Unstoppable. My brain and I

It can only take a small series of events to set it off. Last week it took a combination of being physically ill followed by a job I was applying for closing the application process earlier than expected. The illness knocked me out of my usual routine. I didn’t get the exercise of cycling to and from work. I didn’t get my relaxing lunchtime walk by the river. Instead I got 2 days of being stuck in my flat, unable to concentrate or sit up for more than 30 minutes without having to lie down or rush to the bathroom. To top it all off, it was a really good job and I was kicking myself for not getting my act together sooner.

Unstoppable is a Tony Scott movie about a runaway train, bear with me this metaphor is going somewhere I promise. All it takes for the train to become to become an unstoppable wrecking machine is one person to forget one minor thing. It starts off as a slow train chugging away but before you know it Denzel Washington and Chris Pine are risking life and limb before it blows up an entire town. My mind is like that, one minor thing knocks me off course and it can lead to an unstoppable rampage running through my brain just without the calming influence of Denzel Washington shouting instructions at me. Or Chris Pine crawling into my brain and using another brain to slow my brain down before my brain crashes into a chemical plant destroying literally everything in a mile radius. Maybe this metaphor doesn’t completely follow.

The point I’m struggling to is that it only takes a few minor factors to set off a downward spiral. For me, much like the guy out of My Name is Earl who fails to set the train up correctly, this was knocking me out of my normal routine. This threw me off and from then on anything slightly negative was like someone telling Denzel Washington that Dakota Fanning’s been abducted in Mexico City. Sorry I’m stuck on Tony Scott movies as metaphors today.

When things get truly bad with me, when the ferry explodes in New Orleans, when Goose dies, when a train careers towards utter devastation, I start getting severe mood swings. This starts with my mood going down and down and down then it suddenly abates and I’m absolutely unstoppable (like the train but in a positive way this time). I will be able to achieve anything! I can do everything I put my mind to! I can do it all at once! I can be the best at Top Gun academy! Then suddenly Goose dies and I’m back down to zero again. I suddenly feel that if I can’t achieve everything at once so why bother trying to achieve it in stages. If I can’t do everything right now then what’s the point in me doing anything?

Mood swings are a common symptom in clinical depression as well as other forms of depression. For me they are the scariest part of my depression, they take me to the absolutely lowest point and knowing when I’m at the top of the cycle where I’m in a sort of mania, full of over the top expectations of myself, requesting a fly past fighter HQ, I know that a crash is coming that sooner or later I will be wondering what use am I to anyone, worse still, why am I holding back everyone I know and love? It can be the hardest thing to get out of, it feels like I’m being pulled to 2 extremes, if I try and get out of one I go fully back the other way to the opposite extreme. The few things which help me are:

  • Getting into a routine. Making myself a set routine I’m comfortable with. This always helps occupy my mind, a detour for the runaway train where it stops at lights and runs usefully and efficiently.
  • Making my targets achievable. When I’m at my lowest it can feel like unless I do something that changes the world I’m failing so why bother doing anything. At this time I find doing something simple like making a cup of tea, reading a book, writing, drawing just anything lifts my mood slightly.
  • Setting myself mental roadblocks. If I’m feeling like my mind’s running out of control I breathe slowly and think of a thought which makes me realise why being alive and here is something worth doing. For me this is thinking of my wife and my cats. The things which make me happiest in my life.

These all help me, maybe not straight away, sometimes I can’t force myself into any of them, eventually though I achieve one and this begins to level me out. I often imagine there are two of me, the one stuck at the bottom of the well with mood swings and one at the top. The one at the top jumps in:

“Why did you do that? Now both of us are in here”

“I’ve been down here before though, and I know the way out”

Wasn’t The West Wing good?