What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Warning: I am not a doctor, or in any way certified to give you medical advice. I am just telling you what works for me. Please don’t go off your meds, start eating mass amounts of kale and touching yourself in the bathroom at work.
When I was 14, I made a dramatic, clichéd and ultimately thwarted attempt to end my life, landing me in a swanky psych ward less than an hour from my home in Connecticut. While there, I sashayed the halls in rubber-grip hospital socks and attended daily group therapy until my insurance coverage ran out and I was dumped back into the arms of my terrified (and recently divorced) parents, with a new psychiatric disorder diagnosis and a hefty dose of Zoloft.
Diagnosed with what was then labeled manic depression and is now bipolar disorder, my moods were nutty. As far as textbook diagnostics go, I fit the description perfectly: I am known to spend weeks in a manic tizzy, my creative juices flowing, unable to sleep, making erratic and irrational decisions, craving the company of anyone and everyone and -- especially when I was younger -- engaging in promiscuous behavior for the rush, the thrill, the attention.
When my mania is over, I will fold inward, take to my bed, push away the people I care about and struggle through my daily routine as if navigating in heavy, thick fog.
I know there is nothing wrong with my life. I have a good job, supportive friends, loving family. But when I’m down, I’m down. This is how I lived constantly at 14, and this would be how I live now, if it weren’t for the specific lifestyle choices I have cultivated throughout the past decade.
Raised by a health fanatic, I was always taught that natural was better. And yet, my mother was terrified -- and rightfully so -- with my suicide attempt and my general doom and gloom, and so when the medication was suggested, that suggestion was taken.
I suppose that for the whopping six weeks I took the Zoloft, it worked; there were no highs or lows. Instead, I was completely numb. The only emotion I could muster at all was angst. I had a perpetual feeling that I was waiting for something -- I checked the clock constantly as if any minute now, IT would happen. I was jumpy and clammy and sweaty.
I probably could have handled the anxiety, but what I couldn’t handle were the nightmares. The medication gave me vivid and violent dreams. In these dreams -- which were full of pulsing neon colors -- I would murder my friends. I once dosed a puppy in gas and lit it on fire, and smashed a beer bottle into the head of a newborn baby, laughing maniacally as it wailed.
A decade later, I still remember these dreams as if I had them last night. They were terrifying, and I became scared of sleeping. Insomnia ensued. So instead of swallowing the cream colored pills my mother administered at the breakfast table, I began sticking them in my purse.
I knew I didn’t want to be on meds, but I didn’t want to be depressed, either. It’s true that I did, and still do, enjoy my bouts of mania. When I am manic, I produce my best work. I am more fun when I am manic. When I am up, the world looks absolutely edible. But I knew I couldn’t handle the downs.
So I started researching natural ways to handle my depression, and over the past 10 years, through trial and error, I have found a handful of things that work for me. Here they are:
Diet: The first thing I stopped eating was meat, and I automatically felt a weight lifted. My mood swings were less severe, and it was this immediate reaction that got me interested in nutrition. Over the years, I also cut out dairy and limited refined, processed foods. In doing this, my libido perked (more on that to come), my quality of sleep improved and I was able to handle stress without melting into a puddle of tears.
Exercise: I was never athletic. In gym class, I couldn’t run a mile and dreaded team sports to the point I would hide in the locker-room. I wasn’t even coordinated enough for kickball. But I heard that exercise helps with depression, and so at 16 I got myself a gym membership.
Since then, I have had a love/hate relationship with physical activity, forcing myself to engage in a variety of fitness endeavors that for the first few years felt like taking a cheese grater to the bottom of my foot. Once I got into an exercise routine -- working out 4 to 5 days a week -- my energy levels shot up. My depression bouts became sparse.
I HATED working out, but loved the serotonin it produced, loved the feel-good endorphins. And, not only did I feel so much better, but my ass started to look way better. I win! Now, my exercise of choice is running and yoga. When I go more than a few days without one or the other, my mood sours and I feel like kicking kittens.
Masturbation: This is one of the more recent self-medication techniques, because I didn’t have an orgasm until 20, and there is no point in masturbating if you aren’t going to have an orgasm -- that’s like starting the car with no intention of driving it anywhere.
However, in the last 3 years I have found -- and studies back this up -- that an orgasm significantly affects my moods. Sex, of course, can work as well, but since masturbation is tried and true I work that into my schedule at least 3 times a week. And by 3, I mean 7.
Vitamins: I take a multi, Vitamin b12, and vitamin D. Apparently no one gets enough vitamin D, and in winter especially when I hole myself up in my apartment like a vampire (but not a sexy one; thanks Stephenie Meyer for glamorizing my shifty winter eyes and pasty skin tone), I need to make sure to pop some D or I go batshit crazy and spend hours in my car screaming at the top of my lungs.
Since getting off the drugs, I have learned that Zoloft is known to INCREASE suicidal tendencies and violent behavior in teens. My natural depression modifiers have worked really well for me, but it’s been a struggle, and I often fall behind.
I spent the entire summer of 2011 in manic glee. I got a new job, moved across the country, left my boyfriend of nearly 4 years, and bought a new car -- all on a whim. And although I was happy and excited, I knew the down would come.
When I revert back to my old ways, I can usually track my behavior to see what caused it. In the last case, I had been drinking more than normal, and it’s very hard to eat well and exercise appropriately when you’re hung over 4 days of the week.
So tell me, how do you manage your depression, if you have it? Am I unfairly judgmental of Zoloft? How often do you masturbate?