I never thought that depression could possibly manifest itself with physical symptoms. I had a lot to learn about that. This is my experience of when I discovered my anxiety and depression and the steps I took in order to pursue happiness despite my depression. I was shopping with my children in March 2014 when my symptoms of depression started.
All of a sudden I felt nauseated and I had a blind spot in my vision. Since my husband suffers from frequent migraines and I have a medical background, I knew what the symptoms of a migraine were. The blind spot was so severe that I couldn’t read any food labels. I knew what was happening to me, so I knew that I had to quickly get my shopping done and get home.
Just as I expected, within about 10 minutes after the blind spot went away, I was hit with a massive headache. Thankfully, it didn’t hit until I got home. But I was out for the count for the rest of the night. I had never had a migraine before March. Since I thought it was out of the norm for me, I started noticing other symptoms. High blood pressure, heart palpitations, chest pains, bloated feeling, fatigue…I thought something was wrong. But I wasn’t sure. My mind raced to the worst case scenario. I worried about cancer or a terminal illness. However, all I knew was that I didn’t feel good and I wanted to know why.
It started out with visits to the doctor about my heart palpitations and migraines. Those were my biggest concern. The good doctor discussed with me what was happening and tried to narrow down the causes. He ordered blood work, sent me to an eye doctor and we played the waiting game for about a week.
I received a concerned phone call from the doctor’s office because my hemoglobin and hematocrit levels were high. The hemoglobin and hematocrit essentially measure the concentration and amount of red blood cells in the blood. Their concern was that the increased hemoglobin and hematocrit causes me to have thicker blood, which increases my risk of stroke and heart attack.
The doctor suggested a sleep study because he was concerned that I had sleep apnea. I was very sure that I didn’t, so I told the doctor that I didn’t feel that it was necessary. Besides, sleep studies are very expensive. So, the doctor left it at that and basically said there was nothing they could do for me since I wasn’t going to have a sleep study. Well, that’s disappointing. Nothing wrong with my eyes either.
More doctor visits.
My next step was to see if anyone else could help in my diagnosis. I tried a new doctor who was absolutely determined to get to the bottom of my condition. They ordered a heart monitor to check and see if my palpitations were normal. They were. She sent me to a hematologist to see if they could find out what was going on with my blood. They couldn’t figure it out.
Finally, I decided to just take matters into my own hands. Obviously, there isn’t anything seriously wrong with me. The first doctor told me that it may just be anxiety and depression causing the problems. I didn’t push that aside. I knew that it was more than likely the cause of the problem. At the time I had gone to the first doctor, I was unbelievably stressed. So, I took steps to figure out what was causing so much stress.
1. Understanding the stressors
- My baby was just over a year old and I couldn’t lose the baby weight I had gained. Because of that, I had a very low self-esteem.
- My job was not very rewarding. The pay was good, but I was never praised for my work by the clients that I served. Apparently, that was more important to me than I thought.
- I was sleep deprived because of the following 3 reasons. The baby, obviously. I was working way too much…into the wee hours of the night. Why?? For a job that I felt unappreciated? The things we do, right? And my 2-year-old at the time liked to wake up at 6:00 AM.
- My house was so unorganized, cluttered, dirty and messy. I couldn’t stand it! There was a point that I hadn’t done any laundry in over 3 months! We were just washing what we needed and pulling everything out of the dryer as we needed it.
- I NEVER got outside, like ever! I seriously felt like I was working all the dang time.
- When I was offered the job that I had, I was sold on the fact that I was going to be able to go to my kids’ activities and spend more time with them. That wasn’t happening and this was not what I wanted. I was super upset about it.
2. Changes need to be made
There was nothing really seriously wrong with me. Just migraines, thick blood, overweight, stress and sleep deprivation. Time to lose weight, eat right, reduce my stress by getting more help and stop thinking that I need to do everything on my own, and get my heart healthy.
Making changes was much harder than I thought. I tried getting healthy and exercising, but I really didn’t know what I needed to feed my body and how I needed to exercise after having 4 babies. I tried P90X right out the door and that was a big mistake. That’s something you need to work up to. If you haven’t exercised in a really long time, I recommend working up to it. I was sore for, um, 7 days after one of the workouts. Couldn’t even move my arms. It was like someone plastered my arms from the inside. So painful!
I needed to break it down into bite-size pieces. Something I could work with because I was very overwhelmed. This is huge! Remember, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. (For the record, I don’t eat elephants. I just use them as metaphors.)
3. How can family help?
A few days later, I sat the 2 older kids down and said, “Okay, guys! I need more help around here. Your dad and I can’t run this house on our own with 6 people living in it.” I explained that they need to pick up after themselves, be responsible for making sure they follow through with their tasks and help out with the little boys more. I felt like we had this conversation a few times before. But hey, if repetition is what it takes to get it through their heads, then so be it.
We really needed to figure out how to make sure my kids were doing their chores. We tried a reward system, but that didn’t work. I tried a clipboard method that I would put together after they left for school, but the little boys kept getting into the clipboards and breaking them, so that didn’t work.
One of my Facebook friends showed us how she has a “When’s and Then’s” chart for her kids. When you get this done, then you can do this. So, I adapted it to my situation and made it work for my family. I can tell you, this works wonderfully! (Don’t worry, I’ll do a whole post on this later.) If my kids just do their chores without complaint, they can get their screen time and rest and relaxation as they want. In our family, we don’t do allowances, rewards or treats. Just plain and simple, “you’re part of a family, you have to help out.” Household stress, relieved!
4. What can I change about my job?
My job was not panning out the way I wanted. I was so disappointed. I even turned to my coworkers and asked them for help. They all seemed fine, so what was I doing wrong? There was a couple of things that were not going well. First of all, why couldn’t I wrap my brain around managing my time efficiently? I tried so many time management skills and nothing worked for me. Okay, it may have worked for a couple of weeks, but then I got back into the same routine and I was back where I started. Frustrated, overwhelmed and sleep deprived.
Secondly, why did I need people to tell me that I was doing a good job? Why did I need so badly for them to praise my efforts? I couldn’t get past that I felt unappreciated. I don’t think it helped that I worked in a virtual environment where I couldn’t communicate face to face with my co-workers or clients. It seemed to make my anxiety worse.
Is there really no way out?
I had decided that there was no way out. I was trapped. NO WAY OUT! We have to live on two household incomes and I have no other skills. I felt like an uneducated moron. My mind was spiraling out of control and I had begun to have suicidal thoughts.
I had spent an entire day, researching how to end everything. How to rid my company of my presence, how to rid my family of my insecurities, and how to stop feeling…nothing. I couldn’t believe that I felt this way. I was so disappointed in myself and I just kept talking myself into it. After I talked with my husband, we both decided that I had to quit my job. This is not a solution for everyone! Although, I’m sure secretly we all wish it was. We were on this road to change and this was one of our solutions.
So, I did it. I tied up the loose ends and left the company. Of course, I miss helping my clients and my coworkers, but I sure don’t miss the stress. I felt free!
5. Can I change my health?
Not everyone can just jump into a nutrition and exercise program without the knowledge of how to do it. Since I had minimal experience, I went in for a free consultation at a local fitness center that focuses on nutrition and exercise together. Jen and Kiersten at Total Health and Fitness in Utah showed me how important it was to eat right and exercise specifically for me. This was the only way I was going to see results. They took all of my medical concerns into account (including anxiety and depression) and promised that this was going to change my life.
There was some trial and error in the beginning because they needed to see what food and exercises worked for me. I actually gained a bit of weight in the beginning because they found out they were overfeeding me. So, they reduced my calories, changed my workout a bit and I started seeing results the very next week.
It took my body a good month before I finally started feeling like the food was becoming my new way of life. It’s almost like my body needed to detox. The food they had planned for me was not food that was completely out of the ordinary. Some of the food was food that I already had in my house. They taught me how to listen to my body and see how the food made me feel. Some food made me feel good, some food didn’t. If the food didn’t make me feel good, I made a mental note and I told myself that it’s simply not worth the feeling I had when I last ate it.
Visibly, it’s not an insane transformation, but there are so many changes that happened and are still happening.
6. Stick to a plan
I can’t discount that everything happened around the same time. I left my job, got my family to help out more around the house and got my body in better shape. The fact is, it is working!
Generally, I feel better. I went back in for a follow-up appointment with the hematologist and my blood is normal. My blood pressure is normal, my weight is my ideal weight for my height and age, and my BMI is normal. I haven’t had a migraine for about 3 weeks into my nutrition program. No more heart palpitations and no more belly bloat. I no longer get worn out when I chase my kids around. My knees don’t pop anymore, I sleep better and I’m all around happier. Not to mention my jeans and shirts fit better which is also a plus!
What will work for you?
There were six things that I did that got me on my path to finding happiness with depression and anxiety.
- Understanding the stressors. I made a list. A list of things that were stressing me to the max. It didn’t matter if I thought I could change it or not. I needed to see it and say it out loud. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize what’s causing us problems unless we look at it in the face.
- Changes need to be made. I decided after looking at my list that I have GOT to make some changes. If I wanted to see results, I had to change. That’s the facts.
- How can family help? I looked at my support system to see if there was anything they could do to help me in my quest to feel better.
- What can I change about my job? I made changes in my career. Now, for me, quitting my job was the answer. It doesn’t have to be. Maybe you just need to change your perspective or communicate more effectively with your coworkers. Perhaps you need to make the plunge and ask for a raise.
- Can I change my health? I made changes to my diet and activity. Eat food that makes you feel good and get up and be active.
- Stick to a plan. Stick to it! Don’t give up on yourself. Be patient. Feeling better doesn’t happen overnight.
I don’t wish this anxiety and depression on anyone! Ever, ever, ever! Finding happiness with depression has been a very long and difficult road.
I had been able to make this work for me without medication at this time in my life. I’m certainly not saying that everyone can fight their anxiety and depression without it. Because, currently, I need medication. But, I do believe that the food you eat, the way you treat your body, who you choose to surround yourself with, or how you choose to live your life can affect your mood and behavior.
So, why not try something to see if it will change you? What’s the worst that could happen? (I’m not saying you should go as dramatic as I did and quit your job. If that’s not possible, please don’t do it)
Break it down into small pieces. One bite at a time! Have you needed to make changes in order to be happy? What changes have you made?