If anyone tells you that depression or anxiety is a mental illness that doesn’t effect you physically, they are lying. The same probably goes for any kind of mental illness in fact, but I can only speak for myself of course. Your mind and your body are a unit, not separate entities. So something that you think, you can feel- on an emotional, and, furthermore, on a physical level too.
And it works both ways. Try taking some slow, deep abdominal breaths for a few minutes, focusing on your natural rhythm, and you might become aware that your heart rate has physically dropped, and emotionally and mentally a calm washes over your mind. On the other hand, mentally picture last horror movie you saw, and you might notice your breathing gets shallower and more up in your chest as your heart rate increases. The mind-body link. The union of our bodies. It’s what makes Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness so powerful as tools to help us understand ourselves, and leave us feeling more balanced, calm, and in control.
But back to the physical aspects of Depression…
You know that feeling where you wake up in the morning and your whole body is heavy and warm, and you just can’t bring yourself to get out of bed? Imagine that, and then times it by about a hundred. That’s what I get, pretty much every day.
My depression sometimes manifests itself physically in me as something called Leaden Paralysis. It can range from a nauseating fatigue and accompanying dull ache, to a full blown paralysis, where I literally cannot move, speak, sometimes even move my eyes, and can only occasionally muster up the energy and motivation to moan something vaguely coherent. It is as if I have gone into slow motion. The tiniest movements make me out of breath with effort. My mind is still there, whirring away (probably going off into full blown panic mode too by now), but I just can’t bring my body to move. I take my attention to the tip of my finger, and I can’t find the energy to even wiggle it. The more I try, the more the painful ache washes over me, rooting me to the spot.
I used to describe it as if my bones were full of iron. Since then of course, I found out what it’s so fittingly called, and have changed my description slightly: a Leaden blanket, anchoring me down from the inside out. And I’m not alone…
Leaden Paralysis is found in people who suffer from Atypical Depression (that’s me! Woo!). The name doesn’t mean it’s an uncommon form of depression, it’s just a more specified part of Major Depression. In Atypical Depression, you tend to have less of a ‘numbness’ feeling that is sometimes described in other Depression forms, and instead you might be more likely to be hypersensitive and reactive to external forces.
Other symptoms of Atypical Depression, aside from Leaden Paralysis, include excessive sleeping (10+ hours a night), heavy fatigue on a daily basis, having problems concentrating or decision making, weight gain, and being more prone to suicidal thinking than with other types of Depression. Of course, Depression is different for everyone, and you may or may not experience all or some of the symptoms above. Everyone feels things differently, and you’re never going to fit in the box perfectly, but it can be oddly comforting to see someone else describing what you have felt and realise you’re not crazy. When I first had this Leaden Paralysis happen to me I thought I might have been going into some sort of bizarre brain seizure, so it’s good to know what it is.
To see a more detailed list, and learn more about Atypical Depression, you can follow this link.
So how does someone deal with Leaden Paralysis when it starts affecting their lives?
The one biggest help I have found is to tell people. Be as open as you can about what happens to you physically, and let them know that it is a real thing. I know this can be terrifying, but you don’t have to tell everyone. If it’s a social event you’re missing, or work, you can just let them know you’re ill, and leave it at that. As far as employers are concerned, you are under no legal obligation to disclose your any of your mental health records with them, unless you want to of course. But letting someone that you trust know what is going on can change the whole experience. Now when I feel the Paralysis coming on I can tell Rich and he understands in an instant what is going on because we’ve spoken about it before. He knows that I’m not just being lazy. He also knows that although I may not be able to move or speak for a while, I’m still there, and appreciate him chattering away to me as normal, or helping me sit down or get into bed, and put a film on in front of me.
I have no method for getting rid of the paralysis itself. It’s caused by the depression, so it’s a case of treating the root cause, rather than being able to doing anything particularly for the fatigue. So instead of trying to fix it, you can learn to cope with it. Over months I have learnt how to sit it out by making myself as comfortable as possible, keeping myself as calm and happy inside as I can, and waiting for it to pass. And it always does eventually. I can’t make it any less of a reality for me, but I can control how I react to it.
I practise Yoga daily. Even just a few gentle stretches in the morning helps to relieve some of the ache in my bones and move the energy around my body.
If you feel that you connect on an energetic level with yourself spiritually, you might also find Reiki can provide you with relief too, but I understand that it’s not for everyone.
When I can, I go for a deep tissue massage. Although they don’t always help with the ache, it can do, and either way it’s a great way of giving your body moving physically without getting out of breath.
Throughout the day, I always try to keep moving, alternating sitting down with something on my feet. The day is for action, the night is for sleep. The more I stay energised in the day, the better I will rest later. But I do give myself plenty of short breaks to rest in between activities.
Prepare yourself. Keep your phone close to you or your bed, so that if you feel it coming, you can call someone to let them know. Try not to be alone for long periods of time. In the past I have gone to stay with my parents when my housemates have been away for the week just in case, so that at least I have someone around to feed me if it gets really bad. Make meals in advance, so they are easy to get. The last thing you want is to stop eating because you’re too tired to get anything. I always leave myself leftovers from dinner the night before if I can so that if it does happen the next day while Rich is at work, I can eat something healthy, rather than falling back on sugary, fatty foods because I feel like I need some instant energy and that’s all I can manage at the time. I also keep a bottle of fresh water on my bedside table. Hydration and healthy eating is so important, yadah yadah yadah- so be your own best friend and make it easy for yourself.
Keep warm. There is nothing like the cold to make an ache feel worse. Hot baths and hot water bottles are your friend. I invested in an electric blanket a couple of years ago and have never regretted it for an instant. I unapologetically wear about a million layers wherever I go too. Thermals are not just for winter! And you can always take them off again.
Don’t reach for the caffeine. Maybe you’ll feel better initially, but what happens when it wears off again? It’s a nasty cycle, try not to slip into it.
But most of all, tell someone. And, as with all mental illnesses, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s a symptom of an illness, an unfortunate situation that has happened, just like someone getting flu, or breaking a leg. It’s not a cause that you have created for yourself in any way by being weaker than anyone else.
Hope you’re all really well,