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May 12

Stop Rumination and Get Enough Sleep

By Vickie | Get Moving , Mediterranean Diet , Sleep Better

Is depression something you feel you can take control of?

Did you know that what you eat, how much you move and whether you get enough sleep can all affect your mood? In these three posts I’ll show you how making simple changes in these three areas can really help you feel better.

If you’ve been taking medication and believe that depression is a physical illness with an external cause, then you may find it hard to believe that your well-being is actually in your hands.

Thinking about moods, feelings and emotions as natural, rather than abnormal, may help you get treatment and feel better. That treatment may be self-sought and self-applied. That treatment might be to do more exercise and enjoy a better diet, include more social occasions and increase connectedness, get enough sleep and pursue more meaningful life. Get out of your head and into your body.

But you won’t do those things if you believe your moods are caused by something you can’t control.

What would be the point? You can’t make yourself produce more insulin if you’re diabetic no matter how hard you try. Same with an underactive thyroid. You can’t force your body produce more thyroxine. You have to take this in artificially.

The fact that some activities make you feel less down shows that you can produce, by setting your mind to it, the kinds of neurotransmitters which are involved in good feelings. This you cannot do with diabetes or thyroid malfunction. But you can with low mood.

This should be empowering. This means your health is in your hands. And in your body.

It does not mean, however, that your chronic low mood is your fault.

No, because we all do the best we can with the resources, knowledge and information we have at the time.

So what if your decision wasn’t the best one you could have made? You did your best at the time. You can change and choose to do better next time. Be kind to yourself.

Isn’t that empowering? Does that make you feel different about depression? That you could grow and learn to react differently and improve your knowledge and information and responses?

I guess if there is a ‘gift’ in depression it’s the opportunity for self-growth.

This post covers the first of the most important things you need to lift your mood and think more positively about the future: Sleep.

Sunshine and Sleep

Nobody operates well on less than the optimal amount of sleep. It’s the worst feeling, being sleep deprived. Many people experience poor sleep, insufficient sleep and move through their days in less than ideal form. The longer we go without adequate sleep, the worse we feel and it quickly becomes a downward cycle of misery.

Not getting good sleep is a characteristic of depression.

One of the things which interferes most with a good night’s sleep is rumination.

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Are you sleeping like a baby? Waking up every for hours crying?

Rumination is thinking things over and over and over, without reaching any conclusions or solutions. When we are depressed we often ruminate over our lives, our depressive symptoms, our hopeless future. We also go over conversations or incidents that occurred that day.

It’s very hard to go to sleep and stay asleep when our mind is churning over like a never ending factory machine.

 

 

How to turning off the rumination machine:

  1. In another room (not your bedroom), take a notebook or piece of paper and a pen and make notes about the things that are worrying you. Do not use whole sentences. Use bullet points and make brief notes about the people, situations, health or financial issues that you are facing. It might look like this:
  • Ask Dave (my manager) for a day off next week so I can visit my aunt who is very ill
  • Stop eating so much chocolate and cake: I must lose weight before Jenny’s wedding!
  • Start saving more money
  • See the doctor about that pain in my leg
  • Try not to be so nervous in meetings

2. Now that you have your list, note down one or two things you can do to solve each problem. For example:

  • Ask Dave (my manager) for a day off next week so I can visit my aunt who is very ill – I’ll ask him directly after our team meeting tomorrow morning
  • Stop eating so much chocolate and cake: I must lose weight before Jenny’s wedding! – After work tomorrow, go to the supermarket and buy some salad vegetables.
  • Start saving more money – Ring the cable company and cancel that TV subscription. I never use it anyway.
  • See the doctor about that pain in my leg – Ring Dr Roberts tomorrow in my lunch break

Try not to be so nervous in meetings – just take a few breaths before the meeting starts and go into the room with a smile on my face.

3. Now you have listed your main worries and provided a simple course of action. Close the notebook and put it away.

4. When you are lying in the dark, if your mind starts up with all your worries, say to yourself,

“I’ve thought about that problem and I’ve already come up with a solution. I’ve written down everything I need to do. I won’t forget. I don’t need to think about that problem any more. If I need to, I can think about it more tomorrow. Giving myself permission to switch off and go to sleep now”.

Like any new habit, this will take some practice. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find your mind going around and around. It probably will!

Just return to the thoughts above, “I don’t need to think about this now. I’ve already come up with the solution. Giving myself permission to switch off and go to sleep now”.

5. If you continue to worry and think about a particular problem, sit up in bed, or better yet, leave your bedroom and do a couple of EFT tapping rounds on that problem. Tapping on your body distracts your mind from thoughts. Don’t turn the main, bright light on! Use a torch or dim light. Then take a deep breath, go back to bed, relax and let yourself drift off to sleep.

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Enjoy your early morning coffee in the sun and reset your body clock.

When you wake in the morning, reset your body clock by getting early morning sunshine. Within an hour of waking, step outside and stand in the sunlight for 15 minutes. Don’t wear sunglasses and don’t look at the sun. The corners of your eyes have very sensitive light conductors that connect with your brain. These tell your body it’s time to wake up and will assist with the production of melatonin when the sun goes down and it’s time to rest. It’s important to reset your body clock to ensure regular circadian rhythms.

 

 

The next post discusses how getting enough exercise will help you get enough sleep and eliminate depression from your life.

 

 

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May 11

Lifestyle Change For Depression Recovery

By Vickie | Get Moving , Mediterranean Diet , Sleep Better

Lifestyle change is the key to living free from

chronic low mood.

When I understood that the crushing sense of sadness, frustration and disappointment I had experienced for so long was a result of stress caused by an unbalanced lifestyle, I set about putting the imbalance to rights.

I looked at each area of my life and made a decision about how I could make things better. After I had my moment of anger about the depression returning I set about finding solutions that were based in lifestyle change.

This is what I came up with:

How I got more active

It was clear from my reading that doing regular exercise is a wonderful anti-depressant and this put me in a quandary because I loathe exercise. This was one lifestyle change I was going to find difficult.

It’s not that I don’t like moving; I don’t mind walking and I used to ride a bike regularly in China, but I hate the idea of just walking on a treadmill, or a stationary bike, or lifting weights or even playing sport (I’m so unco-ordinated). Dr Ilardi suggests that we find it difficult going to the gym because we take a look at the stationary bikes, for example, and our brain says ‘Nooo, don’t get on…you’re not going anywhere!’¹

It seems that for the unmotivated, like me, exercise is done better with a sense of purpose and not just the purpose of fitness, even mental health. For me, exercise has to be linked to something useful or productive. So I had to incorporate my exercise into my everyday life.

However, while I was living in northern China, so much of the year is bitterly cold that it’s difficult to do outdoor exercise. So I joined a gym. I used the weight machines and treadmills but after that I did something fun; I took a dance class, salsa or Mongolian dancing. I made the ‘boring’ workout more interesting by taking upbeat music or an interesting podcast, but what I was looking forward to was the dancing.

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Walking in the park…get some sunshine, some fresh air and a much brighter mood!

Home in Melbourne, it was interesting how I began to slip back into my old ways, taking the car most places and being busy at work, not taking time to exercise after work. As the effect of not doing regular exercise became noticeable again in my mood, I was determined not to be so sedentary. I had to make this lifestyle change to resist the increasingly low mood.

I couldn’t think of anything worse than being stuck inside a gym, so I bought some tiny second-hand weights and walked in the park a few times each week.

The more I walked the better I felt and I began to incorporate more walking into my everyday life, leaving the car at home and using local facilities.

How I ate better:

When I was low in mood, I ate a lot of stodge; bread, pasta and rice.

I mostly did this because I didn’t have much money and meals were often pasta with tomatoes or commercially made paste, macaroni and cheese, rice with chicken in curry sauce out of a jar, or sausages and onion gravy.

I grew up understanding that a balanced diet is important and tried to eat fruit each week, but somehow the depression left me craving carbohydrate laden foods, and the sugar! Oh, I ate chocolate, cake and doughnuts often. I also ate a lot of fast food when I just couldn’t be bothered cooking.

Back then I really didn’t understand the connection between mood and food and that the foods I was choosing and the meals I was creating may have been keeping my mood depressed.

When I went to China, I knew I had to start eating better. I had to make a dietary lifestyle change. I was in a new country with a new start in life. I was determined to do things differently and set about finding sources of food that would sustain my health.

Next to the campus where I was teaching was a small collection of shops and I discovered a tiny fruit and vegetable shop owned by a smiley lady. Her shop was dark and the fruit and vegetables were stacked untidily around the walls. I choose carrots and beans, tomatoes and eggplants, onions and garlic, apples and watermelon. Other fruits and vegetables were obtained from the huge supermarkets in town.

My only concern was getting enough protein. Chinese butchers tend to sell the whole animal (it seems) and I’m no good at home-butchering. With no language skills I found myself having to make do with canteen meals containing meat and cooking vegetarian. In time I found a meat counter at one of the bigger supermarkets where I could use hand gestures to show I wanted a small portion of beef, for example (and some fatty minced pork for the various dogs I was forever adopting).

I also found tinned tuna, eggs and yoghurt, so that covered some of my protein and calcium requirements.

By the time I got back to Australia, I was eating a low-meat, high vegetable diet, though I still chose pasta and rice with most meals. Yes, changing my diet was an easy lifestyle change to make.

One thing I really missed in China was fresh herbs and spices to add flavour to my cooking. I had Chinese flavourings, sure, but I really missed fresh basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley and chives as well as spices.

When I moved from northern China to a city more centrally located, Xian, I had access to a wider variety of foods and I even found fresh basil. It was a bit wilted but I snapped it up with glee. It was the only time I found it; that supermarket had always run out whenever I returned. I adore the smell of basil; it transports me to exotic countries where the days are mellow and the sun is hot. China was fascinating, but my heart lies further west, around the Mediterranean.

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I love the fresh, delicious tastes of Mediterranean cooking.

When I returned to Melbourne from China I started my new teaching job at the university. It was busy and there was much to think about. I was trying to get my head around the curriculum, plan lessons, attend meeting and do assessments; things that were never needed in China because as a foreign English teacher, all these requirements were left up to me.

I began to feel the stress of the job mounting up and my mood dipping again.

I started to buy comfort foods on the way to or from work. Stopping in a fast food restaurant for a sausage and egg breakfast burger seemed a treat which sweetened the start of the work day. Going home, tired out and unhappy, I’d stop for a Chinese take away so I didn’t have to cook.

I heard my mother’s voice in my ear, ‘Carrots make you see well in the dark’ and ‘Fish is good for the brain’ and I knew my health would suffer if I continued down this path to my old, depressed ways of eating.

Somewhere I heard about the Mediterranean Diet and set about reading more.

The more I discovered, the more excited I became. Not only does the Mediterranean Diet have significant health advantages, it’s emphasis on fish and plant based foods is also very important for brain health. Not only that, the recipes just looked delicious.

I read further and knew that the Mediterranean Diet would be a perfect fit and an easy lifestyle change to make with its simple combinations of foods and flavours. Some meals could be frozen for convenience, but the added bonus from doing more cooking was that I was feeling like I was really taking care of myself and preparing meals was very satisfying, an accomplishment whereas before cooking and eating was more of a chore and definitely didn’t make me feel very good.

In the past I was focussed on just not being hungry and buying cheap, filling foods that were not enjoyable to prepare and even less enjoyable to eat.

Now, I was loving the preparation of the food, absolutely delighted by the look of the dishes with their bright colours and textures and loving eating the new, fresh flavours. My mood was definitely improving as a result of this important, dietary lifestyle change.

How I started sleeping better

My major stressors have always been work and where I’ve noticed the effect the most is in my sleep patterns.

Trying to build a business with seriously low mood is a recipe for disaster and I spent every evening dreading the long night time hours when I’d like awake, staring at the walls, tears often coursing down my face.

When I closed the business and retrained as an English teacher, that source of stress evaporated. I felt confident teaching in China, but when I returned to Australia, I found the teaching much more difficult and I slowly felt the stress creeping back.

As my stress around work increased, I got less and less sleep. My thoughts whirled around in my head. I had a particularly difficult class, with younger students who were disruptive in class, low motivation and poor participation.

Despite loving teaching in China, I began to wonder why on earth I had chosen to teach English as a second language. I had envisaged a class of adults, who were all keen to learn, who were courteous and determined. Instead, I had older teens (an age group I know nothing about) who were learning English under duress, were surly, bored and aggressive.

I went to bed each night dreading the next day. I found myself more and more weepy and unable to turn off the thoughts that invaded my mind each night when I laid my head on the pillow. I woke groggy and grumpy. Things were not going well for my mood.

My level of exercise had dropped and I was probably not physically tired enough to fall asleep easily. Not only that, but my internal body clock was out of whack. I was sleeping too late and finding it very difficult to wake up in the morning. I wasn’t spending enough outdoors to reset my body clock. 

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Your brain does important cleaning work while you’re sleeping; make sure you’re getting enough!

It was imperative that I learned to relax more and switch off those thoughts. It was imperative that I made sleeping better a lifestyle change urgently.

I went back to Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), a strategy for dealing with troubling thoughts and feelings I had learned many years before. This involves stimulating the traditional Chinese acupuncture points using the fingers instead of needles. Tapping on various parts of the face and upper body while stating emotions out loud clears the negativity held in the body by these emotions. I’m not entirely sure how it works, perhaps it just distracts us from our thoughts.

Each night I wrote out the problems or challenges I had experienced during the day and used this calming practice to soften my feelings about them. Writing out the problems I had had and also planning for the next day, not in detail, just in note form, helped to get those thoughts out of my head.

Then I took a warm shower and used lavender scented soap. I had a hot milk drink and read for about 30 minutes before turning of the light.

Lying in the dark, it did take some effort to shut off the thinking and I used mindfulness (especially of the breath) and relaxation techniques. With practice, these techniques were effective and I found myself dropping off into sleep more easily and remaining asleep during the night.

Getting out in the sunshine while having breakfast or early morning tea or coffee helped reset my body clock and dimming the lights around the house, switching off the computer and television and ensuring my room was cool and dark enough also improved the quality of my sleep. This is a simple lifestyle change that can make all the difference to your mood and daytime functioning.

How I started socialising more

I am a private, introverted person. With the exception of my 20s when I lived in shared houses, I have always lived alone. I enjoy and need time alone.

At university I went to parties or the pub and mostly enjoyed those occasions, but I usually had a sense of discomfort, of not being able to fully participate, of feeling a bit ‘on the outside’. I think this was a lack of confidence. I didn’t feel as witty or attractive as my friends (though they never intentionally made me feel like this; I have lovely friends!); instead I felt rather dull, uninteresting and serious.

I longed for more intimate gatherings in quiet venues with just a few close friends who shared similar interests as I did, without all the stress of going to parties.

As my mood dropped, the idea of meeting up with friends was something I began to dread. I felt terrible about myself and was convinced I’d make terrible company. At work I was around people constantly and I found it draining. When I got home I was greeted warmly by my dog and felt I needed no other companionship than my faithful, non-judgemental furry bear.

Nonetheless, there was something that made me long to share some part of my life with others and I think it was for that reason that I enjoyed the appointments with the psychologist. We had a cup of tea together and chatted about life. I also felt oddly comforted by the occasional visits of the local Seventh Day Adventist lady, Lorraine. Her gentle outreach lifted my mood.

So it was clear that to live without depression, some kind of social interaction was necessary and important.

But how?

This was another lifestyle change I was going to find difficult.

After I lost my job twice in three years I set up my own paralegal consultancy offering immigration advice. I had few clients but had read about the power of networking. In a moment of rare energy I found a local small business networking group in a neighbouring suburb and joined up.

We met weekly in a café for breakfast and to discuss business matters. I usually felt a tremendous sense of trepidation and anxious nervousness before the meetings. After all, I wasn’t a successful businesswoman by any means. Rather, at the beginning I felt a bit of an imposter, a fraud.

Nonetheless, I got myself up and dressed nicely and headed off in the early morning light to our café. The people were very friendly and welcoming and overall I enjoyed these gatherings very much, even if they didn’t contribute greatly to the growth of my business! It helped develop my identity as a business person and was a great lifestyle change, giving me interaction with like-minded small business people.

I also began to think about how much I had enjoyed dance in my life. From daggy jazz ballet classes at school and flamenco lessons in my 20s, I had always enjoyed moving to music. There was always a sense of not being very good at it, of self-consciousness and fear of what others may think, but I enjoyed it enough to go to classes regularly.

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There’s something incredibly joyful about dance!

I found a small local salsa class and started to go to the casual classes they offered. It was tiny, only about six of us were there at any given class. This suited me perfectly. I got to know the core group and become comfortable with them, even venturing out to clubs with them sometimes.

Looking back, this gave me many of the things you need for a anti-depressant lifestyle; friends and human contact, exercise and for me it was much more ‘cultural’ and meaningful than bopping about on a nightclub dancefloor where people are mostly showing off. This was a really important lifestyle change as it reconnected me with something I loved.

When invitations to coffee or meals out came from friends I still found myself dreading the approaching date. It took quite a long time for me to feel comfortable with more than a small handful of my very closest friends. I’m not sure why this should be. I know I did compare my life with theirs, my constant career changes with their steady rises up the professional ladder, my material possessions with theirs.

Before I headed off to China I had a small party to say goodbye to my loved ones and that was fun. When in China, it’s impossible to be alone for long (it’s a collectivist society where the group is paramount and your employer treats you like parents, regularly calling you to be involved in various activities including dinners). I made friends with my teaching colleagues, both foreign and Chinese and also with the students. I also got to know people who worked at the gym I attended and who had good English as well as through a book group I joined. My years in China were very social.

Back in Australia, my work kept me interacting with people, but it was my job that started to stress me out and I began to notice my life outside work began to be affected. I longed for the weekend when I could be alone. I started house-sitting for people who were away on their holidays, looking after their dogs and once again canine company was enough for me.

This was the time when I noticed my mood dropping and my thoughts turning more negative and before they could take a hold of me, I realised what was happening and that’s when I began my hunt for a solution, particularly in lifestyle change.

How I started living a more meaningful life

What do I mean by a ‘more meaningful life’? I’m not a philosopher, but what I mean by a ‘more meaningful life’ is one that is satisfying, that is rewarding, that makes you feel good.

My career path has been one of twists and turns. Every eight years or so I come to a cross-roads in my working life and find I need a change for some reason. At times I envy those people who have one set course in life and know what it is from early on. They know from childhood that all they ever wanted to do was be a nurse or a teacher or run their own business. I never had that. All I knew was that I was fascinated by the world, its history, cultures and peoples.

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Take time to reflect on your values and what gives meaning to your life.

So I went to university and studied archaeology. I wasn’t particularly bothered by the fact that there are few jobs in archaeology world-wide, let alone in Australia. I was happy in the world of 3000BC. To keep myself alive I temped. In the year I took off in between my third and fourth years I did a reception training course, learned how to type and answer phones, and started temping which stood me in good stead on and off for decades after that. I didn’t enjoy the work, but it wasn’t dreadful either.

By the time I finished my doctorate in archaeology I was so demoralised that I turned away from the field I had so enjoyed and retrained in immigration law.

Wow! Archaeology to immigration law. That’s a bit of a leap, isn’t it? Yes, but in my mind the link is an interest in people and culture.

I got a job where I could hear different languages spoken all around me and engage in cultural traditions and customs from around the world. This was one of the things that had attracted me to archaeology; the fact that I could travel and excavate in fascinating parts of the world. So while it wasn’t life BC, it was still an area that I loved.

But the community sector is poorly funded and for this reason I found myself without work twice in fairly rapid succession and for this reason thought that working for myself might be the solution. Of course I had no business experience and found it extremely difficult and this is when I might have experienced an episode of more severe depression.

When I finally got professional help with my ‘low mood’,  I decided that perhaps I should wind up the business and when my dog died, I knew it was time for a lifestyle change. There I was at another crossroads.

By this stage I thought I was just strange, a person who felt disconnected from the rest of my friends and family who had been in their work for some years, were starting to buy apartments, marry and start families. In contrast, my life looked totally different. In fact I felt I hadn’t really grown up and was still living like a university student.

Heading to China to teach English as a Second Language I felt like this was my last career, the thing I was meant to be doing with my life. I had a wonderful three years in China, developing my skills as a teacher, making friends, visiting fascinating places and recovering my sense of equilibrium. It was as though I had had a clean slate from which to start the rest of my life. I returned to Australia refreshed and ready to start teaching in Melbourne.

I got a job at a university in Melbourne in their English language centre. I felt like a fish out of water. I was still teaching, but the curriculum was set, the exams were prepared for me and the marking rubric used to grade them, I had to work with another teacher and attend meetings, CPD training sessions and basically found myself in way over my head.

I put a smile on my face and got on with the job, but it became clearer as the years went by that I was unhappy and feeling increasing stressed at work for a number of reasons.

I made a decision. I stopped caring about what other people thought of my working life and slowly slid out of the job. I was slowly coming to peace with my lifestyle, the life that society does not usually accept as normal. I began to think of myself as interesting, resilient and adventurous.

Now it’s your turn…

What can you do, today, this moment or this week to start putting your life back in order? What kinds of lifestyle change can you make to live a more fulfilling, enjoyable life?

I’ll let you know right here…

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If you have found this post helpful, please share it with Your friends! Thanks for spreading the word!

 

(1) Ilardi, S, 2010 The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs, Da Capo Lifelong Books.

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May 10

Can You Live Without Depression?

By Vickie | Uncategorised

It is possible to live without depression in your life.

Plenty of people have, including me.

But sadly, there are many who don’t.

This post will reveal what I believe is the one thing which separates those who believe that depression is with them for life (and therefore it is) and those who know they can live without depression forever.

What do you think depression really is?

For over six months I have read and participated in numerous Facebook groups, internet forums and blogs where people with depression share their opinions, stories and advice. Now, please understand I haven’t made a thorough or scientific study of people’s views of depression, its causes and treatments and whether they believe they can live without depression. These are merely general observations I’ve made and ideas that have occurred to me while engaging with people’s experiences as recorded online.

But I have noticed something interesting.

I’ve noticed three (fairly) distinct patterns emerging around people’s ideas about what depression is, their preferred treatment option and whether they believe that treatment will be effective. Of course there will be people who overlap two or even all of these groups, and there may be more than three groupings. The following are just some very general, first impressions that I’ve noticed:

Group 1: “Depression is an illness which I will experience forever and I need antidepressants to manage my ‘symptoms'”.

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Living with depression is truly miserable.

The first group includes people who believe depression is a biological sickness and that they need antidepressant medication to cope with everyday life.

People in this group also appear to believe that there is a high chance they’ll never be able to live without depression, but instead this is something they will struggle with for the rest of their lives, juggling bad days with better ones and hoping that ‘tomorrow will be better’.

The idea that there are other potential solutions for their depression can be met with hostility and an accusation that others are not taking their symptoms seriously. They may respond aggressively to the suggestion that taking a walk or catching up with friends could alleviate their low mood.

“I’m on lots of medications, but I’ll take them because I think they stop me sinking into severe depression. But I feel so bad right now and I know I’ll always have depression.” –post to a depression Facebook group

“I don’t believe that my depression, which I’ve had for most of my life, is curable with drugs; but it’s manageable with them. I’ve been through child psychiatrists, adult psychiatrists, community psychiatry, psycho-analysis – all of it achieved nothing.” –comment on antidepressant article.

“Other people might be able to do more exercise, go for a walk or play sports or do hobbies but I am not able to do any of them if my brain chemistry isn’t fixed through medication first. It takes a while to find the right meds and even then it might not fix the depression. If the meds can’t nothing else will.”

Many people in this group indicate that depression is a ‘physical illness just like diabetes. You wouldn’t tell a person with diabetes not to take insulin, would you?’

“You wouldn’t try to “shake off” a broken ankle or a chronic allergy. You’d probably take something without even thinking about it”. -Depression forum post.

“In my opinion, depression, unlike other diseases, is with you for the long haul.  Although if you suffer from depression life can get better, but only by managing the disease.  Similarly, diabetics manage their condition with insulin, a person with depression manages their symptoms with medication”. –post on mental health organisation website

People in this group often use quite ‘warlike’ language when describing their depression. They talk about ‘fighting and beating the depression’, ‘battling through each day and never giving up’ and that people who do this are ‘heroes’.

“Reading your posts gives me have hope. I am battling with depression and go through hell everyday. Reading about your experiences shows me I’m not the only one. You are so brave to share your story with the world”.

“You have so much strength and to combat your depression. My enemy is an everyday battle, too”

“It’s good to read about people who have struggled, and are still struggling but have shown the power to overcome. I keep going because I have to. Our true strength keeps us going through the bad days, that people don’t understand and will never understand.

This group also seems to be most sensitive to the idea that they may be stigmatized for their mental ‘illness’, especially for taking psychopharmacological treatment.

There’s also a certain ambivalence about psychological counselling and less commitment to investigating the part that emotions play in the maintenance of depression.

There is a very real desperation in this group.

Some may be facing economic hardship, dysfunction in relationships and other serious physical health challenges.

They are in a great deal of pain and are at a loss as to how to help themselves. They feel burdened by their depressive mood, lack of energy, motivation and sense of guilt and worthlessness. So many feel let down by (and angry with) friends and family, alone and without support; they go on forums and Facebook groups to find others who understand. This group rarely expresses any hope that they might one day live without depression. 

Group 2: “I’m willing to learn how to become aware of my thinking and change what’s not

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Accepting difficult feelings is an important step in living without depression.

working. If I can think a bit more positively, my depression will be easier to cope with”.

The second group of people believe psychological factors play a role in the development of depression and they seem happy to engage in counselling and psychotherapy instead of, or in addition to, antidepressant medication.

They believe that it is possible to live a fairly normal and productive life by changing the way they think to eliminate negative thought processes and practice focusing on the positive, even if they don’t believe it’s possible to live without depression entirely. They may have shifted from believing depression is biological in origin to acknowledging the role of stress and emotional dysfunction. They may hold the view that while there are bad days, ‘these too shall pass”.

“I started to think depression is not permanent when I stopped allowing other people to have power over what I feel and my emotions”. –comment on depression forum

“Recovery from depression is never straight forward.  You will always have good days and bad days.  With time, however and good strategies learned from therapy – we’ll have more good days. So for me, I don’t know if my depression will stop completely – but there will be times when it doesn’t impact my experience of life.”- comment on a depression forum

“By learning Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I starting noticing if I was going through a rough patch again and to do things to make this depressive episode less debilitating. For example, I learned about distracting activities, keeping a journal, positive self-talk, self-care, and just how to get through days when I was really low on energy. I may always have depression, but I know I won’t always feel depressed.” – comment in response to an article about other solutions to depression

Again, the suggestions made by people in this group are not always accepted and they may be accused of being condescending towards those with depression. Their good intentions and attempts to help others live without depression are often translated as accusing depressed people of ‘not wanting to be well’ or ‘not trying hard enough’ and that they should ‘just think positive’ and ‘snap out of it’.

“Telling a depressed person to think positively and snap out of it is, as the other poster said, condescending. It also destroys the legitimacy for mental illness which people have fought so hard to have recognised”. – comment on a depression forum

“While I appreciate that these steps were helpful for you, every case is different. I believe in the biological cause of depression. We should not be blamed for feeling depressed”.  – comment on a depression forum

Group 3: “Depression need not be a life sentence and dealing with stress, reviewing my thinking style and lifestyle changes will help me live without depression”.

The third group, people who believe depression is caused by stress and exacerbated by negative thinking, seem to be the most optimistic about making a full recovery.

They are willing to try ‘alternative’ therapies such as meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices, as well as exercise and dietary changes. They are open to ‘personal development’ and are prepared to work on building self-compassion and resiliency in the face of difficult challenges. They also believe finding meaning in life is important to feeling better and are willing to take a look at their life in a holistic way and choose lifestyle changes.

“If you say “enough” and ask yourself why you’re depressed and find ways to put an end to the reasons for your depression, your stress and worries, you can get out of depression forever. You need to find the cause of it. I had depression but I got rid of it after I realised what was going wrong and changed it.” – comment on depression forum

“Depression is totally treatable. When I was struggling badly with depression, I used to ask myself, ‘will I ever be free of this, ever be happy again’. But there are lots of ways that you can get help: it completely depends on how willing you are to find something that works for you be it therapy, meditation, yoga, CBT, exercise, anything. Even though you may feel now you’ll never be free of depression, you will be if you look for solutions and implement them”. – comment on depression forum

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Get involved in a hobby, a project with other people and regular physical activity will go far in recovering from depression.

“Depression is an awful experience, but it is way more than manageable. You can live without it if you want. There are loads of effective ways to manage, cope, and overcome depression from therapy, or talking to trusted friends, finding new interests and hobbies, stop eating junk, meeting new people, thinking-coping strategies. Find the courage to take the first step”. – comment on depression forum

Again, posting about an alternative treatment someone has found useful can lead to accusations of fueling stigma or being patronising over or shaming those struggling with depression symptoms, for example this response to a post by a young fellow who had discovered how much better his mood was with regular exercise:

“I’m sorry, but your post is really insulting. If you can cure ‘depression’ by going for a run around the park, it wasn’t really depression! Medications have been very effective for me.  Your post is what makes people believe that depression is not really a disease.  Would you tell people with AIDS and cancer to cure their illnesses by going to the gym? Why do people think this disease is any different?” – comment on depression forum

People in this group may have more of a sense of compassion towards themselves and others. Their desire to share what has worked for them may lead to an accusation of ‘not really being depressed’ because for the people in the first and many in the second, being depressed means being sick and often means being sick forever. Stories of recovery are looked upon with suspicion.

What If Depression Wasn’t Biologically Based NOR In Any Way Your Fault?

For the people in the first group, any suggestion that depression is not biologically based puts the blame for depression on them instead.

Because if it’s not caused by a lack of neurotransmitters, or neurotransmitters that are not doing a good job, or if it’s not in your genes, it must be your fault, yes?

You must have brought it on yourself. You’re just trying hard enough.

No.

What if there was a third way of looking at depression? One that is based more on the philosophy of those in the third group? The group that is most pro-active in defying their depression and which has the greatest optimism to live without depression? The people that treat themselves kindly when they stumble? The ones who are open to acknowledging the part that they may play, without any sense of blame, in the continuation of depression in their lives?

Are we Responsible for the Source of Our Stress?

Our childhood and teenage life experiences form our emotional styles and it is our emotional style which dictates how we respond to our life experiences in adulthood.

When you read the depression forums, it is rare to read a story where the depression came ‘out of the blue’ with absolutely no external trigger, no matter how large or small.

Even people who claim they ‘have always been depressed’ often talk about childhood abuse, physical or mental trauma, stifling or neglectful parenting. They may describe their childhood as happy, but their father being rather controlling, or their mother having her own physical or mental troubles. Or they may have felt they had happy childhoods (like me) but for some reason, an experience has created a view of themselves that has impacted their experience of life.

Their experiences have turned into messages about themselves and life and these messages formed emotional styles which they use, as adults, to cope with life’s stresses.

“About a year ago, a young mother called me, extremely distressed. She had become seriously sleep-deprived while working full-time and caring for her dying grandmother every night. When a crisis at her son’s day-care center forced her to scramble to find a new child-care arrangement, her heart started racing, prompting her to go to the emergency room.

After a quick assessment, the intake doctor declared that she had bipolar disorder, committed her to a psychiatric ward and started her on dangerous psychiatric medication. From my conversations with this woman, I’d say she was responding to severe exhaustion and alarm, not suffering from mental illness”.[1]

Life is full of stressors. It asks a lot of us – from caring for our families, making ends meet, completing

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So many things to remember everyday…we all face stresses, big and small.

studies and other training, our own physical health, relationships, children, career – potential stressors are all around us.

Sometimes our stressors seem small and we may even feel guilty for carrying stress about them.

How we respond to those stressors depends a great deal on our emotional style and the resources we have around us.

Some people are willing and able to ask for help and have people to ask for that help while others believe they must soldier on alone or indeed don’t have the social and financial resources to bring in other help.  Others may realise something needs to change but just not know how, while others may sink into a feeling that ‘this is all life has to offer. Life is hard and then you die’.

So if depression begins in a life stressor which is not dealt with appropriately because the person has an ineffective or unhelpful emotional style or little insight into the stressor does that mean I’m suggesting that people with depression are to blame?

Not in the least.

No. Certainly not.

But thinking of depression as caused by something ‘out there’, external to you or your ability to manipulate it, is incredibly disempowering.

Surely there is more than just the theory which says depression is biological and therefore there’s no chance you’ll live without depression permanently.

Or the idea that you are a victim of life’s circumstances and therefore there’s little you can do about it permanently.

 if you are in the throes of the depressive symptoms, it is quite hard to suddenly just think positive. I don’t think it is effective or realistic simply to sit on the couch and will yourself into feeling happy. I don’t think happiness happens like that!

Nonetheless, changing your thinking is absolutely essential as our thinking dictates our emotional choices. While it’s probably a tall order to try to ‘think happy’, it’s more possible to ‘not focus so much on the negative’ or even ‘be satisfied with neutral’.

Changing thinking comes naturally within the context of other actions, so that you have something to feel positive about. Setting teeny tiny goals and taking action to reach them will produce feelings of pride and pleasure which can be expanded to believe that more the future could be a bit brighter.

What if there was a third option?

What if depression was caused by unsolved stress and that was not your fault?

If you decide after reading this that your depression has been caused by unsolved stress and that your current coping mechanisms are actually the very best you can do right now, do you believe you can live without depression?

What would that life look like?

Do you remember a time without depression? Many people claim that they have ‘always been depressed’, that they were ‘depressed since childhood’. 

Perhaps some children are depressed, or there may be children like me who were quiet around others, enjoyed their own company, creative, imaginative children who had rich inner lives which nourished them.

It’s possible the adults around me considered me depressed, but as a child I was quite content with my books, my stuffed toys and the stories I wrote for myself. When I hit my teenage years I felt more unsettled, physically different to others in my ugly back brace and unable to participate in sports.

My confidence and self-esteem dropped and I remember being more conscious of being the ‘skinny nerdy girl who reads a lot’. If I hadn’t had medical ‘evidence’ that I was defective, these years may not have brought the host of negative self-talk and message that I believe they actually did.

I began to wonder what was wrong with me. As a uni student I began to wonder whether my life was ‘really strange’ because I wasn’t so keen on parties and while there were dates, there was no particular boyfriend. I began to wonder what other people had that I didn’t; an active social life, confidence, big groups of laughing, attractive, amazing friends.

How do you believe non-depressed people live?

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Living without depression is not all about sunshine and rainbows; it’s about knowing the sun is there even when it’s pouring.

“How do I feel? Awful, today. I just cancelled lunch with my one friend because I can’t stand being with someone who is happy all the time…”-comment on depression forum

“After a long time of looking for a job I found one that I love and I’m successful at it. So I should be feeling pretty happy. When I get home I feel horrible again. It seems that only a few short hours of happiness is all I’m allowed”. – comment on depression forum

Do you imagine those without depression wake up every morning full of beans, leap out of bed to a healthy breakfast, go to work in a bright and cheerful mood, achieve massive goals throughout the day, return home to their smiling spouse and delightful children and pull out the monopoly for a jolly evening of family fun?

Sometimes people who live with chronic low mood have a very high expectation of life without depression. They seem to believe that when you don’t have depression, every day is happy and joyful.

I think this might come from an unhelpful interpretation of the emotion ‘happiness’.

Happiness is an emotion that comes and goes, like every other emotion. It doesn’t stay with you all the time.

When there is no particular emotion being experienced, you’re in a neutral emotional place; neither happy nor sad. I suspect most of our days are spent in this place.

When I read the depression forums, I notice that people with depression seem to have an exaggerated view of what it is like to live without depressive symptoms.

There seems to be a great discomfort around not being a shiny happy person every moment of every day.

Stigma seems to have come from the idea that we, as human beings, should be happy all the time. This is not possible or natural. But it’s what society desires.

‘Tomorrow will be better! Happiness is a choice’ the memes cry out.

An absence of happiness in any given moment does not mean depression is there in its place.

A moment without happiness may be a moment of anger, boredom, frustration, or just neutrality.

I expect I spend the vast majority of my day in the ‘emotionally neutral zone’, neither happy nor sad. Then a friend tells a funny incident and I laugh and I feel happy. Then I go back to neutral. Then I think of a complex task I need to do and I go into ‘determined’ mode, or non-emotional ‘just get it done mode’.  At the end of the task I feel proud and happy that I’ve achieved that goal.

We seem to have become uncomfortable with the idea of deep and profound unhappiness or… Click To Tweet Clearly, it’s not a pleasant place to be. We don’t want to have negative feelings.

It’s not nice to be ticked off at work, get a parking ticket, come down with the flu, be burgled, crash the car, have an argument with a loved one, lose a special item, be forced to cancel a holiday. We don’t enjoy these negative feelings that come with disappointments and losses, but we understand that they are a natural part of life.

For example, when I lost a job through funding cuts, initially I was shocked, hurt, upset and a bit concerned about where to find another. As the weeks went by and I had a few casual jobs here and there, my negative feelings increased and my mood dropped. After about 6 weeks I got a job I was equally satisfied with and my mood lifted again.

Nothing that happened in my mood was unnatural and although I met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder’s criteria for major depressive disorder, I certainly wasn’t sick.

Being a human my brain generated the moods that are quite normal under the circumstances, even though they were unpleasant at the time.

Even much deeper, more prolonged negative feelings of sadness or dissatisfaction are not grounds for illness, though it does become more urgent to change those negative thoughts and the life circumstances which led to them before them become a brain ‘habit’.

There is no stigma attached to being unhappy and dissatisfied, other than the stigma we ourselves as a society create. There are many things happening in the world about which we should be very concerned; climate change, war, famine, overpopulation, loss of habitat and species, poverty, lack of education, family violence…the list goes on.

But turning natural human feelings and emotions into sicknesses is to head down a very slippery slope.

Can you help yourself?

It’s interesting…many mental health support websites put medication and psychological treatment as their two top treatment options. But there’s usually hidden somewhere under a tab called ‘Hints and tips for keeping well’ or ‘Try these self-help ideas’ as if they are hiding bashfully away somewhere. If you look a bit more closely at many mental health organisation’s websites you may notice at least some funding from pharmaceutical companies, or psychiatrists with pharmaceutical industry connections!

Hmmm, interesting…

Hidden under the hints and tips tabs are often very well researched strategies to help you live without depression. You may be encouraged to ‘get regular exercise’ or ‘eat better’. It is suggested you phone a friend for a walk or eat more salmon. You may also be encouraged to get a hobby, or try yoga or mindfulness.

It is odd that such proven depression-beating strategies are not given a more prominent place on mental health organisation’s websites. Perhaps they also believe in the medical model; the one that ‘protects from stigma’, but may well be ‘protecting’ you from living with depression as well.

It is good that these strategies are on mental health websites, but it might be useful for them to offer some practical advice on how to make them part of your life.

It’s difficult to get started with physical activity when you’re feeling lacking in energy or whip up a brain-healthy meal when all you have the energy for is to call for a pizza.

These sites don’t really follow through, do they? They say, ‘Oh and while you’re on meds, do try to go for a walk every day’ but there’s no other support or advice on how to get started if you’re feeling really low on energy. I guess they assume that the antidepressants will fulfil their promise and give you enough oomph to get moving.

And for some they do.

And for many they do not.

Can you help yourself live without depression? Indeed you can.

But you may need allies.

 So what’s the key to living depression free?

Believe that you can. Open your mind. Try something new. Try something that you desperately, desperately do not want to do. Like going for a walk.

I don’t say that lightly. I am not belittling your pain. The idea that you can live without depression probably feels like a fairy tale right now. It did for me too, once a upon a time!

And I’m not suggesting that life without depression is roses and rainbows and riding off into the sunset either. That would not be realistic or natural or even wanted. You should review your idea of life without depression if you think it means sunshine and strawberries every day.

But you can eliminate your depression symptoms and give yourself a pretty good chance of not having to suffer with them again.

How to do this?

Click here to find out.

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Imagine life without depression today.

 

[1] Paula Caplan

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May 08

Is It My Fault for Being Depressed?

By Vickie | Uncategorised

Before I sought professional help for my chronic low mood I thought it was just me.

I thought I was weak-willed, pathetic and feeble and that I just had to pull myself together and snap out of it. Each day I woke up hoping that these dreadful feelings would disappear by themselves and I would feel peace and contentment.

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Is it your fault for being depressed?

I blamed myself for being lazy and useless, constantly asking myself, ‘Is it my fault for being depressed?’

‘What have you got to be depressed about?’ I asked myself, aggressively. ‘Come on, you’re not trying hard enough. Look at all the poor and hungry people in the world. At least you have a home and enough to eat. Stop complaining and get on with it’.

And yet there was another part of me which knew I wasn’t lazy, not complaining, not contemptible.

I had battled my through a PhD, retrained in a para-legal profession and set up my own business. These were not small achievements. But that part of me wasn’t big enough or strong enough to overcome the feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy I felt every single day.

I did wonder if there was a biological basis for these feelings which seemed to worsen around period time. I recorded my feelings daily (and food and exercise, according to a book I had found at the library) for three months, expecting to see spikes at particularly times of the month, but the graph went up and down throughout the time. It seemed I felt pretty bad most of the time.

The journey from chronic low mood, despair, sorrow, frustration and dissatisfaction took years and was very much a trial and error process.

Two Important Steps

There were two things that helped me recreate my life, and these two things did not happen at the same time.

1/ Initially, talking to the doctor and a psychologist

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Can I help you?

The doctor gave me a prescription for antidepressants and I remember feeling a massive amount of relief.

With hindsight, I’m firmly of the belief that the antidepressants worked due to the placebo effect. I remember telling friends that they had worked instantly, that I had started to feel better that day. I expected to feel better and I did. Now I understand that antidepressants take some weeks to take full effect, if they do at all.

I now believe that the reason I felt such relief was because I had let someone else into my secret, I had revealed my chronic sadness and guilt and utter hopelessness and sharing the awful feelings was such a relief. Telling the doctor about my daily torment felt good. And I began to wonder whether it was not my fault for being depressed after all.

I also felt I was finally taking action which could have a real and lasting effect on my health.

Talking to others and taking action were two decisions that gave me a much needed dollop of dopamine and which changed my brain for the better.

Who can you talk to about your ongoing low mood and unpleasant emotions?

It could be the family doctor, but you could also speak to a good friend or family member, a close neighbour, a minister or faith leader, a psychologist or counsellor or colleague at work. Find someone you have a close connection with, who you know will be compassionate, concerned and willing to help.

2/ Getting rid of the main stressor in my life: my business.

It was only with hindsight that I realised the business was at the origin of my depression. It certainly wasn’t my fault for being depressed. But it was clear I was getting nowhere fast with my business and that was stressing me out.

I was beginning to resent the clients I had at first fought so hard for, the migrants and refugees who needed my help rebuilding their families. They had little money and I annoyed myself by charging fees that were just too low.

However, to take on the much more lucrative client base of the skilled migrants and businesses which employed them I had to learn much more complex law and have the confidence to deal with these businesses as a business, and I still couldn’t visualise myself as a businesswoman.

My confidence was still very low and checking email and phone messages used to fill me with such dread. What horrible demand were they going to put on me? What were they going to complain about today? I couldn’t bear it.

So I closed it up.

I saw the immigration processes that were current through to the end and then I shut up shop.

Oddly enough, I didn’t see myself as a total failure. I was able to reflect on the people I did help and claim the role I had had in that.

But I did see myself as a business-operations failure and a complete financial failure.

Nonetheless, closing the business eliminated the greatest stressor in my life.

I registered with temping agencies and went back to answering phones at the switchboard and greeting visitors at reception. It was simple, light-hearted work that I was able to leave at the end of the day.

My depressive mood, particularly the sense of hopelessness began to fade as I began to plan out the next stage of my life.

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Are you willing to make changes?

It certainly wasn’t my fault for being depressed, but I did have a responsibility to myself for avoiding it in the future.

These two actions saw the start of my journey to recovery; telling someone and getting professional help and eliminating the biggest stressor.

From there, it was a matter of building my life back up again; finding a career I enjoyed, participating in interests I loved and having new experiences.

To that list I would now add the following step, which I didn’t know of at the time but which I have now read and thought about greatly:

To recover from depression you have to have a good hard think about what you believe depression is, why it’s in your life and what you can do to eliminate those depressive thoughts and behaviours. And you need to stop telling yourself that ‘it’s my fault for being depressed’.

Do antidepressants cure depression?

For so long we’ve been told that depression is a physical illness with a biological cause. In fact, scientists don’t really know specifically what it is about the mind or brain what causes someone to have an ongoing low mood.

Nonetheless, big pharmaceutical companies have developed a range of drugs which doctors regularly prescribe for their patients. A quick glance through any depression forum or Facebook group will show how poorly these drugs perform and yet how convinced people are about their need to take them.

Depressed people appear willing to put up with a suite of serious and nasty side effects from their antidepressants. They are willing to be shifted from one drug, or have others added to the mix, in order to another to alleviate these side effects. They appear resigned to remain on antidepressants for years.

If antidepressants treat the cause of depression, they don’t seem to be doing a very good job.

I went off my antidepressants of my own choice three times of the period of the 8 years I took citalopram (aka cipramil, celexa, an SSRI antidepressant). On the first two occasions my mood dropped. I went back to the doctor and got a new script. Once again I started to feel better. I decided I was stuck with the

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To recover with medications or not?

antidepressant drugs forever.

Surely if my mood dropped when I stopped taking the meds that’s evidence the antidepressants were working?

Not necessarily.

Remember the placebo effect? I think I got the benefit of that each time I sought professional help. The reason the antidepressants didn’t make me feel better is that I didn’t make the necessary life changes needed to live without persistent low mood.

The first two times I went off the drugs was during the period I was still closing up the business. I still had difficult clients to get through the immigration process (which can take years) and also during that time my beloved dog Frances died, leaving me absolutely bereft.

I hadn’t changed my lifestyle or thinking patterns sufficiently to help myself out of the stress which causes low mood. In some ways I still believed it was my fault for being depressed.

The last time I went off the antidepressants was because I simply ran out. I was living in China and did not calculate properly how many I would need to get me home, and I ran out about 3 months prior to leaving.

I felt no dip in my mood.

I had been very happy in China, having a wonderful experience living and travelling in another country, doing a job I enjoyed, making friends and taking regular exercise. I had made the lifestyle changes that were keeping me well.

What I didn’t know was that there was such a thing as an antidepressant lifestyle. I just did the things that made me feel good, without thinking much more about it.

Back in Australia and within 18 months I was feeling those miserable feelings creeping back.

Looking back, I realise now that I had allowed another stressor into my life, without meaning to, of course. But it wasn’t my fault for being depressed: I just hadn’t realised yet that living with stress caused my mood to plummet.

I felt an increasing amount of stress from work. I was still enjoying teaching English, this time at a prestigious Melbourne university. My students were international students planning on doing degrees in Melbourne.

But my students were very unmotivated and I spent far longer on classroom management issues than I did on teaching, which was quite discouraging. I also felt far less experienced than my colleagues. In fact, I was beginning to feel like an imposter, as though I didn’t know how to teach. Finally I found it hard to cope with the amount of administration work (there was none in China; I worked virtually on my own designing my own curriculum and creating my own classes).

The work environment was a bit hostile, we worked far harder and far longer than we were paid for, our employer had very high expectations of us teachers and was not very supportive. The curriculum was boring and our students unmotivated.

I began to feel very alone and out of place.

The stress came back and with it, my mood plummeted.

As you may know by now, however, this time I didn’t go running back to the doctor.

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Anger is a more motivating emotion than sadness…

I just got angry.

I was fed up with feeling bad and made a decision not to let my mood impact my life in a negative way. I wasn’t sure whether it was my fault for being depressed, but I was determined that I wasn’t going to let it take over again.

The Antidepressant Lifestyle.

No, I don’t mean taking antidepressant drugs as a lifestyle choice!

When my mood started to dip again, I started to educate myself; to read books and online articles, really think about depression and how it’s treated, how lifestyle factors – exercise, nutrition, getting together with friends, doing enjoyable things – and thinking patterns relate to depression and its symptoms.

I was determined to treat myself, without antidepressants[1].

As a result of my research and life experiences, I have been on a journey to discovering how to live without depression for over ten years.

What I have discovered has utterly changed my life.

Here are the practical achievements I have had on the road to living without depression:

  1. I have retrained as an English as a Second Language teacher
  2. I went overseas and set myself up to live in China
  3. I wrote a book and launched it at Melbourne’s biggest writers’ festival
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    Despite the smile, I was quaking inside.

  4. I wrote another book and both are now selling through Amazon.
  5. I started (but have not completed, several other books). I love to write!
  6. I got a job at a prestigious Melbourne university
  7. I kept a positive outlook through my father’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s and ongoing deterioration
  8. I have worked on two archaeological digs (a return to my very first ‘career’ which was a passion but which I let go, to years of regret). This was huge for me after pushing away my strong feelings of sadness and regret at abandoning archaeology
  9. I have transformed my diet to one based on the Mediterranean Diet
  10. I’ve been able to help my mother through my father’s illness and ultimately supported her through her own move to permanent care.
  11. I’ve completed a Certificate IV in Life Coaching so that I can assist others to find the peace that I have in life

My mind is also at peace.

Of course life throws unexpected problems, but I am able to handle the challenges that will always be there because I have developed:

  • A positive way of thinking about myself, other people and our relationships
  • Practical skills to deal with the negative thoughts and feelings that inevitably arise because I am human
  • Daily habit of mindfulness
  • Open-mindedness, flexible thinking, and a sense of curiosity about what goes on around me
  • Daily habit of gratitude
  • Self-compassion, self-worth, quiet confidence, support for myself in all my life decisions. I am my own best friend!
  • A resilient mind

What would you do in your life if you could live with joy?

What practical accomplishments would you love to achieve?

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Can you see yourself living without depression?

What kind of mindset would you like to develop?

Do you believe you can?

To create a joyous life and all the benefits and rewards that brings, you need to be open to the possibility that the cause of your low mood is more than some biological problem in your brain. I think the brains of depressed people have all their working parts.

It’s just that people who experience chronic low mood seem to use their minds and brains in slightly different ways to those who experience life more positivity, and it is these differences which seem to keep some people in distress. One of those ways might be believing that they are at fault for being depressed, when this is not an effective way of helping yourself out of depression.

So to create a depression-free life you need to quiet that voice that is telling you that you can’t do it, you can’t create a joyful and rewarding life. You need to stop telling yourself that ‘it’s my fault being depressed’.

This might be tricky at first.

We’ve all been told for decades now that depression is physical, that it is an illness like diabetes or even cancer. We’ve been told we need pharmacological solutions. But there’s no known physical cause.

So maybe it’s something you did? No, don’t blame yourself either.

If this is you, let me offer you this hope:

It is my firm belief that you can alleviate your low mood by doing what I did; change your lifestyle and learn to think differently.

Overwhelming distress, frustration and pessimism that goes on for years and years and years is triggered by some kind of stressor, but ultimately perpetuated by the thinking patterns that have been learned or taken on over years, possibly since childhood.

These thinking patterns might include not thinking very much of yourself, believing you’re not as good as others, not pretty, young, clever or popular enough to live the life you deserve. If you have a pessimistic mindset, believe that others are responsible for your happiness and feel blue for much of the time, when the stressful event comes along, you don’t have the coping skills to get through it.

Sometimes these stressful events are not major life challenges like illness or bereavement, relationship breakup or job loss. They may be the everyday hurts and problems that become enlarged through our own negative thinking.

Telling yourself ‘it’s my fault for being depressed’ is another of those unhelpful thoughts. So stop that right now.

So, Is It My Fault For Being Depressed?

If I don’t believe in the biological basis for depression theory, am I blaming people with depression for their depression?

No, no and no. I am not.

You see, I believe in people. I believe in the innate goodness of people, the vast majority of normal people, I mean.

The majority of normal people, ordinary people like you and me, just want to get on with life, enjoy life as much as they can, live in harmonious relationships, achieve a few things along the way, have happy marriages and raise happy children, go on holidays and just live normal happy lives.

We all do the best we can with the knowledge, resources and information we have at the time. We use our experiences to make the best possible choices available to us.

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/broken-2091023_19201.jpg fault for being depressed

Life throws disappointments our way, but we can build our resilience…

Unfortunately, nasty surprises get in the way of such happiness – illness, relationship breakdown, accidents, job loss, money problems – and we feel let down and disappointed.

We may have always felt a bit low in mood, as though life is against us, nothing ever goes our way. People seem to be against us too. Our self-esteem drops and we develop a lack of self-confidence. Life never goes our way because we are failures; there is something wrong with us, we think.

Or perhaps we feel life doesn’t go our way because other people are to blame. People who perhaps also don’t have adequate coping skills, have behaved in ways that hurt us. Like they did when we were kids. Frightening us, bullying us and putting us down instead of developing our self-confidence so that we can go out and face the challenges of life.

Perhaps our father drank and his behaviour frightened us when we were little. Perhaps our mother was absent much of our childhood. Perhaps our sports coaches and teachers told us life was terrible and tough and we’d never survive.

Perhaps they were still doing the best they could, albeit way below the standard that we would expect of parents, teachers and coaches.

The stories we heard about ourselves when we were younger form our view of life and of ourselves in relation to life.

So perhaps it’s their fault you have depression?

No. Can we stop talking about blame?

It’s not serving you to tell yourself that it’s ‘my fault for feeling depressed’ or that it’s ‘my Dad’s fault, or my Mum’s fault, or my teacher’s fault’.

Enough of the blame.

Learning to Believe I was Defective

Throughout my childhood I was constantly taken to doctors who examined me and pronounced me faulty. I was born with a heart defect – not a particularly rare one, not a difficult one to correct – and it was not operated on until I was 7. So for the first 7 years of my life I was wrapped in cotton wool, taken to doctors and hospitals, attached with wires to machines, told to eat more and wear more clothes, for fear of catching colds. I realised I wasn’t normal; I was weak, vulnerable and likely to break. I was constantly watched over.

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com Vickie Clayton Life Story

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

When I reached about 14 my mother realised I had developed severe curvature of the spine, so severe that only surgery would prevent a collapse of my right lung. Back to the doctor’s rooms, hospitals, machines that go ping. I had the operation to secure a metal rod to my spine. I grew two inches and felt tall, gangly, flat chested and very, very unattractive.

Now, all the adults in my early childhood were caring, gentle and kind, but the message I received from all the poking and prodding was that I was not good enough. I had physical defects which made me weak, different, pathetic and ugly.

None of this is true, however, but when I encountered difficulties in my adult life, those feelings would come right back. I’m not good enough, I’m defective, I’m ugly, I’m not strong enough, I lacked confidence.

Those adults were doing the best they could to ensure that my medical conditions were treated and I’m forever grateful to the surgeons who essentially gave me the length and quality of life that I enjoyed.

Nobody stopped to think what might be happening inside that little girl’s mind. But they didn’t do that deliberately. They were doing the best they could with the resources, knowledge and information they had at the time.

Responding to Life’s Challenges

The point is that how we react to the normal challenges of life is a result of how we think about ourselves, other people and life in general. Those thoughts and beliefs are built on messages we receive about ourselves and life in general, often from when we are very young. Some of those messages are associated with assigning blame, including ourselves, that it’s our fault for being depressed.

If our reactions are not the optimal ones for us, we can blame the people who encouraged us to think that way, or we can choose to believe that we have the ability to change those reactions for ones that serve us better.

For example, let’s say you didn’t get the promotion at work which you were hoping for. You can either react by stressing out and blaming others (your employer for favouritism, your spouse for not supporting you, your father for always telling you that you were good for nothing) or you can take the experience and use it to help you the next time you apply for a promotion.

Blaming others, feeling stressed, losing sleep, letting your work productivity slide, feeling bad about yourself, believing ‘it’s my fault for being depressed’…these feelings, if left unanswered, may develop into chronic depression.

In either case, it is important to have compassion for yourself. You are doing the best you can. Yes, you are.

Can you do better? Maybe, probably. But for now, don’t beat yourself up for your reactions. Get help and choose a different reaction before you head down the lonely road to depression.

Relieving our chronic low mood requires a two-pronged approach:

  1. Do things that make you feel better everyday. These are small actions that react on your brain the way antidepressants are designed to (but may not); walking briskly, interacting with another human being, taking 10 minutes to yourself to rest and relax. Walking in the park, chatting with your neighbour or just sitting in the sun with a cup of coffee will lift your mood enough that you can then start working on those less constructive thought patterns which promote and prolong depression.
  2. Then, when you are feeling more positive and optimistic, you can start to consider making bigger, more long-term changes such as your diet, regular physical activity and being involved in rewarding hobbies or activities which bring meaning to your life.

Above all, remember that you are not alone and you do not have to do all these things at the same time! Pace yourself and be kind to yourself.

But choose to take action, today.

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/balloon-1052654_1920.jpg my fault for being depressed

If you have found this post useful, please consider sharing it. I appreciate your help in spreading the word.

 

 

[1] Antidepressants are thought to be more effective in people with very severe depressive symptoms. If your doctor recommends you take them, you should follow the doctor’s advice rather than anything you read on this website. I strongly encourage you to ask as many questions as you need about your diagnosis, how the drugs work, side-effects, withdrawal effects and how long you may be required to take them. 

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May 07

Cure Depression? Find the Cause of Your Stress!

By Vickie | Uncategorised

I put the pills and potions back in the bathroom cupboard. It seemed like finding the solution to my depression was going to be far more difficult and complicated that I had thought.

I realised it was not going to be as simple as taking a medication or a supplement. There didn’t seem to be any pill or potion that I could take into my body to cure the depression.

For a moment it seemed hopeless.

“I feeling the symptoms coming back. I’m not feeling so well. Perhaps I’m getting sick again. I don’t want to go back there. I’m scared to go back there! But there’s nothing I can do to make me well again! No cure!”

Then I gave myself a shake. There must be an answer, a solution to this pain.

Perhaps I’m looking at this all wrong.

I had a sudden flashback to a session with my counsellor. I was explaining to her how bad I felt, each and every day.

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/dog-264718_1920.jpg the cause of your stress

Being outdoors, in the sunshine (sometimes, anyway), moving, even a little are all good mood boosters.

“Is there ever a time in your day when you do feel happy? What makes you feel happy?”

I shrugged. “I’m never happy. But I do feel a bit better when I’m out in the park with the dog”.

I feel a bit better when I’m out in the park with the dog.

Aha!

I started thinking. I began to reflect back on my life. I realised that there were moments even in the darkest days of depression when there were tiny glimmers of light.

Feeling more excited I started looking back through the different chapters of my life. I began thinking about the times when the depression seemed worse – during my doctoral research, after two job losses, running my business – and at what was going on in my life when the depression didn’t seem so bad – when I was involved in archaeology, when I was working in the community sector, when I was teaching in China.

I began to think really hard, reflecting on what was working and what wasn’t working during the 21 years I experienced some form of depression.

This is what I came up with:

Childhood: Happy, living at home with family, enjoyed school, hated exercise, two major operations. I hated being the centre of ‘medical attention’ and the worry of adults around me.

Teenage Years: Unsettled mood, self-conscious, living at home with family, enjoyed school, hated exercise, small group of good friends.

University: Fairly happy, insecure about studies at times though I really enjoyed the course, living at home with family, no structured exercise, took flamenco dance classes, ate what I liked, slept mostly quite well, small group of friends, heightened self-consciousness.

Digging overseas: Extremely happy, felt insecure and self-conscious in the group (not good enough), loved the work, physically active. I really found my bliss in the trench of an archaeological excavation!

Doctorate: Very low mood, some research breakthroughs which were satisfying, increasing exhaustion, poor sleep, increasingly low social group, living in and out of family home, regular walking in park with the dog.

Community Sector: Happy, loved the job but found it somewhat stressful, some worry, building up circle of friends, renting, not a great diet, reasonable sleep, involved in community choir, regular walking with dog. Then, the two job losses over three years made me wonder if life was always going to be a struggle.

Own Business: Very low mood, minor self-harm, social isolation, poor sleep, high exhaustion, poor diet, very poor sleep, cognitive impairments due to depression, very poor financial situation, extremely emotional and then emotionally numb, renting, ‘walked’ with dog in the park.

First two years in China: Very happy, many good friends, loved the job, regular exercise, great lifestyle, good diet, good sleep.

Final year in China: Low mood, job was not what was expected, colleagues were aloof and unfriendly, I hated the job, walked regularly from boredom mostly, good diet, poor – reasonable sleep, lonely.

Back in Australia: Fairly happy, good teaching job but with increasing feelings of not being good enough, some physical activity (salsa dance classes), house-sitting and dog-walking, reasonable diet, moments of social isolation, increasing feelings of stress at work.

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/argentine-tango-2079964_1920.jpg cause of your stress

Dancing is a guaranteed mood booster!

I looked back at these stages of my life and considered what made them happy and what made them miserable.

I thought about:

  • My work
  • My friends
  • My mood in general
  • What I did in my time off
  • What I was eating
  • Whether I was sleeping
  • What I was thinking or feeling emotionally

I chose these aspects because I knew that they were all affected by my mood. I thought about what characterised my blackest days and compared them to the years when I felt better.

What made those years different, the miserable ones and the happy ones?

Each stage of my life had deficits in one or more of the above with the exception of the first two years in China, which were wonderful. They felt particularly good as I had just come out of a long period of utter misery. I felt like life was offering me a clean slate.

The Breakthrough

It was occurring to me more and more that curing depression was not going to come from something external to me.

In other words, taking anti-depressant drugs, supplements, burning essential oils, fragrant candles or bumping up the vitamins was not going to fix the depression.

My life story showed me that there were times when my mood was better and I lived differently.

When I felt good, I slept and ate well, I exercised regularly, I had good friends in my life, I enjoyed my work and I had some kind of hobby or interest.

When I felt low in mood, I slept badly and ate poorly, I did little exercise, I lost contact with friends and felt lonely, I felt stressed at work and had no other interests.

Now, the question was, “Did I feel good and then changed my lifestyle so that I ate well, exercised and had friends (and so on)?” In other words, did I do these things because, for some reason, I felt better?

Did the antidepressants, for example, make me feel better so that I could make those lifestyle changes?

Or, “Did I feel well because I ate well, exercised and had friends (and so on)?” and as a result, I felt better?

Did I have to get rid of the negative thinking and poor lifestyle that had become a habit before I could do things that made me feel better?

Or was it a bit of each?

You do things that make you happy and well, your mood lifts, you do more things that make you happy and well, your mood lifts a bit more and so on and so on and suddenly you wake up one day and your chronic low mood is gone?

If that’s the case, how do you start to do the things that make you feel better when you feel like crap?

I had to go back to the books and internet research.

One of the most interesting books I read about depression recovery is Steven Ilardi’s book, The Depression Cure. Dr Ilardi, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Kansas, has based his depression recovery program on the idea that the way we live today has many negative impacts on our health and well-being. He reviewed anthropological research undertaken among

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/neanderthals-96507_1280.jpg cause of your stress

OK, I’m not suggesting we return to an entirely prehistoric lifestyle…just that some aspects of that lifestyle might protect us from stress and depression,

modern hunter-gatherer groups which suggests that within these societies, there is little evidence for depression.

Dr Ilardi concludes that it is the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers that is protective against depression.

Let’s take a closer look:

  1. Hunter-gatherers live in close-knit family groups. Staying together is necessary for survival.
  2. Hunter-gatherers are very physically active, needing to walk long distances to find food and water.
  3. Hunter-gatherer societies are structured so that everyone has a role to play and everyone’s role is important for the success of the whole group.
  4. Hunter-gatherers typically rise with the sun and sleep when the sun goes down.
  5. Hunter-gatherers eat natural foods gathered from the land, included grass-fed meat animals and wild plants.

Dr Ilardi believes that if we can live more like hunter-gatherer societies, the rise of depression in the wealthy, western industrialised world would be slowed or stopped.

This was very exciting to me. It really made sense. Our bodies were built for an active outdoor life in close-bonded communities.

What’s more, it closely correlated to how I’d experienced my life.

When I was happier, I had regular contact with friends and loved ones either by phone or in person (at university, working in the community sector – especially singing in the community choir, and in China).

When I was happier, I was physically active, either doing structured exercise such as at the gym, or other types of activity, such as dancing (university, China, digging overseas).

When I was happier, I was doing work that I believed was meaningful (archaeology – studies, digging and writing book, community sector, teaching English in China).

When I was happier, I was sleeping well with a regular sleep routine and an adequate amount of good quality sleep (university, community sector, China)

When I was happier, I seemed to be eating better (China, on my return to Australia).

On the other hand, my years of misery seemed to be characterised by being involved in stressful work, loneliness, negative thoughts and emotions that kept me awake at night and a lack of physical activity.

The worst periods, during my PhD studies and when trying to build my own business, were characterised by extreme stress, a sedentary life, lack of contact with friends, very poor sleep, a constant sense of exhaustion and low-level feelings about whether my job/work/studies were meaningful.

I began to realise that getting enough sleep, eating well, seeing your friends, having meaningful activity, physical activity and an ability to keep negative thoughts away meant living without depression.

The ‘cure’ for chronic low mood didn’t come out of a bottle.

The ‘cure’ for chronic low mood came from my decision to improve my sleep and my diet, get more exercise and more human connection, find meaning in life, make a difference and watch out for negative thinking.

The answer came from inside me.

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/map-of-the-world-2164673_1920.jpg cause of your stress

The world is your oyster when you take your health into your own hands.

How empowering is that?

What You Need To Live Joyously

I realised that living a life based on looking outward, caring for one’s body, being engaged in the world and out of one’s head is what keeps us well.

Good food, physical activity and adequate sleep takes care of our physical symptoms of depression. Taking care of your body helps your brain work better (because your brain is part of your body!) so you have improved memory, can think more clearly and make better decisions.

Engagement with friends and having a meaningful life takes care of the emotional symptoms of depression.

Finally, if you remember the first article in this series, I talked about acceptance of depression and development of self-compassion? These will help with the negative thoughts that come up around depression.

But there’s one more thing…stress

What’s the Cause of Your Stress?

Stress is at the bottom of most overwhelming and profound sadness, sense of grief, loss, regret and disappointment, frustration and negativity.

Let’s take another look at my life story.

Are you experiencing depression? Have you thought about what might be the cause of your stress?

When I was a child, I was generally happy and don’t recall feeling much stress, however being left in hospital alone at the age of 7 was pretty stressful. I remember crying when Mum left after her daily visit. I remember nurses telling me not to be such a cry-baby.

I remember the stress of wearing a back brace when I was 14. It impacted my body structure and how I wore clothes and that’s pretty important when you’re teenager: how you feel among your peers.

At university I felt nervous about speaking up in tutorials, but I don’t think I was stressed. If I was, it was good stress, urging me to do better.

My doctoral research years were full of stress: trying to find a supervisor who understood my research questions, the stress of the research itself.

Trying to build my own business was packed full of stress: trying to find clients, set up systems, make ends meet….

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/stress-853644_1920.jpg cause of your stress

What’s the cause of stress in your life?

At times in my life when I felt stressed, other aspects of my lifestyle took a nose-dive: sleep, diet, exercise…

So in order to create a depression-free lifestyle, it is essential to deal with the cause of your stress in your life.

Now, when I say ‘stress’, I’m not talking about the highly emotionally arousing, ‘fight or flight’ provoking stress of having a bus bearing down on you while you stand like a deer in the headlights.

You don’t have to be in an obvious state of hyped-up anxiety to feel stress, although you might feel ‘highly stressed’ and feel the effects of it in your body frequently through the day.

We all have small stresses in our lives too…running late for a meeting, that silly argument with a loved one, an appointment with the doctor to get some test results, waiting to hear back about an interview.

All these small stresses are still stressors and can lead to a feeling of being out of control if not addressed in healthy ways. Feeling ‘out of control’ definitely affects our mood.

So what is the cause of your stress?

Mine seems to be work focussed and I think this is linked to needing to have rewarding or meaningful work. I had a passion for archaeology, but honestly, the academic life would have made me miserable. So I abandoned archaeology and I found the regret of this decision quite distressing over the years.

I don’t think I was made to run a business. I just don’t have the sales or marketing skills so important to its success. I was good at the service I offered and did get good outcomes for clients, which was satisfactory, but I think I would have been happier working as an employee rather than trying to operate a business.

My third year in China was pretty miserable and again, I think this was work related. I was offered a certain job, which disappeared into thin air when I arrived. I was assured there was a gym and nice walks along the river, neither of which was true. The college campus was located on the far outskirts of the city, making it very hard to get into town where there were possible social activities.

What are your pressure points? What in your life experience is the cause of your stress? Click To Tweet

Are you stressed by relationships or physical health problems? Are you worried about your home or finances? Are you stressed by your children or parents?

If you are feeling low in mood, there is likely to be a stressor which is at the origin of your depression.

Even if you feel you have always been depressed, there is likely to be something that happened early on in life which has made you believe certain things about yourself and the world which don’t help you when faced with a stressor in later life.

For example, perhaps your teachers, coaches or parents told you you’d never come to much and now you fear going for job interviews because you just don’t believe you’re good enough for the job. Today, you’re stuck in a job you hate but feel paralysed about trying to find another. Work is a cause of your stress.

Creating a depression free life is about living more like our ancestors, more in tune with our physical needs and emotional needs for survival. Identifying the cause of your stress, being aware of how stress affects you, being accepting and compassionate and then making lifestyle changes to support brain health will all move you towards a joyous, rewarding and fulfilling life.

You deserve this.

And you can do this.

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/tranquility-1037597_1920.jpg what's the cause of your stress

Eliminating stress from your life is the first step in creating a depression-free future.

If you’ve found this post helpful, please help me spread the word by sharing it. Thank you!

 

 

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