A Simple Solution to Depression? It Doesn’t Exist

P4150038T.S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

I remembered those words yesterday, as I strolled around the Holistic Health Fair in Annapolis. Presented by the Maryland University of Integrative Health, it occupied three floors of the Loew’s Hotel devoted to massage therapists, acupuncture specialists, detox experts, yoga instructors, and professionals from all kinds of local healing and wellness centers.

Ironically, they were all the same professionals that I met ten years ago when, at the lowest point of my breakdown, I decided to drop modern science like a boyfriend with bad breath and go the holistic route. I was sure that someone had the one and only solution that would heal me of my inner demons, the magic urn of ancient cat pee, that with only three sniffs of prehistoric urine, could set my psyche back in balance. So asked everyone I knew: “Where is the path to the magic urn?” And they all pointed me in different directions.

I followed all the paths. To yoga instructors and acupuncture specialists and massage therapists and recommended naturopaths. I took Chinese herbs and banged magnesium packets against phone books because that’s what the instructions said. I paid psychics to describe the color of my aura, and to tell me what helpful and frightening things it had to say about my inner life. I listened to tapes of mystic healers like Caroline Myss, as I knelt in child pose in our bedroom closet with a candle lit.

I listened to friends and relatives who told me that my medication was toxic, so I weaned off almost all of my drugs.

I did not get better.

In fact, I got worse, and was hospitalized a second time.

My psychiatrist tried a few combinations of drugs and recommended that I return to psychotherapy.

I did get better but the remission lasted only two years.

Ten years later, I know the hard truth: that there is no simple answer to depression.

If someone tells you they have the cure—whether it be Prozac or Chinese herbs or an anti-stress oil for $30 or six amazing sessions of therapy—my guess is that they are more concerned about paying their mortgage than being a companion with you along your health journey. No one who has spent less than a year with you can really know what you need to feel better. And if it doesn’t require hard work on your part—like getting up in the morning to exercise, or eliminating sugar, alcohol, and processed foods from your diet, or exploring some type of relaxation and meditation tool you will use daily to de-stress—it won’t last.

Unfortunately, nothing worth having comes easy, like the Sheffield band said.

As I walked around the room yesterday, I felt older and wiser. The gray hair framing my face and the crows feet around my eyes showed the difference between who I was ten years ago and today. But more so I noticed the newfound confidence I have in my own health philosophies that don’t fit neatly into any category—holistic or traditional. I embrace both of them and more. Yes, the last ten years have certainly been an exploration, like Lewis says: learning what works, what doesn’t, and how to handle the stuff on which I’m mixed. That’s why I attended the fair.

I knew that some of the services and items being sold at the booths might very well help me manage my illness, but that none of them could possibly claim to be the answer for me, as some of their literature suggested, because my situation is as unique as everyone else walking around the room. Acupuncture did not help me, but I have friends who have benefited from it; the “detox bars” that can supposedly fix my depression had ingredients that would worsen my mood—however, they might help someone with a sweet tooth who can’t stop eating Hershey bars at work.

Ten years ago, I would have listened to each person’s sales pitch and believed their every word, adjusting my health vision yet again based on some new information. Now I know that I am the expert on my health, not my friends and relatives who are anti-medication, or my integrative doctor, or my endocrinologist, or my psychiatrist, or my therapist. I know what works because I have been dutifully logging the results of things like diet, exercise, and stress-reduction tools in a journal for the last ten years. I have my own reliable data!

Psychiatrists offer an important piece of the puzzle, but only a piece. Most do not talk to patients about the substantial effects of diet on mood, or how getting your heart rate into the aerobic zone every day can fend off suicidal thoughts. Most don’t touch meditation practices or relaxation techniques, either. It’s not entirely their fault. If they take insurance, they don’t have time to discuss anything other than medication and recommendations for a psychotherapist.

Holistic doctors and naturopaths offer another valuable perspective, but, again, only a piece of the puzzle. The herbs and essential oils and relaxation CDs they sell are the easy stuff. What’s hard is living your life in a holistic way—which involves daily exercise, and lots of trips to the grocery store, and taking time to cook. Wanting a bottle of special herbs to bring peace of mind is natural, but it’s not going to bring long-term, substantial results.

Nope, nothing worth having comes easy.

And that includes a solution for depression.

Join Project Beyond Blue, the new depression online community.

Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.

Published originally on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

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10 thoughts on “A Simple Solution to Depression? It Doesn’t Exist

  1. Great column, Therese. My recent diagnosis of complex PTSD, I have found out, cycles throughout my life. Which explains a lot, and how I cycle in and out of deep depressions. Getting the dx of PTSD was scary and life changing in ways. I am still going through a grieving process for this. Right now I do feel better. But I also have to realize that there will be dark times again, as has been the pattern through out my life. I have to build up my tool chest to deal with them, get through them, and get into the light again. This is my reality, and I am finding most people in my family and friends do not understand. But I do have a few friends who do, and even those who don’t understand try to give as much support as they are able. Thanks so much for you columns. They really help!

  2. Therese, thank you so much for writing this article, although I’m a bit late to read it. I get so frustrated by these articles, even those written by so called experts, that profess, “5 Easy Steps to Cure Depression Forever”, and similar titles. Publishing this type of information does nothing but frustrate those suffering from true major depression. When they don’t get their “easy fix in 5 steps”, they feel as though they are a failure. I have dealt with chronic major depression or MDD for 20+ years and I can tell you there are NO easy fixes. Especially those of us that are medication resistant to anti-depressants. I appreciate your realistic stating of the facts!

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