Republished with permission from Cassandra Cardy, a student in Red River College Creative Communications program.
I dipped low this summer. I have dipped before in my life and usually justified the feelings of sadness and guilt with hormones or growing up.
I got up, left the house without saying goodbye to anyone like I was doing every day, and I got into my car.
I didn’t know where I was going but I had a phone number my friend gave me a couple weeks ago and I couldn’t live with myself another day. I don’t like saying “myself” because from February-August I was not myself. In fact, what I was experiencing was a deep longing for my old self. I missed her. I missed her like I missed a dead person, like she was never coming back. I don’t know how, when or why she left.
I drove down the highway toward town with nowhere to go. No desires. No wants. No purpose. Nothing was making me want to do this again tomorrow. There was no point to any of this.
I pulled into the truck stop I drive by every day for 20 years and parked in the foreign parking lot with semis and road-trippers using the bathroom.
I call the number for a mental health nurse my friend gave me. It rang and it rang and her friendly voice came on at the end and said to leave a message. I rested my head on the steering wheel.
Forty-five minutes later I was in Brandon putting a Toonie in a parking meter. I stepped around the smeared tent caterpillars on the sidewalk while walking to the downtown clinic.
I walked passed the brochures on suicide and abortion. I walked passed the pile of sticky Home Sense Magazine on the coffee table waiting room. A lady’s head stuck out from behind the admin counter and when she looked at me from over her glasses I began to sob.
“I need help.”
I learned a lot about myself this summer. I learned a lot about health this summer.
You don’t have to experience tragedy or have a horrible childhood to be depressed. You can have everything around you cheering on your happiness and still feel empty.
Just like how you can eat kale every day and never microwave your plastics and still develop cancer.
I got help from a counselor and what she really did was teach me how to help myself. She showed me tools. What makes you feel good? Do those things. That’s how you beat depression.
I was often in denial between our meetings. I would wake up, put on jeans and mascara, be productive and think, hey maybe it was all just a short phase. I would be embarrassed I even thought I had a problem. Then I would find myself leaving a room full of loved ones to sit by myself in frustration because I felt like I didn’t care about any of them.
I’ve always believed in self-healing and good nutrition, thanks to my Mom. I made it clear with my doctor and counselor I didn’t want to be on anti-depressants.
It’s hard. You have to be on your game. You have to be focused. You have to be present and self-aware. You have to make decisions and sacrifices. But it’s worth it. Being happy is always worth it.
I have some tips for you on how to nourish your mental health. We all have mental health just like we all have cardiovascular health. If you want to be in great shape, you have to run every day.
My 5 Tools for Good Mental Health
Working out is always the best part of my day. I used to be reliant on a good sweat session to brighten my day, if only for a couple of hours. Nothing else matters in the gym and I am in control. I leave feeling accomplished, energized and always feeling better than when I came in. I’ve heard of doctors who give patients the option of starting an exercise routine or trying medication. That’s how much of an impact it has on your mood. You obviously are also improving your physical health so it’s a win-win.
Specifically, I want to mention High Intensity Interval Training. Short, intense bursts of work, followed by longer recovery intervals has balanced my hormones and gives me a real boost of energy. I like to put the treadmill on as high of an incline as possible and alternate between walking and running for 20-30 minutes. If I have a bad day and I didn’t work out, I can usually say this is the culprit.
I am going to link below my favourite meditation on Youtube. I haven’t mastered sitting on the floor on a cushion, with candles lit, in complete silence, Gandhi meditation. I do set time aside in my day to put headphones in, lie down on my bed and go through a 20-minute guided meditation. I’ve mastered the walk home from school meditation. Try feeling every step you take and appreciating every colour you see. Breathing deeply.
I don’t really remember why I started. One day I just made myself do it and I couldn’t believe the energy I felt surge through my body. It’s actually insane. It’s the yoga experts’ dirty little secret to success. Meditation is powerful. I have listened to many TED Talks on meditation, mindfulness, and envisioning. Brené Brown, Bob Proctor, Eckhart Tolle, and Vishen Lakhiani are my favourite. Some of the most successful people in the world meditate every day.
My absolute favourite meditation: 6 Phase Guided Meditation by Vishen Lakhiani
3. Low Carb Based / Whole 30
Nutrition has always interested me. I read articles, I try recipes, I change lifestyles all the time. I’ve done vegetarianism, veganism, high carb, low carb, IIFYM, Carb Cycling… Sounds crazy right? Maybe you don’t even know what half of those are but that’s okay. All I know is I am thankful for all of it, especially macro counting. I counted macros for about a year. This means I tracked my protein, carbs and fats. I learned so much about what is actually in food and how they make you feel. You don’t have to go this route but it is very interesting to know what foods filled me up, what foods left me hungrier than before, what foods sent my stomach turning and bloating and what foods made me crash on the couch for a nap.
I realized my morning bowl of high fibre oatmeal was spiking my blood sugar and making me crave carbohydrates for the rest of the day. Not that this is bad, but I hate cravings. I hate constantly thinking about food and hunger. I started replacing grains with vegetables and adding more nuts and fats for energy instead. I stopped drinking anything with sweeteners and eased up on all the sweets and highly processed sugars. I feel amazing. I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life. Life is hard when your body craves sugar all the time.
Of course, I love ice-cream. It is my favourite food. I believe in eating toast with cheese on the weekends with my Mom. I am all for balance and treating yourself, but implementing this diet has drastically improved my mood balance. I don’t go up and crash, I don’t crave foods, I don’t binge on unhealthy foods and feel bad afterwards. I feel really full after all my meals and don’t feel the need for a nap. I don’t think about food for hours. I crave carrots and apples. I drink a lot less coffee. So strange but so relieving. I have spent so long looking for the answer and I found it. I feel stabilized.
I recommend reading “It Starts with Food” by Melissa Hartwig. Who knew my mood could be so closely linked with what I was putting in my mouth?
4. Hanging Out With Myself
My counselor had me fill out a questionnaire. She added up my results and asked me if I knew I was an introvert. Introverts stayed in a dark basement all day right? That’s not me. I’ve never been called an introvert. She enlightened me on whom an introvert actually is.
It means I recharge when I am alone. I genuinely like to spend time with myself and do what I want to do. I don’t like to unwind with a large group of people or sit at a loud bar after a long week. I like to shower, watch a movie, read an article and go to bed early.
I don’t like to ask others for help. I prefer to do things on my own. I don’t need a partner to go see a movie or try a new coffee place. It’s nice if my friend can join me but if they can’t, I am totally okay with it. Sometimes I would rather just go on my own.
This doesn’t mean I don’t like speaking in front of crowds or making people laugh. I still love a concert and the energy of a full room. I love when strangers approach me on the street and I am known to start conversations on a bus, but I am also an introvert.
I’m no hermit. I just have a reliable best friend in myself. I am especially happy I learned this about myself because I don’t have to feel bad about saying no to social events or parties. I know it’s important for my health and well-being that I do what is right for me.
5. Alcohol and Me
This took too many embarrassing nights, weeks of depressed thoughts and self-loathing, to realize, alcohol and I just don’t mix like we used to. With a fragile mind that needs tending to every day, it’s not in my best interest to throw all my progress away with a 26 of vodka. Scientifically, alcohol is a depressant. It makes you feel great then it can leave you feeling incredibly awful, physically for most, but for myself it is mostly mental. As much as I miss the crazy nights and going out every weekend, I know it’s not something I can do right now. I hope you know that it’s okay. I’m still working on it too. I find it hard to not get caught up in a party scene or just keeping it down to one drink. I want to keep working on finding my balance.
So far I’ve found nobody really cares if you don’t go to the party.
Like I said, it is work. For some of us every day is a full day of self-care.
I didn’t think I could change my diet. I thought carbs were life. I never thought I would be the girl to ease up on drinking. And since when was I an introvert?
I don’t think you have to have a mental illness to use these tips. These are just things I do every day that make me feel good. I want to be the best I can be. I want to attract the life I want. I don’t want to lose Cassandra like I did earlier this year. I have worked so hard to get to this point.
It all started with asking for help.
There are people that can show you your tools, like I showed you mine.