I loveeeeee October.
Not only is it my birthday month, the holy grail of Mother Nature’s magic and beauty, and the time of year where I feel convicted to wear fifteen layers of vests, scarves, and plaid while inhaling all things pumpkin spice, it’s also a month that advocates awareness for one of the leading mental illnesses that impacts millions of people all around the world every single day. One that claims the lives of many who see no way out of it. One that I have personally experienced first hand to the point that it almost consumed me entirely. One that I think is so crucial to talk about, because there are many suffering in silence when I believe they don’t have to be.
There are many types of depression ranging from post-partum to clinical to bipolar disorder and anything in between, and I would never want to discount the severity of one type over another or lump them under one general category because I know each type is so very different for anyone having gone through it. I have personally only ever been a victim of clinical depression, so I can only speak to that, but I do have a passion for sharing my struggles with anyone going through any version of this disorder, because I don’t want anyone to ever have to face it alone or embarrassed as I did for years.
So, in honor of National Depression Awareness month, I want to – in the most non-cheesy, non-judgmental, non-preachy way – share some tangible tips that I truly believe helped me overcome my personal battle this ugly beast. And I list these in this very specific chronological order because reflecting on my personal journey, I realize that every little thing I did to jumpstart my recovery led immediately into the next in this exact pattern.
Please please please….hear me out when I say that I am in NO way making any major medical claims here that everyone can relate to, and this is NOT intended to be a roadmap for everyone to follow verbatim. So, heed my disclaimer to take this blog for whatever worth it is to you at your own discretion. Also understand that this is a VERY vulnerable and raw and real side of myself that is not easy for me to share, but I am using my story as a platform to reach others and to also give myself more liberation and strength in doing so.
This is my comeback story.
#1 – I didn’t take my life…but I did decide to take it back.
Last June I hit an all time low with my depression and decided I was done with life.
That is seriously THE. HARDEST. thing I’ve ever written, and I honestly feel a twinge of guilt and fear in exposing that reality for the whole world to see — especially to the ones who don’t understand what I felt in that moment because it’s not a war they’ve ever had to fight for themselves. But I feel like it’s so important to acknowledge what happened because it is such a crucial part to my story of how I got to where I am today and where I am going. It’s important, because though I am definitely not proud of that particular moment, I am proud of how far I have came with every moment since then. And while I know not everyone suffering with depression is suicidal, I know for a fact I the number of people who do succeed with it is a growing statistic I lose sleep over, because I feel compelled to use my story to do something about it. And while there’s no magical cure for just ‘’opening up about my feelings” on the situation, I do think there’s a safe place of understanding and encouragement here for those who can relate.
So, there. I said it.
I’ll spare the specifics of that night and the ugly truths from my past that haunted me for years leading up to that point, because it’s honestly not the most important part of the story here, but I will share the major turning point that changed it all for me.
I CHOSE not to go through with it.
Now, hear me out. I know depression itself is NOT a choice. It’s an illness and in many cases a chemical imbalance that everyone going through feels different levels and degrees of. I know for a fact that it does not matter how successful or blessed or well off or “happy” you appear on the outside because you only feel what’s diminished and broken on the inside and often have no idea WHY you even feel that way.
I don’t believe anyone ever chooses depression, but when it comes to whether or not we survive it, I truly believe — I have to believe — that we do have a choice to make. And we are in full control of that choice, though I COMPLETELY empathize that it can be a highly complex and overwhelming one to make when our judgment is hindered by the thoughts and lies that this illness fires our way.
Everybody has different reasons for the path they choose when they arrive at the crossroads of ending it quickly or managing it over time, and I can only speak from my own journey as I chose the latter, but I believe one of the hardest things about my personal warfare was deciding to show up to the battleground in the first place. Because once I decided, it was a constant decision EVERY. DAY. from that point forward to put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing pull myself out of it. And I knew I couldn’t do it on my own.
That’s what made it even harder.
Because admitting that I needed help to someone I loved and also someone I didn’t know very well when I consulted with my doctor? Well, that was a beast of fear and shame and tough choices all over again in itself.
Nevertheless, I CHOSE to take control of what I could. I CHOSE to get professional and medical help for what I couldn’t. And I CHOSE to take my life back, one day at a time.
And, as I would soon learn, that in itself was already half of the victory won.
#2 – I got help.
There very well may be people out there in this world who thoroughly enjoy digging up bones from their past and spewing out their feelings on a cold leather couch in some stranger’s office with a psychology degree hanging on their wall and a notepad in their hand. I cannot denounce that those people might truly exist, but I can promise you this.
I am most definitely not one of them.
However, I knew that my battle was one in which its complexity and deep roots were too much for me to bear on my own. I needed help. So, the first person I told was my husband — who was probably the only person in the world who knew how bad my symptoms were getting because he came home to my emotional roller coaster every night and rode it front row.
I want to get to my point here because y’all are running a marathon here to read my story (as per usual because I always have a tendency to ramble…) and I am SO grateful for your persistence, buttttttt I do want to take a quick couple paragraph detour here to give credit where credit is due, because my husband was absolutely my rock during this unstable season of my life. If you have ever been with someone who is deeply depressed but can’t relate because it’s not a war you’ve ever had to fight, you know this can be such a hard place because you often have no clue what to say or how to help. On the flip side, if you are the person drowning in an illness you can’t explain to your partner who doesn’t resonate with your struggle, you have so many feelings of frustration, guilt, hopelessness, loneliness, and even bitterness.
Looking back now, there are distinct moments in my mind where I know deep down I did not deserve the grace and patience and love he was trying to give despite a situation he couldn’t understand or control, because I was most certainly not giving it back to him in return. But just like the vows we spoke the day we became one and committed to the long haul, he clung to me through the “for worse” and “in sickness” part of our story anyway.
I thank God daily that walking AWAY FROM me was not an option in his book. Only walking FORWARD WITH me every step of the way to my recovery.
To get back on track here, we both sat down on the edge of our bed one night and decided that it was time to seek guidance from someone on the outside, because we were both clueless and overwhelmed. The very next day we went to the doctor together and she prescribed some medications and referred me to a therapist right away.
Now, I have always considered myself a social butterfly, but when it comes to exposing the tender spots of my heart to talk about my feelings to someone I barely know, I’d rather just keep to myself and pretend it’s all good in the neighborhood. Because the truth is, I am so incredibly afraid of judgment, rejection, and disappointment.
So, if no one else will say it, I will.
Therapy sucks. Hardcore.
While I literally hated every routine follow up and depression screening and “tell me how you feel about that” interrogation, looking back now I know that it was absolutely necessary for me to be able to get over myself and the fears I had in coming clean about my problem. This was essentially the bump-set-spike for the next chapter in my story, where I learned the beauty of opening up about my depression through the very platform you’re reading these words from right now.
But I’m getting ahead of myself here…that one deserves its own special section in this blog.
#3 – I opened up.
Hey! Remember that one time I told you how much therapy sucks?? Yeah, my opinion still hasn’t changed since we last talked. But I must confess that therapy was indeed the catalyst that taught me how to channel my feelings and document my journey in a way that fostered my creativity and fully embraced one of my greatest God-given passions — writing.
At first it felt silly and I thought my therapist was crazy when she suggested I journal my progress daily or even write a letter to my family about my struggles, but over time it really became my release. I don’t know the science behind it, but there was something about putting the pen to that paper or typing it all out that allowed me to really organize my feelings into patterns and connect the dots for myself as to what triggered my feelings. Although it wasn’t a requirement, I somehow rallied up every ounce of confidence and courage to turn a series of my journal entries into a blog post to open up about my depression, because for some reason it was easier to confess what I was going through safely on the other side of a computer screen than say it face to face to my friends and family who honestly had NO IDEA I was even experiencing all of this.
You can find that blog here, and can I just say how TERRIFIED I was to actually hit that “submit” button. Because once it was out there? Y’all, it was out there. My words and secrets were officially exposed to the world for all to see and judge and yes, reply to.
I NEVER expected to get all the positive feedback and support that I did from publishing that one single post. It was to my surprise….liberating. Comforting. Humbling. It was also heartbreaking getting hundreds of anonymous and public responses from others brave enough to raise their hands and say “Hey, girl. Me, too.” That was a major turning point for me — because once I realized there was nothing to be ashamed of because I wasn’t alone on the battleground — it almost gave me permission to forgive myself, love myself, and really focus on my fresh start of moving forward with my recovery, arms locked with the new tribe I had officially found to encourage me every step of the way.
#4 – I changed my diet.
Y’all, I have a VERY low tolerance to medications.
In fact, I believe there is still embarrassing footage floating around somewhere out there of me when I woke up from anesthetics after getting my wisdom teeth removed, flirting with some other sorry sucker in the recovery room who was just as whacked out on hydrocodones as I was. Ohhh, yes. He was most definitely a sight for sore eyes (or, should I say sore gums) and we were a match made in heaven, both sporting chipmunk cheeks, glazed eyes, and a cotton-mouth full of bloody gauze that kept falling out with every slurred pick up line and helium-induced-sounding laugh we exchanged.
I can’t tell you his name, what he looked like, or even what his phone number was that he illegibly scribbled on the napkin I was using to wipe the drool off my chin, but I can tell you this — ever since then I have had a serious complex with ever wanting to take prescription drugs again.
That’s why getting on antidepressants to relieve my issues was such a personal struggle for me at first. I had been on and off things like Citalopram and Xanax for years to help manage my symptoms, but hated the way they made me feel — or should I say, how they didn’t make me feel. While they helped me to not be so anxious and upset all the time, they mellowed me out almost to the point where I just didn’t feel anything at all. I was just…empty. Foggy. Numb. Like I was just floating through my life on a rain cloud, but it was somehow all okay now and keep running on autopilot. And while I would of course never ever shame anyone for getting help this way because at least they are getting help, I knew deep down it wasn’t something I personally wanted to continue forever.
This was such a hard place for me because I really wanted to feel emotions, but I knew I had to learn to manage the intensity of them better. And the only way I knew to manage the intensity of them better was to use something that physically changed the chemistry of my body and the way it functioned. I mean, after all, depression is largely a chemical imbalance, right???
So, I took the gosh darned pills.
I continued this vicious cycle until about a year ago, when a friend introduced a nutritional detox program that forever changed the game for me and allowed me to toss those pill bottles in the trash for good. Which, by the way, coincidentally came at perfect timing since I just so happened to find out I was pregnant shortly after. The shocking yet exciting news of our little nugget was the final nail in the coffin to my journey with antidepressants because I personally opted to not be on them during my pregnancy and essentially quit them cold turkey. Which is probably frowned upon and annoying to every medical professional ever – as I was reassured over and over by my highly qualified OB that there are little to no proven risks for expectant moms using certain medications – but I didn’t care because hey…I have a five minute degree in Web MD and Google, thank you very much.
So, yeah. Peed on a stick….check. Quit pills…check. Drastically changed my eating habits….checkkkk.
Do all the big stressful life changes at once, right?
Now, before you roll your eyes as to WHY I possibly thought it was a good idea take part in something like this I just want to point out that our digestive tract is home to over 80% of our immune system. Also, over 90% of our serotonin — which is our body’s natural neurotransmitter that is responsible for our overall well-being and happiness — is produced there. For those of you who are scientifically and medically challenged like me, I’ll save you the time of Googling all this terminology and tell you that it just means we often tend to feel how we eat and treat our gut.
To summarize here, better food = better mood.
Not everyone’s cup of tea, I get it, but for me this concept made perfect sense and aligned with my personal health goals of wanting a more holistic approach to getting to the root of my depression problem. It focused on getting me healthier from the inside out by resetting my gut, balancing my blood sugars, eliminating toxic buildup, improving metabolic functions, and **ehemmm** changing my body’s chemistry —–> which ultimately boosted my serotonin levels over time. Not to mention, it was easy to adapt and safe for baby!
So I did the gosh darned thing and took part in this “cellular cleansing” sorcery and became the girl who suddenly valued good nutrition and water intake instead. Don’t panic…I didn’t starve, and I most definitely wasn’t confined to the bathroom for a month, as many people might assume when they hear the word “cleanse.” I was still able to wear white pants and maintain a social life and go about my day as a very busy and very, very pregnant middle school teacher.
And before anyone hates on me… I’ll have you know that my tiny human grew to be a perfectly on time and healthy 7 pound 10 oz meatball and I did not jeopardize her health or my health in any way. K, thanks, byeee.
I won’t lie. I was kind of a skeptic initially, as most people naturally are when it comes to these kinds of things, but wouldn’t you know it…this silly little detox plan actually helped me self-diagnose and identify certain food triggers that set off a lot of my depression symptoms –like chronic fatigue, migraines, debilitating digestion issues, and lack of energy/apathy. After over a year of learning what does and doesn’t serve my body through practicing the skill of moderation, my levels have now stabilized and my symptoms have subsided and I am officially — wait for it — DEPRESSION MED FREE FOR LIFEEEE. And I rarely ever take any other kind of meds, for that matter!
That’s right…no more loopy love fests with random strangers in recovery rooms for this girl.
#5 – I focused on filling my vase.
Okay. I know I probably sound crazy with this analogy, but stay with me, here.
First, let’s have a mini intervention. There’s something you should know…
Hi, my name is Caitlin and I have a slight addiction and obsession with all things Rachel Hollis.
If you have no freaking clue who this woman is or have never subscribed to her podcasts, followed her Instagram feed, or especially read her latest book Girl, Wash Your Face, you are seriously missing out. I don’t say this lightly when I say this book CHANGED. MY. LIFE. and my outlook on my recovery journey.
I won’t give any spoiler alerts and won’t judge if you have to secretly Wikipedia her, but for the sake of the point I’m trying to make here just know that she is the bees knees when it comes to practical life advice about how to handle all of your messy life issues.
One of the greatest takeaways I glean from listening to her wisdom is this one analogy she always makes about comparing herself to a vase standing under a continuous flow of things like happiness, gratitude over blessings, health, self-care and hygeine, personal time, rest, nutrition, adequate hydration, exercise, and energy — basically all essentials needed to truly thrive in life. She talks about how often times as women especially we are so worried about filling up everyone else around us that we are constantly tipping this way and that way to sprinkle good things on our babies and spouses and friends and family — but we do it in such a way that we eventually tip over so far to get any last little drop out that we fall. Break. Shatter. When if we would just stand tall and strong and let all these little blessings pour into us and fill us up, eventually they would naturally overflow to those around us without us having to try so hard to keep it all together.
This is SO real. How in the world can we expect to keep up with all the hats we wear in this life if we are constantly pouring from a vessel that is never really satisfied or full to begin with? No wonder so many of us are barely keeping our head above the raging waves that depression and stress and anxiety try to drown us in!
So… how exactly do we “fill our vases” when there’s only so much time we have in a day that doesn’t involve punching a clock, paying bills, wiping butts, folding laundry, juggling ball games and parent teacher conferences and Pajama Day Fridays, or rolling through Mickey D’s drive thru for the fourth time in a week to feed your hooligans because you haven’t been grocery shopping in like four hundred years and you’re THAT level of exhausted?
I’ve got two words for you.
(I know, I know…don’t all roll your eyes at once…)
I must confess that I truly SUCKED at this in the beginning. I thought it was so cheesy and cliche, as I was never much of a “love yourself” kind of person and tore myself apart daily with self-degrading talk and head trash that I wasn’t worthy of true happiness or that quite frankly, I just didn’t have the time to make myself a priority. In fact, my philosophy used to consist of making myself so busy doing everything for everyone else, that it would somehow distract me from what was really going on beneath the surface.
Y’all, this homegirl needed some WORKKKK to get over her “too stressed to be blessed” mentality.
My self-help journey was something I had to REALLY open my mind to and discipline myself to take it seriously until became a habit. I learned it didn’t have to be elaborate or fancy or excessively time consuming, just intentional focused tidbits here and there in the nooks and crannies of my day to make a huge impact over time.
At first I started small…then it snowballed into bigger changes that I STILL work on today. Each morning I tried to start my day off with a five minute devotion or quick meditation/prayer before my feet even hit the floor. I learned to speak affirmations to myself while getting ready, even though it felt SUPER awkward at first to refer to myself as “a life-breathing, vision-speaking , truth-seeking world changer” while simultaneously popping a zit, plucking my eyebrows, or sitting on the toilet. I listened to different music that motivated me and gave me an extra pep in my step. Sometimes it was Mandisa, sometimes it was Shania Twain, annndddd sometimes it was Nelly. I plugged in to podcasts and soundcloud calls in my car on my way to and from work. I listened to audiobooks while folding laundry or washing dishes if I couldn’t find the time to sit and physically read a book. I changed my closest circle of people with ones who filled me up with positivity and ambition to reach for the next best thing instead of ones who emotionally drained me with negativity and drama. I looked for new opportunities that gave me joy and fulfillment in life and learned to say ‘’no” and let go of some commitments that really weren’t worth the stress or headache anymore. I learned the power of schedules and routines and strategies instead of running 12,197 miles an hour like the energizer bunny trying to do all the things with caffeine courage and both arms swingin’. I set aside intentional ME time each day to decompress in a healthy way, whether it was hitting the gym or doing a DIY facial or organizing kitchen cabinets because somehow color coordinated tupperware arranged by sizes and shapes from left to right gives me a sense of serenity unlike any other. And before I hit the bed every night I journaled or silently reflected on 3-4 things from the day that I was genuinely grateful for…even if it was the crummiest day ever and I just wanted to sulk in self-pity and binge eat an entire sleeve of Oreos while watching Grey’s Anatomy on Nexflix to relieve my sorrows instead.
Though it may sound crazy – and though I’ve certainly not arrived anywhere yet by any means as I’m on a constant journey to growth – I know I am a heck of a lot farther down the road to recovery than I ever was before I learned to crack open a book or pep talk myself in the mirror. I truly believe that when you learn to change your habits and mindset, it changes the way you think and speak and do everything else in your life.
But here’s the thing…as my girl Rach would say. Personal growth has to be personal. It has to stretch and challenge and change YOU, before it can change any situation you are working through.
And when YOU change and show up in the world as the best version of yourself that you can possibly be, the strangest thing happens.
It changes everyone and everything else around you, too.
When I look back on these action steps I took to get to where I am today, I realize how seriously 99.999% of it came with an open mindset of wanting to get better and being unapologetic throughout the whole process. I had to really start looking at myself as not needing to be fixed because there was something wrong with me, but more like needing to be restored because there was massive potential within me.
This whole process has been exactly that — a restoration still in the making, and one that will likely always be because nothing worth having or becoming happens overnight. It’s like reaching into the depths of my broken heart, tearing it down to the frame to find the source of what isn’t working anymore, and reassembling the nuts and bolts of the person I want to become one by one over a lifetime until it somehow becomes something beautiful and whole and functioning again.
I believe they call this building your legacy.
There’s no specific blueprints or diagram to follow. Just the vision I hold in my mind, the hope I hold in my heart, and the tools I now hold in my hands to get the job done in God’s perfect time.
So…if this resonates at all with you…if you have ever been in that dark, scary, suffocating space of constantly questioning your worth and potential in this fierce world that feels like it’s spinning off its axis into the deep end most days, I just want to point out something remarkable to you.
You are still here.
YOU are STILL here.
And I am here with you, too.
I am so deeply glad to my core that we are in this place of healing together.