A Life-Altering Prescription: Going from Depressed to Determined

I have been wanting to write a post about my past experience with depression and how health and fitness has helped to heal that area of my life for a while, and then realized that I had written about it almost 2 years ago on my personal blog site. So thought I would share this perspective with you – and please, I’d love to hear from you about your own successes and challenges in balancing your mental health with fitness and nutrition 🙂

{Original Post from allisonsiemens.com on Nov 4, 2011}:

Had I learned this at a much younger age, I would have not wasted so many years being miserable.

When I was 24, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I was happily newlywed and working in my chosen career with no good reason to feel so miserable. So the doctor prescribed anti-depressants of course, which seemed to help. However, I did not like the side effects I experienced so I discontinued them after about 6 months. I was never one to “take” anything (even Tylenol) without a good reason, so the idea of needing to be on meds for the rest of my life did not sit well. However, during the time I had been on anti-depressants, I felt good enough to be inspired to start running almost daily. I had never been very physically active or athletic ever in my life up until that point – but I absolutely loved running and how it made me feel. So even after stopping taking the meds, my running was a part of my routine.

Fast forward a few months and leap ahead to a few more years later…..
We moved to a new city. I worked crazy hours and shift work. Then we had a baby. Then another. And then one more. I stopped exercising and stopped caring about what I was eating. The result was weight gain, yo-yo and extreme dieting, and a deeper, darker mental state.
2006-1(Fortunately, my depression did not manifest into the “baby blues”. My pregnancies and post-partum experiences were actually very bright, positive times for me – which I am grateful for. This had been a huge concern of mine before I had my first baby.)

Running (or any real exercise for that matter) was just not in the schedule for about 10 years. And guess what — that horrible depression was continuing to make me miserable. But I knew that I wanted to run, so when I felt motivated to make time for it, I did and it felt great. Every time I started exercising, the depression went away. Every time I cleaned up my diet the depression went away. Then life (and bad habits) would take over and the healthy eating and the exercise would be crowded out……and misery would return. Hmmmmmm.

Apparently, I am a slow learner – or maybe just slow to commit — but it took me until my third child was about 2 years old to give into the idea that if I wanted to beat my depression and stay drug-free, my only option was to remain physically active and healthy EVERYDAY FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE! This was not easy for me accept at first. I simply did not see myself as a “fit” or “active” type of person. This was a huge commitment. But what were the alternatives? I did not want to live in a “false” state of wellness by taking anti-depressants – I wanted to TRULY be healthy and happy. I did not want my continuous fragile emotional state to result in a broken marriage or disconnection to my children. I wanted the opportunity to live a full, and prosperous life.

2013 085Exercise and wholesome food was my prescription for a healthy, balanced mind.

Take one good, long, sweaty dose of exercise daily.
Mix with a whole food diet and plenty of oxygen in the lungs.
Do not discontinue use.
Warning: side effects include optimism, energy, empowerment, and joy.
Prolonged use may result in a happier life.

I have tested this theory a few times. In fact, I have proven that if I stop exercising for a period of time, glimpses of my depression will surface within 6 weeks like clockwork. Really at this point even if I go a few days without exercising, or I continuously eat the wrong foods – I start notice a change in myself. Those times keep me on my toes, reminding me of just how desperately my physiology requires these basics of a healthy lifestyle.
(UPDATE: it’s now another 2 years later since I originally wrote this post…I rarely experience re-lapses of depression symptoms at this point, even within a prolonged absence of exercise. It has taken time and effort and trial and error, but my brain has gradually found healing – this is the best gift I could ask for!)

2011_08_04_11_05_20_506And now that I know this and I am fully convicted of it, there is absolutely no going back. Which is fine by me! I am grateful that these challenges have brought me to a place of healing. Not only am I motivated to keep my body fit, but I am nourishing my mind, and strengthening my spirit too – I am seeing how wonderfully we are created, that everything we need in order to be happy and healthy has been provided for us naturally. This process of self-discovery is very motivating – and inspires me daily to improve quality of life both for me and my family! This is my life and lifestyle, and it goes way beyond simply wanting to look good in a pair of jeans.

Every detail of my learning in these areas has moved me on to new and exciting adventures when it comes to fitness and overall health. I am so grateful to have discovered the natural benefits of fitness and a clean + healthy lifestyle. My life has been changed for the better from these challenges – and now as a fitness and health coach, I hope to help others make the same discoveries and subsequent improvements also!

In no way do I judge anyone who is relying on drug therapies for their mental health – this is something that needs to be cared for by a professional. I do realize that there is a time and a place to remain under a doctor’s care and comply with prescribed pharmaceutical therapies – listen to your doctor. But also listen to yourself. The body and mind are amazing, and depending on your own personal condition, effective nutrition and fitness strategies can be just as beneficial as pharmaceutical therapies (if not more so, as recent research as proven). Consult with your doctor, but I urge you to consider adding natural strategies to your process of healing also 🙂

I will add as an aside, that I do believe that my many years of yo-yo and crash dieting contributed to my fragile mental state. My body and mind were not getting what they needed and this was destroying my health on many different levels. So my advice to all of you who are looking to lose weight, but are also struggling with symptoms of depression is to consider your approach to body change. Deprivation diets and extreme exercise practices may only perpetuate the problem – as was the case with my own experience.

I coach my clients with a focus on overall health, and the “anti-diet” approach to weight loss. This means focusing on giving your body optimal nutrition and smart, effective exercise in order to build it up, not break it down.

 

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