As I was midway through my run this week, I realised that I rely on exercise a hell of a lot to keep my mood and emotions in check. If I don’t exercise for a couple of days then I’m not much fun to be around. I haven’t always been like this. I’ve been a couch potato and I’ve been in Biggest Loser territory where I spent every evening, yes every evening, in Macca’s drive-thru. I was addicted to those McChicken burgers for a very long time. It was a sad break-up really. I miss the mayo. Still. In 2008, I was depressed and I was suicidal. I attempted to harm myself a couple of times, fairly half-hearted I must admit. I’d swallow my anti-depressants which were not helping even a little bit, followed by bourbon straight from the bottle. All it did was make me feel sick. I wanted to vomit my guts up. And I did. I was admitted to hospital a few times and visited numerous counsellors, psychologists, you name it to try and work out what was ‘wrong’ with me.
Not only was I fat but I felt completely out of control of what I was putting in my mouth. I didn’t even rationalise it, I just ate it. The way I saw myself was as a big fat slob who would never be healthy because she was too lazy to put in the effort. I picked up bad habits very easily but I also passed these unhealthy traits onto my best friend at the time which wasn’t far on her because she stacked on the weight as well.
This week an email from one of my favourite authors, Marian Keyes, arrived in my inbox. I was thrilled because a few years ago she stopped writing because she was suffering from depression. Now she has released her latest book, Saved by Cake, where she shares with us some of her favourite recipes. While she is a fiction author, I was so happy to just read anything by Marian and that she was finding everyday things like cooking, baking etc to help lift her out of her depression.
“Saved by Cake is an extremely honest account of Marian Keyes’ recent battle with depression, and how baking has helped her. A complete novice in the kitchen, Marian decided to bake a cake for a friend and that was it – she decided that baking was what she needed to get through each day. And so she baked, and she wrote her recipes down, and little by little her depression started to lift… along with her sponges”
I can relate to Marian’s need to find some small purpose to get up each morning. And sometimes it just can’t be your partner. Or your kids. Or even your job. Marian needed something that was just hers. She needed something that would keep her mind busy, while she was unable to write any new novels, and so she took up baking.
Lately I’ve found cooking to be very therapeutic. It feels like I’m setting myself a small goal – to cook something that I’ve put time and effort into with fresh ingredients and a desire to stay healthy.
When I was at my darkest moments I would gorge on fast food and rarely walk more than 500m up the road. I sat in my room and I let the depression engulf me. And it ate me alive for many years – it stole so many precious moments from me and it showed a very ugly and selfish side to my personality. I don’t pretend that I had the power to lift myself out at that time but I just wish I found the secret sooner. I was letting the past control my future and I was blaming those around me who loved me on problems that couldn’t be resolved neatly. I’m a “we can fix it” kinda gal so this infuriated me.
I was mad at the world at having been dealt so much pain. Why do things keep getting harder, I thought. Why can’t I wake up in the morning and not want to kill myself. Some weeks my first thought as I woke up was death. I would punish myself for thinking these thoughts and wonder when they were going to end.
The only time I really felt the weight of depression lift was when I took control and tried to think of the small things in my life that made me happy. I was overweight and I wanted to be healthy so I joined the gym and committed myself to being a stronger person, not just physically but mentally. As I lost the weight, slowly, part of the old me disappeared. I was no longer letting myself play the victim, I was in the driver’s seat taking control of what was happening in my life.
The only other thing that helped lift me out was not God, or my partner at the time (although she was my backbone during those dark nights) but it was the sun. The sun freed me and made me feel like it was taking care of me. As I left the comfort of the gym and started running outdoors – the sun always had my back. It warmed me and it still to this day makes me feel at peace. I finally felt safe and more importantly happy in my own company again.
This is why I have given a great deal of thought to my next tattoo which will read –
“Rimani nella luce del sole”
Which is Italian for “stay in the sunlight.” It’s a metaphor for my life really to remember where I have been and where I want to be. I don’t want to hide in the darkness anymore, it is cold and uninviting. Depression is a lonely and isolated disease and sometimes it makes no sense why it creeps up on you. You just have to keep holding onto those small moments that make you happy.
Those moments shape your life, even well after the depression has lifted and you feel as though the sun has returned. Appreciation for the small things in life – mine are taking a warm bath; reading a book; hanging out my washing (lame, I know) but these are all the things that keep me going. And let me reflect.
So Marian was Saved by Cake and I was saved by the sunshine. Sometimes it’s the simplest of life’s daily rituals that will unbuckle you from the depths of your depression. It may not be a person, or your career or those things you’re ‘supposed’ to feel happy about. Look closer.
Have you ever suffered from depression? What saved or is saving you?