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Early warning signs

Well here we are in February. A year ago I wrote about January depression but I seem to have escaped that this year, possibly because I am practising Mindfulness, but also because I am applying strategies that I write about in this post.

There was a time when, following a move and a new GP, I struggled with depression and would pay visits to the surgery in the hope that some help would be forthcoming. When I related my symptoms I was told that I was being super sensitive to my feelings and these had arisen because I was frightened of descending into previous illness that had resulted in hospitalisation. I often wondered if she had read my notes.

After attending a self-management course, I learnt that these thoughts, feelings and behaviour are important, for they are our EWS (early warning signs). While these may differ between us, many are commonly experienced by sufferers.

If you are reading this because you suspect you are depressed I hope you will be heartened by the knowledge that all these feelings will pass but there are some things you can do to make yourself feel better in the meantime.

My trigger is usually a period of stress even if I think, at the time, that I am coping. Sometimes, I may have a fall, a sign my balance is off centre or that I am not concentrating. I may have been exceptionally busy with normal activities. Holidays and Christmas can cause this.

So what are my early warning signs of depression? First I begin to wake up tired rather than refreshed and find it difficult to get up. I am aware that something in my life is missing and that is the sense of joie de vivre, being able to enjoy simple activities and generally looking forward to what life has to offer. Over a few days I notice I am feeling overwhelmed with a range of daily activities that I would normally take in my stride. I begin to forget things and find it difficult to plan ahead. Time becomes short and I cannot fit in what needs to be done. Time drags but also seems to fly and leave little time to complete tasks. This causes some anxiety and I become aware of a few worries. These increase over a few days. I begin to worry about my worries. I worry about getting more worried. It is a vicious cycle.

My sleep is disturbed. Whereas my medication usually knocks me out, suddenly I either cannot get off to sleep or I wake with a start in the night and cannot get back to sleep. Early waking might happen - a common symptom in depression. While I have previously been enjoying my food, I feel sick in the mornings and am uninterested in food. I may have difficulty swallowing, particularly where tablets are concerned.

As a writer, one sign my mood is dropping is that I stop writing or find it difficult to engage with a manuscript that previously had excited me. I begin to spend more time sitting on the sofa but achieving little. I get things out and do nothing with them, start to read an article but fail to finish. A number of half read papers start to pile up. By now the kitchen is untidy and my normal attention to cleanliness is notably absent. Dishes in the sink and cold cups of tea sit forgotten on the table, made before I wandered off to do something else, distracted. I am now feeling unsociable – after all I cannot ask anyone round to my messy house and I am reluctant to answer the phone or make arrangements to meet with friends. If one of my friends cannot meet up I may experience a feeling of relief.

Now none of the above is a serious warning sign on its own. As the peer specialist told us, ‘it is when several EWS are observed and they hang around.’ The key is being aware.

Luckily, I now recognise these signs and rather than ignore them, which my GP thought I should, I recognise that I need to take some action.

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