I’m excited about today’s blog post because it shares a perspective that is quite different than mine. Today’s guest blogger, Tanya, uses vastly different tools than I do to cope with the depression that comes with my bipolar disorder. I think it’s important to represent different views – perhaps many of my readers can identify with today’s post. Tanya Mathieu is a mother, writer, depression survivor, and holistic health advocate. She is certified in Nutrition Therapy and Culinary Nutrition and is completing her studies at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition while preparing to embark on a degree in Herbal Medicine and a Natural Chef diploma this fall. She lives in London with her two children. You can follow her holistic and culinary journey on Instagram @mindful.brainful
I was formally diagnosed with clinical depression my senior year of high school at the age of seventeen. Diagnoses of anxiety and bipolar II disorder soon followed. Today, I have to admit that I don’t agree with the conventional definition of what depression has come to mean, but at the time it was incredibly reassuring and freeing to discover a medical label for what I was experiencing.
Up until my diagnosis, I had believed that everyone hated life and wanted to die because it was how I had felt from as far back as I could remember. Even at the age of seven, I was suicidal and naively attempted to end my life by taking a few extra children’s Tylenol one night before bedtime. I knew taking too much medicine could kill a person, and at seven years of age, that had sadly been my intention.
Since that first diagnosis eighteen years ago, I have tried approximately ten different medications and survived two serious suicide attempts in my late teenage years. However, rather than rehashing the memories of some of my darkest days, it may help you more to know about the coping strategies I have found that work for me now.
The reality is that I still struggle, but years of experience and choosing to manage my depression holistically have been key to my survival. There are three tools I use to stay afloat that I would like to share with you.
A healthy perspective is something that many of us who suffer from depression tend to lack. People who don’t understand depression have tried to steer me in the direction of having a better perspective by using language like: “you have so much to be grateful for,” or “you don’t have it as bad as (insert any individual or groups of people who have a harder life or circumstance).” This may very well be true but suffering is subjective, and advice like this has only ever succeeded in making me feel more guilty, frustrated and angry at myself.
What works for me when I feel the first familiar pains of depression coming on is to remember that it will pass and that I have been through many periods of darkness before only to emerge stronger and wiser. I try not to pretend my depression doesn’t exist, or that it is invalid. By the same token, I also strive not to let it define me as a person, or view it as being insurmountable.
I have learned to sit and wait for it to pass, which I find to be more difficult than strategizing because it requires patience, self-compassion, and faith. I have to remind myself that my thoughts and feelings when depressed are not a true representation of who I am. I fight to keep myself from comparing myself to other people and their journeys because this has proven to be a recipe for disaster for me.
By nature, depression is quite isolating, and surrounding myself with the right voices and retraining my own inner critic has become tantamount in providing me with the perspective necessary not to succumb to retreating from life. It’s hard and I fail all the time, but I am getting better each time and I try to focus on this.
In December 2008, I became a born again Christian, and with my new found faith I threw out my anti-depressants and psychiatrist visits. I wouldn’t advise anyone to quit their medicine without professional assistance, and given the chance again, I would choose to make the transition more responsibly as I was clearly operating with more zeal than sense at the time.
I would love to tell you that once I became a follower of Jesus Christ that I was miraculously healed, and so ditching my meds was a given. This, however, wasn’t God’s plan for my journey, and I think this was quite intentional on His part. How else would I have discovered the intricate relationship between nutrition, lifestyle, and mental illness had my issues been resolved so easily?
My faith has revealed to me my worth as a person to God and to the world. I was created with a purpose that no one else in the world can fulfill but me, and for me, that has been enough to kick the demon of suicide to the curb on the worst of days.
Since finding my faith, I have weathered the storms of abandonment, betrayal, an addicted spouse, single motherhood, a sick child, immense humiliation, infidelity, and domestic violence with a peace that only God Himself could have gifted me. I know this because it took so much less to propel me into the full throes of depression prior.
Two years ago I became increasingly aware of how food affected my mood. I enrolled in a nutrition therapy course because I wanted to understand how I could make better dietary choices for my mental health and to work my best at breaking the cycle of mental illness for my children and future generations. The more I learned, the more I became inspired to acquire the knowledge and experience necessary to educate others about the causes of mental illness often ignored in more traditional treatment models.
While the symptoms of depression often manifest differently for each individual, there are underlying health issues that may trigger such symptoms. Inflammation, poor gut health, blood sugar imbalances, toxicity, nutrient deficiencies, thyroid malfunction, hormonal fluctuations, low blood cholesterol, food allergies, adrenal stress and even reactions to certain medications like birth control and statin drugs are great contributors to mental illness on the whole. I was the poster girl for so many of these issues but had never known.
This past year has seen me overhauling everything I thought I knew about food and cooking. I have eliminated all wheat products, most conventional dairy, and all processed and refined foods from our diet. I have become quite skilled at recreating some of my old favorite foods with more health supportive ingredients.
The difference to the quality of my life is staggering. I have more energy, my motivation is back, and for the first time ever, I am actually enjoying life, all in the midst of some real life-altering circumstances including an imminent divorce. As I deal with the imbalances in my life that have been a catalyst for depression, I find hope is renewed. I am finally seeing who I really am and what I’m capable of in life, which makes me want to share these truths that others might experience this freedom too.
Finding my purpose as a mother and discovering my passion for food, nutrition, and all things natural health have really pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to become the best version of myself. For the first time ever, I feel like depression doesn’t own me. It’s still there lurking, but it’s not my master, and that is a feeling that I want everyone struggling with mental illness to experience as well.