Living with Depression

Depression is a feeling of nostalgia, and not the good kind of nostalgia. It’s the feeling of having concrete in your head, wanting to go to sleep for awhile, not a specific amount of time, and it’s not that you want to die but you just want to sleep for longer than a night in hope that you might wake up feeling better. Depression isn’t just about feeling down, it’s about feeling fatigued, irritable, not wanting to participate in life, feeling like your watching life go on around you, your world feels like it’s spinning out of control and you just want to get off the merry go round. At least this has been my experience. 

Just to give you a little bit of insight, my father got sick when I was 3 years old, he was diagnosed Manic Depressive which later got labelled as Bipolar Disorder and paranoid schizophrenia all of which has impacted our family tremendously. He is also an alcoholic, his form of self medication. It tore my family apart and to this day I struggle with him. I don’t pretend to understand the full magnitude of what he goes through and I hope I never have to deal with that myself. There’s many layers to this story and I don’t want to go into every detail, that would require writing a book!

Being that I was so young when he got sick my childhood was less than ideal, I’m not here to throw a pity party, I’ve been exposed to a lot in my 35 years but I have also had therapy that has helped me overcome a lot of my own hang ups. I also have an incredible Mother who did whatever she could to provide a loving home for us, she has been my rock and I don’t know where I’d be without her, I also have a very supportive brother and sister and extended family so I’m not alone.

However what I haven’t escaped from is a mild underlying form of Depressive episodes and anxiety that I go through now and then. This differs from just feeling a bit low for a day or two, we all have low days, that’s completely normal. It’s when there’s too many low days in a row when it should be taken more seriously. I have recently been going through a bit of a low patch, winter is always worse for me with the lack of Vitamin D from the Sun. From the outside looking in I seem like a happy go lucky kinda girl, most of the time I am just that, I normally see the glass half full and have a zest for life but sometimes I struggle and only those closest to me would know, and even then some wouldn’t realise. So much of changing my diet has truly helped a lot of the symptoms and avoiding gluten and excessive amounts of sugar seems to do me a world of good but diet isn’t the only answer to what is a very complex subject. Everyone has their opinions on what works and from my experience I can only talk about what I’ve found that works.

I have had full blown panic attacks many times in my life, and not the kind that get dramatised on TV or in the movies. I had my first one at 8 years old when my Dad went Manic while we were away from home, I didn’t understand at the time, I just thought I was dying in the only way an 8 year old can understand. The kind of panic attacks I had left me feeling paralysed by fear and are so debilitating that I didn’t want to leave the house. That was me at 21, I didn’t work and I had lost any hope, medication left me feeling even worse. Just when you’re at the prime time of your life, I had never felt so alone in all my life and yet I was surrounded by some of the most loving people ever, this lasted for a few years. Anxiety is truly awful, it leaves you feeling trapped and I don’t wish it on anyone. Thankfully these days my anxiety is only about 10-20% of what it was back then but I have also orchestrated my life around it and I have shared below some of the keys to managing both anxiety and depression.

“Depression and anxiety disorders are different, but people with depression often experience symptoms similar to those of an anxiety disorder, such as nervousness, irritability, and problems sleeping and concentrating. But each disorder has its own causes and its own emotional and behavioural symptoms.” Source: https://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression

14 things I do to take care of my mental health:

1. Walk, walking is probably the best form of exercise for me to manage my depression, well any form of exercise is. The hardest part is doing it, it’s such a catch 22 situation because it’s normally the last thing you feel like doing but it really is key to changing how I feel. It’s proven that exercise changes the pathways in your brain to help you make better decisions and improve your mood.  Check out this podcast particularly from 32 minutes on about why exercise is so effective.

2. Nutrition, this one is pretty important! A balanced diet is imperative to functioning at my best. With all the different versions of eating I have done I know I need to keep things really balanced and eat mostly whole foods. If I go too low carb I don’t function, at first I feel bulletproof and then I crash and burn. Eating some healthy carbs like tubers and fruits really do help to release serotonin which is the feel good hormone. Adequate protein is vital to keeping my blood sugar balanced and eating enough fat, you really needs the good fats to support a healthy brain, particularly omega3’s.

3. Sleep, I must sleep a good 7-9 hours a night, I really feel the effects of not having a good sleep routine. I keep a pretty regular sleep pattern and yes it sounds boring to go to bed at the same time each night but it really helps to keep me sane!

4. Meditation, or some diaphragmatic breathing. For someone with depression the thought of doing this can seem laughable but like with the exercise it can also change the pathways in your brain, this is actually pretty life changing.

5. Support, I have an extremely supportive husband, so much of what I accomplish comes down to having his wholehearted support. My family and friends are very understanding and without that I do think it’s extremely hard to overcome hardships.  

6. Relaxing, I am lucky enough to have a spa pool and having one every night before bed not only helps me sleep better but it helps to melt away the stressors of the day. A bath does the same! Also grounding myself is really important, like a swim at the beach or strolling along the sand. Getting out in nature is so good for the soul!

7. Active relaxing/me time, this means something I enjoy doing, being creative, painting, sewing, cooking, gardening, reading, cuddling puppies, sex… yep they all release those beta endorphins in your brain. I need more than the average bear!!

8. Alcohol, I avoid it! Yep! It’s sucks, not only because it tastes good, it helps you escape your reality for a while, this is exactly what you want to do when you’re feeling depressed or anxious but it really doesn’t make me feel good over the long term. It is a depressant after all! Again this may make me seem “boring” in some respects and socially it’s tough. However feeling depressed and anxious constantly is no way to live so alcohol is out for me! Same goes for caffeine, it makes my anxiety 10 times worse, caffeinated beverages get my adrenaline pumping and for someone with anxiety that’s the last thing you want.

9. Socialise, that can seem really hard when you don’t drink alcohol but thankfully my saving grace is that I’m extroverted, I get my energy from other people so I make an effort to get out and socialise even if I don’t feel like it, us extroverts sometimes don’t want to be around people either and especially when feeling low! But it’s so important for me to push myself to do this when I’m not feeling it, 9 times out of 10 I’m happy I did. My husband is an introvert and he too suffers from depression and he finds he needs to push himself to socialise and does so because he knows it’s good for him, kind of like eating your vegetables!

10. Therapy, talking to a psychologist, psychiatrist or a counsellor is very helpful for most people.  I had some very helpful therapy many years ago, if you can speak with your doctor first then he/she may be able to apply for a few free sessions.

11.  De-stress, yeah ok! If only it was that easy right?! I know that’s what your thinking! It’s pretty much the number one cause of all dis-ease. Anything you can do to reduce your stress will have an impact. Remember when you are old and you look back on your life you won’t remember how much you worked!

12.  Create a bubble! This sounds so hippy woo woo but what I mean by that is protect yourself. I’m one of these people with a really heightened sense of reality so everything can often feel magnified. Example: when I walk into a shopping mall, supermarket and anywhere with bright lights, big spaces and a lot of noise I get extremely overwhelmed. I’ve been known to leave a full trolley of groceries only to walk/run out of the supermarket because my world starts spinning, literally! I get dizzy, struggle to get control of my breath, sweaty palms etc.. that’s what my panic attacks tend to feel like. My therapist suggested to pretend that I have a bubble around me, a bit like bubble boy I guess! This is starting to sound super crazy but bear with me!! I imagine all that stimulus pinging off my bubble, like I have a shield on and nothing can hurt me. At first I thought she was crazy but it can be effective in certain situations, but not always, sometimes they just come no matter what!

13.  Embrace it, yeah sometimes it hits you up side the head like a hammer and none of these strategies work! I was in denial for such a long time, I didn’t want to believe that I struggle mentally, but fighting it doesn’t get you anywhere, when you can accept it you can work on ways to cope with it. Sometimes you just have to accept that today isn’t going to be a good day and that hopefully tomorrow will be. There are days you can’t think of doing anything but putting on some clothes and even then that can be a struggle when you are in the grips of depression. But it will pass, you will feel better again soon. If you feel that none of your days are improving then it might be a good idea to look into medication if you feel like you just cannot navigate your way through it.

14. Medication, I am one of those people that is a little scared of medication. I’ve been on Prozac once in my life for about 3 months when I went through a really tough patch, I was suicidal and it probably saved my live over 14 years ago now. Medication is really imperative for some people. My experience was it took the highs out of the highs and the lows out of the lows which is the whole purpose of medication, to level out your mood, but it also zapped any creativity I had and left me feeling like half a person, my personality felt empty so it wasn’t something I continued with. If all the above things I’ve mentioned didn’t work I would have to go down that route, I don’t take depression lightly and it’s not something that is always negotiable. If you need it and its working for you then more power to you, it’s certainly a life saving tool. 

At the end of the day everyone has unique experiences with depression and or anxiety and I for one am no expert at dealing with it, I just wanted to share what I have been through and continue to go through as it may help others who struggle with its debilitating effects. I think it’s great that so many more people talk about it but unfortunately it still has a lot of stigma surrounding it, I hope that the awareness continues, it really needs to.

If you or anyone you know suffers from mental illness and you need further information, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812).
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or licensed professional so please take my advice for what it is, an opinion, not necessarily fact.