Not so long ago, one Saturday early in the morning, I went over to The Dude’s house as I always do. As I parked the car, after a typical search for a hard-to-find parking space, I could feel anger rising in me. The symptoms and signs were well known to me, like annoying neighbours who get up before you in the morning and use your bathroom. These have ASBOs and serious attitude, and I feel them long before I meet them. My feelings of anger in those days leading to that Saturday seemed inexorable, a juggernaut unstoppable once started, inescapable. A storm was about to hit town and there was nothing anyone could do, least of all me, but sit tight and take cover. The slightest thing such as a lack of parking spaces, or a broken toy, or anything that could irk me would irk me. And not only that, the annoyance would layer up. It would be like The Dude’s Lego building up on top of the previous angst. They interlocked and formed a wall of negativity. I used to feel this wall surrounded me, smothered me. I couldn’t think because I simply wasn’t thinking. That Saturday a storm broke over my little boy, and I knew something had to be done.
The Dude knows about my depression. I’ve discussed it with him. He knows my mood can swing dramatically. He knows, because he’s seen it. Most of the time he rides it out like a seasoned salty seadog. That Saturday was the worst I had been in quite some time. It was at the tail of a rather up and down period for me, with my lowest points spent sending sideways glances over the parapet of Rochester Bridge. The anger and visions of self-destruction I dealt with once before through CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), so I had the skills to challenge them. However, my current wave of depression was part of a long, drawn-out ‘night’. In short, my mind had developed immunity to the systems I employed through CBT training. Whatever I did, didn’t seem to be working. All I could do was identify the issues, the feelings, my moods, and understand where they had come from. I couldn’t circumvent and neutralise them.
A friend sent me a book on Mindfulness. With things being so bad inside my head and body, I thought ‘Let’s give it a go’. I’m not the world’s fastest reader, but I polished off the volume in about a week. Much of what the author spoke of I’d encountered through CBT, so I understood where he was coming from and, perhaps more importantly, where he was leading me to. The exercises, pure and simple, of clearing your mind and not listening to, or becoming ‘lost’ in, thoughts, being in the ‘here and now’, and restful, cleansing meditation I engaged in, gently at first. I spent ten minutes every morning, timed by my trusty old phone, sitting quietly, patiently listening and feeling. I felt my feelings and the air around me. I listened to my thoughts and acknowledged them, but let them go on their way as I listened to the world moving beyond my bedroom window without judgement.
After a week of Mindfulness, I descended into a curious civil war. I felt intense anxiety and fear, feelings of loss and insecurity smothered, but not overwhelmed, me. I felt them, and analysed them, and decided they stemmed from my mind losing control over me, my person, and having to step with me into the unknown, and be forced to re-write and re-learn everything it/I had previously understood. After two weeks, I noticed that Wednesdays were becoming a serious battleground. I put this down to fatigue, a dip in my energy levels after a positive weekend and then returning to work. At this point my ‘mind’ seemed to be gaining the upper hand as I lapsed on the meditation and negative thoughts roamed the steppe of my mental plain like bandits, or warriors of the Genghis Khan, riding at will and plundering the little hamlets of positivity and creativity growing on the green lands. Again, action needed to be taken and I doubled my efforts, meditating in the morning and evening. In the morning a meditation to wash away sleep and dreams from my inner eyelids, and in the evening to cleanse the dirt of negativity of the day.
Generally, my mood is leaning towards ‘happy’ now, rather than the damn-right, belligerent hatefulness of depression. But I still have moments, quite long ones, where fear and anxiety stab my nerves and burn my scalp like the retreating Imperial Russian forces in the face of Napoleon’s Grande Armee. But I feel those two neighbours are more contained, even when I feel tired or exhausted. The bitterness of life, its little aggravations and antagonisms, mostly don’t bother me. I can feel my blood rise on occasions, but as the flames singe my skin I see this as a pointer to clear my mind, acknowledge the thoughts and not lose myself in them, get back to the ‘here and now’, and just breathe.