In 2016, the UK saw a doubling of prescribed anti-depressants in the previous decade. I was part of that statistic. At the end of 2016, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, anxiety from PTSD and had an eating disorder. After explaining the events I had experienced in a short space of time, I was immediately offered anti-depressants by my local GP. I declined, but he did hand me a prescription for a strip of Valium (Diazapam) to get through Christmas if I needed it. I tried one pill. That was enough for me to know I didn’t want to go down that route.
I wanted to explore my own way of managing my depression, not for heroics, but because I have a profound fear of little white pills that could mess with my mind. I wanted to see if I could find the root cause of it and therefore, perhaps find a solution.
Through a period of reflection, I unveiled numerous events that layered on self-doubt on top of a lack of self-worth, leaving me with dark moments or stormy days as I questioned and tried to understand the words or actions of others: My best friends organising an end of year summer holiday and not inviting me. I wasn’t a good enough a friend. My Mum’s constant commenting about my weight made me feel that I was never thin enough, therefore, I was never good enough as a daughter. Losing a baby and a couple more, made me feel that my body wasn’t good enough and consequently, I was a failure. Shortly after that, despite working diligently and honestly, I uncovered an enlightening fact that I was paid at least £10K less than my 2 male equivalents. I wasn’t good enough at work either. It was the final, shattering and harrowing blow, I wasn’t good enough as a wife, lover or partner either that left me in permanent state of darkness and depression.
As I journaled through this time, I recall I described my depression as being the weight of the ocean as I lay at the bottom of the rocky sea bed. I carried out my daily duties of being a mother but it felt like I was wading through a vast quantity of water; everything muffled, distorted and such hard work. I spent my days in bed, hiding from the world, the alarm primed to ensure I was decent for school pick up.
Eventually, I began to formulate my own personal prescription to manage my depression, anxiety and severe lack of appetite. I found lifelines that helped me emerge from my dark, underwater hideout. Since I know what can trigger my depression, my personalised prescription is based on understanding my self-worth, connecting with myself, putting myself first and therefore, allowing me to live authentically so that I know I am enough, regardless.
Daily Peaceful Presence: This is my own form of meditation or time to connect with myself and my feelings. I follow a really simple routine each morning that can take less than 5 minutes or up to 45 minutes, depending on the time available or how close the darkness is. Lying down, I close my eyes and breath until my shoulders and jaw relax and my belly is soft. Then I do a complete body scan, paying attention to any tension and giving thanks for my strong, self-healing body. When I am ready, I move to thinking about the people and pleasures I have in my life and connect with gratitude and the joy in my life. Lastly, I like to visualise and imagine my future, seeing it full of promise and happiness. With a final few focussed breaths I am ready to face my day.
Morning Mantras: Our brains are our most powerful source of how we feel and those feelings stem from what we say to ourselves. I have used affirmations now for at least 4 years to re-wire my brain and affirm how I want to feel. Mohammed Ali used to say, ‘I am the greatest!’ and he became just that, whether he believed it at the start or not. Every month or so, I think about how I want to feel and write down ‘I am’ statements based on those feelings. My current ones start with ‘I am happy, healthy, fit and lean’ and end with ‘I am calm with my boys and treat them with kindness.’
Daily Movement, Fresh Air & Sunlight: I used to have an unhealthy obsession with exercise and it damaged my health both physically and mentally, but now I find that doing something active every day and getting fresh air makes me feel so much better. I no longer feel the guilt if I don’t get to the gym because I always find the time for 10 minutes outside walking around the fields behind our house. These 3 things contribute to being the best anti-depressants you can get and they are all free.
Food & Nutrition: I have intuitively always known I feel better mentally if I eat healthily. This has now been proven scientifically with the introduction of the ‘gut-brain-axis’ and how the friendly bacteria in your gut (microbiome) send messages through the Vegas Nerve to your brain. If your belly is happy, your mind is happy. If your gut is under threat from toxins, the message to your brain is one of stress and alarm. Eating a fresh food and a diverse diet high in fibre is the key to a healthy microbiome and therefore happy mind. I wrote a blog on what to eat here: Happy Belly Happy Mind
Daily Focus & Belief Bible: Am I enough? Do I do enough? Am I good enough? Questions that if I can’t answer, I know my anxiety and depressive tendencies can cloud my better judgement. By having a structure to my days, my week and knowing my purpose and role in my life and the lives of others, seeing it written down in black and white answer those questions for me. When I wasn’t sure about my purpose, I started to re-educate myself and learn new things. I used my brain for something other than ‘thinking’ and I had a focus. Now I am clear on my purpose, my role in the family, I also write a daily ‘Belief Bible’ which contributes to squashing those feelings of self-doubt and that imposter who says I am not good enough. I note down all the ways I help others and when that voice asks, ‘Am I good enough?’, I have the answers written down to refer to.
Daily connection and communication: Being alone for long periods of time is not good for me. My mind and thoughts fill the silence. Just as daily connection with myself is important, so is connection and the ability to communicate, talk and laugh with others is too. As I work from home and often alone, I make sure that I find ways to meet up and have human contact; whether that is at a spin class or meeting a friend for a walk.
Gratitude & Journaling: As I start my day with a peaceful presence practice, I also end my day with a practice that includes gratitude. I reflect back through the day and think about all the moments that brought me joy, for it is the small things in life that contribute to a greater feeling of consistent happiness. I find doing this at the end of the day, my mind is full of happiness, rather than worry and it is the last thing I do before sleeping.
I am far from perfect and I often miss days of doing the full prescription, particularly on weekends and holidays. I always notice the difference and if I miss doing more than 50% of prescription for more than 3 consecutive days, I can feel the darkness descend. This happened over Christmas this year as we were away from home and I was out of control of what I ate, what I did, the routine and structure of my day. On returning, I re-prescribed myself my prescription and within a few days, I began to feel the warmth of the sun on my face again.
While I have managed to manage my depression without prescriptive drugs, I have worked with clients who have chosen to take the prescription, and seen that medication can help too. Taking the medication can enable you to see the lifeline, or find the headspace and energy to follow the ritual and start your own management plan so that in the end, you can reduce the need for prescriptive drugs.
As always, I would love to hear from you if you suffer from anxiety, depression and any mental health issues and understand your prescriptions to keep the darkness away. Or if I can help you understand or create your own prescription, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
This published by Prime Women Magazine in January 2019: Depression affects us all