• Author:Ben Jones
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It’s like swimming with your socks on

I wrote last week about falling down to earth after feeling like I was making good progress with my mental health; my depression and my anxiety. It has now been a week since my fall – since something placed a heavy weight on my mind and body and stole some of my verve and confidence. A week is a long time inside your head, just as they say it is in politics. 

Sadly, I write that not to report some great, positive transformation in my mood and outlook but to say that seven days is a long time to still feel like this. 

I know that for some people, episodes of depression/anxiety can last for months, let alone days. Their periods of gloom and despair never really go away and they live in a constant state of pain. But for me I usually experience episodes that last two or three days and the weight lifts and my head clears. Not this time. For the second time in four months I have experienced a prolonged depressive episode which has hung around and hung around.

Since the turn of the year, as well as continuing my regime of positive actions and interactions, I have been taking my daily anti-depressant tablet and feeling more settled and less down and anxious. It is true that I have also felt a little less alive and less happy and excited in those happier, great moments, including after 90th minute winners at Anfield! But, as I have written here before, I accept this reduction in highs as a price worth paying for the reduction in lows. 

This last few days calls me to question that judgement. Have I just been lucky over the last few months? Has my more settled state just been happen chance, just the law of averages falling in my favour? Have I really had benefit from the magic medicine or have I been kidding myself? 

The honest answer is that I just don’t know. 

I do know that I have felt much, much better in myself since January and that aside from the last week, I have experienced a significant improvement in my general mood and demeanour. I know that life has been easier for me to live and I have been easier to live with in that time. I know too, that the positivity I have felt has been real. But the doubts remain. 

After some reflection over the last day or so I have concluded that having doubts is fine. It’s normal. It’s ok. It would be strange not to have the odd wobble here and there.

I have spent years living with – fighting with – my depression and anxiety. I was unknowingly being dominated by it; doing stuff every day to maintain a sense of control and safety in my life (from small stuff like obsessively making the bed within seconds of vacating it and emptying the dishwasher as soon as I entered the kitchen, to building a working life of constant pressure and rushing around searching for a sense of achievement and purpose). My life has never been a perfect oasis of calm and contentment – I just didn’t know until fairly recently what was going on in my head and why I did the things I did. 

So, why should I expect it to be perfect now? 

Whatever I am doing for my wellbeing – and I am doing a lot of great stuff – I am on a daily journey; a daily battle to be well and stay well. In a year that is now 16 weeks old, having just one bad week were I am not 100% isn’t a bad strike rate. It is an improvement on last year that’s for sure and the quality of the fifteen good weeks this year has been higher than fifteen of last year. It is also reassuring to know that despite this bad week, I have been working, productive and functioning. To many outside of my closest circles all would have appeared fine.

It is sometimes hard to put into words when an episode hits and how it feels. It can arrive – as this one did – without warning. It is often not totally debilitating for me but nor is it easy to shake off and just move on as normal. But I am trying to remember that perfect is the enemy of good – that the improvement I felt this year needs to be banked and cherished. That doesn’t mean that the cruelty of another episode isn’t around the corner but nor should I live in fear of it. I am trying to press on now after this tough week and remember the positives and fight back the doubts. 

I had a cuppa this morning with a colleague who is on her own tough mental health journey and showing courage and commitment to it. She had a great phrase for that feeling of something not being quite right but it is hard to describe. It is, she said, like swimming with your socks on. That’s it. After nearly 41 years on this planet I am now starting to have the words for how it really feels to inside my head; in good weeks and bad.