Category Archives: Connect

Sadly, depression is booming.

Today, April 7th, is the World Health Organization’s World Health Day 2017, and this year it marks the culmination of the WHO’s one-year global campaign on depression.

The aim of this campaign — which I must say I 100% support — is that more people with depression, everywhere in the world, both seek and get help.

According to the WHO, depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide.

The leading cause.

More than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015.

That’s one heck of a rise, in just ten years, and it means that around 1 in 23 people in the world are suffering at any one time.

A few years ago, my writer and illustrator friend Matthew Johnstone made this delightful short video in collaboration with the WHO, designed to explain how depression can feel.

So if, like me, you are – or have been – the “1”, please gently pass it on to some of the other 22.

Thankfully, not everyone will suffer.

But it’s important that as many as possible understand.

PS — Thanks very much to blogger Francesca Baker for her recent post about “Nudge Your Way to Happiness.” Here’s what she had to say.

The park bench that offered a remarkable view.

I’ve a slightly long and convoluted story to tell you today, but if you stick with it I hope you’ll agree it has true value.

Where we begin is that I’m currently experimenting with tracking my mood each day in a new way, and my daily scores are being automatically texted to my friend Josh down in Los Angeles.

The idea is for us both to get a feel for how this process works.

What’s it like for me to know there’s someone with access to my state of mind?

And what’s it like for him to have this information?

So, on Tuesday this week – just a couple of days ago – Josh noticed my score had dropped a little.

The dip was nothing like my lows of times gone by, but it was enough of a change from the previous day’s for Josh to feel the need to ask what was going on.

My answer to him was that I’d simply become a bit overwhelmed with thinking about the major project that’s preoccupying me at the moment.

That’s when Josh decided to give me a dose of my own medicine, in the nicest possible way, by texting “Maybe take a nice long walk through the trees today?”

Ordinarily I might have replied by saying “too much to do, can’t afford the time.”

But the nudger considered himself nudged.

And in the spirit of going along with the idea to see where it went, I packed up my laptop at 3pm and just an hour later was at a local park – the kind of American park with Redwood trees, streams, muddy trails, and horseback riders.

I figured I’d give myself an hour, so set off up one of the trails, quickly grateful to have got away from my desk.

Around 20 minutes into the forest, and having got a bit out of breath, I came across a wooden bench – the only one of its kind in the park, I think (I’ve been to this particular park several times before).

So I sat for a few minutes gazing out at the stunning view across the San Francisco bay, then something made me swivel around to read the metal plaque on the back of the seat.

Beneath the name of the gentleman whose memory it honours, were the words “Tough, Loyal, A True Hero – My Dad,” and the date on which he had passed away: March 7th, 2007.

But wait, March 7th?

That was today.

And I realised with a start that I was sitting on a bench in a very quiet park, exactly ten years to the day that this gentleman had died.

Which is where the story, I hope, has its value.

You see, sitting there, it occurred to me that I’d like to find a way to let his family know that I’d been thinking about their relative, even though I’d never met him.

I got back to my car, Googled the broad details of the bench plaque, and quick as a flash found a short biography – and an email address for a family member.

I could drop this relative a line.

But as I drove home, the old voice of discouragement kicked in.

Better not.

Might be a bit intrusive.

Perhaps there are other things I should be focusing on.

That’s when I consciously decided to ignore those thoughts.

I told myself that I should follow my heart rather than my head.

If I’d been inspired to reach out, then that’s what I should do.

So I composed a brief, hopefully respectful, email and sent it off – thinking that would probably be the end of the matter.

The next day, however, I was thrilled to get a reply saying that it was “good to know that he is recognized and remembered. I am sending your unique letter on to the family.”

My correspondent did indeed forward my email to a dozen others, one of whom then wrote some very warm words to me herself.

In fact it was she who’d had the bench placed in the park, in memory of her Dad – as the plaque said.

Of course it was a complete coincidence that I happened to look at the plaque’s words on Tuesday, the ten-year anniversary.

But I was so close to not sending the email, so close to dismissing it as a silly idea.

But I’m so glad I did.

I’m telling you about this chain of events not – please – in any way to blow my own trumpet, but simply to sow a seed for you.

The next time you have a chance to make some small gesture yourself, but your head tells you no, please do consider following your heart.

Seemingly small actions can sometimes create ripples, and every now and then those ripples can become waves.

The world can feel a cold, cruel place at times – but we all have the power to warm things up a little.

When you have such an opportunity, please grasp it with both hands.

Thank you.

Send your love

More often than not, knowing that someone’s thinking of you results in a warm feeling.

But it works in reverse too.

Letting others know that they’re in your thoughts can also make you feel good yourself.

Not so long ago you’d have needed to do this via a phone call, or perhaps with a greetings card stamped and mailed.

Now, however, it’s ridiculously easy, economical and speedy to send an electronic message.

An email.

A text message.

A tweet or a Facebook message.

How long would it take you today to send a very simple ‘Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about you’ to three friends or relatives you’ve not been in touch with for a while?

Not long, I’m thinking.

So how about it?

Make their day.

And yours.

The whole world smiles with you.

There’s a window right next to the desk at which I usually sit in Stanford’s main library. Actually, since there’s another window right behind me, it could be described as a corner office. I knew I’d get there in the end.

From my side, the glass is slightly tinted. From the outside it’s semi-reflective, resulting in the odd phenomenon of people sometimes standing close to the window outside, using it as a mirror while they do their hair or makeup.

It’s always a bit difficult to know where to look when this happens, so I generally pretend I haven’t noticed them. If it was me outside, I think I’d be pretty embarrassed if I suddenly realised there was someone “behind the mirror.”

Anyway, every few days, a Dad stops immediately outside, with his baby and toddler. They leave their buggy behind while they come into the library, often to pick up books or a DVD for the kids. It’s a common enough occurrence, and I’m a frequent enough occupant of this same seat, that the Dad and I smile and nod to each other, albeit through the smokey/reflective window.

The older boy is generally so engrossed in whatever it is that he’s returning or has just borrowed, that he appears not to notice me.

This morning, however, his little brother – a mere babe in arms – looked directly into my eyes and beamed the cherubic smile of a little angel. Of course, although I’d definitely draw the line at describing my smile as anything even close to angelic, I beamed my grin right back.

But here’s the thing. Even a couple of hours after it happened, that two-way smile lit a fire that’s still keeping me warm.

Unfortunately it takes extra effort to smile on days when you really don’t feel like it. But isn’t it also true that it’s at times like these that you benefit the most from exchanging smiles with someone else? For some unknown reason, it can feel particularly good when you don’t actually know each other, too.

It doesn’t always work, of course, and it’s always faintly disturbing when your smile at someone is met with a total blank (I’ve never quite worked out why that happens), but there’s much to be said for seeing if you can get a smile out of someone else.

So do please do try it today, particularly if you happen to be outside the Green Library.

I promise to smile back.

Your invisible low mood.

I’m truly lucky to live in California.

I know I am.

But it often amuses me when others, based elsewhere, make the assumption that the sun always shines here, and that we spend all our time on the beach.

In fact, it’s been about six months since I even saw the ocean, and the mornings in particular are pretty chilly right now.

Ice-scraping the car is a more or less daily morning routine at the moment.

I’m definitely not complaining, though.

For one thing, it could be tons worse.

For another, it’s actually nice to have at least a little seasonal variability across the year.

In fact, the only reason I raise it at all is because the slightly false impression others may have of the Californian weather is not so far removed from the situation in which, even though you know you suffer from depression, others think you’re nothing but a little ray of sunshine.

In fact, I still vividly recall the moment, 10 years ago, when I told two of my best friends that I’d seen a psychiatrist about my 30 years of on/off depression.

They smiled at me in the way you might act if a friend told you they’d been abducted by aliens 30 years ago, and replaced with a cyborg.

“We hear you,” they seemed to say, “but we know you can’t be serious.”

I don’t blame them, in any way.

Actually, it was probably a compliment to my clearly Olivier-ian acting skills.

I’d become pretty expert at masking my feelings.

In retrospect, however, I don’t think this was such a great skill to have developed.

How the heck can people help you, if you aren’t at least somewhat honest about what you’re going through?

If you broke your arm, would it really be sensible to pretend you hadn’t?

Perhaps we try to keep our lowness away from others for fear of being judged, abandoned, or pitied.

In doing so, however, we deny ourselves the possibility of getting help from a fellow human being, or at the very least of having the chance to verbalise our emotions, which can often play a part in processing them.

Telling others how you feel doesn’t necessarily mean telling everyone, and it probably also shouldn’t mean dousing an unlucky few with a firehose of misery.

But making one small step towards “talking it out” can be invaluable, as can – just as importantly – being open to helping others do the same, with you as the listener.

Let’s talk.

Although it’s cold here, the sun’s also shining.

Losing track.

I do my best, I really do.

But try as I may to keep track of things that friends and family tell me are upcoming for them (medical appointments for example), all too often I forget.


Then of course I kick myself when they subsequently tell me how they got on, when I’d far rather have been in the position of remembering to ask them in the first place.

It’ll make me feel a little better if I know it’s something which also happens to you now and then.

But if it is, I don’t think you or I should beat ourselves up about it.

Much more importantly we shouldn’t feel offended when someone forgets something about us.

You’d need a brain like a super-computer to keep track of everything around you, but that’s just not possible.

But simple practical systems can help.

For me, it’s time to start sticking those Post-It notes on the fridge door again.

I like it when I remember things about people.

They do too.

The perfect conversational recipe. Two listeners, two disclosers.

Like me, I expect you know people whose idea of a conversation seems to be that you mainly listen while they mainly talk, and the only time they encourage you to say something is if you’re asking them a question – allowing them to talk even more.

Although I was brought up to be a listener rather than a ‘teller’, as I get older I’m realising that there’s often a sweet spot between these two positions.


It’s not always selfish to talk about yourself, particularly in moderation.

A little self-disclosure can help people understand you better, but it’s when both of you do so, when the confidences are reciprocated, that a conversation takes on a life of its own, allowing the two of you to walk away having had a good experience, sometimes even a great experience.

It’s not always easy to do this, particularly if your disclosure might relate, say, to the fact that you’re not always a happy bunny.

Perhaps it makes sense to tread carefully, and to think before you disclose; only doing so if you believe it won’t make the other person uncomfortable.

An uncomfortable conversational partner rarely makes for a good exchange, but there’s little that beats the pleasure of a genuine two-way flow of honesty.

Every single social connection gives your mood a boost.

It’s worth remembering that connectedness is a pretty crucial contributor to your wellbeing.

Being around others can give your mood a seriously healthy boost: a kind of peach and mango smoothie for the soul.


But it can be easy to forget this, especially if you wake up feeling tired, lethargic, or a little low.

It can also be easy to forget that you generally start your day with more choice than you might believe about what will or won’t happen.

Today is a good day – a great one in fact – to go out of your way to connect with others.

Face to face is best, but a phone call can be great too.

Why not make today a connecting one?

A peach and mango smoothie one too, if you like.

It’s not easy to accept invitations when you feel low, but doing so could really help.

Most of us enjoy the company of others now and then, even though we may also be happy on our own sometimes.

Spending time alone is fine, just so long as it doesn’t turn into the only thing you do.

The trouble is, although it’s generally true that being around people will give you a boost, if you’re feeling ropey, the obstinate part of your brain may try to keep you from social situations.

Crazy isn’t it?

Logic tells you to accept invitations, to arrange to see a friend, or to pick up the phone, but the annoyingly pervasive emotional side of your thinking tells you not to.

What to do therefore?

Well, perhaps when the opportunity arises to spend time with others on one of these not-so-sunny days, ask yourself ‘What’s the worst that might happen if I ignored my emotions’?


I guess the answer could be that you might get wherever you’re going, then would need to make your excuses and go home.

But (a) that’s not actually terribly likely, and (b) it really wouldn’t be that awful a thing to do if it was truly necessary.

So why not try this next time you feel a bit rough?

Nine times out of ten it’s worked for me.