If there is something I know a lot about, it’s being utterly morose. And if there is something I know more about, it’s how to get the hell out of it.
I’ll begin with my personal journey, and then list an action plan to ninja-kick sadness in the booty.
My first battles with depression started at about 5 years old. Well, it was more anxiety than actual depression, but it started early. I couldn’t bear to go to school, I was inconsolable when my mother would leave to go to work, I was reluctant to do anything alone.
Eventually I dealt with it – I am an only child and got used to entertaining myself, even though I was close with my parents. I didn’t have a lot of friends around and always felt that I liked everyone more than they liked me. I still think this way, actually. I’m not exactly sure where it stems from.
I was still a pretty happy kid, until I started getting harassed on a daily basis. The first time started in grade 4, when I was teased mercilessly by everyone for emulating Harriet the Spy. I was 8 years old and wanted to drop out of school. I wish I had (for many other reasons). It stopped suddenly one day and the most popular girls started being nice to me.
For a couple of years I was drama-free, and then in grade 7, I started getting pummeled with insults. I was an easy target: seriously sensitive, no defense, easy to make cry – bulls-eye. Target practice for insult-slinging. False rumours were spread. Without going into detail into what was said to me, this was the real beginning of my mental decline.
I lived a block away – I rode my bike to and from class, and every lunch hour, to get home as fast as possible. I would spend recess around the back of the school with my one friend, who mainly did homework. I would read Lord of the Flies repeatedly.
I got hassled everywhere but during class time – before, after, at home. Phone. Mailbox. I’m sure if the internet had been around I would have had endless shit through that, too.
The one time I went to camp was right before high school. No one from my school attended, but I did go with a “friend.” How awesome that I was harassed there, too – different reasons, luckily, but it was never-ending. I loathed camp.
Grade 8 started out well. I was still a good student, I had new pals. After about a month, everything bad started up again – at least this time I had some other people to be with. We were all a bit on the fringes, even though there were not typical cliques in my school.
The bullying was worse in high school, of course. The same rumours from elementary school spread amongst a much larger amount of people, and now taunting happened during class time, too. I started to skip, a lot, and I started not to care. My friends were all too busy, or too far away to hang out after school. My self-amusement came in handy, and I started to relish it. I was lonely but kept myself well occupied. I slept a lot, watched cartoons, wrote in my journals, wrote stories, drew, redecorated my room constantly, and most importantly, I had my music. I read a lot, but music overpowered everything else, as did obsession with males and sex.
Writing got me through everything. I am still amazed that I did not get into drugs or anything like that – it just wasn’t around me. My friends were not the type, and even though I had a couple of experiences with drugs, it never became a coping mechanism.
I became more and more withdrawn. I started to like dark things. Around 13 I finally became interested in my appearance, and models. I lived within magazine pages and music videos.
After a couple of years, I had hardened. I was the lone weirdo in the entire school. After about one week of trying to conform, I was disgusted with myself and embraced being an outsider.
In grade 10 I started to snap back at people. The frustration from constant comments and rumours finally built up and I exploded. I was able to rage. I had never blown up at anyone. The first instance was in grade 8, when someone I sat with was going to tell my guy friend that I wanted to fuck him. I didn’t know what to say or do. As he got up to wander over, sneer on his mouth, I wound up and slapped him in the face. Everyone’s head spun around. Someone said, “Did she just SLAP you?” Everyone was shocked, especially me.
Instead of answering them, he slapped me back, twice. The teacher had not arrived yet. I stood there, triumphant – it was the first time I had not cried over being hurt.
Being able to rage felt great. Other rumours spread, this time true ones. I started to look intimidating – my face was in a perpetual scowl state – something I still have trouble with to this day. I wore dark clothes, dyed my hair black. This is so commonplace, now, but in small town BC in the early 90s, I was an anomaly.
I did not have much in common with my friends anymore. Had I ever? We all got along well, but I drifted elsewhere. I made a couple of other friends in lower grades, but was more or less on my own. The older I got, the sadder I became. I vilified the sun. I stayed indoors with the blinds drawn. I obsessed over industrial music and A Clockwork Orange. I got boyfriends via record stores or chat lines. I only ever dated one guy from high school, a snowboarder in my art class. I guess I was too intense for him.
I was a spitfire from the day I found some internal power – maybe from the first 15 years of being silent. It all roared out. Good and bad. I was always told that when I looked at someone it was like I was boring a hole into them.
I was terrible at keeping my feelings to myself, and awful at pretending to be happy.
My last year of high school was not so bad – people had started leaving me alone after realizing I was now going to fight back. My clearest memory was shaming a guy in my French class after he was calling me a certain name – calling him something back – and he never bothered me again. It was completely awful which is why I don’t say what it was, but it did the trick. I was not a cruel person and never wanted to be – but at the time I had no other conceivable option, so I took the low road.
I felt like I might have been bipolar and went to see my doctor, who after asking only a couple of questions, asked if I would like to be put on lithium. I was looking for easy answers, but the fact she did not even try to find out anything deeper put me off - this was the first time I really questioned the
medical industry. I decided to try antidepressants (Paxil). I felt weird at first, but gradually a bit better. Not much.
After high school I had a bit of an up. I got into modeling, only to throw it aside to be more outrageous looking. I felt free to be more wild. I was more into music than ever, and felt I’d found the boy of my dreams.
Every break-up felt like the end of my life, but I would find someone else to swoon over – easy for me back then – 90s boys were so my type – it got harder and harder to find guys I was attracted to as the years went on.
I tried to go off of antidepressants and got seriously sick. I wasn’t even on a high dose. I had migraines so terrible that I stayed in bed most of the time. It affected my first job, resulting in me being canned.
I started to dip. I became more erratic. Once I started working, my natural defensive attitude was detrimental to retail work and I got fired many, many times. Increasingly over the next 10 years I became convinced I was too crazy, too fat, too ugly, too miserable – no one would want me for long, I couldn’t keep a job, I lived at home, I was dependent, I was pathetic.
I stayed on the antidepressants for a couple of years and finally weaned myself off. I realized that retail was not meant for me and went into work with animals. I was still alone – my longest relationship was only 10 months and that stayed a record until recently.
Not long after I’d gotten off the pills the first time (a year or two), I had a huge mental breakdown. I had moved to Vancouver Island to be with my boyfriend at the time. We eventually broke up, but still lived together for several weeks after. I got fired again. My grandmother died. My pet rat died. I had to move back home again. I was on welfare. I had finally met some friends in that city and then had to leave. This all happened within 2 months. So I went back on medication, this time Celexa. It numbed me in a scary way. I was on it for 3 years, terrified to go off of it because of the previous issues I’d had with withdrawal.
When I eventually did go off of it (they never worked for long), I did it exceptionally slowly, and it was okay, but when I finally ditched it completely, I again got very sick. Luckily I had just left a job so could avoid that issue, but again I had my heart ripped out, had the beginnings of an eating disorder (I stopped this behaviour soon after), and was moving away from a place I loved (Tofino) and moving back in with my mom.
After 2 days of moving home I decided I wanted to go back to the island, and also wanted to go overseas on a working holiday. I obsessively planned and saved. I moved back but focused on work and not guys. I also worked out a lot, rode my bike, and quit eating sugar. I felt better than I could ever remember, but when I went overseas, this all changed as I was around someone very negative. I also started to eat all sorts of horrible stuff for me – lots of candy and chocolate bars I’d never had before, canned spaghetti toasties (a New Zealand thing), Nutella on white bread (road trip food), and other such things. My clear skin got bumpy (I blamed the heat) and I gained back more weight than I had lost. My mental state plummeted, and I blamed it all on the guy I was with. He did have a huge influence on my mental state, but I chose to stay with him, even though all I thought of was leaving. Guilt made me stay – he’d come with me to another country (Australia), was young, and I felt responsible.
When I went back home, I did end the relationship. I decided to go back to school. After I finished, I moved to the mountains. I was still medication-free. I worked at a vet clinic. I dieted often – mostly on foods high in fake-sweeteners, microwave dinners, and stuff like that. I looked great but I started to have some weird health issues. My hands started to ache all the time , all the joints in my fingers were in constant pain – I was tested many times for rheumatoid arthritis. No one could figure out what was wrong with me. I couldn’t work, and I could barely even hold up a book. I laid around watching youtube for a month while I recovered. I was frightened and bored. It was winter and I had nowhere to go – I couldn’t drive to the city with my hands in the state they were, so stayed in, getting more and more depressed. I started eating garbage again.
After a month or so I felt better, but then got laid off. I immediately moved back to the city. The mountain town I lived in was not somewhere that made me happy – I only had met two friends outside of work, and every weekend I drove down to Vancouver to go clubbing, as I had nothing happy to keep me in the mountains.
I had been single for years, and even when I did occasionally meet someone, they were taken or only interested in me briefly. I moved in with a girl I met on craigslist, and lived on EI for as long as I
could. I basically spent half a year lying in my bed, eating crap, and watching downloaded tv shows. I read a lot of blogs.
I ate more chocolate than I ever had. I felt completely useless. I started feeling angry, and very paranoid. I’d walk around looking over my shoulder as I walked my dog. I’d yell at her. I’d hold my keys between my knuckles in case anyone wanted to harm me. I cried a lot. The only thing I really did for myself was obsessively clean and lift weights in my room.
I snapped one day. I did not want to go back on medication. I was so horrified at my mental state that I was open to anything. My post on my transformation has already been written, however I want to reiterate the steps I took to conquer my depression, and why it worked.
1. I eliminated all processed foods. This left only plants in their natural state. Since I was not consuming anything with weird chemicals, or anything altered by heat, my brain chemistry was able to return its normal state for the first time in my life.
2. With increased energy, I became more active. I didn’t work out for a long time, but I played. I went into the park and hula-hooped. I went for hikes in the mountains with new friends and my dog. I bounced on trampolines.
3. I slept soundly. Along with my mood changes, I was just radiating good vibes. This attracted different people into my life, happy ones, healthy ones. I got along easily with everyone because I was calmer. My defenses went down.
4. My self-esteem went up – I was doing something wonderful for myself, first off, but also my body changed, my skin changed – everything did. I looked fantastic, which made me want to take even better care of myself.
5. I gravitated to the outdoors. I understood how important daylight and sunshine were.
6. I started to move towards more positive things. This included people, outlooks, events, work, books.
It was long chain-link. One good thing led to the next. Even when upsetting things happened, I only got knocked down a little. It was easier to get back up. I was mentally clear, and able to focus on the things that kept me well.
When I was depressed, I never really noticed the effect winter had on me. I was already in a drab state. I mostly avoided the sun in my life due to scary propaganda and a preference for pale skin. So I was always in this low state – and I started to notice it last year.
My first year raw started in the spring. Later that year in winter, I was dealing with a break-up and so any sadness I was experiencing would automatically have been attributed to that, and so I did not notice any seasonal depression.
The next winter I took a vacation to Hawaii, and so also had no major reactions. I was still on a raw diet and doing very well, convinced that was all I needed to be happy. I was in my first good, long relationship, working at a job I liked, and everything was generally peachy.
The next winter (last year) was when I really started to notice how it affected me. It was a LONG winter and very gloomy. I was in a new home, small, and noisy. I was unhappy at work. I had not changed my diet but still felt lethargic, I had gained weight, and was feeling crazy, like I had prior to diet changes. I attributed this to lack of B12, and probably vitamin D. I really focused on the B12, so started researching it and supplementing it. I felt a bit better, but not really.
When the sun came back…that is when it all changed. I felt a complete turnaround within a week. All my enthusiasm came back, I was happy, active, and jubilant. I still felt a bit low due to my living situation, and unhappy at work – but this changed – I quit my job and lived off of a bit of money I had for 4 months. I found a quiet place to live, and then much more suitable work.
January is around the time I start to notice a decline in my mental state. I started to notice it again this year, and expected it. I want to go on vacation, but am more interested in fashioning a lifestyle where I can go on lengthy vacations every winter instead of just short ones, and so decided to forgo a quick trip so I can make a long-term goal manifest.
After doing a lot of searching and experimenting, this is my fool-proof method for combating seasonal depression.
1. Make sure you are getting vitamin D. Regardless of your diet, this will be the kicker. A supplement is okay, but if you are in ANY way able to go on a vacation somewhere sunny for 2-3 weeks in mid-winter, this will help you a great deal. Failing that, and especially if you are a vegan (D3 supplements are not vegan, though there are a couple available now – here and here) get into sunbeds. I know there is a lot of controversy about them, but if you go to a proper facility with beds that have both UVA and UBA, low-pressure lamps, and go for short periods of time (5-10 minutes or based on your skin colour, etc) you will be fine. This is what I have chosen to do and it has made a massive difference.
2. See as much daylight as possible. I work in a place with no windows (the back of a store) so I go outdoors as much as possible on my break, and on days off. If it’s yucky out I make sure I sit in front of a bright window while I write or read. If you live in a very grey place, a full-spectrum light will help, too. These will NOT generate vitamin D, though. Get to bed early and get up early, or you will suffer in darkness.
3. Food – the lighter your diet, the more plants you eat, the less processed your food is, the better you will feel. Cutting out all processed and animal foods will be best, but keeping your diet based in whole foods, and keeping it LOW fat (10-15% of calories) will do wonders for you. Eating “comfort” foods like chocolate and other junk foods will actually FUEL your depression. When I made this connection it made all the difference. It does not help. It worsens.
4. Get your bare feet on the earth as much as possible. Our bodies are electrical conduits – we are separated from the earth in many ways – our shoes, primarily, but also our homes and lifestyles. When is the last time you had your feet ON THE GROUND, for a period of time, let alone your whole body? This is a free practice, and works especially well in the sea. Here is a link about bare-footing, with a video by the beautiful Shakaya Leone, a woman I deeply admire and respect.
5. MOVE. Especially if you have a sedentary job. I have a pretty physical job but I am pretty sedentary at home in winter, and I also drive. I love to read and write, so have to make sure I do some other activity. I choose hula-hooping and biking when it is nice out. I walk my dog. I lift weights if I feel like it. Choose something you find FUN – if you enjoy the gym, awesome. I do, too, but I want to save my money for travel. Otherwise I’d be going because I do really like it.
6. Get ENOUGH sleep. How much is enough? When you wake up and feel like getting up instead of rolling over. We are so over-stimulated and chronically underslept. Get rid of your coffee – it actually makes you more tired by making huge demands on your adrenal glands. Set your alarm to GO to bed. Make sure you sleep enough – this means all year, not just in winter. You cannot oversleep. If you sleep a lot, it means your body is trying to heal itself. All of the repair the body does takes place during sleep, so the more toxic you are, the more sleep you will need.
7. Human touch. If you don’t have a partner, hug your friends. If you feel weird about it, just tell them you need a good hug! If they are your friends, they will happily hug you. If you are in a new place with no friends, invest in massage. This will tide you over until you have comrades to embrace.
8. Fruit. No matter what you eat, delight in bright, luscious fruits. The colours will perk you up, remind you of the tropics, and nourish your body. Also winter fruits are bursting with colour – citrus, pomegranates, persimmons – really devour these things. They will illuminate you.
9. Colour – surround yourself with it. Dress in rainbows, drape yourself in neons. Greens and bright blues are the most important as these tend to be the colours we really do without in winter.
10. Companions. Whether it be human or animal, make sure you give and receive affection, have as much fun as possible, and really enjoy what is around you.
If you are surrounded by snow, then cultivate a love of snow-sport, or snow-play. Build snowmen. Play with your kids in the snow, or if you have no kids, then babysit some! Throw snow at your dog so he tries to catch it. Make snow-smoothies.
If you are in torrential rain, get some rain gear and get outside anyway! I used to bike daily in the rainforest and it didn’t phase me because I had the right clothing. Get galoshes and splash in the puddles. Bundle in the warmest things you have and enjoy storms on the beach.
If you live somewhere that is just cold and grey, write out a list of everything beautiful you can see, and don’t stop. There will always be something worth appreciating, even in the most “ugly” landscape. You can always add your own beauty to the area, too. Coloured lights, bright winter berries and plants – brainstorm ways to enliven your surroundings. And get the hell out of the city as much as possible.
I know what it’s like to live in a perpetually grey surrounding for the majority of the year. You do not need to suffer through darker days. You don’t need to suffer through lighter days. Medication is totally unnecessary if you live a natural lifestyle. I am quite aware a lot of people are unwillingly to make that sort of commitment, but even small amounts will help. Focus on the things you CAN do for now, and work towards a stronger goal. Make daily goals instead of longterm. Can you commit to eating all raw foods for one day? Great! Then make a new goal the next morning.
Learn all you can. Rely on yourself. It is the most powerful, esteem-boosting thing you can do. To be entirely self-sufficient, self-healing – there is no greater gift to yourself.
Pix found mostly on Pinterest, except the ones of me (the one of me in plaid was me at age 15). The one of the girl in the yellow coat is from here.