I am a young woman who has suffered from clinical depression intermittently throughout my life. I have had counselling, psychotherapy, anti-depressants and cognitive behavioural therapy; whilst these treatments work and should always be carefully considered in a case of mental illness, I have learned to manage this condition in my own little ways. I can tell you this: it gets easier every time and fighting is the only way you’re going to get out of it. You deserve to get better and be well. You deserve to do all the things you want to do. And let nobody tell you that you are a failure or a weaker person because you have depression. No-one would say that if you had diabetes! It’s a disease, nothing more, treatable and manageable and much more common than you think. There are many things you can do to help yourself. Just give it a try. You have nothing to lose, right?
Your attitude to your illness is one of the main things that defines how you deal with it and how quickly you can recover. I used to think of myself as a ‘depressed person’ who would always have a tendency towards the condition and never get out of it. Why should I try to get better? It’s who I am, right? Wrong. That is simply not true. A quarter of UK adults suffer with some form of depression at some point in their lives, so you are not different or less strong than everyone else. You are not a ‘depressed person’. You are a person with depression. Do you see the difference? It is only a chemical imbalance in your brain, an illness just like diabetes or flu or anything else, and of course it doesn’t change who you are to begin with. You can manage it just as other conditions are managed and you can be sure that it does not define you. Think about all the other things that you are! For example, I am also a writer, a friend, a daughter and a sister. I am a student, a wine enthusiast and a French speaker. What are you? What have you achieved in your life? Depression is something inside your head that shouldn’t even be there. It’s not your fault, it’s not your personality and it’s not here to stay. Remember that no-one has a right to judge you for the way you feel. You didn’t ask to be depressed and you have every right to work through it in your own way. There is hope, there are treatments and you aren’t alone. If you see this as a battle against an outside enemy rather than yourself, you have no need to beat yourself up. You aren’t the problem, even if it feels that way. Depression is not who you are.
Believe me, I know the feeling. It’s 3pm and you’re on the sofa, in your dressing gown, watching your 10th episode of Friends that day and feeling so tired and unhappy you just can’t move. I know that in this situation, the last thing you want to do is get on a treadmill. But consider this: 10 minutes of exercise in the morning raises your endorphins, gives you energy and ultimately makes you happier. I can’t understate the power of an energetic dance session around your room to your favourite song. It’s actually fun. Swimming is another good one too: No sweat, no pressure, you can go at a quiet time of day and you can easily build up laps each time. It’s scientifically proven that cardiovascular exercise raises your mood. You won’t regret it.
I am not going to bang on about fruit and vegetables here, don’t worry! I watched an interesting programme recently on Channel 4 called ‘The Food Hospital’ (http://foodhospital.channel4.com/) which sought to prove that medical conditions could be cured with food. There was a case of a woman named Debbie with severe depression who didn’t change her medication or treatment, just her diet, and in 10 weeks she was happier, more confident and scored very low on the PHQ9 questionnaire (a measure of depression used by doctors). Did she have to cut out carbs? Go vegetarian? Eat goji berries and nettle soup? Guess again. To boost her serotonin, Debbie ate more protein, which contains tryptophan, an important amino acid which the body uses to boost serotonin. That’s the same thing SSRI antidepressants do: boost serotonin to make us happier. Some good proteins are eggs and cheese. The other important feature of this diet was wholegrain carbohydrates (good news for me, as I love pasta). She also ate foods rich in zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, which include nuts, chicken and oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. Of course, fruit and vegetables are important too.
Since watching the programme, I have taken to eating a lot more chicken, fish, nuts, eggs and green leafy vegetables. I’ve switched my rice, pasta and bread to wholegrain but still eat a lot of it! Not only have I lost weight but, along with a few other factors, it’s really helping kick my depression. I call these foods my ‘happy food’ and the beautiful thing is, it doesn’t even feel like a diet! I also recommend taking an Omega-3 supplement, this has been proven to be effective and many people, including myself, swear by it as a supplement to diet and anti-depressants. I also take B-vitamins for energy. (I strongly advise you to talk to your doctor before taking any new medicine).
4. Keeping Busy:
Sitting and doing nothing, though you may feel like it’s what you want, is the worst possible thing to do. It gets you feeling more and more trapped and irritated and you then find it harder to get out of it. At first, just try to plan to do one useful thing a day: help with the washing up, take the dog for a walk, go and visit a friend, bake a cake, sort out a messy drawer, or go shopping. If you achieve something, you will feel better at the end of the day, just by knowing that you didn’t give in to depression completely that day. When you become more confident at doing things, you could then start making yourself a rough schedule, divided into morning and evening, for what you will do on particular days of the week. Try to get into a routine, just so that you know that your day will not be empty. It’s a daunting prospect getting up in the morning and not being sure what to do with your day; often if this is the case you will just stay in bed or switch the telly on. After you’ve done what you said you were going to do, treat yourself: listen to your favourite CD, watch a film, eat some cake or have a bath, whatever makes you feel happy. I know that it’s hard to find something that you do want to do, but it helps to self-motivate and make the effort worthwhile. For example, I’ve spent the morning cleaning the house, so I’m going to have a cup of tea and watch my favourite programme. It’s as simple as that. The sense of achievement is reward enough: If you feel useful, you are fulfilling your own needs and you will feel better about yourself. Prove that you can win over self-loathing thoughts and lethargy. Get up and do something!
These four factors are the things that have helped me the most in dealing with my depression and I have seen that with a positive attitude and a little bit of effort, every bout of depression is easier to cope with. I have also seen a very good psychotherapist and would always recommend this, as a lot of issues can trigger depression and talking about them can help. I have also been on anti-depressants, so I have taken every possible avenue of treatment and sincerely believe that, though I have been hugely aided by medical help, some of my depression was due to my own lack of effort and my utter surrender to the way I was feeling. It was when I started fighting for my own mental health that things began to look up. I’m now talking to my doctor about reducing my medication and I believe that the end is definitely in sight. If depression comes back to plague my mind again, I will be ready for it. I hope that you will be too.
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