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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Friday, 5 October 2012

A challenge too far

I've been struggling a bit lately, which you might have picked up on from my recent (lack of) posts. I was chatting to a friend (who happens to be a counsellor) about my sense of paralysis when faced with a to-do list and she said, You know, that sounds like depression. Of course it is! Why didn't I see that before?

I've had depression before and while this is a lot milder than my previous episode - I haven't found myself rocking gently and wishing the whole world would go away and leave me alone - there are some similar symptoms. For a start, my brain isn't working properly. It was a relief to realise this is due to depression - I'd thought it was getting rusty from under-use, what with giving up my job and all. Then there are the more obvious things like not being able to face tasks that I really should be able to manage, and not having any enthusiasm for things I enjoy. I didn't feel like picking up a crochet hook for months.

It's also fairly obvious to me why I have depression now. When I had it before it was the result of stress and in spite of the New Life, I've had a few stresses over the last couple of years. Going back eighteen months or so, I was attempting to be treasurer for a large club and failing. Failing badly. That drove me to the edge of a nervous breakdown, or possibly over the edge - I'm not sure where you draw the line. Luckily a good friend and fellow committee member spotted the signs and phoned me up to say, Would you like me to make it all go away? I wanted nothing more in the world, and I remain very grateful to those who picked up the pieces and sorted out the mess that I left.

Moving forwards to roughly this time last year, there was the heating project, then in February an even more stressful ten days helping my dad get a house in Cornwall ready for sale. The final stages of the heating project, the insulation, was unfinished when I left for Cornwall and has remained so ever since, so I have that hanging over me (or not, as the case may be. Things that should have stayed up, fell down.) More recently I've tackled the Wild West Wales project. It wasn't so much rewriting the website that freaked me out - though that was a pretty big challenge in itself - but the financial side, which reminded me too much of my failure as treasurer.

Although I faced up to that challenge and looked the bank account demons squarely in the eye, it took a lot out of me. There was an initial buzz of having achieved something, but since then I haven't felt able to face anything very much.

Knowing that this is depression is very helpful. For a start, it means that various other things are not the problem. It's not the case that my brain's going rusty from lack of use. It's not the case that the new life really isn't that great once the novelty's worn off. It's just depression. It's an illness I've had before and recovered from, and with the right management, I can recover from it this time too.

I say management rather than treatment because that feels like a more appropriate word. Treatment implies a separation from the rest of my life - there's the problem, there's the treatment, apply treatment and problem will go away - whereas depression invades everything. What I need to do is manage my life so that I can recover from it. Susie at Useless Beauty wrote some excellent tips for dealing with depression. I find number 1 particularly useful - small achievable goals are good, large goals of which half may get finished are no help at all.

At the same time, some specific treatments are worth including. I've always had problems with the shorter days in winter. It's the reducing light levels that get to me, especially around the equinox, as well as the lack of light in midwinter. On sunny days I can (and must) get outside, but a lot of the time it looks like this:


There's a view out there somewhere.

On days like this, there is an alternative. For several years I've been trying to tell myself I'm over the SAD and been meaning to get rid of the daylight lamp, but didn't get round to it so I was able to dig it out of the loft and start using it again (and by the way, if I was better at decluttering, I'd be looking at spending a couple of hundred pounds to replace that).


I got Ian to help me dismantle the spare bed so there's space to use the room for things other than sleeping.

As you'll see in the picture above, I've started knooking/crocheting again. This is a good sign as I'm obviously starting to get better already. If I can just fend off the seasonal blues and avoid any challenges that are too big for the time being, then I should make it through winter ready for a new start next spring.

To cheer you up after all that, here's a gratuitous photo of a cute small child:


My niece introduces me to one of her favourite trees.


Edit: After I posted a link to this on facebook, friends offered various pieces of useful advice that I know, but had failed to include here. As they might be useful to other people, here they are:

1. Exercise is probably the best treatment for depression. It doesn't have to be strenuous to be worthwhile, even a ten minute walk is worth doing.
2. Eat and sleep well. The second of these is harder to control than the first. Don't beat yourself up if you can't sleep, but try to give yourself the best chance.
3. Take notice of beautiful things, which is another way of saying count your blessings. They're there, but we often overlook them. Look out for them and pay attention so they register in your conscious awareness.
4. Alcohol is bad for depression. If I had any sense I would have stopped drinking (at least temporarily) by now, but I haven't.

If the first two of these feel like far too much effort, it's probably time to talk to your doctor and consider drugs (your doctor may have other suggestions, too). I am wary of this option unless things are really bad. I've taken antidepressants before and they did help, but they also have a lot of side effects and I still have restless leg syndrome to this day, more than ten years since I stopped taking the drug. No, I don't know how that works either.

18 comments:

  1. Although I always think that I quite like this time of year (crunchy leaves, warm jumpers, Chistmas etc) I've found motivation to do any household tasks much harder to find since the days have started to draw in...perhaps I need to investigate SAD a bit more...

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    1. Ironically, I love this time of year. Maybe it's because the bright days give me such a lift in comparison to the dull ones... I don't know. I'm not sure it makes sense, but autumn is my favourite time of year in spite of the SAD.

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    2. I used to like autumn because it was going back to school time, which meant new stationery and a fresh start with new and interesting things to learn. Since uni, this is no long the case, but I still get excited about autumn. It's partly that I like the change in seasons, I think, because I also like spring.
      A sunny autumn day when all of the leaves are changing is pretty spectacular.

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    3. Yes... all those things... yes!

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  2. Oh Rachel, I'm so sorry you're going through all this, but I must say I can totally relate. When I first quit my job I thought that life would be nothing but broad expanses of time, and I'd finally be able to accomplish all the things that I never had time for when I was working. But somehow, the list of things to do just becomes endless, and it's so, so, SO easy to bite off more than you can chew, and end up feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed.

    Although I hate to admit it, it was really hard for me to adjust to the lack of structure in my life. While I absolutely HATED living in the world of pressure and deadlines - at least it provided a certain sense of accomplishment and focus. I'd have to work my ass off to finish some grant proposal, or a catalog, or whatever the project was, but then there would be a sense of relief and conclusion when it was done.

    Once I was on my own, it just felt like I was living in a muddled world where nothing was EVER "done," and there was no clear delineation between work and rest. I can't count the number of times I've said to myself "But I don't even have a job, how come I'm so overwhelmed?"

    So I totally agree about the small, achievable projects thing, and I also think that it's really, REALLY important to set aside time that is dedicated for rest and recreation. Because if I don't do that, I'll end up spending lots of time not really doing anything, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking "I should be doing this, and that and the other thing" and then I don't feel like I've rested, and I don't feel like I've accomplished anything, I just feel more stress!

    Anyhow, hang in there and please know that I'm pullin' for you!

    xoxoxo,
    Cat

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    1. Good point about structure...my only experience of this was long holidays during uni...I dudn't do very much, because there were such vast expanses of time stretching ahead that I had no feeling of urgency about anything. I did feel pretty crap about doing nothing, which didn't help really...

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    2. I had quite a lot of freedom to manage my own projects when I had a paid job, so the lack of structure is nothing new. I also have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew, and that's nothing new, either. I totally recognize those days where nothing gets done but I don't feel rested either. I do try to make a decision at the start of each day about what I want to achieve, or whether I'm going to take the day off. It doesn't always happen, though.

      Thanks for being there :-)

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  3. I'm sorry to hear that you're being visited by the Black Dog. It's no fun at all, and I understand that it's very hard to think past your current overwhelmedness. When I was in that place I used to keep telling myself "it will not always be like this", and I was of course right. That is a powerful thought to hold onto, and it helped me a lot.
    I have recently left the world of full-time employment and am taking time to adjust to this new way of living. Of course I veer between being blissed out at never setting my alarm clock and feeling like a waste of space because I sometimes go all day without doing anything that anyone else would consider "useful". I am battling this last prejudice very hard, but fear that it will take a lot to beat it.
    If it's any consolation to you (and EcoCatLady) at all, the examples set by you both are of great inspiration to me, newcomer as I am to the path that you have both been treading so elegantly and inspirationally. So thank you, and hang on it there - it will get better.
    Cathy

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    1. "This too shall pass" - a powerful thought indeed, and one I've been holding on to. It's easier now I know what I'm dealing with - it's an illness that I can recover from rather than a rational response to life.

      It's nice to be an inspiration, especially when I'm feeling like a failure (though I know that's not rational). I'm such a newcomer myself. Come join us on this wobbly path and we'll explore the ups and downs together!

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  4. Oh dear - so sorry you're having a rough time of it, Rachel. I did wonder where you had gone... Super big well done for actually writing this. I find it hard enough to knuckle down to blog at the best of times at the mo.

    I recognise a lot of what you write and though I don't think I'm depressed as such at the moment (though I sure have been in the past), the overwhelming nature of the 'things to do list' does get to me, especially (like you) on days like today when it's been raining solidly for three days and can do nothing of the six hundred things I can do myself outside (which is a small fraction of the things that need doing that I can't do on my own). Never mind the things inside which get in the way of the things I want to do / feel I need to do to preserve some kind of sense of myself... writing / blogging etc (that I then eschew in favour of reading the Guardian online and ALL the Comment Is Free pages, because that's so much more life affirming and fulfilling. Oh hang on...)

    It's the sense of helplessness, I s'pose... And I'm on my own quite a bit which I don't think necessarily helps. Much as I love being here it's not easy and very different from our previous life (in which I had a few close friends at hand). And I think when you give up work, whatever you did before and for whatever reason you gave it up there's always going to be this pressure (from yourself AS WELL as the scrutiny of some folk who frankly should mind their own beeswax) to actually come up with the goods (whatever they might be). Very easy to be hard on oneself, which just leads to more kind of floundering / further erosion of confidence, I have found anyway.

    I hope things get easier for you soon (as you say 'this too will pass'). Sarah x

    (And I completely love this time of year too, despite it generally being a complete pain in the arse.)

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    1. Hi Sarah, it's nice to hear from you. Guardian CIF... oh so true!
      I am over the worst of it by now, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to get this blog post written. I'm just hoping the shortening days don't push me back down again.

      The pressure to come up with the goods is certainly there, but I try to resist it. I think my decision earlier this year not to worry about the garden was the right one. People may look a bit stunned when they ask how the garden's doing and I say, "I've given up this year" (actually, that's only non-gardeners. Those with gardens understand completely) but that's better than fretting about dismal crops.

      Now, enough of looking at this computer. There are two jobs I don't want to do that are fairly urgent. Paperwork is prompting my inner voice to whimper in a corner, whereas checking the loft insulation is met with, "Don't be such a wuss - just do it." (internal dialogue is normal, right?) Looks like I'll being going up to the loft today.

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  5. In retrospect, I think the two winters that I spent in the UK were the hardest I've lived through -- the days were just so short and so dark, compared to California winters. If I hadn't had the carrot of going home dangling in front of me each time, I'm not sure how I would have coped. I think it's great you've identified what you're dealing with and seem to have a really supportive network. Hang in there!

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    1. Oh gosh, it's hard enough getting through British winters having grown up here. I can't imagine what it would be like coming from California.

      I love your recent blog post about the little stuff, but... you put milk in your tea before the boiling water? That's just wrong!

      Thanks for your comment :-)

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  6. Hi, just found your blog and I LOVE it! Sorry to read that things are difficult for you at the moment. I'm a stranger so I won't offer any advice but I will say HANG IN THERE! reading your posts you sound like a really nice, honest person, so just know there are people out there sending you happy vibes hope you feel better already ( since this post was a little while ago) or soon if Welsh winters are still living upto their reputation!

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    1. Aw, thank you :-)

      I am hanging in there - I know it will get better, but possibly not until spring. I'm just about keeping things ticking over (noting my previous comment here, loft insulation now done, paperwork still ignored) and trying not to feel guilty about the bigger stuff that's not happening. It can wait.

      That sounds a lot more negative than I feel. I'm not really OK, but I don't feel unhappy. Just don't ask me to do anything difficult and I'm fine.

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  7. Hi Rachel
    Recently came across your site. Like it a lot. Reading backwards.

    Perhaps you are feeling bad because you are working too hard. I am a woman and I wonder how you can do the kind of work that other woman cannot. Working on the attic ceiling alone and falling, Oh dear dear!!! Climbing up the roof and up the side of chimneys on wet cold days!

    You are working too hard at things which are beyond your strength. There are some things which strong men can do easily but which will take us (women) a looong time and a debilitating amount of effort to complete.

    I, too, will become paralysed at just the thought of the work if I set myself those types of projects.

    All the best.

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    1. Hi Mirianne,

      Nice to hear from you, I'm glad you like the blog.

      You're probably right that I push myself beyond my strength, but it's a question of fitness - mental and physical - not gender. On average, men are stronger than women, but that doesn't mean that every man is stronger than every woman (in the same way that not every man is taller than every woman). It's true that a strong man would be able to do these things more easily than me, but then so would a strong woman. I know some women who are much stronger and fitter than me, and I'm no weakling. There's a reason that when our car gets stuck, I'm the one who gets out to push: Ian's a better driver than me and I'm stronger!

      That said, I do tend to overestimate my abilities and take on so much that I end up overwhelmed. It's important for me to learn my limits and not push them too hard. On the other hand, pushing at the limits a little is good for us - it's how we grow.

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