I want to dive into depression today. In fact, I’d like to try a different approach with it because it’s a topic that we all tend to dance around. I have had a close and toxic relationship with depression over my lifetime and I now have a new perspective. Instead of dancing around it, I’d like to dance with it. Not around it. With it. Not something to even dive into; something to dance with.
I think especially in the times we are in; we need to be open and willing to talk about the darkness and the hard stuff. We do not need to suffer alone and in silence, as so many of us do.
I’m going to share my own personal experiences with depression over my lifetime and ways that I have discovered that work for me to live a really good life in spite of having shitty feelings at times.
So understand that this is my perspective, from my own lived experiences and it is not intended to be medical advice. What I have to say here is not the be all, end all for treatment. Do your own research, find your own professional support network, and of course, follow the advice of your doctor if you are currently seeking treatment or being treated.
Now, I think it’s important to ask ourselves what depression is.
Is it a chemical imbalance? A temporary emotion? A state of mind?
Perhaps all of these things are true.
When it comes to depression in particular, I think we like to put it in a box and say this is what it is for everyone. It can’t be that because it’s really this. If it’s this way for me, the same must be true for you.
I don’t think that’s how it works now.
What I do know is that when you’re living with it, I can assure you that it can at times feel debilitating. There is no doubt about that.
Let’s break each of the concepts down, starting with chemical imbalance.
This would likely have been true for me when I was a teenager and then again, later in life.
Now, it’s been a few minutes since I was a teenager, but I do remember it was a pretty angsty time for me. Of course, I thought it was only me. I’m telling you; those hormones are no joke.
No one was telling me how to manage my damn mind, so I was telling myself all kinds of stories about how my mom didn’t love me and I was a loser, and I was a dork, and I was all of these fucking lies.
Of course, I now know that those were just thoughts and not reality. But then, they seemed very real.
And I decided I didn’t want to be around anymore. When I was fourteen, I took a bunch of pills. Close to 200 Tylenol, to be exact. I know I am being very matter of fact about this now, and I want to be very clear when I say the despair in the moment is very real. Also, checking out of life is not the answer. That’s not the way out.
I’m not going to get into detail of that episode but suffice it to say that I have had many moments since that point in time where I have experienced immense gratitude for still being alive. I’m having one of those moments right here, just sharing openly and honestly and from my heart.
For now, I just want you to know that I’ve been low enough to just try to find that way out. That I just wanted the pain to go away. And at that age, I just didn’t have an understanding of what my options were beyond that escape.
I’m sure I also had some hormonal things going on.
More than anything, I’m sure I didn’t understand that my inner mean bitch could be navigated if not suppressed without overdosing or numbing out in some other way.
I just didn’t know then what I know now.
And it may be this as well as many other lived experiences that drives me to share it all with you. When I consider where I am now, I realize that I’m supposed to be here. Right fucking here. Sharing all of the things that I never thought I would.
Yes, chemical imbalances I do believe can come into play. For sure.
We didn’t have nearly the pharmaceuticals then that we do now. Growing up, I never saw a single drug commercial. It wasn’t a thing, and it wasn’t a thing that we talked about openly.
Not feeling depressed, taking medications, or feeling suicidal. That just wasn’t something that you talked about.
I did end up taking medications for depression in my twenties. I didn’t do it for long. Maybe a couple of years. I tried a few different things, but the side effects were worse than the symptoms I was trying to suppress, so I did end up quitting them.
Please be assured, I am not recommending anyone either start or stop medications. That’s not my place. You work with whomever you need to work with to make that determination. Again, this is not medical advice. I’m simply relaying what has worked for me. Medications were not what worked for me.
What I actually found out, probably in my late twenties, early thirties, was that those diet sodas I was addicted to were certainly not helping me. I use the term “addicted” loosely – I think it was more a lifestyle that I had just become accustomed to while I was working the equivalent of two full time jobs, one of them being night shift and physically demanding.
I got into the habit of drinking several 20 oz Diet Mountain Dews per day, just to keep myself going. On my way to my night job, I would grab a pack or two of Mini Thins…ephedrine which has since been banned. I probably did that for a couple of years. Just to get through work. Then I was so jacked up, I couldn’t go to sleep while the sun was coming up.
Anyway, I wasn’t working those jobs anymore when my mom told me the artificial sweeteners were really wrecking my brain. She shared an article with me that sparked my curiosity. Then I read a book about it, and soon afterward quit artificial sweeteners entirely.
My brain may well have already had a bit of an imbalance going on naturally, but I was pumping all of these extra substances in (perfectly legal substances, BTW) that certainly weren’t helping me at ALL.
And layering on some antidepressants for good measure.
This is what I learned. The book that I read was called Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. And yes, while it was a rather alarmist writing, I thought…maybe there is something to this. The book really intrigued me because I honestly wasn’t aware that I was in essence poisoning myself with these diet sodas.
Look, I am not a purist, by any stretch. Let’s be perfectly honest. I was also smoking cigarettes and popping ephedrine. I knew what I was doing there. I guess I just like to pick my poison. I like to make the conscious choice.
Of all of the things I was doing, I didn’t think it was the diet soda that I needed to be leery of.
Here’s what an excitotoxin is.
Ex-ci’-to-tox-in: a substance added to foods and beverages that literally stimulates neurons to death, causing brain damage of varying degrees. It can be found in such ingredients as monosodium glutamate, aspartame (NutraSweet®), cysteine, hydrolyzed protein, and aspartic acid.
Now this book was written a while ago – I don’t even think it’s in print anymore. It freaked me out enough to ditch the sodas. For good. Sucralose came along later, I believe, and that’s what is in Splenda. Splenda is sucralose. It’s no better for you than aspartame, don’t be fooled by that.
I do like a splash of something sweet in my coffee, and I found that the herb Stevia is fantastic for that. So I’ve been using Stevia only for anything sweet. Or pure sugar.
I think there can be a natural chemical imbalance and I think that we can create this or even further exacerbate any neurons that are already jacked up in some way.
I personally won’t go near the stuff. You do you. Do your own research. It may not affect everyone the same way. Just like antidepressants or other medications are often trial and error. Let’s see what chemical concoction works with your unique mind and body. By the way, try it for at least 90 days and then taper off slowly and try something else until you find what works for you. Trial and error.
What I can tell you from my personal journey with this is that I felt like an entirely different person when I cleared my system of excitotoxins. There’s certainly no harm in removing those from your diet. You do have to become a vigilant reader of labels, but I’ve gotten used to it. It’s necessary for me. I just treat it like an allergy.
And as far as I’m concerned, I don’t have any allergies – I’m super healthy, despite all of the shit I’ve done over the years. So much gratitude for that.
This is something that I honestly never hear about and I haven’t heard about since that article my mom shared – she does like her naturopathic sources – and that book. I won’t let my kid near the stuff. So when I say you have to become a vigilant label reader, it’s because you’ll find (as I did) a can of mixed fruit on the grocery shelf marketed for kids that says “no sugar added” and is instead packed with sucralose. And that’s sneaky AF. Because I’ve certainly learned that “sugar free” means artificial sweetener. That’s a given. But when mixed fruit is packaged as “no sugar added”, your first thought is, “well, that means it’s only the natural sugar from fruit.”
Don’t bet on it. Read the damn label.
I also bought a drink from the health food aisle of my local market, probably a good five or six years after I had quit diet sodas. As soon as I got it home and took a sip, I spit it out. Yep. Packed full of that junk. I was so pissed.
Don’t take for granted that you’re buying health food aisle, it’s really healthy.
Okay, I’ll get off my soap box on that topic now. Like I said, it’s something worth looking into and even having the conversation with your doctor, “Hey, do you know what effect that diet drinks mixed with these antidepressants have?”
At the very least, have some awareness that if you’re taking meds to alter your brain chemistry, some of what you’re putting into your body may be working against you.
This is not my area of expertise, beyond what I know to be true for me. Check it out.
That’s what I have to say on the chemical imbalance part of depression. There are so many factors at play, for sure. This is just one of them. If you truly want to feel better, try some new things. Ask lots of questions. Do your own research. Perform your own trial and error scenarios. If you are under a doctor’s care, be open with him/her about all of it so he/she can truly serve as your advocate in this journey.
Now. Can depression be an emotion that you feel just temporarily? Can you use that to describe the sensations in your body without a formal medical diagnosis?
Well, I say yes. This is Sunny’s view of the world, after all. We also have to truly understand how those medical diagnosis come about in the first place. If you’re not even sure, I’m about to break it to ya.
They come from questionnaires. It’s that simple. Either you’re going through a written list of symptoms and indicated whether you feel them sometimes, most of the time, or somewhere in between, or you ‘re verbally answering a series of questions with a medical practitioner.
It isn’t as if there’s an x-ray machine for your feelings…to indicate if something is broken as we can easily tell with a bone. When it comes to your mind, you have to do some inquiry. And all that a medical professional can do is take your answers as honest and apply their diagnosis and treatment for you.
For that reason, I think that depression can be an emotion like any other. I think that at times, we all feel it. Sometimes an event happens in life. A breakup, a death; a loss that feels devastating and you fall into a dark place. Into the shadows. Sometimes it’s just there because it’s a gloomy day out and it’s Wednesday.
It doesn’t have to mean that there’s something wrong with you.
By the way, having a formal diagnosis doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you either.
I think depression can indeed be temporary and I think that when it is, trying to resist it, avoid it, or wish it away is only going to keep it around longer.
Because when it’s presented as a feeling, we need to treat it as we would any other emotion and feel it all the way through. Really sit with it. Welcome it in. Listen to what it has to say. Dance around with it. Explore it. Without judgement. Without expectation for how long this visit will be. Just allow it to be.
I do think it helps to pull yourself out of bed and move around. Go for a long walk. The first step is the hardest. Everything after that just falls into place. I’m not talking about taking your mind away from it…there’s nothing really distracting about a long walk. In fact, I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that I find long walks to be meditative and some of my best thinking time.
So while your at it, dancing this dance, and taking this walk, perform your own inquiry. Ask your own questions. What does this feel like? What are the sensations in my body? Going inward instead of trying to distract yourself is a very powerful exercise and it does take practice. You’re not going to want to do it, but I assure you that it will be okay if you do.
Of course, have a backup plan and someone to call if you need to. Be it your therapist, a close friend, or a hotline. If ever there is a moment that you don’t feel safe to be alone with your emotions, definitely reach out.
And I think the temporary aspect of depression can lead into a full-blown state of mind when it is left unchecked. You may start to identify yourself as being depressed instead of simply feeling it. It becomes a part who you are. It may be very easy and almost natural for you to think, I am a person who is depressed most of the time.
What’s the difference between a chemical imbalance and a state of mind? Really, I think your own diagnosis of it. I think you can have this state that you allow to identify you as a human being without seeking treatment for it. Do I think that’s healthy? Probably not.
That’s really where you should be pushing back with your own inquiry and asking yourself, is that true? Is that what I honestly WANT to be true about me?
Understanding that there’s no right answer here. There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with feeling low and sinking into depression. When it starts effecting your ability to function in life is when you might just consider seeking help. Often when you take it on as a state of mind, it does begin to impact your life.
I do think it’s possible to recover from depression or to have beaten depression; to consider yourself having won the battle, if that’s how you want to view it. If that’s what works for you. Personally, I don’t like to think of it as a battle because that creates imagery of a conflict for me. I do like to think of it as a dance. A dance that you can find the ability to lead instead of being led by.
I know that so many of us experience deep depression or depressive episodes in life, or both at different times, in different seasons. This has always been true, and it continues to be true. No matter how much the world around us evolves and how much “better” things are for us humans, no matter how much we ourselves evolve, the struggle can sometimes seem insurmountable.
This is especially true in the times we are in as I’m recording this, living in a pandemic, some of us losing our livelihoods, others losing our lives. It can seem hopeless. You can feel helpless. You can fall into the depths of despair and honestly believe there is no way out.
It is for these reasons that I want to shine my light on a topic that is very close to my existence. While I have talked about feeling broken, and I’ve talked about finding love in your shadows, and I’ve talked about self-worth and how most humans at one point in time are feeling that super low frequency where the light inside of you seems so dim…I haven’t yet come right out and talked about the Big D.
I have to even ask myself, why is that? I honestly don’t feel that anything is or should be taboo to discuss in my space. I truly believe that it’s important to not only explore those dark corners but also to light them the fuck UP, so we aren’t dwelling there for an eternity. So that we aren’t falling into that pit, thinking there is no other way out.
It isn’t a topic that I want to dance around, but that I want to dance WITH. In the lead.
So whether your depression is brought about by a chemical imbalance, a temporary emotion, or a state of mind, the most important thing is that you seek help when you need it. And that preferably you learn all of the ways that you can help yourself to learn the dance. The ways that you can you be your own guide, teacher, and mentor.
Can a life coach help you with this? Is that what this is about? My answer is: that depends. What do YOU need?
Have you worked with a doctor and/or a therapist? Are you working with one or the other or both? A coach can certainly complement both medical and therapeutic approaches. Or if you’ve been down those roads for quite a while and you just need some extra support, I do believe that a coach can help you to see the things that are keeping you stuck. Understanding the role your thoughts play in keeping you spinning in many of your emotions can really help to unlock the power that you can’t see yet.
And I would also say this: really shop around and find a coach that you connect with. You would do this with a doctor, and you would do this with therapist. At least I hope that you would. I hope that you wouldn’t just take the first available professional, and that if for some reason that you have to, you keep your options open to finding the right one for you. You should do the same with a coach. It doesn’t have to be me. I may not be your cup of tea. But find someone who gets you. Someone you are comfortable with. And get to doing the hard work if you want to learn to feel better most of the time.
I am sharing this not to plug life coaching as a fix for everything and certainly not for suicidal tendencies, but to let you know that I understand the lowest of the lows. There are many other humans in the world who do. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be embarrassed by, nothing to hide from.
Please, please if you ever feel unsafe, call someone who you can reach immediately. If you don’t have someone in your life to support you in that capacity, call a hotline. That is what they are there for. They well trained and qualified to help you in the moment when you need it most.
Also, you can take the pills and you can drink the drinks. No judgement. I’m simply sharing what has worked for me. And I’ve had to make adjustments and tweaks and refine over many, many years. That’s part of the dance, my friends.
“This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor… Welcome and entertain them all. Treat each guest honorably. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in. Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”
Depression is not a life sentence. It is simply a dance.
This post is a partial transcript from my podcast, What Lights You Up – Episode 24. I invite you to enjoy the full episode and subscribe on Spotify or Apple!