Outside there is sun.
It is only sun
But men stare at it
And afterwards they sing.
I don’t know the sun.
I know the melody of angels
And the hot sermon of the last gale.
It screams until sunrise
When death poses naked
In my shadow.
-Excerpt from “The Cage” (my translation)
The above is an excerpt for one on my favorite poets, Alejandra Pizarnik an Argentine Jew who killed herself in the 70s at the age of 36. I am drawn to these lines because I feel it captures the particular type of sadness that can creep into your body in early spring when everything is coming alive again and you are stuck. This time of year, historically has been tough for me, but today as I prepared the earth for planting I realized just how far I have come. Yes, sometimes I still get sad but before it was paralyzing and all consuming and now all I need is a gentle push to gain back that lost momentum. Since we live in such trying times it is no wonder that so many of us become depressed (1 in 5 of us will take psychotropic drugs in our lifetime!) and while that is of little comfort to those who are chronic sufferers it is important to remember that what you are experiencing is often a very normal response to a fucked up culture.
As an adolescent I was coerced into taking drugs and I was very much coerced because even then I doubted their efficacy and wanted to try other things, but my poor parents were so beside themselves and the doctor was so convincing that I sucked it up and took them. If anti-depressants work for you that’s great, but for me the side effects made me nearly as depressed as I was before so I went off of them in my early twenties. Since weening myself off I’ve still struggled with what was at times crippling sadness and anxiety, but in the last year or so I’ve come to the place I am now and while there is still loads of room for improvement I feel much happier and safer (because depression does make you feel unsafe) than I ever have. Though I am no expert on the matter I figured I would take the time to share some of the things that have helped me get here.
Curiousity saved my life and that is not a metaphor. In my deepest, darkest moments I still wanted to know about the world and how it worked and why people behaved the way they did and it kept me from offing myself a number of times. You can hide behind knowledge just like you can hide behind drugs and alcohol and the great thing is that if you ever get to a point where you can get your head out of your own ass then that knowledge can be put to good use! I did lose some time to drugs and alcohol by the way, but my brain isn’t so fried that I can’t remember those summers I spent wrapped up in books or learning to farm. Plus curiosity lead me to herbalism which has become a calling (obession?) and makes waking up exciting. That seems pretty simple…but curiousity alone won’t chase away the looming crazies (to me it always feels like something outside of me….like I could not possibly conjure up something so horrible in my own being).
Diet is of course huge when it comes to treating depression, but feeding youself can be difficult in the beginning which is why supplementation can be quite helpful (don’t over do it). When I get off of a healthy diet the first thing I notice is a mood dip, but sometimes you get in a spiral where you feel shitty because you are eating poorly and eat poorly because you are feeling too shitty to cook. My solution in those times is to take vitamin d, b vitamins, and omega 3 fish oils and try at the very least get a daily quart of nourishing teas (usually nettles). I take supplements anyway because of my bodies whacky methylation issues, but when I find it difficult to make good food choices it becomes extra important. I also try and take frequent baths with epsom salts which are high in magnesium as they promote healing sleep and the bodies ability to handle stress plus it encourages bathing which can be a challenge.
Finally, EXERCISE(!!) is one of the most important things you can do and is basically the most powerful antidepressant out there. I am always so surprised at how I can go from hating EVERYTHING to smiling at nagging children after a mere half hour swim. I aim for an hour 5 days a week but as long as you get 1/2 hour of vigorous exercise you would notice a difference. Start slow and find something you enjoy. I’ve been getting back into swimming, bermuda grass removal and yoga after giving running a shot and sort of hating it (except the part where you feel high).
When I start to get depressed I take an inventory of things. How is my diet looking? Am I exercising enough? Have I stopped caring about things that usually matter to me? Am I sleeping too much or too little? There has never been a point in my life where all of these things are in balance and I am still depressed. If you are doing work you enjoy, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and getting adequate sleep and are still feeling low then it might be time to go to a doctor and if you don’t know where to start it may be a good idea to go to a therapist or a registered dietitian. I found it very helpful to go to an integrative physician who was able to check my thyroid and nutritional deficiencies before jumping on antidepressants and it turned out I had problems with both. Depression can be a medical problem, but my feeling is that it is often a symptom of a systemic imbalance rather than a disease in and of its self.
Thanks for listening to my rambles folks. Feel free to let me know what has worked for you all.
Edit: I forgot to mention healthy relationships! I think that deserves its own post.
Editx2: I hope this did not come off as flippant or facile. I bring these small nuggets of wisdom after years of feeling pretty crappy and am still figuring things out myself. I’ve just come to a point where it is much more managable and wanted to share.