Category Archives for "Uncategorised"

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.

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/angry-2191104_1920.jpg fault for being depressed

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
    http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/me-signing-books.jpg fault for being depressed

    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?

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/directory-466935_1920.jpg fault for being depressed

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.

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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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May 07

Should I Take Antidepressants?

By Vickie | Uncategorised

 “When did you decide to go on antidepressants? I am nervous about taking SSRIs for mild depression, but my friends in their 20s on them. It surprises me because the people who are on meds I wouldn’t have thought were depressed. I am seeing a therapist, which I think has been really helpful, and try to eat healthfully, exercise every day, see my friends, work on hobbies and projects. All these activities really help me get out and about.  And yet I also struggle with low self-esteem and self-confidence, which is really frustrating, because if I just didn’t doubt myself so much, maybe I could just feel better and be more productive. I really want to achieve more in my life, but constantly sabotage myself and put myself down. I don’t believe I’m seriously depressed, but I can’t seem to feel better about myself and wonder if going on medication would help me? Do you think I should take antidepressants?” – Question on depression forum[1]

It is impossible to write about depression and not mention antidepressants.

Some people believe that antidepressants are a little like a life vest or inflatable arm bands; they keep you from drowning while you learn to swim.

The life vest will keep you up while you learn how to float and to use breathing techniques and swimming strokes to move yourself through the water.

But the life vest feels safe and comfortable and you might be wondering if learning to swim is really what you want to do now.  You could just continue to let the life vest buoy you up.

You don’t have to make the effort to learn how to float or move yourself through the water. There’s no real need to do that, is there?

The life ring will keep you from drowning (unless the seas get very rough).

However.

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/busan-1113822_19201.jpg should I be taking antidepressants

What do you hope from antidepressants?

This means you’ll have a limited experience of the water, without all the fun games you could play, exploring coral reefs, even challenging yourself to go faster and further.  If you learn to swim you’ll have greater ability to explore the watery world, deeper below the surface.

You may need a good teacher to help you build your confidence and encourage you to let go of the life vest. If you practice what you’ve learned, you’ll be swimming like a fish, with the fish, before too long! What a wonderful experience.

Let’s say the water is life. A good life, a contented life, a life of purpose and joy and one which you design. It’s a life which you are not experiencing right now, not with your persistent low mood sucking all the enjoyment out of life.

So you visit the doctor and he puts you on antidepressants.

Antidepressant Medication: Your Life Vest in a Capsule

In an ideal world, on antidepressants, your negative thoughts will disappear and your emotions will be regulated to cheerful and sad and neutral where appropriate. Before you know it, you’ll be sleeping better and transforming your diet to one filled with fresh fruit and salad, rather than the junk food which seems to be increasingly on the dinner table because you just don’t have the energy to cook.

With a better mood, you’ll feel able to deal with the stress at work and cope better in meetings with your new demanding boss. Or maybe you’ll change career and retrain to be the horticulturist you’ve always wanted to be. You’ll have much more energy to help little Johnny with his homework and be happy to take part in the school working bee next weekend.

Life will be grand!

In reality, there’s no instant relief. After a while the strong negative emotions may seem to have turned down. But you notice that you’re having strong headaches most afternoons and the thought of going to counselling sessions as suggested by the doctor doesn’t appeal so much. You’d rather have a nap.  

Anyway, with the horrible thoughts that had previously plagued you and the sessions of weeping seem to have gone away, so things are not really so bad now, are they? Sure, you’re pretty lethargic most of the time and have that weird dry mouth feel, but in a few months you’ll start to feel better and recover some of that lost energy and zest for life. Every day it’s getting better and better.

Isn’t it?

Tomorrow is another day…

Are you asking yourself, ‘Should I take antidepressants?…everyone else seems to be on them.

I was, for about eight years, on and off. I finally went to the doctor when I was experiencing one of my lowest points and she gave me a prescription for citalopram (celexa, cipramil). I was so relieved. The effect was immediate. Or was it?

I really don’t know now. I had no side effects. I had what I felt was instant relief. That very day. Within hours. I don’t think antidepressants are thought to work like this. I believe the manufacturers say they take 4-6 weeks to take effect.

But I felt re-energised almost from the get-go and started the psychological counselling suggested by the doctor.

Suddenly, I had a name for what I was feeling, I had hope.

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For the first time in a long time, I felt hope that I might live without chronic low mood.

I enjoyed meeting the psychologists, a very funny woman in her mid-50s. I don’t remember doing any actual therapy. She’d put the kettle on and offer a couple of chocolate biscuits and we’d natter away like a pair of old friends catching up on the neighbourhood gossip.

I walked my dog more vigorously. I even started dance class again, salsa this time.

I felt great!

Many people do have good experiences with antidepressants, but I am appalled by the number that do not. A brief internet search will turn up story after horror story of serious and dangerous side-effects and totally ineffective treatment and the nightmare of withdrawal.

Sure, people tend to talk about awful experiences, but in my opinion, there shouldn’t be any, should there?

No awful experiences. If depression is a biological illness these drug should point themselves to the biological cause and dispense with it.

But therein lies the rub. No scientist knows why antidepressants appear to have a positive effect on some people and a truly horrific effect on others.

Yet they continue to be prescribed in greater and greater numbers. Oddly enough, the statistics on the numbers of people diagnosed with mood disorders is also increasing.

OK, maybe some of these people are genuine sufferers who in the past were reluctant to come forward, but could there not be something else rather more sinister going on?

Maybe antidepressants are just not as effective as we hope?

How Do Antidepressants Actually Work?

If you’re asking ‘Should I take antidepressants’ you’d want to know how they work in the brain, wouldn’t you?

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Do you think it matters that psychiatrists don’t really know how antidepressants work?

Well the answer is that nobody knows.

Really.

Nobody knows how they work, why antidepressants work for some and not others. Why they take so long to take effect (if they do at all); why they stop working. Why they have side effects.

Nobody really knows the answer to these questions.

They have ideas about what might be happening in the brain.

But the simplest explanation, ‘Your brain chemicals are unbalanced and these drugs will help balance them again’ is an absolute guess.

The chemical imbalance theory is still widely given to the general public, through mental health websites and by general practitioners, but it has been discarded by the American Psychiatric Association, some 30 years after it was first promoted.

Instead, antidepressants are thought to work on brain chemicals by keeping them in the little gaps between brain cells. These little gaps, called synapses, are where neurotransmitters are released by one neuron, or brain cell, and received by the next neuron and transformed into electrical signals.

Some antidepressants, known as ssri (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are thought to prevent the neurotransmitter serotonin from being sucked back into the first neuron. This would allow more of the serotonin to be passed onto the next neuron, thereby ‘activating’ that pathway or region of the brain.

So the theory now is that antidepressants don’t provide more chemicals or encourage the brain to produce or release more chemicals, but rather, they are believed to allow the chemicals to hang around longer in the tiny spaces between neurons in order to be picked up and passed on.

But is a lack of neurotransmitter in the synapses really the cause of depression?

Nobody knows.

Most doctors view illness in the framework of the medical model, which makes sense really. They are doctors after all and their job is to observe, diagnose and treat.

Many GPS and certainly most psychiatrists, see depression the same way, through the medical model. Hopefully, though, most will also encourage their patients to take exercise and eat better (mine didn’t). If your doctor is of the view that depression is a biological disease, it makes sense for her or him to offer you a pharmaceutical solution, drugs called antidepressants.

There is plenty online about the development and marketing of antidepressants[2]

What did your doctor tell you about what depression is? How did he explain to you how antidepressants work? How long they’d take to work? Did he inform you about side effects? Did she explain how to taper off? Did she suggest you’d be taking them for the rest of your life?

I wonder if people actually ask doctors, ‘should I take antidepressants?’ or whether they get handed a prescription. I really wonder why GPs hand out prescriptions so often.

Do doctors not read the research on how helpful taking exercise is? Or making social connection? Or eating well? Or getting adequate, good quality sleep? Why are these activities not offered as ‘treatments’?

After all, they’re safe (find the type of physical activity that suits you; take a friend not an axe murderer), free (parks in my town are free; I don’t expect your friend charges by the hour), there’s no waiting list (you need to make the time and arrangement to meet your friend) and you can do them in the privacy of your own home (dancing round the living room with your friend can lift your mood too)!

Antidepressants Do Appear To Work Well For Some People

“Zoloft has worked effectively for me. It has got rid of my terrible anxiety which caused the depression. It was rough getting through the initial side effects but I pressed on. There are some remaining side effects, but they’re not so bad now. I don’t think Zoloft has changed the person that I am. It does let me do more during the day rather than staying in bed worrying and crying and hating life. I eventually went on meds after suffering for years and it was the best option. There are some moments when I feel kind of numb, but mostly I feel more optimistic about the future and much happier”. -A comment on an article about antidepressants.

‘My antidepressants work for me. I need them! I couldn’t get anything done without them. How dare you shame me for needing and taking meds.’ –Response on depression Facebook Group.

Once upon a time I’d have put myself in this camp. I was so relieved that my overwhelming and chronic negative emotions had a name that I told all my friends. Some were surprised, others concerned.

I bravely told them I’d started on antidepressants.

One friend told me she’d ‘have to think about it’. Whoa, my first experience of stigma as a depressed person.

To cut a long story short (read the full story here) I went on and off the antidepressants twice because I felt better and the third trip back to the doctor, I promised to remain on them…forever I guessed.

I just popped the little white pill every morning with my tea.

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I felt a huge amount of relief; like a prison door had been opened.

I was fortunate. I didn’t experience any side effects. I felt an enormous relief when I finally eliminated a monumental stressor from my life but stayed on the drugs because I didn’t then understand the connection between stress and ongoing low mood.

I went to China to teach English and right at the end of my time there, I went off the antidepressants because living in China I couldn’t get any more. I did try, but with little English and no desire to go to a Chinese doctor I just shrugged my shoulders and got on with my life.

A year later and that little nagging voice came back. I felt tense, tired. I found myself weeping unexpectedly, just now and then. My mood plummeted and my sleep became disrupted.

Not too badly though. And still feeling pretty good, I got angry rather than distressed by the idea of going back to depression and decided then and there to find and implement alternative ways of living, some of which I already had albeit without realising they were keeping me stable and productive.

So was it the antidepressants?

With hindsight, I think I was one of the lucky (?) ones who experienced a placebo response.

At the same time that I went on the drugs, I started psychological counselling and really enjoyed it, though it didn’t seem like therapy. The drugs are promoted by the companies as being slow acting; it couldn’t have taken effect that quickly. Going off the drug and finding the low mood returning was, I believe, entirely due to the fact that I hadn’t taken steps to improve my life, such as eradicating stress and changing my thought patterns.

So while I had a good experience, I didn’t make the changes which so many advocates of antidepressants suggest you make under their safety net.

While some people have a good result with antidepressants, for others, the drugs have no effect at all:

“I’ve been taking various anti-depressants for over 10 years and none of them have had a positive effect on my life and sense of well being, no matter how high the dosage. My GP says he’s run out of ideas but is the first to admit that doctors don’t get any real pharmacological training”. -A comment on an article about antidepressants.

For some people, they simply experience neither an improvement nor a worsening of their chronic low mood. There are numerous stories of psychiatrists trying one medication after the other in the hope of finding relief for the people who consult them.

It must be an agonising process, not to mention costly.

Some people end up with a diagnosis of ‘treatment resistant depression’. This blames the so-called illness, rather than the treatment. What if the person was just not ill?

While you’re asking ‘Should I take antidepressants?’ statistics show that you’re more likely to get a better outcome if antidepressants are used in conjunction with talk therapy and also lifestyle change.

Why not try talk therapy and lifestyle change first?

The problem is that you can’t tell in advance if you’re going to have a good or bad experience with antidepressants. It’s a bit hit and miss, a guessing game. Read the depression forums and you’ll find stories of people who have been through hell and back trying to find the type and dosage that gives them the most relief from their depressive symptoms while at the same time not inflicting any more pain on them through unwanted side effects.

If you do decide to try antidepressants, please be informed. Ask lots of questions.

If you are currently taking antidepressants and are finding them effective, that’s great. Don’t stop taking them because of anything you read on this website. Should you wish to try tapering off, do so only under medical supervision.

Some People Experience Appalling Side-Effects On Antidepressants

“On/off sertraline severe withdrawals every time. Couldn’t restabilise and dr switched me to Prozac. After a severe reaction to Prozac started withdrawal with more depression, thinking of suicide, wanting to self-harm…Put back on Sertraline to see if would help. No change and was admitted to hospital for the terrible rage and suicide threat, and given 50mg Lofepramine which took two weeks to decrease symptoms but now I have insomnia. Shrink stopped Lofepramine but I still can’t sleep”. -A comment on an article about antidepressants.

“I know from personal experience that anti-depressants can cause serious side effects and trying to come off them is an absolute nightmare. I believe anti-depressants can also seriously negatively impact relationships due to the “numbing” effect they have on your emotions”. -A comment on an article about antidepressants.

“The drugs made me feel emotionless and numb and unmotivated. I couldn’t pay attention to my studies. They affected my memory I couldn’t remember anything in lectures or when I read. Thanks to the meds, I had to give up my course. I hate the fact that I was lied to about the pills”. -A comment on an article about antidepressants.

Numbing the emotions means that people may feel more emotionally stable and therefore less low in mood. But this may have an unwanted consequence.  If unpleasant emotions are eliminated or blunted, you don’t feel motivated to explore the cause of your depression and make any changes that might prevent relapse. You’re just stuck on the meds. 

So, whether the antidepressants will actually make you feel better is questionable. For some people, they take the drug, feel no side effects and at some point, feel better. Others take the drug and feel no effect at all. Yet others take the drug and feel side effects so horrendous they are much worse than the depressive symptoms they were prescribed for, with little or no benefit to their depressed mood.

Finally, if antidepressants remove the painful feelings of depression (low mood, negative thinking), then how will you get the motivation and energy to change the things that need to be changed? If you muck about with your emotions, then you muck around with your neurobiological basis for change.

Entering the mental health system via the GP and regularly being put onto the anti-depressant merry-go-round. One after the other for years and years and years. If people are not thinking critically about their diagnosis and treatment, they may believe they are chronically, physically ill and end up a nightmarish journey through antidepressant hell.

Instead of asking ‘Should I take antidepressants?’ why not ask, ‘What are the alternatives?’

Antidepressants: Are There Alternatives?

“I am struggling with long term depression and anxiety and I can’t seem to find anything that works, even after at least 15-20 different antidepressants and antipsychotics mood stabilizers. I’m giving up on medication to improve my mental illness. Anyone got experience with ECT?” – depression forum post

It’s not fair or kind to suggest that people who choose antidepressants do so because they think it is the easy or fastest option. That smacks of stigma to me.

Most people choose antidepressants because they want relief from their overwhelmingly painful experiences. They feel really awful, sometimes for years and just want that pain to go away. They don’t want weeks of talk therapy. Quite naturally, they want relief and they want it quickly.

If the doctor gave you a prescription for ‘20 minutes vigorous exercise, 3 times each week’ you’d probably feel a bit miffed, but in fact, exactly this prescription has been shown to have the same mood lifting result as antidepressants – sometimes more so – and the effects are more long-lasting.

But for you to accept this, the doctor would probably need to spend time talking to you, about how you feel and your lifestyle, explain to you what depression is and how it can be treated.

And what doctor has time for that?

So what should you do?  Should you take antidepressants?

Ultimately, you must do what you feel is right for you.

Read widely, ask lots of questions. If you start on antidepressants, how long will you need to take them and what kinds of side-effects can you expect?

Talk to your doctor about your lifestyle and what you want to achieve from being free of chronic low mood. Gather the information you need to make an informed decision about antidepressants.

Finally, have a good, honest look at your ideas of what depression is and whether there could be anything in your life right now that might be contributing to your low mood. Ask your doctor what other strategies you could use to feel better.

I didn’t learn to swim while wearing my antidepressant life vest. I made some changes, sure, but not in the knowledge that they would make me resilient to depression.

If you’re asking yourself ‘Should I take antidepressants?’ the very next question needs to be, ‘If the antidepressants make me feel better, what then?’

If the idea of making lifestyle changes such as incorporating more exercise into your life or eating differently or getting more socially active seem daunting, email me and ask how I can help you get started.

What you need is someone who can coach you along the road, because they’ve been through it too. I struggled with chronic depression for 21 years and have transformed my life. I can help you do that too.

Contact me today.

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[1] All quotations used in this post have been edited by me to maintain the anonymity of the writer. The gist of the quotation has not been changed.

[2] Carlat, D, 2010, Unhinged: The Trouble with Psychiatry – A Doctor’s Revelations about a Profession in Crisis, Free Press. If you’d like to read more about the development of the chemical imbalance theory of depression, try these resources… Whittaker, R, 2010 Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America.  Useful websites include www.madinamerica.com, www.behaviorismandmentalhealth.com, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/science-isnt-golden and joannamoncrieff.com.

 

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May 06

The Benefits of Taking Antidepressants

By Vickie | Uncategorised

I’m excited.

So excited I’ve been to the toilet four times already and it’s only 9am.

It’s the day of my book launch. I’ve written up my doctoral research for a general reading audience of people who might be interested in archaeology and ancient figurines. It’s a project that took 13 years, thanks mostly to the thought that I could never do it. But I have done it and I’m excited.

I head down to the venue 45 minutes before to see, to my utter horror, that the room has been set up in rows before a stage. I had expected people would stand, milling around enjoying champagne and cake and I would say a few words and the woman I had invited to make a longer speech would officially launch the book and then I’d sit behind a desk signing copies.

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I just wanted to run away and hide in the cushions like a little kid.

I had no idea that I’d be on stage in front of all those faces. My speech suddenly seemed woefully inadequate, I felt tears pricking at my eyes. What was I doing? I wasn’t a writer. I was completely out of my depth and very anxious.

But I didn’t have time to dwell on my thoughts or feelings.

People started arriving and I took to the stage, threw on my ‘teachers’ face and began to speak. I invited the keynote speaker to give her address and then I thanked people for coming and invited them to enjoy the refreshments. I scurried off stage, feeling very stupid.

I sold a few copies of the book, mostly to my friends and family. No strangers came to talk to me about the book.

I felt like the whole event was an utter failure.

It wasn’t, of course. I was just in the grip of a return to the old negative ways of thinking.

Up to that point, I had felt so good.

I’d been living and working in China creating a professional life for myself as an English teacher, I’d had wonderful experiences travelling in China, I’d started to exercise more regularly and see my friends often. I felt like the depressive thoughts and feelings were gone for good. I thought I was definitely a classic example of the benefits of taking antidepressants.

But my depressive thoughts and feelings were not gone for good and I began to feel the signs – negative thoughts about myself and my life, poor sleep, loss of motivation and energy – beginning to creep in again.

I got very angry.

Not this again! No way. Not again. I’m not having it.

I still felt well enough to get angry with myself, rather than allow my mood to get the better of me.

I was also very angry with the medications. Where were the benefits of taking antidepressants? I thought they were supposed to make me well.

Why Doctors Prescribe Antidepressants

Before I saw the doctor I had, of course, heard of depression and had wondered, on and off through the years, whether that was my problem.

But I hesitated to see the doctor for two main reasons:

1/ I thought I should be able to deal with my emotions on my own

2/ I thought depression was a sickness and I didn’t think I was sick.

When the GP gave me the prescription for an antidepressant, citalopram, almost without asking any questions at all and certainly without providing any information about depression, I felt a strong sense of relief and also one of resignation.

OK, maybe I was sick after all…

Maybe I needed the benefits of taking antidepressants.

Because I thought depression was like an ear infection, I decided taking antidepressants was like a

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Sick.

course of antibacterial medication. You have a sore ear, so you go to the doctor and she gives you some tablets which will fight the infection and give you some relief from the symptom, the worst one being pain.

That’s what doctors do. They diagnose illnesses and give medications. They work within a framework known as the ‘medical model’. They can hardly be expected to do anything else really. Not after decades at medical school.

However.

It seems that depression is not like an ear infection, because the brain in depression is not like an ear when infected.

Antidepressants do not attack the cause of the depression the way antibiotics attack an infection, because there is no biological cause of chronic low mood.

The doctor (GP or psychiatrist) diagnoses depression on the basis of the ‘symptoms’ which you explain to your doctor. There is no scan, blood test or x-ray for depression. The doctor uses a manual called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM, published by the American Psychiatric Association) to identify your ‘mental illness’. Because depression is diagnosed on ‘symptoms’, it is quite subjective. Natural grief may present in exactly the same way as major depression, according to the DSM.

You may wonder at the benefits of taking antidepressants when there is no biological cause to… Click To Tweet

Well, for decades the APA put out the word (indeed, marketed rather heavily) that depression is caused by a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain and that antidepressants ‘rebalance’ these chemicals by topping them up. They’re the so-called benefits of taking antidepressants. Even though that idea has been well and truly debunked, doctors still tell their patients that they have an imbalance in chemicals and prescribe medications.

Antidepressants are believed to help a brain chemical (serotonin or dopamine, for example) remain in the tiny space between two brain cells, so that they can activate the next cell in the chain.

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Nope, no brain chemical imbalances here!

However, because there is no evidence that the brains of depressed people have a lack of brain chemicals, this means there is more brain chemical in that little space than there should be. The brain tries to rebalance the chemicals itself, which works temporarily, but then it just gives up the fight and the whole system is frankly left in a mess.

Antidepressants do have long-term effects on the brain. And some of these effects may be irreversible. Some antidepressants have very unpleasant side effects in some people, including a numbing of the emotions, which may seem like a good thing if your emotional life is a roller-coaster, but wait…

But I was discovering, back in 2013, after taking citalopram for about 8 years, that it doesn’t seem to work like that for anti-depressants.

I was really beginning to wonder about the benefits of taking antidepressants.

I had expected that whatever depression is would be fixed by the antidepressant medication and sure enough, they appeared to make me feel brighter and more clear-headed. In fact, in the first three years I went on and off the meds twice because I felt so much better.

With hindsight, I’m not sure that the brighter moods was due to the benefits of taking antidepressants. Rather, I think I was experiencing the placebo effect.

Stress and Depression

But now, when I had not taken them for a year, the signs of that low mood were returning. So that must show they worked? No, because I was re-experiencing a period of stress.

However, because I had built some resilience over the past 8 years – creating for myself, albeit unbeknownst to me, an ‘antidepressant lifestyle’ and mental resilience – I was able to recognise the return of the depressive thoughts and feelings and to decide to do something about them.

One thing was for sure, I wasn’t going to give in to them!

In fact, chronic low mood is caused by stress and ineffective coping mechanisms to handle stress.

For example, increased pressure at work causes stress. You begin to worry about work and that keeps

you awake at night. An inability to sleep well means you function poorly during the day. Being ineffective at work is stressful. You worry more and lose your appetite which affects your energy levels.

You give up sport on the weekend because you don’t have the energy and end up staying home all weekend. You don’t see your friends as much as you would like. Your mood drops rapidly. You worry about how life went so wrong. And so on and so on.

Some people have described antidepressants as life vests or rings thrown out to people who are difficulty in the water. They’ll help you float, but if you want to get back in the water, you’re going to have to learn to swim.

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Antidepressants may feel like a life saver…but are they?

Nonetheless, some people have very good experiences with medication. Some people do report clear benefits of taking antidepressants. Bear in mind that this cannot be measured in a scientific way. That is, it can only be described by the person themselves. If they say they feel better thanks to the drugs, then that is the effect of the drug. There is no way to measure objectively whether the drugs are effective.

Other people have no real effect at all (like me). Still others suffer appalling side-effects and withdrawal symptoms. Thankfully I had no side effects nor withdrawal symptoms. The drug seemed completely inert in my case.

If Antidepressants Don’t Help, What Then?

Sure, scans have shown that the brains of depressed people have different brain activity but this is not a cause of depression. The different activity in the brains of people with chronic low mood is a result of thinking and behaving in the ways which maintain low mood. This different brain activity is correlated with depression, that is, it’s a ‘symptom’ if you want to use medical terminology.

So, to recover from low mood, all we have to play with are the feelings of low mood.

Let’s say I am a depressed person. I sleep and eat poorly, I ruminate on my life, my negative thinking, my sense of hopelessness and helplessness, I have very little energy, I don’t exercise or socialise and I feel like my brain is in a fog.

I go to the doctor who talks to me about depression and gives me a prescription for anti-depressants which I fill at the chemist and start to take regularly. My mood lifts a little and I begin to feel better. The benefits of taking antidepressants are beginning to take effect.

But I still don’t do any exercise or see my friends. I still feel stressed, sleep poorly and eat badly. My energy levels are a little better but I don’t exercise. My brain seems a bit clearer but I don’t make any other decisions about my lifestyle.

If I go off the anti-depressants, my depressive symptoms will return.

Why?

Because there is nothing wrong with my brain except in the way that I live my life. Chronic low mood is life out of whack.

So what was going on in my life during the year leading up to the book launch?

I was feeling increasingly stressed at work, not really feeling part of the educational institute I was working for and doubting my ability to do a good job. My sleep was beginning to be affected as was my thought patterns. I was physically active but not deliberately taking exercise. I saw my friends and loved ones fairly often but was noticing that I was yet again comparing myself with them, my life and achievement with theirs.

Anti-depressants don’t fix your life – they don’t teach you how to swim – they may keep you feeling a bit better (or a whole lot worse if you are struck with side-effects and there is no way to predict that) – your head above water – while you do what you need to do to get your life back in order. But you have to take that action.

Roadblock to Eliminating Depression: It’s an Illness, a Disease of the Brain

Because I thought depression was a mental illness, I had believed there was something malfunctioning in my brain and that the cure was something I had to take into my body to make my brain work again.

My father has advanced Alzheimer’s. The disease is causing his brain to shrink away. He’s lost all but a very distant memories, he can’t process language, he doesn’t recognise anyone. He’s confused but he’s not in distress (as far as we can tell). For many years he’s taken a drug which has helped delay the onslaught of the worst symptoms, but it’s a losing battle.

Scans show the damage to brains of people with dementia. Symptoms show in their behaviour and speech.

With chronic low mood, the ‘symptoms’ are real, but there is no brain disease causing them.

I wasted years thinking my brain had some form of abnormality that had to be fixed with drugs.

This idea that my low mood was biologically caused and that I was sick was my biggest roadblock to a happier, healthier future.

What did I try instead of the anti-depressants?

I decided that I was sick but that I was not going to continue to pay out for doubtful benefits of taking antidepressants which did not seem to be working at all.

I took myself on a quest, a journey to finding the miracle cure that would make me feel better and lift my mood.

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It’s a good idea to check whether a deficiency in vitamins, minerals or other essential elements might be the cause of your low mood.

I began to read. I read about how being low on certain vitamins and minerals  – Vitamin D, B, magnesium – can lead to low mood.  I went to my local health food outlet and dragged home massive containers of tablets.

I took high doses because I wanted to be sure I was giving myself the best chance.

No real change in mood.

Perhaps I was taking the wrong dose. Perhaps I didn’t stick with it for long enough. Perhaps they weren’t the right things.

I read about St John’s Wort, an apparently potent weapon in the armoury against depression. Perhaps I should have been taking advice about doses, but frankly, it did not affect my mood either.

I went back to Evening Primrose Oil, which had had a good effect on pre-menstrual symptoms including emotional outbursts and lack of energy and motivation when I was younger. No real difference noticed, nor with valerian.

Meditation was the next treatment I tried. I thought if I could just calm myself down I might feel better. This is a reasonable assumption but I found that with meditation, I couldn’t control my racing thoughts. I couldn’t even let them go peacefully. I just ended up in another session of rumination.

I tried journaling my feelings but that just ended up in a rant; basically ruminating with paper. Writing out my feeling didn’t ‘let them go’. They just went round and around on the paper and in my mind.

I was beginning to feel a bit desperate but not ready to give up and give in to the low mood.

 Roadblock to Eliminating Depression: Side-Effects of Antidepressants

Many people who take antidepressants do so because they believe that the drugs ‘take the edge off their low mood’ and that if they just weren’t so sad and lacking in energy, that they could change their lives and that will make them happier.

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We need our emotions to help us regulate our mood and behaviour.

Antidepressants certainly don’t make you suddenly feel bright and happy.

Sure, the drugs might calm that overactive amygdala but sometimes they go further than that. Many people who take antidepressants report feeling numb to any emotions – good or bad.

What is the purpose of emotions? They are sources of information that tell us whether to approach, draw closer to or have more of something. When an experience makes us feel good, we are prompted to do it again.

Other emotions tell us to back off, be careful, give up. If we are feeling bored, we are prompted to get up and do something more interesting. If we are feeling irritated, we are prompted to deal with the source of our irritation.

Our emotions prompt us to change.

The problem is that antidepressants can blunt the emotions. Many people describe feeling numb and ‘unable to cry’ or feel any kind of emotion when taking antidepressants.

So if the antidepressants are dampening down your emotions so much that you can’t really feel anything at all, where is the motivation for change?

When the antidepressants proved useless, I still had that same belief about the origin of my mood, it’s just that I started trying ‘natural’ alternatives.

Throughout this process my mood did lift a little, mostly because I was angry and actively on the hunt for a solution.

Being angry is a much more productive emotion that being flat, numb and depressed in your emotions.

So I read and I lingered in pharmacies looking for the magic pill or potion that would eradicate low mood from my life altogether.

It was only when I realised three things:

  • I wasn’t actually sick
  • I didn’t need drugs or supplements to feel well
  • And that my thoughts and my lifestyle were affecting my mood

that I left the pharmacy and went back to the library in search of answers.

What I found took me back to my first love, archaeology. It was time to go back in time….

Read here for how hunter-gatherer communities may hold the answer to eliminating depression…

http://depressionrecoveryschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/bonfire-1867275_1920.jpg the benefits of taking antidepressants

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