Slipping back to old ways


When do you start being aware of a relapse? Indeed when does it become a relapse? One of the worst aspects of my depression has always not being aware of it creeping back until it becomes obvious, but then the lethargy and self hatred can be so strong it pulls me in for weeks, sometimes months, occasionally years.

I’ve been doing really well with getting myself together over the last few months, until Christmas came along. I’m not quite sure if it was a seasonal thing or other factors that started me off on the road to relapse, but I ended up feeling like the work I’ve put in over the last few months was for nothing. I had a complete meltdown one morning and ended up in tears and very confused. I didn’t know why I felt so bad, I know I was tired as my insomnia had come back over the previous couple of weeks. I ended up going back to bed for a couple of hours and felt much better for it. I’m still not sure what caused me to feel so bad but I thought it might make more sense to me if I wrote about it. So where do I start? The signs of slippage I think.

As I’ve been getting to know myself, my triggers and how they impact on my life I have started to work out how to stop some of the worst aspects of my condition, and to start to stop them having as great an impact on me emotionally.

The first one is sugar. I turn to chocolate and pastry when I’m upset, well to be honest I eat anything but my preferred binge foods are chocolate, chewy sweets, junk food and pies in that order. I am getting it under control, I’m eating much healthier now than I ever have, but I still go to chocolate now and again. Social situations are particularly bad for pushing the cravings. Talking with my therapist I realised that I have bought a bar of chocolate within an hour of seeing her every time. Even if I have a good session and feel happy there’s a kind of body memory that shouts for sugar. This is hardly surprising as I have been binging on chocolate since I was a kid, thinking about it I have self medicated with food for nearly 40 years. No wonder the body still wants it even when my mind is focused.

The second is anger at other people’s perceived success. Social media is a real bugger for pushing this one, seeing that person going there, this person doing that, all so very happy? Sound familiar? It’s one of the things that finally pushed me to going to the Doctors in the summer. I was fixating on what others were doing for weeks, to the point of not being able to concentrate on my own life. I would just turn over in my mind, for example someone got a gig in a cool venue, my mind would start with – how did they get that gig?, why them not me? Well they’re rubbish anyway, I wouldn’t want the gig anyway, why don’t I get offered stuff like that… get the picture…..I’d end up in such a tizz, on the verge of tears and prone to what a good friend termed ‘Shaunie Rants’ made much worse if alcohol was involved. I started getting relief from this horrible cycle with a combination of being prescribed Setraline, exercise and blocking out the worst of it by repeating ‘Everyone’s doing their best’ over and over in my head, sometimes whilst cycling furiously till I was exhausted. I since worked out that this is mainly anger at my depression, at my own inability to engage in public and the sense of isolation that I had got to. I wasn’t really that bothered about what others were doing, but that I wasn’t doing things, that my condition was holding me back from getting the most out of life. Sounds so simple writing it down now, but in the maelstrom of anger and confusion it didn’t seem at all obvious. The medication and therapy has really helped me as has telling people on social media how pleased I was for them, a small thing clicking like, but I found it did really help me start to feel more positive about things.

Another bad trigger is taking stuff to heart really badly. Sometimes a simple comment that the food I’ve made is a little bland that day can put me in complete meltdown for hours, historically it could see me binging for days and completely letting myself go, beating myself up over it, then cycling back to relapse. I still have problems with this, I’m much better than I was and am able to take things in a much calmer way πŸ™‚ still have my moments but CBT has really helped to push me to a better thought pattern with such things. I’m feeling much better at being able to deal calmly and analyse what people are saying more instead of getting really negative and either withdrawing or getting really angry.

So, anyway, I was talking about slippage. Sorry if it went a bit off track there, I though it was good to establish a few things before looking at my latest relapse. I’ve never been a great editor so tend to just write so if you can go with it we’ll get to the point I promise.

Slippage then. I have had a lot of relapses over the years. It tends to work along the lines of cycling between not looking after myself at all and doing a whole ‘my body is a temple’ routine, which in the past has contributed to my relapses. I’ve put too much pressure on myself and a couple of small slips have knocked the whole deck of cards over and then I feel like I’m back to square one. Over the few years I’ve been working on being gentle on myself, this has been working pretty well. I gave up smoking 2 and a half years a go by not worrying if I smoked or not, which took the pressure off so much I found it pretty easy to not smoke. Much better than smoking a couple and then hating myself so much that I thought I might as well smoke heavier than I did before. There’s a hell of a lot to be said about being gentle on yourself, can heartily recommend it.

Cycles of trying hard, getting puritanical about health, then months of severe self loathing and binging and lethargy. I can kind of laugh about some of it now, sleeping on my sofa for 6 months because my bed was covered in stuff (when a friend came and helped me out it only took about 10 minutes to tidy, but I was in no mental state to tackle it without help) and getting so I had bars of chocolate next to my bed so if I woke up and felt bad I could eat some before falling asleep again, I’m really glad I’ve stopped this as a number of times I did wake up covered in chocolate… I said I can laugh about it now πŸ™‚

This stab at recovery has been much healthier. Since the summer of 2012 I’ve been cycling for 30 minutes most days and not trying to do more each day. This has meant I don’t get to a point where I can’t do enough so I give in. Food wise I’ve researched nutrition quite a bit and am eating much healthier and smaller meals. I have found out just how hard it is to remove sugar from your diet, that sugar is hidden in so many ‘healthy’ food products. I now use an iPhone app called myfitnesspal that I log my food and exercise in. This means that I’m mindful of my food intake both calorie wise and how much sugar and carbs I’m having. I try and cook from scratch as much as possible, with let’s of veg and pulses. I’ve lost 4 1/2 stone now in just over a year so going well, well it was until…….

……relapse……I was doing great, hitting December and I was feeling pretty fit and healthy, much more connected to people and myself. I’d made some breakthroughs in therapy so was feeling good about myself. I was eating well, getting to bed at a reasonable time and getting up early, doing my stretches and exercises. Thinking back the first sign of slippage was chocolate. I started having a double decker every now and again when shopping as a treat. Then I started to get cravings back to the point of going out to the shops as an excuse to buy chocolate. Chocolate started creeping back into the house and I’d eat it if it was there. I’d had a couple of mini binges over the previous few months but this was creeping back into eating chocolate everyday, then getting a couple of bars, or a big bar and eating it in one sitting. I started to feel on edge after I ate it and started worrying that I was relapsing, which started small shocks of self loathing, which made me eat more. My partner noticed that portion sizes were creeping up at meal times. I started to feel angry with myself so started to feel a bit withdrawn and sulky, which made me feel worse. Still nothing too bad, I was exercising so wasn’t going over my calorie limit too much, then we hit the Christmas period….

I’ve not liked Christmas for a long time, I find it a really depressing and stressful time of the year, but I’d decided to try and embrace it more and to try and enjoy it, but that didn’t really work. I don’t really engage with it bar cooking the Christmas meal and enjoying family time on the day. My ideal Christmas would be token presents not more that Β£10 spent on each other and then a lovely meal eaten at a slow pace and nice conversation. What I hate is that so many people start getting stressed out by late November, the worry about that perfect Christmas, the presents, the food, who’s going where. I can feel the tension mounting for weeks leading up to the day. Everywhere gets busier and there’s more aggression by the day. People are snappy with each other and get sucked into this horrible, capitalist black hole of going into debt to buy things people don’t really want. So all this definitely ramped up my stress levels, even with some survival tricks I’ve built up – the main one is financial and it’s asking for money off people then not buying myself anything with it but just paying off the bill for the presents I bought for people. Think I might have even broke even this year πŸ™‚

With it being Christmas I also started to have a glass of wine here and there, and a little tequila, then the Christmas chocolates arrived so ate too much of them. I then started worrying about my calories so rather than cutting back I stopped filling my food diary in, and then I missed doing my stretches in a morning, just today I would tell myself, but then the next day the same again. But then the increase in sugar and alcohol, the general stress of Christmas and a couple of rough months emotionally started catching up with me. I started not being able to sleep, then getting up late, needing caffeine to get going, then I got to the point of stopping up all night to try and get back into some sort of pattern. Then I had my mini breakdown. I just completely couldn’t cope with anything, I was in tears and upset, couldn’t explain what was happening. Luckily this didn’t last too long. I slept for a little while post cry and then had a few lethargic days before starting to try and get back on track.

Now I’m back in work mode I’m feeling much better. I’m back to setting the alarm in a morning, try and do my stretches and get breakfast before turning the iPad on, now read the papers, check social media for good things my friends are doing, check emails etc before cycling and then getting on with work. I’m still eating too much chocolate but it’s getting better and back eating well again. The thing with slippage is just that it’s slippage and not a full on drop. It’s small things pushing you the wrong way, then more small things till you end up back where you started. I’ve just learnt to not be too hard on myself, to look for the positives in the situation, to learn from it all and get back up again and try again. I think I’ll never fully recover from depression, in that relapse is never too far away, so I need to make each day count that I’m well, head in the right direction as best as I can and to remember….


And now there’s a little nagging doubt that this post is far too long and rambling, but you know what, I’m going to leave it as it is because it’s helped me put the last few weeks into perspective and that’s important isn’t it? Thank you if you are still with me – gold stars all round πŸ™‚



14 thoughts on “Slipping back to old ways

  1. Thanks for sharing that Shaun, relapses are always difficult, I can sympathise with you on that one. I’m trying my hardest to get out of an all or nothing cycle and have found CBT to be of help too, but I find sometimes that I forgive myself a little too often and I really struggle with that voice that says “well you’ve done it now so you might as well just go back to where you were before you started trying”. This year slow, positive progress is the way forward.
    And the social media thing, I know how you feel there too. The way I stop myself from becoming resentful of those who seem to be doing well when I am down and lacking in confidence is to look back at my own life and think of how I presented myself when things were ‘going good’ and how that really wasn’t my day to day reality. And especially for me, having bipolar disorder, there’s quite often a strange, hypomanic undercurrent when things look like they’re going well! Places like facebook are a convenient mask, we often only let people know what we want them to know, but I’ve often admired what you’ve got up to, it inspires me.
    I’m glad you’re starting to feel better, let’s hope the first daffodils show up soon and bring some necessary colour to these grey days. x Amy

    • Aww bless you Amy πŸ™‚ it really is a case of slow and steady isn’t it. I’m taking it as a positive that I caught this relapse early enough to not let it defeat me long term and that I’ve made great strides in understanding myself and all my triggers much more than I ever have. Hope you get to where you need to get to soon xx and indeed bring on the sunshine!!

  2. Hi Shaun, the honesty and self awareness which shine from this post are a beacon, a lighthouse, to the rest of us. We have quite a bit of both good and bad stuff in common, thee’n’me. It’s evident that you’re struggling with things which are “beyond your control”, or indeed “beyond your perception” at times. Here, though, it becomes obvious that you’re now aware that your perception and control are sometimes not what they could be, and that awareness is itself a key factor in recovery. Yes, you will lose sight of it now and again and feel that you’re once again back in the abyss, but as long as you realise that the light is still there, just over the brow of that hill (that you can’t see) then the darkness is maybe not quite so dark this time. You’re doing OK from where I’m standing, my friend.

    • Thanks Jim

      It’s been a great part of my recovery sharing with you, and getting to know you a little better via the Internet. I know myself a little better each day, which is all we can ask for as you know πŸ™‚ hope the bike ride goes well today, thinking of you xx

  3. This is the first one of your blogs that I’ve read Shaun. I thank you for your honesty. It’s made me realise that my struggle with depression is not a thing that is peculiar to me and that I am not on my own. This is the first time I’ve had the courage to admit it but that’s thanks to you. I feel less isolated now. Bless you x

    • Glad the blog is doing some good Sue. Well done to you for having the courage to say what you have, it takes a lot to start being open with people. So glad you feel less isolated, pm me on Facebook if you want to meet up for a brew sometime πŸ™‚ you take care and I’ll see you soon xx

  4. Shaun,

    I was diagnosed with bi-polar affective disorder 8 years ago having had awful ups and downs for decades. I have spent 8 years in cognitive behavioural therapy and now have now been well and healthy for nearly two years. This is not to say that I don’t have to battle with my triggers everyday like you. But it is my awareness that keeps me safe, and I have a practice of self-care and spirituality that underpins it all which keeps me re-committing to my health even when it gets tough. I have also become a vegan which I have to say, has been transformational in terms of my energy levels, sleep patterns and well-being. It allows me to fight depression much more wholeheartedly. I think it’s a matter of practice, self-care, patience and compassion as we grow through our days and manage ourselves through the good and the bad.
    All the very best.

    • Glad you’re doing well, so amazing to hear. It makes the struggle that bit easier, knowing that others have the same battles and are doing well. Food does make such a difference to my mental health, a big struggle when we’re surrounded by junk, but I’m doing my best on a daily basis πŸ™‚

      Thanks for the message of support – I’ve added your blog to my RSS feed – I look forward to sitting down for a read later πŸ™‚ all the very best to you xx

      • Great Shaun, I’ll pop your blog on my blog roll. ArtiPeeps is a collaborative space with its heart in creative opportunities across all the forms. Because of my background and well-being and mental health is of particular interest to me in relation to creatives. I’m going to be developing that side if things as the years go by.

        Good to have you on board. Take care.

  5. Hi shaun,Thank you for sharing how this can creep back into everyday life. It reminds me so much of my own experience. Sometimes feels like I go over the same ground again again.1 step forward and 2 steps back. ! I am going to try and work out my own warning signs and hope I can prevent a small relapse turning into a big one ! Take care πŸ™‚

    • Hi Carol, thanks for the comments. It is a hard cycle to get out of, but remember we can make that first step! We’ve all had the practice now. I think it’s learning to be gentle on ourselves, learn those warning signs and try and help ourselves at an early stage of relapse. Good luck with your endeavours, I wish you all the positive energy I can. I’m sure you’ll do amazingly πŸ™‚ all the best, Shaun xx

  6. Pingback: Slip, sliding away | A Safe Space

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