[PS- After publishing this I realized using the word ‘malnutrition-induced’ in the title may have been more accurate – but it catches attention nonetheless. I think the point is clear below.]
I imagine there are many among those reading this who feel depression often enough to know it is a part of your life you must manage. It is for me.
I have written about this previously in Swimming Through Depression and Swimming With Depression. I have had episodes many times over the last 30 years that I recall and recognize as such, and likely some of my difficult times as a child had this as a component too. After this many years of experience, I have become aware there are a few different kinds of depression that I might encounter, and to make it through each may require a different blend of responses.
Over a week ago I found myself slipping into one of these that lasted for about 5 days. One evening I started noticing my energy, my ambition fading away. I was not physically fatigued – my energy levels during training were OK – but something mental was fading, like a fire going out in my soul. My ambition, my libido, my sense of vision and courage just shut down. Though I was glad to be sleeping through the night as if exhausted, I was still waking up in the morning feeling like I hadn’t slept enough to shake it. I’d even feel like I needed to go cry for a while to release something mysterious inside.
When an emotional storms like this come, I have, over the years of experience, developed a safe habit of ‘sailing straight ahead’ until it passes. I keep up my exercise routine. I work at getting more sleep. I stay focused on my routine tasks. I avoid making any big decisions. I trust that the storm will pass in a few hours or a few days. I can feel quite terrible, and I may offer little social energy to my family or friends, yet I keep a fairly level head, knowing something is happening to my brain and body, and not freak out or take it personally.
Even if feeling empty, I know an hour of swimming or running, or an hour of getting my body working through a conditioning routine will flush my system and inject some helpful hormones to at least buy me a few hours of respite. These activities did help each day, it did not make the storm go away.
There were some externally stressful matters in my life at this time, but they preceded the depression and continue past it. I have this way of running a ‘virtual terminal’ in my head, an emotional experiment, to see if my external conditions or situation may be triggering the depression: I tune into the sensations of depression and then imagine each one of the unpleasant circumstances being suddenly solved or removed and see how that change in circumstance changes how I feel inside. If I sense a lightening in my physical and/or emotional load, then I know it may be contributing to the cause and I am encouraged to put some effort into a solution for that circumstance. If not, I look for another circumstance to test, or then scan for something amiss in my physical or biological patterns.
About 4 days into this, as I was mindfully scanning my body to take inventory of sensations, I started adding up the physical symptoms:
- Rather than feeling cushioned with fluid and fat below the skin, my feet and palms felt ‘bony’ and sore to the touch. I had a pressure bruise on the side and under the metatarsal pad of the left foot.
- At night I felt my hands and feet were ‘burning’ and joints slightly achy.
- I could feel a slight more-than-normal retraction in my gums and a little sensitive around the teeth.
- My normal male hormonal responses during the day were zero.
Then late one night I took inventory of the things that might cause any one of those:
- I had not had any amount of refined sugar that would normally trigger joint inflammation.
- I had a recent craving for herbal tea, but after sipping a big cup for a few hours, I realized I was not drinking any plain water as I normally would.
- I had neglected to take Vitamin D and Vitamin K for several days.
- I had been suspecting my body might not be producing as much DHEA as it needs.
I realized there was a very good chance I had (poor) nutrition-induced depression. I was chronically dehydrated and to a more severe degree. I had noticed a correlation previously between my sore gums, a cloudy mind, and inconsistency of taking certain vitamins. And, I had enough things going on to know my hormones were out of whack.
The next morning I woke up feeling just as gloomy. But I went to the kitchen and drank a full glass of my homemade electrolyte infused water (in 20 oz of water, squeeze a wedge of lemon, add a pinch of Himalayan rock salt, and add a cap full of apple cider vinegar), and a bit more plain water later. In addition to my normal oatmeal and smoothy breakfast, I took my Vitamin D and Vitamin K. And I added a DHEA capsule to that for the first time. I few hours later I went for a rigorous swim practice. By noon I was feeling like the depression storm had passed completely. And it has been gone since.
That morning I took too many positive actions at once to know which one or which combination did the trick for this particular situation. But all those are necessary for some facet of my health anyway, so it was good to just get back into the routine with all of them.
Sometimes depression comes because of difficult external circumstances – worry over matter I don’t seem to have control over – are piling up, and are wearing down my strength. I need to adjust my perspective on those.
Sometimes depression comes because I have a build up of internal dissonance – where my actions do not match my values or identity. I have defensive attitudes or I have not taken sufficient action to resolve something I do have some control over.
Sometimes depression comes because have simply not taken good care of my physical body and brain. I may not have had good sleep for a few nights. I may not have had enough rigorous exercise to keep my systems clean and clear.
And, as I discovered more clearly with this one, I may not have stayed on top of some basic nutritional needs.
As I noted, some of the stressful matters that were present while I was in depression are still ongoing. Yet, now I feel the energy and vision to work through them, rather than crawl back in bed. Some good regular sleep, good regular nutrition, good regular exercise, and some regularly practiced mindfulness can help a lot.