Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Mental Health - Part 3

Leading on from my previous two posts about depression, here are some signs to watch out for and some suggestions of how you deal with them:-

  1. if you have a sleep problem, 
  2. if you grind your teeth, 
  3. if you feel permanently low, 
  4. if you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, 
  5. if you start to avoid human contact and become ever more reclusive
  6. if you start to lose interest in all the things you used to love....
.....then you need to take a long hard look at where you are and what help you might need.

Often the first step is pharmacology. Speak to your GP, no holds barred, and they should be able to decide whether indeed you need to be put on medication to help your body do what it can no longer do in terms of regulation of serotonin levels in the bloodstream. If you would like to understand current medical thinking on the link between serotonin and depression/anxiety etc then click here. Essentially, low levels of serotonin recorded in the bloodstream seem to equate with depression - but it is not known whether the depression (usually induced by stress) creates the low serotonin levels or whether low serotonin levels create the depression. It's a chicken and egg kind of thing. However, whichever way round it is, the result is the same: permanently low mood (sometimes punctuated by excessively high moods) and potentially some other psychological orders such as anxiety, irrational anger etc often accompanied by such physical disorders as IBS or recurring diarrhoea, disturbed sleep etc.

The next step, as it was in my case, may be to go to counselling (which I began a few months after I'd started with the medication). There are many out there who dismiss such things. What I say is this: your nearest and dearest are often the last people you can talk to; your friends weary of your tales of woe and endless negativity or of your infernal loop of repetitive thoughts and emotions; it is fundamental that you speak to a third party. Find the right person for you (I sought the advice of a counsellor friend who put me in touch with someone she thought was the right sort of person for me), and then go and unburden yourself on a sympathetic ear. You are paying them to listen, so tell them everything. Get it out there. Rid it from your heart and soul. Carrying it within you is the quickest ticket to ill-health. Sorry to revert to the diarrhoea theme, but it is far better to let it all out than stop it up with Immodium - this just means the bacteria remains INSIDE you, festering, and can lead to greater illness. It is the same thing with depression: there will be reasons you have ended up in the bad place you're in, so use the counselling sessions to talk about stuff. If you don't already know the stressors in your life or the events which have got you to where you are (the causes of depression can build up over many years), then the counselling sessions should help you find them and deal with them. GET IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM! DO NOT HOLD IT INSIDE YOU.

A common sense holistic approach to good health and wellbeing tells you that there is a sure link between mind, spirit, emotion and the body: if there are issues going on in your head and heart, they will show themselves physically. Equally, if you are being physically overstretched (new mums, marriages, deaths, bad relationships, house moves, new jobs, overly demanding jobs - and any combination therein) then there will be a knock-on effect in your mental/spiritual/emotional balance. Action-reaction. Everything has a consequence.

So, don't bore your mates and loved ones - they can only take so much. Find a professional third party (you can be referred to NHS ones through your GP) or, if you have the funds, find one that operates in your local area. Click here for the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy access to therapists in your local area. Talk to this third party for an hour a week, or whatever you can afford, for as long as it takes. You will know when you don't need to go anymore. I did.

However, once the talking's done, there may still be physiological resonances from your mental and emotional stress. For me this meant a permanently bloated stomach, regular loose bowel movements (sorry to bring this one up again!), yellowy whites of eyes and that key lack of 'sparkle'. This is when I went to a homoeopath. Now I know many ridicule this practice and all things 'alternative'. I'm not one of them - and I prefer to call it 'complementary' care rather than 'alternative'. I was recommended my homeopath by a good friend who'd used her and I found the experience totally positive, despite being sceptical at the beginning about the concept of homoeopathy. I went in with an open mind and I came out considerably better for the experience some 12 months or so later. Retrospectively, she told me that I had arrived in her consulting rooms in a 'deep state of grief'. While the counselling had dealt with arguably more superficial areas of my anxieties, clearly there was something much more deep-rooted - this intense sense of loss - which the homeopath identified through careful questioning of my food/taste preferences, my physical state and through prolonged talking. My body gave away its secrets to her - stuff that I knew I still held deep down inside me: lack of achievement, frustration, abandonment, loss of loved ones, loss of unborn babies, loss of self, loss of direction, loss of control, loss of self-respect and self-belief. In short, pain and insult and emotional injury that had not been dealt with and which I'd been burying for over 10 years (of which physical exhaustion - babies, builders, house moves - had been the straw which broke the camel's back).

As with the medication, as with the counselling, so it was with the homeopath: I knew when I no longer needed to go. Listen to your body; look at yourself in the mirror. Observe the changes to your digestive system, your sleep patterns, your mood, your tolerance, your behaviour. See how the look in your eyes slowly morphs back into something you once knew, as the light that used to shine there starts to glow again. Only then will you know that you have climbed that steep, dark, cold mountain and that you're freewheeling down the sunny side at last.

Never give up hope. For every trough there is a peak. It is the law of physics. It is the law of the universe - of which we are all part. Even in your darkest hour, believe that the sun will rise again.


Linda said...

I am arriving late to these posts but will catch up. Thank you so much for these. I will be sharing them with my daughter.....

The bike shed said...

Your advice about counsellors is sound - no matter how well meaning, no matter how how perceptive, those close to you cannot take that role of independent confidant. Apart from anything else, they so want you to 'get better', that they will at times avoid the confrontation you need.

It's sad how typical Brits avoid visiting counsellors (as if seeing one would be a sign of character weakness) - and yet the times they are most needed usually coincide with the most important moments and decisions of our life.

Thirty years ago I separated with my first wife - it was me who initiated the split (for another relationship if truth be told) - and yet it was me who went to see a guidance counsellor. It was one of the most difficult times of my life - so why wouldn't I want an expert who had seen hundreds of people in similar situations, with me; at my side as I wrestled with grief and guilt, helping us come through...

I always say the key thing about good counsellors is not that they give the answers (they don't), but they help you to ask yourself the right questions.

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