I actually wrote this piece back in 2017, so much changes that I thought I would update to fit in where I’m up to now and explain how yoga fits into my journey…
Going back over ten years ago I was diagnosed with Postnatal Depression. It appeared to pop up out of nowhere about three weeks post birth of my second child. The standard signs were there, disconnection, inability to cope and an unbearable weight of unhappiness. Help came in the form of a family intervention, an urgent after hours visit to a GP and prescribed medications and psychologist appointments. There the process began of stripping back the layers to ‘cure’ this vicious circle.
The journey to some kind of recovery is not a straight path, it comes with dead ends, treacherous and false pathways. The process involved rounds of alternate medications to avoid as many side effects as possible, binge drinking on weekends (against advice) and a conclusion that psychologically I was deemed ‘normal’.
Normal in the sense that there were no events or baggage in my past that caused this, nor any underlying mental illness that needed alternate treatment. There was nothing ‘wrong’ with me other than a chemical imbalance that was causing havoc with my serotonin and my ability to relate to this world anymore, I had textbook Postnatal Depression. Worse still, the misconception that you just fix the chemical imbalance and things just go back to ‘normal’.
After about 10 months, I gradually found the ability to wean off the medication, to try and get some normality back in my life. It was a failure and found myself again back on medication to curb the dark thoughts and unbearable sadness. It wasn’t until I underwent a 10 week course of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine that I saw light at the end of the tunnel. The treatment went to the root of my physical issues which included severe anaemia. It freed me up to deal with the emotional scars left behind by the ordeal which now had been going on for a number of years. Five years past diagnosis, I finally could leave the anti-depressants behind after a physically gruelling process of weaning off the medication.
So as the years flowed by, some coping mechanisms and revelations evolved that were certainly gifts and made the light at the end achievable. Being outdoors was a big part of this journey and process, so here’s how I did it…
Medication didn’t cure my depression permanently
Medication can give you the tools to cope with life, like going to work and getting out of bed. It doesn’t cure your mental or emotional state, it merely masks destructive thoughts and smooths the edges. In fact I personally found medication disappointing, the expectation is that you will feel happy again when you take them, I didn’t. It moved the emotional low point from sporadic suicidal thoughts to become slightly more positive – to just unhappy. I became more stable, but dull, lifeless and uninterested in the joys of life. Acknowledging these facts forced me to look for better ways and have the strength to do anything possible to make things better. Initially being on medication gave me the strength I needed to start and returning to them gave me the strength to continue.
Always consult your personal doctor when weaning off anti-depressants or making any changes to your medication. This is my personal story, however each case is individual and you should be under a watchful eye of your personal doctor whether undergoing Eastern or Western medicine to achieve the best outcome for you.
I had to actively change my path if I wanted to change my destination
Once I had the epiphany of realising medication didn’t fix the issue, it was time to move onto making positive changes in my life. Mild physical exercise outdoors, yoga and intensive meditation seemed to help.
Removal of any preservatives, colours and flavourings from food also made a big difference. Shortly after, the realisation that the alcohol had to go too, cold turkey was the only way. A holistic approach needed to be taken, clean the life to clean the mind. As much as family can support you, it was ultimately my lifestyle that needed to change.
Physical changes improve your emotional health
I found it much easier to cure the outside first. Get your body in shape, practice strengthening the mind with meditation, fuel your body with wholesome healthy foods.
Having the physical conditioning allowed the emotions to take centre stage with strength and determination as a foundation. In fact, to my surprise three quarters of the work was done and I was so much better equipped to mindfully watch the emotions, understand them and become in control of them. The books all say to do exercise, it’s true, but understanding it’s not easy to go out and run, it’s a long pathway to even get out of bed, let alone do laps in the pool. I just did what I could at my own pace.
My life has changed, don’t wish for the past back, be prepared to start again
Once you have had depression, you can never go back to the time pre-depression. You are acutely aware of every rise and fall in your emotions and are constantly on guard against a relapse… thoughts of ‘should I be sad now?’ ‘is this a normal reaction?’ flood your mind as you begin to over-analyse and hypothesise your brain’s next move. There is a constant struggle of comparisons of emotions, normal vs. abnormal, sad vs. depressed… and here floods in the anxiety, the waves of physical debilitation.
Realistically, this process took years, certainly not months. If not anything I had become older, my situation changed and I certainly had changed as a person – as well impacting those surrounding you, whether positive or negative. You’ve lost friends but maybe gained new ones, become wiser and life is different. Once I went out and fully lived again the changes become really apparent. A first world problem and a blatant slap in the face, I could no longer snowboard without crippling anxiety; one thing I have officially decided to leave in my past and don’t plan to revisit! I’ve found more appropriate outdoor activities for my current state that don’t cause such stress.
Anxiety can be your friend
Anxiety is a simple internal switch for me now. It’s the internal wakeup call that tells me something is not right and I need to check in with myself. This could be from being complacent and not paying attention to my needs… it’s an instant reminder to stop, listen and check my path is right. Once it’s acknowledged, it’s usually enough for the breathing to slow, the heartbeats to slow and the cold sweating to stop. The key is the stop and assess, and quickly. Regardless of where I am or what I’m doing, I give this physical moment priority.
Find your thing
Once I came back to the ‘real world’, there was certainly a sense of being out of place. I was happy again, but I felt I had no sense of direction. I needed to rediscover what made me happy, other than my family of course. I needed my own thing. I picked up my photography, ditched the quest for stupid material possessions and started looking for a real connection and nature is where I found it. After a short trip to Bali I had the epiphany to start living life more fully every week, not just on holidays. My first mission was to ‘holiday’ in my own natural backyard in Wollongong… the rest is history for Bushwalk the ‘Gong…! Ultimately though, had I not had Postnatal Depression, I’m not sure I would have found this journey – so that’s something to be thankful for.
I also rediscovered yoga as well as the outdoors. At the age of 13, I read the Bhagavad Gita, a classic Indian text. Combined with a trip to Bali a few years earlier when I was 11 where I became obsessed with Hindu culture – I was on a mission to become immersed in yoga. Yes! Bali seems like a theme here, the spirituality in everyday life is such a constant reminder of gratitude and to slow down.
Over the years I’ve waxed and waned on the journey, some times in life I was completely obsessed, other times I was preoccupied with other things. Time and time again, I always came back to yoga. Learning more, experimenting and studying.
The more I became focused on my emotional balance, the more yoga became a necessity in my life. As a turning point, for my 40th Birthday in 2017 I chose to take a private personal journey to Nepal to celebrate my connection back to life with trekking and yoga. It was a celebration of survival, resilience and success. From there, a pathway was formed where practice become persistent and diversions from the path less and less. Without realising it, the path had become clear without setting goals, but just to letting go of attachments, fears and illusions to gain deeper practice and more tranquillity. What’s not to love?! Yes, it does require intense commitment and effort, but the mental balance I have in return makes it simply common sense.
I find now, the outdoors and yoga is critical for my health; my mind and body crave it to be revitalised and to take on the week ahead. I’ll be looking forward to revisiting this blog in another 12 months to see how things have progressed… stay tuned!
If this story raises issues for you call LIFELINE on 13 11 14 any time or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp . This article does not replace expert medical advice, you should seek appropriate help suitable to your situation.
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Bushwalk the ‘Gong offers free beginner bushwalks encouraging a nurturing and supporting environment for people who wish to enjoy the outdoors with plenty of support. Any questions or feedback can be directed personally to Jenae via social media or www.bushwalkthegong.com/contact