When I was back home at my parents over Christmas I sorted through a couple of boxes of bits that were taking up some space in the room I sleep in when I’m there. During the process I came across some of my old sketchbooks from my Art Foundation course and had a flick through.
I was struck by how different they were compared to the notebooks I’ve been keeping for the last few years. They were full of creativity. Each page was different, whether it was exploring my own ideas on a project, or a contextual spread about a designer or artist that inspired me.
The last couple of days have been odd ones for me. After many months of not feeling much of the effects of my depression, yesterday when I woke up I could feel the heaviness and fog of it. I had the same thing this morning, so I’ve done what is the only thing I can do. I’ve tried to push on and not let it stop me doing my work.
This evening I put a film on, one of my favourites, Good Will Hunting and grabbed my sketch book, a scalpel, two magazines I get free from Waitrose, a pritt-stick, and my Bible. I flicked to one of my favourite verses and while I watched the film I sat on the floor cutting out words and letters.
It’s been a long time since I did anything like this and about ten minutes before the film finished I had finished. It might’ve taken me a lot longer than I remember it taking, but for those two hours there was no fog and I was just able to enjoy being absorbed in something a little more creative than my normal design work.
This week I can across the blog is Simon Thomas. He’s a Sky Sports presenter and a Christian, known by many in the U.K. He lost his wife to cancer in September last year and has been blogging about his grief. This week he shared a post about his Secret Battle with depression and anxiety.
It’s a very honest and open account of the battle he has, and still is, facing. I have a great admiration for anyone who is able to post so publicly about their battle with mental health. I have attempted to write many times about my own struggle with depression, it is not an easy thing to do. I’m thankful that Simon has a strong faith in God that is helping him through this time. My own faith helped me in my darkest time, and I have witnessed the faith of others close to me help them. I am forever thankful for this.
I just added a new category in my YNAB Budget under Quality of Life Goals, it’s name? Books.
Since I started using Goodreads in 2013 I’ve read 104 books. That’s an average of just under 21 books a year with a low of 17 in 2013 and a high of 34 books in 2016.
Clearly I like to read, so it made sense to actually budget for these books financially since I’m already making time in my life to read them. There’s something very different about sitting down and relaxing with a good book compared to a film or boxset that I enjoy a great deal. Most of these books are fiction, I find they provide me with a good way of shutting my mind off at the end of the day by forcing me to use my imagination. I have to let my mind create the images that go with the words, converting the writers descriptions into visuals in my mind. The words on the page acting as the brush and my mind as the paint to create the large landscapes and cityscapes as well as the detail of the characters faces and the expressions they pull.
Until a few years ago I had gone a few years without reading a lot, I always had a novel on the go but the number I would read in a year was much less. Gradually as I got older and remembered how much I like reading the number would increase, but the intensity at which I devoured books became greater after I became ill with depression a few years ago. Throughout my recovery, and when I find my mood dipping again, novels become a great source of escape. Usually I find concentration hard when I’m battling a low period, but a good novel (often a familiar one that I’ve read many times) is able to provide me with some escape. Reading the prose of a good fantasy or sci-fi book allows me to find freedom from the circular thoughts and spirals of whatever I find myself fixating on. As a visual thinker letting my imagination build the worlds centuries away from today (in either direction) is a great way of exercising my creative muscles and preventing those unhelpful thought patterns take hold.
Whenever I’ve spoken to friends who have been struggling with similar mental health issues, I always recommend they read. It takes a bit of effort to start, but I’ve found it much more helpful than watching a film. The act of watching images develop on a screen is far less distracting than having to engage your mind with the words and story of a book. Reading, I find, is a form of active rest. I can let my body rest and recharge, while using my mind in a way that’s different from the work of my two jobs, and in so doing letting it refresh and recharge.
So here’s to books, to my new book budget, and to the many more hours of rest that they will provide.
Back in January 2015 when I realised I was ill, and consequently started a course of antidepressants, many people encouraged me to exercise. I had been a keen cyclist and they encouraged me to keep at it and get out on my bike as much as I could. I was told, and in fact read many times, that exercise was a great way of countering some of the symptoms of depression. My issue was that the thought of going out on my bike caused me anxiety and stress, both things which I was trying to avoid and so I dismissed the notion as not for me. Nearly two and a half years later I’m starting to understand a little of what the mysterious they were talking about.
About a month ago I moved into a new flat, one which I’m living in on my own, it’s great to have my own space again. As a consequence of that move I’ve been doing a lot more walking. It’s located in such a place that I can walk to pretty much everywhere I need to go on a regular basis. I can walk to my shifts at the coffee house, my church, a couple of supermarkets, as well as the centre of town, and I’ve been doing that as much as is practically possible. It’s become a time that I enjoy, an opportunity to pop my headphones in and listen to some music or catch up on a few podcasts.
Over the last couple of weeks I’ve begun to notice something, when I don’t get my daily walks in my mood suffers. The realisation has come home to roost this bank holiday weekend. On Saturday and Monday I didn’t really go out. I stayed home in my flat tinkering on my websites, making a few adjustments, watching some TV shows, what most people call relaxing. And it has been just that, but today I noticed the heaviness creeping in, it made me realise what effect going out for a walk has on me.
It’s not just the small amount of exercise that a brisk walk provides that I’ve missed today, it’s the intentionality of going for a walk. Instead of the day just passing by, the act of walking to work is intentional and provides an element of structure to my day. I need to schedule in the time for my walk to work otherwise I won’t get there on time letting people down. It helps that my walk to work is a pleasant one down an old railway line, that’s what’s in the photo at the top of this post, for a moment I can be lost in the wonder of looking at the trees and greenery as I walk. It provides a chance to look at God’s creation and see how the same place changes from day to day. It’s a chance to walk and listen to some new music or the latest podcasts, in my own little world that’s outside in the wider world. It’s a chance to pop the headphones out and walk listening to the birds and rustling of the trees. When the sun’s out it’s especially enjoyable, but even on a rainy day I look forward to my walk to work.
Almost by accident I’ve discovered that the act of walking to work provides me with a moment of calm. In that walk there is nothing I can do for my design business, nothing I need to do for my coffee house shift, no tweets or Instagram photos to catch up on (unless I want to walk into my fellow walkers or be run over by the many cyclists), I can just enjoy the simple act of walking.
So tomorrow is the first day of November or Movember as it’s come to be known. It might not be as fashionable as it used to be but I’ve always been a fan of it, anything that raises the awareness of mens health. This year I noticed they also do work towards raising the awareness of mental health in men. As someone who has been affected by mental illness (depression specifically) I decided this year was the year I would take part.
If mental illness has affected you or someone you know please do consider sponsoring my moustache!
There’s so much stuff on the internet that it seems like an impossibility that you would read something at exactly the time you need to read it. Austin Kleon’s recent article about finding your bliss station has managed to achieve just that.
Around a year ago I was just finishing up a course of counselling aimed at helping me understand the depression I was diagnosed with in January 2015. One of the things I learnt about myself was my need to do creative things for myself and how over the year prior to my diagnosis I had stopped doing that. This evening as I read Austin’s article it hit home a little further, I might’ve lost my cave a little bit.
This week has been a tough one, the first tough week for a while which is something I know happens to everyone now and again. A giveaway sign, which I’ve realised as I write this, is the recurrence of the word introvert in a lot of my snippets/tweets. I’ve been craving time on my own, and that usually happens when I’m starting to feel a bit unbalanced in life. It’s a little clue that I might’ve lost my bliss station, or cave as I’ve referred to it in the past.
What’s clear is that it’s healthiest if we make a daily appointment to disconnect from the world so that we can connect with ourselves.
In counsellor speak this is called self care. We need to take time out to take care of ourselves, to stop ourselves being bombarded by the world around us. To find a place that frees us from the stresses of work, from running a business and working for someone else at the same time. From being around people all day, to having a few moments to our ourselves each and everyday. To take a little bit of time to do something we want to do just because we enjoy it and it helps us feel free.
By Sunday evening I plan to have reclaimed my cave from the dumping ground it’s become, and in the spirit of making better use of my calendar I plan to schedule in a time everyday for me to be in it just because I want to create some stuff for myself.
Sometimes a day hits you when things that are normally easy to do become the hardest things. I mean simple things like getting out of bed, going downstairs and making a coffee. That’s the nature of depression.
When it happens you have to find ways of getting through because giving in to it can be crippling. Giving in can be the start of a downward spiral, a spiral you don’t want to be in and that can take a long time to get out of. That’s a place you don’t want to go. Instead you have to find a way to push through, to stop the down from taking over. What that looks like is the tricky part, but for everyone there is way of doing it.