Sunday, June 12, 2011

Depression Series: Tools for the Fight

This is the fourth post in the Depression Series. Other posts have included post partum depression, just plain depressed, and finding light.

This is in no way medical advice, and I am not a medical professional.  Please contact your health practitioner for help if you are having difficulty with depression.

I've been alternately working on this post and hiding from it for more than a month.  I suppose when I started this series, I was expecting to share my experience, wisdom (Ha!), and resources on the matter. This post would be about what worked for me along with some other things out there because treatment can be very different for each individual. The fact is I've been thrown back into learning, researching, and trial and error as my depression has gone from fairly well-managed to not so much.

I recently read The Ghost in the House: Motherhood, Raising Children, and Struggling with Depression. It was both jarring and enlightening. Tracy Thompson wrote,
"Depression never gets licked in a day; sometimes you just have to hang in there. But small victories are crucial. One small action here (deciding to get out of bed) combined with another action there (taking your medications, spending fifteen minutes with your child) creates synergy. Individually, no one thing will get you well - a fact that can be paralyzing. But put two or three points together, and the sum of the individual effects is mysteriously magnified."
This statement hits on a few major things for me. Treatment encompasses so much more than taking this pill or that, even if you do go the medication route. It is many little things put together, it's the workout you might squeeze in one day, it's the things you put in your body, it's forcing yourself to connect or reach out for help once a day. The idea that every little bit helps is one thing to glean from that. But, the other side is that it also takes a lot of little things over and over again. It is that. much. work. Deciding to get out of bed just once is both that important and that hard.

Photo Credit

I'm a Make It or Break It junkie. It's a gymnastics show on ABC Family geared to girls much younger than myself. It's okay, you can laugh. Without going into too much background, in the season finale one of the gymnasts, Kaylie, comes clean to the public about her eating disorder and performs her floor routine triumpantly at World's clinching the USA team's win. Of course I was on the edge of my seat watching the whole thing (I wasn't kidding when I said I was a junkie), but I was especially struck by the song to which Kaylie performed her comeback floor routine. I actually went and looked it up after the fact which is not something I normally do.

I was surprised to find it was by Superchick, a mainstreamed Chritian group I saw perform at a ELCA Lutheran National Youth Gathering years back.  Christian pop music is really not my thing (seriously, my husband laughed pretty hard when he heard who the song was by and that I was listening to it), but this song used to illustrate Kaylie's fight with an eating disorder hit home with my fight with depression.  There's no mention of God, Jesus or Christianity in the lyrics of this or most of Superchick's song, but they identify as a group with Christan values.

It feels like I have lost this fight
They think that I am staying down
But I'm not giving up tonight
Tonight the wall is coming down
I am stronger than my fears
This is the mountain that I climb
Got 100 steps to go
Tonight I'll make it 99

One more

Go one more
Yeah, yeah
Don't stop now
Go one more
Yeah, yeah
One more

Go one more

Go one more
Yeah, yeah

I have everything to lose

By not getting up to fight
I might get used to giving up
So I am showing up tonight
I am my own enemy
The battle fought within my mind
If I can overcome step one
I can face the 99
All this to say, there are a lot of steps and pieces to treating and coping with depression. These are some of the tools that have been shown to help people in their journeys.

Medication and Counseling
The mainstream medical community relies on these as the main treatment options for depression. After my diagnosis with postpartum depression, I used both. A few things to remember: there are so. many. medication options. It is not one-size-fits-all. It often takes trial and error with the help of your medical practitioner. The same goes for counseling. It is not one-size-fits-all. There are different types of talk therapy including but not limited to various types of both psychotherapy as well as cognitive behavioral therapy. Plus, each therapist has a different personality, different life experience, and different values.

It's one more piece that makes fighting depression hard. Just getting yourself to a doctor or a counselor is not the only step. It's an important step, but it's just the beginning. It can be discouraging to have bad experiences with various medications, doctors, or therapists. It takes so much work for someone suffering to get themselves there, and when they do not find the relief or support they need it can be devastating. 

I have yet to find a therapist that I connected with doing a type of therapy that works for me. And to say the process of trying to find that is exhausting is a huge understatement. Also counseling and talk therapy can be cost-prohibitive for many with some health insurances not covering it or not covering it well.  Medication was an important tool for me at one point and may be again, but I also disliked how the medication made me feel. Without it, my downs were lower, yes, but my ups were higher. I suddenly had an ability to be truly joyful again. My husband noticed it, too. It was like someone had taken me off of mute.

Deficiencies in various vitamins and minerals have been shown to cause or exacerbate depression syptoms.  These include but are not limited to Vitamin D, Omega-3s, DHA, EPA, B vitamins especially including B6 and B12, Magnesium, and Calcium. Hormonal imbalances can also cause or worsen depression symptoms. Depending on the the levels and causes, natural hormone supplements, especially progesterone, can help remedy this. Additionally, supplements like St. John's Wort, Ginkgo Biloba, 5-HTP, and SAM-e have been shown to help in some cases. Much like counseling and medication options, diving into the vitamins, minerals, and supplements that can help you combat depression is overwhelming and confusing.  Walking through this an educated practitioner whether medical or holistic health would be extremely beneficial.

Lack of sleep, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and high amounts of stress can all cause or contribute to depression symptoms.  Sleep deprivation has severe effects on our body.  Attempt to get your body's needed sleep as often as possible (not very easy with small children with frequent night-wakings). Diets high in sugar and grains have been linked to depression.  Additionally, food sensitivities can exacerbate symptoms.  Eat real simple food with plenty of fruits, veggies, proteins, and good fats. Exercise can be a helpful coping mechanism.  I've wrote before about how running has helped me.  Most recently, I have delved into yoga which has the added benefits of meditation and the mind-body connection.  

Minimize daily stress. Look at what you have in your life and take out things that are necessary or unproductive. Stress is a big thing for me as a perfectionist who likes to over commit. I've come to a point where I've had to declare to myself that right now I am sick. This calls for serious changes to my lifestyle so that I can focus my energies on getting better. I've made the difficult decision to take certain commitments off of my list now before I find myself crushed under the weight of them later. It can be inconvenient to back out of things, but your health is more important. 

Ask for help.  You cannot and should not do this alone.  Connect with others who are going through or have gone through depression. Reach out to those who care about you. This can be an impossible step, but they can't support you if they don't know how much you need it. A simple email saying, 'hey, this is where I'm at, thanks for your support" can go a long way.

Other Holistic Health Tools
Homeopathy is a very effective treatment for some people experiencing depression, but it is not something you should attempt to self-treat. At the same time, see a homeopath can be prohibitively expensive.
Essentials oils can be used as a simple mood-lifting tool or  an entire treatment protocol. Be sure to seek out quality therapeutic-grade oils. Some of my favorites include Balsam Fir which has been shown to significantly reduce cortisol (the stress hormone) levels and a Stress-Away blend. Lavender and Valerian are good for sleep support while Rose, Frankincense, Geranium, and Lemon are particularly uplifting.

Massage, energy work, and acupuncture have also been shown helpful, though again cost can be a challenge.

Attitude, Self-Talk, and Spirituality
Popular culture is currently filled with talk of happiness, gratitude, and finding positivity. There is a lot of good thinking out there, but it is not enough to fight real depression. Do not guilt yourself into believing if you could just harness the power of positive thinking or if you could just keep a gratitude journal, you'd be all better. It's simply not true. At the same time, pick and choose tools that you can relate to and use them as just one more step to healthiness. These skills, habits, and ways of thinking can be instrumental in recovery when used in combination with some of the other things I've mentioned.

At one point, various spiritual disciplines believed depression was a purely spiritual problem (and sadly some still do). If you could just find God or trust God enough, you would be healed. Physiological depression is more than just a disconnect with your belief in a higher power, if you have one. Of course, that doesn't mean that faith and spirituality can't be tools, and there is no doubt that faith and spirituality suffer as you deal with depression. Seek out ways to connect spiritually whether through a faith community or on your own as you feel able. Don't let it be a source of guilt or stress but an opportunity.

Be kind and gentle to yourself.  If you are battling depression, you are sick. It's not your fault. You wouldn't talk about that girl you know with diabetes or cancer the way you talk about yourself. It helps to learn more about depression. I found that learning that anger, irritability, rage, and sheer exhaustion are all expressions of depression was liberating for me. I'm not being lazy; I am physically that tired from fighting this illness. Yes, I am irritable and have a hard time controlling my temper, but it's not me. It's a piece of the depression. It doesn't make it okay, but it gives me hope that conquering depression can bring so much light into my life. I am not permanently damaged. I am not a terrible person. I am sick. I can get well.

Naturally Battling Depression @ Passionate Homemaking
Just Be Depressed @

1 comment:

  1. This is a really good summary of what depression is like and how hard it can be to get better. It was some of those little things that, on a daily basis, seem so hard, that finally helped me feel better. (Plus I think my new meds kicked in.)

    Thank you for sharing this. I hope you're on the upswing again soon.


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