Healing from Depression: Not Just Mind Over Matter

For many years during my battle with Lyme disease, I suffered from heavy depression, along with the mishmash of other symptoms that often accompany Lyme. My experience through the inferno of depression has led me to believe that it’s one of the most life-altering and devastating conditions there is.

If you have or have had depression, you know what I’m talking about. The world appears to you in shades of grey and black, instead of as a palette of bright colors. You see people laughing but you can’t reach out and grab their joy. Around you, the world functions, while you struggle just to get out of bed. And you cry for hours daily, or at least multiple times a week. You lose hours, days, and even entire weeks of productivity because you can’t seem to get it together enough to do the basic stuff of life.

If you struggle with this condition, my heart goes out to you.

Enough said. I’ve been there, and I know how it crushes the spirit. Perhaps what hurts even more is when well-meaning folks around you admonish you to do things like just get out more, try to be more positive, or perhaps pray more. As if you haven’t tried!

What’s more, I have found that in our society, there is a stigma that comes along with depression. Unlike other health conditions, it’s sometimes viewed as the result of emotional immaturity or spiritual weakness- depending on your affiliation. If you belong to a church, you might be told that you just need to get into a “right” relationship with God. If you visit a mental health specialist, the focus might be on your childhood wounds. If you go to a doctor, you’re given drugs to fix your biochemistry.

But if you’re like me, you’ve learned that depression can be a multi-faceted condition, caused not only by trauma or spiritual issues, but also infectious disease and a toxic environment. And in Lyme disease, the bugs and their neurotoxins, along with the way in which the infections disorder the body, really wreak havoc upon the emotions.

In my case, psychotherapy seemed to only make me aware of my shortcomings, while the admonitions to “think more positive” (in the many colors that message came dressed up as) frustrated me and caused me to believe that I could never do what I needed to do to get well.

Not that these strategies don’t work. For some people, they do, but in people who suffer from chronic illnesses such as Lyme disease, eliminating the infections, being on a healthy diet, and taking supplements to realign the chemistry are also crucial. Because thinking the right thoughts is sure a heck of a lot easier when you don’t have pathogens spewing neurotoxins into your cells; your thyroid and adrenal function have been optimized, and you have enough serotonin and dopamine in your brain to focus and feel happy. Or perhaps for you it’s getting your pain levels down, taking supplements to reduce inflammation, or restoring your gut health, since all of these things affect emotional and physical wellbeing. 

For me personally, I found that amino acids such as 5-HTP, GABA, L-theanine and L-tyrosine were instrumental for balancing my neurotransmitters; while co-factors and methylators such as Vitamin B-12, SAMe and P5P enabled those aminos to work more effectively in my body. Taking bio-identical thyroid hormone, and adrenal support hormones such as pregnenolone, progesterone and 7-keto DHEA were also important, since each of these hormones plays a role in emotional (and physical!) wellbeing.  Avoiding inflammatory foods was also instrumental. I’ve found that many people with Lyme disease can’t tolerate grains, even many gluten-free grains, as well as dairy products. If you suffer from depression, you may want to consider eliminating certain foods from your diet for a week or two to see if it perks up your mind and body.

Finally, in chronic illness, depression can be caused by circumstantial factors; from the trauma of not feeling well and being unable to function, to the grief caused by rejection from loved ones who just don’t understand your condition, to financial stress, isolation and many other factors.  When I was really sick, the people I expected to help me often did not, although those that I did not expect to help, often did. Letting go of expectations from others helped me to recover, as did taking walks in the sunshine, spending time with God, and getting out of the house daily, even if it only meant having a 20-minute interaction with somebody in the grocery store. If you can’t get out and about, consider a face-to-face connection with a friend via Skype, sitting outside in nature for a few minutes, or watching an uplifting movie or show on television. Doing things to mitigate the pain of isolation and the constant reminders of sickness can help to alleviate depression, as well. 

In the meantime, I encourage you not to beat yourself up for being down, or unable to think more positive, or accomplish your daily tasks. Depression takes down the strongest of the strong, and in Lyme disease, many factors, biochemical as well as emotional, conspire against happy thoughts and happy emotions. By correcting not just the emotional factors that lead to depression, but also the biochemistry, I believe you can find freedom from this insidious condition, just as I did.