The first rule of depression is we don’t talk about depression. The second rule of depression is we don’t talk about depression. I’m a rule follower. I don’t make waves. I internalize my feelings — but only after denying them. I go to my cave. I distract myself. I self judge. I don’t ask for help. I didn’t talk about depression.
I wrote about this on my blog a few years back, but feel it’s important to tell my story again here, as it is the reason Dirty Good Company exists. In 2013 I had a physical and mental breakdown. I was exhausted, fell into a dark place, and suffered with depression. I wasn’t simply sad, or tired, or unhappy. I was all those things — amplified. It was hard to get out of bed, difficult to think optimistically, nearly impossible to do any physical training. I spent much of my waking hours ruminating. How had I gotten to that point? Was I overreacting? What were others thinking of me? How do a get back to a place of normalcy? Was I ever normal and healthy?
Eventually my system went on lockdown and I was forced to humble myself, ask for help, and take action. The principles that helped me to live better are the same principles we wish to advocate as fundamental to mental wellness with Dirty Good Company.
The mountains had become an important part of my routine. I escaped to them to reset my mind, to engage in a form of meditation. I had mostly been mountain biking until I injured myself a few months prior to the depression. Looking back, I believe my injury was one of several contributors that led to my breakdown. During the time between the physical crash and mental crash I wasn’t able to move in the mountains as I typically did. A shoulder tear relegated me to a stationary bike and an occasional hike. Winter arrived and I struggled through it with difficulty. I spent much of the winter sleeping and trying to get things figured out. I went on meds for a short term but they seemed to make the ruminating worse, and they put my head in such a fog I couldn’t run if I wanted. I stopped taking them and started getting back outside in spring at which time I transitioned to trail running. I felt normal while in the woods. I felt like my innate self, as though I belonged immersed in Nature. I began to run quite a bit. I travelled to Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and California to explore the mountains. While the mountains were healing, the physical effort I was exerting was too much and I again became fatigued. By end of that summer, the physical fatigue leaked into my mental state and caused a depressive relapse. I was forced to slow down. I shifted gears. I went to the sea and I sat on a surfboard and allowed myself to learn to move with the ebb and flow of nature. I had no races, no goals, no training plan, just the intention to allow my mind and body to heal.
During this time I read a wealth of books and articles on adrenal and chronic fatigue, depression, nutrition, purpose, as well as biographical and fictional literature that broached the topics of depression. I read Darkness Visible by William Styron, Super Better by Jane McGonigal, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life by Martin E.P. Seligman, The Road To Character by David Brooks, The Depths: Evolutionary Origins of the Depression Epidemic by Jonathan Rottenberg, Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome by James L. Wilson. I read the philosophers such as Epicurus, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Nietzsche, Buddha, Joseph Campbell, Thomas Merton, Thich Nhat Hanh, even Bruce Lee. I read Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Henry Miller, Hermann Hesse, Rainer Maria Rilke, Charles Bukowski.
I emerged myself in research to better make sense of life — the life I fell into, and the life I desired. I fell into routine, I fell into chasing goals and achievement, I fell into sickness. I desired peace, I desired simplicity, I desired vitality.
Eat Well — Enough.
During the relapse into physical exhaustion I decided to seek answers beyond what my physician was telling me, which wasn’t much. I consulted a functional therapist and took a panel of tests that revealed a possible bacterial infection and that I was hardly producing any cortisol. I had exhausted my adrenals with years of over training, stress, and poor nutritional habits. I continued getting in the sea and I changed my eating habits. I took about 6 months off in which I only surfed and did an occasional strength workout. I transitioned to a pseudo Paleo diet and cut out caffeine. I focused on eating more veggies and quality fats. I was still eating some grains and gluten free pasta and pizza but for the most part was eating healthier than previously.
Eventually my energy returned and I pursued getting dirty in the mountains again. I also recognized that reading, writing, and staying curious was a part of my fabric. To be happy, or satisfied, I had to always be questioning and learning. I therefore enrolled in a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner program which I followed up with a Primal Health Coach certification. I tweaked my nutrition further after going through these courses and augmented it with a few supplements to help improve my digestion and adrenals. I added more fermented foods and cut out the processed grains (those pastas and pizzas). Currently, grains are limited to corn tortillas in the form of tacos, chips and salsa, and very rarely rice, or gluten free toast or muffin.
I feel better eating this way, eating well enough but not trying to be restrictive. Attempts to adhere to a regimented nutritional protocol didn’t work for me, I failed too often and would become self-critical of that failure. Now I know what to eat and what to avoid and accept the circumstances that come with indulging in the latter category of “foods”.
Being an introvert, and ruminator, I can work myself into a stressful situation fairly easily by overthinking things. I had also adopted a busyness mentality that I continually try to change. Staying busy seemed productive, but it was only creating stress and unhappiness, while at the end of the day or week or year I didn’t feel I’d accomplished much. I didn’t feel I accomplished what I was placed here to do. I’ve made significant changes, leaning out the possessions and extraneous responsibilities that lead to unnecessary stress. I now try to build habits of productivity rather than habits that fill time. I had been pursuing the “live simply” motto which has recently morphed to a more appropriate “simply live” mantra. For myself, simply living means choosing the unbeaten path as it feels more natural. The unbeaten path allows me the equally necessary time and energy to pursue that which needs pursuing, and affords me the stillness to recognize what is important.
As in Fight Club, sometimes our constructed worlds need to come crashing down to reset life.