Anxiety & Low Self Esteem

Anxiety & Low Self Esteem

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This week I am moving on from depression to look at another issue I suffer with, anxiety, paranoia and low self esteem. Now, a key part of looking at anxiety in my opinion is truly defining what it is and what it means. I think that it is fair to say that one is a biological reaction that everyone suffers from to different degrees of severity when there are moments of stress or more accurately anticipation. That is nervousness. I then believe that Anxiety is a much deeper condition that is engrained in the mind and is very much to do with confidence, how we view ourselves and how view the world. I realise that description of anxiety may seem very simplified to some people but I will expand on why I think that as the post goes on.

Is it Nerves or Anxiety?

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I often think that there is confusion when talking about anxiety. I think that many people confuse anxiety with nervousness. It is very often that before a significant event that you are about to participate in you may well be nervous. You may suffer from butterflies in the stomach, light-headedness, shakes/tremors or poor communication skills. Whether you are about to deliver a speech at a work conference, participate in a competitive sporting event or approach someone to ask them out on a date. In the lead up to the event we are nervous both about our performance and the outcome.

All of the things I have said above are also symptoms of anxiety. There is, from my experience, a large difference between the two conditions though. When it comes to being nervous about something is that it is generally noted by many people (professional athletes, professional businessmen and women, professional speakers) that once you actually come to the point of performing whatever task it is that has got the nerves jangling, your body tends to react biologically, adrenaline kicks in and the nervous feeling goes away as you focus on your task rather than worrying about what might go wrong. Your mind becomes focused on participation rather than outcome; you lose yourself in the moment in what you are doing. To simplify it, nervousness is a biological response to a situation. That is how I see it anyway.

However anxiety is a condition that is very different to a person who suffers from nerves. I find when I am suffering from anxiety; I tend to look at things in a much larger and broader view. I see the consequences of my potential actions and my failures, before siting what I would do if or when that potential consequence comes around and so on and so forth. I continue to look at the potential negative outcomes of my actions and my decisions and then create a trail, a story made out of potential scenarios that haven’t even happened yet but nearly always end up with a bad outcome.When I have built this imaginary mind map, all of the things that could go wrong (in my experience) generally come from mistakes or bad decisions I would make. When Then I start to examine myself, looking at the things I am bad at, the skills I don’t have instead of focusing on all the things I am good at.

My Social Anxiety

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In the early stages of anxiety and how the condition develops (this is just my opinion, I am speaking in terms of what I think about the way my own mind works, not from medical fact) I focus on my flaws, my mistakes and my lack of skills rather than the positive parts of my mind and myself. When the lack of certain abilities sabotages us in a particular way, that memory will remain with us and so will the emotional response that came with it whether that is sadness, anger, embarrassment or any other negative emotional response you wish to think of. Those times where we have been unsuccessful at certain things or certain abilities where we are less able have been highlighted act as a catalyst for periods of anxiety. I think that much of the anxiety I suffer from is doubt in my abilities and myself and having to put myself on display in a place where those, for lack of a better term, weaknesses may be exposed.

I can also be prone to small emotional breakdowns that can strike at any moment. I think lots of people who have suffered an ABI, TBI or even a severe emotional trauma can relate to that. When stresses in public places such as (for me) an invasion of personal space, strangers approaching me, an unexpected pressure being put on me or a decision that needs to be made it affects the way I think, my social and communication skills as well as my mood. An alarm bell goes off in my head because any of those situations that occur now are a threat to my safety and my wellbeing. At this point I want to turn tail and run. I want to hide somewhere, I want to go back home, get into bed and hide under the covers where I am safe and I cannot be exposed as a cripple or a spastic or any of the other negative generalized terms that ignorant and uninformed people use to describe people with disabilities. Words that have somehow found their way into my mind that, in times of darkness in my own mind I apply to myself. It is an attack of self-sabotage. When I re-read these words I can’t help but think what a coward I am. I’m a coward for caring what these people think. Their opinions will be informed by the actions I perform and the things I say which are not always in my control and are in no way my fault.

Anxiety – Is It A Cyclical Thing?

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When I look back at what I have said regarding my social anxiety it does, it all comes back to how I view myself, my own abilities and caring about how people perceive me and my disability. The last point is what really makes me angry with myself though, why should I give a damn about what a bunch of strangers or uninformed people think about whom I am? Why should I feel ashamed of the way I am as a result of my ABI? Finally, why do I allow their opinions and thoughts to pressure me into revealing the worst manifestations of my disability? It becomes a cyclical thing; trying not to upset or offend anyone with your disability or even reveal your disability, when you’re in a situation where the consequences of your disability emerge upsetting or scaring someone with your actions or what you say, then going back to trying to hide your disability or offend or upset anyone except this time with more of a pressure on you to not reveal who you truly are. The anxiety and the pressures are amplified each time we try to hide from who we are. The best thing we could probably do is just to be ourselves and say, “This is me, take it or leave it.” But are we brave enough to do it? Are we brave enough to overcome the pressure, the anxiety and the expectations of a fully-abled society? I have proven in this section that I am not. Not yet anyway.      

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Managing My Mental Health

Managing My Mental Health

What To Do Next?

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In last week’s post (Identifying The Triggers) I talked about the combination of identifying the conscious thought and memories that sparked off the chain reaction that is a negative thought pattern. Within that same post, I also mentioned the discipline of Mindfulness and being aware of ones thoughts and where they lead so that we can learn what the triggers are and discipline our mind to avoid thinking about those particular negative thoughts altogether.

However I realize that this is firstly, not a solution to the issues regarding emotional triggers that can be used in the here and now as it is a discipline that takes a lot of effort and a certain time to master (as do the many other positive meditative states that we can learn). Secondly many people will be asking, “if I choose to investigate ideas regarding meditation, mindfulness and mind training and it takes a long time to master these methods how can I help myself in the mean time?” Well, this is what today’s post is about. Using examples of my own experiences and my own triggers, I will provide examples of how I managed to work my way around everyday situations where my switches that brought on dark spells were more than likely going to be flipped. I will also talk about them in order of which most regularly affect me in day-to-day life.

My Mental Health Problems & Triggers

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Anxiety & Paranoia – This is by far the most pressing issue for me. It happens most of all when I go out in public to engage or socialize with people. Only when I return to my home, in a quiet, comfortable environment does this feeling recede. When I go out in public, particularly when there are a lot of people around, I constantly feel as though I am in jeopardy and that the people around me are a threat or are there to harm me. I think this is mainly because of how my injury occurred, an unprovoked attack on a street corner. It means that when I go out I can never really relax or be at ease. If I am going to a particular place, as many people with any issues regarding anxiety problems will say, it is not the same as something like depression where you find yourself in that state and don’t know how you got there. You are aware of the sense of uneasiness and anxiety building as you approach your destination. The sense can be overwhelming. For me it has now got to the point that even when good things happen, I often find myself bent over with my head between my knees, taking deep breaths and choking back tears. I am shocked when good things happen to me, that good things can happen to me, such is the extent of my anxiety and paranoia.

I find that the biggest external factors that influence my state of anxiety and paranoia tend to be crowded places and invasion of personal space, loud and relentless noise and long and complex conversation and questioning. In terms of internal factors, the first one is a big contradiction to the one above where I mentioned personal space. I often feel as if I am exposed, too visible and that people are staring at me or watching me. The second is that when in social situations and talking to people I fear that they are judging me and disliking me (who doesn’t want to be liked and accepted? I think that’s more the. I want to be accepted for who I am, regardless of my condition).

Despite the extent to which it affects me, I have to acknowledge that going out in public is not something that I can avoid. (As I say that, I must confess to you that the amount I go out, socialize, number of friends I have and my ability to form and maintain relationships have decreased hugely since my ABI. My inabilities to manage my emotions in social situations that are in busy locations combined with the difficulties I have in trusting people are the main contributor to this). What I can do is try to avoid the things that have a tendency to really exacerbate my mental state of anxiety. These are the steps that I take to try and ensure that I master myself in public and in social situations.

  • Arrive EarlyI always try my best to arrive early. Very often by arriving early and doing what you need to do quickly and efficiently, you can avoid the mad crowds and the hustle and bustle.
  • ALWAYS Bring My iPod When I mentioned noise and crowds and the way it makes my feeling of anxiety worse, I always bring my iPod. On my iPod I have an album of Mindfulness/Relaxation music composed especially to be relaxing. It does not have any lyrics, it is just gentle music you can absorb, not interpret and analyse. It helps me to walk through the crowds, block out the noise and be at peace in my mind.
  • Strategic PlacementWhen entering a place, say a café or pub, I strategically position myself at a table with my back to the wall where I can see the whole floor as best as possible. It eases the feeling that someone can come up behind me and I can see the other people in the place. This gives me comfort, I’m not sure why.
  • Always Do Your BestThis may seem like a fairly obvious one. I do feel that we need to try and test ourselves when it comes so socializing and see where the line is regarding how much we can handle. Very often found that at the start of a social engagement, I find myself to be anxious or nervous for one of or many of the reasons I listed above. However, I think that the more we can make ourselves comfortable at the start, the easier it is to continue when a social situation gathers speed. There are ways in which to manage anxiety throughout interaction and exchange, whether through breathing exercises, disengaging slightly and allowing other people to do the majority of the talking or just taking a step outside for some fresh air and space every now and again. I used to fear that doing these kind of things may make a bad impression and that people will found me weird or antisocial. Trust me when I say that the people worth socializing with are the ones who will understand why you are doing this and accept that, for you, it is a necessity  

Depression

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 Issues regarding depression have been slightly less of an issue for me over the last year or two. I have become less concerned by what people think of my disability and the effect it has had on me. I have found that I am quite happy in my own company. I have mentioned in past posts and in my blogging work on the Headway Worcestershire site, I have found that I am able to stand on my own two feet with just the support of my family such was the degree of which many of my so called “friends” left me to deal with the consequences.

However, as a result I would now say I am not the most sociable person in the world, mainly due to the issues with anxiety and paranoia I listed above. I don’t have that many people that I feel I can trust or confide in and I spend a lot of time on my own. To contradict the statement in the previous paragraph, when I say that I am happy in my own company, I would hasten to add that MOST of the time, that is the case.

When certain things happen in your life, whether they revolve around relationships, ambitions or just general musings about your own situation, it would be nice to have someone to confide in that is not a blood relative. There is only so much you can or even want to tell a parent or a sibling. So you look back at days where you had those confidents and that outlet simply from picking up a phone to arrange a meeting. What I’m saying I suppose is that it can be a very lonely existence.

I also have a tendency to look at the lack of spontaneity that my life has now. The resentment towards the fact that my life is now mostly dictated by a routine that my health and livelihood depends on can have a very large impact on the way that you view life. For example, the few very good friends in my life (friends from university who are scattered all over the country) are arranging a “Lads Holiday” for the summer. Now, before my ABI I have gone on a few “Lads Holidays” and I know what they entail. I know for a fact that many of the activities that would take place would not be possible for me to take part in. It is extremely painful to have to admit that by making the sensible decision for my health, my disability is excluding me from being involved in something with my best friends that, prior to my injury, would have been something I would’ve enjoyed greatly.  

Finally, the biggest regret that I think all ABI victims have is the mourning of the losses we have suffered. It is easy to become depressed by looking at the things we can’t do anymore and resenting the loss of certain skills, capacities and abilities we had. All of these things combined can have a tendency to pull my mood down and get stuck in that never-ending cycle of thinking negatively and resenting both my overall situation and myself.

Over the last few weeks I have spoken of mindfulness. I have studied the disciplines of mindfulness, positive thinking and so forth but as you see from what I have written above (which are only a smattering of the thoughts I have that affect my mood), I have clearly not mastered it so that my issues with depression and low mood are totally under control. But here are some of the ways I try to help myself when these periods of depression take control.

  • Be Pro-Active – By this what I mean is to have something that you are moving towards. I find that these ill feelings and poisonous thoughts occur most often when things in my life are static and I feel that I am going nowhere. Exert your energies as regularly as possible into things that fill you up, things that make you feel good. Don’t just do them for the sake of doing them though. Try and set yourself a goal or target to reach. It could be a target to do with your physical health, with certain abilities, employment or anything! Stay occupied and be ambitious is the advice I would give. There is no reason why we, as people with disabilities can’t achieve the things we want, the same as anyone else.
  • Try To See The Beauty In Life – This is one of the things I have found particularly over the last few months. When you look at the world try and see the beauty around you. It probably sounds corny or cheesy but it is there; the ocean, the fields, laughing children, the beauty of the world is all around us. All we have to do is find it and see it for what it is and through that lens. That life is beautiful and that it can be beautiful for us to.
  • Consume Positive Media – This plays a big part in helping me when I’m struggling with issues of depression. Depression is like being trapped in a cell with no windows, the air is stifling, it can be claustrophobic and it can even feel as though drawing breath is a chore or a difficulty. When we trapped in that cell, we need for a light to come on and a window to be opened. When we feel more comfortable and at ease with ourselves, the light becomes brighter, it’s easier to breathe and we can see the door. We can turn the handle and struggle our way out. Despite previous posts where I have highlighted the negative impact of the media and the way that television news and newspapers have portrayed people with disabilities over the last 4/5 years, media can also have a positive impact on the way we feel about ourselves and the way we see things. There are poems, books, short stories, film and music. All that tell the story of good deeds, talk about the emotions that are the antithesis to depression; love, hope, friendship, beauty, bravery, independence, doing the right thing and overcoming adversity. I find, very often, that the things we consume can be the catalyst for the light we need when we are locked in the cell that is depression.
  • Positive AffirmationAlways take a moment at the beginning of each day and at the end of each day to look at what you have done and recognize your achievements. Take even the smallest victory you have had and take the time to give yourself credit for that and make sure that you recognise that you were the one who did it. We are often too quick to pass on credit for the little things we have done to others or acknowledge that without a certain circumstance it could not have happened. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the credit for your own achievements! No one else did it, YOU DID!

Anger & Irritability

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 This has certainly become less of an issue now since I have taken more control over my own life. Over the last 9/10 months, I made the decision to focus on my blogging and writing full time so that I could control my situation. I realized that the main trigger for the anger and irritability I was suffering was down to situations I couldn’t control (customer’s at work, accidents or disorganization at work). When I returned home I would take out my anger and frustrations on my family. I realised that I needed a change. So here is my advice for those who are suffering from similar situations.

  • Take Control Most often it is an external presence that is causing the anger issues we are suffering from. For me it was work and the frustrations and other issues that came from it (I was working as a waiter!). Often people feel that this external presence can be an obstacle that cannot be passed or altered. It is absolutely not the case. We have to take control of our lives; it is just about working up the nerve to do it! Using work as an example, I found that to control the hours I worked, to not have to follow the instructions of others and not be under a pressure to present myself (in terms of my personality) to people and not have to worry about potential mishaps in that environment has helped me massively and that many of the anger issues I was suffering from have abated.
  • Have An Outlet Find a way to relieve any issues of anger you have through an outlet that is either fun or constructive. Many people use exercise for instance. Though I find that is more useful for me to relax and find piece of mind and lift my mood. My outlet in fact is a more sedentary one. I play video games. Mostly first person shooters and shooter games anyway. But this also has a second advantage, not only do I get to blow stuff up and shoot the opposition in my games, it is also suggested in research that playing video games can be beneficial post-ABI (unless you suffer from photosensitive epilepsy) as it exercises multiple brain functions at the same time (sensory function, cognitive thought via gaming strategies, co-ordination and dexterity of the hands by using the controller, and testing fatigue by how much you can play as they do stimulate the brain very much). Either find an outlet that is fun, constructive or both.
  • Draw A Line – There has to be a line where the issues of work or whatever it is that initiates these feelings of anger is drawn. There are obviously serious matters that need to be considered and have every right to make you mad, but there are certain issues you just have to accept are out of your control and should not or will not affect you.The action of others for example, which was a large issue for me, and my reaction to them, was something I had to find a way to control. The actions of customers and even work colleagues could drive me to the brink of despair. But once I got my head around the fact that I had no control over what those people do or say, the problems became less common.It is kind of like picking your battles in your own mind. There are things that we have every right to get angry about but there are some things that get us so worked up it doesn’t seem to be a proportional reaction. It’s about accepting what we can control and what we can’t as well as having a reasonable expectation of fairness and what is right.

Face to Face With Myself

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So, this is me in all my dysfunctional glory. I hope that some of the techniques I suggested in handling my mental health issues can prove useful to anyone who reads this. I realize I have droned on a lot longer than usual but I hope it will be worth it so I can try to help people tackle the nitty-gritty of mental health and actually help people find productive ways to help themselves along the way after something as life altering as an ABI. I think it is fair to say that when we know ourselves, how our mind works and where the emotional weak points are, then we will be better prepared for mastering those emotions and mental states when they start to take control. Thanks for reading. Remember; check out my Twitter page @ABIblogger and my Instagram page abi_blogger for more ABI info. Hope you’ll be back to read again soon.

Identifying Triggers

Identifying Triggers

Mental Health – The Triggers

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“Better the devil you know”

– Common Idiom

When it comes to mental health I believe that the above quote is a very appropriate one. Last week I spoke openly of depression, while this post applies to depression it also applies to other mental states as well so I’m hoping it will be useful to lots of people.

One of the biggest issues that I used to find was that the internal attacks on my mind from negative thoughts, whether they were attacks of anxiety, panic, depression or anger, seemed to be random. They were out of my control and I could never predict them. It was as though the most seemingly anything, whether it was a cataclysmic life changing event or stubbing my toe in the morning could shatter any fragile state of rare calm and peace I may have been feeling that day.

This opinion and state of mind persisted for a long time, as did my frail mental state. I was halfway through my second year at university when, I think it was my counselor Helen (to whom I owe an enormous debt to. I don’t know if I would’ve survived university if I had not used those weekly one hour session to let my guard down and talk about the things that were troubling me) where she mentioned sleep therapy and mindfulness meditation sessions at the Southampton City Library. Mindfulness is something I will talk about thoroughly in later posts, but it was during these session that I learned my entire outlook on mental health, the control of my mental state and my subsequent mood were entirely within my control.

 

Unconscious Thought Patterns

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In the days prior to my brain injury, I would have considered myself a very happy, outgoing and positive person. I think that I had a good outlook on life and I knew roughly where I was going and what I wanted to do. Now, the brain is an enormously complex machine. It sends messages all around the body to keep it functioning. It tells us what to do. To use a geeky metaphor it is the motherboard to our computer. It sends out the various signals without us being aware that it is doing so. For example, a person decides to go for a walk. When they leave their front door and have selected their destination and the brain issues the command “begin to walk”, the brain unconsciously does the work. It is not a series of conscious instructions where our inner monologue is saying, “right foot forward, now left foot forward, now right foot again…” and so on. The reason for that is that walking is such an essential everyday function it has become programmed and so engrained that it is almost an automated function, programmed deeply into our brains. We do it without thinking about it, we aren’t aware of the thought process and it does not leave a trail. Many of our physical attributes and skills operate in this way, as an automatic pre-programmed function. That is when we are talking about physical functions and physical actions, our mental functioning and the processes that dictate it is a very different story.

Inner Monologue and Memories – Conscious Thought Patterns

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When it comes to emotional and mental health, states of depression and low mood do not just happen. For us to end up in a state where we feel that low or that anxious, the thoughts that travel around our brains have to follow a certain path to arrive at the self destructive destination that is panic or depression or any other state of mind that drives us to distraction. Often, the vehicle that pushes us towards those undesirable locations of angst, irritability and negative thought are conscious thoughts, in other words, thoughts we are aware of. Often they are thoughts or memories we have rummaged through the archives to find. Ones we have chosen to analyse, reflect and look back on.

Certain thoughts evoke certain emotional responses. Positive thoughts instigate a positive emotional response while negative thoughts produce a negative emotional response. If we take that to be true then people who suffer from mental health problems and feel as though they cannot control their thought patterns and the subsequent emotional responses, with the right discipline, patience and hard work, in fact CAN learn to master and control them. It is a case of learning what the TRIGGERS for said thought patterns are. Unlike unconscious thought patterns, conscious thought patterns DO leave a trail. If we can follow the trail, analyse and monitor our thoughts carefully, then we can identify if there are any particular thoughts or memories that act as a trigger for a negative emotional response, giving us back more control.

Finding & Identifying The Triggers

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Think of our thoughts as the first time you take a long journey in a car. It is a journey which you will have to make many times in the future. Inevitably, it will take a while to learn the correct way to the desired destination. There are many alternative routes, many turns that come off the main road and in some cases, dead ends that don’t really go anywhere and worst of all, roundabouts. Roundabouts where we keep going round in circles trying to find the right road that gets us out of the never ending cycle of going round and round and round. In our minds, we can often take a wrong turn that leads us down a wicked road. We can try to get back on course on our own and we try a few different turnings to get us back on course, but finding our way back is extremely difficult. However, if we take time to study and analyse our thoughts, we become aware of the side roads, the junctions and where the roundabouts are that can send us in the wrong direction. Mastering this type of discipline will act as your road map.

As I said in the introduction to this post, this discipline is a key component of a meditation known as Mindfulness. A particular part of Mindfulness focuses on learning about our minds, the way they work and the thoughts we have. Then we can analyse certain trains of thought and where they lead. It is about identifying the particular thoughts that send us in the wrong direction where we end up lost and in a terrible place with no idea where we are or how we got there. By identifying the particular turn offs (I.E. certain memories, how we view ourselves, certain things we think about life and the world in general, things beyond our control etc.) and where that turn leads, we can avoid taking that particular turn off in the future, as we know that it leads us to a bad place. Those memories and thoughts are triggers for depression, anxiety, panic or anger. Once we know what the triggers are, when you come across them, is about mastering the ability to knowingly turn your thoughts around and send them in another direction. As that becomes easier and you master that discipline it is then a case of turning that conscious effort into unconscious thought, of doing it without thinking.

Where Does The Quote Come In?

In fact, the full Idiom I quoted at the top is as follows:

“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.”

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The point I making here by referencing this very wise and very intelligent saying is to reinforce the entire message this post has been sending (or, at least trying to send). That once we have identified certain weaknesses or problems we are much better equipped to develop strategies that allow us to accept them and manage our lives around them. By being aware of the weaknesses and problems we have and developing strategies that allow us to cope with them, we can the live a fuller live without mental (or physical because the idiom does apply to both) health being a serious impediment or a shadow that we have to live our lives under forever more. Once we identify the devils inside us we can figure out ways that work for us on how best not to engage with them.

Go Back A Step – Depression

Go Back A Step – Depression

First of all, I want to thank everyone for their continued support and interest in my blog over the pact eight or nine months. I have had some wonderful responses and talked to some inspirational people, with amazing stories who have overcome many similar obstacles (and in some cases more) that I have. There are also those that are still struggling and I am glad that you have taken the time to read my words, whether they offer, hope, knowledge or even just a different way of looking at things, it is amazing just to have my work taken seriously.

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I would also like to take a moment to offer an apology. Over the last few weeks, I have really struggled with issues of my own regarding depression, anxiety and just a general feeling of negativity. I have overworked myself over the past month, taken on too much and as a result my writing and commitment to you, the readers, has not been good enough.

Where I Failed

Over the past few weeks my linear narrative (which was focused on issues around depression, as will the posts over the next few weeks) has been disrupted by many events like ABI week, National Epilepsy Week and so forth. Over the past month I felt my mind and my thoughts sinking into the bog that is the negative thought process of depression: easy to get into, extremely difficult to get out of. My passion was waning and I produced content that was average at best and I knew was average but posted it anyway. There was a lack of enthusiasm, a lack of passion and to be honest, just a lack of care.

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After I had pulled myself out of this funk of depression and negativity I went back over the content I had posted and saw that the quality was poor. Not just in terms of the content that was written but just as much in the content that was not written, particularly when I spoke of what we go through (Mental Health: What We’re Dealing WithMental Health: What We’re Dealing With (Part 2)Post-ABI: Depression) with regards to our mental frailty and fragile mental health post-ABI. If there is anything I can say about the previous post on depression it is that it was written in very broad terms, talking only in a general way, about the issue and about things that people who have never experienced it generally presume to know anyway. What I didn’t write about is the feeling nobody other than someone who has suffered from depression will know: the dangerous period of time where people hit the bottom. When people feel as though they have no escape, no way out and that life is a game that they don’t want to play anymore. This is a serious discussion that is often avoided (I myself skipped ahead in my last post, Depression – The Positive Effects of Exercise, trying to provide methods of recovery when I had not fully explained the severity of depression.) At times in my recovery, I have felt that way and I will try my best to shed some light on why I felt the way I did and hopefully redeem myself for some pretty poor work over the past month.

Where the Depression Stems From

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As I have stated in past posts, in the early stages of recovery is where the seed is sewn regarding depression. We are mourning the loss of our former selves, the loss of certain abilities, brain functions and physical function, talents and personality traits. However what I believe to be the water that gives this seed the nourishment to grow is the feeling of, as we become more aware of our situation in passing months, a feeling of uselessness. You begin to question what exactly is your function and whether this will be your condition forever. When you are in the situation where you are gradually adjusting to living life with an acquired brain injury, it is difficult to see past the present and look to the future. Only with the right support from the right people can you avoid this trap. If you slip into a state of mind where, seeing what others around you are doing to support you, you end up asking yourself, am I a burden? Am I useless?

You Are Not a Burden

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As I say above, when you see what others are doing around you to help your recovery it can feel as though you are a burden. For a long time after my injury (the severity of which took complex brain surgery to save my life) I thought, “I wish I could just die!” Or I kept asking myself, “would it have been better if they had just let me die?”

The answer to that is a short and simple one, NO.

We all have something to contribute to this world everyone’s presence is vital. I firmly believe that. What we have to ask ourselves is that when parents and siblings, cousins, whoever do the things, do they do them out of obligation? Of course not, the reason that they do it is because they love us and have hope that things can get better for us. It is a hope that we need to find ourselves during recovery and it is a difficult thing to obtain. But as recovery slowly progresses we will find ourselves being able to do a certain thing that we weren’t able to do a few months ago (using examples from my own experience now, get up and walk down the stairs). That provides hope. We slowly improve on certain things and obtain other new skills that ease certain pressures on the people who are caring for us (being able to go to the bathroom and bathe without support). That provides hope.

There is also something to the notion that accepting that you need help is a big stage of conquering depression. Accepting that there will be setbacks and negative outcomes along the way is essential. It took me a long time to recognize and accept this notion. I think that is a result of that idea of mourning and that sense of loss that you feel after an ABI, that a thing that you used to be able to do so easily is now a real struggle. It makes you so angry that (in most cases) a situation that was not in your control has left you in this state. Getting over that resentment is the hardest part of ABI recovery in my opinion. It is only in the last year or two that the anger in me has subsided. In this particular situation it is a case of learning to control that anger and finding a suitable and constructive outlet.

It is my belief that the key to seeing through the mist that is that early stage of hopelessness, is to take the little victories that you achieve, hold on to them and keep them close. Because if you can achieve that, there are certainly other things you can do. I would also advise you to accept the help that is offered and listen to the positive words and the advice of those around you. Why not set yourself a larger goal for the long term?

Futures & Goals

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I was barely aware of what a future might entail. It took a lot of verbal support and a carefully monitored recovery plan (that was always adaptable and in transition) and the help of a (very) small number of workers assigned to my post-discharge rehab for me to see that there might even be a future. Establishing the fact that enough people believed in me, that I still had the abilities and that I could achieve things if worked hard enough was what enabled me to set myself a target and work towards a future. Trust me when I say this, the people who love you have these hopes for you to. They know you can achieve the things you want with the right amount of determination and the right work ethic. As for me, that target (getting back into education) was the closest thing to a long-term target I had, what I would do after that? That was another target to be set when I had achieved the first one.

I was extremely fortunate to achieve my goal and that the outcome was the best I could hope for. During my time at university, having a spent a year at home to recover, I was forced to try and confront all the challenges that I had struggled with. The things I had had to learn at home (cooking, regular bathing, cleaning my room etc.) were now completely up to me and I didn’t have anyone immediately near by to fall back on. It was a long, hard and some points miserable time. For the most part though, it was good for me, not just in terms of improving my health and my skills but in helping me socialise and learn new things. It was a big gamble for me to go to university but it is one I am glad I took. That can be a big contributor to improving your state of mind; changing your surroundings and challenging yourself!

We Need To Look Forward

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All people, whether fully abled people or people with a disability can contribute big things to the world. Everyday and throughout human existence you hear stories of great men and women achieving things, not just building a future for themselves but going down in history. Look at people such as Stephen Hawking, the greatest mind the world has ever known, confined to a wheelchair due to Motor-Neuron disease. Julius Caesar, according to studies of records and history, suffered from Epilepsy (or mini-strokes according to new findings) and he was the ruler of the Roman Empire and the reason that the empire was the size it was in the first place (that isn’t me advocating revolution and imperial dictatorship, but hey!). As a final example, David Weir (six time Paralympian gold medalist wheelchair racer) became the person in a wheelchair to complete a mile in less than three minutes.

My point being that we all have something within us that lead us onto greatness. After something like an ABI and while trapped in the quagmire of depression, anger and resentment that comes shortly afterwards, we need to find something to hold on to. Whether these are our own achievements, the love and support of family, friends or spouses or simply a determination to succeed in the pursuit of a long-term goal, they are the flames that keep burning and produce light in the dark, dank caves that are our minds during serious periods of depression. It is essential that, whatever you do, you do not let that light go out!

Depression – The Positive Effects of Exercise

Depression – The Positive Effects of Exercise

One moment your life is mapped out, you know who you are, what you want and where you are going. We wanted to live the dream! But what if life is not a dream though, what if the dream that movies, news coverage, advertisements and politicians have described and tell you is imminent if you work hard enough turns out to be fake? What if it suddenly turns into a nightmare? The next moment you find yourself in a hospital bed with your life changed, as if someone has blindfolded you and dropped you in the middle of a rainforest and told you to find your way home. After many mishaps, mistakes and the feeling of injustice at the ridiculousness of the size of the challenge you have been set it is inevitable that feelings of anger, despair, futility and so many others will inevitably pile up to the extent that you don’t even want to get out of bed in the morning.

Depression & Exercise

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Now we all know that exercise is good for us in the conventional sense. We should all exercise daily according to our GP so as to keep blood pressure down, keep the blood pumping and oxygenated, to keep ourselves at the right weight and to generally make us look and FEEL better about ourselves. Depression is the parasite, a condition that is fed by our negative thoughts, our dark desires, our self-loathing, or stresses, traumatic experiences and our hatred. There are many ways to control that parasite though, not just medications (which, in my opinion, are handed out extremely frivolously these days), but by more natural methods that we can do ourselves with a little discipline and hard work. I personally believe that if you are susceptible and vulnerable to mental health issues that it is a case of getting those negative thought patterns well controlled, that with the right lifestyle we can ensure that they lie dormant for long periods. What I believe is that when it comes to depression, it is something that is linked to your own mind, the type of person you are and your own experiences. Therefore I believe that, as is the case with ABI, that you aren’t really ever cured. Because of the type of person you (or we, I also suffer from issues with depression anxiety and anger) are and all that you have been through will be prone to spells of depression or moments of anxiety for the rest of your days. This is also the reason I believe there are other ways to deal with them aside from just throwing pills and medications at the problem in the hope that it goes away.

The Science

There are two key parts to how exercise can keep us healthy not just physically but improve our state of mind as well. The first is the release of endorphins and the second contributory factor is ensuring that our blood remains oxygenated and circulating well. I will do my best to explain the processes, as I understand them but I will say this now; I am no expert scientist.

What Are Endorphins?

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Endorphins are a neurotransmitter (a chemical that continues the passage of signals from one neuron to the next) key to the central nervous system. They play an extremely important role in the nervous system as they can encourage or suppress the signaling of nearby neurons. They are also our brains response to certain stimulants, such as pain as well as emotional stimulation to the brain. Think of endorphins as the brains own drug and react mainly with the part of the brain responsible for blocking out pain and controlling our emotional state of mind.

While endorphins block pain and control our emotions, they also cause that great feeling of excitement and enjoyment from the things we are really passionate about, enjoy doing or are just something of a giddy thrill. So when we do an exercise that we are extremely passionate about, not only do endorphins block out or relieve us of issues such as pain but also emphasise the positive emotional state we are in when are enjoying our exercise. When you hear people talk about the “runners high” that is due to the rush of endorphins the runner is getting while their brain is active and their body is being pushed.

Oxygenated Blood

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Now, I’m not going to get too caught up in this. I’ll keep it brief, as I’m not sure exactly what the correct scientific explanation would be (Here is a good article on oxygenation of the body and body detoxification – http://www.naturalnews.com/032096_oxygenation_body.html – ).

To keep it simple, the oxygen from the air we breathe in diffuses through membranes into our red blood cells, the cells designed to carry oxygen around the body. The red blood cells then carry this oxygen to the places where it is needed most in the body.

The best way to ensure a good supply of oxygen in the blood and that your organs (particularly the brain), muscles and nervous system stay oxygenated is to focus hard on breathing patterns with slow and steady breathing.

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To help maintain both of these things, a steady supply of endorphins and a healthy supply of oxygen to the blood, those breathing patterns I spoke of earlier combined with regular aerobic exercise (hiking, running, cycling) or just breathing and stretching exercises such as yoga or tai-chi. The point is exercises.

I can guarantee that with the continued focus on breathing patterns and with regular daily exercise (it doesn’t have to be a big grand effort, just walking for half an hour a day) can have a really positive effect on the state of mind due to your body’s natural reaction, the release of endorphins; your body’s own natural high.

Confidence

One thing that exercise also provides that is a huge boost in the fight against depression is confidence in ourselves. During recovery and rehabilitation post-ABI I know that there are so many things that are foreign to us and that have changed, against our wishes. The situation escalated beyond our knowledge and control. However, when we find a particular type of exercise that we enjoy, we can implement an exercise regime that will enable us to set targets and, by achieving them, bring back an element of control.

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Depression can cause issues such as a lack of appetite, or a tendency to over eat, both of which cause issues with weight. Exercise can help to counteract both of those things wether it is exercising to build up an appetite or exercising to burn off excess calories you have consumed. Exercise can be used merely to keep your body in balance and ensure that you stay in good condition and that your health doesn’t suffer. It can also be used to set yourself goals such as adding muscle definition, increasing targets such as distance run or weight lost or gained. With regards to exercise, it can work as a way to motivate ourselves and as a tangible, visual incentive because it shows that the effort we are going to is worth it.

NB. For more information on how exercise can act as a positive influence in life post-ABI check out the inspiring story of Nick Verron and how exercise changed his life after his brain injury. Follow the link to his blog: nickverron.com