Dealing with Depression
I begin by saying I am an expert only in my own self.
I have suffered depression on and off for years; I now consider myself largely ‘cured’, although ‘cure’ is such a medical term and I can’t say I found much help from that quarter, let alone any cure. Modern medicine does not offer any cure for depression, although it does offer an array of pharmaceutical appeasements which are, it must be said, a great aid to daily living.
My depression emerged post-natally following the birth of my second child 16 years ago. I had suffered severe morning sickness in the first trimester, and an opportunistic virus (cytomegalo-virus, which is a lot like glandular fever) cropped up in the third trimester leaving me beyond exhausted for a month until it disappeared as quickly as it arrived. The combination of these two, plus pregnancy, plus a toddler, plus major change in social status from a wealthy business-owner to full-time parent with no income, combined such that the Third Day Blues were still hanging around at Day Fourteen.
My best friend was a midwife and she gently told me I had just a wee bit of a postnatal depression. At the time, only 16 years ago, there was still some stigma attached to this and I had no intention of pursuing any medical treatment for it. So initially I responded to this with natural remedies, principally St John’s Wort, although I have to say the impact was negligible and I suppose I hoped it would just pass.
Ultimately of course it did not, and it was three years later when I sought medical treatment. I remember my surprise in my doctor’s office at being able to tick off 9 out of 10 symptoms that indicated I had depression, including thoughts of suicide. The 10th one was whether I’d made any attempt and I had not, nor had I any intention of ever doing so, but I certainly had developed a much clearer understanding of how many were driven to this.
So I went away with a prescription for Prozac, and it certainly made a difference. Again though I assumed I would only require this for a short time – maybe 6 months – and that the blackness would eventually dissolve. To cut a long story short, it did not, and although I made many attempts to take myself off medication, few lasted more than a year or so. I hasten to add that if you do wish to stop taking antidepressant medication, do NOT do this without support from your doctor; it is not a medication you should cease taking cold turkey, ie. immediately – you should wean yourself from it slowly.
I have come to learn that there are many other routes one can take in responding to depression, of which medication is one very important one. Depression can halt you in your tracks with such power that it becomes impossible to do virtually anything – you cannot live like that and other solutions are not going to happen overnight, so I am a huge advocate for antidepressant medication. You have to live, and indeed you have to thrive, and you can’t do either if you’re feeling constantly black. So for example, exercise and diet can play a big role in managing your depression, but if you cannot summon the motivation and self-discipline to even get these things started in your daily life then nothing will change, so by all means take the medication as a support to your own well-being while you make other changes for your longer term health.
So in no particular order, here’s what I can contribute to your understanding about what else makes a difference in moving beyond depression:
Your Liver and Kidneys – I’m sure you didn’t expect me to start there. One of my most important learnings has been the approaches taken by most other non-Western, traditional healing systems. Most of them – in particular Chinese medicine – view the Kidneys as the seat of depression, and the Liver as the seat of anger. I mention both since they are generally quite intertwined in their manifestation, and indeed internally they impact on each other – in fact, of course, all systems impact on each other, so it’s not entirely appropriate to view any particular body system in isolation, but we’ll look at these two just the same. Both these systems play a huge part in cleaning the body of unwanted materials, and given our diets and the chemicals around us in particular, we put these systems under incredible strain. Ill-health will also put them under stress, as will stressful emotional events and stressful physical events (and pregnancy counts as a massive physical stress on the body). Combine pregnancy with severe morning sickness, serious viruses and the emotional impacts that come from changes in social status, parental status, marital status, and so on, and you’ve got a sure-fire recipe for depression. It doesn’t mean that you are emotionally weak; it simply means that your body is stressed to the max and is unable to regulate your mood as well as everything else.
You can help your Liver and Kidneys out with exercise and diet in particular, and you can also do short liver-cleanse diets, as well as taking the advice of natural health consultants on the many liver and kidney cleansing and support supplements that are available. I have no particular views on what’s available or on any particular brands and you should consult qualified natural health practitioners on this.
Diet – You don’t have to go on a diet, but you do need to give better attention to what’s in your diet. Reduce and preferably eliminate the following: processed foods of all kinds especially fast food, refined sugar (candies and soft drinks), and alcohol. Use fresh ingredients as much as possible. There are several major foods that are known to impact on mood, two of the most common of which are wheat and dairy products. If you think you may be impacted by these foods, either emotionally or physically, then eliminate one of them at a time, for a week or two, and see what changes may arise. Both wheat and dairy also impact your lungs, ie. your breathing, and dairy products can also negatively impact your joints. Both these foods/food groups also offer positive benefits, especially in more unrefined products, so don’t eliminate them without ensuring other grains and similar protein and calcium products are added to your diet in their place. Again you should consult a qualified natural health practitioner about any changes of this kind. Many people have food insensitivities and allergies they are not aware of; a natural health practitioner can test these for you.
Exercise – I’m sorry, but you can’t avoid it. A 15-minute walk each day offers you more than you can possibly know, not just physically but also emotionally. You will improve your mood markedly by taking a walk every day, and you will notice a significant improvement to your mood within a couple of weeks. You will notice even more impact from an hour’s exercise every day. There is no getting away from it, and there are few people that ever regret exercising and most of us regret not doing it. If you do nothing else, do this.
Meditation – I’d like to say if you do nothing else, do this, but I already said that about exercise. You can though add meditation to your daily routine also for as little as 20 minutes a day. I urge you to read my earlier blogs on meditation here and here. There is more to meditation than just quietening your mind, although the benefits of just that alone are untold. The best practices will heal you. I’ve learned many different practices. I have a free ‘how to meditate’ programme here.
Many people pray; this may or may not have the same kind of value as the type of meditation I’m referring to. If your prayer experience allows you to sink into a deep state of stillness, then in all likelihood it will have. If your prayer is the recitation of verse, or appeals to God, then it will have positive effects, but may not provide the kind of effect I’m referring to here. Deeply restful meditation is, in my experience, a practice that needs to be taught, and is not generally something you can simply acquire from reading a book, albeit that some may. You may though try several practices before you find one that suits you.
Emotional Healing Practices – This implies that there are things from our past that we need to heal; things that were done to us, things that occurred that hurt us or left us emotionally drained (such as a death or a relationship break-up), things we did that we are ashamed of. There are some things that may have occurred in our early years that we have forgotten or blanked out, such as physical or sexual abuse; I urge anyone who has this in their history, or believes they may have, to work with a reputable therapist to work through these things. However I also urge people, regardless of whatever horrors may lay in your past, not to dwell there too long. When we find horrors in our past, we can get very stuck back there in re-living those things, and there is not a lot of value in doing that. There are other means by which we can let go of anger, hurt and shame and stay in the present. Holding onto, or living in, the past will block our happiness in the now. It’s by no means easy to let go of these things and will take diligent practice over a long period of time. There is no major emotional journey that is done with in an instant, and your best approach to your emotional healing is to know that it is indeed a journey and it will take time. Once you start, you will have obstacles, you will have days you feel you are no further ahead, you will have days you feel you’ve gone backwards… that is all part of any important journey. Know that you are on one and that it continues as long as you are committed to it, regardless of the bad days that will inevitably come. In my experience, when I am in the process of releasing something from the past, or dealing with some obstacle before me, the blackness can be especially big and ugly and grips me tightly; keep going – just keep going! It can take a few days or a few weeks to let go of a big piece of emotional crap – once it’s gone, there’ll be blue skies again. Until the next piece comes along… And on it goes. Be around wise and caring friends, and if you can have a Coach or Counsellor that supports you on your journey then have one; and don’t be afraid to change that professional support when you move on from a particular approach that’s offered.
Find Your Purpose – When you have a Vision and a Purpose for your life, and thus something to get stuck into, something to occupy you, you will move more quickly through the darkness. It can also mean that the obstacles pop up more quickly and more fiercely – I have no idea why that happens but it seems to: you set a new goal and straight away you’re tested. Persevere. Nothing really worth having is apparently that easy. I have a 10-day online course to help you uncover your Purpose, here.
Self-Talk – Be mindful of the messages you put in your own head and don’t believe everything you think. It is a good rule of thumb to accept that anything negative is false. Truth – with a capital ‘T’ – can only be positive, so therefore anything that’s negative has to be false. So a) don’t believe it, and b) replace it with something positive as quickly as you can. It’s not easy, and again this is a practice that takes years. Sadly we are not taught the importance of this and how to do it early enough in life. It’s never too late to start though.
You are not alone – there are hundreds of thousands of people suffering with depression; find others who want to take positive steps to eradicate this from their lives and replace it with happiness. A problem shared…
I wish you luck and love on your journey. You’ve already started – congratulations! Just keep going…
See my 30-day programme The Journey to Happiness here.