Tag Archives: depression

What is lockdown brain? And what to do about it!

A survey conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society showed that since being forced to stay isolated and inside their homes, 82% of people with dementia saw a deterioration in symptoms.

Knot on finger "Just a reminder"

But it’s not just those already showing memory problems who’re struggling. Many of us are forgetting to buy milk, to write that email (again…) or that word that’s on the tip of your tongue!

There are different types of memory, research is helping us to understand how the constraint have impacted us.

  • Loneliness has had the biggest impact on people’s mood—feeling depressed is known to have an impact on memory
  • Lack of social interactions—repetition of stories helps consolidate memories of events (episodic memories). Watercooler moments can mean we talk to dozens of people in day, these aren’t happening with people furloughed or working from home. As big events have been cancelled, even when we have chatted with friends and family we’ve had fewer stories to tell meaning we’re not exercising out episodic memory.
  • People have been feeling generally more anxious and there’s more uncertainty. This has been worst for young people, people living on low incomes, people in urban areas and those with children.
  • When there’s less variety in our lives and lack of memory cues—it’s hard to differentiate one day from the next and we simply can’t remember what we’ve done! When all your meetings are in front of the same screen, they’re all the same, there’s no way to tag your memory. In the office you might walk passed the lift where you had a conversation and it reminds you to email someone or you’ll drive by the petrol station on your commute home and it’ll remind you of the milk you need to buy.mum using computer looking tired with children in the background running riot
  • Disturbed sleep due to lack of stimulation and worrying about the pandemic is causing fatigue. The brain, like any organ needs us to be fit and healthy, poor sleep, lack or exercise and poor sleep, and it’s functioning less well.
  • Not going out and about and finding our way around means the size of our hippocampus is decreasing (the seahorse shaped structure in the brain involved in learning and memory)—it’s a use it or lose it scenario! Research has found London cab drivers have an incredibly large hippocampus!

But there is good news—there are things we can do to stimulate our brains again!

  • Go for a walk each day, especially along unfamiliar streets.
  • Turn the videocall into a phone call and go for a walk instead of sitting in front of the computer.
  • Make sure the weekend is different from the weekdays or make sure you have specified rest days that are noticeably different.
  • Do something creative and new and tell someone about it afterwards.
  • Deliberately reflect on your day, even in a diary can help. Remembering what you did and recounting it exercises your brain.
  • Don’t be ashamed of using alarms and alerts on your phone, these are helpful cues for your brain.walking in the countryside
  • If trying to remember a list of items, for example a shopping list, imagine yourself in the aisle in the shop actually picking up the items.
  • To fight fatigue, good sleep hygiene is best for a good night’s sleep—no caffeine or sugar before bed, sleep in a dark cool room and make sure you’ve had fresh air and/or exercise everyday.

If you’re struggling with anxiety or depression, it’s important to get the right support. Contact your GP or speak to a counsellor or therapist. If you’re finding it difficult to cope, talking about it will be the best thing you can do.

Reality of depression

I write blogs to share my experiences. When a psychiatrist diagnoses depression, they’re looking for a specific set of symptoms described in the DSM V or the ICD 11 all or most of the time over an extended period:

  1. Depressed mood
  2. Diminished interest or pleasure in activities
  3. Decrease or increase in appetite
  4. Subjective slowing down of thought and movement
  5. Fatigue or loss of energy
  6. Feelings of worthlessness
  7. Diminished ability to think or concentrate and indecisiveness
  8. Thoughts of death, suicidal ideation without a specific plan, attempted suicide or planned for suicide.

I understand the need to be able to diagnose in this way but this is not how people experience depression. I’m writing this blog to give some insight to what it’s really like to be inside the mind of someone struggling with symptoms of depression.

In reality, people experience the following, jumbled and apparently nonsensical feelings:

  • I don’t want to make a fuss but I’m worried about how I feel
  • I feel sad, frustrated, angry, scared and numb at the same time
  • Sometimes I feel happy and then I feel confused and guilty
  • I feel lethargic and then I beat myself up for being lazy
  • I cry about everything and nothing but then sometimes I can’t cry when someone tells me something sad
  • Lying awake at nightI feel completely exhausted, during the day all I want to do is sleep then at night, I can’t sleep, I just lie awake
  • I’m not interested in going out, I won’t enjoy it and I have nothing interesting to say so what’s the point?
  • I don’t have any friends and I can understand why, I wouldn’t want to be my friend
  • I just want this pain to stop, it’s a pain like no other
  • I feel like I’m falling down a black hole, like my life is meaningless, is there any point?
  • I’m scared I’m going to lose my job, I just get a feeling I’m doing it all wrong
  • I can’t seem to do anything right
  • My life is fine, I should be happy but I feel like everything is falling apart
  • Life feels like a slog, I don’t think there’s any point in going on
  • I notice other people laughing and realise I’m not but the next day I can laugh and I don’t know what’s different
  • I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up

It’s the job of the GP or psychiatrist to take these experiences and attempt to make sense of them to see if a diagnosis of depression fits. A diagnosis is important so that appropriate support and treatment can be given. Symptoms of anxiety, psychosis, personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders or other psychiatric conditions overlap so it’s important to understand what the symptoms are in order to offer the right support.

I always like to offer some hope in my blogs. I’m living proof that from the darkest times, if you surround yourself with the right people, do whatever it takes (therapy, counselling, medication) it may not be easy or simple but recovery is possible.

You never know what’s around the corner

We never know what’s around the corner

TW – Trigger Warning – this blog contains honest content about weight loss and symptoms of eating disorders. Please consider taking care of yourself and clicking away if this may be triggering for you.

For 2 weeks at the beginning of September I lived with an undiagnosed fractured jaw. Not just a little chip, my mandible is completely broken, all the way through! I went to hospital but they were certain it wasn’t broken (that’s a story for another blog). During the 2 weeks before diagnosis I was trying to manage a soft tissue injury which involves gentle exercises and trying to chew despite the terrible agony! I was even playing my saxophone!

Anyway, long story short, fracture diagnosed, surgery untaken, restricted diet underway and I’m losing weight like it’s going out of fashion!

I’m trying really hard to be honest with people about how things are going. Things haven’t been straight forward with the recovery, I’ve needed extra appointments and additional management.

This is a mental health blog where I talk honestly about mental illness and recovery. Being on the right side of recovery it’s (relatively) easy to talk about the bad stuff because I can see that things turn out alright in the end. But at the moment, while things are physically really hard, my mental health is under strain.

I always think twice about writing a blog like this because I don’t want anyone to worry about me (as there genuinely is no need).

My mood has taken a hit, for a number of reason: missed diagnosis, pain, fatigue, not being able to do the things I usually do. I think all these things would take its toll on anyone’s mood.

I also have a history of anorexia and despite full recovery, something I struggle to talk about is my residual poor body image. I was told, as I was supported to weight restore, that my mind would catch up with my body; they tell you, you must weight restore first, then you will gradually start to feel ok about a “normal/average” body size. But I never have, I’ve never felt ok in a “health” body. It’s always felt too big, too fat, like I’m taking up too much space. So as my weight has dropped on a liquid diet, I’m feeling a bit better about my body – I know this can be a slippery slope but it’s a familiar space and when you’re feeling low, you grasp for anything comforting. Old thought habits fall into place easily.

I’ve had people say “you’re looking good”; this really doesn’t help. Those of us who’ve been down the ED black hole know these comments fuel the fire.

The most scary thoughts/feelings are when I’m walking around a supermarket or in a cafe and I see lots of foods I want but can’t have. People often think anorexia is about hating food, forgetting about it and not being bothered by it – far from this, anorexia is an obsession with food, thinking about it all the time, the body wants it but the mind has to find ways to avoid due to shear fear and anxiety. When I had anorexia whenever I walked around a supermarket I would see lots of foods I wanted but I couldn’t have – right now this is all too familiar.

Ways I’m looking after myself:

  • Learning to rest and enjoy it – a familiar pattern would be to exercise away my limited calorie intake but I know this would be unhelpful. My body needs to heal, I need to help it as much as possible. It’s easy to feel guilty about resting but why should I feel guilty about looking after myself?
  • Getting fresh air everyday – it’s easy when feeling down to shut yourself away, especially with so little energy but fresh air is good for the soul!
  • Continuing with routine – although I can’t do a lot of things I usually do I’m still going to work and church. If I’m looking for familiarity, I can’t go wrong with being around familiar people.
  • Keeping meal times – not being able to eat (only drink) it would be easy to fall out of meal time routine but I’ve remained with the pattern of breakfast, lunch and dinner, trying to vary the drinks I have!
  • Being honest with people – how easy is it to say “alright” or “fine” when someone asks how you are?! I cut down what I say depending on how much time someone has but right now things aren’t ok so I say it how it is. I never want people to lie to me when I ask them how they are, so I treat people how I want to be treated.
  • Being conscious of calories and nutrients – Feeling low and lacking appetite, it would be easy not to bother with food but I know it’s important. It’s hard work getting in enough calories when they’ve got to be accompanied by so much water but there’s good information online for post surgery dietary intake. Plus I have a good dietitian friend who’s helped me out!

I wanted to write this blog, partly to raise awareness about the chronic nature of mental illness. Even when recovered, it can lurk in the background, we remain susceptible to relapse. I also wanted to let anyone who’s struggling with relapse know they’re not alone, it doesn’t have to be an inevitable black hole. Right now, I’m working hard to stay well, by looking after myself I know things can get better.