Is it possible that your depression diagnosis could be slowing down, rather than helping, your healing?
Think about the last time someone made a critical remark about you that challenged your self esteem and maybe even changed your perception of yourself.
Now think about how much harder it would be to shake off that criticism if the person who said it was a trusted, respected, and knowledgeable professional such as a doctor.
As many as one in six in the U.S. today are now taking antidepressants. If you are one of those people, getting those antidepressants in the first place involved a diagnosis of depression. That diagnosis could be the biggest obstacle in your path to wellness.
My Experience with Depression
What makes me qualified to talk about depression, you might ask? I’m certainly not a therapist or a psychiatrist. But I’ve had years of experience with depression at varying levels, and I’ve got volumes upon volumes of journals to prove it (I’ll spare you all the boring details).
I’ve had pretty much every symptom on the “checklist,” but because I saw a close friend in college struggle with terrible side effects from antidepressants, I was unwilling to go that route for my own depression. This is not any kind of judgement on anyone who chooses to go that route, I just knew it wasn’t for me.
More recently, I have volumes of journals that prove I was able to put depression behind me, and I did it without a diagnosis and without medication. I believe that gives me a unique perspective, and that’s why I feel like I should talk about it, in case something I have to say might help you. I don’t have any magical abilities that you don’t have – except perhaps for my knack for remembering where my husband put things! – so I believe this kind of self healing is something anyone has the power to do.
Ditch the Diagnosis
An important step you can take toward healing is refusing to allow yourself to be defined by a diagnosis. If you are viewing your life as the life of a clinically depressed person, you are going to continue to find evidence to support this view (Tony Robbins makes some great points about this). And part of the reason why this is especially problematic is that depression is meant to be a temporary state in your body, not a long-term thing.
The Purpose of Depression
Scientists think depression serves an evolutionary purpose, putting the brakes on the pace of life for a little while, to allow us time to process a loss or other difficult circumstance. Depression is a natural and even healthy response to such events. According to Vanderbilt psychologist Steven Hollon, “Most episodes of depression end on their own.”
When depression is long in duration and not tied to a specific event, it is more of a chronic symptom, a warning sign that something is out of balance. And I’m not just referring to brain chemicals. Did you know the widely held belief that depression is caused by a serotonin deficiency in the brain is not actually supported by the scientific research?
Adding antidepressants to try to speed healing interferes with the innate wisdom of the body, and the side effects they cause (total numbness, anyone?) may prevent you from fully dealing with what started your depression in the first place. Plus, there isn’t really any evidence that antidepressants even do what they are meant to do.
The Power of Placebo
The effectiveness of antidepressants is pretty much equal to the effectiveness of placebo. What does that tell you? That any positive effect you might receive from an antidepressant is created by your own brain. That you don’t need a drug to fix an imaginary chemical imbalance in your brain (that model of depression is outdated anyway – the current view is that depression is caused by inflammation). And that you have the power to heal yourself, regardless of what your doctor thinks.
How to Escape Depression
I believe that avoiding a diagnosis helped me escape depression. For a few months I enlisted the help of a great therapist to help me through an especially difficult transition. I also wrote my way through it, which helped me to process and then move past the way I was feeling. I started working on changing my focus and being more grateful. And perhaps most importantly, I completely changed my diet to allow my gut to heal, and I’m thrilled to tell you that there are TONS of amazing resources to help you figure out how to do this.
Kelly Brogan, a holistic psychiatrist, wrote a book called A Mind of Your Own – the Truth About Depression and How Women Can Heal Their Bodies to Reclaim Their Lives, which I can’t recommend enough. Her website is a treasure trove of help for healing yourself. She even includes a practitioner referral section if you decide to find a different doc. Hear Dr. Brogan talk about her book here.
To be clear, I would never suggest that you quit medication without professional help. Dr. Brogan recommends 30 full days spent making dietary changes before changing any medications at all, then tapering off of them slowly, under the care of a doctor. More about that process here.
I won’t try to give you an exhaustive list of everything I did to heal my own depression, because I’m not you, and your own path to healing will likely be very different than mine.
Retrain Your Brain
Don’t let yourself be defined by what anyone says about you, not even a doctor. YOU get to decide who you are, and you are in charge of your own healing. Don’t let someone else make up your mind for you.