Depression can leave you feeling alone and isolated. It can impact your well-being in different aspects of your life including: spiritual, emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, and social. For me, all the areas were impacted in some way. In this post, I will talk about these areas and what I did within each to manage and overcome my depression. It’s important to keep in mind that all areas are interconnected and what worked for me may not work for everyone. That’s why it’s important to seek professional help and speak to a counselor when experiences challenges and difficulties.
Being religious and being spiritual are different. When talking about holistic wellness, my focus is on the spiritual rather than religious. Spirituality for me is my personal connection with God or a higher being and the different ways that I pray or talk to Him. It does not necessarily involve a specific prayer or a book, it’s the thought and feeling that He is looking over you and you are on this earth with a purpose. I connect to God through meditation, prayer, nature, and my values. When I was suffering from depression, as mentioned in my previous blog post, I had lost my connection with God. I was in a dark place and could not see the light. Another aspect of my spirituality includes attending a place of worship designated to the remembrance of God. However, due to my school and work schedule, it became difficult to go to Jamat Khana and attend prayers. I did not realize that I was losing touch with my spirituality until a close friend, who has seen my spiritual side, pointed it out to me. I just broke down crying when she confronted me because in that moment I realized that I had lost a big part of myself. I felt sad and relieved at the same time. Sad because I allowed myself to get to a point where I let go of my spiritual side and relieved because someone saw that and realized that’s not like me. I began saying a personal prayer everyday and talking to God. I began meditating, when I could, to reconnect with God and slowly I began to see a small light in the darkness that I felt.
Next was my emotional well-being. While depressed, I not only felt psychological pain but it literally felt like my heart was in pain. I would have crying spells when I was by myself, whenever something was said or done that triggered my feelings of sadness, and in counseling sessions as I disclosed what was going on in my life that had gotten me to that point. Although focusing on my spirituality helped manage my emotions, it was not enough. I had to incorporate other techniques to overcome the emotions bringing me down. I began doing mindfulness breathing exercises, listening to meaningful music, writing, exercising, and talking to my counselor. I also allowed myself to feel the emotions I was feeling to increase my awareness and truly understand myself even if it was emotionally draining. After all, the feelings are going to stay there until you feel them and understand them.
Although my environment was not always negative, it could have been more positive and supportive. When I speak of environment, I refer to the places where I spent most of my time: home, university, and work. My home, especially my room, turned into a space for me to really allow myself to feel sad and be vulnerable with myself. I was able to save my intellectual and social energies while at home and stay to myself. Being around my family was hard because I did not want to break down in front of them and, at the same time since they weren’t aware, I was questioned and constantly reminded that my appetite had decreased and I was not able to attend Jamat Khana as much as I used to before. When I would attend classes at the university, I would have difficulty concentrating but would have to push myself to interact with my peers and participate in class discussions. I did not feel comfortable showing my sadness even though I was surrounded by people who have a masters degree in counseling. School was a place where I wanted to be known for my contribution and intelligence, not be considered emotionally weak. Although I was open that I was depressed and going to counseling, I did not get the support I thought I would being surrounded by mental health professionals. The work environment was the worst. It is there that I realized that I may be an empath and pick up on energies and emotions around me. I sat in a corner seat away from most people to avoid feeling others’ “stuff”. One day, I was forced to sit in another seat surrounded by different people, each one experiencing a different emotion. The office itself seems to consist of negative energies within it. I broke down because I could not separate myself from the negative emotions of those around me. I did have a couple of colleagues who were supportive and knew somewhat of what was going on with me. They became my support system and the people I reached out to when life became tough. One additional environmental factor that impacted me was the political climate in the U.S. The fear from the immigration policies being changed and new proposals being made consumed me. I began wearing a chakra bracelet and a crystal stones bracelet to help me feel some sense of healing and grounding. I also trained myself to channel the energies and emotions around me so that I could separate what belonged to me from what did not belong to me.
Stress Meter ROYG
My financial struggles were related to the fact that when I began my PhD program, I dropped down to working part-time making half of what I made as a full-time employee. Additionally, I had my personal expenses and the cost of tuition to worry about. This caused me to become less social due to the concern of having to spend money on going out with friends. I also stopped making travel plans or doing things for myself that I enjoyed because of the costs. I came up with a plan to pick up extra hours at work and just had to learn to be ok with cutting out things from my life, temporarily, to focus on my goal of getting my PhD debt free. I also realized that being social is a part of who I am and that self-care practices is what keeps me going. I came up with ways of being social and taking care of myself without spending much money. Quality time with people you care about and with yourself does not require eating out or doing extravagant activities.
The intellectual area of my life is where I experienced the least challenge. Although I managed to continue attending my classes, contributed to the discussions, completed my assignments on time, and passed my classes with all A’s, I felt a struggle. I knew I had not been giving it my all and that I was losing motivation and interest. I would mentally check out as my peers and professors would be talking causing me to miss out on some of the conversations. I was functioning better in this area than other areas of my life but deep down I knew I was capable of doing much more and being more creative and innovative. I made it through the spring semester at this functional level but decided that summer semester would be different. It had to be, especially since I was taking 3 classes in a span of 8 weeks! I was able to find my drive, interest, and motivation again. After all, education and school have always been my resiliency factors since I was a young child.
Although I enjoy being a mental health counselor, I was not satisfied with my occupation or job at the time. As a counselor in the state of Georgia, you are required to obtain 3 years of post-master’s experience before you can apply to obtain your independent license to practice. I still had one more year left and I had joined my job with a goal to get all my hours from there before leaving for another opportunity. As an associate license holder, it is difficult to find a job that provides a fair and a steady income. I believed my job contributed to my unhappiness and harmed my quality of life. Although there was some flexibility, it was not enough because business needs always trump individual needs. With my financial expenses I even considered going from part-time to full-time and almost went through with it until all those around me advised against it and reminded me of my real goal of getting my PhD on time and how the job was making me unhappy because there was no room for growth. I also had to keep reminding myself of my goal for remaining at the job, to get my post-master’s experience for licensure. I also reminded myself to be grateful and appreciative for the job and the help I was able to provide to thousands of individuals struggling from mental health and substance abuse issues.
Physically, my biggest concern was my loss of appetite. I had been working on losing weight and getting toned prior to my depression. I was working out regularly and eating healthy. When the depression hit me, I continued to exercise but had no interest in eating. I used to crave sweets and chocolates regularly but those were the first things I could not stand eating or being around. My favorite meal of the day is brunch but I was lucky if I ate one meal in the day. Luckily, my loss of appetite did not cause me any health issues. I was taking vitamin supplements such as: fish oil, D, E, B12, etc, drinking gatorade zero, eating salad once a day, and eating cereal for breakfast sometimes. I was informed about trying St. John’s Wort and L theanine to help me with my mood. I wanted to beat this depression without using prescription medication (depending on the severity, prescriptions are helpful and needed) so I thought something herbal would be appropriate. Luckily, I also did not experience sleep issues. Along with doing cardio exercises, I began playing a sport called Throwball. This is an Asian sport, somewhat like Volleyball. I decided to join not only to gain some physical strength, but also because this was something offered by my religious community allowing me to work on my social well-being and interact with people while helping me cope with the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Socially, I felt isolated and alone. The only people I saw were my parents at home, my classmates at school, and my colleagues at work. This was not enough for someone like me who is a social introvert. I enjoy trying new things and spending time with friends and people. This was another area that contributed to my depression. Although realistically I was aware that I have friends who care about me, I felt lonely. I thought that no one truly cared or else they would check in with me and see how I was doing like I had usually done with people. I did have people check in on me but these people were the ones I least expected to be there for me. I was disappointed and hurt but I realized that this process had allowed me to know who was truly there for me and who wasn’t. I also had to be realistic with my time. School and work required a lot of my time, leaving me with very little for myself let alone for people around me. The journey of obtaining a PhD or being in a higher education degree program, as an adult, can be very isolating. People, who are not a part of it or have not been a part of it, do not understand how demanding and challenging this journey can be. I began playing Throwball because, at the time, it worked with my schedule and it was an attempt for me to feed my socially neglected side. I met up with friends for lunch or dinner to catch up. This was helpful because I had realized, with the help of my counselor, that the only way I could eat an actual meal was if I was around people in a social setting.
It’s not easy to know and admit that you may be suffering from a mental illness. It’s also not easy to disclose it to someone you love, let alone a counselor who is a stranger. It’s important to keep in mind and understand that counselors are trained to help you understand your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Some counselors, like me, do not just know what they know from research and books but also from personal experiences. You do not have to agree with everything they say but they are there to guide you and see things from a different perspective in order to gain insight. I was lucky that my anxiety and depression did not turn into thoughts of suicide. Without proper help, mental illness could get severe to a point where it could cause someone his/her life. Holistic wellness requires consistent practices and reflection. It’s a lifestyle change that incorporates mind, body, and spirit. I practice this lifestyle for myself and it is what I help my clients understand and learn. Although I made changes in all the areas in my life that I listed above, it did not happen overnight. You can feel better and happy again but change takes time and patience along with resilience and will power. One of the first questions you have to ask yourself is “Do you accept what’s going on and are you ready to make the change?”