The Downside of the Clock Change from Daylight Savings

Well, here it is. The day the clocks change and we transition from daylight savings to standard time in the UK. It is only a one-hour shift in time, so it should only be a minor blip for us to adjust to – or so one would think. The reality is, however, the change can have a significant negative impact on our mental wellbeing.

The clock change moves one hour of daylight from the late afternoon period to the early morning period. This means it will lighter in the mornings for a while until we reach the dead of winter. Most people won’t get the opportunity to be exposed to that morning light, though, because we are still sleeping or are indoors getting ready for school and work etc., and won’t get any benefit from the time shift.

The impact of this sudden one-hour reduction in light exposure causes our system to increase the amount of melatonin it produces earlier in the day. This can result in sluggishness and sleepiness happening every day from late afternoon onwards. Because it happens suddenly, it can create a shock to the system for some people and their brains don’t respond well to the change. This change can ironically cause insomnia, but in most cases, can cause excessive daytime sleepiness. For countries higher up in the Northern Hemisphere, such as the UK, this can be a serious problem.

Prolonged daytime sleepiness can have a negative impact on our mood. For people who already have a mood disorder such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, there is a much greater risk of a sudden depressive episode to occur. Even without a mood disorder, the negative impact on mood caused by this change, if not improved, can lead to an episode of depression developing.

It is thought that the excessive daytime sleepiness dampens motivation, meaning the sufferer is less likely to exercise, eat well or socialise in the dark evenings. This too can have a negative impact on mood which can lead to an episode of depression in some people.

Although people suffer from depression at any time of the year, including the summer months, depression can be linked to lack of sunlight in the winter. Scientists cannot give us a definitive reason for this, but the result of many studies show that exposure to daytime light can improve mood and lessen the depressive symptoms. This type of depressive episode is known as ‘winter depression,’ or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

So, the clock change might give us an extra hour in bed, but for some people, it can cause a sudden depressive episode to occur, and for others, it can signal that their annual winter depression is on its way.

The doctor’s recommendations to combat this is easier said than done for many, and that is to get out in the daytime and get exposure to as much sunlight as possible. This is thought to stave off the production of melatonin for longer and improve excessive daytime sleepiness. Other recommendations include daily exercise and eating well-balanced meals. Go easy on the carbs! Another recommendation is to get up and go to bed at the same time, 7 days a week. This helps reset the body clock and produce hormones that will lessen daytime sleepiness. The recommendations are not particularly easy to do for many of us, which might explain why winter depressive episodes are high.

Although not linked to the clock change, another recommendation is to take vitamin D supplements, as a low level in the blood stream is also known to cause depression. Your doctor can assess whether your summer lifestyle meant you have not stored enough vitamin D for the winter period and will recommend if a supplement is needed.

So, when you change your clocks tonight, consider all the things you can do to maintain your mental wellbeing and stave off an episode of winter depression.

Depression and Fuzzy Thinking

Cartoon picture of a brain shaking with it's hands on the top of the brain
(c) Can Stock Photo

Fuzzy thinking is so severe at times; we could describe it as a ‘syndrome’; rather than just a single symptom of depression. It’s a collection of symptoms such as confusion, forgetfulness, inability to think properly, muddled up thoughts, lack of focus and concentration. The more severe each of these experiences is, whether suffered individually or collectively, the more distressing it can be for the sufferer.

Fuzzy Brain cartoon with warning sign of fog area in place of his head
(c) Can Stock Photo

Some people refer to fuzzy thinking as ‘brain fog.’ I call it cotton-wool-head (Other parts of the world may know cotton wool as simply cotton balls.) When I was young, cotton wool didn’t come in the form of balls, it was a packet of one big square, and you pulled off the amount needed. When pulled apart it looked and felt fuzzy. That’s what it feels like inside my brain; the cotton wool in my head is preventing normal functioning and blocking electrical circuits.

There have been various studies, but in one, in particular, they compared women with depression or bipolar disorder against healthy women. Those with depression or bipolar disorder exhibited lower levels of activity than healthy women in the right posterior parietal cortex. Other studies have found lower levels of activity in other parts of the brain too.

The right posterior parietal cortex brain region is responsible for working memory, problem-solving and reasoning, so it’s no wonder we can be so cognitively challenged by fuzzy thinking.

3d character with an empty head with big red question mark.

I think fatigue contributes to my experience of fuzzy thinking. The more physically fatigued I feel, the fuzzier the brain tends to be. Sometimes, it seems like my brain is actually buzzing or whirring; it’s quite unpleasant. At times, the only thing I can manage is to sit down and wonder which room I am in, and why I am there, or stand in a room and stare. If I wait long enough, I might remember! I did it this morning – just standing still in the kitchen staring at nothingness, unable to think, but aware I was just standing still. I was unable to think what to do next.

A simple task, such as making a cup of coffee is challenging. My jumbled up thinking means I can’t hold my focus long enough to just ‘make a cup of coffee.’ I have to break the task down into parts and make an effort to focus.

For example, I concentrate on filling the kettle, remembering to switch it on. Then, get a cup out of the cupboard. Next, I try to pay attention as I add a spoonful of coffee and a spoonful of sugar to the cup. (Making sure it is just one of each, not several, as has happened before!) I need to stay by the kettle until it has boiled, or I will forget I am making a drink. I then try to focus on pouring the boiling water into the cup without spilling or overfilling it or burning myself. Next, I need to remember to get milk from the fridge and pour it without spilling it, either. I must do it in that sequence so not to miss something out, and I need to concentrate on each step in the sequence. The only other thing, I need to remember, is to drink it! I am sure many people who want a hot drink, just make it without having to think about the individual steps required.

One day, I poured the boiling water into the sugar tin instead of the cup – destroying the only sugar I had!

Differences in brain activity from that of healthy individuals drive fuzzy thinking. It’s not something within our control or of our making, so it’s not fair to be hard on ourselves because of it. Perhaps we just need to sit down, stop trying to think and give ourselves a little break to drink that diligently made cup of coffee!

When Depression Starts to Lift

My previous blog ‘Depression Steals My Zest For Life‘ was about the feeling created by a depressive episode moving in and taking over my life. This blog features the feelings that happen when depression starts to lift and life flows back in again.

For me, depression is always an episode rather than a permanent state of being. The episode can last days, weeks or months, but it will lift eventually. That’s the way bipolar disorder works.

When the depression does start lifting, I feel a gentle tingling on the surface of my skin and a tickle in my belly. My once numb skin can feel the touch of clothing, the warmth of water and coolness of the air.

My eyes widen and my mouth starts to smile. The frozen, lifeless feeling starts to melt and life creeps back into every cell in my body. The ugly sisters of darkness and death are banished and my zest for life returns from her visit to Great Auntie Anne.

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One of the beautiful aspects of this recovery is being able to see properly again; to see a flower appearing out of the darkness and appreciate its depth of colour, pumps the zest through my arteries. I can see the beauty of nature living in my garden; the robins and squirrels, the swaying trees, flowering shrubs and the richness of the grass. I close my eyes and imagine the feel of the cool grass beneath my bare feet. I experience a sense of comfort, reassurance, and a sensation of wholeness.

Life has, at last, returned to the once empty shell that was weighed down by the lead suit. Nature, in all its glory, has restored my zest for life and is feeding my creative mind. Flowers; their delicate, vibrant petals and pleasing aroma, tickle my senses. I feel it in my belly. I can see, hear, smell and feel nature in my soul and it feels wonderful. I am alive.

Zest for LifeI am back to my usual cheerful, creative and curious self and I can continue living again. I know it won’t last, though. That is the way it is with bipolar disorder. I don’t know how or when, but I know there will be another depressive episode. Until then, may the zest live long and prosper!

Depression Steals My Zest For Life

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I describe depression in combination with darkness a lot and often liken this to living on the edge of death. It’s not because I always sit without the lights on or want to die. It’s because that’s how an episode of depression leaves me feeling inside.

It’s common for people to use the darkness metaphor when describing depression because it is a realistic way to represent the loss of feeling that depression causes. The loss of ability to feel the usual range of human emotions instantly sucks the zest for life out of my heart. These emotions such as joy, happiness, humour, sadness, frustration, or anger are replaced with a numb, nothingness. It is this sudden lack of feeling that lets me know an episode of depression is teetering on the brink. There are self-help techniques I use to try and ward off the looming episode, but all too often, these don’t work.

Before long, it’s like my insides are being hollowed out and replaced with a sticky, churning darkness and my vision has been inverted. This darkness is all that I can see; it’s just churning over and over, sucking the energy out of me. Life as I know it has gone for the duration of the episode. Feelings and emotions have packed their bags and gone to visit Great Auntie Anne, leaving the ugly sisters of darkness and death behind in their place.

canstockphoto8653196I sometimes obsess with death when I am in this type of episode. Not about taking my life, but about mourning the loss of my zest for life and my bubbling emotions that accompany it. It feels like I am sitting on the edge of death, no matter which direction I look. It is just a numb, dark, empty void that is already death, just without being dead.

Sometimes I feel I have to die to restore my life back to how it was before the depression took hold. Sometimes I just want to curl up and die to bring an end to the numbness. These are dangerous aspects of depression, and I need supervision to get me through these times. Thankfully, I have an excellent support system through NHS primary and secondary health care.

The depressive episode comes with fatigue; it’s like I am wearing a deep sea diver’s lead suit. The simplest of tasks are too difficult to do. Showering, washing dishes, doing laundry and at times eating a microwave meal is just beyond my capability. They say ‘take care of yourself’ but in reality, this is next to impossible. The shame of this does make me feel like I want to die. Thankfully, the lead suit prevents this, as to take my life would need more energy than I have to spare.diving-suit-405730_640

Moderate to deep depression is dangerous; it is a lonely place to be and at times more miserable than I can find words to describe. But the one thing about bipolar depression is that I will recover from it. I don’t know when or how, but I know will. Until the next episode …

What It’s Like To Be Catatonic

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Emptiness with no connection to the world. Sitting motionless,
Just head hanging silently in an ill-lit room, not seeing or hearing.
Just sitting in emptiness.

Pain without any feeling. Sitting motionless,
Enveloped in pain with no hunger or thirst, no hot or cold.
Just sitting in pain.

Intensity without having thought. Sitting motionless,
Driven to madness by the screaming noise in her brain; no rational thoughts.
Just sitting in despair of the intensity.

Screaming without making a sound. Sitting motionless,
Trying to scream, but prevented by a lifeless face.
Just sitting, trapped in a silent scream.

Exhaustion without being able to sleep. Sitting motionless,
Desperately exhausted, no energy, no life.
Just sitting, unable to sleep.

Drowning in tears without crying. Sitting motionless,
Drowning silently in a room full of tears.
Just sitting, unable to cry.

Death without being dead. Sitting motionless,
Sitting with death oozing from every pore.
Just sitting, unable to die.

 

Poem by me.

Photo credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

Trapped in a Dark Forest

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I struggle when people tell me ‘don’t worry, there is always light at the end of the tunnel,’ if I am in a depressive episode.

Figure in a dark tunnel with a light at the end

I struggle with this because people often talk about ‘light at the end of the tunnel’after a near-death experience. They often collectively describe seeing a tunnel with a bright light at the end of it. I don’t want to feel like I am having a near-death experience or have arrived at my final destination. That scares me so much.

I prefer to tell people my experience of depression is feeling trapped in a dark, misty forest, with trees in every direction and no visible way out. I flounder around, tripping on tree roots and scratching my skin on branches and brambles.

I can see shadowy shapes and far-off movement. I can hear whispers and sniggers. I can feel the damp, cold air on my skin and smell the foul aroma of rotting vegetation.

I wander in circles, backtracking to and fro, left and right, but cannot find a way out. But, I know I must keep going and keep searching. I know that the sunlight is out there and one day I will see it again. No matter how hard or painful it has been so far, I have managed to keep going. I am holding on to hope, even though it hurts so much. I have done it before and I will do it again. Just a few more steps … and I see the sunshine in the distance. The blue sky is waiting to greet me.

Photo of trees

Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

Can We Really Talk About Depression?

ApartPicture of two silhouettes talking from being a cruel, pain in the butt, depression is a real and horrible illness that affects up to 1 in 4 of the population at some time in their lives. Depression is the ugly sister of illness; the one hidden away and not discussed. The one that seems to make people feel ashamed.

I live with depression as part of my bipolar illness and I am no longer ashamed of this wretched condition. I have friends who have had, or currently have, depression. We feel confident to talk about it and oh, boy, does that feel good! There is no need for us to be ashamed of it, or be afraid to discuss it. But, in general, in the 21st Century, people still are.

Why are People Ashamed?

Depression has plagued humans since the beginning of time and it was never viewed it in a sympathetic light throughout any of the ages. Even in the second millennium B.C. it was deemed that mental illness was the result of being possessed by demonic creatures. This school of thought continued for centuries and by the 16th Century, European countries were hunting out and executing people suffering from depression, or ‘melancholia’ as it was also known. Add the horror stories of lunatic asylums and lobotomies to this, and I suspect we have found the root of the shame that has become embedded in the human psyche. I think this shame is etched into our blueprint and we have never completely forgotten how inhumanely people treated depression and other mental illness sufferers.

Changing Times

Rolling the clock forward to the 21st Century again; attitudes are starting to change thankfully. This progress is mostly down to the relentless awareness campaigning and fundraising organised by the mental health charities. Here in the UK, Mind, SANE, Rethink Mental Illness, Time to Change and Depression Alliance are major players. Some of our well-known celebrities have also played a significant part in raising awareness, by talking about their experiences. Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax are probably the two most famous for this, but there are many others with limited media attention working away in the background acting as fantastic ambassadors. Even our Royal Family are getting involved now. Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have recently launched the ‘Heads Together Campaign’ that aims to end the stigma surrounding mental health. Good luck with that, guys. Oops, I mean Your Royal Highnesses!

Can We Really End Stigma?

Instead of all the awareness campaigns focussing on ‘ending stigma’, perhaps we should be taking a dose of realism and say ‘combatting stigma’ or ‘tackling stigma’ instead. Let’s face it; 21 centuries and counting of diabolical treatment have left deep-rooted scars. The stigma is not going to end as the result of a few decades of awareness campaigning, no matter how good those campaigns are. I hope the over-the-top media attention directed at the Royal Highnesses will do us a huge favour and put the spotlight firmly on their Heads Together Campaign. But even with this and the relentless work of charities and celebrities, the stark truth is, we probably have a few more decades of hard work to go before the stigma will come to an end.

Wait – Medical Science Can Help End Stigma!

There is one thing that could end stigma Picture of a lightbulb with a brain inside it.for once and for all, and that is medical science. Us who suffer from this wretched illness know that it is so much more than a mental illness. We know it is as much physical as it is mental and it has real, not imagined, debilitating symptoms. Sadly, that doesn’t stop misguided people from wrongly thinking that depression is ‘all in your head;’ as if it is something that we can take control of to change our thoughts or behaviours and make it go away. There have been several neuroscience breakthroughs over the last few years and so much more has been learned about the mechanism of depression. It was once thought to be a chemical imbalance, but now the scientists know gene expression, DNA, cell function, neurotransmitters, inflammation and possibly gut bacteria play a substantial part in causing the illness.

Optimism

Challenging all the misguided false beliefs has helped me tremendously. I am not ashamed or afraid to discuss depression with anyone now. Those who are misguided present me with an opportunity to explain about the illness and how very real it is – and not just ‘in my head’. I can talk with candour about the new medical discoveries and the likelihood of improved and more appropriate treatment on the horizon. I can talk about the need for a name change. Let’s be honest, ‘depression’ is a really dumb name for such a debilitating illness – but that is another story altogether! I can feel satisfied that because I have managed to help one more person understand the illness, they might, in turn, help others understand.

Die, Damn You!

Picture of a bomb

The stigma will run its course and die, eventually. I expect a combination of charity and celebrity awareness campaigns, along with major developments in medical science and more appropriate medical treatment, will finally tip the scales and stamp all over it. I hope to be part of the movement that waves farewell to it, by getting involved in as many different events as possible to talk, share, educate and help others.

Comments

Are you able to talk about your experiences in the comments? Perhaps you are already involved in initiatives in your local area? Have you had a conversation with someone about depression and you listening has been a great help to them? I would love to hear about your experiences!

 

Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo