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Embracing Depression

Notice the Signals - and Take the Journey

By Garry Gallagher

Depression is not a disease. Most often, it is a sign that something inside us is being depressed. What we commonly depress - or (more accurately) suppress - are disturbances to our status quo, such as pain or trauma, unresolved conflicts, the stress of major life changes, or signs of physical and/or biochemical imbalances.

Depression is thus a signal that something is out of balance and requires our attention. It is a call to self-care, self-refection, self-renewal. Avoiding depression's early warning sign to attend to self is dangerous, for the problem can escalate into a serious - even life threatening - crisis.

If recognizing the signs and the need for self-care is the first step, taking responsibility is the next; getting help generally follows. But when help is an instant prescription for medication to mask the symptoms, it may ultimately prove a disservice. You could be like the runner who keeps masking recurrent muscle spasms with painkillers. The pain may diminish for awhile, but critical issues of cause and effect could easily go overlooked.

So while it's prudent to seek professional medical care for depression (which can uncover a multitude of endocrine, nutritional, infectious, or other treatable physical causes), it's also judicious to explore other perspectives. Put another way, depression is a journey and, as such, it requires research, preparation, and supplies. So it pays to take a broad-based, hands-on interest in the process. It may be the most valuable thing you do.

Key to that process are natural remedies, therapies, and strategies. These can prove invaluable in supporting your heart and body through your "dark night of the soul." Even the simplest of tools, such as daily exercise or phototherapy (bright light), can help you develop your capacity to reduce your stress levels, manage your moods, recover your focus, obtain more sleep, stabilize your weight, and maintain your health in general. Thus armed, you may be able to embrace the journey rather than helplessly try to medicate it.

A Case Study

Janice had been raised in a family where she was constantly criticized, yet not allowed to express her anger. Consequently, as an adult, whenever Janice felt angry, she felt shame and guilt instead. She developed a strong habit of self-criticism. For two years, Janice had been lacking in energy and motivation and had suffered anxiety attacks, sleeplessness, and hopelessness about her future. At times, she felt suicidal. Years of self-criticism and repressed anger turned inward had brought her to a serious state of depression – a clinical depression, according to her physician who proceeded to write her a prescription for an antidepressant. But Janice was reluctant to take the drug due to previous adverse reactions to medications. Instead, she agreed to take St. John's Wort extract, together with other nutritional products that her body seemed to need. Through muscle checking and Educational Kinesiology, (a system of mind-body exercises that re-educates the brain and body), we also discovered that Janice had a low tolerance for substances affecting her blood sugar, such as coffee, sugar, alcohol, and processed flour products. She agreed to avoid them, and she also began to exercise vigorously on a regular basis and joined a women's support group.

With the help of Educational Kinesiology Janice was also able to develop a more supportive attitude toward her emotions. The Edu-K work helped open neural pathways for her emotional expression, which had been cut off for so long. Janice finally discovered she could choose to express her angry feelings without guilt. Because this was new territory for her, she also agreed to take an assertiveness training program at the Justice Institute of B.C. This gave her the tools to risk interpersonal conflict by communicating more responsibly. Finally, Janice completed The Artist's Way workbook by Julia Cameron, a three-month program for recovering the inner artist.

Within about three months, Janice's condition had improved dramatically. After six months, she was vibrant and working again. Her mood swings and insomnia and anxiety attacks had diminished; and she was experiencing more periods of hopefulness. Five years later, Janice still exercises regularly, attends a support group, and writes and plays music. Her depressive episodes now are few and far between. Writing her "morning pages" - the journaling practice recommended in The Artist's Way – is the single most valuable tool in her arsenal, Janice believes. But since she has used so many tools, I believe it's speculative to isolate the specific benefit of any one.

For a condition that usually has multiple causes, it seems to me that a wholistic, multidisciplinary approach to the healing journey, like the one Janice took, makes the most sense. With every client I coach, it becomes more and more clear to me that the cumulative effect of our habits and lifestyles, our thoughts and emotions, all contribute to where we find ourselves today - and to where we can rediscover ourselves tomorrow.