Depression and Rod's Top 12 Ways Out
(Originally published on ABBAMAIL 2004)

Some of you may know from reading past posts that I have "suffered from depression" for the last several years. Every time I see that commercial on TV for Paxil or whatever antidepressant they are selling I get a jolt. They say, "if these symptoms have persisted for three weeks or more you may be a candidate." Let's try five years. It's hard to talk about, not because I don't want to talk about it, but because people tend to get upset about it, and people want to help. But since it has come up again on the list, I thought I'd make a post, in an attempt, also I suppose, to help.

I had my midlife crisis when I was 35. Everything fell apart, I got sicker than I've ever been in my life and I just wanted to die. I just gave up on everything. I felt like such a loser I was to embarrassed to go out. I was working so much (three jobs) so that I never had time to think about my life or to meet anyone. God forbid I would have to have a conversation and they would discover what a loser I am. Eventually I got sick enough that I couldn't walk and I just lay there praying to die. I tried to leave my body, to float away. I didn't have enough courage to kill myself. Which made me feel even more pathetic.

I began to have anxiety attacks and I would literally have to run out of my house; I would just go sit in the park across the street until I could breathe again. I tried willing myself to die, but it didn't work, so I decided my time wasn't up yet. I hooked up with a tremendous therapist who gave me, and continues to give me, some of the best advice I have ever had. I was so overwhelmed with my life that I could not see any way out of the hole I had dug myself into. He suggested that rather than trying to change even one slice of the pie (of my life) that I just try to change one sliver of one slice. Just do one thing to get me out of it. That one thing was allowing myself to stop everything once a week and go out for lunch.

It doesn't sound like much, but it was something I would just never allow myself to do. Something unnecessary. But I gave myself permission to step off the rollercoaster for one hour a week and just enjoy my turkey burger.

As my hair was falling out like crazy (which - really - bothered me) I somehow ended up finding the card of a lady I had done some artwork for. She is a holistic healer and uses many techniques including herbs and acupuncture. The difference between a holistic doctor and a regular doctor is the doctor treats the wound (i.e. puts a bandaid on it/and or antibiotics to make it go away) but the holistic doctor tries to figure out what the cause is and treats that.

Long story short, she suggested some changes to my diet, based on several things including my history of stomach aches, sore throats, and headaches. On her recommendation, I stopped eating wheat. This is as difficult as it sounds. I stopped eating dairy. This is also as difficult as it sounds. I've always had food issues and my favorite foods were ice cream and pasta. No more. But also, no more headaches, no more sore throats and no more stomach aches. I could also sleep better because my stomach was not doing cartwheels while I lie in bed. On her recommendation, which I fought, was to start eating meat. I had been a vegetarian for 15 years and had no interest in eating meat. But I was also anemic and exhausted and my hair was falling out.

So I tried a little chicken, a little bacon, a pork chop and a lot of turkey. I also stopped eating beans/rice/potatoes etc (although I can have a little every now and then but no more French fries). And my body responded very well. The result was a lot more energy and my hair started growing back like mad.

Please understand that I got personal advice from a nutritionalist, tailored just for me and my body, so what worked for me is not necessarily what would work for anyone else.

For me the physical on the upswing helps with the emotional, and conversely when I get sick I get depressed. And when I get tired I get depressed, which makes me want to sleep more, which makes me more depressed. It's a vicious circle that spirals downward incredibly fast.

I have always had very low self esteem. I have always felt like an outsider, like a bit of a freak. Growing up in a farming community in Northern Canada in the early 70's was not a fun place for a tv and music junkie sensitive little blonde gay boy. I was beaten up every day at school and chastised by my family for not fitting in, taunted by my parents' friends and pretty much everyone else. Truth was I knew I wasn't going to fit in, I didn?t even want to, and never tried to fit in. But the alienation cut a deep groove, one which still runs through my life every day. In fact I was saying to my therapist just last week how I know my biggest problem, the one thing that has held me back more than anything, is my low self esteem.

I actually never intended to get this deep into my story. My intention here was to help maybe just a little bit those who have similar issues with self acceptance. For really, all the issues spring from that. If you believe in yourself, you don't believe those that taunt you, oppose you or just try to make your life miserable. The truth is, no one can do anything to you that you don't let happen on some level.

Here are a few steps that I use to keep myself out of my downward spiral. They may sound trite or clichéd, but they just might work, and what do you have to lose. This advice comes from years of therapy and seminars and self help books, and "field" experience.

1. Get up off your feet and do something. Exercise releases endorphins which help your mood as well as your metabolism. I go to the gym as often as I can, at least 5 times a week and I am never depressed when I am there or when I am leaving. It doesn't matter if you don't see the results on your body right away, eventually you will. It can't NOT work.

2. Watch what you eat. You are what you eat. Literally. I mean think about it, it's like putting gasoline in a car. Everyone is different and everyone responds differently to different things. I would never have thought, for example, to stop eating wheat. But I did it as an experiment for two weeks and my headaches STOPPED. Now when I smell pizza or fresh cooked bread my mouth goes mad but I make the decision, yes I can eat this but I will get a headache, is it worth it.

3. Music is my saviour. I have a playlist of songs on my discman that I simply CANNOT be depressed while I'm listening to. Songs that put things into perspective. Songs that make you feel GREAT. For me these songs include:

Captain & Tennille - You Never Done it Like That
Carpenters - Only Yesterday
Donna Summer - This Time I Know It's for Real
almost anything by Alan Jackson
Annie Lennox - Walking on Broken Glass
Doobie Brothers - Taking it to the Streets
Cher - Believe
Enya - Orinoco Flow
Elton John - Philadelphia Freedom
George Michael & Aretha Franklin - I Knew You Were Waiting -
Michael Jackson - Don't Stop til You Get Enough
Olivia Newton John - Magic
REM - Losing my Religion

Any time I hear these songs (and there are more) they take me out of my life. When I think about killing myself I think I would not be able to ever listen to the Carpenters ever again, and... well, that's enough for me. I have had days when I listen to the entire Captain & Tennille catalogue, and it may be silly or shallow but it gets me through.

4. Go to a movie. Movies are other worlds, you suspend your disbelief, you get out of your head, out of your life (it it's a good movie). For me getting out of my head, the looping downward spiral, is the trick. Here are some of my favorite movies, movies that inspire me or give me hope, movies that are a joy to watch:

Field of Dreams
A Bug's life
American Beauty
Jurassic Park
Groundhog Day

5. Read a book. It's harder for me to read a book to escape, it has to be -really- good. But a good book is wonderful. I loved reading "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham. And reading "Return to Love" by Marianne Willamson changed my life. I like to read biographies, although they are often not well-written, because I like to see how successful people became successful. (If you want to know the short answer, for the most part, it's by not listening to people tell them that they can't do something and just doing it anyway.)

6. Go outside. I go and sit on my steps and have a cup of tea and just look at the world. It's important (for me) to realize that there is a whole big world out there and as much as it may seem to, it actually doesn't revolve around me. I happen to live in a city with literally millions of other people, and I just have to watch them going by me and think about how much there is going on out there. Somehow feeling humble makes me feel safer.

7. Get a therapist. Marianne Williamson always says, 15 years ago having a therapist meant you had problems. Now it's maintenance. I agree. I can't impress upon anyone how wonderful it is to have someone to listen to you, someone with training, someone with no regard as to the outcome of your situation(s). My therapist saved my life.

8. Be grateful. Oprah suggested writing daily in a 'grateful journal." What a great idea but I never have time to write it down. I just take a few moments EACH DAY to be thankful for what I have. I have two arms and two legs and two eyes and two ears that all work, which is more than a lot of people have and I am so grateful for that. I have a great house and a great car and lots of stuff, which is more than a lot of people have. It's easy to forget, isn't it. What helps with this is:

9. Be helpful. People love to be helped and people love to help. It's sad that today's society is so untrusting that it makes it hard to help people. I used to deliver lunches to homebound people with aids. It made me so thankful you would not believe. It's important to give, it may not seem like it but it actually works. The more you give, the more you get. If you think you don't have any money to give, you can give your time, or your knowledge. There are so many people out there who need it. As little as you think you have, there is someone out there who has much less. Trust me, it will make you feel so much better about your life.

10. Ask for help. Ask for guidance. For me that is a hard one. There are people out there who love to help, people who have dedicated their lives to helping others. Doctors, nutritionalists, therapists, so many people just waiting to be asked and they will be there for you. You don't need to do it alone and you can't do it alone.

11. Play. Play with kids, play with animals. Play music. Laugh at the comics. Sing along with the radio. Dance as if no one is watching. Don't worry so much about what other people think; because you can't do anything about what other people think, so stop trying to. Be yourself. Love your curly hair because so many people perm theirs. Or straighten it. It's your hair to do with what you please.

12. Divide your problems into two piles: the things you can change, and things you can't change. As the serenity prayer says, "allow me to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

For what it's worth,

Rod Reynolds, Los Angeles, USA

©2004 The Art Dept LA

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