Catriona Futter – Equip For Life Coaching Becoming your best self and living life to the full – 07713 974138

Tag Archives: Dealing With Depression

Choosing to be disciplined

Choosing to be disciplinedChoosing to be disciplined – not a very glamorous idea, and nor always a very popular one. Being adventurous, or being a free spirit, or going with what feels best at the time seem to fit more in our oft individualistic and consumerist society. The unspoken assumption sometimes sounds like…

I want it and I want it now, and I am not expecting to work hard to get it. I simply want it handed to me on a plate, just like it happens for the select few on the multitudinous reality television come-here-to-get-instant-fame programmes.

Now, I fully accept that not all of us want fame, vast riches, glory. Not all of us want to rule the world, despite the song that suggests we do (a favourite on the 80s mix in our car!). But there is a subtly pervasive attitude that suggests in our modern-day western first world part of the planet that if you want it, you should get it. The idea of a strong work ethic, of commitment and hard graft, seem out dated and old fashioned.

But where does that really get us?

How often have you said, “If only I had worked harder/stuck at it/persevered for longer?” It could be with anything – academic studies, a creative project, weight loss, exercise, giving something up, taking something on. It could be choosing to be brave and committing to talking to your nearest-and-dearest about stuff that really matters on a regular basis.

Discipline is not a groovy or enticing word. But it is an important one, because without discipline, rarely do we get to where we really want to go in life.

A fabulous programme I watched recently highlighted this. Mind over Marathon followed the astonishingly brave efforts of 10 individuals with a range of mental health issues as they trained to run the London Marathon. Now that really is a challenge, and the discipline required to stick with the training programme was costly indeed. But these fabulous people demonstrated superbly the benefits of the discipline of regular exercise. Mental and physical health improvements and well-being, structure, goals, achievement, endorphins, team camaraderie. They had huge support, not least from the Royal family. But they still had to make that individual choice to be disciplined.

Many times, the choice to give up seems less painful, but that opens up the route to regret.

Instead, we can choose discipline, accepting the associated pain. But the key is to have a clear idea of WHY we are doing what we are doing because in that, there is motivation.

Because it is a true and classic coaching observation that most of us don’t suffer from lack of information, but lack of motivation. This is about vision, goals, action planning. Having support, and encouragement. Choosing to be brave and commit to the decision.

But ultimately being disciplined comes down to one thing – doing what you say you are going to do.

I can pontificate all I like about my desire to have closer and more connected conversations with MB, that enable us both to move on from the impact of his depression. We both know why this is important, and we have both agreed to it. And at the end of another week, I can come up with all the excuses in the proverbial book as to why – yet again – we have not managed to sit down together for half an hour and really communicate about how we both are and what we both need.

Regret can paralyse us, or it can precipitate action. Action that requires discipline, but produces results and not regret.

This week, where are you choosing to be disciplined? What are you committing to stick to, and why is it important to you?

Lessons from Depression Part 4: People are worth fighting for.

These past weeks have been an interesting process of stopping to explore lessons learned from depression, and living alongside our Black Dog. To step back, look under the surface and hunt for the treasure in the bleakness.

Often we hurtle through life at crazy speeds, living a never-ending-to-do-list.

We risk getting to the end of our lives and looking back with regret at the dreaPeople are worth fighting forms unfulfilled, the people unvalued, the opportunities not taken. I have written here about this a lot, as I believe passionately that

life is for living abundantly and joyfully.

Being aware of who we are and what we can do, and celebrating that we have so much now: we can choose to live today making the most of that.

But often we live on-hold, waiting for the time when we have more….more peace, more time, more freedom, more money, more success, more love…you name it, we live thinking that we need it.  Depression can make you feel that life is on hold – numb, cheated of hope or any sense of enjoyment, wasted years. And that is one of the devastating consequences of this awful mental illness. But it brings me to lesson from depression No 3:

People are worth fighting for

It can be all too easy for any of us to look at our lives and think – this is as good as it is going to get, to give in to compromise that pleases no one, to shut down to hopes and dreams and lose sight of that part of yourself.

But stop and ask yourself – is this the life I really want to be living?

For us, the Black Dog eventually prompted us to:

  •  take stock
  • talk about the illness and let others in
  • get help
  • learn to communicate better
  • grow to understand our own needs
  • and seek to change ourselves rather than each other.

And at the root of it all, to realise that being our best selves, together and individually, was worth fighting for. I have learned to say no to the temptation to accept the this-is-as-good-as-it-is-going-to-get resignation for the rest of my life (to be honest, sometimes this would be a lot less hard work and tiring).

Instead, to grab hold of the Black Dog and it’s companions of frustration, compromise, anger, hurt, negativity, and grapple and wrestle with them.

I want more from my life.

People matter – you matter.

Each of us is a unique individual who is worth celebrating and fighting for.

Each of us can choose how we respond to life each day.

Life can be brutally hard, lonely, painful and shocking sometimes. We don’t often have control of external events. But we do have choice in how we respond, and how we support and value each other.

Having people in our lives with whom we can be free to be ourselves, who challenge us to be the best version of ourselves, and embrace our efforts to grow in character and maturity with all our mistakes along the way – for me, there is little that is more important than this. Whether it is with MB or with friends who inspire me and celebrate life with me.

Living alongside depression has taught me to be real, honest and vulnerable. To narrow the gap between the person people see on the outside and the real me on the inside. And in doing so, being willing to celebrate what I am good at and what is important to me, and learning to accept responsibility for less palatable aspects of my character and seeking to change and grow.

We can’t change others – I couldn’t change MB, not by sheer effort, force of will, love or anger.

But I could take responsibility for changing myself, and my approach to him. And of course we can only start to change ourselves when we fully understand ourselves.

If that idea sounds appealing – gaining more self-awareness and understanding – but you don’t know where to start, then The 10 Things Challenge is for you.

If you know someone who is suffering from depression, take time to watch this very helpful video. Give them time, space and consistent support.

If you know someone whose partner or close friend is suffering from depression take time to ask them how they are. Listen to and affirm them in their often lonely role, and provide opportunities for distraction, fun and simple enjoyment where they can be themselves without any expectations.

If you are living with someone who is suffering from depression, YOU ARE DOING A GREAT JOB! Hang in there, talk about how you are and make sure that you have trusted people around you with whom you can very definitely be ‘not fine’.

Take time to understand your own needs, and make time to care for yourself. People are worth fighting for – that includes you.

Lessons from Depression Part 3: Respect your own needs

In reflecting on our Lessons from depression, here is my second:

Respect your own needs.

Take time to understand yourself and what it is that you need.

Respect your own needs

Respect your own needs

Of course, this is true for all of us, not just in a relationship or friendship dominated by a Black Dog. This is not about being selfish and ignoring the depressed person in the relationship, or distancing yourself from that person. They need your consistent support, belief and listening presence. But neglecting your own needs will eventually cause emotional, mental, physical burnout as you try to be alongside the depressed person without having your own energy levels topped up.

It takes time to understand ourselves and what we need, enjoy and what makes us tick. But it also takes more than that – a willingness to invest in ourselves and look below the surface.

Sometimes, this can feel too hard, too raw, or requiring too much energy.

I can see this being true for me when I look back at my own experience of living for years with MB when his Black Dog was dominant. The focus (through no one’s fault) was usually on him and impact of his illness on him, and us. We just got through life. Me, my stuff, my needs, and what I actually wanted, seemed very far down the list of priorities. It felt selfish and disloyal to take time just for me, and sometimes I was scared of what I would find – that the differences between us and what we both wanted and needed were irreconcilably great.

If I really engaged with who I was, what was important to me, and became more confident and self-assured as me, would that cause me to become more independent from him, more distant? And of course, because we didn’t talk about our Black Dog, or I spent a good deal of my time being ‘fine’ when asked, there was no one to gently but firmly encourage me to look after myself.

So what broke the stuck negative cycle of my angry, hurt outbursts at him when I had reached the end of myself and run out of empathy and compassion, and his inevitable withdrawal further away from me and my rage?

How did I learn to respect my own needs?

Stopping to breath, look under the surface, and invest in myself a little. Stepping back to see the bigger picture. Asking questions like:

  • What do I love to do that inspires me and gives me energy?
  • Who do I love to be with, people who make me laugh, or with whom I can cry and not be ‘fine’
  • What matters to me most, and how am I planning that into my day/week?
  • What am I involved in that gives me a sense of purpose and fulfilment, that benefits others?

This is not about being selfish and self-absorbed. It is about self-awareness and a growing self confidence in your own unique contribution to the world. Investing in ourselves appropriately enables us to be properly resourced to care for those around us and serve a greater good.

For me, it was learning to say

This is me, these are my needs and I can best be alongside you if I am strong and resourced and supported by trusted folk who understand and value me in my own right, not just as the partner of the depressed one. “

But looking at my unmet needs was not enough. Also required was a willingness to admit where my attitudes and behaviour were wrong. It was all too easy to blame all our struggles on MB and his illness, or his reaction to it. Again, brutal honest self-examination showed me some harsh truths about myself that were not pretty.

How willing was I to let go of my resentment, learn to be more gracious and humble, let others in and not give the appearance of always being ‘sorted’?

The gulf between us was only going to narrow if we both chose to move.

This takes time, support, being gentle with each other, making lots of mistakes, and bucket loads of forgiveness. But it comes right back to where we started – what are our needs, and what is most important to us?

How important are we to each other?

What is true of this in your relationships? Take time to understand yourself. Respect your own needs. And if you don’t know where to start, the 10 Things Challenge is for you!

Lessons from Depression Part 2: Talk about it.

As I look back over our experience of living with and alongside depression – our breed of Black Dog – I am musing on what would have made a difference.

I have learned to understand and accept myself and my needs more.

Talk about depression, get it out of the dark.

Talk about depression, get it out of the dark.

MB (My Beloved as he is referred to in my blog) and I have grown in our understanding of what is important, and what the barriers to communication are between us.

But if I am brutally honest (and this seems to be the trend….) I could have gained more peace quicker had I stopped and paid attention to my feelings, and been willing to be more vulnerable.

I am stubborn, strong willed and very independent.

I am very much a ‘just get on with it’ sort of person, and in part, this has been learned through years of – as I perceived it – having no other choice.

And the out working of this? “I’m fine”.

Oh, I hear a sharp intake of breath. We have all done it – “How are you?” comes the question. And even though we have inner turmoil, fears, anxiety, anger churning our innards into twisted knots, we hear our own voice

I’m fine”

Now of course, there are times when this is the most appropriate answer – we all have layers of friendships and social interactions, like concentric circles. It is often not practical or sensible to share our deepest secrets with those in the outermost circles. We would never get anywhere or get anything done. And there does have to be a measure of trust and wisdom in sharing personal confidences, especially if someone else is involved.

But the first and most important lesson from depression I learned the long, hard way. I am going to say this really loudly because it is crucial:

It is important to talk about depression, to tell someone that things are not fine.

In recent weeks, I have heard stories direct and indirect of many who have suffered from depression and its’ wide-reaching effects in silence. Men especially seem pathologically reluctant to talk about it, and the cost to their mental health, and that of their nearest-and-dearest is very high.

What have we learned about the importance of talking about MB’s depression, and how would we approach this now?

I would say to him, and learn to do so without anger or frustration –

  • It is an illness
  • It is not your fault, and there is no shame involved
  • It does not mean you are a failure, incapable or incompetent
  • The real you is still in there somewhere, and I still believe in and want to know that person
  • You may feel that it defines you now, but it is possible to get help and for things to be better
  • You are not coping with or enjoying life, and it is hard for me to see that, and the effect on me is hard too. I care about you and want you to enjoy life more, so please can we get help for you together?

And what would I say to myself?

  • Talking about MB’s depression and its impact on me to some trusted people in my inner circle is essential for my own sanity
  • this is not being disloyal as it is possible to do this without disrespecting him
  • Not talking about it and repressing how I am feeling (“I’m fine”) will lead to me becoming resentful and angry, just a few in a plethora of emotions experienced in the course of dealing with this illness. These feelings are not going to go away, but will build up like compound interest, until one day under pressure, there is a huge eruption. And of course, this is more likely to lead to me showing disloyalty and disrespect to MB as I rage and rant.
  • Being vulnerable allows people in, enables others to provide help and support, and often allows others to share their un-fine-ness too

For years I felt I had no other choice than to ‘just get on with it’ and be ‘fine’ because we did not talk about our Black Dog. The very few people who did know were wonderful but even with them, I wanted to give the impression that I was coping. Ha.

And of course I now see that the cost of taking this approach for years becomes very high – it became my default reaction, and therefore I found it hard to actually be vulnerable with anyone, especially MB. Fear of being disloyal, fear of being hurt or rejected, fear of opening up how I really felt inside but not having those fears heard and respected.

And so sometimes I would come across as completely sorted, or intimidating, hugely independent, or unreachable.

So, lessons from depression number 1 – talk about what is going on with someone you trust, be it a friend or professional. It is ok to not be fine. It is ok to ask for help.

And no matter how isolated or lonely you feel, it isn’t just you. Talk about depression and start to undo the power of the Black Dog.

Lessons from depression Part 1. Or, how have we tamed the Black Dog.

Lessons from depression

Lessons from depression

These last few weeks have been something of an opening out of life, an unfolding of lots of things that have been closed away for some time. I guess I should have seen this coming – you don’t start talking about depression without it causing some ripples outwards. And maybe a few internal waves too.

Several people have asked me if writing the Black Dog blog series was cathartic, and in many ways it was. Talking more openly and honestly about what has been going on behind the façade of external life for some 20 years has been freeing but also emotionally stretching.

What has encouraged me most has been the response from many and the common themes therein –

  • Brave, honest, and really struck a chord with many
  • Many are affected by depression and have a Black Dog either of their own or within their family/friends circle, and yet is it rarely talked about
  • Those with their own Black Dog have expressed how accurately I managed to portray something of what depression is like

All this has been hugely important, and goes some way towards redeeming our own experiences. It has been so important to get it right – after all, not having experienced depression, who am I to talk about what being in that dark place is like?

I have opened up our lives, taken out what has been at the centre and said:

Here, this is us as we really are.”

Sometimes when my daughters were very little, one of them would hold on very tightly to something that to them was very precious. If I needed to get at that wee gem, it would involve me prising her hand open, one finger at a time, to reveal the tiny treasure contained within (usually a bit sweaty and squashed by then). And so it has felt with our experiences –  to unwrap all the layers of pretending-things-are-ok, guilt, resentment, failure, fear, lack of trust, and gingerly and tenderly expose something intensely personal to us has felt like a risk. A handing over of a treasure without knowing what the response will be – will that treasure be seen as such by others, be valued and respected, or trampled into the ground?

Now of course, I know and respect those that know me well enough to trust in their gracious and accepting response in the face of our vulnerability. And in managing to portray his depression with accuracy and understanding, I handed MB a gift of acceptance that showed how much I have actually learned along the way.

At times, we felt so far apart from each other and the gulf so wide that reaching a place of mutual understanding and acceptance seemed less likely than reaching Mars. But to see in black and white that I do get it, and get him, more than he realised, was a real moment of grace for us both.

As I have reflected on these last weeks, and all the conversations I have had with those who I never knew had any experience of depression, it has made me wonder – how did I get to this point, still standing? What have I learned about myself, and how would I encourage those living with or alongside a Black Dog?

January seems the time to learn lessons and take stock so what lessons from depression have I learned that are perhaps worth sharing? That’s what the next couple of weeks will be about.

Putting our Black Dog on a leash

Last week I started talking about the Black Dog in our marriage – the depression that my beloved (MB) has suffered from for many years, and the impact of living with it. How do we learn to put our Black Dog on a leash?

Putting our Black Dog on a leash

Putting our Black Dog on a leash

Or – to put it another way – what happens when you are not depressed anymore, and how do you move forward?

As MB came out of his most recent spell, he found himself in a limbo state of not being depressed – he has concurred that sometimes he chose this as his identity – but also not knowing who he was, what he could do, and what was next.

In my experience of being alongside others with depression, I have seen this pattern before. There is a divide between living in a depressed state, and living as a person who understands and is content with who they are

and is secure in that new identity.

But getting across that gap on your own is too much.



And very scary.

So what to do? How could I use my skills and my role as MB’s other half to help him across that divide?

Whatever I came up with, it needed to be

  • manageable in a busy working schedule
  • have the potential for a small achievement each time but without an overwhelming sense of failure if that step or that day was hard
  • provide some pattern and structure
  • be easy to do
  • be practical and forward looking
  • provide gentle but realistic encouragement
  • and ultimately form lots of little stepping stones across that divide into a new identity.

And so The 10 Things Challenge was created.

The 10 Things Challenge is a tool that I have written that can change the way you see yourself and your future in 30 simple steps.

It was written for MB to give him a gentle, practical, structured way to gain greater understanding of who he is, what he can do, how to care for himself and learn to see himself in a new, more positive light.

It is recognised that gratitude, exercise, caring for yourself, being more outward looking, simplifying life, time and discipline all help in putting the Black Dog on a leash and moving forward into better health (as outlined in this wonderful WHO video about the Black Dog, and this one about living with someone who is depressed).

Now MB knew all that, but putting it all into practice, whilst doing a very busy and often demanding job, was too overwhelming, so nothing much would change. But providing the external motivation that is part of The 10 Things Challenge, coupled with it’s simplicity and practical aspects, seemed to enable him to start to take those small steps towards a better outlook.

The 10 Things Challenge is a way to create a much greater end product of self awareness, self confidence and future direction that is significantly bigger than the sum of it’s individual parts.

It was written for someone moving on after a period of depression. But this is by no means it’s only focus. It is a tool that allows whoever is doing it to gain greater self awareness, clarity on future goals and direction, more confidence and fulfillment in life whatever their life stage. It certainly is not a tool to treat depression.

It is simply a practical response to a need that was right there in front of me. But as I wrote and developed it, I started to see it’s potential as a forward looking coaching tool.

Next week I will introduce you to The 10 Things Challenge, and the experiences of others who have completed it. For MB and me, it has been a way of putting our Black Dog on a leash and stepping gradually into life of greater communication, understanding and freedom. What might it do for you?

Our Black Dog. Or Living alongside Depression.

We have a large black dog in our marriage.

Our Black Dog

Emotions and lack of in living with our Black Dog

For more than two decades, this Black Dog has played a role in our lives and impacted on our relationship, communication and emotional well being. My beloved – or MB for short – has suffered from depression for a large chunk of his adult life. And I have lived alongside him and his depression – his Black Dog – struggling to get to grips with how to do this well and maintain my own sanity.

Sometimes, the Black Dog has been right bang in the middle of our lives, with not much room for anything else. MB’s depression has been the dominant force, hugely affecting us both. Him – trapped, bleak, hopeless, emotionally numb. Me – lonely, isolated, frustrated, torn between loving support and angry resentment about the impact this illness has.

Seeing MB so distant, unavailable, unable to enjoy or enter into much of life, still functioning but going through the motions and with little energy left for anything other than self-preservation. And battling my own feelings of being cheated of the engaging, funny, creative and inspiring man that I know is in there somewhere.

There have been other prolonged periods when the Black Dog has made himself pretty scarce, and there has been more freedom, hope, communication, enjoyment and optimism. And these have been times of learning and self-growth for us both. We have sought to understand the origins of this Black Dog, or at least diminish it’s power to return forcibly to our lives, and to break negative cycles of communication that inevitably we fall into when things are bad.

I have never experienced prolonged depression as an illness. And therefore I have no insight into what it is to live in that dark place. The closest I ever came to having a glimpse of understanding was a short spell of bleak low mood as a result of a traumatic life event. MB came home from work and I was under the duvet not wanting to come out (unheard of for me during the day).

“I feel like I’m in a black box with a heavy lid and I can’t get out, I can’t lift the lid to get out.”

He looked at me and very gently and simply said:

“That’s what it feels like to be depressed.”

This occurred well over a decade ago, yet I have never forgotten that, or how I felt – quite stunned at the horror of living in that oppressive black box and that being your norm. I am by nature quite a practical, problem solving enthusiastic optimist who can generally talk or work my way through a challenge or difficult situation and come out the other side.

So this very brief experience of not being able to get myself out of this black box was shocking to me.

Now I know that there are lots of different types and facets of depression, and I can only speak of my own, very personal experience of our particular breed of Black Dog. What I say here is simply that – my own reflections. I cannot speak to the experience of others, whose depression has taken different forms and degrees of severity.

And so to MB. We seemed to live in a cyclical pattern based on the varying dominance of the Black Dog, but didn’t seem able to take more than a sticking plaster approach to addressing surface level issues.

How to break that cycle?

Being the practical fix-it sort of person that I am, what use could I be to him to help him move beyond depression?

How could I use my skills and experience to help him put his Black Dog on a leash? That’s where we will go next week.

For an incredibly helpful short video about the Black Dog and it’s impact, watch this WHO video of the book ‘I had a Black Dog’ by Matthew Johnstone.