[Writer’s note: please be advised that this post is a reprint, and the tale within is bound to the time it was written. In other words, please be at ease. The danger is seated in the past. (No pun intended!)]
A tiny white feather floated down from the pine. It was so delicate, so beautiful, so … strangely overwhelming in the sense that it felt like a form of pure love. I was sitting beneath the tree because I’d committed to a year of daily outdoor solitude. I was outside crying—again.
When had it started? This constant sadness that followed me wherever I went? One minute I’d be doing dishes, the next minute I’d be carried away by tears. One morning I’d start out laughing at something my daughters said, but by afternoon I’d be fantasizing about quietly ending my existence. Sometimes it went the other way and I would get really angry. End my life? You must be kidding. I’d hang on forever, even if I felt like I’d been hung. Damn the world.
Was I depressed, or just in a long-term funk?
Answering such a question is one of the challenges in pinpointing and treating clinical depression. Some of us are simply melancholic personalities, exhibiting what Dr. John Ratey calls a shadow syndrome of depression. Some of us will get suicidal, but others can’t even make the simplest decisions and lapse into isolation and helplessness. Some will get angry about everything and shout and threaten. Depression has many faces.
The bottom line? We may not want to wait around to find out whether we’re officially depressed, or figure out every last symptom. There’s too much at stake, whether it is physical existence or emotional wellbeing. If you experience the first signs of depression like sadness or sleep disturbance, Dr. Ratey advises, “Get moving immediately. And do not stop.”
Exercise treats depressive symptoms at multiple levels and can work even faster than antidepressants, which sometimes take up to three weeks to begin their impact. Exercise is also more effective than antidepressants in the long term, and does not offer difficult side effects like a potential decrease in sexual interest and function, potential nausea or vomiting, and potential exacerbation of suicidal thoughts.
How does exercise achieve these miracles? It works from both the “top down” and the “bottom up,” affecting thoughts and self concept by boosting critical neurotransmitters in the prefrontal cortex, while simultaneously affecting energy, passion, interest, and motivation in the brain stem. Unlike antidepressants, which selectively affect neurotransmitters, exercise adjusts the entire brain chemistry in an elegant manner.
The trick, in many cases, is to get the depressed person moving. It could first take a solid dose of talk therapy and a jumpstart of antidepressants to motivate a person to start literally running from his depression. (It’s notable, observes Ratey, that exercise is the first-line treatment for depression in Britain.)
When I think back on my year of sadness, I am so grateful that I began to (literally) run several times a week, even though I hadn’t yet read Ratey’s life-changing book. And then one day, without understanding that exercise had probably been a lifesaver, I simply forgot to cry.
Related Articles of Interest
• “There are a number of nutritional imbalances that may contribute to bipolar. These include: Essential fats, do you need more omega-3? Blood sugar balance, is yours within the healthy range? Magnesium, the mood balancer.” Read more about bipolar disorder and nutrition at Food for the Brain.
• “The people of Japan experience one of the lowest bipolar disorder rates in the civilized world. Compared to the 4.4 percent lifetime prevalence rate of bipolar disorder in the U.S., in Japan it’s just 0.07 percent. That’s no typo.” Read more about Fish Oil, the Brain and Depression at PsychCentral
• “The study, Stoll said, pointed out how deficient Americans and people in other developed countries are in omega-3 fatty acids. ‘We evolved eating these omega-3s, and we are not getting them anymore. They are crucial for brain function.'” Read more about Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Bipolar Disorder at Psychiatric Times
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