I think depression is far more common than we’re willing to admit publicly, to each other. 

I’ve had depression. Maybe you have had it, too. And if not, maybe you will.

Why? Because there is certain amount inescapable suffering that we’ll all experience in our lives. Events that simply cannot be avoided. And for that reason, we’re intrinsically set-up to experience depression at some point, however light or heavy it sits on the spectrum.

I think depression affects people the same way colds and the flu sweep through communities. Some people catch it and get just get a light case of the “sads” temporarily. Or maybe they display virtually no symptoms at all. Maybe they feel a little down for a while, but often people return to normal in a short period of time.  

Other people, if they’re more vulnerable, get hit with a full blown case of depression “flu”. It knocks them out. Usually for a while.

When someone comes down with an actual cold or the flu, we generally shrug it off, accepting it as an inevitable episode of life. Life is stressful and we’re working hard. It’s a “normal” experience to get stuffed up with a cold or laid out for a few days with the flu. 

I think we should view depression - in general - with a similar perspective.

What do I mean? I’m saying that depression is a part of the package of being alive. It’s an outcome of living together in large groups, complex social structures, and tension-laden environments. It’s a consequence of the crowd. Just like colds and flus are.

Right now, though, if you or your friend or loved ones tells you they have depression, it’s more likely it will be viewed as a weakness that’s inherent to him or her: that it’s a structural inferiorty that’s been embedded from the beginning. That it’s something to pity, but only at a safe distance, so you won’t be sucked in with it.

I was scared to admit that I had depression. I was ashamed that I had it. I thought I was better than that. I believed I was above such a thing.

But I’ve arrived at a new, humbled perspective. And now I think seeing it as a shameful thing is a really uncreative and narrow way to understand the issue.

Depression can materialize like a thin film that starts covering your mind over time, just like the film that coats your teeth if you don’t regularly brush them. Without regular maintenance, cavities can set in.

Modern life presents a host of forces that put depressive pressure on us every day. We get sick. Natural disasters happen. We fight with each other. Political climates frustrate us. Bad things happen without any meaningful explanation. And the film of depression can slowly build up over time, in-tandem. Especially if it is left unattended to.

If you actually have a heavy film of low-level depression built up, then the stage is set against you. Depression might just swamp you during a heightened episode of trauma or loss. Usually the inescapable kind of trauma or loss, like losing a loved one, loss of a job, loss of personal security, or the loss of innocence. 

That’s what happened to me. I lost my Mom to complications from Multiple Sclerosis and Diabetes. She was sick for years. It was not pretty. And, of course, I loved my Mom very much, so it was a tremendous trial to watch her suffer the way she did. It was hard on me. It was hard on my entire family.

In the wake of her passing, I psychologically collapsed because that kind of suffering didn’t make any sense to me. It was unfair, and it was unexplainable. Her healthful life was cut very short. It all felt so cruel.

It left me dizzy, and suddenly I couldn’t find much joy in daily life. I also couldn’t find a way to “be positive”. It was impossible to intellectualize my happiness - I couldn’t think my way out of my funk. And that meant everything became a dull, numb, pointless bore. I felt pretty hollow.

So here I was, camping out in my depression, in big need of a solution. After some research on my options, I sketched out a multi-pronged approach to correct the imbalance. 

  • I cultivated an exercise habit (endurance running)
  • I cultivated a yoga practice (meditation and movement)
  • I cleaned up my diet (I went plant-based)
  • I sought counselling 

This is a broad overview. There are many details, but I don’t want to get caught in the weeds of those details in this post.

What I can say, is that it worked. It took about 18 months, but it worked. Things feel good again. I’ve wiped the film of depression from my eyes and my heart. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect, or that I’m completely immune from experiencing it again, but it’s been dealt with. I feel like myself again, and that means I can be better for my family and friends; the people I love.

With that said, I really believe depression is a normal and understandable experience in life. And it can be resolved. With proper care and assistance, you can recover from it like you would a cold or flu [at least in many cases]. It does requires patience and persistence, however.

I credit my diet and exercise as the driving forces behind my recovery. They helped me get unstuck, and get back to centre.

I found the medicine I needed in the produce department, and the excitement I wanted in a pair of running shoes. I got outside, got moving and started feeling great, slowly but surely.

Simple and effective.

And now, if I ever sense another depression flu creeping up, I’m ready for it. And it won’t be weird. 

It will be understandable.

 

 

 

 

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Afterword

 

How I dealt with my situation shouldn’t be taken as prescriptive. Depression absolutely deserves serious care and attention, and it varies in type and severity. Seek assistance. Talk to your doctor. Figure out what you need. Left unchecked, depression creates a feedback loop on itself in a downward direction. You can end up in dark territory.

I’ve offered up my approach to illustrate that I made improvements with simple, accessible methods and tools. I didn’t want to take prescription medication, so I opted for entry-level methods and a hands-on approach in place of pharmaceuticals. 

I’m not denouncing conventional approaches. They work. I’m just a fan of knowing all my options. So I went looking for the best alternatives I could find. 

I fundamentally believe that my basic choices around exercise, optimal nutrition, and a plant-based diet were well informed. I suspect they could also help many others.

What I’m not stating is that they’re the definitive cure because they’re not. But a plant-based diet and exercise can definitely help re-invigorate your life - even if you’re not depressed.

Below are a number of links and resources that speak further to nutrition and exercise in terms of their therapeutic effects on managing and alleviating depression. I hope they help.

plants for life

René

 

Notes

Depression and Diet - Nutrition Facts.org

Plant-Based Diets for Improved Mood & Productivity

Gut Feelings: Probiotics & Mental Health

Do Antidepressant Drugs Really Work?

Yoga for Anxiety and Depression

When the best exercise is right at your feet.

Headspace Meditation App