Can We Call This "Self-Help Part One"?

I have no idea what to call this post or even if I want to do this post. And yet I feel a responsibility to share with my readers the dramatic changes that have taken place in recent weeks.

It began in an unguarded moment when I took my courage in my hands and lowered the mask - a mask I've worn for more years than I care to remember. It seems that while I have felt guilt and condemnation for my mental state, others have been far more understanding and have extended to me the love and grace that I was unable to give myself. That includes my readers and for that you have my most heartfelt thanks. I've been told that the experience of many when they finally admit to depression or a mood disorder is distrust, misunderstanding, even rejection - exactly what I had been dishing up to myself for months. So I thank you most sincerely for your compassion and understanding.

But I think the time has come to reply to your comments and since this is too long to include in the comment box I'm going to post it here so please bear with me.

I believe I am on the road to recovery (confirmed yesterday by my counsellor who basically kicked me out - in a manner of speaking) and I’d like to share some of those things that have helped me. But I want to stress too that what I’ve done to heal my mind has not happened in isolation. There have been many things working together and it was also done in consultation with at least two – and sometimes three – professionals. This is too important to ignore or to deal with alone – as I did for a long long time – there must be at least one other trained professional involved. If you’re where I was at – if you even suspect that you might be there – I urge you to seek help. It’s worth it.

Dr Grant Mullen (a Christian expert on mood disorders) believes that depression and other mood disorders affect three areas of the believer: physical, spiritual, and emotional. So I’m going to briefly look at each of these areas.

Recovery in the Physical. Let’s start with medication since if you visit the doctor this is the first thing likely to be suggested. I have an inborn distrust of any medications. Blame it on my nursing background if you like since after studying the side effects of drugs I wondered why anyone would ever use them! I’ve also reacted to some medications and while not serious it has certainly made me reluctant to take them unless absolutely necessary. Consequently I tend to try and ride out an illness without any medication until I either recover or it becomes obvious that resorting to medication is absolutely essential.

However despite my reluctance to take medication in any form, my decision not to take medication in this instance was not entered into lightly. I had the support of my doctor, a psychiatrist and my counsellor (although she was probably the most reluctant to forgo traditional forms of therapy) who all agreed that while medication would help and perhaps speed the process, healing was possible without it.

While I refused medication in this instance, I didn’t totally close my mind to the possibility. In fact at one point I almost succumbed but decided to try something else first. However had my doctor or the psychiatrist felt that medication was absolutely essential, I would have – reluctantly – agreed. I’d hate for anyone to read this and refuse medication and as a result hamper their healing. Others have taken medication and with good results. And if I hadn’t seen some progress with other therapies I would have changed my own stance on its use.

Medication is not the only therapy that can be done in the physical to treat depression. We’ve all heard that we are what we eat. And I believe this is no exception when it comes to depression. I suspect the jury is still out on just how much of a part food plays in treating depression but I don’t think that anyone would argue that a well-balanced diet isn't essential. I also found that limiting coffee (but not tea!), sugar and dairy helpful. I also added a glass of soy milk daily, a good multivitamin (New Zealand barley grass – tastes awful but is a whole food that provides many of the nutrients our bodies need) and a fish oil supplement that was high in Omega 3. Omega 3 supposedly helps with the neurons in the brain and may be able to help with mood swings. Once I started taking fish oil supplements I found that within a day I felt as if a fog had lifted from my brain but again, studies give mixed results (still it’s certainly worth a try).

Exercise. Well no one seems to argue that exercise doesn’t have some value. It releases so called ‘happy’ hormones in the brain that can help mood. I’d like to suggest that just the physical act of doing something has a beneficial effect (if nothing else, it keeps us fit!). And it doesn’t have to be for long. Twenty minutes three days a week is the suggested minimum but I’d like to suggest that it should be twenty minutes every day. And outside wherever possible. The Psalmist said, "I will lift mine eyes to the hills" and I’ve found that the act of walking in the outdoors broadens my horizons so to speak. There’s just something about seeing the sky overhead, feeling the air on one’s skin and all the sights and scents of the outdoors that takes the focus off ourselves, even if just for a few minutes (and even if it does stir up the hay fever again). Otherwise, put a good workout DVD on and move to that (I still make sure I can see the outdoors even if it’s just a photo on my laptop).

Water. I forget this one regularly but our brains need water. Truly. It’s just remembering to drink it that I find hard.

Breathing. It’s not something we forget to do but when the panic starts it helps to take deep abdominal breaths – slowly in and out until the panic subsides. I used to console myself that at least my flute teacher would be pleased because it would be building up my breathing capacity but really, there is nothing funny about panic attacks. Others find that relaxation techniques help – to slowly relax each muscle group in the body while breathing slowly. Quite frankly, it rarely worked for me but I suspect that’s because I’m too impatient but the deep abdominal breathing did (and just having a technique you know you can use can help lessen the fear of such attacks and over time their frequency).

These techniques are just a few that I employed to aid my recovery. I’ll share more on the emotional and physical aspects in later posts.

But to complete this post: some famous people who have suffered or are suspected to have suffered (based on letters, journals and other information available) from depression:

Hans Christian Andersen, Danish Writer
William Blake, British Poet and Painter
Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister
Charles Dickens, British Author
T. S. Eliot, American poet
Harrison Ford, American Actor
Vincent van Gogh, Dutch Painter
Anne Hathaway, American Actress
Jack Irons, American Musician
Samuel Johnson, British Lexicographer, Biographer, Essayist and Poet
John Kirwan, New Zealand Rugby Player
Abraham Lincoln, American Lawyer and Politician
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Austrian Composer
Isaac Newton, British Physicist
Marie Osmond, American Musician
Gwyneth Paltrow, American Actress
John D. Rockefeller, American Industrialist
Robert Schumann, German Composer
Leo Tolstoy, Russian Writer
Ville Valo, Finnish Singer
Evelyn Waugh, British Novelist and Journalist
Thom Yorke, English Musician

Notice something? Depression is no respecter of gender, nationality, or career (in fact, all those on this list are extremely gifted - hmm, I wonder if that tells me something?).


Jen said…
I'm so glad that you are on the road to recovery, Jules. I have been praying for you. I liked the advice you gave too, and that you told what worked for you. I wish fish oil worked for me. I read that for a very small amount of people, it actually increases anxiety instead of decreases it. I was in that "small amount of people" group :(. I have tried it several times, and have the same results. I have been trying several different natural supplements. I'm not one who likes to take medication either. I hope and pray that you continue to see great results from what you are doing! That is so wondeful :)!
SchnauzerMom said…
I'm glad that you are doing better. Looks like you are doing all the right things!
Grant Mullen said…
Glad to hear you are feeling better and willing to speak out about the common problem of depression in Christians.
The only purpose of medications is to clear your mind of the repetitive negative thoughts that you can't shut off. Once you regain thought control then you can respond better to counselling and prayer ministry. So no need to be afraid of them.
I've always seen the best recoveries when people treated all three areas, their brain chemistry, spiritual issues and healing of their emotional baggage. Blessings. Grant Mullen M.D.
Jules said…
Jen, thank you for making me aware that fish oil can actually increase anxiety in some people. I knew it didn't work for all but I didn't know it could have this effect.

The best fish oil products are those that contain higher concentrations of EPA and DHA (more than 90% of the oil). It's also recommended that the ratio of EPA to DHA be as high as 7:1 (if you can find such a product) and to aim for a daily intake of 1-2grams of EPA (with or without the DHA).

I believe it made a difference for me which I find rather amusing considering that with many other 'natural' remedies I tend to be the one they don't work for (perahps there's something to be said for the power of the mind in wanting to believe it would work!).

SchnauzerMom, thanks for dropping by. I know that you are familar with mood disorders and I value your encourgement.

Dr Mullen, thank you too for taking the time to drop by and comment. From watching your videos, I understand that you're dealing with people who have been depressed for years - 20 years or longer I believe. As I mentioned, I did not make the decision not to take medication lightly. I had a full psychiatric assessment and considered all the options with the help of other professionals. I also had my own medical history since I had suffered with anxiety over 20 years ago and had used counselling and meditation to work through it. However, I always remained open to taking medication and would not advise someone not to take it. But I suspect there is a group of people like myself that can be helped without medication if they only knew where to turn.

I've also appreciated your DVD "Depression - the path to recovery" (sadly I was unable to source your book on moods in NZ) and your emails and website. So thankyou again.

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