“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”

“Happiness”. We speak its name as if it’s a wedding vow (acknowledgement to Bob Dylan).

I’m worried that it’s become another compulsory mantra, like diet, “success” (in Western terms – making money).

Please don’t let happiness become compulsory. For then the lack of it will be perceived and felt as failure.

We can create the conditions for happiness – good diet, exercise, mental calm; but if happiness comes it is because of the “Gods”, not something we can “create”, like a slender figure, or money.

Happiness is fleeting but intense and we all want it. It’s a sort of spiritual orgasm. To strive for, but best of all, to be simply remembered, in reflective mode.

I am UNhappy at the current move in our culture to “sell” happiness, or the path to happiness. Such purveyors are charlatans. It is a big ask, but each of us must learn, from living, how to create the conditions for our own happiness. If it comes, it does, if it doesn’t we are not so much poorer. We can be content in our own integrity and the joy and solace we can give to others.

It is in doing those “mundane” things that we have the greatest chance of experiencing happiness. Not, in the Western way, of buying the path to it from a stranger.


“The Gap”: a self-help technique for addicts and depressives.

Between the two

Today I am going to share with you another technique I use. I call it “The Gap”. It is another tool from my kit which I find very useful.

It is based on my practice of Buddhist meditation. When one learns this one recognises that thoughts are like clouds. The aim of meditation is to simply observe the clouds (thoughts) and not be caught up in them or enter into an internal dialogue with them. “The chattering monkey”, as the Buddhists call it. So the eventual goal is to see nothing but blue sky.
In other words the clouds, which are our personality, disappear. We are then free of all the distractions that our mind imposes on us and then we (“the I”) disappears and we observe that we are part of the Universe. Ultimately this leads to what Buddhists call “Enlightenment”.

I noticed a few months ago that there was a small space between my thoughts, especially those related to addictions and moods. Fortunately I have never experienced serious addictions but I do still smoke about 10 cigarettes a day. When I am ready I will stop. I am not ready yet. That is another story.

If you have an addiction you will feel guilty, but also (strangely)  intent upon repeating it whether it be drink, cigarettes, or anything else. Without knowing about “the gap” you will just do it and then feel bad afterwards and then the cycle repeats itself.

You just go along with it, but if you can stop yourself in that split second between the painful physical appetite and taking whatever it is, you will see that there is a very tiny gap in your thought processes. This is your opportunity to question whether you really want to perpetuate the cycle. The more you think about it the more that gap lengthens and the more you are able to consider it rationally. The clouds are separating.

It is not something that can be learned quickly or easily but it is a habit that you can get into and eventually it gives you so much space to really decide whether you want to have that next cigarette or drink or snort of cocaine or whatever. This applies not just to drugs but to any destructive habit. The other benefit is, as I have discovered, that it also applies to moods. So when I am feeling that I am moving from a good mood to a bad mood I can use my “gap technique” to find out why my mind is shifting in a negative direction. I can then decide what I need to do, e.g. eat, sleep, take some exercise, etc. to prevent myself from slipping into a negative mood and possibly then into a depressive episode.

I have used this technique many times recently and it grows in strength each time. It’s a really wonderful way of controlling self-harm and unpleasant changes in mood. It takes practice and perseverance, but it works for me and that’s why I’m sharing it with you. I would love to know whether you are able to use the same technique and enjoy its benefits.

48 hours of hell

Hello Friends,

It’s been a hard time but I’m still here! I think the negativity/damage started when, on Monday, I came across some old photos. I’m clearing out my house ready for the sale. Moving homes is hard for me, and so is looking at old photos. So much washed up from the past.

Anyway, I hit a nerve with my lovely partner, whom I adore. The thought of losing her terrifies me. But I know I must be SO difficult to have a relationship with.

Then my partner, Rachel, was off to London on business. I am pleased for her. She does her own thing. But abandonment is for me a BIG THING. So many conflicting thoughts and emotions I can’t express them now without boring you all.

Today I felt so miserable. But, hey! I managed to avoid going to the off-licence to get some drink and went on a walk in the country instead. It was hellishly boring, but I knew I’d done the “right” thing. When I got back home I was so tired, but pleased that I’d punched that depressive thing in the face.

Then I picked Rachel up from the station. I admit I’d sent her some angry and inappropriate texts yesterday. After all, why did she have the right to go off enjoying herself with friends in London whilst I was left looking after her cat and her house? Did she love me? Or was she taking me for a fool?

Well, Rachel is not one to avoid difficult conversations so we had it out in a calm way – but it was so painful for me. Still, we cleared out a lot of gunk. I just wanted to get hammered, but Rachel explained to me that that was not the solution. How I love her!

Posting this just to show how living with twisty thoughts is so hard at times. Love is a great healer and a great motivator. Also to prove to you all that I fight (so far successfully) against my generational role models who taught me subliminally that if you have a life problem you either drink yourself into oblivion, or take your Life.

Well, it’s really tough, but I do neither. I keep going. I love Rachel, she is the Woman I’ve dreamed about. But I also love myself, even on days like today, when although the sky was wall to wall azure, inside me there was nothing but pitch black.

My experience of suicide. (Part 2 of 2)

My last attempt at suicide perplexes me to this day. I was living on my own in a lovely rented property. I was completely sober. I suddenly had a down and decided that I would hang myself. I just wanted to escape the world. I succeeded in putting an electric cable around an old rafter. After a few knee bends I felt dizzy and spaced out. I was then able to kick the stool I was standing on away. I blacked out. I then came to on the floor. The cable had snapped. It was a very strong cable and I was amazed. Once again it seemed that Fate, or the Universe or God (whatever you like to call it) had intervened.

I had a sore back and a very sore neck for days afterwards. I made an appointment to see my psychiatrist and we talked about the incident. He confirmed what I thought deeply, mainly that I was pleased to be alive. Why did I do it? I think I was trying to prove to myself that I was in total control of my life i.e. whether I lived or died. That’s why I had not used alcohol. I felt empowered but also pleased that I had not succeeded. I have made no more attempts since then. That was about eight years ago.

Suicide is a strange business. I have been lucky. I have not had any suicidal thoughts for years. Partially this is because I have become much more mindful of my movements and depressive thoughts. I have also met a wonderful woman whom I am now living with. She understands me and I can confide in her when I am feeling low. I believe that she comprehends my mood swings and my depressive tendencies and that is a great comfort to me.

I also think now that I am 61 it really is time to just let nature take its course!

I cannot say with certainty that I will not have suicidal thoughts again. They come upon me very suddenly.

However, I would not want to hurt my current partner by exiting this world in such a dreadful way. I also do not want to hurt my children who, thankfully, shown no signs of depression.

I remember reading once that a psychiatrist said that suicide is “ a long term solution to what is usually a short term problem”. I find that humorous, and that appeals to me, but it also makes a lot of sense.

There is so much to enjoy about life and whilst some days I find it hard to enjoy even the simplest pleasures on other days I really am happy to be alive.

I also feel that I have a calling. The suicide of our ancestors removes a cultural taboo. It becomes acceptable to take one’s life in such a way. Also, the suicide of ancestors teaches one that the way to solve a crisis, or deal with unhappiness, is simply to take one’s life. I really do not believe that is right, but that is the subliminal message. My calling is to stop this suicide running down the generations. Suicide is like an insidious genealogical poison. Someone has to stand up and make themselves into an indestructible dam so that future generations are not subject to it. That is part of the reason I am alive for I really do not want my descendants to suffer the trauma and anguish of my suicide. I do not want my partner to suffer that. Those are powerful positive drivers.

The mind is a strange and complex thing. I find that it is necessary to be aware of the workings of my mind almost from minute to minute. It is odd how a minor perceived slight can throw me into a depressed state and ultimately a suicidal one. Dr Jenner touches on this in his blog: “Depression Research Update”.

Only this week I received a slight from a good friend which has affected my mood for three days. However, using my CBT techniques I have been able to deal with it. That is the level of mindfulness one needs when one is a depressive. I know full well that my friend would be horrified if she knew that what she had said had tipped me towards a depressive episode. She is a lovely person and I am sure that we will remain good friends. I remember the (alleged) final words of the Buddha: “Do good, refrain from doing evil, and strive on heedfully”. I think the last phrase of that was an exhortation to remain aware of how our minds twist and turn, so hard to control.

I cannot give advice to others about this tragic subject. I am not qualified to. But I hope that, by sharing my experiences and thoughts with others, they may gain some insight and ideas. I would say to anyone contemplating suicide or to friends of such, seek professional help without delay. The consequences of suicide (apart from the obvious) are terrible. Friends and family are shattered and they have to live with such a tragedy for the rest of their lives.

My experience of suicide. (1 of 2)

Both my grandfathers committed suicide. I have no memories of them. My father committed suicide when I was five, my mother when I was 16.

If there is a suicide gene then I must have it. However, I doubt that there is. I think suicide might run in families, for psychological reasons, that is my personal experience.  I am not an expert.

I first tried to take my own life when I was 15. I cannot really remember why. I know that sounds strange. My mother had been getting steadily more depressed and had already made several suicide attempts. She used barbiturates. I would find her unconscious and dial 999. I think that the pressure to look after her and the trauma of her attempts just made me feel one day that I had had enough and wanted out. I knew where she kept the barbiturates and I washed a lot of them down with a can of lager. My mother had gone out for the evening but by a quirk of fate she returned early and so it was then her turn to get me to hospital where my stomach was pumped out.

I never thought much about it and certainly did not analyse my motives. I went back to boarding school and that was where I received the news that my mother had taken her life. She did so on St Valentine’s Day 1968.

I think I must have gone into denial and just buried the whole thing. Counselling was not considered necessary in those days:  certainly not in an English Public School.  I had no close family to share my loss with. I was expected to carry on as normal with my school work and activities

I remember having mixed feelings: relief, despair, anger, guilt. It was better just to bury those. I determined to make my own way in the world, eventually becoming a solicitor and a Judge.

The second time I made an attempt on my life when I was when I was about 50. I had been miserable for years. I had set out to build a career and a family and I had succeeded but I felt no joy or happiness. My wife and I had drifted apart. My children were, and still are, lovely but I could feel no satisfaction from what I had achieved.

I married when I was 23. Things seemed easier then. There was a route map. Develop my career, have children, get a nice house and car. But I found during my late 40s that I was in a prison, metaphorically.  I did not believe in divorce and yet I was living with a woman whom I no longer loved.

I did not know it but I was thinking irrationally. My wife went away for a weekend with a friend and I was in the house with my three children. I decided that I had to end everything there and then so I put a plastic bag over my head, got drunk on whisky and tied the bag around my neck with an elastic band. It took several attempts.

The feeling of the bag clinging to my face was horrible, even though I was drunk. Eventually however I passed out and the next thing I knew was that my eldest son, who was 14, had ripped the bag off my head. I don’t know what made him wake up, perhaps I screamed. We have never discussed it although I know we should. It must have been terribly traumatic for him.

My son called an ambulance (history repeating itself) and I ended up in a psychiatric clinic. It was lovely there. I had intensive psychoanalysis for six weeks and was at last able to begin to understand that I had suffered emotional abuse as a child and the psychoanalyst helped me to bring all the anger and hurt and painful memories out in the open where I could address them. It was not easy, I cried through most sessions. Gradually I was able to bring the anger and hurt out into a calm safe environment, and start to deal with them in a rational way.

I realised that I had to make significant changes in my life. I divorced my wife. It was hard, I did not want to hurt her but I realised that my primary duty of care was to myself. Fortunately the divorce was not acrimonious but I found myself living alone in rented accommodation. I carried on with counselling and found a very good CBT practitioner who was also a great help.

(To be continued…)


How I cope with depression.

I have suffered from depression since I was a teenager.  I am now 61.  I did not know I “had” depression until I had a breakdown when I was 50 and was admitted to a psychiatric clinic.  Even then, I remonstrated with the consultant psychiatrist.  How could I, a man who had been orphaned at 16, and who had made his way in the world on his own since then, have a mental illness?

I had, without a family, become a solicitor, and a Judge.  I’d also married and had three lovely children and a 5 bedroomed house in Caversham, Reading.  I was the epitome of a self-made man.  Not bad for someone who’d spent his early years in a Barnardo’s orphanage.

I told all this to the psychiatrist in a very objective way.  He was clearly concerned, I could see it in his face.  He asked me if I knew of “cognitive alienation”.  I didn’t, but after he explained what it was to me, I knew I had it.  Then he encouraged me to examine my mind to see if I could accept that I had depression.  I suppose I was in denial.  Eventually I did accept his diagnosis.  I was admitted immediately and slept for 3 days.

Since then I’ve reflected that I had for years just got through things using sheer will power.  I had goals, and I achieved them using determination and blood sweat and tears.  But I did not enjoy life.  I did not enjoy anything apart from listening to classical music and reading English literature.  Everything else was a grind, and as I got older, the grind got harder and demanded more and more of my energy – until eventually my mind just shut down.

Anyway, so much has happened since then.  I take medication every day: paroxetine 30 mg, which I find wonderful.  I don’t like the way people call such things “happy pills”.  They do not make you happy.  Many depressives, I am told, have insufficient serotonin in their brains, in a similar way to diabetics having insufficient insulin.  SSRI‘s such as paroxetine, correct, or go some way to correcting the dearth of serotonin.  So what’s the problem?  I don’t feel even in the slightest ashamed that I might have to take medication for the rest of my life.  It enables me to be me, and to function more normally than I otherwise would.  I think it’s wonderful, and that I’m really fortunate to live in an age when chemical therapy for the mind is available.

But the medication is only a part of what I use to cope.  I had psychoanalysis, and CBT.  I’m a great believer in the latter. As a lawyer it appeals to my “left brain” thinking.  More importantly, it works for me.  I used to be a pessimist.  Now I accept situations for what they are.  I look at the facts of a situation.  Example:  I used to drive into a car park and think “I bet I can’t find any spaces, and even if I do they will be too awkward to get into”.  Now I think “I am sure that there will be a space there, even if it is one that challenges my driving ability!”  This works across so many situations.  E.g. “I have to go to this party/networking event, it will be boring and no-one will like me.”  This becomes:  “I choose to go to this social gathering and look forward to meeting people who are interesting and could perhaps become friends/acquaintances/business connections.”

Anyway, enough of the “background”!  Here is how I cope with my depression.  I hope that, if you are a sufferer, you might pick up a tip or two:

  1. Meditation – yoga or T’ai Chi?
  2. Cook for yourself, or at any rate, eat good home cooked food.  Cooking is such fun.  Eating what you’ve cooked even better!
  3. Exercise.  Do whatever you enjoy.  For me it is walking.  Really gets the endorphins going.
  4. Avoid getting tired.  That is a real killer.  I mean mentally tired more than physically.  Limit your time on the computer.  It sucks the vitality out of your mind.
  5. Rest if you are tired.  I often have a nap in the afternoon.
  6. Socialise.  My friends are my best “counsellors”.
  7. Avoid loneliness.  not always easy as I know from personal experience.  But there are so many clubs/societies who need people like us.  It might even be a “depressives anonymous” group.  Great!  You will meet people traveling the same path and support each other.
  8. Volunteer.  From first hand experience (I have no stats to back this up) depressives are usually above average intelligent and sensitive people.  You will make a huge difference to other people who are less fortunate and form wonderful relationships that will enrich your life.
  9. Figure out what you really enjoy doing and do it!  For me it is listening to beautiful music and keeping up with current affairs, and cooking.  For you it might be completely different.
  10. Love and nurture yourself e.g. by treating yourself to a lie in, a barbecue with friends, museum trips, shopping.  Whatever!  Just do it.
  11. Avoid alcohol.  Sure, it is an easy way to dull the pain, but it is a depressive and buggers up relationships.
  12. Never give up.  We all have down days, but they pass.  So do the good days!  But that is all part of the thing called “Life”.

Take it easy.  As a sufferer for most of my life I know that depression can be controlled, and that we can all enjoy this wonderful world and some truly inspiring people.  If you feel like giving up, go to bed.  Please don’t do anything silly.  Trust me, you are loved.