When I was first diagnosed with depression my (kindly and supportive) GP recommended a helpful book. It was a short work on the power of looking on the bright side of life, presented through simple cartoons. I was horrified. I am by nature a cheerful soul, able to jolly herself fairly successfully along when required and if it had been remotely possible for me to simply cheer up I would be cheering up and then some. Nobody would choose to be depressed if bright and breezy were a readily achievable option. This crippling mental illness had engulfed me completely and I felt as powerless to resist it as a rubber duck in a riptide. It seemed to me that something as huge as this could not possibly be dealt with by such simple tasks as looking on the bright side, meeting up with a friend for a chat, keeping a gratitude diary or any of the other little suggestions the book had to offer. I sat tight and waited for an equally huge and compelling sea-change to turn the tide. It never came.
Nine years on, I know that there was a degree of truth in what the book had to say. Depression does not involve a massive change within the body: depression involves a relatively tiny chemical change within the body with massive and devastating effects. And in the same way that various factors nudge the body to the wrong side of the line between mental health and mental illness, we can start to gently nudge ourselves back over the line through the frequent repetition of small tasks that help us learn again how to be happy.
In some ways it’s like doing physiotherapy after an injury – you have to give your body enough rest to stop further injury and then begin doing targeted exercise very slowly but also very frequently. These exercises will not be impressive and it will take some time before you start to see them gradually retraining your body to be its old self again. But plugging gently away at them will eventually restore you to fitness.
So for the next 50 days I am committing myself to doing one thing each day to help my body find its Happy. This blog is to help me keep track of which exercises are helping me to recover and – like telling someone else you are on a diet – is to make sure I don’t give up. It’s also my first exercise: I love writing and communicating in general but when I get low I stop trying to put things into words and withdraw from others. So undertaking to write a little everyday, taking the time to put my feelings into words and publishing it for anyone to read and comment on is my first step back to my usual more outgoing and reflective self. It feels good.