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Suffering from any illness is tough. However, it seems some illnesses are considered more deserving of attention and care than others. The illnesses that cannot be tangibly seen become ignored or are considered “not real”. In particular, mental illness is ones disease that is still not fully respected by society. And while society has traveled a long road from decades ago in its understanding of mental illness, there is still so much more we all need to learn.
There are still many people that believe depression can be cure or alleviated by going outside for a walk, or eating clean food. That shifting our schedules around for more “me” time and taking on a new project would ignite some undiscovered motivation and drive.
It’s not to say that for some people these approaches to treating depression cannot work. They just did not work for me. And, the guilt of not being able to control my emotions despite a very good environment and support system was becoming crippling.
Depression Teetering Tightrope
It feels like I am constantly walking a tightrope between have a normal day or falling into a black hole. One day, I can be feeling really good. Happy. Bubbly. I have drive. I am creative and my mind is flowing with thoughts and ideas. And then, out of nowhere, things change. Unprompted negative thoughts start entering my mind. At first, the negative thoughts come slowly. But, then a few hours later they pick up speed until they start flowing rapidly like an obnoxious heckler from the stands. Telling me I am no good. I am a terrible person. My family would be better off without me. They deserve better. No one needs to deal with me and all my issues. EVERYTHING I do is a pathetic waste. Don’t bother speaking – no one cares.
I don’t wake up thinking my day is going to be perfect. I know unicorns and fairies don’t exist. I strive to make the best of each day, even when it’s a chore to get out of bed and simply take a shower. There are just some days when my emotions become so unbearably heavy and overpowering.
The heckler knows every vulnerable spot and source of insecurity. The heckler knows just how to wear me down to the point of tears in a matter of minutes. I can be in the middle of the grocery store, watching my child’s hockey game, pumping gas, or blow drying my hair. It does not matter where I am or what time of day it is. The heckler comes in and out of my life like a phantom.
My heckler is the beginning of my depressive episodes. Sometimes it only lasts for a few days, but sometimes it can be for a few weeks. Then, I’ll wake up and the phantom heckler is gone, and I feel good again. But it never lasts. The depressive episodes always come back. Again and again.
It was not always like this for me. As a kid, I was always happy and ready to laugh. Things weren’t perfect, but I felt good. I was more resilient to negative events or situations. As a teenager, this began to change. I began to feel tired all the time. My emotions began to feel overwhelming. This was the beginning of my depressive episodes.
My parents brought me to a psychiatrist. We talked about what was going on in my life. She tried to press for any issues that would explain my depressed feelings and episodes. But there wasn’t anything. My life wasn’t perfect, but it certainly did not merit my feelings. I just didn’t feel good and I had no idea why. On top of it, I had intense guilt for not being able to think my way out of being depressed.
The doctor diagnosed me with a “chemical imbalance” and prescribed Zoloft. I felt better. My emotions felt lighter and easier to manage. Things that would have felt overwhelming in the past felt like the grain of salt they were supposed to be. However, over time, things began to feel heavier. I felt more distant from the person I knew myself to be. It seemed as though the Zoloft was losing its effectiveness.
As life went on, I chose to discontinue the Zoloft. My husband and I wanted to start a family, and I was not comfortable taking Zoloft while pregnant. I just couldn’t find enough evidence or research to make me feel as though it was safe to take Zoloft during pregnancy.
Five years passed and we were blessed with four children. I still struggled with depressive episodes. They seemed to cycle faster (didn’t stay in depressive state as long), but also seemed to come on more often. Once again, I was filled with guilt. I had a wonderful family and a husband who was beyond supportive. Why could I shake these feeling for them? They deserved better than what I was giving them emotionally.
Why couldn’t I just feel better?
It didn’t make sense to me. Was the change in my depressive episodes a result of having kids and a change in hormones? I wanted to know what about my body changed to change the frequency of my depression. What was I missing?
Finally an Answer
In January of 2015, I received my missing piece of information. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. There is a direct link between Celiac Disease and depression. According to Celiac Disease (Newly Revised and Updated): A Hidden Epidemic, there can be many causes for depression in Celiac Disease such as,
- Depression and celiac disease exist independently as separate conditions in the same patient
- Depression may be a reaction to the illness, resulting from years of chronic, painful symptoms, of never feeling well
- Depression may be reactive to the restrictive lifestyle of celiac disease
- Depression may be due to the malabsorption of nutrients
- Depression may be related to thyroid or adrenal disorders
- Depression is related to the inflammatory (i.e., immune) response in celiac disease
- Genetic Influence
None of the above causes for depression are considered exclusive. I personally can relate to each and every one of these causes.
According to BeyondCeliac.org, a person with Celiac Disease is 1.8 times more likely to develop depression than the general population. BeyondCeliac.org also goes on to state:
- According to various studies, there is a possible link between brain functions and malabsorption, which is the inability to properly absorb nutrients from food
- When the intestines are damaged, more substances are able to pass through the gut and into the bloodstream. It has been found that some substances have an impact on brain function
- Adopting the gluten-free diet can help alleviate depression symptoms for people with celiac disease
- Depression can occur in people after diagnosis because of the significant impact on daily life and the challenges and stress that can come with managing a chronic condition and the gluten-free diet
- Depression has also been linked to non-celiac gluten sensitivity
The Gut/Brain Axis
You may have heard the gut referred to as the “Second Brain”. This was first discovered by Dr. Michael D. Gershon. He is the author of The Second Brain: A Groundbreaking New Understanding of Nervous Disorders of the Stomach and Intestine and the chairman of the department of anatomy and cell biology at Columbia. In the New York Times, Dr. Gershon says he believes the connection between the gut and brain to be one that was “unpleasantly clear”. It is because the gut can influence us mentally, emotionally, and physically through the production of neurotransmitters. It is also where 99% of the Neurotransmitters in the body are created.
Sometimes the way in which the gut shows us its connection to the brain is not always favorable. Hence, depression.
Unhappy Gut, Unhappy Life
Depression absolutely sucks! I sympathize with anyone who suffers from it.
At the same time, I find it comforting to know that there is something physically tangible that can explain what is going on inside my body and why I was feeling depressed. A simple walk outside wasn’t going to fix my inflamed intestinal system. Celiac Disease freed me from the guilt I had for feeling depressed. The chemicals I needed to feel “happy” where not being produced.
There have been times when I believed my depression was a mental game. That I just needed to find a way of controlling my thoughts and emotions. I truly believed I could think myself “happy” or talk myself out of it. And, every time, this belief usually left me in a state of hopelessness.
Since being diagnosed with celiac disease, I am still suffering with depression. I am still working towards healing my gut. My episodes of depression have become less frequent and far less severe. There are even weeks were I feel pretty solid and steady. I have been working hard to heal my gut, and I do feel as though my depressive states and episodes have decreased. I am not sure if I will ever be fully cured from depression, but it certainly feels incredible to have the guilt lifted.