The pattern of recovery from depression differs from person to person but there are certain issues that require a little thought and attention. In another post I pointed out that the path to recovery can be somewhat turbulent and rarely follows a smooth trajectory involving increasing wellness. It also involves a number of physical and mental processes to realign themselves and this is something that can’t be rushed.
In his book on depressive illness, the psychiatrist Tim Cantopher makes the point that depression due to stress nearly always happens to one type of person. So convinced is he about these characteristics that he likes to tell his patients about their personalities before they tell him. He points out that they have moral strength, they are reliable, diligent, sensitive, vulnerable to criticism, but they have a strong conscience and sense of responsibility and they tend to focus on the needs of others before their own. They are a safe pair of hands, admired if sometimes taken for granted, and people are surprised when they become ill.
It’s a telling profile and the point of outlining it here is that these same qualities that have conspired to lead you towards depression are still there during your recovery and need to be consciously managed. So, here are a few thoughts on coping, starting with how you feel physically.
During recovery there are often several false dawns. These are days when you feel more energetic and alert than you have for quite some time. It’s important to realise that these are signs of improvement and rather like the sun peeking out from behind a cloud the brightness can quickly subside. There are clues. You may start to look around you and become concerned there is catching up to do. You start working and before too long you feel tired and heavy. The danger is you put this down to your previous lack of activity. Similarly you may start reading reports and emails but you become aware that you’re struggling to hold on to the details. You may be speaking to someone only to realise you can’t recall the subject under discussion. You can’t believe that after just a few minutes you feel tired and so you try to push it aside. In other words your old characteristics, the person you are, is once again trying to burn the fuel it doesn’t have.
Then what happens? Well having ignored the signs by trying to be too dedicated you find yourself back in a 48 hour slump. A better alternative and one that matches your recovery process is to take things slowly. By this I mean, read an email, then stop. Stop for an hour if needed but stop. If you’re dusting surfaces and you feel the signs, then stop. No, don’t tidy things away, stop immediately and and rest up. Go back to the task in an hour or two if you feel inclined but not if you don’t.
Now you may think I’m offering up a recipe for idleness but how can I be? We know the type of person you are and we know that idleness is something you can’t abide. Actually, what I’m suggesting is the most efficient and effective way to cope with your recovery. As you gradually feel more stamina then you can do more. But a word of warning, if you go back to your old ways then you should expect more of the same, so somewhere in your recovery process you need to think about what needs to change.
Cantopher, T (2012) Depressive Illness: the curse of the strong. Sheldon.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.