Eating Your Way to Happiness – Part 2

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I read an article recently that was called something like ‘tips for dealing with depression’.  It said all the usual stuff, like eat better, exercise, think happy thoughts, blah blah blah. If you can do all those things, you don’t have depression. That article made me so mad. Especially the bit about how if you have a friend with depression you should not ‘encourage’ their ‘bad behaviour’ by trying to make them feel better. It even said that you should avoid a person who is displaying ‘self-pitying behaviour’ and only spend time with them when they are being, essentially, normal.

When you shun, chastise or socially isolate a depressed person, you reinforce all the things that the illness makes them feel about themself. You make them feel weak, pathetic, worthless. That perhaps the world is better off without them. This is a dangerous ploy that will not help a depressed person.

What helped me, more than anything, was being reminded that there were people who would be there for me no matter what. I know that there were some who lost patience with me, who would see my downward spiral and think ‘bloody hell, here she goes again, why doesn’t she just get over herself?’.

When I come to you and I am depressed, I don’t want you to try to fix it, because you can’t. I just want you to tell me that it is ok, even normal, to feel this way. That it does not make you think less of me. That it does not mean that I am a weak or defective person. It is the equivalent of throwing a rope to a drowning person. It is an anchor to what is real. Please, just be there for me.

Do not tell me to cheer up – I would if I could. Do not tell me that I have nothing to be depressed about – I know that. I know that what I feel is irrational. I did not choose this, I am not doing it for attention and I can’t just make it stop. If I could, I would. I need to be reassured that I will not feel like this forever.

The time to fight is when you are having a good day. That is when you make decisions to make changes. For some, medication is the only way to get out of the hole. But if you go that route, you must take your meds every day and stay on them unless your doctor tells you it is ok to stop taking them. If you take them sometimes or miss a few you will most likely end up feeling much worse.

There are some things you can do when you are having a good day that will help you in your battle. Exercise, eat well, avoid alcohol and caffeine. The things that are consistent with good mental health. These can help you feel well for longer. I have given up sugar and alcohol. Alcohol depletes important nutritional factors for good mental health. Yes, it is a depressant, and yes, binge drinking is bad. But read the literature. Alcohol should be avoided if you are serious about feeling better without drugs. Caffeine should be avoided if you suffer from anxiety. And refined sugar is a villain in the mood stakes, as well as being bad for your general health.

Tryptophan is your friend. Leafy greens, poultry, dairy products, nuts, fresh fruits and anything with omega 3 oils. http://myhealingkitchen.com/category/medical-conditions/depression-medical-conditions/ has some recipes and articles on foods that help manage depression.

Avoid additives. Go simple, healthy, homemade and where possible home-grown.  A body that is balanced and healthy is the logical home of a brain that is balanced and healthy. I wonder how many people could feel better just by eating to give their brain the best chance of achieving this balance.

Don’t expect too much of yourself. Sometimes the hardest thing is to be kind to yourself when you believe you don’t deserve it. Take quiet time when you can. Be grateful when you can – count your blessings.

I have days when I just move from task to task and keep busy, afraid of what will happen if I stop to think. I have moments where I feel pure joy and wonder how it is possible to feel anything else. Music helps. Gardening helps. My family and friends help.

I am not saying that everyone should be able to eat their way to better mental health. For some people medication is a suitable solution that can give you your life back and perhaps even save it. What I am saying is that others might be able to get relief from the things that have helped me. That there are options out there if you want to try to achieve recovery without drugs. But first you need to know your enemy, and you need to have reinforcements on your side.

Remember that each time you deal with it you gain valuable information that will help you beat it in the end. Learn the sound of its voice. Learn to know when it is creeping up on you. Learn its different faces. Learn how to shut it down.

Love, luck and strength to you all in your battles.

PS I now have a new, less stressful job and the weight I gained while on the medication is starting to come off. I have loads of energy and I sleep well. I still have bad days, but I am hopeful. The future stretches ahead of me full of promise and potential.

 

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Can You Eat Your Way to Happiness? Part 1

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I had a thought the other day that maybe the modern convenience diet is partly to blame for the rising prevalence of depression, anxiety and similar mood disorders. Then I thought I should share my journey, my battle and hopefully provide some hope for those struggling with mood disorders and some insight for those who may have a friend or loved one living with depression.

I was first diagnosed with depression after my second heart surgery. It is now recognised that around 50% of people who suffer a significant cardiac event, such as a heart attack or heart surgery, soon find themselves suffering from depression. Add in a strong familial link and I was pretty much a diagnosis waiting to happen. But looking back, I can see that I had symptoms on and off for years, even in my teens.

Anxiety, depression, stress and PTSD have some symptoms in common and some that distinguish them from the others. To this day, seven and a half years since my last heart surgery, I still have PTSD symptoms. Some of this is related to events that have occurred more recently that have sort of piggybacked on my original PTSD. At the time of my original diagnosis I was having regular panic attacks. I was terribly afraid all of the time and felt that I could die at any moment. A series of appointments with a psychologist helped me greatly.

Contrast this heightened anxiety and fear with the dark depths of major depression. The negative thoughts that seem to make so much sense at the time. The self-loathing and certainty that everyone you know would be much better off if you weren’t there. The thought that dying would save you the bother of getting up in the morning and spare you the pain of another day.

I have been medicated for depression twice. The second time I believed that I would be on the medication forever, I was afraid to go off it. But then I did some reading.

After losing all that weight last year and feeling great for it, I had started to gain. Within six months of starting on antidepressant medication I had gained eight kilograms. My clothes didn’t fit and I did not like how I looked. The thing was, no matter how I tried, I could not stop the weight from creeping up. Most weeks I gained around 500g. I counted calories, I exercised, I gave up sugar. I had my food intake by the throat, and nothing made a difference.

 So I got online and did some research on antidepressant-related weight gain. The anecdotal evidence was overwhelming, although officially the drug companies deny any link. Other side effects like constant drowsiness caught my attention also. I could sleep nine hours and still spend the whole day at work yawning my head off and propping myself up on caffeine.

I decided that since I was trying so hard to eat well and not put anything nasty into my body, I might as well see what would happen if I went off the medication. But before I did, I read some more. I looked up the foods and supplements that would help me in the transition and give me a chance at long term recovery. I consulted my doctor, who gave me a tapering-off schedule.

They say it can take up to eight weeks for the drug to leave your system completely and that the tapering-off process can cause your symptoms to flare up very badly, along with some fun withdrawal symptoms like neurological disturbances. I will stress this very strongly – do not go off your meds without support.

When I first started tapering off I noticed immediately that I slept better and I was less drowsy during the day. I started taking fish oil capsules and B complex tablets, as recommended, to support brain function. I gave up sugar, caffeine and alcohol. I thought; I am going to nail this.

What followed was eight weeks of pure hell. My moods were erratic and scary. Some days all I could do was cry. It didn’t help that during this time my work became incredibly stressful. I snapped at my family. I felt stupid and vain for putting everyone through my moods just so I could lose a few kilos. I felt weak for not being able to control my moods. I wondered if I was in fact mentally fit to function within society. I would have a few good days then crash badly. There were times when I honestly felt that I would not survive the process.

But bit by bit, the worst of it subsided. I use a mood tracker app on my phone to get some perspective of the ups and downs I experience. I am beginning to sense that in order to really beat this affliction, I first have to get to know it. To understand which thoughts are mine and which ones are it. To recognise the first signs that I am on the way down. To know that I will not always feel like this. Each experience arms me against the next one. I hope one day to have my mind and body balanced so that I can shut it down before it gets a hold.

I know that I absolutely could not have got through it without the unwavering support of my partner Matt. There were many times when I was certain that nobody could possibly want anything to do with someone as broken as I was, when I felt completely unworthy of anything from anyone, let alone the love of my wonderful family. Often I was terrified that it would drive him away. But he could always tell it from me and would reassure me that I was on the right track.

That is my story. Next, I will tell you what I did and what I continue to do in the battle against this illness. This includes diet changes. And I will give you some inside info on how you can support sufferers.