A wholistic path through depression


I found myself staying in bed all day, not wanting to see anyone, not wanting to go anywhere. I had little energy and low self-confidence. I felt shame and embarrassment that I wasn’t functioning like I thought I should be.

A fourth-year undergraduate in university, I thought I might be suffering from some kind of memory impairment. I went into an exam which I had studied for, and couldn’t understand a word on the test paper. I couldn’t remember anything I had crammed into my brain for the past three days.

My professors kindly let me postpone that exam and gave me indefinite extensions on two papers after I confessed I was feeling suicidal.  “No exam or undone paper is worth killing yourself over!” one understanding teacher said.

Despite overwhelming anxiety at my ability to perform or even talk to anyone at a conference I had committed to go to, I forced myself to get on the plane. I was shaking in terror of failure. I traveled 3000 miles to be at the conference near where my mother and little brother had moved to, across Canada, after the divorce from my father.  Visiting friends in their 22nd floor Toronto apartment, I wanted to throw myself off their balcony.

When I got back, I collapsed into a new home, with new roommates. I stayed in bed for several months. I went on welfare. It was winter, and we were too poor to heat the house. I crawled out from under the covers only to go to the cold kitchen to slap together peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Any other kind of food left me feeling completely overwhelmed. I’d go back to bed, read anarchist zines all day, remembering nothing that I had read.

I was shocked when a doctor I finally saw suggested that I had depression. I thought depression was overwhelming sadness. I felt numb and lethargic as though I had a heavy weight on my chest. When I thought about completing my remaining papers and exams so that I could graduate, there was anxiety in my solar plexus. I definitely did not feel sad.

The doctor asked me if I had any skeletons in my closet. I couldn’t think of any. She asked me whether I’d like some medication. I said no. I couldn’t go to student counseling because I was no longer enrolled. When I told the doctor I was fantasizing about suicide, she suggested I go to group therapy at a nearby hospital.

I eventually made a terrifying decision to go – it seemed a smidgen better than suicide. We met on a floor of the psych ward, and I felt even more ashamed. I had taken on the stigma of being mentally ill.

After five weeks of sitting mostly silently in group therapy, and an IQ test that reassured me that I was still intelligent, even if I couldn’t remember much, I quit the program and decided to take healing into my own hands.

I had noticed that after eating my sandwiches I felt more sluggish and dull and fuzzy-headed, almost like being drunk and feeling stupid. I decided to change how I had been eating.

I went on a brown-rice fast – eating only brown rice. After a week I felt somewhat better. After a few more weeks of steamed vegetables and rice, I felt well enough to apply for a job. I got it. Spring arrived, the depression gradually lifted. I rode my bike daily across town to my new job.

That fall I completed my deferred schoolwork and graduated.

I want to share my journey through depression without the use of medications. For some reason, I distrusted pills. Perhaps it was because I distrusted drug companies. Perhaps it was because I suspected that the antibiotics and birth-control pills supplied by my doctors had contributed to my depressions.

There is evidence, now, that both going on and coming off “the pill” can trigger depression. When I was in college, in the 1980s, antibiotics were given to me every time I went to health services with a cold. Antibiotics are one category of a large list of medications that can lead to depression.

It’s not that I am opposed to medication or would ever tell anyone to not take medication for depression. Medication and therapy are the standard medical treatments for depression. Recent studies have indicated that therapy is as effective as medication. The two are often used in conjunction with each other. Studies indicate this regimen is up to 80% effective in reducing or eliminating depressive symptoms. They have helped many people and saved many lives.

Still, I chose other methods of healing.

Although I can’t say for sure what caused my depression, or what ultimately healed it, a number of therapeutic and self-healing techniques rekindled my sense of wholeness and connection with life, alleviating  the acute alienation I had felt.

My personal journey took many forms. The main things that helped me were meditation, chi kung, yoga, t’ai chi, yogic breathing techniques, a healthy diet, sunshine, traveling, acupuncture, acupressure, co-counseling, non-violent communication, singing and nature.

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