Ever since I was 12 years old, I’ve struggled with my mental health.
Growing up with explosive anger around me for a significant part of my early childhood, I learned at a young age to internalize my emotions.
I would hold anger in different areas of my body, never letting out a single peep. This was, in my opinion, what lead to my depression later on.
I’ll write a separate post on the whole story soon, because there are a lot of details that I feel could be helpful to some, especially to parents of teenagers and young people going through similar situations as I did… or just for anyone who’s curious!
This post is going to be mainly about how I dealt with my depression, and what I would and wouldn’t recommend from my journey to healing.
I want to start off my saying that I’m by no means cured.
I still struggle with my mental health on a weekly basis. Healing is a process, not a final destination!
However, my clinical depression no longer weighs me down, and it’s safe for me to say that I no longer consider myself a depressed person.
It became apparent that I had some sort of emotional imbalance while I was in high school. I had just switched from mainstream high school to a smaller, partially homeschool program where the students had all known each other for years.
After I turned about 15, my desire for social interaction had been steadily declining until I was only seeing friends when I was at school.
So, when I switched to a much less structured situation where I didn’t know anyone, I completely isolated myself from other people.
I had hours upon hours of free time to myself, with no real passions or goals.
My mental health quickly spiraled downhill.
I spent most of my time binge-watching movies and TV shows. (I just wrote a post all about my Netflix addiction, which you can read here if you’d like. In it, I delve a bit more into the psychology of watching TV and how it affected me personally.)
My parents instantly became very concerned.
Unsure of what to do, and knowing I have a family history of clinical depression, they quickly sent me to my doctor.
After explaining my symptoms, she nodded:
“Yep, sounds like depression. Do you want to look at the options for medication?”
My parents and I were head-set on getting me the help I needed through natural means, so we made the decision to see a naturopathic doctor.
She asked me some questions, gave me some advice (such as to “exercise more”) and told me to take a turmeric supplement.
I left feeling… disheartened.
It felt like no one on Earth had ever experienced what I was going through, and no one had a single clue how to help me – not even doctors.
I’d been given some advice that any average Joe could provide, and thrown two different pills after less than thirty minutes of reviewing my symptoms.
My dad took me to the store, and bought me a bottle of turmeric capsules.
Long story short, I didn’t notice any significant improvements. I still felt like I was carrying a hundred pound weight on my shoulders.
When I started my first post-school job, I started interacting with others, and had less time to wallow and lay in my dark room alone.
This brings me to remedy #1 that helped me overcome my depression:
Not once in my journey through meeting with health care professionals did I hear mention of nutrient, vitamin or mineral deficiencies.
When I was depressed, I hardly ever saw the sun.
If I didn’t have to set foot outside, I wouldn’t.
About a week after I started exposing my skin to the summer sun on the way to work and on my lunch breaks, I noticed an improvement in my motivation, and just getting out the door in the morning became easier for me.
I wasn’t aware of this back then, but looking back now, the times when I remember being most content were summers when I would spend my days laying in the warm sun.
For this reason, I still cope with seasonal depression – I tend to become more susceptible to emotional imbalances during the winter months when it’s cold and rainy.
Studies have linked vitamin D deficiency to depression, schizophrenia and other mental disorders.
Over three million cases of vitamin D deficiency in the US are recorded annually, and this obviously doesn’t count the amount of people who aren’t tested.
The most amazing thing about vitamin D is that it’s free! Your body produces vitamin D on its own when exposed to sunlight, which means that all you really need to do is lay in the sun for 15 to 20 minutes.
There are also some great vitamin D supplements out there – I use this one.
This is especially helpful during the winter months or when I’ve been spending a lot of time indoors.
Vitamin B-12 is one of the most researched factors in treating depression.
One study states: “We review the findings in major depression of … low vitamin B12 status. Both low folate and low vitamin B12 status have been found in studies of depressive patients, and an association between depression and low levels of the two vitamins is found in studies of the general population.”
If I could accredit one supplement to the improvement of my overall mental health, it would definitely be B-12.
B-12 is especially important for vegetarians, vegans and those who don’t consume a large amount of animal products.
While it’s relatively easy to find a B-12 supplement, many of them aren’t high quality and your body won’t actually absorb what it needs.
This one is especially helpful if you suffer from stress and anxiety.
I have an entire blog post on magnesium that you can read here, but I definitely needed to add it to this post as well.
Magnesium has helped me so much with my mental health, and my ability to calm down when I’m seriously stressed out.
An article published in the US National Library of Medicine states that “An impoverished Mg (magnesium) diet is associated with depression in humans”, and “Low serum and cerebrospinal fluid Mg levels have also been associated with depressive symptomology and suicidality”.
While I was less than motivated to go for a walk or a run – let alone go to the gym – rolling out my yoga mat and practicing some gentle stretching was always doable.
I would pull up a short yoga video on YouTube and practice along.
There has never been a time when I didn’t feel at least a little bit better after twenty minutes of yoga.
There have been a significant amount of individuals who claim to have overcome serious mental disorders through yoga and meditation, and Harvard Health Publishing states that: “Indeed, the scientific study of yoga demonstrates that mental and physical health are not just closely allied, but are essentially equivalent. The evidence is growing that yoga practice is a relatively low-risk, high-yield approach to improving overall health.”
Not only is moving your body and getting blood circulating immensely supportive of overall brain health and function, but the calming, meditative aspects of yoga can really help to soothe the mind.
This was the most important part of my healing.
It was when I changed my diet and eating habits that I noticed the most radical changes in my mood.
Diet is acknowledged by the medical community to play a huge role in mental health… there’s even a field of medicine called nutritional psychiatry!
Harvard Health Publishing states that: “Researchers found that a healthy diet (the Mediterranean diet as an example) was associated with a significantly lower risk of developing depressive symptoms.”
To me, the line between an unhealthy diet and depressive disorders is clear….
When I felt emotionally the worst, I was eating mainly foods lacking in living energy such as processed vegan meat alternatives, processed non-dairy milks, sugary products, noodles – loads of noodles – and soy-based products.
When I started eating primarily raw leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, and I incorporated supplements like spirulina and the aforementioned B-12 into my life, I noticed huge improvements.
I consumed nutrient-dense, high life-force foods like sprouts, green juices, chia puddings, green soups and smoothies.
I cut out all forms of processed sugars and grains, and replaced them with whole plant foods.
For the most part, I was following a high-raw diet with loads of healthy fats like avocado and olive oil.
This is the same diet I’m following currently, and I always notice big changes in my mind and body when I switch onto raw foods!
While I wasn’t exactly sitting cross-legged with my eyes closed and focusing on my breath during the depths of my depression, I spent a lot of time working on my thought processes.
When my mind wanted to show me thoughts about how alone I was or how much of a loser I was, I actively trained myself to not take them seriously or see them as truth.
I tried my best to imagine what I wanted my life to look like, how I wanted to contribute to making the world a better place and how I could get there.
Focusing on a positive future helped me immensely when I was feeling down on my reality, and it drove me forward.
While it can be extremely difficult to gain control of your mind, it can be done.
Knowing what I know now about how beneficial meditation can be, I would highly recommend it to anyone, no matter their state of mind or situation.
This can be guided meditation, mindful breath practice, yoga or just simply sitting outside and listening to the birds chirping.
Almost any quiet, relaxing activity can be used as a vehicle to practice meditation.
Knitting, painting, stretching, going for a walk, taking a hot bath or shower or even making a cup of tea can all be meditative and calming to the mind. You don’t need to force yourself to sit quietly and try not to think… it’s not about that!
Whatever gets you into a quiet, calm and reflective state is a great place to start.
As always, please speak to your health care professional if you feel like you could be depressed. Reaching out to close friends and family can also be super helpful.
These are all things that I did to help me overcome my depression, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what everyone should do.
My inbox is always open, and I would be more than happy to listen or help in any way I can.
One mantra I’ve learned to tell myself during my darkest times is that I’m supposed to be here, going through whatever I’m going through right now.
I’ll share a quote that came to me when I needed it most:
“Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors or aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.” – Max Ehrmann
Peace & Healing,
xoxo – Mackenna