Chalk it up to weird new year vibes, dismal and gray weather, or the negative energy that seems to proliferate on social media, but I think a lot of us struggle straddling that line between a funk and depression.
I’ve always used this blog as a place to process what is happening in my life, and it’s been nearly a year since I’ve written anything. There’s a reason for that. I honestly think my depression reared its ugly head after having managed it well for many years. It took me by surprise. I knew I was feeling funky in 2019, and I attributed it to a lot of life changes – new jobs, the loss of jobs, huge life transitions, and a complete relapse of my autoimmune disease in the fall. It didn’t happen overnight, nor am I coming out of it overnight. But I realized at the turn of the new year that SOMETHING WAS NOT RIGHT.
I found myself frustrated, negative, and lethargic – more than I have in a long, long time. I stopped texting friends to meet up. I don’t even want to discuss the days-long Netflix couch marathons I indulged in, sometimes not even showering or getting up to make a meal (Postmates is a bitch of an enabler). I procrastinated and put off damn near everything. To be honest, November and December (and maybe October) are a complete blur.
I’ve been feeling especially discouraged in my professional life, a feeling to which I’m not particularly accustomed. My brain fog and anxiety, thanks to my autoimmune disease, were making a resurgence, and the holidays (a time I have come to dread) were in full swing. It was a perfect storm that shifted a normal funk to an extended stay in Hotel Depression.
I knew something had to change, and I knew that it could only happen with my own initiative. My loving husband and kids couldn’t do it for me. My friends and family couldn’t. I had to summon the gumption and bravery to assess where I have been and make a plan to move forward.
If you’ve never experienced depression, count yourself fortunate. It’s easy for people to push back with platitudes that truly feel dismissive of every feeling you experience – and honestly, those sentiments only compound the shame of simply being in the dark hole in which we find ourselves. I’m fortunate that I have a husband who truly reserves judgment and gives me space to work through my emotions without pressure or guilt. But I even found myself not confiding in him how bad it had gotten, perhaps out of denial that I was there, or that I didn’t want to show him this side of me that had not yet existed in our almost five-year relationship.
When I finally broke down and told him, “I feel like I’m drowning,” he hugged me tightly, squared my shoulders, and said, “We’re going to work through this.” I have tears in my eyes just typing that out because to have a partner who will just be with you in that moment – not trying to find the perfect words or trying to “fix” you – man, that is pretty revolutionary. And that alone did wonders in making it not seem too big in my mind.
I feel like I’m coming through to the other side of it after about five weeks of doing some serious self-work, and I wanted to share some of the things that have helped me along the way in hopes that maybe someone else can find some hope for the same.
- Meds – Anyone who knows me knows that I am as crunchy, granola, all-natural as can be. We don’t take a lot of medicine, we buy organic when possible, we have been toxin-free in our home for almost seven years. But damn it if I don’t need my Zoloft. I got spotty about taking it in the fall, and sure enough, I saw the effects. If you are already prescribed medicine for depression or anxiety, take your damn meds consistently.
- Diet – I knew that I had done some backsliding when it came to my diet. As someone who suffers from autoimmune disease, I have spent a lot of time, research, and effort these past two or three years to alter my diet with foods and supplements that help me to reach some semblance of normal. Gutting gluten happened a long time ago, and I never looked back. I knew dairy was a murky area for me, but I went full-steam ahead in 2019 with all the dairy I could find. I also was eating way more processed food at home and out than I knew was good for me, and copious amounts of alcohol only added insult to injury. The new year offered a chance at a fresh restart, and after reading a lot of research, I chose a clean, plant-based diet to help me restart in January. The effects were almost immediate – within a week I had more energy and felt lighter. I’ve since added back in grass-fed meats and chicken, though that’s still a struggle. I love it, but my body felt better being 100 percent plant-based. That will be an ongoing journey, but I’m glad I’ve started it.
- Get moving – This directive has always pissed me off more than any other one. I don’t like exercising. I always hated being at the gym, but my body just didn’t resemble anything what it used to be in terms of stamina, endorphins, or flexibility. Once I started regaining energy by way of my diet, I began doing small walks at least once or twice a week. I found immediately that the simple act of being outside in the sun and fresh air did more for me than anything I could ever take or put in my body. I can literally feel my energy and mood change when I walk the 1-mile loop at the park nearby. I crave it now, and in the past five weeks, I’ve started using the Heart app in my phone to track my steps. Seeing how minuscule they were the past few months compared to the past five weeks has been motivating and encouraging. I’m not trying to join a CrossFit or get crazy with my fitness routine – right now, I’m just making myself a promise that at least four times a week I will get outside and walk. I’m taking baby steps because I realize that this is a lifestyle shift, not just a quick, get-skinny fad.
- Talk about it – Isolation is the bitchiest of Catch-22s when it comes to depression. You feel out of sorts and really down, and out of shame, self-preservation, or denial don’t talk about it. But by not talking about it, the isolation just intensifies, which perpetuates the feelings of despair and loneliness. I can’t stress how important putting the words to your feelings are, whether it is to a spouse, a friend, or to a trusted professional. When you find yourself in that dark place, those feelings can seem larger than life and difficult to tackle. Words take the power away from those lies and expose them in the sunlight, making them much easier to confront and move forward.
- Testing and supplements – I purchased an at-home test from EverlyWell in December and took in early January to measure my hormone, cortisol, and thyroid levels. I learned that my estrogen and cortisol levels were way too high, and I’ve started making adjustments. I also got back on my adrenal supplements with nourishing adaptogens to restore my adrenal glands (which help us cope with stress in our lives).
- One thing a day – A big red flag to me that things weren’t right was the level of procrastination I was allowing for myself. Instead of forcing myself to tackle everything at once (which is just more overwhelming and furthers the cycle), I’ve made it a point to do one thing each day I normally would have pushed off. Maybe it’s scheduling a long-overdue appointment, cleaning out that one nagging drawer that feels like an abyss, or even cleaning out the fridge. Today I wheeled the trash to the curb and brought it back in (small victories). But I’ve promised myself to find one thing I’ve been putting off and do it each day, no matter how small. It doesn’t seem so daunting when you just have one small goal a day instead of an insurmountable pile of guilt to tackle.
I obviously have to give a big ‘ol disclaimer and advise that if you feel yourself slipping into that dark place, reach out to someone, schedule a therapy appointment, and make sure your meds are in check. But no matter what we choose to do or how to handle it, the answer is always in our hands. We have to want to feel healthy and be willing to do the work to get ourselves there, whether it’s with a host of trained professionals or on our own. Above all – it’s the isolation that holds us back from moving forward. The more we keep to ourselves about how we are feeling, the more we give into the shame and guilt of having those feelings, and the more we shut out the ones we love, the deeper the grip that dark place has on our spirit and lives.
We don’t have to believe depression’s lie that it isn’t going to get better, because honestly, that’s the red flag that jolted my attention. I started worrying when I stopped trying and believing in this temporary passage. I’m grateful that I talked to my husband, and I’m thankful that I took one small step at a time into the light, in spite of my defeating self-talk and anxiety. Recovering alcoholics have a wise saying that I believe applies to everyone: Take the next right step. We don’t have to see the entire path, but if we can just do the next right thing, we are headed in the right direction, one small step at a time.