Depression & Nature’s Cure

Depression affects millions of us every day at different levels. Some people are able to function but at a dulled existence. Other people end up bed ridden, unable to function while some even feel that ending their lives are the only way to ease their pain. If you ever feel like part of this last sentence, please, please, please seek help. There is nothing wrong with getting help because it’s not all in your head, you’re not weak or stupid. Trust me.

My own lifelong fight with depression is not a secret and I’ve mentioned in several of my blog posts. And others in my family suffer from it too which lends me to believe it’s somewhat genetic. Though with millions of us suffering, maybe a lot is environmental. We’ve gone from being outdoors, to spending most of our time inside for work and after work. With so many ways to be in front of a screen, we’ve become more of an inside society. Me included. I’d much rather lounge on the couch binge-watching Netflix than go outside especially when the weather isn’t perfect. But therein I believe lies my issue. Too much inside.

I really hate the anti-depressants and I only have utilized them when in a severe depression. My goal is to find ways to keep from going ‘there’ where I’m so dark and despondent that I feel like I don’t want to live. Find my preventative medicine so to speak. I read most articles I see on depression and have read many books on it as well. I’m not a doctor or a psychologist but I think they are just crap-shooting what’s really going on with our brain. There are many studies out there and the one thing I think I have noticed in common is ‘nature’ as far as people feeling better.

They were pushing vigorous exercise as an alternative to anti-depressants. After my mom died in 2014, I rode my bike a lot. After about 20 minutes of riding after literally forcing myself into the gear and out the door, I’d feel like someone flipped the happy switch. I thought maybe it’s a runner’s high type of thing. So I went on the theory that vigorous exercise was the antidote. Late fall I joined the Y so I could continue the vigorous exercise, except it didn’t work. Didn’t matter how long or hard I rode the spin bike, the happy switch never flipped. I tried the treadmill, elliptical and rower going as long as an hour until I was completely drenched in sweat and nothing. Which of course just added to my depression because then I believed well maybe I have to do my vigorous activity outdoors and I just hate riding in the winter and cold.

But the thing I think was missing in this study was where the subjects did their exercise, indoors or out in nature? Japan has practiced ‘forest-bathing’ for years and done studies on spending time out in the woods to combat stress and depression. Other countries and academic institutions have also studied nature’s affects on our mood and depression. I could link up a bunch of studies but feel free to research yourself.

In late 2015, we moved into the country. I started walking the dog up and down the country roads where its more fields and woods than people. When I lived in town, I also walked the dog except it’s not really nature. A lot of concrete, homes, people and while there is grass and trees, I never felt much difference in my mood walking even five miles around town. However, I started to notice after walking the dog about twenty minutes, I’d feel the switch just a little less prominent which lends me to believe that vigorous exercise forces you to breathe in more air which might be why when I was riding, I felt the ‘switch’ stronger than when I’m walking. Maybe there is some microbe or something biological in the air when you’re in nature or the woods that your body needs and a lack of it, throws your brain chemistry off.

I believe exercise helps, exercise is super important no matter what. If you don’t keep moving, you die which is why Medicare and such are pushing seniors to work out and exercise. My theory, which I will test over this next winter, is that the antidote to my depression is nature, being outside at least twenty minutes most days and coupling it with exercise is a double whammy. Which means, I am going to have up my outdoor gear so I can do this on the most frigid Ohio -20 windchill days. I’m fortunate because I live on 1.5 acres surrounded by prairie and woods. I have a pine grove in the back corner of my lot where I can go stand or sit or walk circles around. I love the smell of the pines. Essentially, even if I can’t fathom walking the icy roads, I can walk around my yard to get my nature pill. Vitamin N.

This truly sounds a bit crazy but google it, you will find studies where they have looked at city dwellers and found the ones who live near more green spaces have less depression. Case in point, I haven’t been feeling the best so I hadn’t been outside much. To add to it, they spread turkey shit across the street after they harvested the soybeans. You literally can’t breathe that stuff just smells of death. Coupled with rain, I hadn’t been outside for several days and when I was at work, I noticed I was feeling depressed. So when I got home, I bundled up, grabbed doggo and headed out to walk for 35 minutes.

I left my headphones at home and focused on the surroundings. I walked west from my house pretty quickly as the frigid air was blowing against me but within a quarter of a mile, I can turn south and down into a more protected road. There is more woods on this road as well and the traffic is a bit lighter. The only aggravation on this route is the people on the corner let their two Rottweilers run free and they always come running out to us. They are mostly friendly but my dog goes batshit excited about ripping my arm off. I wish they would put them on a containment system because I’m afraid they will get hit.

Within 20 minutes of my walk, I felt my mood lift. Again, it’s not as dramatic as when I cycle but it does happen nonetheless. Once I got back to the house, I let the dog inside and walked the perimeter of my back yard. The sky was cloudy but the hue of the sunset was cast in the sky as a grayish pink. I stood behind my shop, underneath the pines and listened to the wind rushing through their branches. I felt all the anxiety just flow out of me and go with the wind. I know that sounds hokey but that’s really what it felt like.

After my walk, I picked up some dinner and watched some Netflix. I’m really into Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown where he travels to places like Libya. My sense of darkness, depression were alleviated for the most part and I enjoyed relaxing the rest of the night. I even slept well. Maybe I’m crazy but I’m going to try adding Vitamin N or nature to my regimen this winter, well, all year round, to see if it does indeed keep me from going into a deeper depression. I don’t figure outside of a chance for frostbite and getting hit, it can’t really hurt me to walk or hike this winter. Even maybe just wander around my own back yard on the days I can’t walk on the road or get to a park.

I am going to keep a notebook to jot notes in every day to help me study what helps and what doesn’t. And this spring I will revisit my notes and blog my results. Of course, I must add the disclaimer that just because this might work for me, it may not be for everyone struggling with depression. The best thing to do is to see a trusted doctor and also get therapy especially if you’re not quite sure depression is what is going on with you. Rule out medical conditions because you don’t want to guess you have something when it could be something serious medically. Therapy is also a great tool especially if you have things in your past that may still bother you, even subconsciously. Every now and then I go get a check up as I call it. But try getting out in nature as well. It doesn’t cost much and see how you feel after 20-30 minutes.

Remember, depression affections millions of us, you don’t have to have anything bad going on in your life to be depressed, it can be biological. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s no different than having something like hypothyroidism or another illness. We understand so little about the brain right now. Go with your gut and if your depression gets severe, get help.

I’ll be reporting back later with my results. So give it a try, the nature antidote. Get outside!

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The Quiet Foe

When I decided to ditch any of my metric collecting apps and electronics in the name of living a freer, more spontaneous life, I didn’t realize that these items were motivators that kept away the quiet foe I have fought for most of my life. Without goals like riding 50 miles a week (or near that), walking several miles a week, tracking my food intake, I slipped under the murky waters that I fight every day of my life.

Thanks to my genetics, my traumatic past and who knows what else, this quiet foe is simply chronic depression but it has a way of sneaking up on me. While at first, I felt freer and happier not tracking my steps, miles and calories, I didn’t know that these were indeed motivators that kept depression at bay. Left to my own devices, as depression started winning again without me noticing, I stopped riding my bike as much, stopped walking and hiking, stopped paying attention to what I’m eating. At first I thought that oh, it’s just peri-menopause so I rested more. I was taking care of myself, listening to my body. Except I didn’t realize I was slipping under again. Depression feels so normal to me, it’s so hard for me to detect until I’m almost drowning.

So, I can’t just be what I consider normal. I can’t trust my body or mind to tell me what I really need because without consistent exercise or eating healthy, I get swept back under the current of apathy, disinterest, fatigue and agitation from sleeping less than my usual nights. I can’t trust my body to tell me what I should eat because the depression has me seeking sugar as if it is my only life force. Without healthy food, I further compound my issues especially lack of energy. Without my weekly fitness goals, I lack energy and motivation to get outside, to ride, to hike and do yoga which counteracts my depression. My body just slips deeper into a ‘lazy’ pattern as I lose interest in things I enjoy. I just stop caring about doing these things.

Without forcing myself out to ride, walk, hike and so on, I just will not exercise. Or I make a half-hearted attempt at whatever I chose to do. It’s the curse of the depression. Once I have the goal set in my head and I’ve started into my first minutes of the activity, I find myself enjoying it but sometimes the hardest thing is just putting on my shoes or riding gear or driving to where I am going to perform the activity. Just starting can seem so overwhelming, I end up on the couch or lying in bed reading. Which if I do this often enough, it becomes the norm which lets my quiet foe sneak up on me and drag me down under the surface again.

It isn’t an easy thing to accept, that I can’t just trust my body or my mind to tell me the best things for me because it is so easy for me to slip into behaviors that make my depression worse because it is tiring always having to force yourself out to exercise. The benefit of this though is, the more I do it, the harder I work out, the easier it becomes to get myself started. The less depression has a hold on me. The happier I am. I wish I could just trust my inner judgment but the truth is, depression has skewed my perceptions of what is ‘good’ for me. Lying around all the time is not good for me. Lying around reading after I rode 20 miles isn’t the same. I’ve worked out, I’ve been outside, I’ve taken the sword and struck at the depression monster again pushing him back into his dark cave. The cave that he insists on dragging me back into with him. When I become complacent, he gains ground and when I fight (keep on the fitness, eating well path), I gain ground. The tug of war is so slight, so quiet that it happens without me knowing.

So bottom line, I have reinstalled my apps, I will clip my cyclocomputer back on my bike, I will reset my goals and keep fighting the good fight. This is what I need to do to live well and live happy. Maybe it’s a bit of a burden, maybe it ties me to my electronics and apps a bit, but the tradeoff is greater. The tradeoff is feeling alive, feeling happier and more alert. Goals aren’t a bad thing. Trying to go through day-to-day without any motivation, anything specific to work toward is like walking around blind at times. This has been an interesting manifestation of my theory of taking care of myself meant unburdening my life of everything that motivated me. As it backfired. Big time.

Taking care of myself means having these fitness goals to keep me moving. Otherwise, the quiet foe wins.

Flying Blind – Update – Creatures of Habit

Just a quick follow-up to my previous post in which I proclaimed "A Year of Me" and that I was going to stop measuring everything in my life that isn't necessary to see if I enjoy my life more.

Habits, they are as hard to break as it is to form them at times. I've spent the rest of the week getting out of the compulsion to pick up my phone and enter data into the apps I was using. Or make sure I had my phone on me every time I moved around to count steps since the Fit Bit didn't work for me at all. Essentially I was grading myself in many aspects of my life rather than living it. I didn't realize how much I was doing this until I had to force myself to stop. Leaving my phone sitting rather than dragging it everywhere with me is freeing. You don't realize it but you can become a slave to that thing. You think you are doing something good for yourself but in a way you're creating a little prison all its own for you to stay within those four walls.

I still take my phone when I ride, but only to listen to my music, have a map handy if I would happen to wander out of my usual cycling area and of course to call in case of an emergency. Taking the cyclocomputer off my handlebars has helped me focus on the ride and the beauty I'm passing around me plus I also pay more attention to how my body is performing. Just feeling the muscles working in unison can be an amazing thing when you think about it. I am almost 50 and everything is still working fine, even better than I was in my 20's because I am much more active now.

Recently I read an article by Mark Manson who wrote The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck entitled What's the Point of Self-Improvement Anyway? I wouldn't call myself a self-improvement junkie as he defined in the article but more the self-improvement 'tourist' who delves into this arena when something isn't working in their life or something bad happens, though I may edge on the junkie part because I feel like I always need to be working on myself, getting better. Maybe it is in my German genes or just growing up in a family that was always pushing you to do better, do more. Either way, it doesn't matter because the only thing that matters is how I live today.

Manson points out that all this self-improvement is self-defeating. I don't agree 100% with all Manson spouts but he is pretty close on most of his points. He at least got me thinking in a different way and reconsidering how I look at life. His point is that if we are alway pursing improvement, is you are trying to reach a goal where you don't have to think about increasing productivity, or pursuing happiness until you not longer have to think about being happy, etc.

He goes on to say the only way to achieve one's potential is to become fully fulfilled or "self-actualize" – essentially stop trying to be all of those things. Essentially, I feel it is not be able to enjoy where you are today. That continuing to trying to self-improve actually creates unhappiness because you never reach that point of contentment with yourself. You don't step back and look at yourself and think, hey I'm really in a good place in my life because we always feel we need to fix or change something about yourself. See how that works? You work really hard to get to point X and instead of feeling happy about your achievement, you set a goal of getting to point Y because then things really will be better. We don't stop spinning in the self-improvement circles long enough to see what we have achieved or just maybe, we are amazing and awesome just the way we are.

That's a hard concept for me to wrap my mind around. What if I stop trying to diet and lose weight? Would the world end? What if I put that scale and measuring tape up and just enjoy what I eat? What if I just say fuck it and if I get bigger just buy a different size or if I get smaller, then again just buy a different size? Not that I don't want to be healthy, I do. But the thing is, I am. Other than a genetic thyroid problem, my blood work and everything except my weight is considered healthy. There are people out there that are at their "healthy" weight but they can't walk 5 miles with a pack or ride 40 miles in the heat. I can. I'm strong, I can work outside like a farm hand in my yard and I don't seem to slow down much as I age. Sure, my body needs a little more time to recover but much of this stuff, I couldn't do in my 20's.

This is one of my biggest self-improvement hang-ups as it is a lot of women. Our size. It's like a prison. Trying to live up to some expectation of thinness or perfection. So what if I actually get down to that size 12? Would my life be perfect? Um, no. I'd still make mistakes, fall down and so on. That's just part of life. Why do we have such a hard time accepting ourselves? Yeah it could be the 10000000000 ads pointed at making us 'better' via weight loss, clothes, makeup, etc. What if we just focused on what made us feel good and made us happy?

Like, I eat a big salad with avocados, grilled chipotle chicken and hard-boiled eggs because I just love those foods. Or wear that new eye sparkly eye shadow because it's so pretty? Or no make up at all if that's how i feel that day. The world won't end if we walk out without no makeup. It's a vehicle to make us feel especially pretty as well if we use it for that reason. For us. My youngest makes makeup into a a creative art. And other days she doesn't wear any at all. It makes her feel good. That's the reason to use it. Not OMG, what will people think if I go out without my 'face'? Be authentic, don't hide behind it. Fuck those people, you won't care about them when you're dead.

What's wrong with my body right now? Nothing. Yeah I'm carrying around some extra but I'm also hypo-thyroid and going into menopause. My body is just doing its own thing. Why ride my bike just to exercise and burn calories? I should ride it because I love the freedom of riding, the feeling of power it gives me to be able to move from point A to point B by my own physical power. I hike because I love to be in nature and the woods. It is an avenue to add adventure into my life. I do yoga because it keeps me from getting too stiff, it counteracts my days of sitting at a desk, its spiritual/meditative and it also helps my body move better. At this age, it's critical to keep moving. Moving keeps me feeling amazing and younger than my 47 years. Google Ernestine Shepherd and see that aging doesn't have to be a walker and rocking chair.

After several days giving up all my metrics I use to judge myself, I feel better. Happier. I find myself noticing the world around me so much more when I'm not shackled to my electronics. I think giving up self-improvement and measuring anything is going to be something I'm going to have really work on, but I have this suspicion that it will be so worth it. Letting go of this, will be like dropping the shackles of unhappiness and walking away from them.

Thanks for all the comments about my posts. I love you guys!  You're awesome and amazing just as you are today.  Till next time.

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 http://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/.  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.