The 21st of March (or the official end of winter) is one of my favourite days of the year and so is the whole month of March as an extension. Because when spring arrives it means that I have survived winter. And this is not always a given when you have depression.
What happened last winter
This winter was particularly important for me because this was my first winter since I stopped medication. As you know over the last few years I suffered one of my worse depressive episodes and started researching extensively depression as I wanted to understand how to manage it.
As I was getting stronger and better at fighting depression on a daily basis I decided to stop medication last summer. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and that I was likely to suffer quite a few side effects when coming off the medication and so I choose to stop the medication during spring and summer which are my favourite seasons and also when I feel at my best.
The psychotherapist I was seeing at the time did not believe that it was the right time for me to stop. I had particularly struggled during the previous winter and we had to increase the medication I was on. So taking the safe approach my therapist wanted me to stay on medication at least another year.
But I had enough of medication. I felt medication had brought me more trouble than support and I still had terrible moments of despair while on medication, even though the medication was meant to regulate my ups and downs.
Coming off medication
And so I choose to stop medication and psychotherapy and to focus instead on using the system that I had put in place for myself as a result of my own research (I will share this system with you below) and hypnotherapy.
I went to see my GP and informed her that I had decided to come off the medication and told her what my plan. For the sake of clarity you should NEVER stop your medication from one day to the next but you should follow the recommended steps. For the medication I was taking it was recommended to slowly reduce the dosage every 6 weeks.
And so I did. I went to see my GP regularly as she wanted to check how I was doing with reducing the dosage. It all went well and 2 months later I was medication free. Just for the record it wasn’t easy and I did suffer just as much side effects while coming off the meds than while starting them (see previous article on the subject: Let’s talk about antidepressants).
My instincts were right. This was the right decision for me. In fact it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Coming off medication empowered me. I could no longer reply on medication to feel ok, I had to take responsibility for my own mental wellbeing.
And this is how I did it.
My mental wellbeing formula
– Exercise once a day
– Practice gratitude
– Increase quality social interactions
o Spend quality time with the people who matter to me
o Spend more time with positive people and less time with people who are dragging me down
– Make my health my priority number 1
o Set myself some goals and review them regularly
– Establish a strong routine
o Get up at 5:45am every day
o Go to bed at 10pm
o Sleep 8hish
o Eat at 7pm to ensure that I have digested before bedtime (this helps you sleep better)
– Ensure I have the best sleep possible
– Work on my body and mind connection
o Listen to my body
Without knowing it at the time I was doing exactly the right thing. I recently read a book on the neuroscience of depression (“The Upward Spiral” by Dr Alex Korb). This book explains that there are 8 chemicals in your brain that are affected when you have depression and tells you how to rebalance these chemicals. It turned out that the recommended actions are the ones that I had been taking and discussing in this blog all along!
What happened this winter
So it was really important for me that my first winter without medication went well. It was the ultimate test to my mental wellbeing formula.
I am giving you here the raw results, the good, the bad and the ugly!
Preparing for winter: setting myself up to win
I used autumn as a test. I set up the actions I mentioned above but more importantly I spent 2 weeks in Bali in November, attending a retreat with my mentor Ed J C Smith, soaking up vitamin D and planning 2018.
This worked like magic for me. I came back to the UK at the beginning of December feeling refreshed and energised. I had a gentle tan (we were indoors working most of the time), I had lost a few pounds but most importantly I felt like I was on top of the whole ready to kick-ass in 2018 in all areas of my life.
What was the most fun about this was how out of sync I was with everybody else at work. Everyone around me was looking pale and tired, waiting for the Christmas break and I was on fire!
I had a very productive month of December, setting up all of the actions that I had decided to take.
My first hurdle was Christmas. I have spoken about this a few times before. Christmas is a hard time for me as it reminds me that I am single and childless. This is the only time of year that I spend with my family.
I have one of these strong families who believe in marriage. My parents are still together and have been for over 40 years (I know, quite a record these days!) and both of my sisters are happily married and have children. So you can imagine who I stick out.
I ended up crying on Christmas day towards the end of the day when it was just me and my parents left but it could have been a lot worse.
I had a few difficult moments in January when I started doubting everything in my life, everything I was doing, pursuing.
But I kept on applying my mental wellbeing formula and it worked really well. The number one thing that has helped me through this particular month was running.
I started the Healthy Lean & Sexy program on the 1st of January and that really helped me stay on track. I talked about this program in more details in “The power of accountability”.
The number 2 action that helped me was doing the gratitude challenge (The gratitude challenge (or the recipe for happiness) and The gratitude challenge part 2: the results).
Something unexpected happened. Something that hugely disturbed the strong routine I had in place. I met someone. And suddenly there is no more getting up at 5:45am to go for a run before work, I am having a drink nearly every day and I eat pizzas twice a week!! But somehow I am not depressed 🙂
After 3 weeks of this new regime I noticed that I have put back on all the weight that I had lost in January! That will not do.
I am also very conscious that I need to get things back on track because spending time with someone special who makes me laugh a lot and puts a smile on my face most days does help (in fact smiling and laughing are some of the recommended actions: 8 actions that will reverse the cycle of depression: part 2) but it isn’t enough in itself to ensure mental wellbeing.
On top of that disrupted sleep, alcohol and high fat food are in fact factors that will get you depressed if they last too long.
And so the last 11 days have been dedicated to getting back on track with the formula. I have exercised 9 times over those 11 days and improved the quality of my sleep.
Yesterday I made a pact with one of my closest friends for a detox over the next 2 weeks. We have each committed to a number of actions that are specific to each of us.
My plan is:
– Fitness: exercise every day
– Food: no alcohol, no cheese and no pizza
You think it’s an easy challenge? Well try that when you’re seeing someone whose favourite food is pizza and let me know how that goes.
And so I am very pleased to announce that this year I did not suffer from depression. I did not break down. I did not have to take time off. I did not have to make an emergency appointment with any therapist.
Instead I had a productive winter. I learned a lot about the mechanics of depression. I feel that my life is back on track. I feel genuine happiness. And spring is just around the corner. Welcome back 🙂
How was your winter? I’d love to hear so leave a comment below.