A Safe Space radio show today

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A Safe Space internet radio show goes out live today from 1pm GMT from www.octopuscollective.org and is a live reinterpretation of the blog with electronics from Shaun and vocals by Kirsten Taylor – please tune in and see where it all takes us.

It will be available in the future from the same site.

Sorry I’ve not posted in ages – been a combination of new job and getting other work done, whilst keeping my head relatively straight. I will be posting in the next few weeks to bring everything up to date.

Hope you are all well out there and having a good day.

Slip, sliding away

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I’m feeling low. I’m tired, lethargic, sad and feeling a bit hopeless. I was really getting on top of it all back there. After seeing the doctor and starting taking setraline, going back to therapy and exercising I was feeling the best I’ve felt for years, then the backwards slips over Christmas as written about here. I’ve been trying to get a sense of momentum going again since then, nearly a month since I wrote that post, but I’ve carried on slipping and now feel back into a fairly bleak, hopeless condition. There really is nothing that brought me here, in many ways life has been picking up since Christmas and I should be feeling much more positive, but I don’t.

Time to head back to the doctor’s and talk about it all again, go back to my therapist and start from the beginning again, and again, and again, and again……that’s the hard part, working really hard for months trying to get better and only achieving some kind of hard fought stability, running to be still. It’s all I can do though. If anyone feels they want to say to me ‘snap out of it’ I’d like to say ‘go f*** yourself’ – I really do wish it was that easy, I’d have been snapping like a good ‘un years a go, I really don’t like feeling like this, honestly I don’t. I was enjoying starting to feel happy and content for weeks at a time, instead of struggling to get up, then struggling to get dressed and work, walking round with a feeling of dread all the time. Snap, snap, and tap my heals three times and still no joy.

So other than going to see all my professionals again and seeing what we can do, what else can I do? Not sure, off to MIND this afternoon and booked Dr appointment for Thursday so that’s that taken care of. Other than that I thought it might be useful to try and write about how I feel and sharing it with you all, even if it just achieves getting it out of my head a bit.

So how do I feel? I’m not swooning around with my hand to my head feeling oh so very miserable. It’s more of a low level sadness, a murky, dank place filled with a sense of dread. The day starts with the struggle to get up, lying there wanting to be up, but unable to move sometimes, just arguing with myself, pushing myself to get out of bed. This can take quite a while, currently mainly less than an hour though, my record in the past has been much longer, days sometimes. It is very hard to describe this battle to move, if you suffer from depression you’ll get it I think, if you don’t you might well just think I need to ‘man up’ or something. It’s a little more complicated than just getting up though. It can feel like I’m being held down, almost physically, I really want to get up but there’s something inside my head that won’t let me, so I’m struggling away getting more and more upset, feeling tired and drained until finally I make it. Sometimes I need to go back to sleep and hope I’m better when I wake up, other times I fool myself by thinking of something else and then suddenly making a move. Yes I can see the funny side of this as I type, it does seem a tad silly, but that can often be the start to my day.

Once I’m up the search for motivation can start. The old saying ‘my get up and go got up and went’ comes to mind. I can lose days just sitting around, pottering away, not really doing anything when I should be working. It is mainly looking for relief from that sense of dread, the feelings of hopelessness that wash over me. I became self employed to help with this, which mostly works. I can have duvet days and then work to catch up as I am prone to having my best hours in the evening so this flexibility really does help, as does being able to work in my pyjamas and have breaks when I want them. This way of working has been pretty successful for me so I’ve been able to not have to rely on benefits and roughly been able to manage my condition. It’s been a constant struggle but the best way of doing it for me.

It really is hard to describe the feelings of depression, all the cliches about black clouds, black dogs and the rest are pretty accurate. The feelings of hopelessness and dread that bubble up, the isolation you feel because you think people don’t want to be around your miserable face, the being on the verge of tears for long periods. It’s very draining to live like this, which makes it even harder to live a normal life. You expend so much energy doing simple things others don’t think about. The loss of so much time to self doubt, anxiety and lethargy is so wearing it creates a negative cycle that drags you down. It also takes much more energy to pull yourself back up, you are constantly wading through a fast running river. All the good things are upstream but you have to fight to get there, even having a little rest is tiring as any false move and there’s a slip and the river pulls you under. It can take a while to get any sort of grip on anything solid, you watch helplessly as those markers you worked so hard to get beyond rush past, usually not for the first time. Once you find a little stillness and can get back to your feet the only thing to do is start wading against the current again. I try to believe it will be easier to tread these familiar parts again. I’ve been along them before so my footing should be easier, the landscape around me I know so can find the better ways of moving quicker. I can quickly get back to where I fell. Two steps forward one step back indeed! Sometimes a 100 steps back. But there isn’t another way I will consider. I could just let the current take me to where it want’s, which really isn’t an option as I do want to be better. I could just set up camp on the side of the river here, it’s ok there’s food and water and maybe it’s a good compromise? I lived for many years like that, working jobs I don’t care for and getting by, keeping things bottled up and surviving – again this doesn’t feel like an option either anymore.

So this is where I am, struggling and sad but unwilling to stop fighting. I’ve got back up again and started pushing back through the river of my own depression. I don’t really have a destination in mind anymore, that life is set to be the wading. That’s fine, that’s me. I do have a fierce sense of self under all this self doubt, this self hatred. People that know me see this, it’s what has helped me survive over the years. I am generally happy with who I am, my life and love my home and my beautiful partner Janice. I treasure all this and it keeps me going. I know I’ll feel better again soon, slowly over time.

It really is the little things that get you. The skipping the morning stretches, fine one day then another reason, then the chocolate bars creep back, then cycling feels like such an effort, then the CBT work is missed. Then before you know it you’re fighting for breath being dragged along by the negative current. I’ve been getting pulled along faster and faster for the last couple of months. Really getting swamped by it all, no sense of control. Feeling overwhelmed by work I need to do but unable to find the energy to get stuck in, which feeds my negative view of myself. But I’ve started to get a very slight grip.

I stopped today. Stopped still and started breathing a little deeper. After a quick talk with Janice this morning I phoned the Dr. I’ve not seen her since way before Christmas, I couldn’t get an appointment at Christmas and was so stressed out about running out of meds I sorted my prescription then but should have gone back sooner, when the darkness started to creep back. Not to worry though, I will go back and talk to her, see what the way forward is from that angle. I also have a therapy appointment this afternoon so will talk through where I’m at with her. This generally helps me, not sure if it cures anything or not but I leave felling better. I also need to rebook my First Steps appointment I missed. I have had a cold which lost me a couple of days, especially after the fogged brain, medicated, snotty middle of the night accident of walking into a glass door. Minor cuts to hands and face so was very lucky. I think this in some weird way was what has helped me turn a corner. It made me stop and rest, to slow down everything and gather my strength.

I’ve been throwing myself at getting better, exercising, dieting, trying to get more work, doing stuff round the house, trying to get my body to do regular hours. This had worn me out, I have been physically run down as well as mentally. Then I got a bad head cold. I realised I needed to take better care of myself if the end result was walking straight into a door….so I’m slowly getting back to my feet, re-learning to be gentle on myself. I need to relax and just take it all at the correct pace. Not worry about the slips but reinforce the positives. After a few days of illness induced non exercise I’m going to have a gentle cycle and then have something nice for dinner before going out to MIND. This afternoon and evening I need to start a list of things that need doing, both work and personal and start getting them in order so I can chip away at them. It will feel less overwhelming if I know what needs doing. I’ll not feel better for a while yet, but I can at least start to feel in control again. To know what I need to do and gently head in the right direction.

So time to hit publish and get stuck into the day a little. I have set myself some small targets that are achievable. Mainly to not beat myself up, to have something nice for dinner and move on from there.

Walking back to happiness……

ever………
so……..
slowly………..

but………
ever…….
so…….
surely…….

Guest Blog – Alex

Drawing by Alex BottenWhen I first told Shaun I’d try to write something for his blog I intended to describe my experiences with depression, and outline how my music and art had helped me overcome some of the worst aspects of the illness. But the more I thought about it the more I realised I couldn’t do that.

 Why?

Well, it’s not like that for me. I wish I could tell you all an uplifting tale of triumph over adversity, about how my darkest moments have been bathed in light by the act of creation, or of the times I’ve turned the all consuming void of despair into some of the greatest art ever seen. But I can’t, because it wouldn’t be an accurate description of my situation.

My situation…..my situation is one where depression and anxiety has stripped me of confidence and robbed me of opportunity, where my relentlessly messed up brain chemistry has convinced me that everyone thinks that every single thing I do is shit.

I’m cursed with an exceptional memory for perceived slights, able to recall with vivid clarity the way I felt when, 23 years ago, on the afternoon before my first band’s first ever gig, my best friend at college suggested that he should sing for us that evening instead of me because ‘you can’t really sing, can you?’. I recall every single demo rejection from the days when that kind of thing seemed important, and I’m incapable of dismissing all the times I’ve been told that I’m not good enough, or that the music I made was ‘unsuitable’ for this or that venue, or event. Yes, I also remember the successes, the labels that wanted to put my music on vinyl, the Peel plays, the two appearances at T in the Park, the positive reviews (including having my guitar playing described as ‘inspired’ by Melody Maker, and Thee Moths’ second album being dubbed ‘lo-fi magic’ by NME), but those mean nothing to me. They seem too few and far between, and increasingly vanishing into the past.

No, my memory seems to disproportionately expand the negative events, and downplays the positives as if they were no big deal – hell, even writing the above caused a voice in the back of my head to start grumbling ‘stop being a boastful bastard’!

So I interpret someone having not noticed that I’ve got something available to listen to as a direct ‘fuck you!’ from them, I read ‘it’s not really the kind of thing we’d use’ as ‘you’re a worthless piece of crap, and your work is shit’, and I imagine that all my artist and musician friends see me as the talent less wannabe at the edge of their scene – the deluded hanger on who hasn’t the wit or self awareness to just pack it all in. Fuck, I even felt aggrieved that hardly anyone had noticed my birthday on Facebook! How messed up is that??

And I keep on making things, churning out more and more work, in many cases more in a single year than many artists make in a lifetime, as if quantity will make up for a self-assumed lack or quality, or the sheer weight of created things will cause people to pay attention…and then I get bitter and upset when I’m not hailed as the genius part of my ego thinks I should be praised as, even though a much larger part of my super-ego is simultaneously telling me that I’m rubbish and will always be cursed to obscurity.

Maybe moving to another city will help, as Birmingham is an absolute drag to do anything in. Maybe someone helping me out as a booking manager would be good, as I loathe having to deal with venues and promoters, whilst always being desperate to play as many shows as possible. Or maybe telling people what’s going on in my head will allow them to better understand me, and so lead to more opportunities from those who may have mistaken me for someone confident, someone in total control of his ‘career’. Maybe, or maybe not.

At the heart of it all is a mental illness, a depressive disorder with an anxiety component, which has whispered ‘you’re shit’ in my ear for 25 years, which would like nothing more than to see me give up creating altogether. Whether I do or not might ultimately depend of the levels of support I get from my peers and friends…help I feel unable to ask for. So, screwed if I do, screwed if I don’t. Yay,

So what’s the message from all this? Depression is a horrible thing to live with, and makes the standard struggles of artists into a bitterness inducing series of mis-interpreted reactions and imagined slights….and that’s not great for creativity.

Anyone want to be my manager?

music/visual – alexbotten.co.uk

blogging – athingadaybyalex.wordpress.com

writinghttp://www.lulu.com/shop/alex-botten/hanging-around/paperback/product-15055607.html and https://itunes.apple.com/gb/book/hanging-around/id443746821?mt=11

t-shirtshttp://www.mysoti.com/designer/theealex

more arthttp://www.gigposters.com/designer/11753_Alex_Botten.html

The Comforter – Laughing Stock by Talk Talk

An interesting band Talk Talk. I remember them being a synth pop band, they were OK, quite liked Such A Shame and even bought Talk Talk the single, then kinda forgot about them. Then sometime in the early 90’s I was introduced to the later albums, Spirit Of Eden & Laughing Stock. Sometimes music just hits you right between the eyes and both these albums do, especially Laughing Stock. I’m listening to it now and it still sounds as warm, soulful and full of wounded wonder as it did 20 years a go.

It’s hard to explain the sound of Laughing Stock, a post jazz, minimal, melancholic, smoky vision of another life, another world. It hazily passes by with no real choruses, the lyrics are abstract and convey only illusions of narrative. But it feels so alive. Every note is just perfect, it washes over you in waves of emotion, pulling you in to it’s heart, on the verge of joyous tears, knowing every passage but discovering new sounds every play.

It’s not an album to stick on at a dinner party, it’s one for late night contemplation and meditation. It has atmospheres that fade in and out but that demand your full attention, drifts then swells into forceful passages that leave you giddy before drifting away again.

Laughing Stock has become my favourite album. I never get tired of listening to it. It’s seen me through some dark nights, it’s deep humanity keeping me going when my depression has made me very vulnerable, pulled me back from stupid actions a couple of times. I’m very much not religious but this takes me as close to the spiritual as I get. The music is enough, it’s pure human spirit, fragile and unsure and angry and at peace with itself.

It also has been a massive influence on my own music, the search for that drifting sense of nostalgia and humanity. I’ve not come close to the majesty of Laughing Stock or the genius of it’s leader Mark Hollis but that’s what keeps me going.

So turn the lights down low and take a wonderful emotional journey to the heart of the human spirit.

Slipping back to old ways

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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…..you 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 🙂 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…..like I said I can laugh about it now 🙂

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 £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 🙂

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….

EVERYONE’S DOING THIER BEST!

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 🙂

Xx