Just the word is depressing.
As a mental health professional, I research and study on a continual basis to provide the best care for my clients, but often my most profound “AHA” moments happen as I am struggling with my own issues, one of which is the “Black Dog of Depression” (a YouTube video depicting the experience of many people experiencing depression). It’s so freeing to be a seasoned Christian (a nice word for OLD), a licensed minister and a licensed counselor and just admit out loud and online that I struggle with episodes of depression.
As many people do, I started 2017 with renewed goals and commitments to be a better person physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and relationally. To that end, I ate VERY clean for the first three weeks of January which included no processed sugar—quite a feat for an avowed sugar addict. Not surprising I felt really good.
Then last Sunday night, the black dog of depression descended and lasted most of the day on Monday. I have enough experience fighting him off that I knew what to do to make him run:
EXERCISE: I went hiking with a friend—one of my favorite life giving cures—no relief.
EXAMINE THOUGHT PATTERNS: I did a Care Cycle for my heart—A commonly journaled pattern for me—no relief.
RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS: I thought back through the weekend—no obvious conflict or negative thinking patterns.
ANTIDEPRESSANT: No missed doses.
LIGHT THERAPY BOX: I had used the therapy lamp every morning for 20-30 minutes as usual—no relief.
Side note: Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing seasonal affective disorder symptoms (SAD). Seasonal affective disorder is basically depression that happens during the fall/winter seasons in climates where sunshine is limited. There is also recent research concluding that light therapy alone or in conjunction with an antidepressant is an effective treatment for depression.
I CONTINUED TO BE CURIOUS: What was going on?
Finally, I became curious about the timing of the depressive feelings. They started in the afternoon and by Sunday night they were full blown…hmm… what happened on Sunday? After the church service, I attended an awesome church potluck in which I indulged in a serving of blackberry cobbler and a LARGE slice of chocolate cake and then to top it off I had Andy’s Frozen Custard on the way home. Hmmm…. could what I ate be the culprit? Sugar?
So, I did what most of us do…I googled it on my phone. Sure enough! There are studies indicating that depression and sugar are linked.
That started me thinking about the last time the “dog” showed up. I struggled during the holidays last fall… December was especially difficult. At that point I attributed the struggle to my “empty” nest becoming full of adult children again, my husband working a lot, and the stress of the holidays; so, I just struggled through it. But looking back, I wonder if my “who cares” attitude over eating WHATEVER I WANTED during the holidays, which resulted in a 9-lb. weight gain between Thanksgiving and the New Year, was the culprit. The weight gain also motivated me to work out harder in January.
My favorite fitness instructor is Michelle Spadafora at faithfulworkouts.com. In her Reignite book and during her videos she encourages participants to eat less than 24 g of processed sugar per day. I have half-heartedly tried to follow her recommendation but now after doing my own research and reading the same recommendations about sugar given by the World Health Organization, I am feeling more motivated to follow her recommendation. Pretty big commitment for an avowed sugar addict!
Hopefully, this article helps to eliminate some of the stigma of struggling with depression and highlights the fact that you CAN DO something about the struggle. Don’t let the Black Dog take you out! Find a good counselor, get on meds if recommended by your doctor or psychiatrist, exercise, and start enjoying your life again. You are worth it!