Today’s post is a slight departure from my usual offerings. It’s not about insulin, or cancer, stubborn fat loss, or junkfood masquerading as health food. Oh, no. It’s much, much more important than any of that. It has a little something to do with diet, nutrients, supplements, and other stuff you (maybe) come to my blog for. But it’s mostly about something else, and that’s totally cool, because it’s my blog, and that means I get to write about whatever I want. I do like to keep my readers happy, but I also have to follow my heart and write and share what speaks to me. And right now, something is telling me to write this. (Actually, no. Telling? More like compelling.) Something powerful that I don’t want to ignore, even though part of me is saying this is stupid and humiliating and I shouldn’t bother. I have one thing to say to that demon inside my brain: SHUT UP! I’M PUTTING THIS OUT THERE WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT!
Also, there’s that saying, “You don’t regret the things you do; you regret the things you don’t do.” So with that in mind, I don’t want this to become a regret because I didn’t post it.
Before we proceed, though, I must direct you more emphatically than ever to an excerpt from the disclaimer that appears at the bottom of my posts: Amy Berger, MS, CNS, NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition and is not to be used as a substitute for the care and guidance of a physician.
Okay. Now that you can’t sue me, here goes.
Recall from this post a few months ago that a while back, I spent a significant amount of time in a very, very dark place in my head. (I wrote that it was 6-8 months, but it was really more like 9-10.) While I did not seek medical attention and was not officially “diagnosed” with anything, I eventually recognized it for what it was: depression.
It was more than just feeling blue, or having a dark cloud hanging over my head. (Besides, I like dark clouds. I’ve always liked stormy days and prefer an overcast sky to bright, endless blue. [Why do I not I live in Seattle?]) As I mentioned in that earlier post, I’ve always been kind of a pessimist and tend to lean toward the melancholy. This is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, I think it contributes to my writing. But what I experienced was way beyond a negative outlook and affect. (And yes, that’s affect, with an A. And yes, it’s used here as a noun.)
In order for the rest of what I want to share with you to make sense, I’ll have to go into a little more detail than I did before about how I was feeling. (And I’ll also let you know that some of these feelings are starting to resurface, but I am NOT GOING TO LET MYSELF GET PULLED BACK THERE! I WILL FIGHT LIKE HELL.)
It took me a while to acknowledge what was happening, because even on my very worst days, I didn’t (and still wouldn’t) consider myself to be medically, clinically, diagnosably depressed. There are people out there who literally cannot get out of bed or leave the house without medication. People who are on medical disability due to crippling, intractable depression. No matter how bad I felt, I got up, got dressed, and got to work. (Granted, “going to work” mostly involved sitting in front of my laptop at my dining room table, and sometimes I didn’t get started until 2 or 3 in the afternoon, but I still did it. And some days “getting dressed” meant putting on my favorite pair of super-old, ratty, elastic waist pants and an old Air Force T-shirt with a hole in it, but it was better than pajamas!) I went for tons of long walks outdoors. I wrote blog posts. I did my grocery shopping and generally kept up with taking care of everyday life stuff. Not everyone with depression is capable of doing even that.
So I’m not trying to equate what I experienced with the experience of anyone out there whose depression is so severe that it interferes with their ability to care for themselves, hold down a job, maintain basic personal hygiene, etc. That, I almost can’t even imagine. But the fact that my depression wasn’t off the charts on the severity scale doesn’t negate what I felt, and it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to help someone else out there who is, right now, in the horrible, horrible place I was, and is either trying to claw their way out of that hole, or worse, has given up on getting out.
So here’s what happened:
I had an existence, but not a life. I was, as they say, “surviving, but not thriving.” I experienced what I have since come to learn is “anhedonia.” A total lack of capacity to feel joy or pleasure. Every smile was fake/forced, every chuckle was phony. Even things I usually enjoy brought me no pleasure: places I like to go, people I like to spend time with. It had all become one big flatline. Total apathy. Nothing brought me joy, but nothing made me feel particularly bad, either. Nothing stirred me one way or the other. Nothing moved me in any direction, good, bad, or indifferent. Well, yeah, maybe indifferent. I was indifferent to everything. My reaction to just about anything and everything was one big “meh.” Even things that should have had me over the moon. Things that should have made me proud of myself, or excited about the future. It all added up to nothing.
And let me tell you, friends: it sucked.
I don’t know why I allowed it to go on as long as I did, except that maybe I didn’t realize quite how bad it was for the first several months. I also probably expected it to go away on its own, as if it might magically clear up without any deliberate action on my part whatsoever. (HahahaHAHAHAHA!! Can you imagine? We know this isn’t true of health issues that affect the body; why should it be any different with things that affect the mind? [Never mind the fact that the two are inextricably linked.])
Well, one day, I had the feeling that if I had to face even one more day feeling that way, I didn’t know if I could take it. (I was not suicidal, so no worries there, please.) I was very much at the end of my rope and I honestly just didn’t know what the hell to do, except that I had to do something. The prospect of living another moment—let alone potentially the rest of my life—feeling the way I was, was not even within my capacity to consider or comprehend.
So on the off chance that there’s someone—anyone—out there feeling right now even remotely close to how I was feeling a while back, I would like to share some of what helped me and continues to help me. Implement all of it, implement none of it, implement whatever pieces speak to you, or don’t implement anything at all right now if you’re not ready, but simply know that there are things you can do when you do feel ready. Sometimes just having that small hope is enough. You might not be capable of acting on it yet, but please, dear ones, remember that it’s there.
I could go on and on about why I think I started feeling that way, and why I allowed it to get so terrible before I did anything about it, but honestly, that’s irrelevant. There were/are things specific to my living situation, my career, my personal life, my body, and more, that contribute something unique to the larger puzzle. Just as there are in yours. And to whatever extent those things are within your power to change them, change them. Please revisit my post on Vitamin J, and if anything there speaks to you, do something about it. Now, granted, the
terrible thing about depression is that even if you can logically and
objectively recognize that something is contributing to your unhappiness—your
job, perhaps, or your marriage, financial debt, chronic pain—you can’t muster
the will to change it. You want to
change it, and you know you’d feel better if things were different, but
depression is like this huge concrete wall standing in front of you, preventing
you from being able to take action. I
know. Believe me, friends, I know.
And here’s the other thing: there are plenty of people in “worse” circumstances than I was/am, but who are happy as clams! Their finances, their health, their relationships, their general life security, are in complete turmoil, yet they go about life with a smile on their face, and they don’t let things box them in and annihilate them the way I did. And as we read and hear so often, it’s really not about our circumstances so much as the way we perceive them. It’s not about the facts, but our interpretation of them. And while I think there’s a bit of nonsense in that, I don’t think it’s all nonsense.
The question is, WHY are some people able to interpret their circumstances so much more favorably than others, even when the objective facts indicate otherwise? Why do some of us have brains that insist on seeing the glass as half empty (or completely empty), when it’s actually overflowing with good stuff? What is “wrong” there?
THIS is mostly what this post is about. (And it only took me 1500 words to get here, haha!)
Because, yes, there were and are most definitely things about my life that are contributing to my dark feelings. But coming at these things from another angle, I am actually so freaking blessed and fortunate, that for me to feel anything less than nonstop gratitude for all the goodness in my life is almost ridiculous. So why did I, then? Why did I get lost in the pit of despair? (Hat tip to anyone who remembers that from the movie The Princess Bride.)
Answer: there were actual, measurable imbalances and deficiencies in my body. And there was (and still is!) a lot of horrendously negative sh*t in my head that is so much stronger and harder to get around than any concrete wall could ever be.
So with all this in mind, let’s look at some of what has helped me, and how you can start helping yourself.
CHANGE YOUR SITUATION
Like I said, if there is something specific in your life that you know is contributing to your feelings, change it. However difficult it might be to change it—getting a divorce? Moving to a new town?—I guarantee you, the only thing more difficult is not changing it, and continuing to feel the way you feel for another month, another year, another ten years.
BUT: if your life is actually pretty great, and you’re unable to identify why you feel not so great about it, then let’s consider these other interventions:
TESTING & TARGETED SUPPLEMENTATION
As I said, I had some fairly strong imbalances/deficiencies. Why they occurred, I don’t know for sure. I can only speculate. But they were there, and it was within my power to do something about them. I am absolutely convinced that almost all—maybe not all all, but almost all—emotional, mental, and psychiatric “issues” are the result of measurable physical/biochemical imbalances. Just because they’re difficult to identify and very, very few psychiatrists and other doctors ever bother to even test for them before whipping out the prescription pad doesn’t negate them as majorly causative. We know—we know—that “special diets” and very targeted nutritional supplementation can lead to stunning improvements in mental health. B12, B6, folate, zinc, essential fatty acids, gluten-free/casein-free, a ketogenic diet…I could go on and on. The point is, if you have an actual nutrient deficiency causing or exacerbating neurotransmitter imbalances, then no amount of talk therapy in the world is going to fix the problem. It might help you feel a little better, yes, but it will do approximately nothing to address the fundamental cause. This stuff is NOT “all in your head.” It sure wasn’t in mine. (Not all of it, anyway.)
Based on my own detailed assessment of what I was feeling, I hammered myself with very targeted nutritional supplements. Within days I started to feel significantly better, but I still had a long way to go, and I knew that whatever was “off” inside me was still profound enough that it would show up on a test. I stopped my supplements for about ten days before testing, so they’d be cleared out of my system and wouldn’t throw off the results. I knew I could get right back on as soon as I had sent the specimens off.
So I did a neurotransmitter test, a female hormone panel, and a food sensitivity test. These things are “hella expensive,” as they are not usually covered by insurance, but just between us, my dears, they were Worth. Every. Penny. They confirmed everything I already suspected: the things I thought would be low were really low; the things I thought would be high were high, and I have approximately zero food sensitivities. (Woohoo! I wasn’t expecting any, because I’ve inherited my father’s iron stomach and pretty much never get sick from food, but I did the test ‘cuz, hey, ya never know. Maybe I would be surprised and something I consume on a regular basis is dietary enemy numero uno for me. I was bracing myself for the unfathomable [and terrifying] possibility that coffee would show up, but nope, the gods were smiling, and I can continue to connect bag after bag of dark roast to the IV needle in my arm.)
But yeah, I had some dramatic neurotransmitter stuff going on, which matched up perfectly with my symptoms. I had some female stuff going on as well, which also matched up with my symptoms.
I already suspected all of this, but it was nice to have scientific confirmation, and I was able to continue with my supplement regimen even more confidently. For those of you who don’t trust yourselves to figure things out on your own, DO THE TESTING. Even if you do think you have a good handle on what’s happening inside you, do the testing anyway. Maybe you don’t have the whole picture, and you run the risk of actually making things worse if you target the wrong pathways. If you don’t have the means to do the testing (like I said, it ain’t cheap), is there anything you can do to rectify that? Can you barter? Find a good doctor or nutritionist who can order these for you in exchange for you vacuuming their office? Cleaning their bathroom? Delivering their groceries? Mowing their lawn? I’m not kidding. If you’re desperate, you’ll find a way. Or perform some of these services for people in your neighborhood and earn extra money that way. Find a busy, overextended family and offer to cook them a few meals. Harried moms & dads who want to feed their families “real food” will pay big time for that convenience. Drive some older folks to their medical appointments. Whatever you do, don’t end your investigation with Dr. Google and then take matters into your own hands. It’s okay to start there and to get an idea as to what might be going on with you, but definitely don’t stop there.
Identifying my imbalances has allowed me to choose supplements and foods that are targeting specific things for me. I’m not going to share the details of what I’m taking and eating now, because your situation could be completely different and warrant a totally different approach. My point is, do find out what your situation is, and find a qualified doctor or nutritionist to help you design an effective protocol. And maybe that protocol involves…*gasp!*…pharmaceutical drugs. Obviously, I believe in the power of food, nutrients, and lifestyle interventions, but I also respect the appropriate and judicious use of prescription medication when warranted. Food versus medicine doesn’t have to be an either-or scenario. They’re not mutually exclusive. Don’t ignore a potentially life-improving solution because you think you should be able to “Paleo” or “keto” your way out of every single problem in your life. It doesn’t work that way.
And if you’re already on medication but still feel apathy/anhedonia/depression, for goodness sake, ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF. Work with your doctor to change your medication, diet, and or lifestyle until you do start feeling better. If your medication isn’t working, ask to try a different one. I’ve had many clients who were “on thyroid medication” for years but had experienced absolutely no improvement in their symptoms. HELLO?! Why was I the one to question this? Why weren’t their physicians asking if they were feeling any better? And why does anyone continue taking—for years—meds that DON’T WORK FOR THEM? The mind boggles. Speak up for yourselves, dammit!
You deserve to feel better. You deserve to feel great. Don’t believe me? Read on.
I love you.
I am not kidding. If you’re here, reading my blog, and you find something valuable in it—something that makes you actually come back once in a while—I really do love you. Well, maybe I don’t love you love you, but I do care about you. I value you as a reader, as a person, and I’m glad you’re here. If your life right now is such that you don’t hear on a regular basis that you are loved, that you are valued, that you are important, that the world needs you, and that you are worth caring about, and you are worth feeling better, then hear it now. Hear it from me. I CARE ABOUT YOU. Even if you are having a hard time caring about you right now, I care about you, friend, and maybe that’s enough to get you through the next ten minutes. And you can come back here, read that again, and get through tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.
I’m sorry if I’m getting way too woo-woo and emotional, and I’m pretty sure that whoosh sound I just heard was a hundred people collectively abandoning my blog forever, but like I said, I feel compelled to write this. I feel compelled because I wish something like this had been available to me when I was feeling my worst. (And it probably was, if only I had bothered to look for it.) And if you thought I was woo-woo before, hang onto your hat, ‘cuz it’s about to get seriously woo from here on out. (Note: none of this is to be confused with the person “Woo,” whom I introduced you to here, hehheh.)
Hopefully you know from some of my posts that I am pretty science-minded. I like to have the cold, hard facts, and I get discouraged when I can’t understand the cold, hard facts. (The Hyperlipid blog, anyone? Man, whenever I want to feel like a drooling idiot, I try to make sense of even one fourth of what Peter writes.) Even so, I am not at all above…well, whatever you want to call it: energy medicine, spirituality, new age mumbo-jumbo. The short list of things that have helped me at one time or another includes reiki, acupuncture, positive affirmations, and general “energy work.” (I think that second whoosh was another hundred people rushing toward the exit... Oops!)
I’ll leave you to consider whether reiki or acupuncture might be helpful for you. What I’d like to focus on here are the positive affirmations.
Seriously. It’s kinda true what they say: if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect to love or enjoy anything else? If you think you’re worthless, then you won’t allow yourself to experience joy or pleasure. Plus, if you don’t recognize, acknowledge, and accept your own worth, how can anyone else?
Here’s the thing, though: when you are in that “pit of despair,” it is damn near impossible to do that. Even if you recognize, on a logical, objective level, that you’re a good parent, a good spouse, a good friend, a good employee, a good brother, a good writer, or a good insert-whatever-applies-to-you, the non-logical part of you—the part with feelings—is like, “MEH.” You “so what” all over the place. “Yeah, I’m a good husband, but so what?” “People read my blog, but so what?” None of it actually means anything to you or makes you feel better. It’s like there’s some kind of forcefield around you and nothing can get through. You certainly didn’t mean to put this forcefield up, and you don’t want it around you, but you don’t know how to make it go away.
So what do you do about this?
You do the same thing you’d do in any other area of your life: you practice like hell until you establish new thought patterns, and you fake it ‘til you make it. Fake it, fake it, fake it, until you don’t have to fake it anymore because it’s real.
I am not some crazy snake oil saleswoman trying to bamboozle you into buying my exclusive, members-only program. Nothing for sale here except some books that are old, so you can get them literally for pennies on Amazon, and if you happen to buy them through my affiliate link, then yeah, they’ll throw a few cents my way. (But you are also 100% welcome to get these books from the library, for free.) And you don’t even have to get any books if you don’t want. So much of this stuff is available for free online. But I’m old fashioned, and I like having something tangible to hold onto, especially when it comes to this positive thinking stuff.
Mostly, I am talking here about the work of people like Louise L. Hay. There are many people who do similar work, but Louise is my favorite. I find her to be the most genuine, and her stuff has helped me a great deal. Some of it is too kooky, even for me, and I do have moments where I think the entire notion of positive thinking, affirmations, and the like is total bullsh*t, but as I encourage others to do, I keep what I find useful and disregard the rest. Baby and bathwater, and all that.
Now, I’m not gonna lie. This stuff is hokey. It is beyond hokey. It is a one-way ticket on the bullet train to hokeytown.
HOWEVER, there’s enough power in it that millions of people all over the world have some type of practice involving this stuff. You know what else is hokey, but which millions of people swear by and make a regular part of their life? Meditation. I hate meditation, so to each their own. If something makes you feel better, then it doesn’t really matter why it makes you feel better, or whether or not anyone else believes in it or thinks you’re nuts. I cannot explain the scientific mechanisms behind positive affirmations and deliberate self-love and compassion, but they have helped me. Now, to be clear, if I had to guess at the proportions by which supplements, food, exercise, and affirmations have helped me, I’d put it at 88% supplements, food, and exercise, and 12% affirmations.
So I don’t at all think the affirmations are the major effective factor here. But they’re not negligible. And for anyone out there reading this who is not capable, just yet, of getting over, under, around, or straight through that concrete wall obstacle of depression to change their supplements, diet, or physical activity, maybe the affirmations are just a place to start. That’s all they need to be. A place to start. A place that requires nothing from you—not even that you believe in them. You can think they are total hippie-dippy woo-woo utter bullcrap nonsense and still do them. You can tell yourself it’s a waste of time and do them anyway. (Remember: it’s totally cool to fake it!)
Affirmations are like any new skill you try to acquire (let alone master) – you have to practice regularly. You can’t expect to practice a musical instrument once a month and then wind up in the local philharmonic orchestra. And you can’t say positive things to yourself only once every few weeks and expect to actually start believing them. They’re like a muscle you have to work intentionally in order to make it stronger. Like a low carb or Paleo diet, affirmations only work if you actually do them. And just like a low carb or Paleo diet, like I said, you don’t even have to believe it will work. Do it to prove yourself right that they don’t work, and then watch as the universe proves you wrong.
The thing is, just like any new skill you try to acquire, affirmations don’t work overnight. They really do take time. It is difficult to establish new thought patterns. It’s even harder than changing your diet – much harder. And it’s like any other practice you engage in: it’s tough at first. It feels awkward and uncomfortable, because it’s so foreign and different from the way you’re accustomed to thinking. If you’re accustomed to telling yourself that you’re worthless, weak, stupid, lazy, a failure, no good, can’t get your sh*t together, or whatever other negative crap you play on an endless loop in your head, then of course it’s gonna feel weird and uncomfortable to tell yourself you deserve all the good life has to offer, that you’re worthy of good things coming in to your life, and that you are enough just as you are, right now. That’s where faking it comes in. You have to do it until it sinks in and becomes second nature, and you do start to believe it.
So no, affirmations don’t work overnight. And when they do start working, it might be through only very small things. Things you don’t even register, except that one day, you start feeling just a tiny bit better. You notice how pretty the flowers are by the bus stop. You’ve “seen” them every day, but all of a sudden, you notice them. You hear your favorite song on the radio and your heart feels just a tiny bit less heavy. Notice I didn’t say it feels light, because maybe that’s too big a leap for you just then. When you’re in the kind of depression I was in, you can’t go from -12 to +10 in a single bound. Maybe all you can do is go from -12 to -9. And you’re still in the hole, but not quite as deeply. And some days, that’s enough. It’s enough to give even just the tiniest glimmer of hope that you might get to -7 one day, and then -6, and -4, until slowly but surely, you emerge back onto neutral ground. And sure, you’d like to start climbing way, way up into the positive territory, but when you’re so far down, that can be darn near impossible to even imagine. So if you’re in a place right now where you’re unable to see yourself feeling good, then please, friend, try to see yourself feeling less bad. IT’S PROGRESS. You might not feel great, but you can feel better, and as an old friend once said to me, “Better is better.” So simple, and yet so profound.
If you’d like specific recommendations on where to start with Louise Hay’s work, my favorite of her books—and a perennial worldwide bestseller and classic of the self-help realm (“self-help” is not a dirty phrase!!) is You Can Heal Your Life. (Don't be fooled by the lack of reviews. This is a newer edition, and I’m linking to it because this is the one I have. If you look at older editions, there are many positive reviews.) I have also benefited from The Power is Within You, but I recommend starting with You Can Heal Your Life. Again, “self-help” is not a shameful concept. For goodness sake, no one wants you to feel better more than you do, right? And who is the person in the most powerful position to make that happen? You are. Therefore, you must help yourself. And if you feel ashamed for turning to books and concepts like this to help yourself, STOP. There are millions of people all over the world trying to help themselves the exact same way – me included.
The positive affirmations are really incredible. Louise’s work is known worldwide for helping people clear out the RIDICULOUS, ILLOGICAL, and UNTRUE SH*T we all carry in our heads. All the negative self-talk, the self-sabotage, the fear, the self-doubt and self-criticism. You’re not alone, friend. If you were the only one who felt those things, this book wouldn’t exist. Other books that build on it wouldn’t exist.
That’s it for now. I’ve rambled on long enough. In closing, let me say that if you feel some of what I’ve said here applies to you, please seek help. Reach out to someone. After I started feeling better, I confessed to some of my friends just how bad things had been. And all of them were shocked. (They were also hurt. Hurt that I didn’t reach out to them.) No one knew how bad it had gotten. I kept it to myself, because, well, when you’re depressed, that’s what you do. You don’t want to reach out. You don’t want help. DO IT ANYWAY. Let someone know what’s going on with you. Let them check in on you. It might feel like too much for you to go out in public with them, or even have a long phone conversation. Then at least have a short one. Let them know you’re okay, and if you’re not okay, let them know that and let them help you find help. Don’t go it alone. You want to go it alone. I know. Believe me, I know. But don’t do it.
A final word:
I am not a physician. I am not a mental health professional and am not qualified to advise anyone regarding medication or other treatments for mental health. Please seek professional help if you need it. All I can do, and what I’ve tried to do here, is share my experience in the hope that someone out there will know they’re not alone. If you’re in a very dark place right now and don’t think anyone in your inner circle can relate, or you’re not ready to express these feelings to your friends, then express them to a stranger. Email me if you are so inclined. If you simply need another human being at the other end of the line (screen?), someone just to say hello to – someone who will remind you that you are a worthy person and you deserve to feel better – I am only a few keystrokes away: tuitnutrition [at] gmail [dot] com
P.S. A word of caution about You Can Heal Your Life: It’s very dated, in that Louise worked a lot with gay men, lesbians, and people with AIDS in the 1980s, and she brings some of that into the book. (This isn’t a “bad” thing, but you do have to read the book understanding the zeitgeist under which it was written. These population groups still face a great deal of stigma in the U.S., but things have come a long way since the eighties. Regarding a book that needs to be read through the lens of the cultural milieu of its time, I would say the same thing about Weston Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.)
Disclaimer: Amy Berger, MS, CNS, NTP, is not a physician and Tuit Nutrition, LLC, is not a medical practice. The information contained on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any medical condition and is not to be used as a substitute for the care and guidance of a physician. Links in this post and all others may direct you to amazon.com, where I will receive a small amount of the purchase price of any items you buy through my affiliate links.