Category Archives: Living Well With Depression

Walking the walk

The “broken leg” question

Today, on Doing Defies Depression’s Facebook page, I posted:

Question: Which would you prefer – a broken leg, or an acute episode of depression?

It’s a question which has been floating around for years, but it never hurts to run it past a new community and get their responses.

At the time of writing, that post had reached 698 people and had 25 comments, not counting replies to comments. I told you we had an active and engaged Facebook community!

It didn’t surprise me that 92% of respondents said they’d prefer a broken leg; after all, these people had some experience of depression. Most of the comments in favour of a broken leg cited the sympathy and understanding that those with an injured limb will experience, as opposed to those living with the invisible ‘brokenness’ of an acute depressive episode.

For my money, the response of the day was:

Broken leg. People take you seriously with a broken leg. Why don’t you get out more? Oh sorry, I didn’t see your leg. Why don’t you get a job? Oh sorry, didn’t see your leg. Why are you so emotional? Oh sorry, did you want help with your leg?

although the comment saying “2 broken legs” had me smiling.

Of the two who responded that they’d prefer depression, one person’s reason was that a broken leg would prevent her from walking her beloved dog, and the other that a broken leg would prevent him from earning, which would lead to destitution, depression and homelessness (I’m paraphrasing).

Can my little question tell us much? Here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth:

  1. People who have experienced an acute depressive episode would prefer physical pain over psychological suffering.
  2. People in the Doing Defies Depression community – who are far more likely to be living with depression than the general public – retain a sense of humour! Well done, DDD community!
  3. The belief in stigma and misunderstanding of depression is very strong. This is demonstrated in comments like “At least with a broken leg you get the appropriate help and support you need”, “Easy a broken leg … You don’t get comments like – you’ll get over it – pull your socks up” and “Broken leg. Like others are saying people take a broken leg seriously. There’s sympathy and empathy. Depression so few understand it or even recognise it in others.”
  4. Society in general, and workplaces in particular, have a long way to go until people living with depression feel understood.

There’s nothing earth-shattering in there. (Actually, I did have an original thought, but someone came and talked to me for ten minutes so *poof*! Out of my mind it went.) However, these responses highlight the need for greater education around depressive illness.

Out of interest: which would you opt for?

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Placid waters – right?

I took this picture a few years ago when my husband and I were visiting Mount Gambier:

Blue Lake, Mount Gambier

Blue Lake, Mount Gambier

It was one of our best holidays ever, a short but delightful few days spent in each other’s company enjoying sunshine, beauty and peace.

The image of a lake came to me today as I sat here, before my laptop, considering my extensive To Do list. Yes, yes, I know it’s Easter Sunday – but this list isn’t going to go away of its own accord!

“That’s a lot of work to get done,” I thought to myself, realizing that although there were only eight items on my list, seven of those were quite complex. Ugh. I felt my mind begin to churn, ideas thrashing about, each little part of me wanting to have its say on the best way to do this or what to avoid when doing that; it wasn’t fun.

Anyway, that’s when the image of Blue Lake came to mind.

Blue Lake lies in the crater of an extinct volcano. It’s quite deep, and holds a lot of water, but on the surface it looks calm, doesn’t it? It could be just a shallow little pond or dam, lying innocently beneath a big blue sky.

I resolved that was how I would use my mind today. I know it has a lot of capacity and capability, but I will simply access those bits as I need them, one at a time, so my surface doesn’t become ruffled. I would have faith that what I need is there, beneath the surface, just waiting for me to use it; but there is no need to go rummaging around and making waves: what I need will come to me, at the right time, without agitation.

OK, back to it! I promised myself a little dose of electronic valium after I cross the next item off my list 🙂

Just wondering – does this image of Blue Lake speak to you at all? What does it say?

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It’s all just stories

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my mind’s capacity to tell stories. Of course, I’m not unique in this: story-telling is a gift, a way we make sense of the world; a heuristic which helps us interpret events and act quickly. This concept of the mind as story-teller is one of the tenets of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).

I came across this picture recently:

Halos

 

This galaxy of lights – some near, some far; some warm, some cold, some sharply in focus and others fuzzily defined – reminded me of the mind-as-storyteller model.

Let me share some of the stories my mind has been telling me lately.

“Catie, you’re just so stupid.” This one has been loud and clear! It’s in response to my reaction to stressors in the past few months. Funny old mind; I’m not stupid, but it’s a persistent story my mind likes to run to in times of stress.

“You’re brilliant!” This after receiving praise for a piece of research I completed and delivered to the client on Monday.

“Nobody wants me, because I’m such a deeply flawed individual.” I’m looking for work at the moment, which as we all know can be a demoralizing experience as those rejection emails keep pouring in. Obviously, not getting shortlisted for a job means that nobody in the entire world accepts me.

“I’m definitely going to get this job! Woohoo!” Upon being invited to interview for a really exciting position.

I could go on, but you get the picture: my masterful storytelling mind can switch tales faster than a cheesy soap, and is quite indiscriminate about which story it picks up in the moment.

My point is, they’re all just stories. Sometimes I behave stupidly. I am also capable of brilliance. As an individual I have flaws. I may get that job, or I may not, and whether I do or not isn’t entirely within my control, because I don’t know who else has applied and what experience they bring to the table.

I talk a lot with my therapist about being “outside” the story or “inside” the story. When we’re wearing our depression goggles, it can be easy to live “inside” the story: to become totally invested in what the story’s telling us about ourselves; to suspend disbelief and accept its premises without question. On the other hand, being “outside” the story, by reminding ourselves that our mind is a storyteller and we don’t have to accept everything it says at face value, helps protect us from the story’s impact. A simple and effective tool for moving from inside to outside the story is to say to yourself: “My mind is telling me …”.

Two final quick points on the mind-as-storyteller: It’s not a bad thing that our mind tells us stories. It’s an adaptive strategy which gives us many advantages in the world. The problem only arises when we take stories as reality which don’t accurately reflect reality and then have thoughts/feelings/behaviours originating from them. It’s also worth noting that the seemingly positive stories, like “I’m definitely going to get this job!”, can cause problems too. We’re less likely to challenge these positive stories, because they feel good, but they can also be maladaptive.

What do you think of the mind-as-storyteller model?

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The Intern

Internships aren’t really big in Australia. There are a few theories about why: Australians’ commitment to fair wages, and the ambiguity under employment law, are probably the leading two reasons. However, three weeks ago I advertised for a volunteer intern, and was receiving quality applications within twelve hours.

Claire has been helping me out with social media for Doing Defies Depression. She is an absolute star! We meet once a week to talk strategy, mutual support and mentoring. I am learning a lot from her, and I hope the feeling’s mutual. I’ll let her use her own words as introduction:


 

Hiya!
I am very excited to be taking on this internship with Catie, and I look forward to connecting with you all! Allow me to tell you a little about myself…
I have a background in performance including theatre Acting, Screen Acting, Immersive Theatre, Improvised Performance, Puppetry, Hosting, Directing and various other behind the scenes roles.
Since forming a theatre company last year with other creative professionals (TBC Theatre) I found myself managing our online marketing, I enjoy the work so much that I am now studying full time at The University of Melbourne doing a Masters of Marketing Communications.
Mental health has been a huge factor in my life, whether it’s the little devil on my back, weighing me down and swinging me around. Or it feels like the old friend who welcomes me back into the dark corner where I can cry and never leave the house.
The great thing about working as an actor (or one of the great things) is that I was forced to take a good, hard look at who I was deep down and start working with what I had, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Personal management, especially when your sinking, is the hardest thing to do. I believe that I am my own hero when I’m lost, and sometimes I need some guidance to give me the strength to be my hero.
This is why I find Doing Defies Depression a very inspiring business, I believe there needs to be an open community of support, so we can find our potential and strength to be our own heroes.
Once again, I look forward to connecting with you through Facebook and Twitter (and soon Instagram!).
Thank you for having me.
– Claire

 

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Short Story Writing Competition

Doing Defies Depression is hosting a short story writing competition which has categories for both Australian and international writers.

The entry fee is $5, and authors can win up to AU$250. The winning and highly commended authors’ stories will also be published in a paperback anthology!

The closing date is 31 March, 2015. Details, and the online entry form, can be found here.

Happy writing!

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