I know. It doesn’t sound like happiness and depression can co-exist. But after years of therapy and days upon days of trial and error, I’ve learned that they really can. The secret? A lot of work.
While I still live with depression, I finally have more good days than bad. For me, it comes down to paying attention to five things every single day:
MOVING MY BODY
WHAT I EAT
If one of these is off, so is my mood. Together, they’re powerful. But I have to make a conscious effort throughout the day to make it all happen. Here’s how I approach each one of these. I hope that by sharing what I do that it will somehow help you when you’re struggling.
During therapy, I learned a lot about how my negative self talk destroyed me. I’ve gotten so much better at noticing when it’s creeping up, and pushing it back down. Sometimes I literally have to say out loud, “Sahar STOP.” It’s kind of like a reset button. For example, when I catch myself thinking something like, “This is never going to work because I’m not smart enough to make it happen,” I say to myself, “Sahar STOP. That’s not true. You are smart, and you can figure this out if you keep trying.”
Besides the ugly self talk, depression also makes you prone to see the negative things in life. My therapist used to tell me to try to “shine the light” on something good. For me, that’s been #IChooseBeauty – a social media project I started on Instagram in 2013 to help me see the beauty in something every day. Taking a moment to focus on the simple things has been my life preserver.
MOVING MY BODY
I’ve always been active ever since I was a kid, so exercise has never been a problem for me. I enjoy it. But when you have depression, you lose all desire and motivation to do anything, even the things you love. The ironic thing is that exercise helps fight your depression, but how do you workout when you’re depressed and have no desire whatsoever? It’s like a catch 22, right?
In my worst times, I’m inconsistent with my exercise, even to the point where I just stop for long stretches. What helps me the most is to just do something… anything… even if it’s going on a five-minute walk. I start small, and build from there. Sometimes this is so much easier said than done though, and I’ve definitely been at a place where I couldn’t do anything, not even get out of bed. I’ve been on track lately though – doing a lot of walking and Pilates these days.
WHAT I EAT
I remember in therapy, my psychologist would always ask me how my diet was. And for good reason. What you eat has a huge impact on how you feel physically and mentally.
I’ve been a pretty healthy eater for as long as I can remember. I’d say my diet is about 90% clean whole foods… and 10% dark chocolate. 😉 The more I learn, the more I adjust what I put in my body. I’ve cut out all artificial preservatives, flavors and colors. No dairy either (but that’s a whole other post). And I take a few super clean supplements that give me energy and help me feel good.
AVOIDING ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS
I’ve finally figured out that I what I put on and around my body is just as important as what I put in my body. I have two autoimmune diseases, and I’ve always had a weak immune system, so I’m trying to do what I can control to be the healthiest version of myself. Because I know that if I can feel good physically, I’ll feel better mentally.
I still have a ways to go as far as eliminating environmental toxins in my life, but I’m getting there – I’m using safer cleaners at home, cooking with stainless steel instead of non-stick pots and pans, and storing leftovers in glass containers instead of plastic ones.
I’m also cleaning up my beauty act. I just became aware that it’s legal in the United States to sell personal care products that contain harmful chemicals linked to cancer and other serious health issues, and I don’t want to take any chances. I’ve been slowly switching my skincare, makeup, and everything in between to safer products. And I signed on as a Beautycounter Consultant to advocate for updated regulations that ban harmful ingredients so we don’t have to worry about them.
Living with a chronic illness is really hard on your mental health, and it played a big role in my deep depression. I’ve had endometriosis for 30 years – the debilitating pain, harsh treatments, and surgeries really took their toll on me. My fifth surgery and anxiety about it triggered a domino effect of health problems. First, I developed a post-surgery skin disease – lichen planus. It attacked my arms, legs and torso; it itched and scabbed like crazy for 18 months. I felt hideous and couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror.
After that, I couldn’t catch a break. I was constantly sick for the next two years – hip bursitis, two dental bone grafts, vestibular neuritis, influenza, and heavy chronic nosebleeds. My body was done with me. And I finally listened. First, I worked hard to heal my mind. Then I learned that I need to be kinder to my body. I take breaks instead of constantly stressing myself, I get the sleep I know I need, I make time to do nice things for myself – like just painting my nails or relaxing and doing nothing. Like I said, if I feel good physically, I feel better mentally.
EVERY SINGLE DAY
Making sure I do all five of these things every day really takes a lot of energy. If I slip up on one (which I do from time to time), I can feel it in my mood. I’m still learning and tweaking. But at least I know something that I never thought was possible – that I can be happy living with depression. I just have to work hard at it.