Resurgence

The past month or so has been dreadful for me. My clinical depression has had me firmly in its grip, so much so, I’ve been literally fighting powerful urges to complete my suicide. I think this stark statement may come as a surprise to many who have seen me on-line in my Twitter and Facebook personas, posting lovely photographs and typically Nick type cheery comments. This is the nature of my beast,

Resurgence

Last year during my ‘Three Peaks by Kayak’ adventure, I found myself inspired by the various experiences I encountered to make meaning of my depression and understand how I can live with it. There was one particular moment when fighting against the tide in the middle of the expansive Luce Bay off the Galloway coastline, when I came to the enduringly powerful realisation that the discomfort I was experiencing at the time was not permanent, and when the tide I was fighting against changed in a few hours, it would soon pass. In that moment, I instantly embodied this awareness because of its powerfully analogous pertinence to my depression recovery process. In this moment of enlightenment, I finally believed what the many caring professionals had been telling me for many years - “This will pass. Given time, you will become stronger and feel better.”

Making the decision to believe the impermanence of my depression did not lead me to believing I would eventually be cured of it. Instead, this allowed to me to accept I will live with depression all my life, and it’s the deep depressive moments which will come and go. Likewise, the thoughts and beliefs I have about taking my life are associated with these deep low periods and I was now able to counter these with a belief that they are impermanent. I now understood the notion of making a permanent decision based on an impermanent feeling.

However, when my clinical depression takes hold of me and I sink into a deep and dark low, my ability to cognitively function is impaired by the wide ranging self-destructive and self-hating thoughts and beliefs I find myself struggling with. I find myself literally fighting for my life, voicing out loud (when alone), reasons why I shouldn’t kill myself. This is an internal battle which rages in my head and through my body. Thoughts and feelings merge to be expressed in my language, how I think, how I feel emotionally and how I feel physically. My energy and personal resources are expended on this battle and too, in masking this fight from the world around me. I do not want the ordinary world to know of my pain. There may be hints, or I may put out a Tweet which may be more explicit, but generally, I continue post lovely photos with asinine words. (At least I think they are at the time). Likewise around and about in my lived world, people will probably not be aware of the self-destructive thoughts I have running through my mind when I meet them in the street or when chatting over a pint or a coffee.

There have been a few moments recently when I have desired hospitalisation because the struggle to overcome my thoughts of suicide have been more than I could cope with. However, there’s always been one reason or another why I didn’t explicitly seek this and I continued to fight on my own. In a way, the now embodied adage “this will pass”, enabled me to remain with my distress in the knowledge that it was likely to diminish over time. I continued to live my life in the public realm as unobtrusively as possible, hoping few people would cotton on to the mask I was wearing. Karen was totally aware of course and lovingly supportive. Likewise, my C.P.N. was happy to see me twice a week for lengthy appointments. I wasn’t totally alone.

I’m often asked what the causes are for a particular bout of depression, something I can pinpoint as the originating source. Generally there is none. The malaise takes root, deepens and insidiously manifests itself to the point where I become overwhelmed by it. I’m aware of its early presence and determine I will not allow it to take hold of me, but despite making efforts to stall the process by undertaking health enhancing activities, the depression is the stronger. My mood sinks and I am engulfed with beliefs of self-hatred, self-loathing, and uselessness. No matter how heartening the reassurances from friends and family about my worth, these messages of genuine warmth and love fail to reach my core. I find it easy to counter them with the all to predictable response - “Yes, but…”. This in turn serves to make me feel even more unhappy, because then I add the belief I’m an unnecessary burden to those who love me.

Having met with a psychiatrist, I am on a new medication regimen which he is confidently hopeful will help me raise my mood and begin to feel the joy in life again. To be truthful, I detest taking anti-depressant medication because I have found the side-effects to lead me to feeling more unhappy than the opportunity for a cure. Feeling sluggish, doped, constipated, lost libido and other minor conditions, all serve to reinforce the futility I feel about my life. For the last eighteen months I have been medication free, determined to live with my depression in an organic, self-sufficient manner. To all intents and purposes I think I managed to do this successfully until the point this year, just after Christmas and my mood slipped past my ability to self manage myself. Even then, it took some insistence on the health professionals’ part to encourage me to consider taking medication again. It’s early days still.

Despite this desperate bout of depression, I have looked forward to the future, and found within myself a desire to plan for another kayaking adventure. Not only this, I have chosen to invite a new friend to share the adventure with me thus breaking with my usual process of kayaking solo. In getting to know Jack on-line and then meeting him recently, I have discovered a friend who shares my understanding of the world and a passion for exploration by kayak on the sea. Our common ground is our connection to the R.N.L.I. and it is the charity which forms the basis of this expedition. You can read more about this here.. Sharing a kayaking expedition is going to be a renewing experience for me because it’s many years since I last headed off into the wide yonder with someone beside me. I’m really looking forward to Jack’s companionship.

Today the sun is shining and the sea is calm. It is the last day of March and early this evening we move out to our summer mooring in the bay. I’ve readied the engine, checked the electrics and filled the water tank to the brim. Propane gas bottles for cooking and heating are charged, and the inflatable dinghy we use as our tender has been spruced up with a wash and a new seat. There is something in this transhumance experience of mine, moving from our winter berth to our summer one, which excites me and reminds me of the resurgence of life. Around and about there are the signs of spring. The cormorants are gathering materials for their nests on the nearby cliffs, the trees are beginning to show signs of green and the sea is becoming translucent again. I feel my blood moving within me, a sure sign that life is returning and soon the shackles of this depression will be shaken off. With the help of my medication, I’m hopeful in a few weeks I’ll be noticing the colour of the world around me again.

Finding Focus

The summer is speeding by for me. This is probably a good thing in a way, because it means that I'm living it fully. I think this is probably true, though I have difficulty in recounting what I get up to each day. Not a huge amount to be honest. 

Anyway, I've recently returned from a journey down south where I gave a presentation in Aberdyfi about my 3 Peaks by Kayak journey, visited my parents in Herefordshire and then spent a few days camping with a group of friends in Pembrokeshire. This journey turned into a rewarding experience for me where I gained significant insights which I believe will be useful for me in my future. 

My presentation in Aberdyfi turned out to be an unqualified success. Seventy or so folks came along to the Yacht Club in the village to hear me give an illustrated talk about my 3 Peaks adventure. To be honest, I hadn't really prepared in any detail what I was going to talk about. I had chosen a number of photos to show and these would offer me prompts to recount anecdotes from the journey. I did have the intention of speaking about how profound the journey was for me and how I gained deep insights into my mental health recovery process as a result of it. As the presentation unfolded, I found myself speaking with eloquent openness about my struggle with my depression, ideations of suicide and how powerful moments of insight into these were highlighted by incredible experiences I encountered. Without preparing for this, I found my voice and it carried impact. 

The feedback I received afterwards was difficult to accept because it was so effusive in its praise. Such is my low sense of self-worth that I literally had to force the compliments into my 'memory banks'. It was when people I had never met before came up to me and spoke of the profoundness of my talk, that I realised that I had given something worthwhile. This was a good feeling for me. 

A few days later down in Pembrokeshire, the compliments continued to roll in and this time they were more thoughtful because folks had given time to thinking about the impact of my presentation. I couldn't help but glow with a sense of satisfaction that my voice had such impact. My intuition that sharing my personal struggle with depression and suicide as an adjunct to the powerful experiences I encountered during my kayaking journey had paid off. With relief, I realised that my desired future path of publicly sharing my outdoor adventures as a source of inspiration for others struggling with mental health issues and general self awareness, was a good one for me to pursue. 

Driving north to the Isle of Mull, I pondered on how I can build on this and make it happen.

Writing seems to be the most obvious pathway. I like writing but I'm not good at focussing and completing writing projects. However, recently submitting an article about my recent kayaking trip to the notable sea-kayaking publication, Ocean Paddler, and having this well received, with an invitation to submit further articles, has boosted my confidence and provided me with the incentive to approach my writing seriously. I have a number of books I would like to write and of course, many shorter pieces specifically about the transformational power of Nature, the outdoors and adventure per se. 

Public speaking is also an obvious route to embark on. I have come to accept that I'm adept at this and I can hold an audiences' attention through my voice and story. I have much to say and I do enjoy sharing my views and tales when these moments arise. However, I'm slow to grasp opportunities to speak publicly or even seek them out, instead waiting to be invited to do so. This will be a challenge for me, to publicise myself as a worthwhile speaker, worthy of hiring. 

Running workshops was another consideration of mine. I enjoy being a facilitator, managing group process and working with the 'here and now' material as it arises. Again, like my writing aspirations, I have a myriad workshop titles in my notebooks. The key here is finding a market for these and more to the point, a relevance for them. In my time, I have worked as an independent workshop provider and facilitator but I found this a stressful process for me. I'm not business minded enough to have made this a success and this dissuades me from following this path. 

Of course there is social media where I can highlight what I have to offer. My Twitter account is a healthy one with wonderfully meaningful engagement with friends, acquaintances and strangers. Here, I largely present myself as I am, not really hiding much away. It would be easy for me to build on this online persona and 'market. what I want to offer. Facebook is a little different and since the international wrangle with 'false news' and manipulation, I'm wary of this platform. I am on Instagram but I don't engage with this as best I could.

Then there is this website and developing my 'Life Afloat' brand. This is an obvious point of reference for what I want to develop and share. Like my writing, I will need to focus more on this, developing useful content and make it an interesting resource for folks to want to visit and remain connected with.

Finally, my Blog. I simply need to keep up with this and keep writing material for it.

If you have ideas and suggestions in response to what I've shared here, then please drop me a line through my contact page. I welcome any feedback you may wish to give me. Thank you.  

The Three Peaks by Kayak

I'm useless at keeping an up to date blog. My best intentions to write regularly and share my thoughts with the wider world come to nought through a mixture of reasons, ranging from low self-confidence to good old fashioned procrastination. I should realise that setting myself the goal of writing regular contributions would not really work for me. I was a poor academic student who was always late with my assignments and essays, leaving writing them to the very last minute or worse, not at all. I became more adept at providing excuses than I did at writing!

This said though, I do enjoy writing and I think that when I do produce a piece, it reads pretty well and I'm pleased with it. I'm not sure why I find it difficult to fulfil my aspirations to write more and I hope that when I do come to understand my blocks, there'll be no stopping me! 

This blog entry is by way of support for my Three Peaks by Kayak challenge which I'm undertaking this May (2018). I'm raising funds for Odyssey, a small charity who provide outdoor courses for people who have been or are being treated for cancer. I have worked for them on a number of occasions and I believe their courses to be incredibly worthwhile. It is wonderful to be writing this entry and to not be covering the theme of my depression and mental health travails. Actually, when I come to think of it, one of the reasons I haven't contributed recently, is because I was tired of only thinking of writing about my low mood, my struggles with this and the more painful truth of fighting my desire to complete suicide. I simply did not want to keep rehashing my negative thoughts and feelings and sharing these with you. It's really lovely at long last to have hope and happiness surging through my veins again. 

My last blog entry was about my New Year plans and I'm pleased to say that I'm at least on my way to undertaking a significant one of these. The Three Peaks by Kayak has been on my list of adventures for nearly twenty five years, really, ever since I began sea kayaking. I had an attempt at completing this in 2009 but was unsuccessful due to poor weather. 2018 will be the year that I put this adventure goal to bed and once I have, I'll feel more able to attempt other plans which have been mulling around in my mind. 

One question I ask myself and I have been asked this by a few other folks too, is - does undertaking these big adventures have a negative impact on the state of my mental health? Without opening up about what I struggle with when I'm in the midst of my depression, I do know that I long to be connected with wildness through some kind of outdoor adventure. Connection to wildness provides me with solace even in the darkest depths of my depression. One aspect of my adventuring lifestyle which I have come to appreciate, is how to reintegrate myself to my life at home and a more 'regular' lifestyle after long and challenging but incredibly rewarding kayaking adventure. Of course having worked as an Outward Bound Instructor and a Therapeutic Wilderness Guide for many years, I ought to understand the important process of transferring ones self from a powerful life altering outdoor experience to the normality of everyday life. I now understand how challenging this can be! The suddenness of the end of a journey can have an incredible impact and for me, and I've struggled to adapt after living a life of wild freedom and solitude. 

Given that I'm now paying attention to this, I'm excited to be undertaking the Three Peaks by Kayak and considering future adventures. It's a continually evolving process of self-awareness which doesn't end because I'm over fifty years old. In fact, I think that I'm learning more about myself now than I ever did in my earlier years. It's as if my life has been leading me to this - the path of the solo adventurer. Despite the risk of future depressive episodes, I have permission to challenge myself so that I continue to grow. 

This kayaking journey then, is as much a personal odyssey as it is a fund raising venture for Odyssey. I look forward to sharing the emerging insights I encounter on the way, as well as the everyday awe and wonder I will enjoy as I traverse the British coastline. 

Thank you for your interest and support. 

This Thing Called Depression

Yesterday I had my monthly appointment with the Psychiatrist who is responsible for my care. I like him and more importantly, I trust him. He is personable with an easy yet professional manner. He is a yacht owner too so we share yachting stories and he likes to tell me of his recent trips.  Amongst these short conversations we also speak of my clinical depression, how I'm doing with this, and checking how safe I am with myself. He is thorough in his assessment of my current situation and willingly offers suggestions for new approaches. This certainly was the case yesterday.

At the moment I'm locked in to a severe bout of depression which is not shifting in anyway shape or form. The medication I have been taking is simply not making a dent on my low mood or even imprinting any form of colour into my life. The upshot is a diagnosis that I'm struggling with 'treatment resistant' depression and if this cannot be overcome with medication alone, then other treatment courses will have to be attempted. 

My Psychiatrist has prescribed one last medication which he hopes will provide me with increased energy and thus motivation to turn my current lethargy around. However, there are risks attached to this medication (see my previous blog post) and it may not suit me. Hopefully this will not be the case and it will work the magic he thinks is possible. It's not a medication for depression per se but there is evidence that it works for people like me, who have been fighting a deeply stuck low mood. 

If this new medication does not work then I will be admitted to hospital for further assessment and possibly a referral to a specialist NHS unit for people with severe and enduring clinical depression. Apparently there are non-medication approaches which can be explored, some of these almost experimental. Thankfully it seems that I'll not be put through ECT again because this clearly did not work for me.

Bringing my session with him to a close yesterday, my Psychiatrist implored me not to give up hope, assuring me that we were nowhere near the end of the road and I was not going to be given up on. One of the struggles I'm dealing with at the moment is a strong sense of hopelessness, sometimes to the point where I believe there is no reason to continue fighting for my recovery. Associated with this, is the gnawing belief that I'm nothing but a burden to my family. I'm not sure if I was entirely mollified by his assurances that I will recover but I did leave the Health Centre with a little more hope than I had before.

I have started to take the new medication which is an adjunct to my current pill regimen. Time will tell if this will work or not. Sadly I will not be able to celebrate their success or deal with their failure with my Psychiatrist because he is moving on to new pastures. I will miss him for his professional and affable care, and the ease with which I'm able to communicate with him. 

Here's to HOPE.

Taking a Risk

I am an adventurous person and I'm used to evaluating and taking risks either in my sea kayak or in the mountains. I consider myself to be a person who seizes risk laden opportunities as they appear and I believe I'm fortunate that I do so. However, I have an opportunity before me which I consider to be risky and which I find myself feeling unusually wary of.

As many of you know I suffer from severe clinical depression. The psychiatrist responsible for my care has termed my depression as 'treatment resistant'. This is because despite many different interventions over the last year, my mood remains obstinately depressed, so much so that there are moments where I find myself staring into a dark abyss. I'm incredibly thankful for the treatment I am receiving from the medical profession here in Scotland and I do not expect them to solely work the miracle of cure for me. Rather, I view their care as a facilitative one where through my increased motivation and assistance from their prescribed medication and talking therapy, my depression lessens and my sense of well being increases.

Recently my mood has been incredibly low - worryingly so. Apart from my interactions on Twitter, I find myself paralysed with self-doubt preferring to hide here on the boat, away from my world, rarely venturing forth unless I'm certain I'll not bump into people I know. This time is not entirely wasted because I am writing and researching plans for adventures in 2018. However, I would prefer to be more outgoing and be as engaged with the Tobermory community as I used to be.

In response to this deep low and my seeming resistance to the treatment I am receiving, the psychiatrist has prescribed an additional medication for me to take alongside my existing anti-depressant. I won't say what this is because for some reason I don't want to make my medication details public. What I will say is that it is an uncommonly used intervention and is one not normally prescribed for depression cure. The hope is that this drug will shift the log jam I am experiencing in my tormented depressive thinking which leaves me inactive and paralysed by self-loathing. By all accounts, this drug when used for other people in a similarly stuck position as the one I am facing, has proved to be incredibly successful. It has been explained to me that in just about every case the patients had returned to full cognitively buoyant and rudely happy health. This for me is my Holy Grail!

Without much more persuasion I agreed to give this medication a try and this morning collected it from the pharmacist. (As an aside, we are incredibly fortunate here in Scotland to receive free prescriptions & medication.) On opening the box and reading the information my heart slumped - it was like a punch to my abdomen. I had expected there to be side effects to the drug because there always are with psychiatric medication. I had hoped that this being an 'add-on' to my current medication regime, this wouldn't be as worrisome. 

I personally find the side effects of medication difficult to cope with, especially those which affect my nervous system - increased agitation and insomnia. It's an anathema to me how these drugs actually cure the illness they are prescribed for, when it appears that the side effects exacerbate it. There have been many times in the past I have stopped taking a drug because the side effects were more difficult to cope with than my illness itself. 

Looking at the side effects for this drug I'm left wondering whether to go ahead and begin taking it or to stop right now and leave it well alone. I'm in a quandary. It has been explained to me that this may be the wonder drug to cure my depression, albeit an unconventional choice. I certainly want this to be true yet..., I see the list of side effects and I feel incredibly reluctant to take it.

In essence I'm faced with a risk of sorts, and it's a risk I'm having difficulty evaluating. It's not simply a case of giving the medication a try and maybe stopping if it's not working. It's a commitment to giving it a good long try, despite the difficulties I may find I have with it. I am genuinely fearful of the side effects. When I'm kayaking or mountaineering I face fear as a matter of course when I encounter outdoor risk after risk. Invariably I'm able to rationalise  any fear I may feel and use this to my advantage in making a decision to accept the risk. However in this instance, the sense of fear is getting the better of me and I find myself struggling to consider taking on the risk, even though it has been explained that the possible benefits far outweigh the perceived difficulties.

There are a few days yet for me to decide what path to take and I have the opportunity to meet with the psychiatrist in the coming week to discuss my choice in greater detail. This will be helpful because right now I find myself where I hate to be - paralysed by uncertainty.

A Fresh Start

8th May 2106! That was my last blog entry and what a lot of water has flowed under my bridge since then. I'm not certain where to begin, so I think I'll resort to a hasty summary of what has happened since that last post.

I ended up staying in hospital well into the summer and returned to our home in the marina on Loch Fyne. My recovery was well under way and it was wonderful to be home again but I still had a way to go before I could confidently say this bout of depression was at an end. It wasn't long before we were making plans for a move to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull as well as making ready for the arrival of our new yacht too. Karen had found a job in Tobermory which suited her down to the ground and the opportunities for work there for me were far greater than they were on the Cowal Peninsula. So, in August 2016 Karen moved to Mull and I waited for the new yacht to arrive which it did at the beginning of September. It was a momentous moment when along with a friend I cast off from Portavadie Marina to sail our Colvic 33 to Tobermory. Four days later our new home was safely berthed on the pontoons in Tobermory Harbour.

There followed a period of settling in where I took time to establish myself in the community and sadly continued to struggle with severe bouts of depression. Thankfully I was well supported by the community mental health nurse and the psychiatrist. Despite the periods of deep lowness I found myself enjoying my new surroundings. The Isle of Mull is a lovely island with so much to explore and enjoy. The walking is second to none and the coastline is one of the finest to explore in a sea kayak. As the winter deepened we hunkered down in our boat and safely rode out the passing winter storms.

The new yacht has transformed our live aboard life. She is twice the size of our previous yacht and is well appointed with two sleeping cabins, two heads, a shower, hot water system, a lovely saloon and an excellent galley. She is also a lovely boat to sail - seaworthy, which is ideal for us. The extra space has allowed us to live comfortably with a sense that we are definitely in our home and not in a small yacht.

On our mooring in Tobermory Harbour.

On our mooring in Tobermory Harbour.

When the New Year arrived we found ourselves becoming accepted by the Tobermory community. I became involved with the local lifeboat fundraising committee and from this I was invited to become a Deputy Launching Authority for the Tobermory Lifeboat. An honour and a responsibility I'm proud to have taken on. In doing this I have found my social circle has widened to the point where I can't remember enjoying the company of so many friends for many years. It is a wonderful feeling to go about my business around the town and always be bumping into folks I know and who know me. Another important aspect for me is the fact that folks are interested in me and for the first time in a long, long while I feel acknowledged for who I am.

At the beginning of the summer I established a sea kayak guiding service in Tobermory with the generous assistance of Chris of Clearwater Paddling. Essentially I am working for him as a guide here on the Isle of Mull but without his generosity in agreeing to set up a Mull wing to his business, I would not be doing something I love - sea kayak guiding. So far the business is going well and there is a lot of interest. It is lovely to take people out and around Tobermory Bay, showing them the sights and sharing with them the joys of sea kayaking on the west coast of Scotland.

I am free of my deep depression at the moment and I look forward to the coming months with hope and excitement. There is a lot to be joyous about living here and there are many times when I pinch myself to make sure that I am where I am.

I look forward too to writing many more blog entries with a more upbeat tone to them.

"One Flew Over..." Life On a Psychiatric Ward

My Space                               Photo: Nick Ray

I clearly remember the first time I was admitted to a psychiatric ward. It was 1998 and I was in crisis with deep clinical depression, very thin and underweight. Then, as I walked onto the ward with the Community Psychiatric Nurse who had brought me in, I remember two emotions flooding my limbic system. The first was fear - a fear of the unknown, the fear of becoming mad, the fear of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest". As the loudly alarmed door to the ward closed behind me, the second emotion then enveloped me and this was by far the most useful one. The sensation of safety and the relief of no longer being totally at the mercy of my depression.

Eighteen years later and this is my fifth psychiatric admission. I wouldn't say that I'm now an old hand but I do know what to expect and the fear of the unknown - the fear of entering a world of madness from which I may never escape, has long since disappeared. It's an odd experience for me to feel a sense of normality in an environment where 'normal' is a concept which many folks here are struggling to determine. However being here does seem familiar and comforting. This comfort is largely due to the healthily warm therapeutic atmosphere created and embodied by the staff team. The ward is a safe environment where apart from physical and verbal violence, anything goes. Expressions of human emotion in all its guises are OK here which is a psychological release for many - like myself. In our society we filter how we express our core emotions of Joy, Fear, Anger and Sadness because we may harbour shame and reticence in doing so. Here on the ward, my tears of sadness are unapologetic. My anger is not extinguished but allowed to burn out naturally. My fear is not quashed but encouraged to be faced and somewhere amidst all these, there are increasing moments of pure joy which burst through the vacated chinks in the emotional armour I have created.

We are a transient, sometimes ragged band here on the ward. Each of us carries our own wounds and we require healing in individual ways. There are unwritten and unsaid laws of existence here. We do not delve into each others lives apart from asking where we live and what family we may have. Any other information which is offered up by a person is warmly received but even then we do not unpick at any loose threads of information for fear of unravelling more than either party has bargained for. We accept each other for who we are no matter what behavioural traits we exhibit. In a way, we are a model social community where each person is met with openness and trust and where no unfair judgement is meted out. Nevertheless tensions do arise and we can choose to interact less with folks we have little in common with.

There's an awareness too of the intimacy in how we live and share our lives on the ward. Sleeping space is shared four to a room, meal times are shared, there are two television rooms and a quiet room and the seating in the entrance hall is a favourite place for folks to hang out. Many on the ward are not allowed off the premises either at all, or unaccompanied. This means that for many of us we are living together 24/7. We learn the valuable lesson of tolerance very quickly and in doing so we accept we each have our personal foibles.

Routine is key to our happy existence here. Very quickly I slipped into being governed by the times for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In between these are set times for tea and coffee breaks. I soon identified what is important for me and I established a routine to meet my needs. I rise at six for my first coffee of the day and to watch the morning news. Often I will be the only person up (apart from the night staff) and I enjoy the calm and solitude. I enjoy the time between getting up and breakfast at eight because of the relative serenity around me. Our time on the ward is very much our own - we are not compelled into any activity though we are encouraged to participate in what is on offer. I enjoy the pottery sessions on a Thursday and the art and craft sessions on a Tuesday. Other than these two I entertain myself with reading (avidly) and teaching myself watercolour painting through the university of YouTube. Very rarely I will allow myself to sleep during the day and when I do it is a delicious luxury. Even more rarely I will sit and watch daytime television knowing how alluring "Homes Under the Hammer" can become after a while. You'll pleased to hear, I hope, that I avoid watching "Jeremy Kyle" at all costs! Dinner is at five in the evening. I find the time after this drags a little where I drift in and out of the television room or sit and read. I sometimes watch a film or programme on BBC iPlayer. After the tea break at eight I then begin to count the minutes to 10pm when I get my medication and a sleeping pill. I need this fast acting sleeper (as we call them) to knock me out before the snoring commences in the room I'm in. My three erstwhile companions are pretty loud and it's impossible for me to fall asleep if they tune up before I have dropped off.

So the routine of life here marches on. Days blend into each other and the weeks slide by just as effortlessly. It's certainly not an uncomfortable existence but neither is it one that I hope to continue indefinitely. It is serving its purpose. I feel safe, I feel cared for and importantly, I feel acknowledged. There is power to be gained from living in the moment - the power of now. I am healing - there is no doubt about this.

I think that in general society is far more aware and more accepting of mental health distress than it was when I first encountered the service nineteen years ago. The view of mental health hospital provision has moved way beyond the one portrayed by Jack Nicholson and his cohorts in the renowned 1975 film. I am confident of openly sharing my mental health experiences and not hiding them away for fear of judgement or shame. However I am less confident about making an admission of my mental health history when it comes to seeking employment and I find this very sad.

I am ready to leave hospital now. The routine has begun to grind and I am missing home terribly but I have to accept that I'm going to be here for a good few weeks more. My ECT treatment is due this Friday and so begins a new phase of treatment for my depression. I can put up with my life on the ward in the knowledge that I am tackling this weight I have carried with me. However I look out of the windows at the budding plants and trees longing for the freedom of the open seas and the cry of the Gulls above. It won't be long now.

The Inner Storms

My last post was in early February. Since the middle of that month I have been a patient in the wonderful care of the psychiatric ward in the Mid-Argyll Hospital. I have severe clinical depression, an affliction that has dogged me much of my adult life. This time though, this particular bout has been unusually tortuous and I have struggled at times to make sense of the world and my place in it. Suicide is a subject many of us find challenging to openly speak about which is why depression can be such an insidiously serious illness. For me, suicide is not a simple 'get out' clause, it is the seemingly obvious resolution to my inner turmoil. The struggle I have in believing that I have value to offer and I am valuable to the important people in my life. My desire for completing suicide offers me a sense of deep and timeless peace - a peace that I often struggle to find in my life.

Thankfully, despite the emotional anguish I experience, there is within me a strong desire to continue living. This is why in mid-February I was able to seek the assistance first from my GP and then the psychiatric team of the Mid-Argyll Hospital. The sense of safety I experienced once I was admitted to the ward was an overwhelming one. At the point of admission there was the usual tussle within myself to follow or not to follow the advice of the GP and the ward staff. However once I made the decision to accept admission, I was able to relax (somewhat) and allow the pent up emotional tensions within me to be slowly expunged. This process has not been straightforward nor particularly pleasant. I have time and again slumped to the depths of my soul and faced my demons head on, believing at times that these would ultimately triumph. These demons continue to combat me and my sense of self as a worthwhile individual is far from complete. My recovery from this depression is slow and tenuous to say the least.

In a few days time I begin a course of ECT (Electro-convulsive Therapy) in the hope that this approach will knock my depression on the head - pardon the pun. It is not known how many sessions I will require but it is generally thought that six to twelve are the normal amount. From all accounts I understand this to be a safe and effective approach to curing severe clinical depression with odd renewal sessions from time to time as required. For me, the prospect of no longer feeling and experiencing the deep emotional anguish I have been is of course hugely attractive. It means quite simply that I will be able to smile with the world again.

I am not ashamed of my depression though I do feel shame when I recall some of interactions with people while deeply depressed. I am happy to speak of my condition in the hope that it helps others who may be experiencing depression or living with a loved one who is. As I have always been told - it's good to talk.