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Your own anti-depressant response

Unless your ‘deep driving desire' is to find ways of getting well, then your destiny is to remain depressed. To take on the responsibility for getting well is to empower yourself. Here, Aine Tubridy and Michael Corry explain how you can create your own anti-depressant response

Our central premise is that depression is an emotion, a natural response to our experiences of life, just like fear, anger, sadness, love, and joy. The word emotion derives from the Latin movere meaning to move. If somebody pinches you, who feels it but you? Nobody else. Nor does anyone know what it's like to wake up inside your head, with your unique thoughts, moved by your feelings, and inside your skin.
Few states touch so many aspects of the self as depression, undermining body, mind, heart and spirit. In its most severe forms depression can devitalise a person's soul, to the point where they are unable to work, love, or find meaning in life. It can lead to serious alterations in personality, sapping an individual's self-confidence, undermining independence and severing their ties to the world and the people who care for them. Depression can turn fatal.

Like a fingerprint, we are all one-offs. We come into the world by ourselves, and we leave it the same way. For the duration of the journey in between, we are extremely fortunate if we are able to raft up with a number of close friends, soul mates who we can share the journey with, and who empathise with our unique experience of it.

Since your uniqueness is therefore a given, the responsibility for how you live your life — the ability to respond to it, to become your own personal agent and come up with creative solutions to the many situations which arise — rests solely with you. Life is not a dress rehearsal.


We cannot put off living until we are ready.
The most salient characteristic of life is its
coerciveness: it is always urgent, ‘here and
now' without any possible postponement.
Life is fired at us point-blank.
Jose Ortega Y Gasset


If you define your depression as a disease, then you are likely to put off playing one's part. Now you immediately find yourself on a well-worn conveyor belt, like a can of beans, an object, a thing being moved along through a predefined process identical to all the others. There's no place here for uniqueness or personal journeys. The moment of diagnosis, ‘you have a chemical imbalance, which can be rectified with an anti-depressant', and the passing of the prescription across the desk, mark a major turning point. You now have a sick brain.

From this point on, it is the job of the pills, your emotional painkillers, to fix you, and your doctor's responsibility to oversee that process. You move into the passive state of waiting and watching. ‘Did the doctor say they'd kick in at three weeks or six weeks?' In a disorder which is in essence a disempowered state, you have now placed your locus of control inside the package. ‘What's happening? They don't seem to be doing their job? Maybe I need stronger medication? Or does it mean I have something more serious?'

Once you're on the sick-brain conveyor belt, a series of different antidepressants will be prescribed, with or without sedatives or sleeping pills. A psychiatrist may offer a more elaborate cocktail, with a suggestion of a hospital stay if these fail to provide the lift you're hoping for. If all fails, electro-shock therapy may be recommended, the end-point of the conveyor belt.


Depression Dialogues by Aine Tubridy and Michael Corry

This article is Chapter 14 of Depression: an Emotion, not a Disease, by Aine Tubridy and Michael Corry, published by Mercier Press, October 2005

To preview the book, click the image





Become your own author: bite the bullet

At the core of life is the central issue of being authentic, which derives from the Greek authentikos, meaning to be your own author, to write your own script. This stance is proactive. Those who live life from this perspective know that in times of difficulty there is no ultimate rescuer to wait around for, no cavalry about to appear over the hill ready to save the day. Such people accept that life can be turbulent, with distressing times built-in, and that depression can be one of the responses to such times. Nevertheless, they also appreciate that ways can be found to negotiate such difficult periods without going under. Their motto would be ‘you can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf'.

They understand the deal. In the interest of rising to the challenge and mounting a campaign to change their unhappy state — their feelings of depression — the responsibility will have to be shouldered by them, and them alone. They also factor that in; risks will have to be taken, appropriate back-up support found, and crucial new information entertained as to what will enhance their healing and what will sabotage it. They are crystal clear that their depression is a messenger, an experience which should be listened to rather than silenced, and its information used to initiate change.

Those who have had a near-death experience, life-threatening illness, or ‘road to Damascus' moment are forever changed by it, and they find that every aspect of life is is given a new priority.Suddenly and dramatically they ‘get it'. From then on, life is a journey imbued with meaning and purpose, one which may include a spiritual aspect, where each second of it is precious and not to be wasted. For such people there is no longer any room for complacency.


You are what your deep driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.

The Upanishads


These lines take no prisoners. Unless your ‘deep driving desire' is to find ways of getting well, then your destiny is to remain depressed. Once that desire is your top priority, then the will and motivation will be there to take the necessary steps to make absolutely sure that happens. If it isn't, if you want to avoid making changes more than you want recovery, if you want to blame others more than to feel inner contentment, if you want to get well without spending any money on the venture, if you prefer the role of poor me rather than personal liberation: then continued depression will be your lot.

Throughout our book we have put forward the notion that depression is a messenger, a wake-up call, announcing to you over and over to dig deep, to trawl to the depths of your being for solutions. Such depth can give birth to a newly-developed awareness that you are a spiritual being having a human experience and that your spirit, if tapped into, can infuse your life with meaning, purpose, and a sense of your destiny. Thereafter nothing can prevent your will and your actions guiding you towards that destination. Then you will know the port to which you're sailing.


Mounting your own anti-depressant response


Healing is cumulative, everything works some of the time.
Walter Makichen


There are many roads leading to depression, and there are as many leading out of it. We are inviting you to consider methods of healing depression which we have personally found to be invaluable. We run a holistic practice and have seen through the years what works and what doesn't. What always strikes us is the unique healing effect which can result when the correct match is found between sufferer and healer, and where the timing is right. We have witnessed individuals who for years have been caught up in the psychiatric or counselling treadmill, who suddenly cross a line after an intervention which, to everybody's delight, has clicked with them.

Healing the emotion of depression can sometimes happen miraculously, in an instant. For others, it can be a pilgrimage through a variety of methods and therapists. The most important person in the healing process is the sufferer, and we professionals are merely the handmaids. The sufferer has the biggest investment in the outcome, and if their intuition tells them to pursue a certain healing avenue, then they should be supported in that, and criticisms and detractions of their chosen method should not be thrown in their way.

The healing power of desire and intention cannot be underestimated as a force in its own right. Given the weight of opinion which sufferers place on their doctor's recommendations, vigilance is required lest a door is closed and the benefits for them ruled out. Clichéd scientific jargon such as ‘don't bother with that, it's not evidence-based' has no place, particularly if that person has not been helped by conventional approaches and they see some ray of hope in the new intervention. In the scientific world, the power of the placebo response is so appreciated that it is now being seen as a healing intervention in its own right.

Comparative studies between the effectiveness of medications and that of sugar-coated pills (the placebo) bear this out. The response occurs at the level of consciousness and emotion, qualities which cannot be measured by science. Evidence for precisely how healing occurs still eludes us. What we need to respect is that it happens. Without being trivial, there is many a lotto win which would lift a serious depression.


Off duty: time for sanctuary

Depression is a wound. It can cut to the very heart and soul, and the wounded need sanctuary in order to allow healing. The first stage of treatment for a broken leg is rest and, weeks later, gradual mobilisation. The limb is not expected to function normally, and we allow ourselves to be cared for by others in every way.

The same urgent need for rest and time out from their responsibilities applies to some of the depressed. Many somehow manage to keep the ship afloat, struggling hard not to give in, yet paying a high price daily. However, just as many reach a point where they no longer have the energy or the will to struggle any more. This can come early on, in the initial stages after a trauma, or later when they've become burnt-out by the effort of dealing with their distress over months or years. Regardless of cause, a moment is reached when the need for sanctuary, and for permission to be off-duty, become pressing. It affects equally those whose depression arose following some distinct emotional incident or those for whom it emerged gradually without any obvious reason.

One aspect of this stage of depression, which is shared by all, is the overriding impulse to recoil from the world, batten down the hatches, crawl into the shell and disconnect. One of the difficulties in our modern quick-fix society is that such time-out is often not an option. The unrelenting treadmill beckons, propelling us from behind to keep moving forward, and to keep the juggling act going. Mortgages have to be paid, children cared for, job prospects have to be considered and the stigma of a stay in hospital factored in. As in the story of the frog in the pot, we need to jump out of the boiling water, but often can't.

Yet a stay somewhere is exactly what many need. At present the only available place is the psychiatric hospital, which may turn out to be a far from healing experience. Many are post-traumatically stressed by their stay, terrified by the ‘Cuckoo's Nest' antics of some co-habitees, particularly those who have been involuntarily detained. Others become distressed by the dumbed-down feeling which accompanies the excessive medication regimes, rarely seeing their doctor, and the realisation that they are now on that conveyor belt. And perhaps most despairing of all is the fear that they might eventually join the population of revolving-door patients they meet, those who for years have been on every possible combination of medications and perhaps had electro-convulsive shock therapy, yet are no better.

This scenario can be avoided, and with the compassion, good-will and support of others, a sanctuary experience devised elsewhere.

A restful safe environment: this can be provided in one's own home, the home of a friend, or some other suitable place where support is available — a spa, a meditation or healing centre, or any place of retreat.

Supportive minders: supportive in the sense of not being critical, not pushing advice, and allowing the individual to access and articulate their needs in their own time. Depressed individuals need to feel that the minder's presence is unconditional and compassionate, and the legitimacy of their experience is validated instead of questioned. Exhortations to do this or that, helpful as they may seem to the minder, are counter-productive as they can put pressure on an already overloaded individual, and interfere with a process which has its own unique time-frame. A minder's role is to take responsibility for all the individual's basic needs; shopping, cooking, family duties, and managing the boundary relative to visitors, phone calls and work-related issues. In other words keeping the world out, offering companionship without intrusion, and essentially providing a cotton-wool experience.

Sleep therapy: in order to restore normal sleep patterns through sedative medication, the general practitioner can be invited to become a co-participant in the project. Many with depression have an element of anxiety which is associated with racing thoughts, ruminations and vigilance. Sleep is nature's balm, and allows the restorative properties of the life-force to flow unimpeded.

Body therapies: massage, reflexology, acupuncture may be particularly appropriate as home visits to rekindle the individual's own healing response.

We are made in order to connect. In the depressed individual this essential need has been sidetracked, resulting in further isolation. By the time depression reaches its peak, the individual has often distanced from those around them to the extent that touch, affection and sexual intimacy rarely occurs. Yet touch is what anchors us into life. At this point, touch with a loving intent could be our most potent healer, but is often unavailable, or not availed of, such is our estrangement from loved ones.

At such a time professionals can provide a vital link back to that anchor, through bodywork. It has the added advantage that, at a time when energy is low, nothing is required of the individual but to receive.

Time: the body has its own optimum heal-by dates for a variety of traumas and illnesses. In the case of the broken leg, if re-mobilisation is delayed, then healing is disrupted and things go backwards. Unused muscles atrophy, skin degeneration occurs, blood supply stagnates, and weight-bearing becomes impossible. In the case of an emotion such as depression, the natural healing responses are also arrested if re-engagement with life fails to occur. For this reason the time-out stage, like the immobilised leg, should be limited. Gradual re-engagement with the world is critical — through gentle exercise, incremental social contact, and the re-establishment of basic routines. In the same way that re-mobilisation with the broken leg is lengthy, difficult and initially painful, so can be the depressed individuals first forays out into the world.

The bridge into the future: Consideration, where appropriate, must be given to in-depth psychotherapy, grief counselling, marital counselling, mediation, career changes, retirement, financial restructuring, etc.


Exercise: lifting your energy quotient

Depression is a state in which your mind and body become disconnected. The mind rules supreme, with its dark, hopeless, pessimistic and self-loathing thoughts. The body's energy is at an all-time low, and it has lost the ability to feel pleasure. Studies have established beyond doubt that regular exercise affects all these for the better, most immediately by increasing energy levels through its overall stimulating effect on the ‘chi' or life-force.

No matter what age you are, there is a form of exercise to suit you. It can include solitary exercising, such as gardening, fishing, walking, cycling, jogging, swimming or going to the gym. If you've played social sports before, such as tennis, golf or five-a-side football, you could recommence them, without necessarily having to play at a high level. If it's a type which involves being out in nature, then that's an added bonus. There can be an immense sense of exhilaration when one connects with an activity that is associated with good times, jogging old memories such as those from summer holidays by the sea, which are timeless and ageless, emphasising that you are more than your depression. Alice, in our article on the Lost Tribe, found her turning point in this way.

All exercise puts a halt, at least temporarily, to the flow of thoughts, which rarely come up spontaneously during the activity. If they do, dislodging them is easier during exercise, because you can redirect your attention to the sound of your feet pounding the pavement, or the movement of your limbs through the water as you swim. Your mind is put aside as you are drawn to the sensations in your chest as you breathe faster and faster, or the pounding of your heartbeat. Many people describe an almost meditative stage in their exercise where they become less aware of themselves, and go into a zone where they lose themselves, and they spontaneously feel moments of positivity and joy. In moments like these the old stagnation can give way to creative ideas and solutions.

Depression can be defined as the absence of pleasure as much as by the presence of sadness, which is undoubtedly why exercise is so well known to have an anti-depressant effect. It leads to a release of endorphins, such as serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Normally, when artificial psychic energisers are used for some time, the receptors in the brain become less responsive to them, and for the same effect you need to take more and more. Moreover, because the receptors become less and less sensitive, normal pleasures such as sex lose their pleasurable feeling. Exercise-induced endorphins do the exact opposite and, working on the pleasure principle, the more this natural mechanism of producing these pleasure molecules is used, the more effective the mechanism becomes. Exercisers simply get more pleasure out of life.

Exercise, like meditation, is a practice and, if it can, should be done every day. If that's not possible at least at the weekend or three to four times a week. The effects build exponentially. One cannot continue feeling like the walking dead during exercise: the two states are simply incompatible, and with time cancel each other out. Everything about exercise is in the opposite direction to the medicated depressed state.


A nutritional programme to improve your mood

As the saying goes ‘You are what you eat', so it follows that it's worth looking at your diet and considering all the current information relating to depression that is now available. If you think you could improve the quality of your diet, then here is a brief outline of areas you might look at. We would suggest you take it further and consult with a nutritionist. To facilitate clarity in the vast field that nutrition has become, we sought the knowledge and guidance of Brenda Duffin, who trained with Patrick Holford, author of Optimum Nutrition for the Mind.

Feeling depressed can lead to a series of bad eating habits which can put a strain on an already low energy system. Eating the right foods will boost your energy and so increase your ability to make changes in your life. Our brain uses up to 30 per cent of all energy from the foods that we eat. The billions of cells in the brain form a complex, not unlike the worldwide web, allowing communication with each other through chemical messengers, such as serotonin, noradrenaline, and acetylcholine. If this finely tuned mechanism becomes imbalanced it can result in depression, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, lack of concentration, poor co-ordination, and memory deficits to name but a few.

A pioneer in the field of mental health and nutrition was Dr Carl Pfeiffer, an American doctor and biochemist, whose work is being carried on by Patrick Holford, the nutritionist. Types of mental difficulty were identified that could be influenced by particular nutrients and diet. They have paid particular attention to:

Omega 3 and 6 Fatty Acids Since two thirds of your brain is composed of fatty acids, the entire range of depressive symptoms improves with a good blood level of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. If blood levels are low, depression, lethargy and poor motivation are common, along with an inability to relax, memory deficits and difficulty concentrating. The capacity for pleasure is reduced.

As omega-fats decrease in the diet of any population, as they have in the west, the incidence of depression rises. Sadness and fatigue, decreased libido, and persistent thoughts that life is not worth living, insomnia and anxiety — all can be influenced as you rebalance these fats.

Nutritionists say that our brains are akin to sophisticated race car engines which are meant to run on highly refined fuel, but unfortunately are being asked to get by on diesel. Fish eaters are less prone to depression. Why? Because oily fish is the major source of omega-fats, specifically herring, sardines, salmon, tuna and mackerel. In countries where fish consumption is high, such as Asian countries, the rates of depression are considerably lower than in the west. Certain seeds and eggs are other equally good sources.

You can influence how you feel, both your energy level and your mood, by giving yourself the ideal quantity and type of protein every day. Hippocrates said ‘Let your food be your treatment and your treatment be your food' as far back as 2,400 years ago. For most people their diet is the main source of these vital substances. While foods such as fish, seeds and eggs, are the best natural way to get enough of these essential amino acids, supplementing them is the surest way to ensure you're taking in enough of them. Many reporting depression have significantly lower blood levels of these fats. Supplements can reverse that.

Omega 3 doses: Within this family of fatty acids the two essential ones are DHA and EPA. In order to obtain the anti-depressant effect, you must consume a combination of at least 240mg of DHA and at least 340mg of EPA a day. Check the concentrations on whatever product you settle on. Cod liver oil capsules contain low amounts of the fats, so choose fish oil concentrates instead to create the level required to influence mood. The liquid forms, such as Eskimo-3, are absorbed more directly, but may be found unpalatable by some.

Omega 6 doses: Within this family of fatty acids the essential one is GLA. The best source is starflower oil or evening primrose oil, and you need at least 100mg a day.

Tryptophan: is an amino acid precursor of the much talked-about neurotransmitter serotonin. In some individuals it can be lacking, which leads to various signs and symptoms. Serotonin plays a role in the female hormone cycle. It's generally lower in women, which may explain the moodiness, irritability and sensitivity to pain experienced by some women before and/or during their periods. ‘Women with low serotonin are more likely to express their anger inwardly, with depression and even suicidal behaviour. Men with low serotonin are often violent and can even engage in dangerous criminal acts. Alcohol and drug users also turn out to be low in serotonin.' (Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, by Patrick Holford, Piatkus, 2003)

In order for tryptophan to break down into serotonin, adequate levels of vitamins B3, B6, folic acid, vitamin C and zinc are required. The following are good examples of meals high in tryptophan: oat porridge, soya milk and two scrambled eggs, baked potato with cottage cheese and tuna salad, chicken breast, potatoes au gratin and green beans, whole-wheat spaghetti with bean, tofu or meat sauce, salmon fillet, quinoa and lentil pilaf and green salad with yoghurt dressing. If you're taking this in supplement form, you'll need 500mg twice a day.


Blood sugar balance: stop the junk food

Signs of blood sugar imbalance include depression and crying spells, irritability, dizziness, insomnia, excessive sweating (especially at night), excessive thirst, blurred vision, lack of concentration, forgetfulness, drowsiness after meals, unexplained fatigue and/or craving specific foods such as chocolate and sweets.

Junk food has little or no nutrients in it. After ingesting it there is an initial sugar surge, which is followed by a release of insulin, the hormone which clears it from the bloodstream for absorption. However this clearing process causes an energy low, a trough which in a depressed person comes on top of an already depleted system. The dip makes you feel you need a top-up, which, if it's more low quality sugar, will repeat this peak/trough cycle again. The end result is that you never end up holding on to the high-energy feeling for long.

A nutritionist will direct you towards the kind of foods which release energy slowly. The scale that scientists have created to describe this process is called the glycaemic index (GI).

If you want to keep your energy at a constant level without peaks and troughs, then eat foods which have a low GI. Bookshops have an abundance of material on this and on optimum nutrition.Exponents of optimum nutrition such as Holford give good evidence-based reasons for including, in a minority suffering from depression, folic acid supplements, and recommend ruling out a possible congenital histamine imbalance.


Alcohol and recreational drugs

The association between alcohol use and depression is irrefutable. While its use is understandable as an anaesthetic to ease anxiety or help insomnia, or as a means of temporarily lifting the mood, the effect several hours later is a lowering of energy and a dampening of the spirits. There are often maudlin or melancholic elements to this, with the nostalgic bitter-sweet tendency to revisit past times. More often than not this inevitably opens the door to sadness, a sense of loss, missed opportunities, regret and ultimately self-loathing and hopelessness. Alcohol consumption often acts as a tipping point, triggering suicide.

Add to this the actual toxic effect of the alcohol by-products as they are broken down in the blood-stream over the next 12 hours or so; sluggishness, lethargy, and a slowing down of all the mental processes. Sleeping through breakfast, the day kicks off with you in an already low energy state before it has begun. The hangover state creates a vulnerability which may bring on panic attacks. Your body inevitably will be suggesting you stay in bed a couple of hours longer, and put off going out and interacting with the world until you feel more up to it. As another futile day passes, possibly notched up as a sick day from work, your internal critic takes a reading, and begins its work of reminding you what a waster you are. And as evening approaches the cycle will need to be repeated. At an interpersonal level alcohol destroys relationships, robs childhoods, depletes finances, and turns users into selfish individuals. Nobody likes living with a drunk.

The aim of all recreational drugs is to create a high, but what goes up must come down, so an inevitable low follows, having a greater effect on someone who is already depressed. This is common knowledge to any user. If you want to create an anti-depressant response, cut them out.


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