Nov 10

Life Story Part 1: What Have I Got To Be Depressed About?

By Vickie | Uncategorised

Welcome! My name is Vickie and I’m glad you’ve come to visit. I set up this site to share how I found a way to eliminate my chronic low mood and live joyfully again. 

I now enjoy a calm, peaceful mind. I feel energetic, clear-headed and confident. I live a rewarding, intentional and yes… happy life!

But it certainly wasn’t always like this…

I lived with chronic low for 21 years.

By coming to this site I’m thinking you may also feel you may be struggling with this debilitating condition.

Or maybe you’re just wondering if it’s why you feel

  • Down and kind of sad every day
  • Unable to think clearly, remember things or make good decisions
  • Exhausted, lacking in energy or motivation to do anything much
  • Struggle through each day – work, family responsibilities, household chores – and wonder why it’s so hard
  • That life is just not turning out how you expected and you’re wondering if that’s all there is.

I know you’ll find hope in my story.

When did I start to feel depressed?

I can’t be certain but I think my depression began when I was a teenager. I remember outbursts of weeping and emotional grey days of uncertainty and confusion which went well beyond ‘normal’ teenage angst. I spent hours on the floor with the dog, bawling into her furry neck.

I was a funny kid, a loner, a book reader, hopeless at sports, sensitive and not physically strong. I was a very happy child. My imagination was my world and my books were my friends.

Where I lived there were no little girls to play with but I’m not sure that even if there were, that I would not have preferred to retreat within the pages of my books.

Each Saturday morning was spent in the local library gathering books which would then present to my mother in a form of literary show and tell.

I went through a long phase of interest in British history, particularly the Dark Ages and kings and queens with names like Ethelfrith, Eggfrith and Harold the Hammer Thrower fired my imagination.  Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were there too as well as Catweazle and nonfiction children’s books like ‘How place names began’ and ‘how surnames began’.

I am a true introvert.  People fascinate me and I love to be around them, but to refresh my own batteries I need lots of time alone.  I become distressed if I am overly stimulated by too much noise, flashing colours or images, chatter or work stress. Sometimes I wear ear plugs when I go into the city.

My idea of heaven then and now is a warm summer’s afternoon, on a blanket in a park, dogs at my feet and a book in my hand.

Feeling Defective

A teacher once said to me, ‘”Oh Vickie, you’re so thin, you must put on a jumper!” 

I learned that to be thin was to be deficient, to be unable to catch a ball a major weakness, to eat little a sign of laziness or illness or ingratitude.

I was a feeble child and I was a particularly poor swimmer.  We used to go down to our local pool in the summer and I remember saying to my Mum, ‘This time, I’m just going to jump straight in’, but I rarely, if ever, actually did.

 I think there were at least two occasions when my brother actually saved me from drowning, even though I was using a kickboard.  The kickboard was my ship and I was on the high seas.  I’d paddle myself around the edge of the pool, imagining each feature of the pool to be a port in an exotic location. The steps down into the pool was a desert island, underneath the diving board a port with a waterfall, another set of steps a mountain range.

My greatest fear was PE classes.

I hated changing into our checked gym tunics. They were sleeveless and my arms were sticks. Each PE class began with a run around the school buildings. It seemed like a marathon to me. Needless to say, I was always chosen last for teams. I had no energy and no coordination. I fell asleep on the bus on the way home.

I knew I was defective. 

The doctors applied wires to my chest and that’s how they found out.

The doctor’s office overlooked a park, but I couldn’t see the trees as I was hiding under a chair.  I knew what was coming, as it had come so many times before. 

The doctor talked to Mum and Dad and then I was taken into a smaller, windowless room. I took off my top and the nurse spread the sticky gel over my little chest and attached the rubber cups with the wires coming out.

They were always very nice, the nurses, and the examination wasn’t painful, but I was tired of being studied and scrutinzed, tired of the gel and the wires and the green and red wavy lines on the machines, tired of being on display.

Open-Heart Surgery

The hole in the heart wasn’t picked up until I was two. Without surgery my life expectancy would not have exceeded about twenty years. I had the operation when I was seven.

A student doctor was allowed to make the incision and then sew me up and clearly his mother hadn’t made him practise neat, precise stitches.

When I got back to school after the operation, my second grade teacher asked me to remove my jumper and blouse so the other kids could have a look at my jagged, ruby-red scar.

Always being examined, looked at, feeling different. 

Adults told me how brave I was; I didn’t feel it. I wanted to be left alone.

I grew skinny and lanky and was all arms and legs.  When you’re a kid, though, you’re not that conscious of how you look. I was happy and enjoyed riding my bike and climbing trees, often to sit there for hours reading a book.

When I was fourteen I was diagnosed with scoliosis, a curvature of the spine so severe that only a major

back operation would save my right lung from collapse by the age of thirty. 

I had a metal rod implanted against my spine and held there using bone taken from my hip. I now had the flexibility of a plank but at least the scars were neat.

One thing I did love at school was dance and I did jazz ballet classes after school each week. This led to getting a role in a dance scene in the school play.

Unfortunately because I could no longer bend and twist I had to give up dance.

I gained two inches from the op. I was embarrassed about my pear-shaped figure with my massive hips and an ironing-board chest. I had a terrible summer having to wear a back brace for six months. We had a caravan and went down to the beach but I hid in the van or the dunes, unable to put on my bathers and swim.

Generally I was a happy as a child, but when the teenage years hit, my confidence dropped and I wonder if this was related to my surgeries and body image issues?

I wonder now whether those operations, those traumas were the start of my self-confidence and self-esteem issues?

I wasn’t exactly a nerd – not smart enough for that – but I enjoyed studying and after finishing school I actually went to university to learn stuff.

Uni was interesting, exciting and somewhat lonely. I made friends, good ones too, who were a bit more like me, but there was always the feeling of being less-than, not as smart, not as attractive. I often ate lunch alone and spent a great deal of time in the basement of the library, poring through academic journals.

I went to parties and clubs and balls, but they were never my natural environment. The noise, the drinking, the dreadful groping in dark corners with unsuitable boys…feeling self-conscious, lacking confidence and just not fitting in.

At university I studied archaeology. I joined a team of researchers and excavated in Syria for some years through the 1990s. I have also excavated in Turkey and in the Australian states of Victoria and Tasmania.

I loved archaeology and digging in Syria was bliss.

Archaeology was my love, my passion and after considering other ways to remain involved in the field, such as materials conservation, (and failing in that because the chemistry involved, not my scene at all) I went back to research.

I enrolled in the doctoral program at the University of Melbourne. That was a long 5 years. They started poorly with inadequate, unsupportive supervisors who laughed at my ideas. Mid-way through, a new member of staff took me on as a student and he was brilliant. I began to settle into my research but it’s a stressful, lonely occupation.

I isolated myself from friends, had no life outside the research and found my thoughts racing constantly. It was hard to sleep and I become exhausted with worry and uncertainty about the future.

I completed my PhD in 2001 but without the confidence to pursue an academic career.

I loved archaeology but I just couldn’t see how to make a career of it and my department offered no support or mentorship into an academic career. There was support for post-doc positions and by the end I felt left out in the cold and not sure where to turn. 

Have you ever abandoned something you loved and regretted it for years after?

I am convinced that not having the confidence to pursue a career I loved contributed enormously to the chronic low mood which I had developed through my doctoral years.

It was like suffering a great loss, a bereavement almost. I was filled with regret, an overwhelming sense of sorrow, and I blamed myself entirely. I wasn’t good enough. I don’t try hard enough. I’m pathetic. I’m useless.

Somehow I found another possible career option and this was the first of many career changes I have had through my life.

I felt like a loser, that I was wasting my life because I found it impossible to settle into one career and develop it through my working life. At age 30 I had no house or apartment to call my own, a crappy old car, a good education and some interesting experiences, but I felt they were indulgent, that I wasn’t trying hard enough to be what people expected.

What followed were the worst years of the depression.

To continue My Life Story click here


Save Depressed
Jun 04

Life Story Part 2: The Really Bad Years

By Vickie | Uncategorised


The mid years of my 30s were Really, Really Bad Years for me.

I felt my emotions were ‘out of control’. I got angry quickly, then found myself subsiding in tears. My house was in a mess and I didn’t have the energy or motivation to clean it up. Some days I struggled to shower and look after myself properly. It didn’t matter because I was ‘stupid, worthless, pathetic, a loser’.

I found myself struggling more than ever with my overwhelming and profound sadness, frustration and disappointment in myself and in life.  It was not until I become physically unwell that I knew I had to seek professional help.

But that didn’t happen for a while yet.

As I was completing my PhD in archaeology, my attention shifted from life in the ancient world to the current political situation in Australia, particularly in relation to humanitarian issues.

Refugees were coming to Australia from war-torn East Africa via the offshore humanitarian program and I felt a calling to work somehow with this group of vulnerable people.

So I completed a migration agents’ course and found a job with the Inner Western Region Migrant Resource Centre in Footscray, a western suburb of Melbourne.

I loved working in the multi-cultural setting of the centre and found great satisfaction in advocating on behalf of our clients. I learned an enormous amount about the conflicts raging in Africa and about the culture and history of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan.

I felt better. I felt like I was making a difference and mood seemed to brighten somewhat. I still spent too much time alone and my thought patterns were not always constructive, but I felt things might finally be improving.

Then I lost my job.

My anger at the way the MRC had been mismanaged financially and how that had left our clients without support kept me from plummeting into a dangerous low mood  but as the weeks rolled on the impact of what had happened hit me and I fell into a really bad, deep depression.

Have you ever found yourself suddenly without work? It’s one of the most traumatic experiences you can have.

Six weeks later I gained a similar job but yet again found myself without work within the year because the organisation decided to reconfigure the role I had. I was ‘welcome’ to apply for it but there was a strong insinuation that I would be unsuccessful and so I found myself without a job yet again.

In fact, I had been very miserable in that job and had struggled through the previous six months or so. The values of the organisation were at odd with my own. They were more concerned with doing the right thing by the funding body, building their corporate message and offering the minimum service possible. I remember driving to work, my face clenched in tension.  I barely kept my tears at bay and was unable to focus on anything at work.

The organisation’s philosophy was at odds with my own values and I felt lost and confused.

Are you unhappy in your job, feel it’s just not you, but you’re not sure what to do about it? We spend so much time at work. It’s a horrible feeling to wake up each morning and drag ourselves to a place we don’t like, with people we can’t relate to and perform a job we don’t value.

When mood is very, very low and your emotions all over the place, making sound decisions is pretty hard. I made extremely poor financial decisions (the worst was a $5000 bed which promised to solve my poor sleep) which resulted in several thousand dollars-worth of credit card debt.

Somehow, I decided that working for myself might be the right path to take and so I set up my own Very Bad Yearsimmigration consulting business, AusArrivals Immigration Agency. I managed to find a tiny office and had some nice letterhead printed and even set up a website.

I’d never run a business before; I was way out of my depth. As my savings began to run out I became more and more depressed and less and less able to get moving.

I was always tired, lacking in energy, irritable or just bland and numb. Everything seemed such an effort. I went over and over things in my mind. It was impossible to switch off the racing thoughts. I found it hard to go to sleep, or to sleep for more than a few hours at a time. I spent much of night awake, staring numbly into space, tears pouring down my face.

I bashed my head against the tiles of my shower cubicle, trying to dislodge the fuzziness that had taken over my brain once again. Things had Really turned Really Bad.

I began to wonder how I had got to this point.

It was my beloved and loyal dog, Frances, who kept me from sinking even further down. During those really bad years of Bad Years of Depression

Frances aged eight weeks. That little bundle of fur may well have saved me from sinking even lower.

depression I honestly believe that the key to my survival was the ongoing loyalty and love from my dog, Frances.  For years, my furry Bear was my antidepressant.

For a start, she provided a focus for me.  Despite ceasing to care for myself, I could never stop caring for her.  Thus, we walked in the park daily, sometimes more than once and in summer would remain there for some hours, reading or just sitting.

In the park I would avoid human contact at all costs.  In rain or shine I wore large, ugly sunglasses that covered half my face, and if I saw someone coming, would turn off the path or choose another.  I jammed plugs in my ears and surrounded myself with sad music in D minor or ‘self-help’ lectures that made me feel even more defective and were no help at all.

I ensured she had juicy meat for dinner and bones to chew and while I bought vegetables on the turn from the bargain table at the grocers.

We lived in a crappy wooden house with cracks in several windows and a constant draft. The whole place

was old and tired, just like I felt, but I lived there because it had an enormous yard where Franny could run and play

I loved her way more than myself.

I could not bring myself to tidy the house and it got messier and messier so much so that I was eating of take away container lids. The sink was always full of dirty dishes; the table covered with newspapers and old unopened letters.

I didn’t shower. I barely changed my clothes. I rarely left the house except to stagger around the park with Franny.

I didn’t care.

I was desperately unhappy, in debt and feeling like life had well-and-truly gone off the rails. More importantly, I didn’t know the first thing about getting it back on track again.

Part of me knew I wasn’t well. I knew it wasn’t normal to feel so lethargic, so unmotivated, so lacking in energy.

I knew it wasn’t normal to sleep so badly, lying awake through the early morning hours, the thoughts going around and around in my head.

I knew it wasn’t normal to walk around as though I was wearing an old-fashioned deep-sea diving helmet, pressing me down and making it very, very difficult to think straight.

I knew it wasn’t normal to keep losing things, lock myself repeatedly out of the car or the house, forget to do things, or make really bad decisions.

I knew it wasn’t normal to feel so down, burst into tears constantly and live with a sense that nothing would ever change, that this was my lot in life.

I did wonder if I was depressed.

And yet I resisted getting help.

Part of me thought my inability to get my emotions under control  was a character flaw, that it was my fault. I wondered if my introversion just made me like that. I just needed to pull myself together, eat more green leafy vegetables and learn to relax.

I thought I could just snap out of it.

I didn’t think I had anything to be depressed about. There were people in the world far worse off than me. I just had to pull myself together.

It was only when I finally dragged myself to the GP after having the flu for 3 days, unkempt, weepy and dazed, that the word ‘depression ‘ was mentioned. The GP gave me a prescription for low-dose antidepressant and an appointment with a local psychologist was made. I cried with relief that finally, finally, I might be on the mend. Maybe the really bad years were over.

I searched for information about persistent depressive disorder, formerly known as dysthymia, which is a chronic form of depression1.

As I read description after description, I quickly realised that how I was feeling definitely fitted those ‘symptoms’:

  • low motivation and energy
  • interrupted sleep
  • low mood
  • feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • negative thoughts and feelings
  • the same thoughts and feelings going around and around in your mind
  • an inability to do basic things like keep the house tidy or even take showers
  • isolation from friends
  • tendency to sit around for long periods
  • a feeling of moving through a haze, like you’re underwater or in a fog
  • a lack of pleasure in things that I used to enjoy
  • weeping
  • an inability to concentrate, make decisions or just think clearly. Really Bad years

Living with Persistent Depressive Disorder is like trying to get through your day wearing a deep sea diving suit.

I knew it. I was sick and now I had the evidence. 

Chronic low mood is very distressing to live with; it sucks all the enjoyment out of life.

It may allow some day-to-day functioning and decision-making, but it’s like staggering uphill, pulling a boulder behind you.

You may hold down a job, and fall, exhausted, into bed at the end of the day, desperate for the weekend when you can just sit at home in isolation and not be bothered by the outside world.

Maybe people call, friends or loved ones who want to spend time with you but you ignore their calls and never phone back.

This is not life. It’s a colourless world; a dreadful existence.

…But finally, now I had actually seen a doctor, I felt a glimmer of hope I hadn’t felt during those really bad years. Maybe I needn’t live like this.

Clutching the prescription she had given me, I marched into the chemist (drug store), filled with confidence and optimism. I stared at the packet of tiny white tablets. Was this it?

Was this all it would take to make me well again, to give me my life back?

Click here to continue reading My Life Story


  1. I am grateful that I have never suffered with major depression, bipolar depression or depression with psychosis. This blog and all of its contents are designed for people suffering from what doctor’s diagnose as persistent depressive disorder. If you have been diagnosed with any other form of depression you must seek medical advice.Please be aware that I don’t believe having chronic sadness, frustration or dissatisfaction with life, nor emotional dysregulation, are sicknesses. I believe they are natural responses to a life not lived within one’s values, a response to economic, social and personal experiences.



Save On the mend
Jun 04

Life Story Part 3: Feeling Happier…In China!

By Vickie | Uncategorised


Yes, after the previous Really Bad Years of depression, talking to the doctor and the psychologist and getting advice and taking an antidepressant, citalopram (celexa, cipramil), I felt happier and more optimistic than I had for years.

Life took a turn for the better. I took on some small business clients who had the money to pay and the expectations to go with it. I felt a bit more optimistic that I could make it work, but in reality, working with these businesses caused me a great deal of worry.

I was still filled with doubts about my own abilities, lacked confidence in myself and my processes and let my clients feed my insecurities. Even though I had more clients, the stress of the job was still hard to deal with and I didn’t cope well with unexpected obstacles in the migration process. On the mend

RIP Frances.

Frances got me through. That beautiful soul with her gorgeous dark eyes, soft cuddly fur and adorable nature got me through some dark times. While I didn’t care about myself, her need for walks was the only reason I got out of the house at all. I did eventually seek professional medical and psychological help, but without my furry girl by my side I’m sure I would have sunk even lower.

And then she died.

I cried, deep, gut-wrenching sobs every day for exactly three months. I went to bed and didn’t get up for a fortnight.

In the months following Frances’ death I managed to conclude all of the active client immigration applications and began to temp full-time as a receptionist as I had through uni.

I felt very reckless in those months after Frances left me. 

Part of me felt that nothing really mattered any more; that is, that with Franny’s death died the part of me which always did the sensible thing, the right thing, what everyone would expect and accept. 

Suddenly I didn’t care.

At my receptionist jobs I spent hours (between phone calls) thinking about what would make me truly happy. 

What did I really want to do with my life?  How could I regain some of the joy that had been lost?

The joy which I gave away with archaeology.  The bliss.

I wanted to be as far away as I could from that horrible life in that horrible house and began to research teaching English as a Second Language and working overseas.

I’ve always enjoyed languages, reading and writing. I’ve always been interested in the relationship between language and culture and learning where words come from.

It seemed a good choice.

I completed a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Armed with my freshly minted certificate, I turned my attention to the overseas teaching job posts.

There seemed to be so many job opportunities in so many countries. There was a lot of information to get through; which course should I do? Did I need teaching experience? Where should I go?

With my background in archaeology, I thought Egypt might be fun (all those antiquities)! I got a phone interview with the British Council in Cairo, but it was for a summer job with children and without any teaching experience, I didn’t get the job.

I turned my attention to countries in my region. It came down to Japan, Korea and China. There were so many jobs to choose from. As I look further into them, I noticed that Korean employers had a question on their application forms: Have you ever taking medication for depression?

This took me aback a bit. Why would they ask that? Why should that affect my ability to teach? Was it any of their business?

Korea was removed from the list.

Japan…I had no knowledge about Japan but it seemed such a tiny, crowded place. I read about how Japan had a massive program for bringing native-English speakers into schools and universities, but that somehow there was a scandal attached to it. Had they not paid their teachers? I was doubtful.

Japan was removed from the list.

That left China.

China. Hmmm.

It’s a massive country. There are dozens of universities and colleges in every city. Each had many English teaching jobs advertised, each with their own terms and conditions. I was thoroughly confused.

I opened an atlas and closed my eyes. I made circles above the map of China with the index finger and then just dropped it down.

Inner Mongolia.

Huh! Inner Mongolia…was that even part of China?

I got a job at the Inner Mongolia College of Finance and Economics in the capital, Huhahaote.

It was a wonderful, if challenging experience and I was happier there than I had been in years. Inner Mongolia

“Mongolian style” architecture, Huhahaote, Inner Mongolia, China

Huhahaote is a smallish city by Chinese standards, easy to get around in with views of the mountains in each direction. There is a substantial ethnic Mongolian population and street signs and architecture bear evidence of Mongolian language and culture. The sky was clear blue, the grasslands were boundless and green, the temperature was below zero for much of the year…one of those challenges for this Aussie girl!

My colleagues were friendly, Saul from South Australia, Tod from the US, Peter from Canada and Alcoholic John from the UK. Our Chinese English language colleagues were also kind and approachable. The grounds of the college were under construction so it was like working in a construction site, but my apartment was warm and comfortable.

The students were lovely and so grateful for everything we did. I didn’t speak a word of Chinese, but they teaching English in China

End of semester lunch with one of my classes, Huhahaote, China

took me out to dinners where we laughed and played drinking games, into the city to hotpot restaurants and karaoke, out walking in the hills and grasslands around the city.

I found a gym in town where I worked out three times a week and took Mongolian dance classes. There

Three dogs, the Puppy, the Twitchy One and the Dirty Dog in my Huhahaote apartment.

was a small circle of apartment dogs we all fed and often my apartment was full of stray dogs and puppies who wandered about the campus. I fed them daily and they slept inside overnight, especially through winter. Having dogs around has always made my feel happier.

I still had moody days, blue days and often found it hard to keep my environment as clean as I would have liked, I missed home and my family.  I thought about Franny frequently.

But I felt a heck of a lot happier than those really bad of depression.

The students were sweet and as a foreign teacher I was treated like royalty. I felt valued in the work, believed I was making a difference, traveled around China and enjoyed seeing all those fascinating places and learning about the culture and history and overall, felt…well…happy. Or at least, happier.


And I began to wonder…

Am I to be taking anti-depressant medication for the rest of my life?  Was I still sick?

Click here for the final part of my Life Story

Save anti-depressants
Jun 04

Life Story Part 4: Does Freedom From Depression Mean Anti-Depressants Forever?

By Vickie | Uncategorised


Am I to be taking anti-depressants for the rest of my life?

The thought worried me. I had always been a little uneasy with the idea of being sick. Certainly, I didn’t feel very good, but did I feel unwell?

Chronic low mood is cruel reality for many people. I felt ‘pressed down’ every day, like I was just getting through my day bearing a heavy weight across my shoulders. Tears were never far away. I was sleep deprived, my mind was constantly racing, I worried constantly about money and the future. Emotionally I felt drained; overwhelmed with sadness, regret frustration and dissatisfaction with myself and with my life.

I didn’t like myself very much. I hated that despite my privileges I couldn’t seem to get my act together. I wondered from occupation to occupation, never sticking at anything for more than a few years. I felt like a loser, hopeless, not good enough. I pounded my mind everyday with nasty, nasty lies.

No, chronic low mood is no fun at all. It’s a devastating, cruel, debilitating way to live.

But still, despite knowing that there was ‘something wrong’ with how I was feeling, I didn’t identify as sick.

Going to the doctor that day I was ill with the flu gave me a strong sense of relief. At last, I wasn’t keeping my thoughts and feelings to myself. I was grateful for the medication. I wanted it to work because I so, so wanted to feel better.

If taking medication and therefore believing I had some kind of sickness would take away these dreadful feelings, I was in.

I stared at my salvation, that tiny white pill in the palm of my hand. I swallowed it with a gulp of cold water.

I felt better immediately. I had no idea how antidepressants worked. I thought they were like antibiotics or even pain killers. The relief of taking action!

And I was one of the lucky ones, no side effects either. Of course, I didn’t know there could even be side-effects. The doctor gave me no information about antidepressants or how they were thought to work.

Life was on the up and up. I was treating my illness and seeing the kindly psychologist weekly for tea and a chat.

I took my citalopram every day for 6 months. Then I stopped because I thought I was cured. I felt better. I was still running the business but I had some new clients. They caused me a huge amount of stress but at least I had more money.

My mood dropped as those clients made bigger demands of me than my little business could sustain and before too long the wonderful new clients I thought I had won left me for big legal firms.

I went back to the doctor. Obviously I wasn’t well enough to cope with everyday life. I got another prescription.

Then I did it again. Life seemed to be improving and I was feeling better. I met a bunch of new friends through business networking who were also building businesses and I felt re-energised and optimistic.

But it didn’t translate to change on the ground. In reality, I was still not sleeping well, I still had racing and worried thoughts. My emotions still left me winded and breathless.

I went back to the doctor. Obviously I wasn’t well enough to cope with everyday life. I got another prescription. This time I promised to take the pills forever. Clearly I had some abnormality in my brain that needed constant medical treatment. I bought into the disease model of depression.

I was a depressed person. I was sick and needed drugs to keep me functioning in the real world.

Finally, I close the business and retrained as an English teacher. I went to China and packed two years worth of the little white pills. I’d be back in Australia after that and could pick up some more, which I did, but not enough, as it turned out.

I ran out of medication while in China. The supply I had brought from Australia was not quite enough to cover my last remaining months.

I left China in July 2012 and after travelling briefly around the province I was living in, and visiting my late uncle in France, I returned home to Melbourne, having been off the anti-depressants for about three months.

But I really felt good, great even. Normal.

Perhaps whatever was wrong with my brain had been fixed by the drugs.

I got a job teaching at one of Melbourne’s prestigious universities.

In 2013 something very exciting happened. I published my doctoral research for a general reading audience! This was a project I had longed to complete, but my low mood and negative self-talk robbed me of the energy to buckle down and get it done.

I had to rewrite large chunks of the theory so that it would be more accessible to non-archaeologists. It was a big job and I was pretty tired, though happy, by the end.

I uploaded it to Amazon and then, even more excitingly, I was chosen to launch my brand new book at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival! This is the pre-eminent event for Melbourne, known as the City of Literature.

And yet, I felt something I hadn’t felt for a while…

Self-doubt. Uncertainty. Fear.

I was excited, but it was tinged with more worry than I had anticipated, a lack of self-confidence that I hadn’t felt for some time but was all too familiar.

The launch went well but I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t prepare a speech properly and I had no marketing or publicity plans. People seemed happy and were very congratulatory, but I couldn’t banish the feeling that I could have done better.

The old negative thoughts were returning.

My mood was taking a dip yet again.

During this time I also felt more and more uncomfortable at work. “You’re not a real teacher!” my mind started telling me. Most of my colleagues had masters degrees in teaching and years of experience. I didn’t really understand English grammar all that well.

Classes made me feel insecure. When a student asked a question I turned to face the board, mumbling something about “We’ll look at that next lesson…”

I wasn’t really a teacher. I was an imposter.

I couldn’t keep up with lesson preparation and marking. I became short-tempered and irritable. I lost patience with the organisation and the students, plodding home after work, stressed and exhausted to fall weeping into bed, dreading the next day when I’d have to do it all over again. It was never like this in China.

Despite not feeling very well, I was determined not to go back on the anti-depressants.

I began reading, scouring the internet for information about anything that might have an anti-depressant effect.

I read that having low magnesium levels might be a contributing factor to low mood so I bought a large tub of magnesium tablets.

No real change.

Being low in vitamins B and D could also be a problem so two more large tubs joined the magnesium in the bathroom cabinet.

Still not feeling that different.

Valerian and Evening Primrose Oil were my next choices and although I thought I might be sleeping a little better, they didn’t really have a major effect on my depression.

St John’s Wort was the final supplement and really, it didn’t have much of an effect either.

Perhaps I had the doses wrong.

And then, suddenly, I just got really angry.

Angry with the depression. Angry with the medication. Angry with myself for still being ill.

And pretty angry with the fact that no one, not the doctor, not the psychologist I had been seeing, had prepared me for this.

No one had told me that anti-depressants don’t actually make the depression go away, unless, that is, you stay on them forever. Or so it appeared to me.

Maybe anti-depressants do work for some people. Perhaps I was just unlucky. Perhaps I misunderstood the health professionals who were trying to help me.

I felt let down by the medical model. The doctor told me I was sick and gave me a pharmaceutical solution. It worked. The fact that right at the beginning I felt so good and when I thought I was cured, stopped taking them and the ‘symptoms’ came back proves they worked, doesn’t it?

I began reading about antidepressants and came across four astonishing pieces of information:

  1. Nearly half the people prescribed antidepressants experience no relief at all
  2. The placebo effect of antidepressants is almost as strong as that of the active drug
  3. Taking action, getting help and expecting to be offered a solution is an effective mood booster
  4. Stress is the origin of depression, not an imbalance of chemicals

I suddenly realised why I felt so good after seeking professional help for my mood all those years ago. I realised why I felt relief after speaking with the doctor and psychologist. I also realised why the good feeling didn’t last. 

Talking about the way I was feeling to a sympathetic and supportive person was enormously relieving. Not to have to carry this burden alone, but to share my fears, doubts and uncertainties was such a good feeling. The medications gave me hope. They don’t seem to have had any physical effect or made an practical difference, but the idea that I could feel different was a light at the end of a very long, dark tunnel. I closed the business, thus eliminating the one massive cause of stress in my life and things looked up very quickly after that.

When I calmed down, I put the supplements away and did three things.

I began to think.

It occurred to me that if I just decided to be well, and made it happen, that perhaps I didn’t need something ‘external’ to me, like anti-depressant medication or supplements, to make me feel better.

Perhaps I could just decide that I was going to change myself, my thoughts and behaviours, and just choose not to be depressed.

This was a massive shift in the way I thought about depression and my experience of chronically low mood.

I began to read.

I began to read about neuro-plasticity. I learned that the brain changes in response to actions we take, experiences we have and also to the way we think about and respond to those actions and experiences.

I began to reflect…

I reflected on the times I felt good, or at least better than normal…

I enjoyed going for a walk, especially to dog park where I got a little canine therapy too.

During the five years I was going to the hot hot summer of Syria I missed the gloomy grey winters of Melbourne and I realised that warm sunny days made me feel a lot better.

I had taken up salsa with a tiny group of eight people and loved every class. We had a lot of laughs and the music was fabulous.

Reworking my thesis into a book for a general reading audience was an accomplishment which made me feel very good.

A counsellor friend had introduced me to an odd little method called Emotional Freedom Technique which helped conquer negative thought patterns.

Just sitting in fast food restaurants made me unhappy. Fresh light meals, delicious flavours, interesting combinations of ingredients…these made me feel good.

I know I always felt better when I’d had a good night’s sleep.

Hmmm….could I use these strategies in place of anti-depressants?

Sunshine…Adequate sleep…Human contact…EFT…Exercise…Music and dancing…Dogs…Making a contribution through meaningful work…A good diet…

These were a few of my favourite things and what’s more they made me feel good and kept my depression symptoms at bay!

I began to play with different kinds of exercise and lengths of time.

I experimented with different times of going to bed and waking up.

Some days I took my morning coffee out into the sunshine and on others, my afternoon tea.   

After spending time with loved ones or friends vs time alone, I’d reflect on my mood and feelings.

I knew I was onto something. anti-depressants

The first breakthrough came when I read Dr Steven Ilardi’s The Depression Cure, which describes how he and his team from the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas realised that it may be our modern lifestyle which has contributed to such high levels of depression seen in the developed world.

Based on years of research by anthropologists among communities living a hunter-gatherer way of life, Professor Ilardi proposes that it is our sedentary, isolationist lifestyle, together with poor sleep and dependence on processed food which is the cause of the rising levels of depression in wealthy western nations.

Lives that are filled with social connection, physical movement, healthy food, quality sleep and meaningful, value-filled activity are those that will have the same effect on depression symptoms as anti-depressants.

I finally stopped thinking of myself as sick. I moved away from the medical model of depression.

Sure, depression is real. It’s horribly real. But it’s not a sickness, not to my mind anyway.

It’s what happens when stressful events are present in your life and when your thinking patterns and the way you talk to yourself are not effective at handling that stress.

Depression may also occur when you’ve lost social connection, aren’t doing enough exercise and are eating poorly. Inadequate sleep, lack of motivation and problems with thinking and memory all sustain a depressive mood.

Eliminating depression a matter of finding a way to make that ‘hunter-gatherer’ lifestyle your lifestyle, to decide to make those changes.

These days, my lifestyle looks a bit like this:

I take 3 regular brisk walks each week. In addition to that, I have made a decision to leave the car at home whenever I can, and use my local shops and facilities. I also walk with my father at the park; this is much slower because he has moderate dementia, but it’s still movement, it’s still outdoors and there’s still the opportunity for meeting other people and passing the time of day (all essential to a depression-free life).

I ensure I see friends or family at least twice per week. That might be a coffee or lunch with a friends on the weekend and a phone call with my brother who lives interstate. Or a movie on a Monday with a friend and a visit to Mum on the weekend.

Omega 3 supplements support my brain health and I enjoy a delicious and easy-to-prepare Mediterranean diet.

Dogs are very important to me and I get plenty of ‘canine therapy’ through walking and pet-sitting through my online profile with a dog-sitting company.

When I visit Dad in the care facility where he lives now, I always speak and share a laugh with the other residents. I know some never have visitors. It’s no effort for me to do this and I think it may just brighten their day a little. It makes me feel good to do something nice for others, even a simple thing like saying a cheerful “Hello, how are you?” and sharing a happy smile.

I ensure I get adequate, good quality sleep by sleeping and waking at roughly the same time (not exactly with the sun…but something like that).

I enjoy a range of new and interesting experiences such as seeing a new exhibition at the gallery, reading a fascinating book, stopping to listen to a street musician, admiring someone’s garden, hearing about my friend’s recent trip to country, watching a quality documentary on television…being open and curious about the world!

Being aware of how I’m thinking and reacting is important too and I use Emotional Freedom Techniques to keep negative thoughts under control.

Yes, I certainly know it is possible to live without depressive symptoms AND without anti-depressant medication.

I believe with the right tools, resources and support, you can turn around your depression symptoms without needing medication1.

It’s a matter of finding a way to make your lifestyle ‘antidepressant’, to decide to make those lifestyle changes.

How has choosing a lifestyle free of chronic low mood enabled me to live a much more rewarding, happier life?

In 2014 I decided to go to a large archaeology conference in the US; something I never ever thought I’d do because I left the academic world of archaeology behind so long ago.

But thanks to my newfound confidence I created a poster of my research and presented along with all the 20-something year old university students and I felt great! It didn’t matter that I was nearly twice their age.

Recently I travelled to Jordan and Israel and participated in archaeological digs in those fascinating and ancient countries. What a dream come true! I never thought I get my trowel in the ground again and there I was, among people both younger and older than me; it was an unforgettable experience and one I plan to replicate in the near future!

Archaeology won’t be a career choice, but I’m able to indulge in my passion without criticising myself for ‘wasting time’. It’s my hobby and brings me a great deal of happiness.

Reconnecting with archaeology is my way of reconnecting with my bliss. What would you like to reconnect with that would give you back your bliss? anti-depressants

Dogs have always been a very important part of my life!

I also created a dog-walking and dog-sitting business which enables me to get lots of canine therapy with dogs of all ages, sizes and shapes and get paid for it too!

…and I’ve developed this website to share what I’ve learned.

None of this would have been possible even five years ago.

Strong, empowered, clear headed, able to cope with things that life throws my way, such as my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis and a recent close family bereavement. 

Now and then I have a blue day, a weepy day comes that from out of nowhere, but I know that having sad, unpleasant or unwanted emotions is just part of being human and I have the strategies now to get rid of it so that my mood doesn’t spiral downwards again.

I have learned that having a healthy lifestyle, a nutritious diet and a values-driven, meaningful life can help push the symptoms of depression away. I’m in my mid-40s. I have maintained a stable mood, fought procrastination, knocked low self-esteem, lack of self-confidence, self-doubt and uncertainty on the head.

Today, life is wonderful!

It’s taken some doing, but life is now very rewarding, in all sorts of ways.

Thanks to my new-found resilience I am able to cope much better when life throws its challenges my way, like coping with my father’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. He has really taught me a lot about living in the moment.

Life is for living and giving and being fulfilling!

If you feel you are struggling with chronic low mood, don’t stay in that place. Get help today. With the help of effective means of controlling negative thought, regular exercise and socialising, a new diet and adequate sunlight and sleep, purpose and meaning in life, I now life free of chronic low mood. I feel like I’m OK. I like myself now. You can too.

I’ve worked out what works and it’s taken some years.

Don’t wait years for relief. Get help now.

Send me an email today and ask how I can help you regain your bliss! persistent depressive disorder


  1. Please remember that on this website I am talking about chronic low mood, sometimes diagnosed as persistent depressive disorder, formerly known as dysthymia, which is a chronic form of depression. It is very distressing to live with, but may allow some day-to-day functioning and decision-making. I am grateful that I have never suffered with major depression, bipolar depression or depression with psychosis and I am not recommending that an anti-depressant lifestyle is necessarily going to work for you if you have been diagnosed with any of these illnesses. It may, but you must seek medical advice. You must also seek medical advice immediately if you are considering harming yourself.



Save hate exercise
Jun 04

I Hate Exercise

By Vickie | Get Moving , Uncategorised


I do. I hate exercise. I always have and suspect I always will.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate the health benefits of exercise. I understand that sitting around all day is really not good for one’s physical, or, as it turns out, one’s mental health.

I was a skinny, weak little kid. My congenital heart defect meant that my lungs did not send enough oxygenated blood around my limbs, leaving me lethargic and lacking in energy.

Finally I had open-heart surgery at age 7, which enabled me to live beyond the age of about 20, for which I am very grateful. I remember after being bed-ridden and molly-coddled by my mother after my heart operation, finally racing outside and up the big oak tree near our house.

At 14 my mother told me to stand up straight. I stared at her and said I was.

“No”, she replied, “Your right shoulder is higher’.

I pulled up my shoulder and raised my right hip. Everything seemed a bit out of whack. It seemed I had Vickie Clayton Life Story

When I see how crooked I am, I really can’t believe the scoliosis wasn’t picked up earlier.

developed a severe scoliosis so familiar to many tall skinny people.

Yay! Back to hospital with me from which I emerged with a leather covered metal back brace (complete with plastic covered arm straps) which I wore for 6 months.

School sport was characterized by a mutual dislike and distrust of physical education teachers.

They disliked me and I loathed them.

One teacher told me to remove the t-shirt I wore under my sleeveless gym dress.

“It’s just with this brace, the straps are plastic and they rub on my underarms”, I tried to explain.
The teacher scowled. “Well, you’re going to get very hot”.

Thanks for pointing that out, oh-so-caring sports teacher who should have picked up my postural problems long before.

So my relationship with physical activity has been strained to say the least.

I was clumsy, unco-ordinated and couldn’t catch a ball to save my life. Netball and tennis made me feel inadequate (I was always put in the goal because of my height, but I couldn’t save a ball to save my life), hockey freaked me out (those wooden sticks and hard, hard ball), I nearly drowned in the swimming pool and point-blank refused to haul myself over the high jump bar.

The only physical activity I quite enjoyed was riding my bike and climbing trees. Something about the sense of freedom?

Whatever your physical condition, some sort of movement is essential for mental health.

Why is exercise so important for raising one’s mood?

As well as increasing blood flow to the brain, exercise also releases the body’s own antidepressant, endorphins.

People with depression are also lacking in another chemical, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which promotes memory and general brain health. Exercise has been shown to increase levels of this vital neurotransmitter.

How to get started with exercise when you’re feeling low and lacking in energy?

The trick is…well there are three tricks:

1/ Start small

You’re not running in the marathon next week, so you don’t need to start training like an Olympic athlete. A brisk walk of 15 minutes three times per week is an excellent start. Try to build up to 30 minutes over the following few weeks. exercise

Walking with a human or canine companion (or both!) is a great form of exercise.

2/ Make it enjoyable

While you’re walking, listen to your favourite music or comedy podcast, walk with a friend, or treat yourself to coffee and even a cake (after all, this is not about weight loss; it’s about creating serotonin) at the end.

3/ Schedule the time

Use your diary or phone to factor in three sessions of walking this week and at least one on the weekend. Once you have committed the time you are more likely to stick with your plan.

One brisk walk will make you feel good for some time after, but for ongoing mental health, you need to make exercise part of your weekly schedule.

Get moving and lift your mood!

Go on. Start. Start today. Start now.

Your brain will thank you! exercise

Your Brain Is A Muscle; Use It Or Lose It!


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