*Just a note before I start. Before you make any changes to medication or treatment, talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional.
“There is nothing wrong with needing help” that was what was said to me in college, sitting in a counselors office. I knew something was wrong, I felt down, all the time. Not just that, I had been sitting in class one day and all of a sudden the room felt like it was collapsing in on itself. I couldn’t breathe, my heart was racing, I thought I was going to pass out. I finally went to the school clinic, there was “nothing wrong” with me, so they sent me to a counselor.
I really didn’t know what to tell the counselor. I was sad, pretty much all the time. I put a good face on it, but I just couldn’t shake being sad. And this new feeling of impending doom was not helping the situation.
From as early as I can remember I would feel sad, more often than I’d feel happy. I just thought it was some fault of my own. Depression was a part of my family as well, I’ve had family members commit suicide, and I’ve seen family members go through a lot of pain and anguish due to depression. For myself, I always assumed it had something to do with my weight. Life as an obese teen was not easy, so of course it seemed natural that I was sad.
So in college, they gave me some meds to ‘help’ the sadness and panic. Except, it just seemed to make things worse. I can’t explain it, or what it was doing to me, but it just didn’t help.
From my college years till a few years ago the depression was pretty severe. As most of you know, in the worst of my T2 diabetes and being sick, I contemplated taking my life (a few times), it was just a normal thought for me. Worse yet, so many people would tell me that I just needed to “snap out of it” or “focus on the positive”. I think these people were all well meaning, many people do not understand depression or panic, and I think most of our loved ones just want to see us be ok. But, no matter how hard I tried to snap out of it, or focus on the positive, it didn’t seem to work.
When I became plant-strong things started to shift, slightly. I started feeling better. It didn’t go away, but it was definitely a noticeable difference. Part of it was just having controlled blood sugar. Out of control blood sugar really makes depression and panic a lot worse, so just controlling my blood sugar was very important.
But I was still struggling, and I still was having panic attacks. Like I said, it was not as bad as they had been , but panic and depression were still very much a part of my daily life.
Back in March I was at an Engine 2 Immersion in Austin. I was on the schedule to talk, normally I get nervous, but this time? It was more than nerves. The night before my talk I started to panic. My heart was racing, I was having a hard time breathing, I thought I’d pass out. Fifteen minutes before my talk, I checked my blood pressure with the Immersion Doctor, I was fine. She assured me I was fine, that I would not pass out and I was not having a heart attack. My brain however, still thought I might die.
Ten minutes before my talk, Doug Lisle, PhD who happened to be there, sat down with me and gave me some good advice, and reassured me again that I was not having a heart attack and I was not going to pass out. The room was spinning. I thought I should probably tell Rip I wasn’t going on, he’d have to do something else. Then, Doug stood up and said – “ok kid, let’s get moving”. We were outside the lecture hall, and he started jogging in place, doing wall push-ups and told me to do what he was doing. I thought he was nuts. I already felt like I was going to die, now he wanted me to workout? 10 minutes before my talk no less. But I did like he said, and started to move as much as I could. Doug explained that panic is an adrenaline response. It used to help us out a lot, if we heard something in the woods, we would have a surge of adrenaline, and that would help us run from danger. Basically, I needed to convince myself that I was running from danger, and I’d be safe.
After running in place, doing wall push-ups and moving around, Doug told me to punch him. Now, let me just state that Doug happens to be a world Judo champion, I don’t know if this is a good idea in general, to go punch someone. So Doug puts up his hands and told me to punch him as hard as I could, as many times as I could. (I’d like to state for the record, when your psychologist tells you to hit them, do it, it’s very therapeutic)
I was still feeling panicked, but I was able to give me talk.
After that talk, I was able to talk to Doug a bit more about depression and panic. He gave me advice that I had never been given before in regards to dealing with both of these issues. I needed to get moving. With depression, he told me that just moving a little every day (intentionally) tells my brain that things are going to turn out ok, that I’m “moving on”. When I got depressed in the past, I’d have a hard time just getting out of bed, or getting dressed for the day. The thought going to the gym seemed pretty silly to me, because that is the last thing I wanted to do when I was feeling depressed. But I started to do just that. When I’d start feeling down, I’d stop what I was doing and I’d get my workout clothes on, and I tell myself that I just need to go to the gym for 10 minutes. That was it. If I could just get there for 10 minutes, I knew that would be good enough.
Of course, I always stay longer than 10 minutes.
Since March, I’ve been very diligent about making sure that when I start to feel down or panicked, I start moving.
Recently, I’ve had a few things happen in my life that have been really hard to deal with, I won’t get into that, but I will say that normally these events would have caused me to become more depressed than I normally am, and I knew I was at risk for spiraling into some pretty severe depression. There was a night, a couple of months ago and I was really down, I couldn’t stop crying, and it was around 12:30 in the morning. I wasn’t sure what to do exactly, so I got up, put my workout clothes, went down to the gym, and got on a treadmill. I walked for about an hour, and started to feel better.
This has been my go-to ‘medication’ for the past few months now, and I’m starting to see a major difference. My panic attacks are all but gone, I don’t except they are 100% gone, but where they used to be a common experience, now they are few and far between. I’m getting a solid night sleep, every night. (I should note, it wasn’t just feeling down, I’ve had a really hard time sleeping for as long as I could remember. Slowly, even my tendency not to fall asleep has gone away, and I started to fall asleep, in a good amount of time.) It takes me about 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, and I sleep through the night, and wake up and feel well rested. The feelings of sadness are also much less than they used to be, despite some current circumstances that I mentioned earlier.
I recently spoke at our “Plant-Stock” weekend. I drove up to the farmhouse, and had a little bit of panic. And then I decided to make sure that I was active during the weekend. It was a great environment for that, there was plenty to do, and plenty of physical activity. I started to feel more and more calm, and I kept expecting panic to strike, especially before my talk. I had pre-talk jitters, but I can say that for the first time, I didn’t have any bit of a panic attack. During my talk, while nervous, I didn’t have the same panic feelings that I have had in the past. I was kind of shocked.
While it might seem hard to imagine moving when you feel down, I have found for me it has been making the biggest difference. When I feel a panic attack coming on, I start moving, climbing stairs, wall push-ups, moving major muscle groups. When I start to feel down, I head to the gym, or outside for a walk (the sun helps a lot as well). Depression and panic can feel like an impossible battle, however I think that with a healthy plant-strong diet, reasonable activity we can start to see some improvement.For me, I also have sought out support from a professional which has been tremendously helpful.
I don’t know if this is the answer for everyone, but I can say for myself, personally, the combination of what I eat and getting active has really made all the difference, and I hope that as I continue I’ll keep seeing things improve, I don’t expect it to magically disappear, I except that through a lot of diligence I will keep seeing small improvements. If you suffer from depression or panic attacks, know that you are not alone, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, I think that a lot more people face it than we’ll eve know. I believe there is hope when it comes to depression and panic. I don’t know that it will ever be an overnight fix, but I do believe with seeking help and lifestyle changes that things can be a lot better for many people.
For a long time I felt guilty over taking breaks, or going to workout, or putting myself first, but I’ve learned that taking care of myself is vital to how I live. Not everyday will be perfect, and I know that there will be bumps along the road, but I will continue to learn and grow along the way. I hope that you will do the same, you are worth it.