In light of all the discussion surrounding the death of Robin Williams someone asked me to repost this blog I wrote nearly 4 years ago about my own depression.
There have been a few updates... I know now that my condition is genetic and that I don't metabolize foliate which is a necessary precursor to serotonin. With that information my treatment has changed and I have been depression free for more than 2 years. At the time I wrote this I was training for a figure competiton.
Here is my story-
Journey to November 6, 2010 - Depression
This is going to be a very personal blog post. Paul asked me if I was sure I wanted to be so public with this part of my life. I have thought about writing about this for a couple of weeks and I think I am ready to share.
Part of the reason I’m sharing this is because I know there are other people who are reading this that could benefit from my story.
Also, this challenge along with diet and exercise are a vital part of this story.
Most people who know me would be surprised to know that I suffer from clinical depression. There are only a few people that are very close to me who know about this and now I put it out into the world for everyone to read about... (SCARY FOR ME)
It is hereditary and can be linked to my great grandmother. I can trace my own struggles with depression back to the age of 8 years old. It has been a life long battle for me.
Unfortunately, depression has been trivialized socially for many years... We live in a “Prozac” - I feel like crap today can I have a pill to fix it nation.
Let me explain what depression is like for me so it may help you (if you have never suffered from clinical depression) understand the difference between situational and clinical depression.
I have read almost every book I could get my hands on over the years to help me deal with something that I did not want to accept for a long time.
Most people who know me would describe me as happy, energetic, driven, boisterous, outgoing, full of life, optimistic and generally positive. These things are true (at least I like to think so).
People are often shocked when I tell them about my depression and their first response is almost always “You? No way! You are always so happy” Depression is not about being unhappy. I almost always felt hopeful for the future during depression. Depression also “flares up” like an ulcer. It can be managed for a long time and than BAM an episode hits!
When a depressive episode strikes the world through my vision seems to appear gray. Colors in nature are muted. Insomnia sets in and sleep is nearly impossible for me. I become withdrawn from friends, family and all of my passions and interests. Talking to people or socializing is painful - I just want to be alone. Doing just about anything feels like it requires every last ounce of energy I have. I feel lost and disconnected from the world. I am aware that I am deep down happy in my life but everything seems difficult. Sometimes it feels like I’m walking through water - like there is a current working against my energy. I know something is wrong but I can not “snap out of” it or just “cheer up”
PMS is a nightmare..... it starts about 2 weeks before mother nature comes knocking on the door for her visit. I dread the PMS.... It’s the physical symptoms of PMS that are the worst. Body aches and soreness of my breasts that normally do not exist are painful and last for almost 2 weeks. One of the reasons we know (myself and the doctors) that is is clinical depression is because of the effects on my hormones and the physical changes to my body. When I am being treated for depression or not in an episode those physical affects of my cycle are not there at all.
I mentioned before that I am not a crier. During depression the tears appear for no reason at all. They are just there - uncontrollable, inexplainable crying..... I am actually laughing while crying sometimes because I know it is ridiculous to be crying when I have no reason but the tears just won’t stop. I often times can not remember driving somewhere or where I put things.
The whole world sometimes feels like it is moving in slow motion.
The frustration of depression can make you feel insane sometimes. There were times in my life when I was genuinely happy. Everything was wonderful. I had nothing to be unhappy about but I just couldn’t snap out of the depression and I also had no reason or could not explain it to anyone. It is like living in a dark hole.
I would actually call my depression “the dark side of Michele”.
When I was younger I would ignore the early signs - the symptoms would get increasingly worse until I felt like I was losing my mind. As I have gotten older I am much more in tune to the early signs and try not to let it take over me before doing something about it.
Situational depression has a reason... Someone died, you lost your job, you got divorced, you moved to a new city and you are having a hard time adjusting, taking care of elderly parents, illness.... All of these stressful things can cause situational depression. Some of these things can also trigger clinical depression. You can work through situational depression - go through a grieving process and move past it. Clinical depression (for me) doesn’t work like that. You can’t grieve, talk or work your way out of a genuine chemical imbalance.
At the age of 24 (my 5th episode) my doctor at the time said that as I got older episodes of depression would be more frequent and last longer. It was already very difficult to deal with the fact that I had this problem. At that point I would have rather had diabetes or heart disease.... only because you could see those in a medical test. They were sociably acceptable. “Mental illness/depression” was not. I was so pissed off that I was dealing with this. I was angry about having to take an anti-depressant. It was a joke for most people. -Take your “happy pill”, you need prozac..... -
In the early 90’s doctors started handing out anti-depressants like they were candy and in a way devalued the legitimate medical problem that it is.
I think I would have preferred to have a test taken of my brain chemistry that states....
“Yes, Miss Celentano your serotonin levels are quite low and your norepinephrine levels are also too low for “normal happiness” levels”.
To my knowledge there are no such tests and the diagnosis is based on patient and doctor conversations and the patients symptoms.
Since I was diagnosed more than 16 years ago I have been on several different antidepressants. Some have been extremely effective and some have not. I am not always on medication - only when an episode hits. Eventually, most antidepressants will become ineffective. The body gets used to them and then the chemistry is no longer affected.
What is especially important to note here is that there were many doctors over the years and not one has ever asked me about my diet or how much exercise I get.
Not one doctor asked me about what I eat, what kind of vitamins I take, or what I did to workout. I have learned over the years that pharmaceuticals are only part of the equation when treating my depression. Please note this is only my experience. Antidepressants have come along way over the years. The side effects are less, they are more effective in lower doses, time released helps sustain even moods and they treat more than one brain chemical at a time.
There is no doubt in my mind that diet and exercise play a HUGE role in managing my depression. Which is why writing about this is critical to the the journey I am on now.
I have figured out that running helps me control depression in a big way. I can increase my own endorphins with running thus improving my mood.
I digress to an earlier post in which I talk about putting poor quality gas in your car and expecting it run well. I firmly believe the same is true for our bodies.
If the cars computer is the central system that makes everything else in the car work correctly than the brain is the same for the body.
Without the right or enough amino acids my brian chemistry is off. Without exercise my brain chemistry is off - things that affect my chemistry are sugar, artificial sugar, lack of vitamins and amino acids, lack of exercise, processed foods, fast foods, not enough fruits and veggies, not getting enough sleep.... the list goes on.
Clinical depression is when all of those things are right and I still go into that dark place with no explanation or reason and then medication is necessary.
My mother and I lived with my grandparents until I was 13. As a single moms do, my mom worked full time in NYC. I spent most of my week day time with my grandparents and especially my grandmother who my daughter Anna is named after.
Nanny suffered from depression in a terrible way. We didn’t know it then. In the 70’s it was not talked about and if it was you were classified as “crazy”. I’m sure she had no idea what was happening to her or why she felt like she did. Looking back, I know now from my own experience that she suffered from depression. Nanny never had a drivers license, she walked everywhere. She got plenty of exercise everyday just from walking to the stores in Brooklyn. She walked so fast, as a kid I had to trot just to keep up with her. She was a tiny little thing - maybe 4’ 10” weighing less that 100 pounds. She cooked nearly everyday and ate well, but there were times I would find her sitting in the dark just crying. It broke my heart even as a little girl. I would always curl up to her and ask her “Nanny, what’s wrong, why are you crying?” She would say “ I don’t know, I just have the blues”.
That would last a couple of days, she would be really quite for a few more days and in time Nanny would return to herself. Eventually that cycle would start again with no explanation.
It is not always easy to stay healthy and on track with diet and exercise. If depression hits - it makes it that much harder to stay motivated to do the right thing for my body.
Weight gain is generally a sign of depression for me. It means that I’m not interested in working out or running (things I love to do). It means I don’t have the energy to care enough about what I am eating. It can be a vicious cycle because the worse I eat and without exercise depression will worsen - and the worse it gets.... well - I think you get the point.
Looking good and fitting into cute clothes are all a sweet byproduct of why I really workout and eat well. It is not a choice for me. If I don’t work incredibly hard at keeping my body running well, I risk going into a depressive episode. It is for my mental health more than anything that I work as hard as I do (something else most people find surprising).
For me staying antidepressant free and mentally healthy on my terms is far more important to me that being a size 2. Looking great is a huge benefit but not the priority for me.
I share this part of my life because I want to stress how much this type of training and doing a challenge like this helps me. I am not alone- I have an amazing trainer (who now knows about my depression) a trainer that will push me when I can not push myself. I also rely on a community of people who workout with me and motivate me (you all didn’t know you were doing that -did you?) Having a trainer and a group of amazing people/friends to workout with that hold me accountable is important. It’s that life-team I talked about in an earlier post.
This amazing challenge is not only changing my body but it is keeping my mind healthy. It’s knowing I have a goal to meet, a trainer to work with and people counting on me being at the gym that keeps me motivated.
Thanks to all of you who keep me on track and who have been there for me without even knowing it-
I could write an entire book on my life long journey and battle with depression along with detailed stories of each episode but I will end it here for this post and hope that my story has helped even one person see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Some of my favorite books on the subject of depression:
Depression-Free for Life
by: Gabriel Cousens, MD
Obesity, Cancer, Depression - Their common cause and natural cure
by: F. Batmanghelidj, MD
Healing Depression The Mind-Body Way
by: Nancy Liebler PhD and Sandra Moss, M.S.P.H
Thanks again for reading - if you have any questions please send me a personal message if you don’t want to post a comment here.
Until next time.