The summer after Adam started treatment for leukemia, when he was two years old, and Kate barely one, I started having terrible dreams. Every single night, I'd wake up terrified after dreaming of the kids dying in horrible ways. One night we'd all be walking through an ice cave, having to make our way across a slick wooden bridge, and one of them would slip and fall into a crevasse. The next night we'd be boating on a lake, one of them would lean over to look at something, fall into the water, and get trapped and drown under the boat. This happened every night. My days were already filled with real-life terror; I didn't need my nights to be filled with it too, though I understood my brain was processing our new reality of hospitals and chemotherapy. Eventually I saw a doctor, and she sent me to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with depression. This started me on drug therapy which was part of my life for many years. It's easy to say, "Of course you were depressed! look at what was going on in your life!" but it was really more than that. Looking back, it was easy to see that I had been suffering with depression since I was in my late teens; it just hadn't come to light until the whole leukemia mess began.
The medicine helped a lot, and I spent many years trying different therapies along with a few different medications. I figured I would be taking medicine every day for the rest of my life.
Then about five years ago, I was at a dinner with a group of moms that I had known for a while - our children had gone to preschool together. (We still get together every few months.) Somehow the topic of medication came up, and it turned out that every single one of us was on one anti-depressant or another. This struck me as strange. I started discreetly asking around, and it became clear that most of the women I knew were in treatment for depression or anxiety, which was astounding to me.
Now, before I go further into this subject, I want to make it clear that I think medication can be a very good thing. I have two kids whose lives have been either quite literally saved, or have become much better, with medication. Kate takes an anti-depressant for her anxiety and depression and it has improved her life immensely. I would never say that medication has no place in the treatment of mental disorders. I'm not a doctor, after all. However, for me, something about those informal statistics that I had collected made me very suspicious of the overuse of depression diagnoses and treatments. And I decided to do a little experiment.
I decided to go off my medication.
I did this without telling my doctor, which was idiotic. The side effects of withdrawal were not pleasant; I was dizzy every day for nearly a year, despite having tapered down the medicine very gradually before stopping it altogether. However I was clever about three things that I decided to take action on at the same time: Eat a diet high in whole, nutrient-dense foods, without worrying about calorie counting (something I have done all my life, with varying success); exercise as often as possible, in the great outdoors rather than in a gym; and try to get a decent amount of sunshine every day. I had read that these three things are natural anti-depressants, and I figured that adding them might just work.
Again, let me stress that I am not a doctor and I am not suggesting that anyone else just go off medication. BUT: For me, it totally worked. I haven't taken any anti-depressants for five years.
It's not always perfect. It can be tricky in winter; if it's very rainy, or very dark and cold, I do struggle a bit. Spring has become my new favorite season because I know the sun will be abundant and that automatically helps me feel good. And when I do count calories, as I am doing now, I have to be very careful to get as much nutrient-dense food in my diet as possible; if I eat too much junk, I start to feel very bad indeed. And if I slack off, and don't get outside in some way every day, I really notice my mood slipping. So I have to treat these three things just like I treated my medication, as a daily dose. I have to be somewhat religious about them.
But as long as I keep up with those things, it really does work. I realized yesterday that I am in a very good place at the moment. I'm in school, studying subjects that interest me, rather than working in a job that is emotionally draining; I'm getting outdoors every day, either in the garden or in the open spaces, and getting plenty of physical exercise; my diet is very dialed in, and Tom and I have both shed quite a few pounds recently; and all of this combines to make me a much happier person. I'm busy, yes, and managing everything can be difficult, but I'm enjoying myself too. And that is such a good thing.
I say all this just to encourage anyone who has a history of anxiety or depression, or struggles with health problems of any kind, that this might be a 'prescription' to help you, too. There are times in our lives when we must take medication in order to keep on going. I have friends that will always be on anti-depressants. That's ok, that's good, thank heavens for modern medicine. However, anything can be improved by the addition of nutritious food, daily walking, and some sunshine. It certainly can't hurt, and might really help. It's such a beautiful time to get outdoors here in California, too. The wildflowers are out in full force and the sun doesn't yet have the power to completely sap our energy, as it will in the 100 degree days of high summer. And have you seen the studies about the benefits of digging in the dirt, cultivating a garden? See here, and here, and here for more about that. And here for information on how having your hands in the soil helps your immune system. Google 'the health benefits of gardening' and see how much information you find.
Not to mention that the addition of a market garden right outside your back door can make it a lot easier to eat healthful foods.
So why not get up and go outside right this very minute? :)