally get back to the place where I was before I moved to Belfast. Considering I was in a pretty terrible place then, it doesn’t seem a first glance to be much of an improvement. But I feel 100 times better now that I did when I bottomed out. I stress less, I cope better and I’m calmer. It really takes reaching rock bottom to appreciate the little improvements in life.

With all this in mind, I’m going to continue with my meditation – hopefully this week I’ll get a 7 out of 7. I’ve written before about the Headspace App that I use for meditating, but I’ve linked to it again, for those of you who weren’t following me then. I’ll update again in a week or so.

I haven’t done this before, but I’m going to start keeping a track of my anxiety and depression, as a measure for myself, on a scale of 1-10 (1=Not Bad, 10=Really Bad). Today, my anxiety = 5 and my depression = 4.

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