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Turning depression around

Snakes and ladders (without the ladders)

There’s nothing fun about depression.  It’s not an engaging pastime to be dipped into at leisure, but rather can feel like a board game on which we play over and over again.

One thing I’ve come to accept is that recovery for me will be a game of snakes and ladders for a substantial part of my life.  However, no matter how vehemently I believe it when I slip down an unforeseen snake, I’ll never be back at square one.

Square one is ignorance: ignorance of the illness and the fact that I’m affected by it.  I know that I suffer from depression, and that I most probably will for the rest of my life, to a greater or lesser extent at any given time.  In acknowledging that, I know that square one is a place I will never revisit.

What happens with the next roll of the dice is anyone’s guess.  The first time we play the game, there are no ladders on the board, no shortcuts.  The hard work must begin from scratch.  We  might move forwards quickly, rolling consecutive sixes, or the journey onwards and upwards may be slower and steadier with only ones or twos.  Accepting our own pace is key:  setting expectations or demands for an immediate  or faster “fix” creates pressure that sets us back before we even encounter the shortest of snakes.

Similarly, the snakes may set us back only a few squares, or from within fingertip reach of our goal to not quite the beginning of our quest.  What we do at the bottom of the tail is our choice.  We can coil up and resolve to never roll the dice again, or we can shed our skin and start over, this time with the knowledge of how to incorporate a few strategic ladders that we know work for us.

Our rungs are our lifelines.  They are unique to us, and what works for me may not work for you.  Our willingness and ability to cling onto them will vary, and even when we know where they are, we can stand in our own way at times.  The awareness of these ladders and how to implement them keeps us ahead of square one and lends a sense of control that is missing when we navigate the board for the first time.

We roll the dice, but life may load them against us.  Ladders are our prize; snakes are the downfalls that lead us to them.  Sitting the game out gets us nowhere.  The only choice we have if we want to live this life is to keep rolling.

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The power struggle

A common misunderstanding about depression surrounds the nature of its healing.  Recovery takes longer for some than it does for others, but unlike a broken bone, in most most cases healing is not absolute.  It isn’t a fracture that, after a few weeks in plaster, has knitted itself back together, as strong and as resilient as before.  Yes, the healing still happens unseen and internally, but there’s no risk of it breaking again from one day, from one hour, from one minute to the next if the balance shifts even imperceptibly.

Living with depression is a daily fight.  Some days, we win the tug of war easily with little effort; others we can literally be knocked down by a feather.  The fight can be a minor tiff or a full-scale nuclear war, and our chances of victory depend largely on how well we’re feeling.  There’s no way of predicting how devastating the assault will be or how well-stocked our supplies are to oppose it.

Our track record of victories provides no comfort or encouragement, because it feels like the slate is wiped clean from one day to the next.  The knowledge that we’ve faced worst and come out on top bears no significance when we’re faced with the challenge of a new day.  By the same token, there is little immediate satisfaction in the realisation that we have survived another attack.

And the reality is that every day that we see through to its end is a victory.  It may not feel like it at the time, but when we reach the end of the day, we have come out on top.  We haven’t succumbed, haven’t given in, haven’t given up.  If it’s taken help from others to get us there, we’ve found the strength to ask someone to stand beside us and face it.  We don’t have to go it alone; we just have to keep on going.

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