Thursday, 30 April 2015

Hope Springs Eternal.

I know I’ll always,
Come alive,
After I fall,
Into a dive.

I know the sun,
Will rise again,
After I’ve gone into,
A dark refrain.

I write to myself,
Some notes of this,
Because I forget,
I’m always remiss.

To think I can,
Be happy again.
To think I’m not,
Really going insane.

When I’m OK,
I think I can never,
Fall again,
My smile to sever.

Yet when I’m down,
I feel I will never,
Be happy again,
Or even clever.

To use my brain,
To see anew,
That it's just my mind,
That’s in a stew.

The world is the same,
Night turns to day.
It’s only me,
Who’s lost his way.

It's just my mind,
That has become unkind.
It’s those chemicals again,
I’ll have to find...

Not from the drugs,
That have never worked.
Just from my spirit,
That pain has usurped.

Keep that dawn in mind,
It will return again.
Put up the photos,
In a lovey frame.

Work to move,
To get up and connect.
Choose a sunshine day,
Then press select.

Vision what you want to see,
Feel what you want to find.
Help to choose the happy way,
And support and grow your mind.

I know I’ll always,
Come alive,
After I fall,
Into a dive.

I know the sun,
Will rise again,
After I’ve gone into,
A dark refrain.

Do not despair,
You’ve found another day.
Now you can take a step,
Move closer to a way.

That brings a smile,
That makes you feel safe,
That brings you hope,
That doesn’t chafe.

Get up and move,
Take that shower.
Step forward,
Into a new hour.

Les
A Moodscope member.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Empowered.

"Think Ninja – but without the turtles."

No – not you people. Those were the words I was writing for my fashion blog when I felt it.

I felt it as clearly as if I had been swimming underwater for too long and my head had broken the surface. There was suddenly air and light and sound.

The chemicals in my brain had switched state. Instantly, as they always do.

Thinking about it, although the swimming underwater analogy is helpful, it's not entirely accurate. This might be better.

Have you ever visited a watermill, and seen the wheel standing dry, stationary, far too heavy to push round by hand and, without that movement to turn the grinding stones above, useless and futile?

Then have you seen the miller twist the lever that opens the mill race; heard the rush of water through the sluice; smelled that green watery smell with that sharpness on the top like the blade of a scythe?

Have you felt the tremble shiver through the wooden fabric of the mill, heard the creak and slosh as the wheel starts to move, slowly, so slowly and then quickly with an easy and powerful assurance?

The millstones start to grind. The wheat is turned into flour which will in turn become bread, the staff of life. And down where the waters race, a sunbeam catches the splashes so they look like shooting stars...

And, more prosaically, the Moodscope score goes from 17% to 71%. It looks as if it's taken twenty-four hours. In fact, it's taken only a couple of minutes.

Now, because my depression affects me physically, I still need to take it easy for a few days. It's still far too easy to overdo things, get tired and find that score slipping back through sheer exhaustion, trying to do everything at once because – Hallelujah – now I can!

But this bad go is over. I'm back! The happy, lively, optimistic, sociable Mary everyone knows is back (because only a select few know the other one).

You people know both of me, and, through your comments, I'm beginning to know some of you.
So, for those of you still feeling that the powerhouse of your life has rusted shut and will be silent forever, I pray for streams of water.

And for those of you totally intrigued about how I can get Ninjas (but not turtles) into a fashion blog, you'll have to visit my page at Houseofcolourhuntingdon.wordpress.com. We're talking Japanese influence on fashions this summer.

Mary
A Moodscope member.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Do only fools rush in?

Betty Churcher, who died was the first woman in Australia to manage our National Gallery. "They say fools rush in where angels fear to tread," she said in one of her last interviews.

"Well, I'm the fool, but I'm glad I'm the fool because I've rushed in and done things that seemed on the surface to be almost impossible." she explained.

When I was younger and manic I would be so impulsive and I learnt to believe that maybe the angels were right to be afraid, because there always seemed long term disastrous results for my foolishness.

One day on a short break down the coast, after years of living sensibly taking few risks, I saw a lovely freehold shop for sale with a flat on top.

My dream had been to have a shop, for many years I had market stalls. My children were now grown up and had left home.

Families and friends advised me against taking the plunge. They were worried that at best I was following my heart and rushing into a venture that would affect my health and finances. At worst they feared I would be very depressed and all alone in small town.

This December will be my tenth anniversary in my shop which still makes me happy when I walk downstairs each day and enter it. I love the great variety of items, the smell of old quirky books, the great range of books, the mixture of chaos and order. I have made new friends who form my support network. I have learnt so much about what I am capable of and how to run a business. I have even started to learn from my many mistakes!

The best part is being my own boss so if I am having a bad day I can open later or close early.

Of course I am not saying it is advisable to rush into a new venture with no planning but sometimes I think one needs to be brave, to maybe appear foolish and take a chance.

It maybe something like learning a new skill at a mature age, trying public speaking when you know you are nervous, or even writing a blog for moodscope when you have never written a blog before.

From an old fool
A Moodscope member.

Monday, 27 April 2015

WLC = Whinge, Learn, Change.

This morning, I gave the sofa some feedback. I told it, in no uncertain terms, what an idiot it was for bumping into me. It was personal. The sofa was out to get me...

...except it wasn't. I was the idiot.

Do you ever find yourself giving a good talking to inanimate objects? As humans, we tend to anthropomorphise 'stuff' and then assign malicious intent to it! Why do we do that? (Or am I the only one?)

My justification? I was tired. But I'm more tired of this stupid sub-routine in my mind. Time to change.

Over the years, I've had the privilege of working alongside four consultancies who shared the same learning model. The WLC model:

    Win, Learn, Change.

The Win, Learn, Change model is used for gathering feedback and commitment to action at the close of an intervention. What was the win for you, what did you learn, what would you like to change? I'd like to share the Lex Revised Version:

Whinge, Learn, Change.

I don't know about you, but I meet a lot of people who Whinge!! Well, they say, "It takes one to know one!"

I can't remember a single time when I found a whinge helpful, can you? But a whinge can become our friend, when it becomes a catalyst for change. This morning, when I caught myself whinging about the evil sofa trying to kill me, I remember my positive intention to write this blog. So here's how Whinge, Learn, Change could work for you...

Whinge, Learn, Change.

Whenever you catch yourself whinging or even just having a murmur of discontent (let alone a Winter of it!) let it be a wake-up call for an opportunity to learn and change. The Whinge is the trigger to choose a better response. Heed its call. Then ask yourself:

    "What can I Learn from this?"

Of course, I learned that the sofa wasn't evil, that I was being stupid, I wasn't getting enough sleep, and I needed a cup-of-tea to help the morning wake-up ritual. What's next?

    "So what do I need to Change?"

Take responsibility for my own movement around the house and be more careful. Develop enhanced acuity. Laugh at myself when I'm feeling ratty. Get some sleep! Have a cup-of-tea first (isn't that what Stephen Covey means by "First Things First"?)

I hope I've brought a smile to your lips as you read this. We all whinge (trust me, you do too). Now you have a simple strategy for turning your whinge into an asset for change. And, if you've got deep enough rapport with your friends, you've got a great tool for transforming their thinking if they ever think your ear looks like a garbage container worthy as a receptacle for their interminable whinging!

Lex
A Moodscope member.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

All about the dogs.

Taking my regular walks along the local coastal path always does me good.

What has been lovely this past week (half term holidays) is seeing tens of children at the beach with their families, as well as the usual motley collection of dogs and their walkers (walkers, as in humans, not Zimmer frames. Now that would be a sight!).

But it has made me realise something. I've noticed that I'm quite oblivious to all the babies, toddlers and children with their buckets and spades and cute little ways. I'm all about the dogs! I'm not maternal. I'm 'caninernal'!

I stop and coo over Bella the Pug as she snorts happily at me like a little piglet. Daisy, a Cocker Spaniel, rolls on her back and allows me the privilege of tickling her tum. Spotty the Bull Dog sits heavily on my foot demanding more attention. And Leo the ShiTzu fetches his squeaky toy and plops it at my feet, snuffling excitedly.

Not to sound puffed up here, but these dogs adore me!

They don't seem to be frightened of me; there's no hiding behind mummy's legs or bursting into tears, and I don't fret that I'm saying all the wrong things to timid little Timmy and damaging the poor child for life! Nope. In fact, I'm not gonna lie, I think I speak the language of Dog.

I've always had more of a leaning towards felines than canines. Yet, now, I take myself off on my walks knowing that my heart will soar and sing as I meet and greet these delightful four-legged characters. I've never felt so cherished!

In fact, I can truly say with a confidence I'll never possess around fellow humans, that animals love me every bit as much as I love them.

Animals, the great outdoors, creativity...it's no wonder these things crop up so frequently in Moodscope posts. They are the great staples of better mental health.

Suzy
A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Turn round 180 degrees.

I started this piece a while back, inspired by the following comment written by Lex (To exercise or exorcise, 9th February).

"Last week I misread a friend's comment – and jumped to a conclusion – the wrong one. In fact it was so wrong, it was 180 degrees opposite to their intention."

Usual Sunday walk with my beloved – which I use to measure my limited energy levels due to a chronic medical condition and which helps to lift my resulting low mood; on our customary mid-way stop to admire the view over the river estuary we were faced with thunderous black clouds, advancing swiftly towards us (would we get back to the car without getting wet?). Yet when we turned 180 degrees and looked south...wow! What a change! Blue, blue skies stretching away to the horizon and bright, shining sunlight dancing on a sparkling blue sea...

Which reminds me of my own mind set and moods; too often I waste time looking at the worst possible scenario; Oh I am really, really good at playing these out; dialogues, actions, the lot, with me in the starring role of course! Yet I seem completely unable to accept even the possibility of any positive scenarios and outcomes. Even when my nearest and dearest patiently try to point out possible alternative outcomes, I am still so quick to dismiss their assessment of my situation because they just don't "get it". In fact they nearly always do "get it" spot on – but for some reason I can't or won't hear that message.

So, I need to listen properly to their comments and simply accept that they could be right; I need to turn round 180 degrees and look in a completely different direction; I need to focus on the more positive scenario and "act as if" that is the more likely outcome – because, do you know what, if I "act as if" things will go well, then they stand a much better chance of doing so.

Frankie
A Moodscope member.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Thou Doth Procrastinate Too Much.

I know when I am depressed (and it seems many others are the same) we go round and round and round in our heads about so many things.

All the 'normal' shoulds, coulds and woulds that we continually use like a club to inflict self-pain, thinking as though, while mentally debilitated, we 'should, could and would' be able to operate as normal - just like a 100M runner with a broken leg!

Can we eradicate such words from our internal conversation as well as our external one where we happily self-flagellate in public?

The challenge I find is that we procrastinate SO much that even the act of not being able to decide, depresses us.

I often put this down to the fact that thinking is an IQ process and that it takes an emotional desire - that 'feeling' (EQ), to turn that thought into action.

So without the desire to do something, our thoughts kinda get trapped in our head and simply go round the mental roundabout without anywhere to 'get off' and with no desire to actually change the angle of the 'steering wheel' as it doesn't feel safe to do so!

In the creation of a habit there are three ingredients:

1) Knowledge – the what to and why
2) Skill – the how to
3) Desire – the want to

Are they all equal or is there one more important than the other two?

Our schooling world would say knowledge and skill, yet if there is no 'want to', nothing will change.

When our brain is 'broken' and we feel unsafe, recognise it is a challenge to turn our thoughts into actions. We 'know' intellectually what we should, could and would do but starting the action engine, which is always the heart can be difficult. We even talk about a 'loss of heart' when we cannot put 'our heart into it'.

So when and if you are depressed, allow your brain to circle the roundabout and do not beat yourself up about it – be gentle – realise that you are not yourself. Don't make any important decisions and if you have to, have a good friend who understands you, to interact with, to come to a joint decision. Use their heart as they connect with your head.

Les
A Moodscope member.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The great outdoors indoors.

Like many people my wellbeing is boosted by experiencing the outdoors. I'm lucky that immediately outdoors for me is a lovely garden. A garden nurtured for over 50 years by the wonderful lady living here before us. I remember so clearly the waves of delight spreading over me when I spotted a beautiful magnolia tree during the first viewing of our future home. As someone who rarely gets excited about anything (!) it was a truly amazing feeling for me. I'm grateful to now live here and have the opportunity to care for and enjoy the garden further. I also enjoy teaching my young family what I already know (so they know their dandelions from their daffodils!) and discovering so many new things myself.

But what about those darker days when you can't or don't go out? Well how about bringing a bit of the great outdoors, indoors? I'm someone who's kept houseplants for many years now. An abundance of research shows that this not only benefits wellbeing, it speeds recovery from illness, builds relationships and increases compassion. It can apparently even boost children's ability to learn.

Looking back I've rescued some sad looking plants from local DIY stores in my time and nurtured them back to health. Yes, I've lost some over the years (I'm no Alan Titchmarsh!) but around a decade later some are still here. My recently re-potted Peace Lilly for example is now three plants: two of which are currently in flower. We've all had our ups and downs but in caring for them I'm perhaps reminded to care generally. Are they getting enough water, space or light (very obvious when they're not). Am I? Are you?

So how about adding something green to your desk? Or why not treat yourself (or a friend) to a simple, beautiful bunch of daffodils? But perhaps take care before you decide on your purchase. I've recently heard that people are mistaking daffodils for spring onions in supermarkets. A vase of spring onions could raise a smile and be a talking point, but it wouldn't quite bring 'spring' indoors in the way I'm advocating!

Jen
A Moodscope member.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Brain Muscle Memory.

Grim.

Bleak.

Desolation.

Yeah, yeah. If you're reading this then those feelings are instantly recognisable for you and fit today to a T. Or, if today is good, then it fitted yesterday, or the day before, or three months ago.

I delivered a talk tonight. One more village hall. One more collection of middle-aged and older women. One more evening of laughter.

Because I do make them laugh. And educate them. And inspire them. They think I'm warm and witty and wonderful.

And then I drive away into the dark nothingness. Back to a loving home where I cannot feel that love. To caring friends online whose good wishes only fall into a vast emptiness. To vodka, sometimes; because it makes things bearable for a while.

And I think "But this is not me! Because I am happy, upbeat, optimistic and positive. That is the me who I recognise. That is the Mary my friends and colleagues know!

"Who is this nihilist? This is not me!"

But, yes. Let's be brutally honest. Because of some chemical fluctuations in my brain, over which I have no control and which repeat in a boringly repetitive cycle, this is exactly who I am.

My lovely adopted son Tom says (you remember Tom from a previous post?), when I wail at him on Facebook, "Mum – you can't let your feelings define who you are!"

And he's right.

Because, while I might be feeling bleak and dark, I can choose to separate the way I feel to the way I believe life is. I can choose to say "I am a happy, joyful optimistic person who just happens to be feeling down at the moment." I can choose to say "Life is good. Even though I can't feel it right now."

Choosing to be this way is only possible because, when "well" I make a practice of positivity, of compassion and love and tolerance. It creates a strong "brain muscle memory" so that in the bad times the negative thoughts have no tracks to follow.

Any negative thoughts that find their way into my brain are then on enemy soil. It's hard for them to find traction and they find themselves surrendering to the forces of positivity.

And yes, the longer the depression goes on, the stronger the dark thoughts get. Which is why I'm not ashamed to take the drugs. Hey - I'll take whatever works.

So yes, this "down" is unexpectedly deeper, harder and longer than I had expected. Damn. But I'm so grateful for all the work I do when "up" that help me get through the "downs".

If you're well and "up" at the moment, don't waste it. Get your brain to the "gym" to build up muscle. I hope you won't need it. But if you do need it, I hope it's there for you.

Mary
A Moodscope member.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

One less thing.

A phrase my family has taken from the film Forrest Gump is "One less thing" (always with his inimitable drawl!). On days when we are all rushing around with multiple goals to achieve, we find ourselves, back at the kitchen table, regaling each other with obstacles overcome in order to complete the tasks that we had set ourselves. And, finally we say that, on our To Do list there is at least "One less thing".

It's fairly easy to tick off practical tasks – the shopping, posting a letter, fetching the dry-cleaning etc. But what about dealing with those "inside things" - the worries, doubts, uncertainties that crop up daily – often the same ones that we were dealing with only the day before?

In order to tick them off the list we have to identify them. Perhaps that is the most difficult thing about them. They defy categorization, they lurk in the corners of our minds and loom out at us unexpectedly. We're having a good day, feeling positive and energetic and then one of these nagging thoughts reappears and we're fighting the same battle over again.

By identifying them, defining them, even writing them down, we might just shine enough light on them to make them shrink to something manageable. If we know what we're up against, we can work out how to deal with them effectively and ruthlessly. We can cut them down to size and finally banish them from our minds. So that we can say, triumphantly, with a corny Forrest Gump imitation accent: "One less thing".

After all, his other famous quote is: "Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you're going to get."

Rebecca
A Moodscope member.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Practical Hugging 101.

If an on-line hug doesn't quite have the required effect, a mismanaged 'live' hug can also go amiss!

Let's face it, I didn't attend "Practical Hugging 101", did you?

And so guys in particular have learned the "How-to-bring-wind-up" hug. This involves an embrace that ensures the lower regions are as far apart as physics permits. Once there is no ambiguous message conveyed by the nether regions, the process of patting the back begins. If I could belch on demand, I would do this as a response, just to help guys get rid of this horrendous practice!

If you are going to hug someone, then hug them - don't patronise them!

An unusual blog-post perhaps, but I believe this is an important one. You see, as humans, we've done a deal to cope with the ambiguities of attention. Humans need attention. But not the wrong kind of attention.

Ideally, we need physical attention. This, however, is way too easily misunderstood and misinterpreted. So, here's the deal. We swap verbal attention for physical attention. At a pinch, we'll even trade in visual attention - a respectful glance or nod from a safe distance. But these are all poor imitations of the real close encounters of the third kind: direct physical attention.

How can we make contact safely - maximising the impact of our positive attention, but minimising the serious risk of being misunderstood? Firstly, I can speak only for Western Cultures. In the West, the region of the arm from the shoulder down to the elbow is widely understood as non-sexual. This means that it is usually OK to make contact with someone here - much like shaking hands. Of course, duration and pressure also play a part. Hold on to someone's arm for too long, and you'll be sending mixed messages! You've also got to be true to yourself. If you're not a touchy-feely person - or if they aren't, you need to learn, through practice, to recognise the signs.

If you do think a hug is appropriate, go for a brief embrace that is static - no need for patting the other person. Sometimes this is the most profound form of supportive contact - the impact of which goes way beyond anything we could articulate in words.

Surprise a friend with a hug!

Lex
A Moodscope member.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Deep Dark Depression.

How do we connect,
To the world out there;
When we are lost,
With our souls laid bare?

When we cannot move,
To even eat.
When we have to sit,
In the same old seat.

When we cannot,
Answer the phone.
When we are always,
Home alone.

When we refuse,
That knock on the door.
When we take sanctuary,
Flat on the floor.

When it’s too much,
To write an email.
When we can only,
Always, always fail.

When I cannot,
Simply get dressed.
When answering a question,
Feels like a test.

When coming daylight,
Is the foe.
Because I’m stupid,
Didn’t you know.

Depression is a demon,
That can take you.
It’s an awful obsession,
It’s a black dark hue.

It’s a burning spear,
Right through the heart.
It’s never welcome,
Yet when will it depart?

It’s the death of life,
It’s the death of soul,
It’s the death of everything,
Including your goal.

You can lose your family,
And your job too.
What can depression,
Not do to you?

There’s nothing it leaves,
As it rampages through.
Like a windblown desert,
Burned into you.

It’s twisting and turning,
While holding that knife.
The one you’ll lose most,
Is your husband or wife.

So do not despair,
You’re not alone out there.
Get into Moodscope,
Get in and share.

Some of your hurt,
Some of your heart,
A door may open,
Then you can start.

To take that simple step
That you thought had ended.
And find some feelings,
So you feel befriended.

That single step,
Of those thousand miles.
Where at the end,
Is a host of smiles.

So if you are stuck,
All black and blue,
I ask you what,
Are you going to do?

Whatever it is,
It MUST be done.
Nothing will change,
That first step MUST come.

So good luck to you,
Fighting inside.
It’s never healthy,
To simply hide.

You have to move,
And connect to people.
I know it feels like,
You have to climb a steeple.

It’s nothing so grand,
It’s nothing so high,
It’s a single step,
But please don’t say ‘try’.

To ‘try’ is to fail,
To risk is to win,
That first step,
Is how you begin.

Begin today,
To have your say.
It’s YOUR life,
Begin today.

Les
A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Can not judging others make it easier to not judge ourselves?

Some of us really believe we are worthless, useless or a failure as a person. These beliefs can be so deeply held that nothing seems to shift them. Often, we are so judgemental on ourselves that this habit can spill over so that we become judgemental on other people and events.

One way of counteracting this is to completely change the habit and give up being judgemental altogether. Like an alcoholic giving up alcohol - it can be done with a great deal of willpower and commitment.

Learning to stop evaluating people as right or wrong, good or bad is hard. But remember we don't have enough information and people are doing what they consider to be their best choice of behaviour available, according to their own circumstances, needs and values at the time.

Ironically, if we work on not judging others, we will be kinder to ourselves as well. Over time this will change our negative beliefs about ourselves.

Adrian
The Moodscope team.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Human shadows.

I love my new flat. I love the freedom it affords me. And I'm not often proud (like, never) but I love what I've done with it - all on a shoe-string too.

Living alone doesn't scare me because there is always something to occupy my mind with. But then, somewhere around January I took a sickening nose dive and for the last two weeks I've lived mostly back at my mum's.

Knowing that this is what I needed was a positive step.  Sadly, however, it's caused all the ugly faces in my head to start with their toxic, negative chatter: 'You can't live alone! 'Have you made a huge mistake?' 'Yes! Because you're hopeless!'

What I've learned though is this:

A depressed person should not be left alone. You see, in previous depressions, unable to cope with seeing people, I've always pulled up the draw bridge and shut up shop.  But I've always lived at home. Ergo, there has still been some form of human contact and distraction.

For the depressed individual, every hour can seem interminable; a slow, quiet form of torture at the mercy of monsters in your head.

Now I'm starting to have moments where I can see sunbeams at the end of the tunnel, my gut still tells me it was absolutely the right move (again showing the importance of not making rash decisions when low).

It may not be possible to move in with a friend or family member when you hit a depression but never underestimate the importance of human contact in recovery. Even if only for an hour or so propped up in a café, or sat in the library, pretending to read.

It can be of great comfort (I would imagine) to feel a reassuring hand on our back when awaking from a nightmare. So too, feeling the motion of humans around us can bring solace when we're feeling little more than a spectral shadow.

Suzy
A Moodscope member.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Would you like to export your Moodscope data?

Last week we talked about the importance of adding notes to your daily scores as it's helpful in pinpointing what may be causing your ups and downs. Because of this, we doubled the amount of space in which to write those annotations.

When we first developed Moodscope, we thought that your annotations should be private - for your eyes only - so you could be honest and totally free in what you wrote, but gave the facility to share your scores with your buddies if you chose.

The fact that your notes are private is staying as it is, but we know that many members have had requests from their therapists/doctors to see their notes as they think it may help with their therapy and others just want theirs to be able to do their own analysis.

So today we've added another new feature to moodscope - you can now choose to download all your scores AND all your annotations.

Just log in to your Moodscope account and click on the 'Manage Account' link in the top navigation. In this section you will see a link 'Export My Account Data (Scores and Annotations)'. Click on this to export all your data from Moodscope in a CSV file, which can be opened by Excel, Numbers, and many other spreadsheet applications.

We hope you'll find it helpful.

Kind regards.

Caroline Ashcroft
The Moodscope Team

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Bad Thoughts.

Having Moodscope Buddies can be a double edged sword. Especially when they do their job well.

So you Moodscopers know I'm bumping along the floor at the moment instead of flying high. It happens. It happens with predictable and embarrassing regularity. It comes. It goes. It will lift – eventually. I just have to wait it out. And we all, family and friends, deal with it.

And, with utter predictability my Moodscope Buddies deal with it in their own way. I get daily messages of support and encouragement from one. I get a salutary "I've got my eye on you. Make sure you do your Moodscope every day. If it drops below 10% you're going to that doctor whether you like it or not," from another. And from my third lovely Buddy I get the phone call anxiously asking me if I'm having bad thoughts?

So for a moment my mind irresistibly creates the thought of a leather-jacketed figure leaning against a graffiti covered wall, cigarette dangling between his lips, over-long hair dropping into his eyes as he casually tosses his flick-knife into the air and catches it again over and over... (Hey - I'm a writer: it's what we do!)

Then I realise. It's a code. She wants to know if I'm thinking about killing myself.

So, how do I deal with this question honestly but without frightening her?

Honestly? Well, yes. But not seriously. I haven't been serious about it for twenty years now.

At one point I was fairly sure I wouldn't reach fifty: the depression would have taken me out, one way or another. I'd made plans.

But the diagnosis of "bi-polar" changed everything. It means that all the dark thoughts are just another symptom. They don't have meaning or validity and they certainly don't have power to control my actions.

The last time I had a suicidal thought, just last week, I was driving along the A14 to attend a concert. And that thought is now, if not an old friend, at least a familiar enemy. It drops into the passenger seat with no warning and starts whispering.

But these days I know I don't have to listen. These days the whispers no longer get loud enough to be a conversation, they never become the insistent shouted commands of agony the way they were when I was seventeen, twenty five, thirty three.

So I can laugh at the thoughts now. Say "thanks for sharing," and dismiss them.

Would I rather they didn't turn up? Oh yeah!

But am I scared of them? No.

Tell you what though – that earlier "bad thought" image? Ridiculously clichĂ©d. Now, that's what does scare me as a writer. I'm going to have to work on that one!

Mary
A Moodscope member.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

"Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone".

That's probably the only thing I will remember my middle school teacher telling me. At the time I thought that it was a very narrow minded, bleak view of the world. Now I've been battling depression for over five years, it's been a bitter pill to swallow in realizing that there's truth to that saying.

I've always managed to "put my face on". Most of you know what that's like. Pretending to be happy. Smiling when inside you are crying. Never seeming as if you have a care in the world. But there came a point where it was all too exhausting and I no longer could continue the charade.

That's when I realized who my true friends were. They could be counted using fingers. Less than a hand.

Even to this day the fact remains that people I learn to trust suddenly stop calling once they find out I am having a blip. Or I'm being very negative.

But I've learned valuable lessons. Firstly, and most importantly, those that stayed are now closer to me than ever. They mopped up my tears, sent me positive messages and were there for me on the days I hated myself so much, that I couldn't even move. Secondly, I am more discerning when it comes to telling people about my mental health. I am not embarrassed by my depression. I am not at fault. This isn't my doing. But I know now that there are people who are true friends and people who pass through your life. And learning to differentiate between the two has been the hardest task.

I'm still learning. I'm still trying to live with depression. But I feel like those rose tinted glasses have been removed and suddenly the world is a clearer place.

It might not be the happy shining place I once thought. But I know there really are genuine caring people out there, who won't let you cry alone.

Value those people in your life, whoever they may be. They are as rare as four leaf clovers. But once found they give you far more than you can ever return.

Zahraa
A Moodscope member.

Monday, 13 April 2015

BAM. Change. BOOM. Regret.

Did you wake up today wishing things would change? They won't change. Not of their own accord. If you need a change, you need to make the change.

Now if you are, like I have been, in the midst of an oxygen sucking depression where every moment is about making it to the next one, then the time is not right to make any changes. In fact, change is likely to be detrimental to your survival through the worst. But when you are through the worst, you are unlikely to be an all-singing, all-dancing animal, you are likely to be exhausted, in need of rebuilding and perhaps a tiny bit grateful that you made it out the other end in a shape roughly resembling the real you. At that point you can think about change.

I learned the hard way how changing things overnight is a recipe for disaster. I've been doing that for years! I remember 'The Banana Diet'. BAM. Change. Eat only bananas in as many different ways as possible for all but one meal of the day. (How many ways can bananas be?  I did this! I could be blushing right now.) It was less than 2 days before I was cheating myself and stuffing chocolate raisins down my gullet. BOOM. Regret.

I've thrown out bundles of clothes that I was fed up wearing because they 'weren't me' then had barely anything to wear because I had neither the money nor the inclination to replace them. BAM. Change. BOOM. Regret.

We can only make real change happen when we size it up. Know how it looks from all its angles, remembering to look above and below as well as the sides. Try it for size. Allow ourselves to play with it and then leave it for a bit. Slowly include it. Abandon it.  Dance with it. Get angry at it. Throw energy at it. Ignore it. Look at it from a distance. But never, ever, let it go.

If you know you need a change, keep it with you and never let it go. Go slowly with it and just keep on returning to it even when you have ignored it for a long time. That is how you will wake up and not be wishing for change, but realise you have the key.

Love from 
The room above the garage.

p.s. the one exception is pants which should be changed a lot and without any consideration!

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Myth No. 91 - Depression is like the flu in that recovery is consistent.

If, like me, you feel you are currently ploughing furrows through darker days it can be excruciating knowing how to connect with people; how to feel part of the life/lives going on around you. It's hard, manual labour. And sometimes, it's the simple, silly things that can knock me sideways.

(I know I'm probably talking to the converted here but let's pass it on!)

Please, I implore you, never (ever!) ask a depressed soul (unless of course you're wanting some facial rearrangement!) if they are feeling better now. Neither end texts with, 'hope you are feeling better now.' Seriously, it is like waving a whopping great big red flag to a very vexed bull. Why?

With a cold or flu, once passed the worst and the fever subsides, the road to recovery is normally straight forward and the person can hope to feel stronger and stronger, better and better with each passing day. So much so, that when somebody asks the patient if they are 'feeling better now' the reply can, quite reasonably, be 'Yup, definitely on the mend, thanks.'

The main direction in the recovery of a depressed person will be up. But the recovery will more than likely have more ups and downs than a bouncing ball. Speaking personally, I'm all over the place! I can feel hopeful one hour only to feel utterly felled the next.

This is possibly why it is so dashed difficult to be around folk when very low because we know it is tough for friends to understand why, for example, Marion is back in bed seeking oblivion today when, 'she seemed fine at lunch yesterday.'

Knowing the myths or judgments that can surround depression sometimes helps. It may push us to verbalise and explain to those (and only to those) who we just know will listen with non-judgmental understanding. Thus educating, little by little, and helping to fight the secrecy that depression often thrives upon.

I'm painfully aware that it's not always easy being around someone who is depressed, and so when someone doesn't understand I must learn too. I must learn, relearn and practice the art of shrugging my shoulders and mutter, in Claire Week's words, " 'I'm not going to be silly. It will come right in time. Time will fix it.' It will."

Suzy
A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

You're A True Gem.

In literature, there is a certain archetype described as the "fatally flawed". Anna Karenina, for example, possessed character flaws that ultimately led to her downfall. Hamlet was one. Achilles was another. The Hare (of tortoise fame) was another.

Depression is often characterized by its ability to foreground our flaws and too many times, through its murky veil, have I viewed myself as fatally flawed.

But what exactly is a character flaw?

I think it is something embedded in our nature – usually acquired during our formative years – that can cause problems for us and the people around us. Essentially, a flaw is something that makes us imperfect as a human.

In gemology, flaws are called "inclusions". These tiny pieces of entrapped foreign debris can serve as valuable clues to help unravel the secrets of a gem's past. Not only can inclusions reveal the place of the jewel's formation, they are also hallmarks of the processes which gave rise to the precious stones.

Flaws? They are clearly not seen as such by everyone. A certain type of "inclusion" in a sapphire, known as "silk", actually adds to the value of the jewel. As the sapphire tries to push the impurities out over time, the process creates tiny, beautiful, light reflecting streaks.

Pink, blue or canary coloured diamonds are far more valuable than their perfect white cousins, and yet it is their flaws – imperfections in their formation – that gave them their colour.

Learning this about gem stones has led me to my current mantra. I have typed it on a "sticky" on my laptop screen and I urge you to say it to yourself now:

"Having flaws and trying the best I can makes me more lovable, more beautiful and more rare than if I was perfect".

Anna
A Moodscope member.

Friday, 10 April 2015

What have you done since Les's blog last week?

Here are the three questions posed last week:

1) 'What do you do?'
2) 'What are you passionate about?'
3) 'What is it that makes your heart sing?'

With the last question we shift the conversation to an almost spiritual/emotional level. It really connects and gets to the core about what truly moves us, which is quite different from the first two.

Now, if you did ask those questions of yourself last week (or have asked them now) and felt that your 'real self' emerged – what have you done/what will you do to move towards, what makes your heart sing – towards the real you?

All too often I speak to, or work with people who are clear what makes their heart sing and yet stay stuck in something that they 'do' – human-doing without embracing who they actually are – human-being.

When I then push to ask what they are going to change the tendency can be to Defend, Justify and Explain.(DJE).

DJE is simply another way of saying we are not truly committed to what we believe – another way of attempting to explain to our subconscious that we are not following our heart – another way of subsuming ourselves into the world of grey.

When Chief Executive of a local authority in the early 90s and depression descended, my values were diluted while I hardly saw my family; I made the decision to follow my heart and leave this secure, high profile, highly paid post to keep my dream and thus myself alive.

I then left two further posts for the same reason after that and now I am still following my own dream – to be a true public servant ten years on.

If you stay unhappy in a job – you teach your children that work is about suffering for the money.

If you stay in an unloving marriage – you teach children that marriage has much suffering and even little love.

If you attempt to 'lose' your pain in drink or drugs or sex, how can your heart be heard?

If you do not talk about and explain your mental health challenge or your partner doesn't want you to – you teach your family to stay closed and often needy.

Have you moved one step towards what makes your heart sing since last week? What steps do you need to take this week? And if not this week - when?

Les
A Moodscope member.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Chronic pain. It need not be so.

I am 52. I am having my twenty fifth anniversary. Congratulations, you might think.

Actually not quite. This is an anniversary of chronic pain. It's a chicken and egg situation – has long term pain caused depression or has depression and its bedfellow anxiety caused long term pain? Some of you may well ask yourselves the same question.

For some with chronic pain, depression is a secondary and it can be treated effectively. I suspect that chronic low grade depression and anxiety are both causes and perpetuators of my pain, as I started with pain issues from my teens.

The stigma around depression and anxiety led me subconsciously to search endlessly for physical reasons for my pain - cervical ribs, compressed vertebrae – and undertake physical treatments. Acute pain has turned into intractable.

I swung from "I don't have a problem. My intellect has overcome my pain. I am as fit as my peers.  I shall soar again" to "I am helpless and exhausted. I can't do that job because I might get pain. Nobody understands. I need to be looked after. I am not responsible for me." Life became a quest for the holy grail of no pain. The focus of my life for years has been pain avoidance, rather than enjoying a whole life. Not very balanced, eh?

So why do I want to share this with you? I want to share it because I recently completed a wonderful free online course called "Preventing Chronic Pain: A Human Systems' Approach" on Coursera.org. Even if you do not have physical pain, I think it is another part of the toolbox for our mental wellbeing.

It explains so much – how pain can develop from acute to chronic to intractable. It explains compassionately and clinically how we can prevent or manage this – the Seven Realms of Wellness. I have shed a tear in mourning for lost years. And so I want to tell you about this course in the hope that at least one of you will not have to shed those tears too.

Sunshine in the rain
A Moodscope member

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

You Can't Share a Hug On-line.

Some people say that on-line friends aren't real friends at all.

I would disagree. In my experience, on-line friends are just the same as friends you actually see face to face. They pop into your life to say hello. They notice if you're not around for a few days and check up on you. They send sympathy when you're hurt or ill or upset. Oh, and they can get upset with you (and you with them) just like the friends you can see face to face.

"But you can pretend to be anyone you like on-line," say the detractors; "How do you know this person is what they're purporting to be?"

Good point. On-line friends may not come with the recommendation "Oh, this is Jack; I went to school with his sister," but I think the majority of my on-line friends came with some kind of connection. In some cases I've been reading their books for years and then find that the authors of these books are as warm and welcoming as the characters they write. In one case it was "This is Brendon; he's a great guy who's been through a tough time. Be a friend and give him some encouragement please." And on-line friendships need time to develop just as physical ones do. It's hard to pretend to be someone you're not over an extended period of time.

And, yes, sometimes it's not enough.

An on-line friend who knew I have been walking my black dog rather more miles than usual posted on Facebook "How can I help?" (This is an incredibly powerful question by the way: I'd recommend using that exact phrasing if you want to help anyone.)

Because I knew this person lived within reach I simply said "Have lunch with me."

So we met up in London on Saturday. And yes, it might have been awkward. We might have discovered after half an hour that we bored each other senseless. But we didn't. It was a magical time of connecting on a deeper level than we'd been able to on-line, of talking at a speed utterly impossible through a keyboard, of transforming an intellectual friendship to an emotionally kinaesthetic intimacy.

Because, in the end, you can't meet someone's eyes and share a smile on-line; you can't bump shoulders companionably. You can't share a hug on-line.

On-line friends are valuable and can contribute enormously to our lives; they can be an essential part of our support network. But we can't live the whole of our lives on-line. We really need those hugs. If you can, make sure you have a ready supply on hand for when you need them.

Mary
A Moodscope member.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Do you need more space?

Over the past few months we've been working hard behind the scenes to improve Moodscope to make it as helpful as we possibly can. During that time, we have had many requests for various features/facilities that we all agree would make Moodscope a better service.

So having listened, over the next few weeks we'll be introducing a few new features.

One of the most important and enlightening features of Moodscope is the ability to add notes to your graph scores. It is this that gives you an insight in to why you may be experiencing your ups and downs and has proved invaluable to many members. But...it's difficult to be very detailed when you only have 200 characters if a Moodscope Lite member and 400 characters if you're a Moodscope Essential or Plus member, in which to write your notes.

So as from today, we're doubling the amount of space you have to add your notes to your daily scores. Moodscope Lite members will now have up to 400 characters and Moodscope Essential and Plus members will have up to 800 characters, enabling you to write more comprehensive annotations.

We hope it will encourage you to add more notes and create a mood diary which we know has helped so many people. And for those that don't add notes, why not give it a go. It really can help you pinpoint what it is that's causing your mood swings.

We do hope you find it helpful.

We'll be introducing another feature next week.

In the meantime, James, a Moodscope member has recommended a TED talk from Andrew Solomon.
Although it's half an hour long, James thinks it well worth watching. He says it's an eloquent and inspiring journey of coping with depression. The overriding message for him at the end of it all was hope. You can view it by following this link: http://bit.ly/YsLjIH

Kind regards.



Caroline Ashcroft
The Moodscope Team

Monday, 6 April 2015

Living Goals [POWERFUL Goal-Setting part 8]

Well, as I come to the end of my 8-part series on how to create goals you're likely to achieve, I arrive at my rest with my favourite criterion. This is that our goals need to be "Living".

At first, this may sound strange but its meaning is simply that goals must come "alive" to us on a daily basis. We are strange creatures. Our awareness of time is strongly focused on today, with a span reaching with some clarity to yesterday and tomorrow but not much further! It is as if a python had swallowed an elephant – there's a big bulge in the middle of our timeline! The returns diminish as we get further and further away from the central focus that is "today"!

It is almost as if our system really does reboot after every period of significant sleep, bringing a new locus of focus.

When I first began to realise the power of goal-setting, I went to town. I had a gorgeous binder full of fantastic images of what I'd like to have, be or do. The problem was that when I shut the cover on the folder, I shut the contents off from my mind. I closed the book.

Far better to re-energise your goals on a daily basis. And to do this, you just need a humble notebook. There is something visceral about jotting down a reminder of your key and core goals – great and small. We know that the memory traces are already in position, we just need to remind our consciousness that these are the destinations we wish to head towards, right here, right now. This strengthens the neural pathway to that dream, and makes it ever more a path of least resistance.

Then, instead of being "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" – the dreams will stay "insight, in-mind" – and you'll find that this is one way that dreams become reality.

So let it be written (daily), so let it be done (daily). [With a pencil??? They are so tactile!]

-----oOOo-----

Whilst mnemonics may not be everyone's cup-of-tea, they do help me with this particular checklist-for-transformation. So here is a summary of our POWERFUL journey together over 8 posts.

P was for 'Positive' – framing our desires in terms of what we want rather than what we don't want.
O was for 'Own-Control' – choosing goals that we had the power to influence.
W was for the 'Win-Win' – making sure there was a big enough 'win' to motivate us to persevere.
E was for the 'Evidence' – the sensory signs that would let us know we were on or off track.
R was for 'Resource' but also for 'Resourcefulness' – that 'Resilience' that works with the 'win' to keep us going.
F was for 'Faith' – requiring an occasional jump when a humble step would seem far safer.
U was for 'Unique' – keeping our goals simple and single – the KISS principle.
L was for 'Living' – breathing life into our goals every day by taking the simple action of (re)writing them down on a humble note-pad.

May all your good dreams come true x

Lex
A Moodscope member.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

City Ambience.

In desperate attempts to find 'the land of nod' last night amidst my mother's snoring (we're sharing a room whilst visiting my brother for a few days), I turned to an app I'd almost forgotten I had. Head phones firmly in ears, Relax Melodies, can give me 48 different sounds that may relax and slow down a frantic mind (or, drown out earth-quaking snoring! Sorry mum.).

What's actually quite ironic (and amusing) when you stop to think about it, is that you can choose to have 9 or 10 of these sounds pumping into your ears at the same time - a vacuum cleaner (yes, really), a cat purring, rain on the roof, frogs, white noise, thunder, a woman humming, chanting monks - a huge cacophony of sound, all in the hopes of lulling ourselves to sleep!

But I digress. One of the sounds I chose was called City Ambience. It's a sound that has always evoked a very visceral, nostalgic feeling within me but, being an indistinct sound, it's not a noise I've ever felt able to put into words. It's more of a feeling than a sound. It's a 'melody' that gives evidence of a whole city, no, world, in motion.

The low hum immediately places me in a hot and sticky city: it has been a tiring but satisfying day of sightseeing but, feet now washed and enveloped in cool, white sheets, it's nap time.

This is what our glorious senses do. They - at a later date - turn a seemingly innocuous or colorless moment into something intense, stimulating and vibrant. Like a child wanting comfort, tugging at his mother's coat - sounds, scents, sensations of touch - can pull down memories from the dusty vaults in our memory banks. Beautiful.

On the good days, being mindful of what our senses absorb can really aid us on the grey-sky days, causing exquisite 'Ah, I remember...' moments.

I'm not sure my memory will ever feel wistful and nostalgic for the sound of snoring, mind!

Suzy
A Moodscope member.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

You can't not communicate, so...?

I am sure you know this but I find a stark reminder often helps me.

When we are down our instincts are to retreat into our shell. Often, the last thing we want to do is to communicate with another human.

The irony is that it is impossible 'not to communicate', however hard we try. We simply leak communication from every gesture, every expression and every posture. Our body language speaks volumes.

People make their own assumptions and interpretations about us - often worse and more harmful than we would like. "They don't care", "They are selfish and grumpy", etc. This can make it even more difficult and can lead to broken relationships - just when we need them most.

One solution is to try and communicate how it feels when we are up. A brave effort made then, can give them some idea of how it feels when we descend into that black hole. Give it a name - the black dog seems the favorite so that next time we go down a simple explanation is possible.

I know it's not easy but better than than your body do all the talking.

Adrian
The Moodscope Team

Friday, 3 April 2015

Do you have a warrior spirit?

I wake feeling my usual malaise with the world and the effort to get out of bed and engage with life this Sunday morning all feels like a damp stinky woollen rag hung around my neck.

I decide to Whatsapp a friend who is sensitive and doesn't find life an easy ride. We are quite similar in many ways but when we get together we lift each other and open the joy inside of us.

Message comes back "Am at an all time low – free for a chat?"

Wow! That is a shake up. I call and find that he feels his world has fallen apart. He is blaming himself for it all. True, he has made a mistake. He accepts his lack of organisational skills had led him to miss a very important flight with ensuing ramifications for a future elsewhere.

He sounds as if he is going to give up. Not wanted, not loved, feeling useless and blaming himself for everything. That awful gremlin "negative self-talk" is having a field day.

Funnily enough, my malaise vanishes, my warrior spirit rises as I listen and gently talk him through some options. This is me who finds this nigh on impossible to do for herself! Incredible what some distance – and care - can do.

One hour later we end with simple tips from me which I have learned the hard way:

Make the best of a bad day by getting that uplifting music on.

Make a list of realistic jobs to do for today and tick them off so you feel you have achieved something and you are not useless.

Get physical – clean the house, even just one room.

Be prepared for tomorrow and buy a soothing book.

Most importantly, send loving thoughts.

So, I am now up and moving, acting, realising that my mistakes and pain have at least led to some insight and strategies and have allowed me to support a friend in a dark place.


Sunshine in the rain
A Moodscope member

Thursday, 2 April 2015

What makes your heart sing?

When we put our heart into something, it is often said to contain 'passion'...which in its origins came from the Latin 'pati' meaning to suffer.

Interestingly, the people who generally inspire us most, are those who have truly suffered to achieve what they have. It is their story, with all its emotions that enables us to 'feel' for them and their rise to success and even fame.

When reading recently I came across something that made great sense to me. Please answer the questions below for yourself as you go through them – even write them down.

If we ask people "What do you do?" we likely receive their job role or title. (what did you say or write?)

If we ask "What are you passionate about?" we may be told the subject or interest that they seek to fulfil in their job or even perhaps their spare time!

If however we ask "What is it that makes your heart sing?" we shift the conversation to an almost spiritual emotional connection and what truly moves them, which may be quite different from the first two. Here, they are far more likely to take the risk and truly show themselves, unlike the first two that will usually stay safe and IQ.

In answering the last question, you will not be talking about a passing interest or a hobby. A passion is something that is intensely meaningful and core to your identity.

If you ever want to connect with someone, simply talk about what makes your heart sing – as in doing so, you will far more than anything, literally be speaking from the heart.

To do so, will show your authentic self and thus the coherence with the other person, or of course the dissonance with them.

Now, how far are you going to dilute your 'heart's voice' to find or stay in work? Or conversely how much are you going to reveal it to find your true vocation?

As you go through your conversations today, give each one a rating out of 10 for authentic meaningful passionate heartfelt 'stuff'. Can you actually reveal your true self? And if your scores are low, is it any wonder your hearts not in it and your looking elsewhere?

The challenge is 'what makes your heart sing' and does it impact on your daily activities?

If not – can you be happy?

Les
A Moodscope member.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Depression Lite.

So I get off easy this year.

This is the year of the minor dip. Every two years I get a major dip and every four years it gets critical. It hasn't been life threatening for sixteen years now – so that's a big step forward and a huge relief.

In the odd years it's more of an inconvenience than anything.

But, still noticeable. And I've decided to use it as some training practise for the bigger one next year.

My thought process goes something like this. And I desperately hope that I'm not the only one who talks to themselves like this, because if I am then I am going to feel so utterly embarrassed sharing this with you.

"Now, Mary – you know you're going to feel exhausted for the next few weeks. You're going to want to burst into tears all the time and not see anyone. What are you going to do?

"Ah, excellent. You're going to tell people. That's good. That way they understand. And you're going to do your Moodscope every day so your buddies are kept up to date. What are you going to do practically?

"Right – you're going to make sure that you go to bed at a sensible time. You are not going to try to sleep during the day because then you'll get insomnia and it will make things worse. What else?

"That's good. You're going to drink lots of water and not reach for the caffeine and the carbohydrates. Because they don't work, do they? Coffee and chocolate just make you jittery and pile on the weight.

"Now, what about exercise? No, I know you don't want to exercise. I know you just want to crawl back under that duvet. But you need to go swimming three times a week and you need to take a walk every day. Don't push yourself. Once around the block is enough. But you need to get out and do it.

"And you're going to write. You're going to write every day. Even if it's only 500 words. Because then, at the end of it, you have an accomplishment. You have something to show for this time. You'll know that you can keep on blogging, keep on writing. Because this depression thing isn't going away – it will keep recurring like a bad penny. You need to keep going through it.

"And, you're going to be kind to yourself, aren't you? No silly high standards about housework, about cooking, about ironing, about admin. Nobody will starve. The housekeeping inspectors are not going to pay you a visit, the teachers will not complain if your children go to school in a crumpled uniform. And they're old enough to do some ironing and cooking and cleaning for themselves now, aren't they?

"Well – you do all that. I'll be there for you. So will your friends. You hang in there and it will be over soon, for another year. Good luck now!"

Mary
A Moodscope member.