I remember being a little girl in grade six, at a church function and trying to smile for a group photo.
I thought to myself at that time, “why am I smiling if I don’t feel happy?”.
I recall this moment as the first time that I recognized my depression.
From then on, I would be so terribly saddened during each group photo because I had to work way too hard to raise the corners of my mouth to portray a me that wasn’t really me. When I look back on these photos, it is incredibly obvious that something wasn’t right, in the way that my false happiness never reached the rest of my face. They’re right when they say that the eyes don’t lie. The skin beneath my eyes were purple with exhaustion, my hazel irises barely making its way through my droopy lids.
Depression can really take a lot out of a sixth grader, especially in one who was suffering from undiagnosed ADHD and intense depressive episodes that couldn’t be explained away to her mom or school staff.
The mix of these two draining mental illnesses later created my third and toughest hurdle to tackle- anxiety. The constant misunderstanding and punishment from family and authoritative figures induced a flight or fight response that became constant. My jaw was always clenched, teeth grinding to the point that my dentist had to point out that bad things would happen to my mouth structure if I didn’t become more aware of what I was doing to stop myself from shaking 24/7.
The anxiety of having an anxiety attack became an entire rodeo within itself.
The anxiety attacks I endured would go on for hours at a time. The only thing I could do was find a cold, hard, bathroom floor to lay on and hold myself so tight that my knuckles would turn white. In these moments I couldn’t do anything except ask for help. Help with… something. I didn't know. I just felt like my heart was going to explode and my throat became filled with cement and I could feel every single nerve in my body turn into a needle that was poking me from the inside out. Everything was falling down at once and I couldn’t get into a position that felt humanly right to be in. I would beg for some form of relief, something to fix whatever was happening because I couldn’t do it myself. The consistent feeling that you’re standing on a cliff and could be pushed over and plummet to your death at any moment is an incredibly debilitating way of living.
I began therapy at twelve years old and was put on antidepressants. Although, I quickly noticed that while using them, I felt much mentally and physically slower on the volleyball court and I vowed off of any medication for the remainder of my volleyball career.
Today, I live antidepressant and anxiety medication free. I’ve strategized how to cope with overly-anxious episodes, and I’ve turned to mindfulness and holistic healing techniques in order to actively fight my depression. I love discussing all of the shifts that have made my daily battles so much less strenuous and I’m honored to share one of them with you today.
I began waking up at 4 am a little over three months ago.
If you knew me personally growing up or in my early years of adulthood, you would know that I have always been a late-sleeper, alarm-snoozer, someone who can lay down anywhere and sleep for 24+ hours due to a constant lack of energy and extreme exhaustion. After constructing an entirely new lifestyle, diet, and exercise routine (click here to read about my grueling journey to losing 55 pounds and destroying my addiction to processed food), my hormones became super imbalanced and my sleep cycles took a big hit (learn about the science behind the fasting processes and effects on the body here). I could sleep all night and all day, or I could never fall asleep. If I could, I would wake up every thirty minutes. I was so desperate that I decided to start laying down for bed at eight o’clock each night and setting my alarm for 4 AM to see what happened.
At first, I was jumping out of bed ready to start my day because the whole falling asleep just to wake up thirty minutes later thing wasn’t my jam and I really just wanted to start my daily activities so that the madness could end. A few days in, I began to wake up only one or two times during the night. After a full week, I had a full night of beautifully refreshing, undisrupted sleep for the first time in months. I continued to get up out of bed with ease each morning, never feeling groggy or fatigued, and I actually get excited to hear my alarm sing LMFAO’s Party Rock Anthem to me at 4 am every day. In addition to finally finding a cure for my insane sleeping patterns, I continue to benefit in ways that have made remarkable differences in my energy levels, mood balance, and emotional wellbeing throughout the day:
+ Ever since I fell in love with my mind and the fact that nobody will ever understand it in the ways I get to, I’ve wanted to spend so much more time with it. I want to take in more information, expand beyond the limits I had previously set for myself, test my capacities, embrace it, and everything in between. Waking up early has given me more time in the day to spend alone with myself and my thoughts, allowing me to reflect on them through further exploration and writing. I love that the world is still and calm for a couple of hours each morning, creating the most peaceful start to my day that I could ask for.
+ Providing myself more time in the morning also gives me the opportunity to have a slow, less stressful, and un-rushed start to the day. If I have to sprint around my apartment and run against the clock in order to get to work or meetings and have to skip out on making myself a solid breakfast or taking my dog on her morning walk, I will most likely have a crappy day. Why would I want to purposely put my body into a state of stress that it has to spend the rest of the day recovering from?
+ My digestion has drastically improved. Due to the fact that I stop eating at about six or seven o’ clock each night, my body has enough time to process the last meal I eat and focus on using sleep to repair and reset itself.
+ Starting my mornings with one or two hours of educational or inspirational content, whether it be podcasts or Youtube videos, has also greatly improved my mood stability. Our brains love to learn, they love to be put to work, so giving myself time to take in new ideas, research, experiences, etc. really gives my mind something to chew on first thing in the morning.
+ When I provide myself with enough time in the day to eat balanced meals, get an ample amount of work done, perform solid workouts, and cater to my dog + cat’s walking routines, I am able to spend my evenings focused on the people in my life that I love and creating meaningful social interactions with them. Living in our capitalist, hustle-n-bustle world, it is so common to put social health on the back burner when there are things like paying bills and being a contributing member of society to worry about. But, I challenge you to make one or two weekly or daily goals centered around your interpersonal relationships. My November social goals were the following:
- Do something nice for someone everyday that makes them feel loved and appreciated
- Plan a fun activity with one friend each week
- Compliment two people in person each day
Writing out these goals each month and accomplishing them makes me happy. That has been my goal since I was nine years old. I wanted to be happy. It took a long time for me to recognize that happiness comes and goes, as does sadness, and excitement, and all of the other feelings that we get to experience as emotional beings. As humans, we have limitless potential to take control of the parts of our life that do not serve us, and to completely embrace the parts that make ours and others' lives a little more livable.
+ The feeling of waking up before the rest of the world puts me into my ideal entrepreneur mindset- passionate, patient, purposeful, and positive.
+ My mental clarity is top freaking tier. Decision making is easier than ever before, I’m able to proactively sort through all of the little files, reminders, and ideas that my ADHD brain throws at me throughout the day with ease, and my overall focus has insanely improved.
+ I’m a sucker for sunrises. I love me a good sunrise. Greeting the sun with a gratitude-filled- smile as it flutters its colors across the horizon is better than any good morning text I could ever receive. Unless the good morning text was from my student loan companies and they were texting to tell me that I’ve been granted forgiveness. That would blow a sunrise out of the water, sorry sun.
The most important piece of advice that you should take from my experiences is that you should go to bed earlier. Just try it out. Get all of the things that you don’t necessarily love doing done in the morning so that you can spend the rest of your day tackling your to-dos + your passions, your daily social goals, and spending time with yourself, because you’re a goddamn superstar.
You should be excited to wake up each day, absolutely jacked to have the privilege and opportunity to conquer goals, make a difference in someone else’s life, and continue to develop a beautiful mind.
I encourage you to take power away from the people and things that don’t empower you, use your power of decision making to create or work towards creating a reality that gets you PUMPED UP to hear your alarm every morning. If that means that you wake up with your middle fingers in the air screaming "FUCK DEPRESSION", go for it baby. Scream it out, but then consider going to the gym and using that anger to get a kickass workout in.
Endorphins are a hell of a drug and beat antidepressants any day of the week.
With Love + Grace,