31 October 2011

How I ended my depression


Update 15 September 2017: My thinking on this subject has changed since I wrote this. I now believe that the improvement in my mental state was due to the fact that I quit gluten and later dairy, both highly inflammatory, at the same time that I was avoiding and detoxing mold to a surprisingly effective degree and without having any idea that I was doing so. I had moved to a new, non-water-damaged home, completely replaced my wardrobe and put my possessions in storage so that I was not being exposed to items contaminated from previous moldy domiciles, and was taking binders several times a day. The treatments I used below were definitely helpful, but I cannot say if they would've worked without mold avoidance.

The original text of this post is below, last edited 31 October 2011.

Here's a list of everything that led to the end of my 20-year depression that started in junior high. I've already posted this on my other blog about nutritional therapy.

But first a few notes about nutritional therapy. If you are not deficient in a vitamin or mineral, taking more of it in the form of supplements will not help. However, few people in American are NOT deficient. Unfortunately, except for ferritin and vitamin D and a few other tests, it is not possible to accurately test for deficiencies. Any doctor who tells you otherwise is just wrong. When there is a reliable test, the doctor often won't know about, or won't order it or even mention it because it's too expensive. (Most of them don't even know the proper thyroid tests or the ideal ranges for results.) You have to do a lot of research and a lot of experimenting.

Another thing: don't confuse maintenance doses with therapeutic doses. If you are in fact deficient, and you go around trying to address the symptoms of that deficiency with the US RDA of a vitamin or mineral -- the amount established by the government as necessary to keep an already-healthy person from becoming deficient -- you won't get anywhere. You're too far behind already.

So...

At about age 30 I tried antidepressants for the first time. After 18 months I realized they were a disaster for me and I looked elsewhere for solutions. A few months later, and after two years of unemployment due to my mental state, I found success with a gluten-free diet. At first I thought that all my problems had been solved, and it truly was the end of my despair, but if I had to go back to my mood in those early "I'm cured!" days, it would terrify me. But at the time, it was so much better than my norm that it was a miracle.

It took about two more years of tinkering with my diet and supplements before I realized I was normal. And with no help from any doctor, thank you very much, although they occasionally were of use on other issues. Just a lot of internet searching and a few alternative health books.

Following the logic that since celiac disease (for which a gluten-free diet is the solution) results in malabsorption and thus nutritional deficiencies, that my health problems were caused by nutritional deficiencies, I went in that direction, and with a few exceptions stayed on that road.

Here's a list of the supplements/treatments/practices that definitely had an effect on my depression, which is about one-tenth of what I actually tried. Mind you, I never took ALL of these at the same time, and only take a few of them now, on occasion.

  • Quit gluten.

  • Quit dairy. Resumed when corrected zinc deficiency.

  • Calcium/magnesium: 1000/500 per day at first? Maybe more.

  • Zinc: 50 mg/day for about a year, then cut back. This had the most noticeable effect of all the supplements. After a few months on it, I could eat dairy again without it lowering my mood. (The casein in dairy binds with zinc.)

  • Iron: Varying amounts.

  • B-complex: Started with B-50 3x/day.

  • Plus more of the following B vitamins, which B-complex doesn't have enough of, as they are too expensive for the manufacturer. Compare the various RDA percentages on the B-complex label to get an idea of the different amounts.
    -- Biotin: 1-2,000 mcg
    -- Folic acid: 400-800 mcg. Methylated versions are also available now.
    -- B12: 1-2,000 mcg. Methylated versions are also available.

  • Vitamin D3: 2,000 IU/day. Helped mood a bit, but mostly sleep. I should've tried a lot more but at the time the "experts" said that amount was pushing it.

  • Omega-3 EFAs. I took a lot of these for several years.

  • Treated for hypothyroidism. Zinc helped this, as did low-goitrogen diet, Armour thyroid for 18 months, and acupuncture, which I tried after I got tired of being slave to a prescription. After about 15 treatments in nine weeks with an M.D./D.O.M., I was able to stop the Rx.

  • Light therapy in winter for 30 minutes in morning. For me it prevents plummeting mood, insane carb cravings, zombie brain, and near-total insomnia.
Still affecting my mood:
  • Winter (seasonal affective disorder / SAD): I am assuming that lots of vitamin D3 will eventually fix this, but I developed a reaction to vitamin D3 supplements and can't get my levels high enough. (Still trying to figure that out.) Ideal results for the 25(OH)D test are supposedly 50-80 nmol/L, but I can't get above 20 nmol/L. Also, I have noticed that light therapy no longer works if I do it after 8 a.m., whereas for years it worked as long as I did it by 9 a.m.

  • Vicodin. (Demerol, however, is lovely.)

  • If I take a whole lot of something that competes with zinc and/or B vitamins -- for example, my recent experiments with huge doses of Ca/Mg for energy -- I'll have to take those supplements to keep my mood from falling.

  • Not getting enough calories. I'll feel it two days later.

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Illustration by M. Rhea.

29 October 2011

Which of your traits made your life easier than it might've been?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: Life would've been trickier if I had been born with a bigger dose of that group-mind hormone thing that makes some young girls and women so annoying. About two years ago I read Louann Brizendine's book The Female Brain and finally got a good explanation for why girls are like that: originally that trait compelled lady cave-dwellers to stick together to fight off marauding animals, raiding tribes, unwanted suitors, etc. Somehow it translates to contemporary life as talking constantly on the phone and making insincere compliments.

I never sensed that bond at all and was bored out of my mind anyway so I left and went to a succession of big cities. While I was off getting lost on strange freeways, the extra dopamine that new experiences generate counteracted the depression somewhat. If I had stayed at home, which was not exactly an international mecca, who knows what I would've ended up doing to battle the depression.

I ended up meeting people from cultures with different ways of looking at the world and at life, things as basic as sitting on the floor instead of on a piece of furniture, or peeling and serving a grapefruit among your guests instead of beer and pretzels. It made me question things more than I had before.

If I'd had more of that Stone Age clannish drive, social expectations would've been more important to me and I might have married some poor guy early on and made him miserable. I doubt I ever would've abandoned traditional medicine approaches to my health problems, in which case I'd be nuts or dead or in thrall to some nefarious shrink or on seven different prescriptions by now.

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Pastor Jayne: Without a doubt my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior put my experience of clinical depression into a larger context that gave it meaning beyond my feelings. If I hadn't had faith that there was a purpose for my suffering, and a possibility of healing, I would have lost hope.

The other personality trait, which is very much tied to my faith, is that I am a giver. Receiving is a little harder for me. Continuing to serve others during my clinical depression helped me get outside myself for some meaningful moments. It got my eyes off me, and that is not easy to do when one has clinical depression.

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Soledad: The quality I am most thankful for in myself is my down-to-earth nature. I think it has helped me accept my social aversion, because I don't feel that I'm missing that much by being less social than others. Like most introverts, being around people is too often a chore. It has also made me a good judge of like-minded people, whose company I do enjoy. As a result, I don't count how many friends I have, but how many who really add to my life, and I to theirs.

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Illustration by M. Rhea.

14 October 2011

Beliefs we don't notice we believe in:
an introduction to metaprogramming

by Nia

A recent internet search on melatonin landed me on erowid.com, a website about psychoactive drugs, where I came across this article about a concept I'd never heard of before: metaprogramming.

(Before you start snickering, let me point out that 1) technically, many perfumes can be classified as psychoactive, and 2) the site features careful observations by articulate people about how various substances affect their minds. Most of those substances just happen to be the type that will create a lot of work for your attorney if they are found on your person.)

The basic idea of metaprogramming is that we are all operating under a set of almost-invisible beliefs which are not necessarily the most efficient guidelines for moving through life. Once you recognize what they are, you can eliminate them and replace them with your own. Some writers refer to it as "creative reality selection." In KGB-talk, it's like de-programming yourself and then brainwashing yourself the way you want.

The author, James Kent, says that the metaprogram he is most conscious of is "work hard; buy more stuff." I started trying to think of other examples and came up with this list. Feel free to add to it.

1. "Work hard; buy more stuff." (James Kent)
2. Live in a residence you own.
3. Have a partner.
4. Don't be alone a lot.
5. Be happy.
6. Show how different or individual you are.
7. Show how smart you are.
8. Have strong opinions.
9. Show that you are sophisticated.
10. Rebel / question authority (James Kent)
11. Be the one who is right.
12. Appear wealthy.
13. Earn a profit.
14. Look young. Or maybe, Don't be easily identifiable with a specific age group (once you're past a certain age).
15. Live in the same place for a long time.
16. Socialize often and with lots of people.

I tried to phrase the entries as neutrally as possible and to find ideas that change over time or from culture to culture. For example, nos. 6, 7, and 8 would be strange to my parents and grandparents but normal to twenty- and thirty-somethings. In my family at least, older generations were raised not to talk about or draw attention to themselves, never mind brag.

They were also raised not to mention recent purchases or how much they spent on something. Back then people simply didn't shop as much as we do now, but you also didn't want to make people feel bad if you had more money to spend than they did. In the age before easy credit, people had finite spending limits.

Their strong belief in 2 and 3 often causes friction with the younger generations, who feel pressured to do something they don't value as much and/or simply can't afford.

I started thinking about 4 when I realized that my mental state improved my senior year in college when for the first time in my life I was able to be completely alone, for days at a time, in a nearly-empty dorm wing.

No. 5 might make me sound like a wet blanket but I think of "happy" as a very American idea and a sort of transitory giddiness. Sustaining it all the time takes a lot of energy. What about the other options: being content, at peace, joyful, calm . . . ?

In much of China, 6, 7, and 8 would not be on the list, but 3 and 4 would be. From what I've heard from my Bangalore coworkers, in India being alone (no. 4) is rarely even an option.

No. 10 is only, what, 60 years old? Or maybe it started in the 1920s with the flappers?

Those are the deepest thoughts I've managed in a long time. I need a Pepsi.

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Illustration by M. Rhea.

10 October 2011

What energy-sucking relationships or situations do you feel you have to maintain?

by Nia, Pastor Jayne, and Soledad

Nia: For me these tend to be work relationships. During a few jobs that became emotionally draining because of difficult personalities we didn't really have any control over, I lost patience with and ended my more challenging personal friendships. I had to make adjustments in my emotional-energy allocations to meet the new demand from my work life. Of course part of my reaction was due to stress making everything seem more irritating than it actually was.

My domicile is also a source of annoyance, namely my apartment building's structural and occasionally olfactory resemblance to a Victorian tenement. DSL will not work for 24 hours after a storm, the smell after it rains is similar to fermented papier-mâché, and there's a mad man in the attic. However it has a huge, sanity-saving, east-facing window that looks out over a park, and I couldn't find that much light exposure elsewhere if I paid three times as much. Plus the idea of moving is exhausting.

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Pastor Jayne: Believe it or not, it's no one close to me (haha). In the age of Facebook, there is ample opportunity to practice healthy boundaries. (Can you "just say no"?) But for some reason I feel compelled to accept friend requests from people I haven't seen since high school and hardly knew then anyway. Which means more trivia and silly photos on the news feed. Which means more time spent on the computer if you feel at all compelled to keep up with people on Facebook whom you've friended. Which I do. When one has clinical depression, I daresay face-to-face is far better for your mental health than facebooking, tweeting and linking-in. (THERE! I SAID IT!)

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Soledad: I think all relationships are energy zappers to some degree -- this is coming from an introvert who would have very few were it possible to go through life that way.

They are also changeable things based on what is going on in the lives of the people involved. If your life isn't going so well, it tends to make you jealous of those who don't share the specific problems you have encountered. And a lot of those folks may not see your situation with a kind eye, and instead of bestowing a little extra kindness, they lash out. I've seen this selfish model far too often in my own life.

Because I tend to be a deeply empathetic person, which I think is part of the introvert nature, I tend to be very aware of individuals who need that extra understanding, and I try hard to accommodate it.

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Illustration by M. Rhea.