Yesterday was the most beautiful day in southern Oregon since the winter weather set in nearly four months ago. It was one of those magical days of crystal clear skies and unusually warm weather. However, no matter how many crystal clear, blue sky days God sends our way, no matter if it’s summer or winter, no matter if we’ve not a care in the world – life can seem like a dark hole we’ll never find a way out of. And if you have Parkinson’s, this can be especially true, given depression is a very real symptom of this disease.
I’ve written on this subject before, but when I walked out to the big windows in my living room and smiled as the sun’s rays filtered through the glass, I thought about my comrades in arms who battle this disease alongside me and those who don’t but who battle depression regularly and often find themselves frequenting (if not living in) that dark hole. They live in a place where they fear there is no escape and feel trapped in a life doomed to darkness. And it’s a very real place, whether brought on by disease, grief, stress, seasonal change, or the like.
Before diagnosing yourself and thinking you’ve got this depression thing whipped and soon you’ll be experiencing spring, remember that whether you’ve got PD or not, depression is a disease. If it’s due to more than a change in seasons or grief over the loss of a loved one, you may very well need some help to do more than just cope with life and actually begin to live again.
Susan Polis Shultz said, “Getting better from depression demands a lifelong commitment. I’ve made that commitment for my life’s sake and for the sake of those who love me.” Depression usually isn’t a once in a lifetime occurrence nor is it like a 24 hour flu bug, where it’s here today and gone tomorrow. It is usually a lifelong battle that will require a lifelong commitment, as Shultz said, to get better.
There are, however, several things we have in our armory of weapons to fight against this monster.
* Keep moving. When we sit around and do literally close to nothing all day long because of our depression, not only is our dopamine production off balance but our outlook becomes skewed by sitting and focusing on how awful things are. We need to (sometimes literally) force ourselves up out of that permanently molded spot on the couch, turn off the TV and quit listening to the news for a week and go for a walk each day. At a park. At the mall. Around the block. Get out and do something. Anything. Clean out your shed. Shovel snow. Plant some flowers for the spring. Wash your car. Get out and do something. Anything.
* Eat healthy. When I was pregnant with my second child, I determined to be as healthy as I could physically in order to prepare for her birth. Having my first child entailed a very difficult birth – an experience I hoped to avoid the second go around. I asked the doctor what was the best thing I could do to (hopefully) keep that from happening again. He said to walk every day. So I did. There were days I had to FORCE myself to do it. But I did. Then something began to happen. I began to WANT to eat better. I began to think that if I’m doing all this ‘work’ to get in ‘shape’ for the birth of my baby, why would I want to counteract that work with filling my body with junk? I began replacing Milky Ways with oranges and nectarines and the like. Eating healthy doesn’t just mean nixing the junk food for healthy alternatives but cutting back on portions and also finding out what foods help in fighting depression (fresh berries, sweet potatoes, etc). Eating healthy is a battle for me but I know when I do, I notice a big difference.
* Do something. And I would add – for someone else. Part of our struggle in depression – whether diseased induced or otherwise – is we tend to focus on ourselves. How bad we feel. How bad life is for us. If we are actively, physically involved doing something – anything – we will find ourselves in a much better place emotionally and mentally and doing something – anything – for someone else will only add to the improvements in our mood. Pick some of those flowers you planted and take them to a neighbor. That snow you shoveled? How about the neighbors sidewalk/driveway? Fix an extra dinner or dessert plate and take it to a lonely neighbor or ask them in to eat with you (even better). Volunteer at a local charity/food bank center. Do something you keep putting off like that woodworking project you keep promising to do with your son.
* Get your Vitamin D levels checked. Most of us with PD are extremely low with Vitamin D. This plays a big role in energy and mood. Make sure to be tested to see if you (and most likely you will) need a supplement. You will notice a huge difference, if so.
* Talk to your doctor. Talk to somebody. Many times when you’re down or depressed, just talking to someone makes all the difference in the world. I once attended a conference where the woman speaking said if everyone who needed a listening ear had one good friend they trusted and could talk to over a cup of coffee, 95% of psychiatrists and counsellors would be out of business. Sometimes, though, it takes more than a friend. And sometimes when you’re depressed you don’t feel like you have a friend. Talk to your doctor. That’s what they’re there for.
Muhammad Ali said: ‘When a man says “I cannot”, he has made a suggestion to himself. He has weakened his power of accomplishing that which otherwise could have been accomplished.’
You can beat this monster. But you have to get up and not give up. Get moving, even if it’s a trip to the doctor to ask for help. Do something. Do anything.