Eat the frog!
If I’m going to blog stuff about me you're going to need factual context about who I am.
The frog I'm about to eat is possibly the hardest part of my entry into the blogosphere. It's a part of me that I’m still coming to terms with, but it’s something I’ve accepted gradually over years and I now own it as part of who I am and how I navigate through the world.
"Eat the frog..??" Highly effective people do this every day. Do the hardest task first. Eat the frog.
So here's the frog:
I have come to accept that I'm wired a bit differently.
For years I've sat on top of a big box I didn’t want to open. It’s dark inside the box and it's the home of a black dog. The black dog gets out sometimes and chases me. When it gets its claws in, everything drains out of me, I feel numb and everything around me dull.
For me, depression varies in how it feels and how strong it is. It affects my thoughts and my emotions. I can feel detached from my body, like I'm an empty shell, have no motivation, and at the extreme, I question the point of my existence. Sometimes I've got no energy to speak. I'm always tired and I don't like getting out of bed in the morning. Coming out of it can be quite intense sometimes. I get big, uncontrollable surges of inspiration and motivation. One thing that is a constant, whether up or down, is the negative self talking: an internal voice telling me I'm no good at anything, I'm messing everything up and I'm an outsider.
Growing up as a young boy and teenager feeling like this you learn to survive. Fake it. I didn't know that other people didn't feel like I did. As I found out what depression was, I was ashamed to think that I might have it, that it was my fault. I thought it was a sign of weakness and although I guarded my secret, some of my close friends and family always knew. I'm lucky to have people close to me who've kept a caring eye on me and gently and unconditionally made allowances for me when I have needed them to.
I learned early on that humour was a big part of my way to interact without having to go below the surface where something very different was going on. I couldn't bare to be alone, so I'd be looking out for the next social thing and partying a lot. Chasing dopamine hits, adrenaline, sensations, loud music, laughing, and being always on the move. Often underneath I was lonely even though I was always surrounded by people. I drank a lot and sometimes used drugs to give me the energy to engage. Having fun with other people has always been my medicine and it's still the same. I just needed some lubrication to get going a lot of the time.
When I'm feeling good, confident and happy there's always a little shadow in the background telling me this is just temporary. The black dog is there waiting. There's not always a reason why but there can be triggers that invite the black dog to attack. Since I've accepted the depression I've started opening the box and I'm learning that I can face off with the black dog.
The reason why I'm now writing about my depression for the first time is that it has shaped how I'm dealing with this cancer and I would not be able to paint a full picture if I left out that vital detail. The taboo surrounding depression has only recently started to break down. It is still widely misunderstood and its exact cause(s) remain unclear. This chapter has given me an opportunity to be open about it and fully accept it as a part of who I am.
All of my coping mechanisms and escapes allow me to live more in the present. My training in speed skydiving made me aware that this was how I subconsciously dealt with my depression. For speed training and competition it is important for me to be relaxed and to be present in the moment. I would use Zen techniques to clear my head and relax, allow my mind to just be, without judgement or worry and open the path to a flow state and peak performance. Skydiving in general has helped to cement these simple techniques because of the necessity of being hyper aware of the present for each skydive. The effects have been profound and lasting. Getting used to regularly quieting the negative self talking has woken me up to the possibility of a new way of being in myself. It's helped me to be aware of what is real and what is in my mind. It has taught me to be accepting, non-judgemental, and how to be more optimistic.
Maintaining a more positive frame of mind opens doors to more positivity. For example I try not to talk negatively about situations, and if I find myself doing it, an alarm bell will ring and that focusses me back into being positive. A low level of anxiety is more of a constant to daily life as I get older, subconsciously the thought of the day ahead full of possible negativity makes me not want to get out of bed in the morning and I'm a night owl. Nowadays I'm much more capable of dealing with the daily effects of the depression, where in the past it controlled me. I can identify easily what is the depression or negative thoughts or feelings, and I have tools now to deal with it on a daily basis which keeps it in check. Depression lives in the memory and in your thoughts. If you work to expel it from the here and now and don't worry about the future it can't get into your memory.
Becoming a father has been a big turning point too. I'm now responsible for these two amazing little girls, and the power and motivation that gives seems boundless at times. They give me a reason every day to get up and make the most of every moment. Being busy all the time is also a great way to not let the negative self talk and emotions get the better of me and having children means being busy all the time.
As my awareness and ability to manage my thoughts and feelings has grown, I've learnt to fastidiously avoid the triggers that will create a negative episode. This fastidiousness has permeated the rest of my life and is now helping me to explore and prepare for every aspect of what I'm going through.
I'm currently trying to focus on health, exercise and my family. I've had moments of fear of the pain I will go through, the hardship of building myself up again, and the fear of living with the long term physical changes that I might have. But I realised pretty quickly that worrying about the surgery and my recovery isn't productive. I'm trying to channel my energy into the things that will support my recovery. HIIT workouts, yoga, cycling and walking are in my daily routine at the moment. I'm feeling the benefit of my protein- and phytonutrient rich diet and am really glad that Jo put me in touch with one of her nutrition lecturers who specialises in nutrition for cancer support. I will have more sessions with her post-treatment and we'll look at all the things I can do to make my body an anti-cancer environment in the long term.
The treatment is potentially life saving and I'm lucky to have that as an option and immensely grateful for the amazing care so far from the NHS. I have accepted the possible long term changes before I go into treatment. I cannot rebuild myself well if I cannot accept that I will be different. I am grateful that I've been given an opportunity to dig deep inside myself, reset and reinvent.
I know that many who live with depression may not want to talk about it. I've never felt like talking openly and publicly about this before, but for me, now is the right time due to what I'm going through. I would like to speak directly to people who are in a battle with the black dog. Please, just know that you're not wrong to feel the way you do; you don't have to talk about it; it is ok to feel numb, heartbroken or empty; it's not your 'fault'; be kind to yourself and know that it will feel better again. Our experiences are probably different, and most people will probably not understand why you feel the way you feel. But there are many of us out there that do, and we silently support you.
Anyone who would like to talk to me about this please feel free to be in touch.
Right, let's end on a happy note.. I'm going to run around the house with my girls like a sifaka.
Disclaimer: No dogs, frogs or sifakas were harmed in the making of this blog.