Getting Down and Out with Depression

A Review of the Problem and A Nurse’s Personal Map Toward Healing One Day at a Time

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States among people ages 15–44. In 2015, 16.1 million American adults over the age of 18, or 6.7% of the total adult population in the United States, had experienced at least one depressive episode. A recent report issued by the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that depression is the leading cause of illness and disability for children aged 10 to 19 years old. And according to the WHO, 350 million people, or 5% of all human beings struggle with depression globally.

Depression is a mental illness that impacts every walk of life, regardless of social status, race, age, ethnicity. If you’re human, chances are you’ll have a go with depression at some point during your lifespan. If you’re a woman, those chances increase. In fact, 1 in 8 women will experience clinical depression at some point in their lifespan, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. According to the American Psychological Association, 1 in 7 women will suffer from postpartum depression or some type of perinatal mood disorder. All of these figures and statistics are based on reported diagnosis, and don’t account for the un-reported cases in which stigma associated with mental illness plays a serious role. So these figures realistically may be higher across the board.

To say that we have a pandemic of depression is an understatement. The problem is only projected to increase according to the WHO — by 2030 the amount of disability and loss related to depression will exceed any other condition including stroke and cancer.

Photo from Google Images

Depression is a multi-faceted condition that may or may not cause full disability. Regardless, it certainly encumbers and dampens life for those who do suffer from this condition. Diagnosis usually hinges on symptoms perpetuating for more than a couple weeks. Those symptoms vary greatly from person to person and may include a persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood, feeling helpless, feeling worthless, lack of energy, fatigue, feeling restless, inability to rest, oversleeping, increased or decreased appetite, pain, digestive issues, difficulty focusing, memory issues, ineffective decision-making, loss of interest in typically pleasurable events and activities, suicidal ideation, intrusive thoughts, and thoughts of death.

Causes of depression are as varied as the people who suffer from it, and the symptoms that comprise the condition. There are genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors involved. And the effects of the condition may permeate into every facet of the struggling person’s life.

Indeed, I am one of those struggling persons, and depression does impact just about every aspect of my life. Depression causes me to have insomnia, causes me to lose my appetite completely, to have absolutely zero focus, and basically fight all day long to stay on task and stay present. In addition to the above, I get to battle the fatigue left from not being able to sleep. Interactions with my family are not exactly sitcom silly when I’m depressed, and the guilt I feel for being a sad Mommy is more than I can bear most days. It’s a sick, sad, not-so-merry-go-round. A ride that I’ve ended up on too often in my life and one that I am slowly but surely learning how to get off of more efficiently.

So what does this nurse do to help herself with bouts of depression? First of all, I have to cultivate awareness for where I’m at because being stuck in a depressed mood makes everything clear as mud. It also amplifies stressors and in the face of depression, I have no energy to deal with unnecessary stressors. I start by getting quiet and detaching from the electronic world. A holiday from my phone, from social media, from my laptop where most of professional life resides is just what I need to start fresh. If you are struggling in any way shape or form with stress, I recommend trying this! Detach. See how you feel. Also note how many times you go on autopilot to embrace your little glowing box of power, light, and information — you may be really surprised how often your brain asks for that device. Admittedly, I go through a little detox each time, but it’s not uncomfortable because I realize how much time I have to care for myself. Plug in the good things that your devices take you away from — spending time with a child, taking a walk, taking a nap, journaling, drawing, creating art, creating music, practicing yoga. If you gave up your phone for even a few hours, what would you do with those hours? For me, detaching from electronics literally frees me up for self-care. It may do the same for you.

Next — move! Move your body. Most people who are struggling with depression also struggle with tension and pain. The physical body literally becomes depressed, slow, sluggish, clumsy, not well-functioning. Thankfully, we have built in healing chemicals that help to relieve all these icks. When you move (or for those of you familiar with this four-letter word “exercise”) your body releases it’s own kind of morphine called endorphins. These endorphins bind to the same receptors that opiates do, but they’re created for your body, by your body. So they’re completely safe and guess what? They will make you feel better. Start with a walk. I am a yogini, a practitioner of yoga and I am also a teacher. I tend to work stuff out on my mat, but when I’m really depressed and fatigued, I push for a walk outside for 10 minutes. This 10 minute walk always ends up being longer, but my soggy brain seems to agree that a 10 minute walk is feasible in a depressed state. Trick your brain, it’s okay. When you have endorphins flowing through your body, you will have effectively used your own body’s healing properties to relieve symptoms.

Lastly (but not least), I prefer to medicate with cannabinoid therapeutics to stimulate another healing entity in my body — the endoCannabinoid System. This network of receptors is found throughout the body in the nervous and immune systems. It is homeostatic in nature — its purpose is to regulate all of the other physiological systems. Just like our bodies create its own supply of morphine, our bodies create its own supply of cannabinoids too. My endoCannabinoid System does well when it’s nourished and upregulated with whole food nutrition, meditation, yoga, movement, and sweet sleep, but when I’m depressed, it really benefits from plant-based cannabinoid supplementation. I find that cannabidiol (CBD) oil provides a calming effect that allows me to be present. CBD turns the volume down and allows me to focus. I typically vape quality CBD oil, or administer CBD oil under my tongue — sublingually. Tetrahydracannabinol (THC) helps too in very low doses— It lifts my mood, helps my brain process pain differently so it’s no longer the focus, and allows me to smile which is no easy feat in the face of the depression I struggle with. I use THC sparingly when depressed because I don’t want to escape my symptoms, I want to treat my symptoms. And in the past, THC was certainly an escape. (There’s that awareness piece again!)

In closing, it’s important for me to note that everyone is different and everyone who is struggling with their own depression needs to choose the methods of healing that best serve them. Perhaps that’s the best piece of advice I can provide here — There are many avenues to healing from any chronic condition, including depression. What may work for me may not work for someone else. But healing won’t happen without effort. If you are struggling with depression, I implore you to take out your own map and try walking down the avenues that interest you. Maybe conventional medicine holds the key to you feeling better. Maybe cutting out sugar and process food would help. Maybe meditating at a silent retreat for ten days is what you need. (Worked for me at one point.) Keep trying different things until you find the elements that make you feel better, that help you feel whole again. After a while, you’ll have your map memorized and you may come into another obstacle of depression, but you will remember that you can find your way home. You’ve done it before. It’ll get easier. One breath, one step, one decision to prioritize self-care at a time.

If this article resonates with you and you’d like help from me, please reach out via email — marissa@greennursegroup.com. Or check out GreenNurseGroup.com to learn more about how we can help you find your way onto your own healing path.

If you or a loved one are struggling significantly with intrusive thoughts, suicidal ideation, or thoughts of death — please know that there is help, you are not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1–800–273–8255.

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