By Dina Oketch
Christmas has just gone, followed by the New Year and now Valentine’s Day is looming. If you’re anything like me you’re probably cringing and thinking of beautiful ways you’ll escape the incessant commercial campaigns for the ‘lover’s day’. I agree that Valentine’s Day can be a useful event for couples who ritualise in order to keep a happy relationship – however I do believe that it distorts the idea of unconditional love, replacing love with huge momentous gestures that devalue the essence of love itself.
This article is not about Valentine’s Day, instead it is about how my friend Leah is finding ways to cope with depression after a failed relationship. Leah’s story is not unique in the sense that broken relationships are not new phenomena – but the depression that sprung out of it is essentially the bigger problem that must be addressed. Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days, everyone sometimes goes through spells of feeling down, but when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days.
For Leah Valentine’s Day will be sore, but she’s amassed coping strategies for moments when she might feel really blue. Remember that every person that suffers depression is very unique, if you think you are depressed it is important that you consult your doctor to determine a personal strategy for managing the illness. Although this list Leah discussed with me may be helpful, it should not be used as a diagnostic tool or indeed as fact for dealing with your own depression.
- When you can’t hold it in, let it out: “When life was good, I don’t remember ever needing to ‘purge’ emotionally, not the way I do now anyway. Sometimes depression can take you places where you lose yourself to a shamed personality you won’t recognise. The anger, rage or intensity of aching sadness is nothing I could articulate clearly to anyone – it overwhelms and terrifies me. The decision to seek help with my depression became urgent when I, for no apparent reason, threw a bottle of wine across the room against a wall upon which it broke. I was alone at the time and was terrified that I felt so out of control as my anger unfolded. I thereafter started to see my counsellor who has been tremendous help. Through my counselling sessions I’ve learnt so much about my own depression. I’ve learnt that talking is the most difficult for me to do and took up journaling as an alternative. My counsellor and I call it the ‘purging journal’; it helps to have a sense of humour about things.”
- Have at least one ‘conscious check’ in the day to gauge how sad you are feeling: “I found that at times I could go on for days feeling treacherously depressed and exhausted. Those were the days before I sought help; I locked myself indoors and could never bring myself to talk to anybody. I’ve now learnt that though these episodes may occur from time to time, it’s really important for me to stop and check how I’m feeling. The advice I got was to learn to recognise when I had gone past the ‘threshold mark’ of my depressed state which my counsellor and I determined for me. So when I’d feel completely beyond this, I would promptly call ‘Talking Space Oxfordshire’, a UK national health depression referral service. This is often a challenge, but I’m learning to give it a chance. Other times I’d call my neighbour who now knows my condition and we’d go on long silent walks down the Oxford canal.”
- Use quotes that mean something to you to cheer you up or to refocus you: “Using inspirational quotes have been the most focusing tool for immediately bringing my focus back to reality. I put post-it notes all over the back of my bedroom door as well as particular places in my house like at the top of the stairs and on the fridge door in the kitchen. I also keep a small note book where I write new ones that I come across. Admittedly I don’t respond to quotes the same way all the time, sometimes I read an inspiring quote and it helps re-centre me, other times I feel disconnected so having a selection helps.”
- Listen to music that elevates your mood: “From the start of therapy my counsellor helped me understand the power of environmental factors in either improving or diminishing my depression. Music was a subject we talked about at length because for me, music has always defined my past in one form or another. I have always been a Paul McCartney and a ‘Beatles’ fan and when I’m feeling ‘out of sorts’ I default to ‘Let It Be’, which is my favourite track of all time.”
- Engross yourself into work or hobby: “I’ve been unemployed since pretty much the day my ex broke off our engagement. Finding a hobby in which to completely immerse myself was my counsellor’s idea – which would help me engage with my surroundings as well as distract me from focusing on my negative state of mind. It took a while to find something new, my old hobbies meant nothing anymore plus I was exhausted mentally trying to think of potentials. I really didn’t want to do anything like this but through much help from my counsellor; I found the ukulele which I have come to love and joined my local ukulele workshop. It’s challenging to play the right chords, but I’m gradually learning and hope I can stick with it”.
- Showing love and humanity to the less fortunate: “In the last two years of my depression the idea of love has become, for me, something alien. I consciously resist romantic advances basically because am still angry and sad about my broken relationship. I realise it’ll take time to heal – I want to be better – I don’t want to remain in this rut for any longer than I need to so although I resist romantic love, I want to feel and show love of an overall compassionate nature. I’d started thinking of getting a dog, when instead by sheer accident I met and befriended Wendy – a homeless lady from the streets of Oxford. She’s the loveliest, well-spoken, and intelligent woman I have ever met. She’s been homeless for over 12 years for reasons I resist to probe because our ad hoc coffee and tea meetings are merely for idle chats about radio programmes and the city of Oxford. I believe Wendy and I are kindred spirits – we never talk about the things that bother us. She never talks about her homelessness, in fact the only time it came up in conversation was on our first meeting when I asked her a little about herself and told her a little about me. I always feel better after our coffee chats. I know she appreciates having someone to talk to and I do too. Our talks are one of the medicines for my soul.”