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The Soul-Sucking Abyss of Depression!
Depression is horrible! It can wipe you out and make you feel like there's a nasty, black smudge on your life -- a public stigma. Then you often suffer in silence, and soon after, isolation and resignation begin to set in. You end up feeling like you're stranded on a desert island. You're like a castaway in a sea of people.
Depression is daunting by itself, but it also ratchets the battle with chronic illness up several notches. Many times the emotional pain and agony are more difficult to deal with than physical pain! The two together are absolutely all encompassing and enough to bring the most strong-minded person to his or her knees.
If you've ever experienced depression, you understand what a soul-sucking, life-altering, and depleting experience it is!
I experienced my first bout of serious, life-altering depression when I was about 20 years old. It was triggered by an abusive boyfriend relationship that I became horribly addicted to. After the age of 26, when my journey with Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome and Company began, depression became an ongoing and often disabling struggle for me.
I spent years attempting to restore my health with little to no success. It cost me hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I endured a series of extremely traumatic experiences along the way. As a result, I developed a full-blown case of anhedonia.
Anhedonia is a subset of depression where one emotionally flatlines. You can no longer feel or anticipate joy, and in fact, you cannot experience any positive emotion at all. I was in utter HELL with depression!
Looking back on the horrific physical symptoms I endured with chronic illness -- and there were many that were BRUTAL -- I have to say, depression was one the most painful and disabling of them all. And, depression always made the physical issues way worse.
Because of this experience, I dedicated myself to learning as much as I could about it. I learned how to dig myself out of depression, even when my body felt as though it was betraying me for months and years on end. I now want to share some knowledge with you!
Here is what my personal experience and formal training have taught me about depression!
What Depression Is, And What It Isn't
Depression is typically a totally flatlined emotional state. It's hopelessness, helplessness and numbness, rather than sadness. It simply says, "why bother?"
Motivation to get out of depression is lacking: there is NO energy and NO desire! There is foreboding, an endless sense of despair, and there is a desire to sleep but deep, healing sleep is often impossible to attain.
Your brain is bent on seeing things negatively and pervasively. It evokes a feeling of “I am broken," and it feels as though the depression has come to define your whole life and you as a person. It has left you feeling marked as DEFECTIVE.
I am here to tell you that depression does not define you! You are NOT your depression. You are 100% worthy, despite your depression. And, no, you are NOT defective because you are depressed.
What Causes Depression?
Imbalances in body, mind, and spirit:
Depression can be triggered by one, major traumatic event but most often is a multi-factorial experience involving imbalances in body, mind, and spirit.
The way I see it, depression is the result of genetic predisposition that expresses itself due to environmental inputs (aka: epigenetic influences), low cellular energy, broken biochemistry leading to widespread inflammation, unresolved trauma, trapped emotions, unrelenting psychological stress, and destructive thinking patterns.
Low cellular energy and broken biochemistry are caused by hidden stressors, such as but not limited to gut dysbiosis, chronic infections, toxic overload, and a frazzled nervous system.
Plot twists in your life story:
Depression can happen when the story line you had in mind for life does not come to fruition, or it takes a series of unwelcome twists. This was surely what happened to me! The story I was working to write was “Have a successful career as a high school teacher and soccer coach, get married, have a rock-solid marriage, have a kid or two, love my job, and remain fulfilled and rewarded in that job until I retired.
Needless to say, my life story was hijacked and carried off to a far-away land! Falling down the rabbit hole of chronic illness caused an entirely different story to be written that I had not approved!
Most people have a vision for what they want their life to look like, but life delivers twists and turns, and the story becomes altered to varying degrees. The plot twists we experience in life may or may not lead to depression. The outcome depends on our response to these events.
Resisting emotions can lead to depression because it's exhausting to keep our emotions bottled up. Resisting emotions (which is very common by the way) can cause a chain reaction of trapped emotions, chemical changes, and internal conflict that leaves you drained and disoriented.
It's a "chicken or the egg" dilemma concerning chemical imbalances. Depression can arise from faulty thinking that triggers continual stress. Continual stress damages the brain and causes chemical imbalances. However, depression can also arise from chemical imbalances in the body which lead to faulty thinking. Which came first? It doesn't matter. Obsessing over the exact cause doesn't change the approach to digging out of it.
Complications That Cause Further Spiral Downward!
Lack of energy:
There must be enough cellular energy in the system to evoke the desire to invest in yourself and the interest in changing behavior that contributes to depression.
The shame associated with depression often causes us to hide the fact that we are depressed. Many of us often don't admit they we are depressed, maybe even to ourselves. Thus, we don't reach out for help, and ultimately, this usually results in worsening depression.
Decisions should always be made based on thoughts we create consciously versus a habitual stress or fear-based thought pattern we are defaulting to.
We absolutely create habits of negative emotional responses. We then become addicted to them! Perpetual, habitual, negative thought patterns will spin us into an abyss of exhaustion and eventually depression. We humans are notorious for engaging with habitual, destructive, and outdated thinking patterns. I surely was for a long time!
Catastrophic responses to life circumstances:
Horrible, external circumstances do NOT cause depression. Our responses to those circumstances DO cause depression! Different brains have different thoughts and thus create different outcomes and different experiences. It's all based on perception and thought patterns.
As Jack Canfield explains throughout his life’s work “Event + Response = Outcome.” This concept helps to explain why the same tragic event happening to two different people can result in one becoming clinically depressed for years and the other being able to navigate through the pain more swiftly and with greater ease.
We ALL have options and choices for how we think about and respond to the circumstances in our lives. It is absolutely normal to experience depression to varying degrees when horrible things happen but it is not healthy to cling to the memory of those experiences and allow them to define us. If we want to move forward, we must become mindful of the thought and behavior patterns that we engage with and be willing to shift them.
Not getting needed medication:
I admit, I am not a fan of psychotropic drugs. I do not feel they address the root causes of depression and they all carry risk of having nasty side effects on the body; especially the brain and gut. That said, I also understand that they can be helpful, perhaps life-saving for some when implemented with care, on a short term basis, and with the understanding that they are only a tool amidst a comprehensive recovery plan.
Not getting medication when it is needed can slow progress to recovery for some. Sometimes medication can help simply by lifting the depression enough so that we can become motivated to do things that will lead to healing! It can be a helpful transition that gives a "leg up" and gets us moving in the right direction. There is shame associated with taking medications, though, and many people don't take advantage of the opportunity to get help that they really need it. Using medication is only a temporary lift. It does not mean we're relegated to a life on drugs.
Please note that the decision to take anti-depressant medication is a very personal one that needs to be approached with great care and from a space of being well-informed. I did take anti-depressants on a few different occasions for short periods of time in my own journey.
While the first round was helpful to some degree it left me feeling reckless and wired. The next few rounds only resulted in unbearable side effects and so I opted to find other avenues for supporting myself while I addressed root causes and implemented all the strategies within this article.
Daily Habits Will Either Worsen or Help Depression!
When it comes to depression, self-care and daily habits will either help us move forward or drag us further into the River Styx. Here are some factors that resulted in me spiraling deeper into the vortex of depression.
Poor diet and lack of nutrition have a huge impact on our emotions. Depressed people tend to not eat, or they crave the wrong foods. Good nutrition is needed to supply the cellular energy needed to recover.
Not moving! The brain needs movement to produce endorphins and balance brain chemistry that makes us feel good.
Poor sleep habits! When we sleep our brain is balancing and resetting itself.
Not drinking enough water! Dehydrated cells do not function the way they are supposed to.
Having a victim mindset and viewing others as perpetrators.
Self-loathing. Engaging in defeating self-talk such as “Why bother trying anymore!”
Indulging in regret and rumination. Hanging on to hope of changing the past.
Blaming yourself and others.
Body shaming. Being angry at your body for being chronically sick, overweight, in pain, etc.
Complaining. Looking for the negative in everything and telling anybody who will listen about it.
Commiserating. Talking about misery with others who are also miserable.
Decoys. Avoidance behaviors such as binge-watching TV, social media obsession, over-eating, alcohol, etc.
Too much time on social media: compare and despair and information overload.
Daily Practices That Impact Depression Positively!
Good nutrition. Finding the right diet, getting the necessary nutrients, and enjoying food impacts how we feel in many ways. It's an act of self-love to make good food and take care of ourselves, and it might surprise you how powerful this one thing can be.
Supplementation. Depression is a form of unhealthy stress. Unhealthy stress greatly impairs the body’s ability to extract enough nutrients from food and rapidly depletes the body of magnesium, b-vitamins, and essential fatty acids. Supplementing with a high quality source of these and other key nutrients your body may need can often be an essential part of recovery.
Exercise and engaging in nourishing movement, even if only 5 minutes per day! Any movement, no matter how small will increase oxygen and blood flow and can have a huge impact on how you feel.
Good sleep hygiene. Forming good bed-time habits produces consistent, quality sleep. Deep sleep resets the brain and reverses a host of problems!
Thought work: Challenge and shift destructive thinking! Separate yourself from your thoughts! You are not your thoughts, and your circumstance do not mean you ARE this person. Identify and then shift catastrophic thinking to realistic thinking. Avoid making things personal, pervasive, and permanent. An example of this is “I am a horrible person, my whole life is a waste, and nothing will ever get better for me.” An alternative, more nourishing thought to engage with would be “I am having a rough time right now, my life is surely not ideal but I am working on shifting things, and nothing is forever; better days will present themselves.”
Focus on the possibility of a brighter future! Visualization and imagination go a long way!
Create plans and set goals, NO matter how small! Then follow through on them!
Plan your day, and then push yourself to go through the motions of those plans, even though it doesn't feel good to be doing so. Remember Newton’s First Law, “an object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.” You must be your own outside force!
Make ToDo lists for each day. Even small or seemingly insignificant tasks can move life forward. Cross the tasks off as you accomplish them! This will help to increase dopamine levels. Read about how powerful this practice is and many more in this blog post: Healthy Brain, Happy Life! Part II: Power Up Your Brain With These 20 Simple & FREE Hacks
Celebrate successes, no matter how small! This could be as small as simply getting out of bed and taking a shower! If you are reading this article right now celebrate that! A series of small successes lead to bigger successes over time. We all have to start somewhere.
Expose yourself to positive input! Read and listen to uplifting and inspiring things: books, podcasts, and YouTube videos. Consume information that negates depression and provides you with new perspectives and tools to implement! Drown out the negative voice in your head that is bringing you down!
Engage in activities that enhance neuroplasticity, which is a fancy word for learning. This practice helps to calm the limbic brain. Do puzzles, write with your non-dominant hand, color in an adult coloring book, learn an instrument or a language, learn new (positive focused) information of any kind, or play a game that involves strategy.
Make little decisions consciously and on purpose! Instead of giving in to “why bother?" push yourself to make a decision even though it does not feel right or good to do so. For instance, when depressed, you may be asked “What do you want for breakfast?” Instead of saying “It doesn't matter, I don’t really care," make a decision. Think about what you might want to eat if you were not depressed and then state that. This will help to begin evoking a sense of self-empowerment and will help to prune back negative neural pathways, and it will pave the way to making bigger decisions on purpose in the future.
Aggressively appreciate things that bring you joy! If you don't feel joy, imagine what WOULD bring you joy and then appreciate it, no matter how small it may be. This could be as small and simple as drinking a cup of your favorite coffee or tea.
Make your bed, bathe, and get dressed every day! It doesn't matter if you go anywhere or do anything! DO THIS NO MATTER HOW EXHAUSTED YOU ARE! These simple acts send a firm message to your cells and to the Universe saying “I’m showing up no matter. I love myself. I am serious about moving beyond this depression!” As Winston Churchill said, “When you find yourself going through hell, keep going!”
Journal daily around what you are grateful for each day. What brings you joy? What will bring you joy in your future? What do you love about yourself? What do you love about your successes in life? What do you love about your successes from today or this past week, no matter how small? What do you love about how you overcame challenges in the past? Make a list of positive feelings that you want to feel and then imagine yourself feeling them. Turn your thoughts into writing about positive things about yourself and your life, past, present, and future.
TRE exercises; which stands for Trauma Release Exercises. This technique was created by Dr. David Berceli and is aimed at helping the body to release deeply stored tension patterns from the body as the result of unresolved trauma and prolonged stress states. TRE was and is still integral for me!
Reduce your time on social media and technology in general! Read a real book or arrange to talk to a real person instead!
Do guided meditations and breath work.
Depression Recovery Requires a Bio-Individualized Approach!
There is no one-sized fits all recovery plan for everyone when it comes to unraveling depression. Depression is often the result of many factors that converge into what I often refer to as “The Perfect Storm.”
Working on the above daily practices will take you a long way towards digging yourself out of depression, but you may need more help and a deep investigation! Hidden physiological stressors that lead to broken bio-chemistry as well as unresolved trauma often take time and patience to sort out.
If this article resonates with you, I invite you to set up a consultation with me to see how we can identify root causes that created your “Perfect Storm.” You are unique and therefore you need a personalized approach. It may be necessary to identify biochemical causes with the RIGHT functional labs. It may be necessary to work on trapped emotions with Emotion Code. This is a mind-body modality aimed at releasing trapped emotion from the body. Or, it may be necessary to do some mindset and neural re-wiring work.
Working with a knowledgeable functional health practitioner and mind-body coach that can help you identify what is keeping you stuck in a vicious cycle of depression and then help you create a personalized recovery plan can be a powerful way to turn your life around!
In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more, here are some books that I have read over the years that provide great insight into overcoming depression and healing your body, mind, and life.
A Mind of Your Own by Dr. Kelly Brogan
Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E. P. Seligman PhD
The Mood Cure by Julia Ross M.A.
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron
The Joy of Appreciative Living by Jacqueline Kelm
Healing Depression The Mind Body Way by Nancy Liebler PhD
Broken Open; How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser
When the Body Says No by Dr. Gabor Maté
Question Your Thinking, Change the World by Byron Katie
You Are The Placebo; Make Your Mind Matter by Dr. Joe Dispenza