Pulling Out Of The Dive

2013-01-27 10.31.38This month has been hard.  I’ve had 20 days filled with pain, struggling with brain fog and fatigue, but I’ve also had to force myself to keep working; propping myself up with pain killers, sleep meds and Red Bull.  It was not a good strategy, the myriad habits that I’ve developed over the years failed me and a cycle of decline developed,  with each days being a little worse than the last.  I’m used to this though, I know how to deal with it, I just push on trying to live each day a bit better than the last, moving forward and making progress.  This month was different though.

This time I became depressed and having spent only three days deeply depressed I now know a few new things about my life:

  1. I’ve never been truly depressed before, what I previously thought of as depression was just being in a bad mood, overly tired, a bit glum.  I have a new appreciation for people who struggle for years to break out
  2. I don’t ever want to be depressed again
  3. Looking back now I’m scared, I’m scared of being that depressed again and not being able to fight my way out of it, I’m redirecting that fear to developing strategies to prevent it happening again and to writing down what I’ve learned in case it does
  4. I did fight my way out of it this time, so at least I have one successful strategy to try
  5. I need to react quickly, as soon as I notice the depression coming on, use all my energy to fight back, don’t let it get hold

I’m fine now, but after only a week it’s becoming hard to remember those days of deep despair, days when everything looked dark, when ‘living well’ was a distant memory and seemed hard to imagine regaining.  I wasn’t scared of the depression at the time,  I didn’t care enough to be scared. 

Leave it another week and I could easily forget what it was like, no longer worry about it, dismiss it as a one off.  I think that would be a mistake, this short bout of depression was a warning; like the warning I had as a kid about my addictive personality (that means that I now never touch alcohol); like the mild heart attack that sometimes heralds a complete change of lifestyle for the stressed out CEO.

I’ve been trying to unpick the circumstances that led to this depression and it’s hard to be sure, but with the clarity of mind that I’m enjoying today I will give it a go:

  1. After many days of poor sleep, pain and working too hard I was worn down mentally and physically
  2. I had a bit of a cold, maybe Tonsillitis (with my broken immune system it’s hard to tell) I was experiencing mild fevers
  3. My brain was well and truly ‘fogged’ everything took twice and long, concentration was  limited to a few minutes
  4. At work I was seeing things that I had spent years building dismantled with abandon.  Even though I liked a lot of the changes, there was little that I liked about the process.  It seemed people were being reckless with ‘my baby’ and I had little influence over it
  5. Moving forward in my new role at work was equally hard, progress was elusive, direction unclear, my part in the changes difficult to tease out
  6. Over the 16 years I’ve been with my employer I’d built up a good network of people, it takes me a long time, it’s not easy for autistic people like me to build friends and a strong network. When I succeed I highly value them. Unfortunately that network was being decimated, many people were leaving
  7. Many new faces were taking over the roles I needed to influence.  Rebuilding that network looked like a mountain to climb, I was too tired to even contemplate that
  8. Averaged out over the year I only work a day or two a week, in that time I need to do a lot of information gathering and analysis; find time to build strategies and to innovate; test my ideas in discussion and debate; find the time to convince others to adopt them and then nurture them.
  9. That last step ‘getting ideas adopted’ was proving difficult,  it’s very time consuming, it needs influencing skills that I’m not renowned for. As a result I’ve been seeing too many of my ideas and strategies proved right, but unfortunately not adopted, that’s very demoralising, “I told you so” doesn’t add value
  10. I was worried about my financial stability, for reasons that I won’t explore on this blog

I knew I had a problem.  This is what I did about it:

  1. I wrote a blog post to try and describe how I felt, to define a baseline, to work out some kind of way forward
  2. I kept walking or cycling, regardless of how difficult this was; walking is fundamental to human mental and physical health
  3. I had a long chat with a friend of mine, a long moan really, it helped me purge the ruminating thoughts that were fuelling the depression, the blog post helped with that too
  4. I redirected what little energy I had at being really constructive,  I cleaned the house
  5. I decided to confront some of the issues at work and scheduled a review with my manager (who’s also a good friend of mine) in a weeks time (I’ve had that meeting now and it went well, he’s great)
  6. I decided to create a new blog where I could focus entirely on constructive writing about things I was passionate about at work.  The things that excite me about end-user computing.  By sharing my ideas on the blog it would help me refine them, help me communicate them and even if they didn’t get adopted at work they would live on.  The blog would evolve into ‘something to be proud of’
  7. Creating the blog forced me to start writing, the writing gave me a sense of progress, progress is a very powerful motivator
  8. I arranged for a family meal out in a weeks time, a celebration of family life,  I needed to be feeling better by then and the puddings were free!
  9. I fasted for two days, fasting is hard work, but it definitely helps me clear my mind of brain fog (when I fast I still eat 600 calories a day in the evening)
  10. I watched uplifting TV for an hour a day
  11. I listened to podcasts with energised discussions and some good comedy too
  12. I started to tease out a strategy to keep working until 55.  A good strategy needs to be resilient to uncertainty and there’s certainly a lot of that in my life at the moment
  13. I got a lot of hugs
  14. I added things to my ‘happy list’ each day, things that I’m thankful for

The depression lifted after ‘only’ three days, those three days seemed much longer.  I was still feeling physically rough for a few more.  Yesterday I woke up and most of the pain was gone, the brain fog had cleared.  It’s a euphoric feeling to be able to move my body and not feel pain; to be able to think clearly; to be able to breath deeply and feel filled with positive energy; to be able to meditate without being overwhelmed by thoughts; to have a sense of being back in control.

I wrote this blog post in Caffe Nero, the sun’s out the sky is blue with wispy white clouds; just enough to make it interesting.  I’ve written a post on my new ‘professional’ blog and of course this post on my personal blog and I’m looking forward to a long walk.  Life is good again. The photo I’ve chosen for this post shows the dunes in all their glory, I will be walking in them in 5 minutes time.  I would especially like to thank Matt and Lyn for their supportive comments on my blog post, it meant a lot to know other people cared.  When I got back to work I got a lot of support from my friends there too.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

2 Responses

  1. Mat says:

    Well done Steve
    Very pleased to hear your back on your game


  2. Lyn says:

    So good to read that you are ok again. I admire you tremendously.

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