A number of years before I was diagnosed with clinical depression, I went to a Naturopath to address some issues that were arising for me at the time. In the mornings in those days, I would often read a book after breakfast on my days off, and find myself having difficulty concentrating. I would drift off into staring around the room, and then notice feelings of deep sadness and disharmony. Retrospectively, I see this as the beginnings of my descent into depression. The Naturopath didn’t seem to know what it might be attributed to at the time. She never asked me about my diet. I was a vegetarian at that period in my life and had been for several years, practicing yoga daily and teaching, and saw myself as a ‘healthy’ eater. Often in the mornings, on those same days off, I would ride my bike to the local bakery and order a warm white chocolate and blueberry scone, ride home, make myself a cup of chai and soy milk, and enjoy my morning repast.
I truly had no idea at the time that I could not digest wheat well, was overloading my system with processed carbohydrates that my body metabolized almost exactly like refined sugar (combined with a mega-dose of actual refined sugar), and that the roller coaster in my blood sugar was causing a major imbalance in my body and in my mind, destroying healthy intestinal flora and eroding the lining of my gut.
For more information on the relationship between depression and intestinal health read Natasha Campbell McBride’s book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, “Apart from childhood learning disabilities, ADHD/ADD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and various learning and behavioral problems, there is another group of conditions that fits the GAPS syndrome. These conditions are schizophrenia, depression, eating disorders, manic depression or bi-polar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. The father of modern psychiatry…Phillipe Pinel…after working with mental patients for many years concluded in 1807: ‘The primary seat of insanity is generally in the region of the stomach and intestines.’ (excerpted from the book’s introduction)
Eating scones for breakfast did not ’cause’ me to get depressed, however, poor diet (lack of nutrition) combined with childhood trauma, combined with major life change (divorce), combined with genetic predisposition (a depressed and traumatized mother raised by depressed and traumatized women), combined with a severe lack of sleep, combined with a deep desire for a more fully expressed and well lived life than what I had grown up with, a sort of ancestral healing, came together to create an alchemical/ psycho-spiritual situation in which I descended into the depths of hell and lived to tell about it. Parts of myself, deeper truths, wanted to be revealed so that I could know myself more fully and share my gifts with the world. As in the story of Inanna and Ereshkigel, Inanna descends to see her sister, her shadow side, and to acknowledge parts of herself that needed to be expressed.
Each person’s experience with depression is individual and unique, as are the reasons that lead to that depression. The pain is an opportunity to give birth to a more fully realized self, especially when midwifed with love and presence.
I mentioned in the previous blog that I had taken Zoloft when I was in clinical depression. It helped to change my sleep patterns and brought me up out of the depths enough to pursue counseling, reintegrate into my life, work, and relationships, and to return to and finish my degree. I took Zoloft for about a year, and feel that at the time it certainly was a big part of saving my life. I have developed since that year of deepest crisis, a balance that doesn’t include pharmaceutical anti-depressants.
Some of the cornerstones to my personal balance have been seeking out and nurturing a strong community, where I am needed and supported, working towards continued deepening of intimacy, joy, and love in my personal relationships, daily personal yoga and meditation practice (a large part of my spiritual and physical health), and regular exercise (I love riding my bicycle, hiking and trail running in the foothills, playing with family, and dancing). I enjoy a balanced whole foods diet with plant spirit medicine and herbal ally support, nature connection, and for more help shifting stubborn and difficult to change patterns and deep ancestral work , psychotherapy with a therapist who works with holotropic breathing techniques as well as ritual shamanic work with women in the Tantric Dance of Feminine Power.
One of the major things that became clear to me had been missing in my life and up-bringing as I emerged from my depression was a connection with and vision of the feminine divine. In my parent’s tradition of Catholicism, in which I was raised, goddesses were demoted to saints and divinity was removed from the feminine. The feminine was only a vessel for delivering divinity, but not divine herself. In fact, the underlying philosophy of the church through the inquisition and original sin had been that women in general are sinful and not even possessing of souls. Through studies in college comparing Tantric Buddhism and Jewish mysticism and how the feminine divine manifest in both, I began to bring together my studies in yoga and the wisdom goddesses as they were beginning to present themselves to me, and the feminine divine in my biblical heritage in the form of the holy spirit and Shekinah. Again, even though there were ‘external’ factors that conspired to lead me into depression, it was also my deepest being that called me to myself and manifested suffering so I could pay attention to and heal these broken, repressed, and wounded parts of myself calling out to be heard and seen.
Another major key for me in mental and physical health is good sleep patterns. Getting to sleep before 10:00. Waking up early and getting a full 8 hours sleep. Starting off my day with a yoga and meditation practice and then 1 large glass of water before food or tea is key. Hydration, especially in the gut where we don’t want to get dried out, is primary in keeping lymph flowing, flushing toxins, and keeping us juicy (and happy).
I also love and value receiving massage regularly as well as practicing daily self oil massage (called abhyanga in Ayurvedic tradition) to help me stay relaxed and reduce cortisol (stress hormones) and increase my seratonin and dopamine, sooth the nervous system, and encourage healthy lymphatic flow.
In addition to a largely home-cooked whole-foods diet, it is important for me to maintain balance in my primary foods, which is a way to look at ‘nutrition’, or nourishment on all levels, body*mind*spirit. There are many streams to the ocean, so there are many ways to express spirituality, practice prayer and meditation, stay physically healthy, and feel an overall sense of balance in life. What might be boring to one person might be just right for another. We each have to find our own dynamic mandala of being so that we are fully expressed as our deepest selves.
To look at your own primary foods ‘levels’, draw a circle and ‘slice’ it into 12 sections. Write these labels on the line in each section;
1) Happiness 2) Spirituality 3) Creativity 4) Finances 5) Career 6) Education 7) Health 8) Physical activity 9) Home cooking 10) Home Environment 11) Relationships 12) Social Life.
Place a dot on the line in each category to indicate your level of satisfaction within each area. Place a dot at the center of the circle to indicate dissatisfaction, or on the periphery to indicate satisfaction. Connect the dots to see your circle of life. A crooked wheel just doesn’t roll, right? Then it’s a bumpy ride. Identify imbalances. Determine where to spend more time and energy to create balance. Seek support.
Each of us has to work consistently in an ongoing fashion with exploring the roots and really getting to the origins of our traumas and healing, as well as encouraging the flowering of our true gifts and potential as a precious human being. Luckily, there is so much support out there and so many paths back to ourselves. We don’t weed a garden once and then never work in it again. We don’t clean the house and then sit back and relax for the year. Or put oil in our car once and expect it to keep performing without repair. Nor do we do our personal work and then move on. It is a lifetime of presence and humility that is required to maintain health on all levels of being.
Health and Happiness to you and yours.
(The practices and tools suggested above for maintaining balance are for just that, maintenance. If you or someone you love is experiencing deep depression and suicidal thinking, please reach out for help through counseling, psychotherapy, family, family physicians, and all avenues where you can receive support to help yourself and your loved ones find the roots of depression, do some major ‘weeding’, and then learn to tend the inner garden to maintain balance once one is out of crisis.
I am not a doctor. I am a certified holistic health coach, LMT, and certified yoga instructor. I am happy to help folks deal with minor depression and anxiety through massage, health counseling, and yoga instruction in classes, workshops, and private programs. Information here is not intended to take the place of consultation with your physician and your own inner wisdom and guidance. May you be blessed with happiness and freedom.)
Jai ma. ~Liz
There is a 24 hour suicide help line here in Santa Barbara at (805) 688-1905 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.