This marks the second post on Chronic Illness Chronicles that is about depression, and I hope you will continue to read on whether you have ever been depressed or not. The first post I wrote was about Seasonal Affective Disorder and can be found here, but this is going to focus on how I have discovered the causes of my depression and how that has helped me push past and fight back against the stigma associated with depression.
According to the World Health Organization in 2012 upwards of 350 million people were living with depression worldwide. While I am just one of those human beings, I know a handful of others who have struggled with this condition, and have spent hours, days, and possibly months, researching and exploring this topic to better my own mental health. While what's to come is a mix of objectivity and subjectivity, I urge you to peruse this article, because I am going to be open and candid. I am going to share a part of myself with you all in the hopes to help someone else who may be alone and afraid and miserable.
I am going to cover how my depression manifests itself and the causes of my depression. I will write a follow-up post with how I manage my depression with diet, supplements, and lifestyle at a later point in time. I don't want this to turn into a novel :-)
As I mentioned in my SAD post, the first time I realized I was depressed was 8th grade. I have dealt with mood imbalances on and off ever since, but since going on the autoimmune protocol my moods are stabilizing and I'd like to think I am a happier more energized person as a result. Note: my depression has never gotten in the way of me going to school, going to work, or performing day-to-day tasks, so my perspective may be different from others (except for that time that my doctor prescribed me a bunch of Xanax when I had my IUD in and couldn't sleep. Benzos + Julie = one miserable human being).
For me, my depression is a little dark cloud that follows me around and zaps my ability to be optimistic. I become quiet, reserved, and spend a lot of time up in my head over analyzing conversations, relationships, mistakes I've made, and so on. I don't want to hang out with friends, I don't want to do school work, and I typically find myself forcing a smile and counting down the hours until I can be alone in my room with my music.
These days, my depression is not that bad compared to many people's, but I've had some dark times in my life: crying spells, panic attacks, withdrawing from everyone in my life, having an inability to properly channel my emotions, lacking energy to heal, and constantly feeling alone, afraid, and hopeless. There was also a period of time where it got so bad that I wanted to end my life. Obviously, and thankfully, I did not.
It was not until I seriously took my mental wellbeing into my own hands that I was able to break free from depression's claws and start healing. Those who have ever been depressed know how challenging this task can be though. If I can't even find the energy to pretend to be happy how am I supposed to cognitively restructure my thoughts? It can be a daunting task. Thankfully, there are other things we can do aside from cognitive behavioral therapy to get better. First, it is crucial to figure out in true Sherlock Holme's style why you, the unique individual that you are, feel depressed.
The other day I came across an article that compared depression to a drug and an addiction, and I could
not disagree with this notion more. A lot of the time people accuse those who are depressed as being lazy, unmotivated, and all we need to do to feel better is to look at the world around us differently. Huh... I never thought about doing that - thanks for the insight. Yet, this couldn't be farther from the truth in some people's cases. There have been days where everything in my life is going well and I'm being as optimistic as possible, but the sadness still lingers and creeps into every fiber of my being, dragging me down and affecting my mood. I tell it to go away, I push it out of my mind, I do a countless number of things that make me happy, but the depression persists.
Thankfully, I have started to accept that this is a part of me, and it's not because I'm fragile, crazy, messed up, lazy, mental, weird, etc. It is for a slew of other reasons.
1) Genetics - depression runs in my family, and both sides of my family at that. I believe that the MTHFR gene mutation runs in my family as well, just based on my research and illnesses that I have, but I'll have to come back to that at another point in time. Regardless, mental illness can be passed down through genes, it is not just some socially constructed mindset that pops up out of nowhere.
2) Hormonal imbalance - I have been on birth control since I was 17. As such, my hormones have not had the chance to stabilize and occur naturally for quite some time. Estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, when in balance, work together to keep you happy and healthy. I am working to overcome estrogen dominance and a progesterone deficiency thanks to coming off of birth control and being essentially poisoned with copper due to the IUD Paragard. This combination can result in mood imbalances and disorders. Thankfully, I have made huge progress with this endeavor with a lot of help from the supplement Estroblock.
3) Adrenal fatigue - I've been working to correct years of adrenal damage from eating crappy, being super stressed, treating my body poorly, and dealing with copper toxicity. Your adrenals help to control your cortisol levels and keep you energized and happy. When your adrenals reach the point of burnout, your cortisol levels can dip so low that you feel sluggish, unmotivated, and ultimately, depressed. My adrenals have been put through a lot and I'm happy to report that they're getting better, but I will address that at a later point in time.
4) Heavy metal toxicity - Needless to say, having a copper device inserted inside of you can lead to suffering from heavy metal toxicity. My body has gone through the ringer because of the Paragard. My organs have worked to push out the excess copper and keep all of my other mineral levels in check. Unfortunately, that was not possible for a very long time. The copper deposited itself in my brain, tissues, fat, bone, and wherever else it could lodge itself. As a result, my mental health plummeted as copper took over and all the calming minerals like zinc and magnesium were overpowered. Even if you aren't suffering from copper overload, heavy metal toxicity might be a piece of your depression puzzle.
5) Thyroid issues (hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's) - I believe that this is one of the main reasons for why I sometimes deal with depression. My mother has hypothyroidism, as well as other women in my family, so who knows when my thyroid truly started to crap out on me (it's okay though, I forgive you, it's not your fault dear thyroid <3). The thyroid controls our hormones, and an underactive thyroid struggles to create enough thyroid hormone, which in turn keeps you happy and energized. The thyroid also works hand-in-hand with your adrenals, so as one starts to be overworked, the other one must pick up the slack.
6) Leaky gut - If your stomach lining is all messed up (that's the scientific way to explain it...) it's going to have a hard time absorbing nutrients and minerals from food. As such, you will be malnourished and this can lead to mood swings and mood imbalances, among other issues. My stomach lining has been getting better with each passing moment on the autoimmune protocol, but I still rely on many supplements to make sure I am meeting the requirements for all vitamins and minerals.
My stomach issues likely started for me when I was on a long round of antibiotics thanks to a horrible urinary tract infection. I was also a sick little baby and always struggled with ear infections, which also led to being prescribed antibiotics before I could even walk. Not to mention, my diet up until a few years ago consisted of mostly gluten, dairy, processed foods, and all other sorts of inflammatory meals. Oh... can't forget those rugby years and rugby beers :-o I probably should write my stomach a heart-felt apology letter for all I have put it through.
7) Personality traits - I love to psychoanalyze myself (which sometimes annoys the hell out of my closest family members and friends, for that, I apologize) and I like to attribute my behaviors to past events and personality traits. Some of these traits have developed due to positive life events, and others through negative life events. I am a perfectionist, I can be impatient, sometimes I am pessimistic, I am extremely passionate about a number of things, I am super receptive, I am sensitive, and ultimately, I am a hopeless romantic.
All of these quirks and habits can either create an energized and happy Julie or a down-in-the-dumps, I'm going to hide in my shell Julie. Thankfully, I have become so introspective that I have begun to work on channeling my energy in a positive way, yet, I'm not perfect and sometimes I take a comment too personally and it ruins my day.
All in all, I realize this post is pretty long and somewhat all over the place, but managing my depression has been one of my biggest triumphs in life, and has taken a lot of research and reflection to start the process. I triumph over this "disease" well (most days) and am proud of the progress I have made, but there is always more work to be done. I hope that in sharing my story and how I began to solve my mystery that that this information resonated with you. Depression should not be stigmatized in our society anymore. The number of people that I know who deal with it or who know someone else who lives with it is so widespread.
In my mind, one of the major ways to combat this illness is to speak out and share our stories, lend a helping hand to someone who is having a horrible day, be compassionate, be understanding and empathetic, and ultimately not judge or label someone who has the courage to admit that they have depression. Just because I do not have a wound that you can see on the surface does not mean that I am not hurting, does not mean that I am not worthy of anyone's help or concern. I may be a bit biased, but those of us who wake up every morning and work to overcome our mind's natural frame of reference are not weak as society would like to describe us. We are strong, we are empowered, and we are warriors :-)
Thanks for reading, and I apologize for my serious tone. I tend to enjoy writing my posts in a goofy way, but I'm very serious about this topic. Did anything resonate with you in my post? Do you have any ideas as to why you struggle with your moods? Did I leave anything important out? Please leave me some feedback - I'd love to hear from you all!
Until next time!
Adrenal Function in Mild Depression. (2015, January 1). Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.adrenalfatigue.org/mild-depression
Borchard, T. (2014, May 5). Have Depression or Anxiety? Get Your Thyroid Checked. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.everydayhealth.com/columns/therese-borchard-sanity-break/depression-bipolar-disorder-and-hypothyroidism/
Bowthorpe, J. (n.d.). MTHFR genetic defect - Stop the Thyroid Madness™. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/mthfr/
Depression. (2012, October 1). Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs369/en/
Kesser, C. (2011, February 24). 9 Steps to Perfect Health - #5: Heal Your Gut. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://chriskresser.com/9-steps-to-perfect-health-5-heal-your-gut
Personality. (2013, October 1). Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/depression/causesofdepression/personality.cfm
Smith, P. (2013, February 1). Heavy Metals Detox. Retrieved February 18, 2015, from http://www.balancingbrainchemistry.co.uk/23/Heavy-Metal-Toxicity-Depression-&-Anxiety.html