My mental health journey

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The other day, I wrote a post on Instagram that shared a few things most people don't know about me. Sometimes I find it difficult to be vulnerable, but I've been blown away by the amount of support and love that poured through! Turns out I'm not alone. There were literally hundreds of you who said you had struggled with some of the same things as me. It gave me hope to hear your stories. Many of you asked for more details + things that have helped me through it all. I wrote a bit on my Instagram story, but I thought I might write an actual blog post on the subject in case anyone stumbles upon this blog and maybe needs some comforting words or wants to know what kind of things have helped me.

I've always considered myself a happy and optimistic person! I try really hard to have a positive attitude (though I definitely have my moments where I fail) and my overall goal is to just be happy and grateful! So I never, ever thought I could be someone who would experience depression. I think because of this, it took me a long time to finally realize what was going on. I saw my depression as simply not trying hard enough, and I would feel guilty for not just being normal and happy like everyone else! I kind of always looked at people who were depressed and didn't really "get" it. It seemed like something you could snap out of if you just surrounded yourself with enough positive influences and stopped complaining!

Although I wouldn't wish depression on anyone, I'm grateful for the experience because it has humbled me in ways I couldn't have imagined and helped me understand and be more empathetic towards others. 

I did have some dark periods of sadness throughout middle school + high school, but I'm not sure what could be considered depression and what could be credited to typical teenage hormones. I do remember a bad period of time after a heavy break up and some struggles I had with issues at home, but these mostly seemed circumstantial and not necessarily the same as the depression I experienced later in life. For me, I think I've only truly struggled with depression since about 5 years ago.

I served a mission for my church! And while I am SO grateful for how much I grew and learned from that experience, it's the first time I started feeling the depression creep in. I believe it was a mixture of contributing factors: poor diet (we were fed by church members who had great intentions but would often feed us extremely unhealthy meals), lack of exercise, strict mission rules (we weren't allowed to communicate with family other than a weekly email, only specific music allowed, no alone time, and pretty much working / serving 24-7), high expectations and focus on obedience / number-related goals, and cold and dark winters in the state of Utah where I was called to serve (I thrive in sunshine and nature!). 

I feel the need to add that I LOVED my mission. I grew so close to the Savior at this time and met and taught and helped incredible people as they came to Christ and changed their lives. I don't resent my mission in any way, but I will be the first to admit it was freaking HARD. It sucked in a lot of ways! I was often paired up with "trouble" missionaries who struggled with their own mental illness and obedience problems. This really took a toll on me. The constant struggle to perform, be perfect, and the lack of basic comforts added up. I felt the highest highs and the lowest lows on my mission. As I felt darkness creep in, I turned to Jesus with all my heart. I truly believe He did not leave me alone in my suffering. While it took time to fully heal, I know He never left my side. This is the number one reason I feel like I have survived this awful darkness: my Savior Jesus Christ heals and lives and loves and walked by my side, even when I felt most abandoned and hopeless.

I didn't think of myself as depressed, mostly because I would sometimes have good days. If I was distracted enough then I didn't feel it as badly. It was mostly those moments when I was left alone to my thoughts that the hopelessness would come back into my mind.

When I got off my mission, my life was a whirlwind! I happily married Bryant soon after and was whisked away into honeymoon mode and moved to Oahu (where we live now!). This was obviously a super exciting time of my life, and I felt like I was free from the darkness I felt on my mission! Afterall, I had no reason to feel sad because life was going pretty dang good!

That's the funny thing about depression. It doesn't need a reason. It doesn't even necessarily always feel like sadness. Sometimes it feels like hopelessness. Sometimes it feels like apathy. Sometimes it feels like failure. Sometimes it feels like there's nothing you'd like more in the world than to simply not exist. Getting out of bed feels like an accomplishment.

So here I was, newly wed, living in paradise, and I felt... sad. Like a dark cloud was over my mind. Right before I got married I started birth control. I chose the IUD method because I knew I wouldn't be consistent enough to take the pill and I had heard decent things about it. I don't think my IUD caused my depression by any means - I think depression can be a mixture of circumstances, health choices, hormone imbalance, genetics (it runs in my family), and just downright medical/mental illness (the same way that anyone can get cancer and it's not always your fault or a perfect black and white solution). 

It's so weird, because looking back - I feel like no one really talked about birth control to me beyond just what the options were. The feminists were screaming about how amazing and flawless and wonderful it is and I literally never considered that it could wreak havoc on your mental state. At this point, I believe the combo of poor health (I was still recovering from two years without great exercise or nutrition), getting married and moving to Hawaii (huge life changes), and this new form of birth control were the biggest contributors to depression. 

The first six months were hell at times. I would randomly cry, feel super angry over the dumbest things (I've always prided myself in being a "chill" girl with no drama, so why was I suddenly giving my husband the silent treatment?), and most days wake up with a feeling of hopelessness. My biggest ally was distraction: I poured myself into my business, making new friends, and just being as social as possible. 

Over time I knew something had to change. I didn't want to get the IUD out (because I reaaaally wasn't ready for kids at that point) and so I made a decision to work on my health. We went from eating mostly quesadillas and pasta to suddenly integrating mostly plants and fresh foods into our diet. Luckily Bryant's mom is an awesome holistic nutrition expert who helps people heal for a living, so I was in good hands. She really helped me learn how to be in tune with my body and figure out what foods were helping and hurting me.

My depression got better before it got worse. I think I had some good months in there. Mostly, it would come back around "that" time of the month. I never had bad periods my whole life, but I would PMS for 2 weeks straight - just feeling absolutely exhausted (I would sometimes sleep for 16 hours at a time) and just sad / hormonal. Looking back, I think I brushed it off because like I said, I'm a happy person! I chalked it up to a personality flaw that I could work on. Everyone around me was happy and I had no legitimate reason to feel so sad, so it must just be something I was doing wrong.

The next year I decided enough was enough. I started taking my health even more seriously. I tried a vegan diet (made me feel like total crap and I had no energy. I know it works for some people, and I had even been vegetarian for 8 years, but I know it's not for me now. I would maybe like to try it again some day when my health is better but for now it's not the best choice). I ate SO healthy almost all of the time. In some ways, I think I became obsessive with "clean" eating. You know how medical students get that thing where they believe they are ill because they're constantly reading about diseases? I think that happened to me, but with health. When you read every illness with the vague symptoms of "tired after a meal, getting bloated after dinner, etc" (which btw, are completely normal things that happen to normal healthy humans - don't freak out) then suddenly you believe you have every problem in the book. 

Over time, I realized I was being a little too crazy about being healthy and in turn created even more mental turmoil for myself: I couldn't enjoy a simple meal without thinking about eating perfectly clean. 

Lots of things happened in between, but I felt myself get deeper into a depression. Even on good days, I felt like there was this dark cloud just hanging over my head at all times. I would literally take naps day after day to just simply avoid responsibilities and living life. Finally... after the brain fog, fatigue, and many other symptoms (and tons of research) I decided my birth control was holding me back. At this point I was exercising regularly and eating healthy, so the missing puzzle piece was my IUD.

I got it taken out and I had never felt worse in my entire life. Turns out there's this super fun thing called "The Mirena Crash" where women literally feel suicidal / completely off their rocker after their IUD gets taken out!! Wow guys, it is just out of this world how much hormones really do affect who you are as a person and how you act! The week after I quit birth control, I had a MELT DOWN. I would be walking on the sidewalk with Bryant and then suddenly start balling and lay on the ground in a fetal position. I'm not kidding! It sounds so crazy thinking back to it but I was so deeply, deeply, depressed. I didn't feel suicidal per se, but I definitely felt like I didn't want to exist. I didn't want to wake up and do life. I didn't have the motivation to shower or even make food for myself or really do anything I loved. All of this was wrapped up in one of the busiest periods of the year (I was shooting 24/7) and so sprinkle some stress into the mix and I was a straight up MESS. My poor husband!!

It took awhile for me to feel okay again. And then it went from okay to amazing. It took time... but it happened.

It's so strange looking back at this experience while I'm sitting here now feeling like a million bucks inside. The dark cloud has lifted. There was light at the end of that tunnel. I took the plunge and hired an online coach who had me counting macros and strength training at the gym. Previously I ate mostly plant based and still didn't have much energy. Now I'm eating 500+ more calories than I did before, focusing a ton on getting plenty of protein + healthy fats and carbs. I am eating SO MUCH and it feels amazing. I am lifting in the gym and actually seeing so much more progress than I ever did before (I was always a runner / at home workout kind of gal). I truly feel balancing my macros and lifting weights has changed my life. I know going off of birth control was the right decision for me. And I know that without the support of loving friends and family, as well as the constant companion of The Savior, I wouldn't be here today, happy and alive to tell the tale. This is the longest stretch in 5 years that I have felt complete peace inside. I can actually feel the light inside of me and the dark cloud has lifted.

Depression is like any other illness. It's not black or white. Sure, I think healthy eating and exercising will always help + make things better, but I don't believe it's necessarily 100% the solution. I think all of us are different. If you find yourself struggling with depression, please don't hesitate to talk to someone you trust. Even if that means hiring a therapist or counselor. There is NO shame in treating an illness. You do not have a personality flaw. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not crazy. You are not "above" seeking help or taking medication or spending money on your mental wellbeing. It is an ILLNESS - just like cancer or anything else that needs treatment. My journey is my journey. You may have similarities, but you are as unique as your treatment may be. I believe the majority of people will experience some kind of depression or anxiety in their life, and I hope that you will find the strength to figure out what gets you through the tunnel. If you identify with anything in my story and have reason to believe you may be in the midst of depression, please don't hesitate to take action, even if it's as simple as telling someone about it.

You are loved. You are not forgotten. There is light to be had, and I know you will get there some day. Don't give up. Don't lose hope.

xoxo Heather

Tips for self care:

- Get off social media when you start feeling the jealousy bug or just generally feeling like crap about yourself. I can almost always connect the dots back to using social media way too much when I start feeling really self critical.

- Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Don't say anything about yourself that you would be angry about if someone said the same thing about someone you loved. On that same note, be kind to yourself and your journey of self love. You're probably never going to be perfect at self love, but that's okay, you gotta still be kind to yourself about that too. 

- If you're a busy body like me, plan out some "pointless" time each day for you to spend doing something that's 100% completely NOT productive. Try to avoid anything electronic for this one. I suggest making art (even if you suck at it), going for a walk, watching the clouds, taking a bath, reorganizing a room in your house, calling up an old friend or relative, going to the pet store and playing with puppies (or playing with your own animals), just sit there and listen to music, play an instrument, etc. Just pick something pointless and try to do it for 10 minutes. I think this helps the whole "perfectionism" and performing thing - at least for me. 

- Write advice for someone going through the same thing as you. For some reason I learn more when I teach others. So if I'm struggling with depression, I write out what I would say to a friend going through it. I look up quotes, inspiring talks and books, and just write out everything I can find on the subject. Pretty soon you have a good resource for yourself to read when you're feeling down.

- If you struggle with being productive, spend 10 minutes doing extremely basic but productive things. Focus on just one task at a time and keep it SUPER simple: literally just take a shower, drink some water, make your bed, maybe wipe down the counter. Organize your books or wash a window. Doing something super small yet productive can help increase your self esteem and make you feel like less of a waste for the day.

- Be open and honest about your capabilities. If you feel overwhelmed by a social obligation or keep saying yes to too many things, start saying no. Just be honest and say you have too much on your plate.

- Write a blog post or a journal. Record a vlog. Just get it out. Delete/rip it up if you don't want anyone to ever see it.  

- Make a happy playlist. Sit down and make your ultimate feel-good playlist with all the songs that truly bring you joy. Play it while you doodle/clean the house/paint your nails. Appreciate the small and simple things that make you feel a glimmer of happiness.

- Spend one-on-one time with a loved one. Specifically seek out someone else who maybe doesn't get a lot of attention or doesn't have a lot of friends. The harsh reality is that we are not the only one suffering in the world. I know whenever I focus on serving someone else, it always makes me feel a little better. I try to focus on someone else who may be feeling lonely in school or church.

- Write a gratitude list. It sounds so cheesy but makes a world of a difference for me. Just write what you're grateful for, even if it's the smallest things. 

- Lastly, if you just absolutely do not feel motivated whatsoever to do a single thing on this list, allow yourself a day off. Or a few days off. Just sit back and do nothing. You are not worthless for taking some rest. Make a promise to yourself that you will start being productive when you're ready. If it lasts for more than a week, promise yourself that you will seek professional help. 

Scriptures + quotes that have helped me.

Isaiah 49:13 Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. 14 But Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me. 15 Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. 16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me. (You are not forgotten. You are His child.)

Matthew 10:29 Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30 But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. (He knows you more than anyone else. He cares for every inch of you. We may not always understand what He is doing with our life, but he reassures us that He is walking through the storm with us.)

Alma 7:11 And [Jesus] shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. 12 And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. (Jesus suffered for us so that he would know how to better understand, heal, and comfort us.)

"You are not forgotten. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances may be, you are not forgotten. No matter how dark your days may seem, no matter how insignificant you may feel, no matter how overshadowed you think you may be, your Heavenly Father has not forgotten you. In fact, He loves you with an infinite love. Just think of it: You are known and remembered by the most majestic, powerful, and glorious Being in the universe! You are loved by the King of infinite space and everlasting time! He who created and knows the stars knows you and your name—you are the [children] of His kingdom. The Psalmist wrote: “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? … For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.” God loves you because you are His child. He loves you even though at times you may feel lonely or make mistakes. The love of God and the power of the gospel are redemptive and saving. If you will only allow His divine love into your life, it can dress any wound, heal any hurt, and soften any sorrow." - Dieter F. Uchtdorf

“That love never changes. … It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve it. It is simply always there.” - Thomas S. Monson

One of my favorite talks about depression.

My favorite book I read that changed my life and the direction I was headed.