Snarky salespeople are also a great anti-depressant.
This poststarted out very different than it ended. I was all set to write another slightly heartbroken post about how my sad was making me sad and the sadness was unrelenting but then I realized – in the course of writing this out – that maybe that isn’t quite true anymore.
A month ago a friend (Hi, Angie!) started a 30-day healthy living challenge. Everyone paid $20 up front and then tallied up points over the course of the month for doing things like exercising, not eating sugar, getting at least seven hours of sleep, having dinner as a family etc. At the end of the month whoever has the most points wins the whole pot. You know the drill, I’m sure you’ve all seen a ton of these. And while I’ve done this type of thing in years past I’ve really lost any enthusiasm for them over the past couple of years, mostly because I’m super competitive and so I find food/exercise challenges can be very triggering.
And yet, also about a month ago I hit my lowest point since moving here and basically didn’t get out of bed for a week. I cried all day every day. I didn’t want to eat anything except candy. I wanted to sleep all the time but was simultaneously irritable and antsy. And – the most telling sign – I only wanted to watch endless marathons of Catfish and Project Runway. (Feel free to judge my viewing habits, I certainly do.) It was bad. In fact, it was the worst I can remember being in a really, really long time. Everything felt so hard.
I knew I had to do something. If not for me, at least for my poor kids who depended on me. But I felt really stuck. I’ve tried so many things to help my mental stuff and it seems like nothing works. Or works for a little bit and then quits working. I’ve tried almost every anti-depressant out there before finally landing on the one I’m on, which really does seem to help me. But I’m already at the highest dose and I don’t dare go any higher nor do I want to add another chemical to my cocktail. (I actually still fantasize about someday not needing to take it all… sigh.) Which is when I came across the book Chemistry of Joy. It broke down “depression” into 3 separate illness (which makes total sense – not all Sads are the same) and basically gave me prescription of lifestyle changes I needed to make to help heal my brain. It was stuff like getting 8 hours of sleep a night, meditating daily, exercising gently and – the hardest part for me – cutting out all refined sugar. (Candy is my crack, yo!) That list look familiar?
So when Angie approached me about joining her challenge I realized that it basically lined up with all the things I was supposed to do anyhow and I figured the public accountability and group support would help me stick with it. I told her I would do it with two caveats: 1) Since I’m LDS and gambling is verboten (and things like office pools are generally considered gambling), if I won I would forfeit the money. She could donate it to a food bank or use it to do something nice for the whole group or whatever. 2) I wouldn’t participate in the weigh-ins because weighing myself makes me nuts and I also knew I’d likely gain weight as that happens every time I give up sugar. I tend to overeat fruit and dates while transitioning my tastebuds to a less-sweet palate.
I was super wary at first – the absolute last thing I need right now is for my eating disorder to come raging back – but I felt like I was out of other options. I really wanted to try the Chemistry of Joy recommendations and I knew I was going to need some social support to do so. So I told everyone involved way more than they wanted to know about my mental health, paid my money and joined up.
It’s been a rough month. You already know that if you’ve been reading this blog. There’s only one day left of the challenge and I’ve spent the last few days being pretty mad about it. Really angry, actually. I felt like I tried so SO so hard to do it all “right” and I still feel like crap. Unlike other “diets” I’ve tried in the past I wasn’t even tempted to cheat on this one, that’s how desperate I was to fix my broken brain. Plus everyone else on the challenge was losing weight and feeling awesome with half the effort and there I was in the corner being sullen, grouchy and gaining weight. It felt so ridiculously unfair that I put so much effort into it to not have it work. But then I got an e-mail from Reader M today.
One of the best things about doing this blog – and I am sure you guys get tired of me saying this over and over again – is how much of yourselves that you guys share with me. And even better, how many times your experiences mirror my own. Not feeling alone is a powerful antidote to a lot of the world’s ills! I know you guys give that to me and I hope I give that to you too. (Sometimes. There are times like yesterday’s post about my near-naked treadmill run that I think a lot of you were like “Yeahhhh so glad I can’t relate to this one!”) So when I read M’s letter, a little light went on. She and I have corresponded for years (!) now and even though I don’t know her I feel like I do as we’ve gone through so much of the same stuff. And, like usual, her note was perfect timing as I had just started writing this post.
I have been following your story these past few months with eagerness. I hope you aren’t offended, but I have ulterior motives…mainly my own sanity.
Shortly after I wrote you about gaining weight and craving sugar, I found out I was pregnant (somewhat unexpectedly, but you know…these things happen!). Anyway, I have struggled with intense migraines the past 3 months. They are relentless. I have read about lower carb diets (which I am not on, thanks to morning sickness), and read a bit about your anti-depression diet that you wrote about (with the flax oil, no sugar, etc.). I was wondering if you felt any better? Part of these headaches is the “depression” that I feel with them. I am so sad all the time because I feel so terrible most days!
Have you noticed any relief?? Are you doing the flax oil? Skipping sugar?
Hope you feel better! You are a constant joy to read even when you go through a tough spell. If it is any consolation, we have moved several times…and it is TOUGH!
At first I started to reply to her to tell her that life was still sucking even though I have no discernible reason for said suckage but as I went back over the month and all the changes I’ve made I began to see a pattern:
- The first thing I noticed were my posts here. I went from pretending everything was fine (when it utterly wasn’t) to completely breaking down and writing a bunch of stuff I regretted to accepting the sad to living with it to… moving on from it a bit. The last couple of weeks have had more humor again. I want to make people laugh. I want to laugh.
- The second thing I noticed was my work. For several weeks I did the absolute bare minimum and did even that pretty badly. My editors were understanding but I could tell they were annoyed. But, again, over the past couple of weeks I realized that I was back up to my normal workload and handling it pretty well. It didn’t feel quite so hard as it did a month ago.
- The third thing was sitting on the couch today – all 4 of my kids are out of school for nine days (NINE DAYS) for the Thanksgiving break and normally that can be kind of overwhelming for me (I’m a girl who needs her solitude!) but when I’m depressed that’s a nightmare. But there I sat today, all of us still in our jammies eating popcorn and watching a movie and I was overwhelmed by this incredible sense of peace and well-being. I haven’t felt that in, well, over 6 months. For the first time in a really long time, I wasn’t worried about anything and I was just happy that my kids still think I’m cool and want to hang out with me. Even if I had to watch “Air Bud” with a straight face.
- The fourth thing was my PMS and monthly issues were slightly better this month than they usually are. I only had one day where I was convinced everyone hates me.
It’s subtle. It’s just a jump of two or three shades up the gray scale. But it’s movement in the right direction.
I was totally set to tell M (and you guys) that my experiment was a failure. That the challenge was a bust. I was prepared to be angry and sad and frustrated. But it turns out I’m not. I’m actually doing (knock on wood) better. It wasn’t the huge beautiful transformation I was hoping for – I’m still struggling – but somewhere in the past couple of weeks I’ve moved towards hoping things will get better to knowing that they are. It’s slow. It’s maddeningly slow. But it is working. I think.
So here’s what I did:
- 7-8 hours of sleep became my number one priority. I rearranged my work, my exercise and even my kids a little bit to make sure I got adequate rest.
- 5 cups of greens a day (this was part of the challenge, not the book)
- 8 cups of water a day
- Avoided all refined sugars including all flours. (I still ate some honey and dates. And lots of fruit. Stevia when I absolutely needed a sweetener. Note: I did NOT cut carbs but rather got my carbs more in the form of potatoes, squash and whole cooked grains like rice and quinoa rather than cereals, breads or pasta.)
- Exercised 40-60 minutes six days a week. (But two of these workouts were just long walks outside. Two were strength workouts, one was Zumba and one was running.)
- Got outside, with the sun on my face, every day.
- Used an essential oil diffuser with a blue light every morning for one hour. (This wasn’t from the book or the challenge but there’s a lot of research backing blue light therapy for depression and my friend gave me the orange essential oils which smelled yummy so I just went with it.)
- Prayed/meditated/read my scriptures for at least 20 minutes a day.
- No caffeine or stimulants.
- Family dinner every night.
- Stopped eating after dinner.
- Took fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium, calcium every day. (Okay and biotin – still trying to grow my hair back!)
It’s a long list, I know. And it can be intimidating. For me honestly the only one I really had a hard time doing was the sugar. I still crave sugar like crazy and I’m not sure what to do about that. I was set to scrap it after the challenge ends tomorrow but now that I think I am starting to see some results I think perhaps I should stick with it? It could be coincidence but then what do I have to lose really by sticking with my healthy changes?
Have any of you ever done a health challenge? Did you like it or find it helpful? Any of you tried a diet specifically geared towards helping your mood/mental health?? Which one was it and what did it entail? Anyone have any other books to recommend to me??