On living with the Black Dog

I’ve suffered with clinical depression for much of my life. I was diagnosed a long time ago now. It’s part of my baggage as a survivor of major child abuse. Mostly I deal ok with it, and manage to get through life in a functioning state, with the help of daily medication. If I don’t take the medication, it’s not long before I start spiralling down into a black pit from which it’s very hard to claw my way back out and all I can do is hold on and ride it out until it eases.

At times like that, when I’m in that pit, life becomes very, very difficult and I get to a point where I’m just existing. I’m pretty much usually aware of what’s happening, and that it’s the depression rearing its head, but that doesn’t make it in any way easier to deal with. I subsist, drowning in a black place within myself where all attempts to lift myself up and out simply fail and I float in existential darkness and sadness for as long as it takes. There’s no “cause” or “thought” that triggers these periods of depression. They just come. And remain, for however long.

I’ve been in that place for around a week now. It’s all I’ve been able to do to function normally. I slept most of last weekend away, only emerging from the house to clean the long drive (during which I managed to hurt my knees and have an osteoarthritic flare up). I’ve just wanted nothing more than to sleep the time away, which I’m fully aware is hardly fair on Pogo, but when I’m in that black place, I just can’t seem to climb my way out. I know other people who suffer from depression experience exactly the same thing, so I know I’m not alone. It doesn’t help though, when you’re in that place. You feel so dreadfully alone and shut off from everyone and everything. It’s almost like exterior life is muffled and distant. I’ve been walking around work probably looking like I was in a bad mood when, really, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. During that period last week only one person saw that something wasn’t quite right and asked me if I was ok. It meant a great deal to me. I’d never impose myself on anyone usually, so the fact that someone noticed really touched me. It didn’t take the depression away, but I was profoundly grateful that someone reached out to me, for all that I smiled at them and assured them I was fine.

Yesterday was desperately hard. I was close to breaking down in tears all day, and felt like I was coming apart at the seams. The blackness of the feelings felt unendurable. When I got home, I tried to be happy for Pogo’s sake, but at one point, standing holding and cuddling her with tears pouring down my face, I knew I was in a desperate place and had to do something, anything to try and lift it. That was actually a first for me. Perhaps I’ve come a lot further along my journey than I I’d suspected I had, because, I just knew I had to try and make some sort of leap or I would be in desperate trouble. So I decided to do something kind for myself. I’m well overweight, but last night for probably the first time ever I chose to do something that always usually makes me guilty, given the way people view already overweight people. It was just a simple act of giving myself something nice to eat and being kind to myself. So I ordered my favourite pizza and poured a glass of wine and consciously sat and enjoyed it. Only one glass of wine, because both my parents were alcoholics and I’ve always been aware and afraid that I could go down that path too, and I just won’t do that to myself.

So I sat on the floor, watched a program I also enjoy, however dorky – BBC’s Bargain Hunt – and slowly and deliberately ate and enjoyed my pizza and wine, with Pogo for company, scratching her back as and when she asked for it. I just sat and was, demanding nothing of myself at all. And after a while the terrible feelings became just a little lighter. Not much, but enough that I knew I’d shifted something, even if just a little, and I would make it through another day and survive until this particular bout has passed.

I share this because I think it’s important for people to know that living with depression is a very real and often very painful reality. In the past I’ve had people tell me to “pull your socks up and get on with it”, or suggest I go see a counsellor (both of which are bound to make someone with depression feel even worse, if that’s possible), when all that I really need is for someone to simply just listen to me. Not say anything, just listen. So there it is. I’m very tired today, but also today I feel that I can go on, and that tomorrow will be a little better, and so will the day after, until this particular bout has passed.

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LONG HARD SLOG OF WINTER

So I’m currently holding at 18 kilos lost. While by and large I’ve stayed on plan, I’m finding it very difficult to slog my way through a wet and cold winter without resorting to comfort food.  I’ve been constantly ill for weeks, including a week of work lost last week due to illness.  Beyond the fact I really wasn’t very hungry at all during the day time, at night I just wasn’t feeling up to preparing a meal for myself, so I ordered pizza to be delivered on three nights.  This included garlic bread and on one occasion those lovely yummy little caramel shots that Pizza Hut do.  Pure comfort food.  Also, cheese pizzas so that Pogo could enjoy a taste as well seeing she goes absolutely bananas when the pizza man arrives.

 In the past I would have felt a lot of frustration at having done that and knowing it’s “not good for me”. This time around I’ve found peace in accepting that I was sick, and that it really was just fine to have something comforting to eat for dinner.  Different thought process.  I’m learning a lot.

 I visited my doctor early last week. It wasn’t the best of visits really, because I was feeling so under the weather.  To compound the lack of wonderfulness felt at this time, we discovered my blood pressure, in spite of the medication for hypertension, remains sky high at 177; a blood test done the Saturday prior revealed my cholesterol has again climbed to a high 7; oh, and I’m deficient in Vitamin D.  Go me.  However, the positive thing to come out of all that was that given I’ve been eating nothing but healthy and non-fat foods since January, my cholesterol issues seem to be tied to either genetic makeup or stress.  So that was interesting.  The overall outcome was more medication and the doctor packing me off him to get lots of rest and to recover.

 This week I’m still not entirely hungry, but having a normal breakfast, a banana for lunch and a hearty and healthy soup for dinner. I’m well pleased with that, although the craving for comfort food is constant.

 It is a slog at the moment, but I think I’m doing pretty well all things considered. I’m now wearing some nice winter clothes I haven’t been able to wear for several years, including a couple of coats I really like, and slacks that I just love and are so comfortable.

CHALLENGES ALONG THE WAY

It’s over three months since I started this journey. I’m almost at the 15 kilos loss mark, and I’m feeling really good. Over Easter I gave myself permission to enjoy some hot cross buns, chocolate and other assorted goodies, with interesting results. First thing was to shift my mind set away from the thought that I was being “naughty”. Isn’t that what we all tell ourselves time and again when we “fall off the diet wagon”? I always have. So, not this time. I decided to have the things I have always enjoyed, but in moderation, and to savour them. Loved the hot cross buns. Yum. Also, the Darrell Lea strawberry licorice is really, really good. Chocolate – well, chocolate has always been my number one comfort food. This time around I found chocolate overly sweet and not entirely to my taste. It was easy to stop after Easter. However, I still had to deal with the sugar cravings/addiction again for nearly a week. They’ve died down now and I’m enjoying all the eating that doesn’t include sugar.

So, we’re now well and truly into colder weather. Now, I love salads. I could eat them until the cows come home. I’ve discovered however that in winter/colder weather they just don’t cut it. The human system really isn’t designed to eat salad leaves over winter. We crave warm, filling and satisfying comfort food. It’s probably a part of the strategy of the human system to keep itself warm over the colder part of the year, hailing right back to the stone age. Last weekend I spent the weekend ravenous, trying to eat what I have been eating since January. But I was hungry. Pretty much, all I could think about was food, the entire weekend. I was craving carbs like you wouldn’t believe. Still had what has been my normal stuff, but I knew I needed to work out things I could eat that were warm, satisfying and filling without actually being full of carbs and unhealthy stuff.

I love (and I mean I really, really love) mashed potato, especially over winter. Was there a substitute I could have for that which was still healthy, but nevertheless filling and comforting? Yes there was. Cauliflower. So I cooked up some cauliflower and broccoli and made it into a mash, with just a little garlic added. I had it the other night with a Sanitarium Veggie Not Burger. Delicious. I’ll be having that a lot more, and trying other things with it, like adding a bit of Parmesan or cinnamon. Soups – I’ve started having cups of low cal and low sugar soup and apple for lunch, because seriously, an apple and a handful of almonds just don’t cut it when you’re sitting huddled over your desk freezing because the aircon is set to Antarctic conditions. You need something warm. It’s taken a bit of searching to locate some sachets of soup that don’t have much in the way of sugar or salt or kilojoules, but I was successful. Also, sachets of Japanese miso soup are a good stop-gap, although I wouldn’t recommend having them frequently as they are loaded to the gunnels with salt.

Not normally having much in the way of lunch (I do have a filling breakfast though), today to celebrate a friend’s birthday I had chilli prawns with linguini and spinach leaves. Unlike many other restaurant portions, it was a refreshingly modest size, but still filling. Tonight I’ll have my yummy tuna with red onion and a little aioli with crackers. Nom.

So now I’m adjusting to changing over to food for winter that’s not only good for me, but satisfying and filling. So far, so good.

The first 10

So as of this week I’ve lost 10 kilos.  Last week I had a little blow out given it was my birthday, and I feel just fine about that.  Went right back on it the next day.  All my work clothes are getting somewhat loose, and my slacks/jeans/trousers are all saggy and requiring constant hitching up.  I decided that for every 10 kilo milestone reached I would treat myself to something really  nice.  So this morning I got myself a pair of jeans in the next size down. 

I went to the doctor a week ago, and my systolic BP had gone from 180 to 152, so both of us were well pleased.  I love that I have more energy, and I know my osteoarthritic back and knees are thanking me profusely.  Still eating pretty much what I have been since I started this thing, and looking forward to my salad with half a batard tonight.  Coles here have a new quinoa salad that is to die for, with a little yoghurt and coriander dressing.  I’ll get that for Sunday lunch. 

Once the weather cools off, Pogo will be experiencing the benefit of a me with more energy too, because we’ll be going walkies early in the morning.  That girl, like all dogs, just loves her walkies.  She’s not at all a fan of the heat though – and neither am I.  Bring on the winter. 

On doing without (processed) sugar

So, for very good reasons, mostly related to health, on 20 January I went cold turkey and cut processed sugar completely out of my food choices.  I also started eating only healthy foods, including more fruit, nuts, salads etc.  You’ll note I never mentioned the word diet.  Because this isn’t a diet.  It’s a lifestyle choice.  I’ve been a yo-yoing dieter all my life with varying degrees of success.  I put weight on, then after a while I try to get it off.  It comes off – then I eventually put it on again, and then some.  It got to the point, that the last time I went to my doctor, after sitting 30 minutes in the waiting room, and she took my BP, it was 180.  180 was my resting Systolic BP.  It frightened me.  I was also heavier than I’ve ever been in my life, and I knew it.  I was tired all the time, had to stop and catch my breath any time I was walking anywhere and overall, I just didn’t feel good.

I asked my doctor if she would be my monthly check-in/sounding board, and she readily agreed.   I knew (and know) for this to succeed I needed for this to come entirely from within, with no reliance on “programmes” or other people for support.  If I do that, I know I’m setting myself up for failure.  The first thing I had to do was start turning my thinking around so that I wasn’t depriving myself of anything or punishing myself, I was actually and actively nurturing myself by eating healthily.   I knew also that if I saw this as merely a campaign to lose weight, I was setting myself up for failure.  The scales had to be a now and then step, not a frequent step.  This isn’t about weight so much as it is teaching myself a new way of living. 

The second thing was to give some thought to how I wanted to proceed with this.  I sat down and did a lot of thinking about strategies and reasoning.  Initially I thought I would return to a method that had worked in the past – the Kate Morgan programme.  However, while this had worked in the past, and I had lost a lot of weight, I put it all back on once I came off the programme.  So, meal replacements weren’t the answer.  At least, not the whole answer. 

My strategy turned out to be something I really hadn’t considered in the past.  Cutting processed sugar completely from my diet for one thing.  I’m a comfort eater, and respond to any emotions that I perceive as negative (anger, depression, sadness etc.) by consuming sweet things.  Lots and lots of sweet things.  That had to stop.  I’ve also had this weird thing where there’s a part of me that thinks it can hide deep inside the fat surrounding me.  Nope, that really doesn’t work, although a part of me instinctively sought that barrier. 

Ok, so the processed sugar went.  (Not fruit – entirely different kind of sugar, and an important and necessary part of anyone’s eating regime).  The first week my mood was toxic as I went into withdrawal.  If you don’t think sugar is addictive, think again.  Try going completely without it for a week.  You’ll see what I mean.  After that though my mood evened out, my energy highs and lows through the day stayed stable and weren’t all over the place.  I started NOT craving sweet things, and in fact now I don’t even have the inclination or urge for anything sweet.  That however is not to say that I won’t eat anything sweet in the future.  I will from time to time, because life would be joyless without the pleasure of a piece of birthday cake, etc.

Bread for the most part also went out the window.  I’ll have a little, now and then, but not very much.  Pasta – I probably have two pasta dishes a fortnight.  And I watch the portions.  Where before I would have a fairly large bowl of pasta, now I monitor myself to see if I’m still hungry, and stop eating at halfway – the rest goes away for the next night’s dinner.  Lunch is an apple or other piece of fruit with a handful of almonds or other nuts.  Dinner at the moment, given it’s very hot, I have the above-mentioned past sometimes, but mostly I have one of those Coles Mediterranean salads with either a Sanitarium product as Veggie Delights – not Burgers, or their Lentil Patties, or half a batard. Another fave at the moment is a little mix of two small cans of light tuna in spring water, finely diced onion and a little organic garlic aioli with a few water crackers. Delicious, filling and very, very light. Where in the past I would consume up to two small bottles of Sprite (do you KNOW how much sugar is in those drinks?), I now take my water bottle and fill it with cold filtered water at work. At home I drink soda water.  I also drink green tea.  I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly four years now, and I know that’s making this process so much easier for me.

I’ve lost 7 kilos thus far, and my clothes are starting to get baggy, which is nice.  It’s not the main reason for doing this, but it’s a pleasing side-effect.  I have much more energy and don’t have to stop to catch my breath any more.  I feel good in myself.  And I’m happy.  It’s a nice feeling.

I like this part of my journey. 

All good, and often great, things come to an end

Pogo has been a member of Dogster since mid 2007.  Dogster has been pure gift for dog lovers.  It has been a place for celebrating our beloved dogs, mourning their losses as they leave for the Rainbow Bridge, fun, learning, and above all, friendship with wonderful, like-minded people.  In late January Say Media, who purchased Dogster  around 3 years back, to the liking of not many at all, announced they would be closing the community side of Dogster.  Well, the community side of Dogster IS Dogster.  They intend retaining the magazine, which is not in the slightest worth retaining.  They have let a once amazing site run down, never working to upgrade it, and now, the end result is they are cutting out the very heart, life and soul of Dogster.  It is sad and beyond disappointing.  In the meantime, members are scrambling to find a new home.  I personally feel like a part of me is being cut out.