How not to wallow

The word “wallow” always puts me in mind of a hippo in a muddy puddle, but you do not have to be hippo-sized to wallow; relatively small people like myself can be extremely good at it.

The symptoms are:
– Feeling helpless and pathetic
– Believing nothing could improve the situation
– Irritation with anyone who tries to help (because everything is hopeless!!! Can’t they see that?!)
– Acute onset melodrama
– Total loss of sense of humour
– Inability to make decisions, whether life changing or wardrobe-related
– Insomnia induced by obsessive refreshing of facebook
– Perception of weakness when faced with strenuous exercises such as getting out of bed
– Refusal to even try to look after oneself, because as Sylvia Plath said, what is the point of washing ones hair when it will just be dirty again by tomorrow?

Note: This is not the same thing as depression. Depression is a serious mental illness, not just a crappy day. In fact, a diagnosis of depression requires the accumulation of at least fourteen consecutive crappy days. In my experience, my depressive episides may have been triggered by extremely stressful situations, but the actual cause of them was that my stress reaction went awry. Instead of using healthy coping mechanisms to get through the stressful situation I bottled everything up, didn’t ask for help and pushed myself to the limits of my ability to cope. At a certain point my brain just got exhausted and refused to work any more, and hey presto, 6-18 months of depression ensued. Insomnia, loss of appetite, suicidal ideation, dampened cognitive function, feelings of numbness and emptiness, physical weakness and exhaustion, limbs like lead, brain replaced by candyfloss, lungs full of treacle, the lot.

No, wallowing is different. Wallowing is fleeting. For example, say that I have a week when I am beaten down by various crappy incidents. I start getting angry at the unfairness of it all, decide that things will never change and drown myself in bitterness and fear. I spend the next couple of days in an acute state of “woe is me, call the wah-mbulance!!”, before realising that actually things could be worse, and even if they were worse they would certainly not improve while I’m acting like such a victim and refusing to take any responsibility for changing things. This is not the same as telling someone with severe depression to pull themselves together, because it is impossible to do so when very depressed. But (not pointing any fingers at myself, of course 😛 ) someone who is under a lot of stress and has experience and insight into the way their depressive episodes develop can pull themselves out of states which are not conducive to the continuation of good mental health.

So. How not to wallow:

1. Look after yourself. Eat properly, go to bed at a sensible time, get up at a sensible time.

2. Be caring but strict with yourself. Being caring does not mean allowing yourself to take a day off of eating, or not making yourself leave the house, etc. It means accepting that things are a bit shit and so it is understandable that you feel a bit shit, but that avoiding life and hiding under your duvet will not make anything better.

3. Talk to people. Parents, partner, friends, etc. On facebook if you have to but phone and face to face conversations are better.

4. Make practical plans for dealing with any stressful situations which may be contributing to the problem. Look for people/organisations who can give advice (Citizen’s Advice Bureau to the rescue!), write pros and cons lists to help with decision making, write out a list of small steps you can take to get on top of things, set yourself SMART goals – whatever works for you.

5. Force yourself to actually go through with your plans, rather than backing out. Avoidance is half of all problems with anxiety, and you will feel so much more confident and pleased with yourself if you can make yourself face your fears.

6. Hang on to your sense of humour by your fingertips, because you’re buggered without it.

7. For God’s sake, don’t take Sylvia Plath’s advice! Look where it got her…


6 responses to “How not to wallow

  1. This made me smile, :)!
    You are brilliant Katie!
    I think many entries to your blog could be made in to a very helpful quirky self-help book, I’m yet to find one that’s written with a good sense of humour!

    If their is anything ANYTHING I can do to help let me know, please! Though you are doing brilliantly and I know you will pull through this rough patch even stronger than before ! (now that is super strength!)

    Thinking of you and sending you positive vibes from London!

    *BIG HUG*


  2. diamondintherough

    This made me smile too.
    You’re great Katie, you have so much fight and spirit in you.
    And yeah, following Sylvia Plath’s advice= not cool.
    Keep going honey, hopefully things will be less shit in a while.

  3. ~Jessica Zara~

    That last point made me giggle 🙂

    Deary me, I am rather good at wallowing looking at those criteria.

    I agree with Caitlin that your sense of humour transfers so well to print. We need to bombard New Writing North with some of your ideas!

    See you tomorrow 😀


  4. Remind me to read this when I next start to wallow! Love the way you use humour to turn a difficult situation around 🙂


  5. crazylittlethingneela

    i really enjoyed this and it’s even more enjoyable to read that you are actually only clinically depressed if you have been feeling low for more than 14 days. so maybe after all my psychologist is right about me not being depressed 😉

  6. I get the same wallow-hippo image! ‘Cept my hippo is purple (was there a tv ad or something, back when were small?? With a purple wallowing hippo in a mud puddle??)
    I think you’ve got a firm grasp on point number 6 :P.
    I think you should print this list up and paste it over Newcastle, like ‘self help street art’. Seriously!! Not only would it make people smile, but it’s also pretty useful.

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