At age 14 I began to suffer from extreme depression. My depression lead to suicidal thoughts and self harm. I was unpredictable, as my emotions went from super high to super low. In order to treat these severe symptoms I was on some very strong medications from 14-25 years old and tried therapy countless times.
When I think back to these times it is hard to believe that was me as I am an entirely different person today. While I continue to struggle from time to time with my depression the symptoms are few and far less severe with zero medication.
I am aware that a 14 year old girl’s emotions are already crazy, but throw in bipolar disorder and you have an unbelievably hard child to manage. Thank you mom and dad for being so good to me during those tumultuous times! Anyway, not only did I grow up as I am writing this at 31 years old, but I have made some major changes in my life throughout the years. I want to begin by backing up to acknowledge my past behaviors that directly impacted my depression.
In retrospect, when my depression was at the worst I was literally starving myself regularly as I was a teenage girl who thought she was fat. As I got older into my early 20s my nutrition still sucked. I drank far too much and lived off of a highly processed diet. Lots of pizza, mac n’ cheese, ramen, etc.
I have never been into sports. I have never enjoyed physical fitness. In my teenage years I did everything imaginable to get out of phy-ed class and into my early 20s I might do an occasional workout at the gym or at home, but it was rare.
My depression has always affected my sleep, causing me to sleep for 14+ hours or go without sleep for 3-5 days. As a typical teenager to young adult I would normally stay up late and sleep in.
Lack of Self Love
I have always been my harshest critic. I have been told many times in my life that I am too hard on myself. Again, from 14-mid twenties I hated myself. I hated the way I looked. I hated my job. I was in a very bad romantic relationship for the majority of my twenties. I had a negative view on just about everything related to myself.
My life began to change when I was 23-24 years old. I was finishing graduate school and landed my first real big girl job. I was still struggling with depression and on a very high dosage of medication at this point.
One day, just like any other, I woke up and decided I was going to become a runner. I am not kidding. I seriously just woke up and made the decision. This was truly a turning point in my life.
I joined a local gym and began running on the treadmill everyday. I started slow, not being able to run even for 5 minutes. I gradually worked my way up to a mile and then after a while I was running 3 miles daily. I hated running. I have always hated running, but once I started doing it I became addicted. It was so cool to see my progress and it began to get easier. The burning in my lungs was no longer so intense and I actually found myself surprised by how fast time went by while I was running.
Running has sparked so many other changes in my life, specifically in regards to my mental health.
When I began running I began to also be more mindful of what I was putting into my body. Making choices to eat a more balanced diet loaded with fruits, veggies, and protein. I followed a vegetarian diet for 5ish years which helped me to be more mindful of the nutrition choices I was making. However, today I am a flexitarian. Here is a little overview of my nutrition today:
- Meat – I will eat meat, but I do my best to only eat responsibly sourced and sustainable products. I do have an advantage as I live on a small farm where we raise our own animals.
- Veggies – I plant a huge garden and plan every meal/snack around vegetables. I also do my best to eat local and in season.
- Fruits – Yes please! Just like the veggies I have planted several apple and pear trees on our property. A day does not go by where I am not eating some kind of fruit.
- Cooking From Scratch – I love to cook! It is very easy to avoid processed foods when you are cooking from scratch. Time consuming, but worth it!
- Reading Food Labels – I always read the food label. I avoid anything with too many ingredients, things I cannot pronounce/don’t know what they are, vegetable oils, added sugar, etc.
- Limit Alcohol Consumption – I still drink, but no where near the amount I used to. In general, I try to limit my alcohol consumption to 7 weekly drinks and it is up to me how I want to spread those 7 out throughout the week.
Running was the spark for me that literally put my body into motion. Since then I cannot imagine my life without exercise. My life revolves around exercise and always working toward my next goal. I am so passionate about fitness that I began working in the industry 4 years ago. When it comes to exercise here is where I am today:
- Marathon Finisher (Running 26.2 miles)
- Ironman 70.3 Finisher (Triathlon 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run)
- Ultramarathon Finisher (Running Trail 31 miles)
- 200 Hour Yoga Certified Instructor
- ACE Certified Personal Trainer
- Numerous Group Exercise Certifications
I am proud to say that I go to bed every night by 8pm and get up everyday by 6am. I have a very regular bedtime that I rarely deviate from, even on the weekends. Not only do I go to bed early, but I am also mindful at limited my screen time before bed and enjoy chill time to relax and unwind about an hour before bed.
Self Confidence and Self Love
I have created an amazing life and I am proud of where I have come. I am proud of my body and the things it can do. I am a normal human being and I still have negative self thoughts, but I am now self aware to stop those thoughts. When I feel those thoughts creeping in I now stop and think to myself what I can do to change it or accept it.
I also really don’t give a damn what others think. I am me. I am proud of who I am. I, however, am a work in progress. I am definitely not perfect nor will I ever be, but everyday I work toward accepting where I am today and being a better version of myself tomorrow.
I am medication free. I began to slowly get off my depression medications around 24/25 years old. I was on some very high dosage and potent prescription medications that were causing kidney problems. I gradually decreased the amount I took until I was able to be fully medication free. This took about a year to do, but today I am proudly prescription free and feel better than ever. Important note, there is no way that I would have been able to go medication free without making the other major changes listed above.
Positive Link Between Depression Symptoms and Nutrition and Movement
This was a little bit of my story on how my lifestyle changes have drastically improved my depression symptoms, but science shows that exercise and nutrition is linked to improving depression. While studies exist, you will find that more research is needed on this topic. I invite you to look at more research that investigates the link between diet and exercise and depression: