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How Live Your True North Began

My History With Depression

In October 2018, my therapist diagnosed me with depression after spending months struggling with chronic unhappiness. Although I seemed content from the outside, I constantly struggled with irritability, sadness, and loneliness. I paid horrible attention to my daily needs, and I spent a great deal of time wrapping myself up like a blanket burrito to hide from the world. For me, depression felt like running underwater against the current. I forgot how to be myself and often ruminated on memories of laughing easily, completing tasks with ease, and surrounding myself with good people. 

I let depression hold me captive as I fantasized about my life instead of actually living it. When I did go out, I fought through intense anxiety and discomfort. Negative thoughts swirled in my brain and told me that I was not good enough. At work, I struggled with motivation to complete tasks, crying spells, and anxiety. To make matters worse, my unhelpful thoughts screamed, “You’re a mental health therapist! You’re not allowed to get depressed!” 

My Breaking Point 

I naively expected to pick myself up from my bootstraps and get better on my own. Realistically I knew that I could not help others if I did not help myself. I struggled to navigate the cognitive dissonance associated with being a therapist who needed therapy. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t manage my depression independently, and I felt like a fraud counseling others. Instead of acknowledging that I needed help, I pretended that I knew exactly what was wrong and exactly how to fix it.

On a Saturday in September, I finally reached my breaking point. That day at work, I ran late for a therapy session with a young client, which triggered the child’s parent to feel frustrated. Naturally, I expressed my apologies and explained the nature of the delay and resumed the therapy session. However, I could not stop ruminating on what happened. Her reaction caught me off guard and triggered intense anxiety about being bad at my job. I cried, trembled, and struggled with thoughts of not wanting to be here. After processing the event and my reaction with a friend, I finally accepted that I needed help.

Finding a Therapist

I first dabbled in therapy in college after experiencing difficulty transitioning to the new environment. My therapist at the time, a lovely woman with short, black hair and a soothing demeanor. However, I didn’t feel a close connection, and I struggled to fully engage with my therapist. I eventually worked through the transition on my own. Now, though, I felt emotions I didn’t understand and didn’t know how to overcome. 

Finding a therapist was relatively easy using both Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” tool and the phone number on the back of my insurance card. After finding a clinician who accepted my insurance, I sat with the phone number until I gained the courage to call schedule an appointment. My therapist, Ron, was a former baseball player who changed careers after suffering permanent spinal cord damage. He had a tall and lanky frame, and his wispy gray hair framed his strong facial features. His minimalistic office featured just a few artful pictures, a cluttered desk, and a long futon where I sat week after week.

Doing the Work

It took time, but Ron helped me understand that the only thing preventing me from overcoming depression was myself. Ron described a phenomenon called “Paralysis by Analysis,” where my negative overthinking prevented forward motion and decision making. We explored the onset of symptoms and events in my life that potentially contributed to unhelpful thinking styles. With Ron’s help I realized that simply attending therapy was not enough. If I wanted my life to change, I had to take what I learned in sessions and apply it outside of the office. 

First, I left a toxic roommate situation and moved into my own apartment. Then, I spent more time with family and friends, and I engaged in more overall self care. Even though the healthy habits I created helped, I still fought against the darkness. When I hung out with others, it told me I’d rather be home by myself, doing nothing, feeling hollow. I processed this feeling with Ron, who suggested following up with my primary care doctor.  “If depression is still keeping you from coping, then maybe you should explore medication,” he said.

Finding Relief

My heart initially sank at the thought of being prescribed medication. I worried about side effects, and I worried that medication with either not work or make things worse. I didn’t want to feel more emotionally stunted that I already felt. Nevertheless, I took Ron’s guidance and made an appointment with my doctor, who took the time and care to educate me and ease my concerns. In April 2019, I began taking Prozac once a day. 

After a few weeks, I noticed a lift in mood. The heavy water that I ran through began to evaporate. Prozac helped my brain maintain serotonin, which helped my mood, energy level, and quality of sleep. I actually trained my body to eat normal sized meals again, now that it felt hungry. Better yet, I happily found that my only side effect was mild dry mouth that disappeared after increasing my water intake.  

Maintaining the Progress

I needed to find a way to keep moving forward in my depression recovery. I started by noticing how I felt when I completed certain activities. If I did something that helped me feel better, I wrote it down in a list. By paying attention to the impact of my behaviors, I learned that eating healthy, being active, and engaging in artistic forms of self expression helped me to feel my best. These habits helped me become my happiest self. 

It takes anywhere from 18-240 days to form a habit and another 60 days for that habit to become an automatic behavior. I understood that I needed to focus on making these a bigger part of my lifestyle. I ate on a Paleo diet for several months in an attempt to reset my eating habits, I adhered to an exercise plan, and I made time for activities such as painting, drawing, and journaling. Furthermore, I frequently reminded myself that progress truly is an ongoing process that never ends, and positive self talk allowed me to more easily work through challenges. 

Sharing My Journey

When I created a blog, I intended it to serve as a space to document and record my personal growth. Sharing my story helped me to hold myself accountable and allowed me to change my lifestyle more consistently, and I quickly found that there is an entire community of wellness warriors out there trying to do the same thing. I hope to empower others to ask for help in finding balance and happiness. I recognize that I will never be done growing, and I want this space to grow with me. 

Above all, I learned that no one is immune to struggles with mental health, and we all get by with a little help from our friends. Live Your True North is a safe space for healing and self exploration.

I hope you choose to join me in living well, being myself, and living my True North.

Much Love, 

Kel

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What Is Depression?

Depression is as prevalent as the common cold. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that 264 million people around the world live with depression. Most people experience sadness, loneliness, or fear. These feelings are a normal part of life. However, depression involves clinical levels of low mood that impacts a persona’s ability to function within their daily lives.

Clinical depression is characterized by the following symptoms: persistent depressed mood, diminished pleasure or interest in activities, decrease or increase of appetite, insomnia or hypersomnia, psychomotor agitation or slowing, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, diminished ability to focus or think, indecisiveness, and recurrent thoughts of death or recurrent suicidal ideation. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-5)’s diagnostic criteria states that 5 or more of the above symptoms must be present within the same 2 week period.

How Is Depression Different From Sadness?

Most people experience intense sadness or grief. These feelings can impact a person’s ability to function, and they can also exist for at least 2 weeks. However, when we experience something difficult, sadness and grief are natural reactions. Sadness and grief share some characteristics with depression, but they are temporary and typically fade with time. Usually, sadness or grief involve moments of relief and have no significant impact in thought processes or behaviors.

Sadness is simply one symptom of depression. The DSM-5 indicates, “Responses to a significant loss (e.g. bereavement, financial ruin, losses from a natural disaster, a serious medical illness or disability) may include the feelings of intense sadness, rumination about the loss, insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss noted in Criterion A, which may resemble a depressive episode. Although such symptoms may be understandable or considered appropriate to the loss, the presence of a major depressive episode in addition to the normal response to a significant loss should also be carefully considered.”

Who Is At Risk For Depression?

Mental illness does not discriminate. Anyone can experience symptoms of depression at some point in their lives. However, there are some factors that put others at more risk of depression than others. Biochemistry is a well-known factor in determining whether or not someone will experience depression. Individuals with depression often experience a deficit in certain neurotransmitters in the brain. This explains the effectiveness of medications that help to balance chemicals in the brain.

Although it is commonly believed that depression is the result of a chemical imbalance, the condition is much more complex. Genetics can also play a role, meaning that individuals with a family history of depression are more likely to experience depression. Research shows that there is also a connection between personality and depression. Studies show that difficulty coping with stress, limited engagement in community and environment, and limited insight may increase risk of depression. Environmental factors, including exposure to community violence, traumatic experiences, or limited access to resources, can also be predictors of depression.

When Should Someone Get Help?

Sometimes the line between between depression and sadness is clear, but sometimes it is not. For example, you may feel nervous while giving a presentation, but that doesn’t necessarily indicate a mental health disorder. However, becoming so overwhelmed with nervousness that you cannot follow through with the presentation may indicate a need for help.

If symptoms interfere with your ability to function within your daily life, it may be time to seek help. Challenges maintaining relationships, engaging in social settings, or performing in work and school can indicate a mental health disorder. Mental health disorders can also be responsible for changes in personality, energy level, and mood. Typically, symptoms that last 2 weeks or longer should be evaluated by a professional to determine the appropriate care. However, these are not the only situations during which to seek help. Anyone can get help at any time. If you feel the desire for therapeutic support, explore it regardless of how your situation compares to others!

How Is Depression Treated?

There are many types of treatments for depression. Just as depression looks different for everyone, depression treatments may have different effects for each individual. The most effective treatment method for depression is a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Some common forms of psychotherapy that are effective in treating depression include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or psychodynamic therapy. One might also seek support groups, group therapies, or community engagement programs for added support.

Research shows that the relationship between the clinician and client is the most effective tool in treating mental health disorders. That being said, it is important to have an open mind and to remember that effective therapy requires the ability to trust the clinician. If you seek support and find limited connection with the clinician, don’t be afraid to explore other options. Read about alternative treatments here!

How Can Someone Find Help?

Especially during times of high need, finding help can unfortunately require time and patience. Psychology Today has a great Find a Therapist tool, where you can limit search based on insurance, areas of practice, or location. Most insurance plans also have a website where you may consult your provider directory. This is a good way to ensure that a clinician accepts your insurance. It is a good idea to look more closely at your insurance plan to determine if your plan limits the amount of sessions you can attend.

To find help, it can be helpful to ask someone your trust. A referral from a friend, colleague, or medical professional is a good way to find a clinician who may be a good fit for you. Additionally, online resources, such as Anxiety and Depression Association of America, are a helpful way to navigate the mental healthcare system. It can also be a good resource to learn more about types of depression treatments to determine the modality that may be most helpful. Make sure you check out this page with information on support groups and additional resources for navigating the mental health system during a pandemic!