Monthly Archives: February 2013

Depression and Intuition


One of the most frustrating aspects of depression is that feeling of being completely out of synch with yourself. When I am well, or ‘sub-clinical’ as they say, I have a great sense of what I should do, what I need, who is good for me and who isn’t. I follow what I feel in my gut to be right, and it generally means everything works out just fine. When I’m really on top of my game, I almost find myself having a ‘sixth sense’. I get a prediction of a situation before I am involved in it, dream answers to problems and pick up intuitively what people are thinking and feeling.

If only this were the case when I was depressed. The illness totally messes up my internal regulators and I have tended to act and react in ways that are not always in my own best interests.

I’ve now got over 20 years experience of depression and my manual of coping skills has the heading, ‘Do the opposite of what your intuition is telling you’.

For mild and moderate depression, I have found that if you do the opposite of the following depressed impulses, it can have a dramatic positive effect on your mood and recovery:

1) Isolating yourself. This feels very powerfully like the best thing you could do, when it is actually the worst. In my experience it stemmed from thinking people wouldn’t want to spend time with me when I was depressed and also not feeling able to communicate how I felt. The truth as I discovered, is that people still like you even when you feel bad. Plus, you don’t need to feel ashamed of how you feel. Practice explaining it and anyone who is worthy of your time and attention will try to understand.

2) Letting your routine slip. I’ve realised that routine is a powerful anchor in a world of mood-swings and feeling shitty. You may not feel up to your routine or even want to engage in it, but forcing yourself to do things stops that awful sense that you have been sucked into an abyss and lost control of your life.

3) Staying in bed all day. As a teenager and early twenty-something, I felt like I was listening to my body and mind when I indulged my depressed need to hide in bed. I took part in marathon bed-ins which could have outshone John and Yoko. I now think that this is possibly the worst possible way to deal with depression. It is a hard and sometimes Herculean effort to rise from your pit in the throes of doom. But if you don’t, you have missed out on all the things that can pick you up, like daylight, fresh air, movement, interaction with the world. Humans were not designed to sleep all day, even when ill.

4) Eating and drinking crap, or not eating at all. I had absolutely no awareness of the body/mind connection in my early depressed years. I thought nothing of starting the day with a Sayers cheese and onion pasty, a can of coke and a Mars bar. The rest of the day was filled with chips, pizza and copious amounts of vodka. When extremely depressed, I find it hard to eat at all. But the maths here is very easy to calculate. Bad eating and drinking on top of depression = feeling even more fucked up. It can all seem like such a massive effort, but forcing yourself to eat the opposite of what you want to eat can make a big difference. I’ve noticed that eating pasta, fruit and vegetables does indeed help. If I’m at rock bottom and it’s difficult to find the will to eat, I sip fruit smoothie and fill in the gaps with a vitamin tablet. I gave up alcohol over 13 years ago and will do a separate blog post about that. Suffice to say that drinking and mental health problems do not mix well.

5) Letting yourself go – appearance and personal hygiene. To stop this happening, it involves effort and willpower at a time when both are in short supply. There may not seem to be any point in looking your best, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. We all have some sort of getting ready routine which prepares us for the day. This is even more important to hold onto as your mood slips south, as you don’t want your dignity to disappear with it. Plus, you are less likely to get out, interact and see people if you haven’t had some sort of wash and brush-up. If you wear make-up, there is something to be said for putting a slick of lippy in between you and the world.

For severe depression, I’ve found that it’s a lot more tricky. I’m only able to draw on reversing intuition to manage depression when it’s in the early or developing stages. The rules are totally different when you are at the bottom of hell. You can’t force yourself to do things and it can be wrong and inappropriate to try. However, I like to think that what I’ve learned has stopped some of my depressive episodes escalating into the worst-case scenario.

It’s worth the effort to challenge yourself. Answer the negative voices back when they pipe up about not wanting to get up, eat or engage with the world. These days, I find a simple ‘fuck off’ will suffice.


Self-help books I have known and loved.


I’ve found self-help books have been a great resource to draw on in times of need. I firmly believe that there isn’t a single human experience that someone hasn’t been through before you and usually, someone has had the good sense to write about it.

These days, it’s even easier to access advice, support and ideas online but for me, there is something very comforting and reassuring about holding a self-help book in your hands. If I’m feeling down, even carrying a favourite text in my bag is sometimes enough to get me through the day.

When I was very ill with depression, I liked to hang around the self-help section at Central Library in Liverpool. I found it calming to be surrounded by so much knowledge and support. Before Borders closed at Speke Retail Park, I got similar effect from their ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’ section. You do need some balls to be seen frequenting these departments, but if you can get over the embarrassment, there is some juicy fodder to be had.

NHS waiting lists can leave you high and dry for months if not years. There’s not a lot you can do if you are waiting for therapy apart from try and stop yourself getting worse. Self-help tools can be invaluable in helping you to look at your situation in a different way, or teach you different coping strategies. I’ve found the advice and suggestions in books to be just as helpful as counselling or other therapies. There are even a couple I will credit with changing my life!

My all-time favourite has to be Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers. I discovered this in my early twenties and the basic premise is that it’s pointless waiting until you feel more confident to attempt difficult or scary things. You have to go for it anyway and the confidence comes afterwards. I credit this book with kicking my ass big time. Since reading the book I felt able to take dance classes, perform in shows and even do stand-up comedy. Yes, believe it or not, in between episodes of depression I can be quite funny!

Another favourite is ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy For Dummies’ by Rob Willson and Rhena Branch. I was on a waiting list for CBT for over 6 months and ended up so bored of waiting, I ordered this from Amazon. What an eye opener this book was. The idea behind CBT is that people form ‘core beliefs’ about themselves and the world from early life and experiences. This then translates into thinking patterns which can be unhelpful, unrealistic, irrational and limiting. The book shows how the way you think affects the way you feel. There is also an accompanying workbook in which you can practice the techniques. As I read through the various ‘thinking errors’ people make I was amazed that I made EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM! It was as though someone had shone a light inside my head and written down all the rubbish that was going on. It was sobering in the extreme. No wonder I felt like crap. I was excited to have found something that I could completely relate to, but it also temporarily increased my anxiety. If EVERYTHING I was thinking was causing me grief, what on earth would I think about if I was able to change it? Would I still be ‘me’? My problems had been so severe for such a long time that I’d started to think that’s who I was. I spent a lot of time trying to implement the principles of CBT until my therapy came through and it made a massive difference. The big changes didn’t start to happen until I had my weekly appointments, but I gained so much self-awareness of my thought processes from the book. It was so useful that I think it should be available on prescription.

A late entry into my self-help league tables are the books of Geoff Thompson. These were recommended to me by a dear friend and I heart them immensely. One I found helpful is Shape Shifter, which looks at the practical and emotional changes needed to get from where you are now to the person you want to be. Also, The Elephant and The Twig is a particular favourite. In India, young elephants are trained in obedience by being tied to an immovable object like a tree. They learn that no matter how much they try, they cannot escape. When they grow up, elephants can then be tied to a twig and not even try to break free. This relates to how we feel trapped and constrained by situations, people or forces which are not really holding us back in the way we perceive them to be. Geoff’s style is so laid back that his books are a fantastic read. It’s as though he is speaking personally to you.

Also, ‘How to Master Anxiety’ by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell was extremely helpful as it explores in great detail, the mechanics of the anxiety response. It explains in very concise clear terms how your body is not trying to fuck you over, it’s just igniting a primitive ‘fight or flight’ response that was designed to protect you in a life-threatening situation. Luckily, we are not in danger from woolly mammoth attacks any more, but your body is a fairly stupid piece of machinery in many ways. It can misread the signals from any anxiety-inducing thought or situation and the next thing you are having a panic attack. Once you know what’s happening, it lessens the power anxiety has over you and can help stop it escalating. Knowledge really is power.

It is interesting that even though I rate these books so highly, they are not all displayed on my main bookcase. I’ve hidden them out of sight, due to all the previously mentioned stigma about admitting to mental health problems. But hey, if I can link this blog to my facebook page, surely I can ‘come out’ as a self-help book reader? I think I can.

What are everyone else’s favourite self-help books?


I think it’s so important to be honest with yourself when dealing with depression. Even if it’s difficult. In fact, especially if it’s difficult because this is often a great starting point for change.

The Sunset Blog

“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.”

~ Sigmund Freud

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On being diagnosed with a personality ‘disorder’.


I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 1997. I was hugely offended to think my personality was disordered in any way and I’ve never labelled myself with this definition.

The same year I started attending a mental health support group and discovered everyone there had the same personality ‘disorder’ too! I congratulated myself on my instant dismissal of this seemingly one-size-fits-all ridiculous summary of people’s difficulties. When I got to know the other people in the group better, it seemed that they didn’t easily fit into any sort of mental health category, myself included – but is this a good enough reason to label people with something that knocks your whole sense of self?

I’ve never been one to just accept what I’ve been told, but I can imagine it would be difficult to question a mental health specialist and challenge them if you were feeling particularly vulnerable.

I was intrigued enough to do some research into it. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) refers to a set of behaviours and emotional states which seem to stem from an ‘unstable sense of self’. It is apparently characterised by extreme emotional reactions and unusually high sensitivity to rejection and perceived feelings of abandonment. It sounds very much to me like a modern day version of being highly strung, having an artistic temperament or being over-sensitive. It is believed that people with BPD may be also prone to suffer depression, anxiety and also to self-harm.

I think some labels and definitions can be really helpful. For me, finding out I suffered from depression and anxiety was extremely useful. There were recognisable symptoms I could relate to, specific treatments and a sense that something awful was now explainable and quantifiable.

I don’t feel this is the case when I was diagnosed with BPD. I’m concerned about how you can measure an ‘unstable sense of self’ for starters. At the time of labelling, I was going through a drastic period of change. I’d just moved out of home and got a flat on my own, was still wondering what I should do after graduating from my degree and was trying to unpick why I’d ended up in the worst relationship of my life. I was depressed as fuck and yes, I felt unstable, but I still think it could have been explained as a bit of a rocky rite of passage into adulthood. What is a stable sense of self anyway and who has it? Surely we are all constantly changing and evolving, our personalities grow and develop as we move through life. Does anyone fully know who they are?

I also think that if you have ended up being diagnosed with anxiety and depression, this will cloud your personality and emotions and make you feel and behave in ways that are not ‘yourself’. My feelings and behaviour were as a result of my illness, not because my sense of self was unstable. When I am depressed and anxious, I feel bad about myself, but that’s because I am ill. When I am well, I feel good about myself. Does that mean that BPD is a transient state that applies to only certain periods of your life? Now I feel much stronger and very well, does it mean I don’t have that personality disorder any more?

I don’t think this is how it’s billed. The diagnosis was put on me as though it was a fixed and permanent state, it was who I was and I suffered with problems because I had a disordered personality.

Sufferers of BPD are apparently more afraid of rejection and abandonment, but again, how can you measure this? I think the majority of the human race fears these things as we are programmed to love and form relationships with each other. I’m not sure how you can measure the differing levels of hurt. I think if you have mental health problems everything is harder – school, work and relationships. It’s harder to keep it all together and harder to deal with it if things fall apart. If I look at my own past relationships, I will admit to being clingy and needy at times when my depression was very bad. I worried that boyfriends would leave me, but that is what a depressed mind thinks. It’s part of the illness of being depressed. Now I am well, I don’t worry about rejection because my mind can think clearly and my relationships are more healthy.

The extremes of emotion that BPD sufferers are meant to experience also bothers me. If I had to describe myself and sum up other people who have had this diagnosis I would use the following words – intelligent,sensitive, deep thinkers, analytical. I’d rather describe myself in these terms which are infinitely more positive than a ‘personality disorder’. Again, depression sufferers will experience extreme lows, but that’s because they are depressed!

Also, everyone I’ve met with this label has also been extremely creative. Without wanting to move into another argument, I do think there is something to be said for creative people feeling things more deeply and intensely than people who aren’t. Is this disordered and does the creativity spring out of the intensity of experience?

After 20 years of seeking professional help and trying to fathom myself out, I think a lot of my problems come from the fact I had very low self-esteem for a long time. I was a shy, quiet child and it took me a long time to make friends, learn how to be in the world and understand how I could be the best version of myself possible. I had no confidence and this made me worry a lot about whether people liked me. If I’d accepted the BPD diagnosis there is a danger that I may never have changed. It would have been easy to continue through life using it as an excuse not to challenge myself.

It is frightening that you can spend one hour with a mental health professional and be given a label that might stay with you for life. I think it’s so important to always be open to receiving specialist help, but it’s also just as important to question everything.