Depression

Can depression numb your feelings?

As with all my posts, any helpful sites or information I have found through my own research I have linked on this post. The world will be highlighted in blue with a line underneath it. Attached content is not my own but well worth a read. Please feel free to explore these sites for more information.

Do you ever have days where you don’t feel happy, you don’t feel sad, you just feel nothing? A numbness has overcome you and a thought drifts by “Get up, read a book, do some exercise, do something”.

Depression
I drew this a few months ago. I felt like every time I tried to move forward and fight against feeling numb I always had something weighing me down, dragging me back.

You visualise moving your arm or trying to stand up but then feel a weight increasing on you. Your shoulders become tense; your head heavy… too heavy. You need to lay down. The weight forces your eyes closed as you try to resist sleep. Another thought crosses your mind “Don’t sleep, you’re wasting the day. This won’t help, it never does… get up”. For a brief moment you consider listening but that invisible weight pushes you down further. It’s too late now, you’re exhausted and so you lay there. You’re paralysed in the grip of depression with no desire to do anything about it.

A common misconception about depression is that someone who suffers from it just ‘feels sad’. Whilst that may be true for some, that may not be the only way it affects someone. You may feel sad; you may feel angry… or you may feel nothing. This is my experience of depression and for me it is by far the most debilitating. When you feel nothing, you feel no desire to do anything to try and change how you feel.

When you’re angry you may shout, you may hit something. Likewise, when you’re sad you may cry. You have more desire and energy to do something about how you feel as you’re feeling it quite intensely and want it to stop. You may reach out to someone to talk or express yourself through a creative project, such as a drawing (or writing a blog!). However, when you feel numb there is no outlet. There is no driving emotion pushing you to do something about how you feel, there is just nothing.

I have lost countless days to feeling nothing and just waiting to go to sleep. Going on social media to distract myself from boredom, putting on a mind-numbing show I really have no attention span for. Just waiting until I can fall asleep and go through the same routine the next day. It’s uncomfortable, but you end up feeling so crippled by feeling tired that you can’t do anything.

I don’t think everyone starts off by feeling numb, but rather it creeps up on you when you continuously cycle through feeling low. Looking back for me, I can see it came through habit, through routine. I would choose to indulge in an easy activity which didn’t require me to think much, such as playing a video game instead of challenging myself or working toward a goal. I would then feel bad for not doing anything productive.

Initially this wouldn’t last for long; I would feel low but then bounce back to feeling like my normal self. However, the more I chose the easy option, the harder it would get and the longer it would take for me to bounce back. Then the feelings of guilt and sadness started to become overwhelming, so I would try to distance myself from them. I would distract myself by going on social media or binge watching a TV show. I was opening the door and welcoming in the numbness. Then, before I knew it, numbness had become an unwelcome guest in my home. When I would ask it to leave, I would see sadness lurking behind it and waiting to come back in. I would immediately slam the door shut and ask numbness to once again take a seat.

The cycle of feeling numb continued for months on end, each time getting worse and worse until I just couldn’t deal with it anymore. I uninstalled Facebook on my phone, I prevented myself from watching any video game streamers online and I sat there in bed and let myself think. Then, sadness slowly creeped back in and I found myself in tears not knowing why I was crying. I felt awful, but this needed to happen. I needed to feel something. After about half an hour of crying, I switched on my laptop and started looking up why I felt so numb and began my journey with my fight against depression.

I’d like to say “from that day I was cured, I realised that I needed to feel to make myself do something about my situation” but that wasn’t true. It made me realise that I couldn’t carry on feeling nothing. I had to take away the things that made me feel numb and it was tough. Some days I succeeded and felt like crap, some days I succeeded and felt good, and others I gave in and fell back into my routine which led me to feeling numb. It’s still a daily challenge for me now, but there is definitely progress from this time last year.

Today I woke up feeling low, so I jumped on a video game to make me feel better. However, I knew in my mind that it wasn’t what I should be doing. However, I spent half a day playing it and to top it off, I ordered a Dominos which made me feel awful as I am trying to eat better. The numbness very quickly came creeping back in when I started to feel horrible, it is well versed in knowing when to take over my mind.

However, I stopped it from taking any further hold as I knew where this road went. I couldn’t write my blog, I felt far too tired, so I went outside to sit in the sun and listened to an audio book (too tired to physically read a book so listening was the next best thing!). After about an hour of doing that, I turned on my laptop and wrote this blog post. I then took a break and did a workout outside which was a goal I’d set myself to do yesterday. I may have messed up half the day, but I wasn’t prepared to let the whole day be a write off.

This discipline that I’m working on developing came from firstly recognising my patterns. Understanding what was leading me to feel numb. Secondly, I tried and ‘failed’ a countless number of times with breaking that pattern. Initially it’s very demotivating when you fail as you feel like you’re back to square one, however you’re not. You’ve gained experience from trying and failing today, and tomorrow that will be in your head. You may win or you may lose tomorrows fight, it’s different for everyone, but what’s important is to recognise that you are trying and remember those failures. You can learn from them.

Historically as soon as I felt numb that would be it, the day was written off. However today, for the first time, I fought it off. I let myself feel and allowed myself time to work through that by choosing something easier to do but was still a goal I had for myself: to read more books… listening still counts!

I’ve learnt a lot over the last year and progression doesn’t always seem apparent, but as long as you are trying, and you are remembering those failures (even if they hurt) and are learning from them then you are progressing forward.

Recognise your pattern.

Fight against those thoughts keeping you locked in your pattern, they are not who you are.

Keep fighting, you will overcome them.

Self Reflection

Distractions

As with all of my posts, any helpful sites or information I have found through my own research I have linked on this post. The word will be highlighted in blue with a line underneath it. Attached content is not my own but well worth a read as it’s all good ideas. Please feel free to explore these sights for more information.
Hanzo
A drawing of one of my favourite Overwatch characters, Hanzo. Instagram theartofbeinghappy_drawing

I’ve always enjoyed playing video games and a few years ago I started playing a game called Overwatch. When the game first came out, I sank hours of my day into it and really enjoyed playing. However, after about year or so of playing I noticed I had started to enjoy the game less. It had become very repetitive and I decided I needed to spend some time doing some other hobbies so I could come back to playing Overwatch feeling fresh. However, when I tried to do another hobby such as drawing or reading, I found myself feeling very tired.

I remember thinking to myself that I probably just hadn’t had enough sleep, so I switched back to playing Overwatch so I had something to do until it was time for bed. The next day I woke up feeling very fresh, I had made sure I had gotten a good night’s sleep and I tried to draw again. I started to think about what I wanted to draw but I couldn’t decide; should I draw something for fun or something that would be popular if I posted it online? After about half an hour I decided to draw something that would get lots of likes online, but then came the question of what that would be.

Fast forward an hour and I had put down my drawing pad, having drawn nothing and laid down in bed feeling exhausted. I switched on my PS4, booted up Overwatch and played that for the rest of my evening. Every time I tried to do something new or different from Overwatch, I had a similar experience and ended up feeling tired or falling asleep.

For me, I found it very stressful that I couldn’t do things I used to enjoy. I thought I had lost my ability to learn and enjoy hobbies, so I had to cling onto the only thing that made me feel better; playing Overwatch. This continued for a couple of years and gradually my mood deteriorated until the point where I just felt numb. Even playing Overwatch was too much energy a lot of the time so I just watched other people play it online, periodically napping until the point where I could go bed. This was life and I couldn’t see a way out of this cycle I was in.

There was no real defining moment for me to reflect back on and say, “That was when I decided enough was enough, I am going to be happy and make changes to my life”. It was a very gradual process and a lot of being brutally honest with myself and the choices I made. I started to reflect on my own thoughts and pay attention to common ‘stories’ I would tell myself.

You’ve lost your ability to learn

You’re too far behind everyone else who already knows how to do this, there’s no point learning now

You’re not going to be able to apply this skill so you’re wasting time when you should be doing something to move toward your goals

I noticed that whenever I tried to do some drawing, read a book or watch an online tutorial I spent a lot of time thinking about all of these stories circulating in my mind, rather than focusing on the experience of drawing. I had created so many negative stories around these hobbies which really drained me whenever I thought about them.

CBT_V2
Photo by Craig Parker

Overwatch was effortless in comparison, so that’s how I chose to spend my time. It was a good distraction from all these thoughts controlling my mood and feelings as it meant I didn’t feel so low. I didn’t actually feel happy when playing Overwatch, I just felt less empty. So, how do you break out of the cycle?

I wish I could say “Do this and you’ll be cured!” but unfortunately there’s no quick fix to breaking free from the distractions that are holding you back. However, what I can say with confidence is that it is possible and you can start to bring more variety to your day. It will be difficult, and you will resort back to indulging in your distractions like I have done and sometimes still do… and that’s okay. Remember this is a journey and you will make wrong turns, however what is important is that you are trying.

But I still feel low when I try to do other things, how can I change that?

  • Decide something new you want to try, or an existing hobby you want to pick up again

I chose to try a new hobby, whittling (wood carving)

  • Take all the pressure off of what you’re doing, choose something simple to do

I chose a simple bird design that I wanted to try and replicate

  • Notice how you’re feeling – sometimes those negative stories creep in without us even being aware so try to check in with yourself regularly (set an alarm every 10/15 minutes if you need to!)

I had carved the basic shape of the bird before I noticed my thoughts turn more negative. I had begun to focus on the smaller details and really struggled to replicate them. I found myself thinking

I can do an okay job at doing something, but I’m never amazing at what I do. I just lack the ability to develop advanced skills

  • Reflect on that thought and try and break it down (please use whatever means you find most helpful – I’ve said to write down the below however you can draw it, type it, or do it in your mind. Whatever works for you). Mine is based off of a Cognitive Behavioural strategy introduced to me by a counsellor I am speaking with. You can find out more information about it here.

Story – write down your thought that is making you feel unhappy

I can do an okay job at doing something, but I’m never amazing at what I do. I just lack the ability to develop advanced skills

Feeling – write down how the thought makes you feel mentally

Sad, stressed, frustrated

Physical – write down how the thought makes you feel physically

Tired, tense

Behaviour – write down any changes to your behaviour caused by the thought

Feeling like I want to lash out at something, feeling like I want to be alone

The stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, are the ones that we form our beliefs from. They dictate who we believe we are, and what we feel we are capable of. However, so often the stories we tell aren’t empowering stories that build us up, they’re dis-empowering ones that tear us down. They tell us we’re not capable of achieving our dreams, or don’t deserve to feel happy. This next step is the hardest one as it requires us to separate ourselves from these thoughts.

  • Look at the dis-empowering story you’ve just broken down and see it for what it is. It is a hurdle on your journey, it’s something in your way to achieving your goals or finding happiness. It is not who you are. You are in control and you can decide what happens right now.

If you want to let loose and jump to your feet and shout “I am in control!” you can do. If you want to grab your pen and paper and just draw and scribble out whatever you’re feeling, you can. You have so much power and control in the moment that is happening right now. It is not easy and for some, by this point you may be feeling exhausted. You may have struggled to keep up with the steps I’ve written down, so feeling like you’ve failed but you haven’t. This takes time. Realising you have control of what happens right now feels very powerful but doesn’t mean you can necessarily harness the power and potential of the moment straight away.

What is important is that you recognise your thoughts and you recognise you are in control. It may take you weeks to be able to do your hobby again as this experience was quite negative, or months to get to a point where you don’t turn to social media or play video games to distract yourself from how you’re feeling. Likewise, if you want to try again later today then that’s okay. There is no set amount of time it should take to start feeling like you’re progressing and adding more variety into your life. If you feel like you’re not progressing forward just know, as long as you’re trying you are progressing. It may be slow, but you are moving forward… it’s just a long journey. But we’re on it together, albeit with different destinations.

Keep going, you are in control.