Lately, I’ve been hearing many people I admire talk about their struggles with depression. I can relate with their experience. I’ve been deep in the Dark Side too. A few times. I can remember my first time of not wanting to be here when I was in elementary school. And then I kept falling into the precipice, struggling to come out just to fall again some years later.
I had valid reasons for being depressed: my mother was severely ill since I was 6 years old, then my parents’ separation when I was in my teens, struggles to fit in socially, sentimental breakups, you name it. And the struggle has continued throughout my whole life whenever I’ve felt loss of control and fear, usually for circumstances in which I felt everything was falling apart without me being able to do anything about it: postpartum, a bedbug infestation, family losses, career conundrums…Not the happily ever after Disney movies had taught me. It turns out, I’m no rare jewel! Studies estimate that 1 out of every 4 or 5 people will suffer from depression in their lifetime. It’s a very worrisome statistic!
Right after high school I went through a period of complete sadness and loss due to the end of a relationship. I discovered the (faux) soothing powers of sweets. Ice cream, pastries, cereal, cookies, and bread became my support system. They rescued me from the void that my life seemed at that time. Some months and 3 dress sizes later, I had an appointment with the diet doctor du jour who had the latest French intel on how to lose weight. Nutritionally, the diet made sense (except for the artificial sweeteners): lots of veggies, a bit of fruit, lean protein at every meal, no sugar, no fast carbs and I brought olive oil with me everywhere I went to drizzle on my salads. However, despite being nutritionally sound, I felt deprived, and dreamed of pan dulce and corn. My most loyal friend had turned into a criminal! What had comforted me was now outlawed. However, I followed the diet like I’d always done everything else: with complete obedience and discipline.
My size eventually shrank back a bit, but a completely dysfunctional relationship with food followed and I started binge eating, so for all my university years and my first year of marriage, my weight kept yoyo-ing. Misery I wanted to eat all the treats in the world, I wanted to lose control and after I did so, I felt like a fraud, like an idiot and like a monster. I would restrict myself then. But my body asked me to binge and the cycle kept going. I was a straight A student, I’d never allowed myself to have no will power. How come I couldn’t just say no? It was until I was in grad school, studying the beauties of food and discovering how interesting food history, culture, writing, and cooking were that I realized that my swinging body shape and love-fear of food wasn’t the root of the problem. The problem was not addressing how empty, scared and impotent I felt due to many reasons. I had never opened the door into my soul because I just wanted to close my eyes and the sadness to go away. Food was a distraction, a survival mechanism to keep me from facing my fears, and my life. I didn’t want to listen to my body, who was screaming at me through the binging. I needed to confront my true “why,” my pain. I had to welcome it, accept it and work on the real thing. I couldn’t numb it down anymore. I needed to discover that food was just was food, and that my depression was an invitation to make changes, not a problem with muffins.
My teacher, Marc David says that depression is a visitation from our guardian angels, that is here to tell us something. What????I had feared my depression like the plague throughout my whole adult life, so much so that I fed it cake to keep away! Marc says that depression is here to whisper into our ears to ask ourselves what we are doing, to look at our life, to understand who we are. We need to be shaken to our core and observe what’s happening, because otherwise, left to our own devises, we would keep doing the same thing forever. Depression stops us, it tells us that we need a vision, a purpose. James S. Gordon, MD agrees in the preface to his wonderful book Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven-Stage Journey Out of Depression, explaining that “Depression is not a disease…It is a sign that our lives are out of balance, that we’re stuck. It’s a wake-up call and the start of a journey that can change and transform our lives.” It feels horrible. It turns all lights off, and just because we overcame it before doesn’t mean that it won’t come back. If we need the shock, it will return. But depression needs to be honored.
As much as I’ve hated going through depression, I have to admit that David and Gordon are completely right. By trying to walk through the darkness, I’ve discovered holistic health, my own spirituality, yoga, mindfulness, meditation, aromatherapy, the power of whole, real foods, homeopathy, nutrient supplements, and yes, prescription medication, herbs (all legal, don’t panic), probiotics, therapy… and by becoming curious and experimenting, a whole world has opened up for me. Most importantly, I discovered my calling as a Mind-Body coach and whole food advocate. I’ve discover the amazingness of how the body affects the mind and how the mind affects the body, and I’m fascinated learning more and more every day and working with other people into discovering their own connections with their stories. I’ve understood how depression not only carries a message and a challenge, but how we can feel better by working at different levels: if we move our bodies, we might move our minds as well. If we feed ourselves what our bodies and minds need, we nourish our souls too. If we are able to rest our body and our mind, we repair and strengthen them. If we learn to relax and accept pleasure, our mind-body thrives and even soars. If we form bonds with other people, we heal. And, if we use spirituality and creativity in order to strengthen all these areas, we live life plentifully.
That’s why I’ve created The Star of Health. I’m not a doctor nor a therapist, and I’m not saying I can cure depression, but as a health and eating psychology coach, I believe that the speed, expectations, and distractions of our current lifestyle are delivering us to be part of the 1 in 4 or 5 statistic. Many high rollers and overachievers are also depressed. It escapes no one. So I suggest we take the time and make the effort to learn to relax and enrich our lives through the following.
I’ll be talking much more about The Star of Health in the time to come. Please contact me if you’d like to learn more about it and how to start incorporating these principles into your lifestyle.