Food Journal – Week 7 Check In/My Nature Prescription

Almost seven weeks have passed since I started using the food journal app consistently.  My goal is to make it at least 3 months or twelve weeks so I am over half way there.  It has started to become a habit so it seems less cumbersome.  In essence, using the food journal has started becoming a habit and not a nuisance.  I am snacking much less and when I do, I am much more selective about what I eat as a snack.  The best thing is that it has stopped my mindless eating which I believe was one of my biggest challenges.  The other challenge was we eat out a lot and now we have shifted to cooking more just because it is easier to control the calories you ingest.

The other benefit of the food journal is planning.  For New Year’s Eve, we knew we were going out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  We went online to see what they were offering on their NYE menu and we planned it out ahead of time what we wanted to eat and the estimated calories.  Then the rest of the day, we ate lighter to allow for a heavier meal.  Though to be honest, I ate too much.  I really didn’t need either the few small slices of rye bread (mmmm) and butter or the triple chocolate cake we split.  I think I would have given up the triple chocolate cake before the bread.  It was simply too sweet.  But the main point here is making choices and thinking ahead.  And not depriving yourself.  If I deprive myself, I binge and I also feel rebellious which in turn makes things worse.  The key is to know yourself, your triggers and figure out what works for you. You can try to follow expert advice or mine (not expert) but really I find you have to do what works for you. And no deprivation.  No foods are off limit.  No restaurants you can’t eat in.  Depriving yourself doesn’t work as a lifestyle change.  This for me is exactly that.  It has to be otherwise I will slip back and gain the weight (and more) back.

Actually I don’t really care about the weight, I am using it and measurements as a marker but mostly it is how my clothes fit.  Because I can shrink inches and not lose a pound.  I can actually gain weight while losing size because of muscle gain especially if I am training or working out hard.  However, since I am keeping track of my weight, I have lost 11.8 lbs in that 7 weeks or about 1.5 lbs a week average.  My highest weight recorded was this past May (I didn’t record it often then) and using that number, I have lost 15 pounds.  Which means I have made a 50% dent in the ~30 pounds I gained over last winter.

They say how hard it is to lose weight when you get older and especially when you edge into menopause.  However, I have been really surprised how fast and dare I say, easy, this has been.  Other than the annoyance of getting into the habit of using the food journal which with smart phones really isn’t that hard and just adjusting how I eat, I really haven’t made huge changes other than not overeating and being more cautious about eating out.  I still eat ice cream and chocolate and candy bars and popcorn at the movies (small no butter – but I don’t miss the greasy butter which used to make me sick).  I’ve reduced my soda drinking and replaced it with oolong tea in the morning and early afternoon.  The crazy thing about the oolong tea is that I haven’t had a migraine since I started drinking two (large) cups of it a day.  Sometimes if I decreased how much I ate, I would get a searing migraine.  But I haven’t had one in weeks.  I think the second benefit from the tea is that it makes me less hungry due to the caffeine content.  This is not something to drink late afternoon or bedtime.

Also, my husband finally set up our rower in the basement.  It is one with the water tank (House of Cards viewers will know the one) and even on the lowest resistance, I find this to be a touch workout.  It’s not quite been set up a week but I can only do 15 minutes with frequent breaks.  The nice thing is I can take the breaks whereas on my bike rollers, I couldn’t do so as easily.  They claim it works 85% of your muscle groups and I really think it does.  But the best benefit is I’m getting a good cardio workout without having to go to a germy gym and fighting for equipment.  I watch Netflix or listen to music and row away.  Well row a bit then stop, row, stop, row, stop.  You get the idea.

My app (My Plate) credits you earned calories when you workout (it also will link to other apps or you phone if it counts your steps and automatically calculate estimated calories burned).  Though I don’t use the adjusted added calories usually, I try to stick right around the prescribed number allowed each day before exercise, I know that working out affords me more fudge room.  I row, bike and hike for ice cream.  And to feel better.  I am feeling much more energetic, less tired and I’ve accomplished a lot more around the house than I normally do.  Last winter, I turned into a slug.  This year, I’m keeping active though not in the intensity that I do in the warmer months.

Oh, and my winter depression or (SADD)…  Initially I had been using the idea that vigorous/moderate exercise alleviated my year-round struggle with depression.  I noticed big changes when I felt depressed then got out for 30+ minutes riding my bike.  Similar to a runner’s high.  Two winters ago, I tested that theory by joining the Y again.  I could work out on the elliptical for an hour, hard, and not see the same results.  That was frustrating.  I tried the stationary bikes that they use for  the cycling classes.  I tried walk/running on a treadmill.  Never did I get the same result.  It didn’t help my depression at all.

Then I figured it out.  I have to be outside, in nature for 30+ minutes several times a week to help my depression.  Sometimes it’s so cold (Ohio weather), I have to do short walks out into my back yard and breathe in the air and notice the landscape around me (I’m fortunate that I live in the country).   This seems to help as well.  Just multiple shorter trips outside make a difference.  It is even better if I can do it on a sunny day.  But the prescription seems to be not vigorous exercise so much as the outdoors.  Breathing in the fresh air, seeing the sun, and so on.  But it is not just the outdoors, it’s being away from urban areas and into nature.

Stanford University had some encouraging findings about my theory  That is why when I lived in town and would walk in the winter, it never seemed to help my depression.  Now I live in the country and I can just walk into my back yard and be surrounded by nature.  But there are parks I visit as well.  My cousin experiences this phenomenon as well.  He gets ancy and depressed if he can’t get away from the city and into nature.  Maybe out genetic makeup is more sensitive to being indoors or urban places.

I have deemed it my “Nature Prescription” which is a hella lot better than Zoloft and all its side effects.  As long as I get outside 3-4 times a week for about two hours total (my guess), my depression (SADD) seems to stay at bay.  So it wasn’t so much the vigorous exercise as I first believed (though there are studies to prove this) but being out in nature that really triggered my brain to act right.   I am still forming my hypothesis but so far based on my experience, this seems to be what works for me.  I am not a physician or a psychologist so I really can’t shell out medical advice.  This is simply my experience.  Exercise also helps regardless of where I perform it as I can feel a big difference in my attitude when I am not active.  That and I feel like a fat slug.  A juicy one that looks like it’s gonna pop at any minute.

As I write this, the sun is out glistening on the new fallen snow and the temperature is 1 degree which feels like -10 degrees  with the windchill.  I will get my nature dose simply by bundling up and taking the dog out to potty.  For like 2 minutes at a time.  Whatever works.

That’s the key, do what works for you and Happy Damn It’s F’ing Cold January!

Old Habits Die Hard…

Though I haven’t written about it for a long time, diets were something I gave up because they simply do not work, especially for me.  I’ve had different eating disorders off and on in my life, usually ‘mild’ cases of them but my biggest struggle was always emotional or compulsive overeating.  I got bored, I ate.   I got upset, I ate.  I got sad, I ate.  I was disappointed, I ate.  I got hurt, I ate.  You get the idea.  When I was in my mid 30’s, I was close to 300 pounds and completely miserable.  I hurt, I was out of breath walking across the room, I hated the way I looked.  My marriage at the time was horrible to put it lightly and I was fighting depression.  But then I finally got treatment for depression and the sun came out once again except I stil weighed almost 300 pounds.  

Dealing with my depression made me aware that I was using food for comfort and other reasons other than when I was just hungry.  I was in the bookstore one day looking through the self-help section when I found Geneen Roth’s book, Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating.  I went on to read all the titles of hers I could find and I follow her FaceBook page to this day reading her occasional posts.  I lost weight, and settled into a place where my body seems to be comfortable (though far from thin, I am fit to the point I baffle my family doctor). After years of ups/downs on the scale I was then diagnosed in 2009 with hypothyroidism.  People believe that once you start taking medication for hypothyroidism, the weight just falls off.  I have yet to meet a person that this has happened to without strict dieting and exercise.  So I just decided, screw it, I’m going to be happy the way I am, go out and ride 100’s of miles on my bike, hike, swim, jog or whatever makes me happy.  I thought I was good. I had a handle on all this.

Except a few years back Weight Watchers came to our employer and I got the bright idea to join it.  I am the one person who gained weight on WW.  Slowly but surely since that time, the dieting mentality has come back into my life.  Over the winter, I did not join a gym, my Wii fitness board broke, I found I hate riding my cycling rollers and I dislike doing anything other than yoga, walking/hiking outdoors when it isn’t frigid so essentially I quit moving.  Though I always gain a bit over the winter after the riding season, this winter it was a bit more than usual.  When I went for my yearly OB appointment, I stared at the red LED numbers on the scale in disbelief.  I had not weighed that much for years.  I can’t even blame it on riding and adding more muscle weight.  I look like the Pillsbury dough girl around the middle.  When I went to my family doctor a few days later, the number was confirmed, sadly.   

So I broke out my food journal app and started to track what I ate.  Another dieting mentality come back to life.  Then I did my 6 month blood test for my thyroid and got the call from my doctor’s office.  I needed to come in.  Seems my levels were up and therefore my dosage was no longer enough.  Battling two things at once.  Well at least that explained why I had not felt like doing much, or in other words why I felt like a big fat slug.  Two days into the higher dosage and I’m feeling my energetic self again, not the self who is wading through waist high concrete all day long.  This will help get me up and moving again as exercise is not an issue for me usually except during the winter though lately I haven’t wanted to do much at all.

When I started thinking about how I had been eating, it dawned on me that I had slipped back into that place of ups and down, deprivation, eating when I’m not hungry and so on.  I was reading Roth’s FaceBook posts and thinking oh that’s not me anymore and well, it is but at least not on the same degree as it once was.  No this time it was just a little bit more sneaky.   I didn’t realize I had lost the core instructions Roth preaches over and over in her books.  Trust yourself, trust your body to tell you what it needs, eat when you are hungry, you will not go stark-raving mad into a binge if you listen to what you body needs and you don’t restrict any foods.  You need to stay with your feelings, feel them, experience them rather than cram them into whatever coping mechanism you may have.  

For different reasons over the past years, I had forgotten a lot of what I learned to be true. I went back to not trusting myself to know what I needed or wanted.  I quit enjoying what I ate or even thinking about what I was truly hungry for or even if I was hungry at all.  So I pulled Roth’s books back out, downloaded every one of her books available that I could find free via my different library options and started my compulsive eating refresher course.  The interesting thing about reading these books about 10 years later, my life has changed so much that I’ve learned new things from them that I didn’t pick up before because I had not experienced certain tragedies and difficulties at that age.  

Day 1, I focused on what I wanted to eat and found that my normal menu fare that I lazily eat every day wasn’t really what I wanted, so I simply didn’t eat that much.  Day 2, I really thought about what I wanted to eat during the day before I packed my food for work.  Amazingly, I didn’t eat all that I packed since I was more satisfied with eating what I really wanted.  Day 3, I believed I wanted that donut for breakfast and since this food was no longer off limits, I ate it and enjoyed it.  Later I felt sick and thought why the hell did I eat that sugar filled stick.  I felt miserable.  So had that much changed that suddenly I was having these great epiphanies?  Nothing really, I just was asking myself: Are you hungry?  What do you want to eat? Are you enjoying what you are eating, does it taste good?  If the answer was “no”, then I stopped eating it and tried to decipher what I did want. 

Last night I went out to eat and found the food lacking so I simply did not eat much and went home and ate something I wanted more.  When I stop focusing on calories and on what I want to eat rather than what I shoud eat, something miraculous happens.  I really don’t turn into this raving eating machine that shovels everything into her gullet that is within her grasp.  I even turned down ice cream last night and I LOVE ice cream.  I wasn’t hungry so it wasn’t the right time to eat it but that doesn’t mean I can never have ice cream.  Life is too short to not enjoy what you eat.  Just within a few days of getting back into this mindset, I am a lot happier and find I am no longer compulsive eating.  

This doesn’t mean that I will magically become a supermodel and have the perfect body, it just means I’m not cramming stuff down that I don’t want or even need.  If I truly want pie for breakfast though, I am going to sit down and enjoy that pie.   The anxiety surrounding food has dissolved and it no longer has the power to make me so miserable and unhappy when it should truly be enjoyed.  As long as I keep asking myself those questions and being mindful of what I am eating or am wanting.

Lesson learned:  When I think I have it all down pat and I know it all, it is probably the moment I need to stop and check myself.  

Time for Change…

The quandary with being mid-life is that you’ve lived a lot of years but also you (hopefully) have a lot of years ahead of you.  You also realize though that you don’t have your entire life in front of you either and that your days must start counting for more.  I think this is sometimes called a mid-life crisis but I think for most people it’s just a time to really stop and check the path they are on.  Stop running on autopilot, step back and say, is this the life I want? Is this what I should be spending my precious time doing?  It’s a self-check moreso usually than a crisis.  I have yet to want to buy a sports car, get a really young husband and well, I guess the female version to the combover is to dress and try to look like a teenager to the point you look ridiculous.  I think a lot of older women are not accepting looking like little old ladies and that’s great but you have to do it with finesse and style, not copy your 16-year old daughter.  

Yesterday, a young girl in our community died days after her attempt at suicide.  Thousands of people had been praying for her and her family but it was not enough to bring upon a miracle.  This girl is part of my family doctor’s family, his two older sons graduated with my daughters and since he’s been my doctor for ages, his kids essentially grew up with mine.  Not that we were close, they didn’t invite me over for dinner but in a small community like ours, everyone knows everything and you interact through many different channels.  

I can remember her as a baby, toddler, young girl and a teenager.  She was a beautiful sweet girl with seemingly everything a girl could want at least from the outside but yet this tragedy occurred.  Of course the rumor mill is running rampant with why she may have done it, but the only person that truly knows is gone.  People will judge her parents and make assumptions but the real truth is, this could happen in anyone’s family.   So sit down and focus on what is your life.  Say a prayer of peace and comfort for the family instead of stirring up the gossip. 

Suicide is the one thing, unless you’ve been on the verge of committing it yourself, it’s easy to stand there and say “how could she do this?” Essentially for many different reasons, you come to a point where everything feels hopeless and you feel the only way out, the only way for peace is death.  This could be from a mental cause such as depression, chemical imbalance in your brain, drugs (both prescription and illegal) and so on.  The Cherokee Indians had a saying that roughly was “Do not judge a man without walking in his moccasins” or the more modern “walk a mile in his/her shoes”.  Have some empathy, don’t just stand there and judge.  Try to see what it might have been from someone’s view. 

In my mid 30’s, I had a bought of depression so bad that I would wake up and then curse the fact I hadn’t died in my sleep.  It scared me enough to get treatment which was prescribed by this very Doctor.  He gave me Zoloft and finally that urge to die subsided.  It’s not always “just in your head”, mental illness many times is physiological and not just psychological.    You can’t “snap out of” depression.  It’s like telling someone with a broken leg to just think positive and it will heal.  Yeah it may heal but maybe not heal right. You may walk with a limp the rest of your life because it needed set.  You get the idea.

On the news yesterday that this girl passed away, I was sitting there thinking about my life.  Yesterday was also the two-year anniversary of my mom’s death.  I was feeling reflective anyway but this tragic news pushed me even deeper into thought.  The last few years especially, I have had time to work on myself, things that happened to me years ago and their effect on me today was forefront in my life.  If you read my blog consistently, you know I’ve talked about self-esteem issues, body image, mid-life, grief and a whole host of topics that are relevant to me as well as many other people’s lives.  The greatest complement I have received from my writing is when someone thanks me for being candid enough to write about a hard subject because they feel less alone and I’ve helped them in some small way. 

The thing about death is that it reminds you to live.  I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few years working out my grief, working out issues from years ago because I either pushed it down or I simply didn’t have time for myself.  This is the first time in my life since I was a teenager that I have been able to really focus on myself because I was no longer actively taking care of someone else.  Having all this time to think was both good and bad.  Just the other day I wrote something about a traumatic experience that happened when I was 14.  It was one of those times where I started writing it in my head first and I needed to get it down on “paper”.  When I told a friend about it, they said why do you keep reliving this stuff?  Me being me, I was annoyed at first with what they said.  I am a stubborn learner at time and yesterday it finally clicked with me what they were trying to tell me.  

Yes I could use my traumatic experience to reach others and help someone else but by doing so, I was keeping the past in the present.   The beauty of youth is you don’t have years of the past to ruminate on.  You live each day looking to just that day and sometimes toward the future.  I try to be mindful of each day and live in the present but I tend to be all over the board.  I have no clue what I want in my future to be other than a happy, healthy family, be able to live comfortably, finish my degree and publish a book.  I don’t have the fiery, motivated goals of my youth and sometimes that bothers me.  I have no idea why, maybe because I feel like I am not “doing enough”.  It seems even more imperative now at the age of 46 that I should be “reaching for some big dream” before it’s too late.  

As I sat there alone thinking about my mom and this young girl’s life being cut too short, I realized I need to live for today and stop worrying so much about the future or achieving some great thing.  I simply need to follow my heart and stop worrying so damned much.  I need to let go of the past, I have worked hard to get where I am today and be the person I’ve become.  I’m proud of the person I am today even if I’m not always proud of my past life.  I’ve made many mistakes, my life was a train wreck when I was younger but so what?  As the 1000 memes going around social media say,  you get a new start every day or something to that effect.  Really all I need is a change in focus and attitude.  It’s that simple. 

In the effort to live each day to the fullest and live in the present, I’ve decided to suspend my blog for the time being.  I need some time to refocus myself and just live my life by embracing each day as a new opportunity.  Focus on spending time with the people that I love the most and make me the happiest rather than putting energy into those relationships that do not add much if anything to my life.  I am going to let go of the “should of’s” as well.  I should do this, be this or achieve this.  This is a lot of white noise that confuses me and makes it difficult for me to enjoy life.  In essence, I’m going to hit the “reset” button and start new again.   Maybe I will pick up my blog again with a different goal in my writing.  We will see.  

Go live for today, do what makes you happy and don’t look back.  Find your passion, take a chance and live your dreams.  There is never going to be the perfect day for it, do it today, start today.  Live for today, you have no guarantee there is a tomorrow.  Be prepared to fail and hear “no” many times over, but don’t give up.  The one difference between the people who achieve their dreams and the ones who don’t is usually the fact they didn’t give up and not because they nailed it right from the start.  

So in conclusion, this blog has been a wonderful journey which forced me to get myself and my writing out in the public eye.  I am grateful to all that have read it, who have commented on it and who might miss it just a little bit.  I am going to focus on my dream of publishing a novel.  Wish me luck!  Or better yet, wish me tenacity to stick it out and get over or around all the challenges I will face (mostly being too self-critical of my writing – ha…).  Deep breath and first steps…

Depression Experiment – Days 1 – 7

Below are journal entries of each day as I start the journey of acceptance of what my body, soul and heart needs and wants as based on my post Depression Conundrum.

Day 1 – 11/7/2015

Wrote the introductory blog post and received more comments and likes than normal signaling that this is something that affects many people.  I find myself throughout the day feeling like I must be doing “more”, whatever “more” is.  That I must exercise, do more around the house, write more, etc.  Be productive.  I quieted my nagging mind for a bit and decided that I wanted to lie on the couch and watch a movie, eating frozen chimichangas and no fruits or vegetables.  Later in the evening, I decided to drive to Kroger’s and Wal-Mart to pick up a few things, one being hair color to darken my hair a shade as I may stop coloring completely going back to my dark blonde for the first time since I was 14.  I also quit being cheap and purchased a new keyboard folio for my iPad since both my folio and separate keyboard are falling apart. We stopped at KFC for dinner and I ate what I wanted which wasn’t as much as I always fear I might eat.  I took a portion of it home for my other daughter.  When I just eat whatever I want, I actually eat less than when I try to “be careful” or “eat healthy” or “diet” though I never really use that word, it is my mindset.  Got tired around 11:30 p.m. and went to bed.  End result: I didn’t feel as tired throughout the day, I felt more content and peaceful.

Day 2 – 11/8/2015

I slept fitfully as usual, my night riddled with hot flashes but the room was cold so I couldn’t decide if I wanted to be uncovered or covered.  Also my husband was on night shifts, so I don’t sleep as well.  Even though I didn’t sleep well, I felt like baking and made baked pears and homemade cinnamon rolls which I have been resisting making because of my “diet” mindset. My daughter and I went to the park and hiked several miles.  Then I came home and made tacos.  A full day of delicious foods, some outdoor exercise and needed family time.   

Day 3 – 11/9/2015

A day of errands and running about.  First I had to go get my bloodwork done for my impending surgery.  My husband was sleeping after his night shift so I thought I would knock out my test.  Except I had two panic attacks before I ever got to the hospital.  Since my mom was terminally ill and passed away, I have a difficult time returning to the same hospitals she had tests or had spent time in.  Add in the fact that they are checking me for uterine cancer and I was a mess.  I had to sit in my truck to let the shaking subside.  Once I was in the lab, I was okay.  At one time, I used to think that panic attacks weren’t real, it was just people over reacting or trying to get attention.  Now I think differently.  They are definitely real.  Not sleeping well keeps me always on the tired side.  Other than looming dread over the surgery and the potential cancer results, my depression is not evident. 

Day 4 – 11/10/2015

Again, hot flashes have kept me up but I seem to be able to function on less sleep right now, almost as if my body is getting used to the lack of sleep.  The day was the usual busy one at work, no time to feel down, just rushed a bit and a little stress.  The depression has been pretty much at bay.  It has been limited to momentary lapses that I feel and then let go.  I don’t freak out or feel like I have to do much of anything other than acknowledge its presence lending a bit of credibility to my theory that fighting the feelings, fearing the depression just gives it more power and more fuel.  However, starting to let go of the dread and fear of depression feels a little freeing.  I hope that this is the start of something better.  A new way of dealing with something that has plagued me much of my adult life. 

Day 5 – 11/11/2015

Today is the 21st anniversary of losing most everything I owned in a house fire at the rental property we lived.  At the time, it was a traumatic experience but as the years have passed, ticking off one after another yearly anniversary, I have grown to appreciate the lessons I learned.  I don’t really collect much of anything any longer.  I give away a lot more material things I don’t use instead of hoarding them for that rainy day that never comes.  The only thing that mattered was that no one was home at the time of the fire which was actually reported from a traveler on a highway five miles away the flames were so high.  I only feel gratitude and blessings that came from this event in my life which happened when I was just 24.  On the depression front, it has been noticeably absent today.  Sometimes I wonder if it strikes more when I am not as busy and more still.  

Day 6 – 11/12/2015

Day at work was busy.  I started thinking about college and what I wanted to do, finish the associates degree, stop or go on and get my bachelors.  Since things in my life have settled down (fingers crossed), maybe I can start focusing on my education again.  Every so often I’ll look at the jobs out there and a bachelors degree is basically like a high school diploma was when I graduated high school in 1988, many moons ago.  I was thinking about my theory that having too much unfocused time might be contributing to my depression.  Getting my bachelors (and possibly beyond as far as a doctorate) was a goal of mine in high school, probably middle school.  It was never something I questioned, it was just there.  Maybe because my mom who never finished college always told me you need to get your degree so you don’t have to struggle as hard.  People (at least in that time) see you differently if you are educated at least in the workforce.   At work, I’m treated as if I a lowly secretary by the management at my site.  You can feel them looking down on you.  The strange thing is people at higher positions off site, do not see me or treat me this way.  Not that a degree will change their view of me, but will it change my view of myself?  I’ll have to consider that.  

Day 7 – 11/13/2015

Whoooooo… Friday the 13th.  Actually this date has never freaked me out like it does other people.  I’m superstitious to a certain extent but not this one.  Normal busy work day.  Evening was quiet.  I am a little hormonal and sensitive (the change sigh) which means I have to be careful how I react to everything and everyone.  Sorting through my hormonal emotional changes is exhausting as is not sleeping due to hot flashes.  I’m a bit tired all the time.  Have to take extra care of myself.  Which is maybe what I need anyway.  I’m nto great at doing what my body asks of me.  I just push it harder and then wonder WTH when something happens like I get sick, get a migraine or overreact to my husband joking around.  I have narrowed down a few options to complete my degree.  They aren’t impossible or out of reach.  i have some time to decide if this is the direction I want to go as I finish my associates degree.  I just feel better knowing that I have a general game plan for my goal.  That it is attainable.  

Bottom line – My depression isn’t as scary as I believed it to be.  I don’t have to live in year of it ebbing and flowing through my life.  Since I started relaxing about it and letting the feelings just “be”, the power it has over my life isn’t as great.  Revisiting things or goals that I want or waited for many years and pushed aside is a good exercise as depression can sometimes be linked to things in your life you are ignoring whether it be a bad relationship, a crappy job or a goal you have determined doesn’t matter but deep down it still does.  Depression is repressed anger.  I think mine is due to not caring for myself enough, ignoring my own needs and maybe from ignoring things in life I want to achieve.

I’m going to continue to journal daily but I will just provide only any major “aha” moments in my blog.  Anytime you have something plaguing you, journaling your thoughts is a great way to pick up on trends or maybe what is truly bothering you.

The Depression Conundrum

Conundrum – a confusing and difficult problem or question. 

This single word is what comes to my mind when I think about depression especially as it relates to myself.  I was thirty-five before I ever was diagnosed with it officially and I’m forty-five now.  Starting at this time of the year, when the days are short and the bad weather impending here in Ohio if it hasn’t already arrived, I start to get anxious and fearful that “depression” will arrive and suck me under into its dark, tarry depths where living becomes the equivalent to trying to walk through a tar pit.  Each step is a struggle, each breath exhausting.  People who have not experienced depression probably will feel I am making up that description for dramatic effect, I only wish I were.

Most people who have never suffered from depression usually believe it’s as simple as “snapping out of it.”  If it were that simple, don’t you think we would do it?  If the pills were a miracle cure, then why do we keep needing them?  They feel like a Band-Aid to me.  They were helpful when I got so deeply depressed that I wanted to literally not wake up the next morning,  so that was a good thing but it doesn’t cure depression, just helps you through it.  Is there a way to prevent depression?  Only thing I found that truly helps is riding my bike as much as possible and taking good care of myself.   But it is a continual battle it seems.  A battle I’m quite tired of dealing with.

Depression is mostly a chemical imbalance in your brain (from how I understand it, I’m not a doctor).  My cousin suffers very similarly the way I do so maybe it is inheirited.  We ebb and flow with the winter months being our worst time.  Obviously there is something to that seasonal affective disorder.  Maybe we are sensitive to things that no one is aware of or maybe our brain chemistry is just a tiny bit off making it hard for us at times to function without struggling with depression.

The holidays are fast approaching and with it comes sadness for me after losing my mom.  Personally, I would like to just skip the holidays.  I don’t get any joy out of them anymore.  They are just stark reminders of who is no longer with us and how the celebrations have changed but I guess that is truly just part of life.  But it doesn’t mean I like it.  Or that I have to like it.  I may not be able to change it but I don’t have to like it.   But regardless, this time of the year starts bringing on the start of depression for me again.  Top it off with I have to get surgery in a few weeks to check for uterine cancer, I’m really not flying too high because I’m more worried than anything.  Anytime the word “cancer” comes up, I panic and for good reason.  My mom died of this horrible, painful disease.

I was out walking in the woods the other day thinking about how tired I was of fighting and worrying about depression.  I was thinking, why can’t things just be normal for me?  No, it’s not normally a life-threatening disease (though it can be) and it isn’t cancer so I should be grateful it’s not more serious right?  My way of trying to look on the bright side.  Be positive.  I’m trying to figure out ways to be able to work out hard enough this winter because last year the gym membership didn’t help and hiking or walking doesn’t do enough.  Cycling has been the biggest help but I need to be able to do it for more than an hour and pretty vigorously.  My trainer I can’t ride more than 30 minutes if I’m lucky because riding in place is hard for me and my trainer is pretty hard to ride anyway.  I don’t run because of my bad knees so I was trying to come up with a solution.

Then the thought hit me, what if instead of fearing the depression, I just let go and go with the ebb and flow of it?  Except of course if it gets so bad that I am considering self-harm which hasn’t happened since I was first diagnosed with it ten years ago.  Actually, I wasn’t really considering self-harm, I was just wishing I wouldn’t wake up.  I suppose that is just as bad.  I always feel like I need to be “on top of it”.  But I’m tired of being super vigilant.  I wondered as I picked my way around the now bare trees on the trail, what if I just accepted the feelings?

What if I just laid on the couch for a week and watched Lifetime movies and ate crap?  What if the depression is really my body’s way of telling me listen, you need to stop, you need to take way better care of yourself not only physically but mentally and maybe step back and really look at what is making silently angry or what isn’t working in your life or what if there is a dream or purpose you are ignoring?  They say depression is really repressed anger which may be what affects the brain chemistry and considering I’m so sensitive to everything, it probably affects me sooner than other people.  Maybe I need to really look at my life, I am sure a lot of my anger is based on losing my mom and the way such a sweet, kind and loving person had to die.

Oh yeah, I’m pissed at cancer, it’s epidemic and no one seems to realize this.  I’m pissed at being treated less than a person at times at my job, though I console myself with the fact that isn’t just me that is treated that way there.  Corporations all over the world treat employees this way.  Sometimes I feel like starting my own business and putting people to work under me in a place that treats them as people and not numbers or stupid children would be proactive but it’s a lot of work owning your own business.  And it doesn’t feel like my particular calling.  Maybe there is a long suppressed dream of mine I am not fulfilling.  Maybe I need to focus more on my writing.  I suppose it could be anything.  But I owe it to myself to sort it out though I am guessing it’s not going to be instantaneous.

I am going to try an experiment of sorts.  I am going to start listening keenly to my body, my mind and my heart.  Stop doing the things I think I should if it goes against what I feel I want or need.  Granted, I still have to go to work, do laundry, grocery shop and clean the house but I think there is a lot I could do to honor what I need rather than pushing it off.  Things lie if I’m tired at 7:00 p.m., I’ll go too bed and not listen to the people giving me a hard time about being old.  Or if I want a candy bar, I’ll eat it but if I want an orange I’ll eat that too.  Or maybe I don’t feel like exercising like a maniac, so I don’t.  Or I would rather hike than bike.  Maybe trying to meet mileage goal for the year on my bike isn’t something that is truly important to me.  If I was training for competition, maybe this makes sense.  But I’m not.

For a little while at least, I’m going to just give in and take care of myself regardless of what other people think or say.  I will take care of my responsibilities and double check that I’m not doing too much for someone else who should do for themselves.  I’m good at that, caretaking, without even noticing it.  I have a tendency to jump in where I shouldn’t.  I should just listen and not fix.

Listening to my body is something I have been working on for years.  Listening to my needs and wants is going to be a little newer for me.  Trusting myself, my body is something that I’ve been trying to do but now I need to move it up to a more finite level.  Picking out the small cues I was taught to ignore.  I’m anxious and excited to see what changes this will make in my life.  I have a hunch, once I do this, I may not be fighting depression as much.  I also have a hunch that once I start honoring my calling and path (as New Agey as that sounds), the depression might subside altogether.  And if it does show up, I will just roll with it as it is telling my body something, delivering an important message.  Maybe to slow down, maybe to exercise more, maybe to not eat crap, maybe to stand up and say NO.

Maybe sometimes fighting depression isn’t the right thing.  Maybe it just means I need to listen more closely and cross each bridge as I come to them.  

Emotions vs. Chemistry…

Being a woman can really suck at times, hormones are usually my main culprit and as I am aging words like ‘perimenopause’ and ‘menopause’ keep cropping up more often.  Men don’t quite get the prison that hormones can be.  Post-partum depression, hormones shifts, etc. just throw one on this wild up and down roller coaster and you’re sitting there thinking what in the hell is going on with me?  Why do I feel like this?  Why am I sad when I should be happy?  We reason it away.  “I have so many wonderful things in my life, why do I feel so rotten?”

Depression can do this as well, which is brain chemistry rather than hormones.  Mix the two together and it’s like, well a hellish ride on a rollercoaster without any brakes.  It just keeps running up and down, around, loops and back, repeat.  Not to mention it is all unpredictable, there is little you can do other than wait it out sometimes.  To fight depression, I ride my bike, a lot, because the medications just turn me into an utter and complete zombie complete with drool (do zombies drool?).  Eating better and trying to get enough sleep (which can be erratic when one is depressed) helps as well.

Therapy can also help depending on what is going on with me at the time.  Usually it is just one session, which I think of as a ‘checkup’ in which my therapist listens and nods, makes a few suggestions but both of us know I already know what is going on with me and it’s not as bad as I thought it was.  The second opinion always makes me feel better though.

Hormones however, at age 45, with hot flashes striking in the middle of the night is another story. It just signals that everything is going haywire.  Hormones to me are like prison.  You’re just stuck behind the bars of swaying estrogen, progesterone and testosterone.  I’ve talked to my gynecologist about it and just get told if it gets so bad that I can’t function, then they will look at doing something.  I guess hormone replacement isn’t the magic bullet.  It’s just a fact of life that I have to bear through.   This is also something men find incredibly funny, that is until I give them the death stare and then they quietly step away.  If they had to bear through this, there would be some magic cure I am sure but since I am a woman, it’s like buck it up honey and don’t complain too much, it’s not acceptable.  Sigh….

Then throw in genetic tendencies of being highly sensitive and highly emotional.  After many years of being estranged from my male cousin on my dad’s side, we’ve reconnected through FaceBook and usually have a running commentary of texts between us.  Like me, he grew up with his mom and my dad (siblings) being quite dysfunctional and alcoholic.  Except when my parents divorced when I was 13, I was separated from my dad (he moved back to Missouri and I didn’t see him again until I was an adult) but my cousin, he remained with his mother.  We’ve both struggled with relationships, overcoming the fallout from our childhood, probably read dozens of books, sought different therapies, etc.  We’ve worked hard to overcome our upbringing because though separate, we had both decided we would not carry on the family tradition and be abusive.

As we catch up on each other’s lives, we find eerie similarities both in our struggles and our personalities.  I’ve found myself several times saying, wow, we are so alike, know it makes sense why I feel, do, think this way.  He will say things to me and I’m like “Aha!  That makes sense, that’s why I am this way” and this knowledge takes away the mystery of some of my feelings and actions.  I think he feels the same way.  We can reflect different things back and forth and give different viewpoints that help both of us make sense of ourselves.  The other day, my cousin was having a rough patch and we both tend to blame ourselves, or come down on ourselves for our feelings.  I was driving to work and thought with all we have talked about, I think we fight more with our body chemistry (and hormones in my case) than anything.

The crazy thing about my hormones is one day I can be perfectly content and the next day, I am completely restless and unsettled.  Nothing has changed, my life is exactly as it was the day prior.  Then the next morning, I wake up and everything is sunny again.  I’ve started tracking my monthly cycle on an app and sure enough, a lot of my swings seem to happen around the same times each month.  Well duh, that makes sense.  Depression is genetic as is other mental illnesses.  My dad was diagnosed schizophrenic later in life (I don’t know if he was always this way or his alcoholism brought it on) so I’m always watching myself for anything that would even remotely resemble this but mostly it’s just a little depression and hormone shifts.  It’s amazing though how this affects my thinking.  And when it does, you take this as gospel. “My life sucks, I’m a failure, I’ve done nothing with my life.”  Logically I know this isn’t true but whatever is swirling around in my endocrine system makes me feel this is gospel truth.

People don’t understand sometimes why people commit suicide.  “Oh they had it all, a wonderful family, job, house.  Why would they kill themselves?”  Well when you are severely depressed, none of this matters.  Sometimes suicide is brought on by a deep depression, a chemical imbalance in the body or a medication can cause suicidal thoughts.  I’m not a suicide expert, I’m sure there are many more reasons but in my research and reading on depression, etc. I’ve come across this many times.  In some of my deepest depressions, I was made aware of how easy one could feel like ending their life when on the outside it appears they “have it all”.  You don’t just “snap out of it”.  It’s not so simple.  Just like when you are diagnosed hypothyroid, getting medication doesn’t help you lose weight.  Your body has been altered and the medication just stems the tide of the symptoms, it doesn’t ‘fix’ the problem.

My lesson learned over all this is when I have those mood swings, I have to just take a deep breath and do the best to take care of myself.  That I have to remember this day will pass and most likely tomorrow or the next day, I will feel better.  And to exercise, eat well, get as much sleep as I possibly can as well as just be patient and not come down on myself.  Being kind to myself, having an understanding of what is going on with me helps tremendously as well.  I’m hoping once I reach menopause, this hormonal prison will abate.  From what I have read, it does, so menopause really isn’t something to dread and it doesn’t make you ‘old’ it’s just backwards puberty.  We all know we felt better before puberty hit with its crazy mood swings and other lovely effects.

In closing, I know my emotions may run high for no reason but really it’s just my body chemistry playing havoc with me.  Just take a deep breath and go on with the day.  It will pass.

Darkest Before the Dawn….

This past weekend, I had a few days where I felt really severely depressed.  Might have been due to hormones, latent grief, clinical depression or the fact that winter never ends in Ohio.  Or all of the above.  Worried that my depression had sunk to a point that I could not combat it with my usual exercise and taking care of myself approach, I visited my family doctor who prescribed Zoloft which I had taken back when I was 35 and finally realized what I had been feeling all that time, had been depression.  I picked up the prescription and took half of the first dose.  For the first week, you break the pills in half to see if you can tolerate the medication.

The next morning, I could barely get out of bed, my head was killing me, I felt nauseous and like a zombie.  I did not tolerate the medication very well at all and I hated how I felt.  Finally about one o’clock in the afternoon, I finally started feeling myself again though it took a good two days to completely get rid of that fuzzy feeling.  My husband and I had been talking about my depression and grief.  I had been telling him that I couldn’t understand why I was having such a hard time with the loss of my mother after almost a year.  Some days, it was more than I could bear.  My husband pointed out that because of the close nature of our relationship over the years, which included me working with her for fourteen of those years, that I not only lost a parent but it was almost as if I lost a spouse and child in some ways.  That I wouldn’t just get over it just like that.  

When I thought about this concept, it makes sense.  For some reason, just understanding why I am going through something that doesn’t make sense to me, helps me deal with it better.  Maybe it is the fear of the unknown or fear that I’m going to fall apart.  Once I really grasped that idea, that my relationship with my mom was very complicated and complex, that I had much more to mourn than just a parent, the dark heavy clouds that were suffocating me, lifted and I saw the sunshine again.  I realize, I do not want to take those antidepressants if they make me feel so awful.  So many times, we take pills to “fix” things when it is within our own power to “fix” them ourseleves.  Not that I’m advocating chucking your prescriptions, that all medicine is bad, it’s just sometimes, we want the easy out.  The quick solution and for me, though my depression had spiraled down to a worrisome level, I just needed to understand what I was truly dealing with rather than being afraid there was something inherently wrong with me.  

As they saying goes, it is always darkest before the dawn.  Keep the faith, keep searching and keep hope close.