The following piece was contributed by Claudia Smith and focuses on her experience of depression and how she managed it in a holistic way, without using medication. So much of what Claudia shares resonates with me personally and fully, and I’m thrilled to be able to share her story with you.
I had always been known as a happy and smiley person. So when depression hit me in my early twenties, I just really couldn’t understand what was happening to me.
I had the classic symptoms: Not being able to get out of bed, extremely low mood, incredible fatigue both mentally and physically, and crying all the time. Looking at myself in the mirror was really upsetting, and it felt much more like looking at a ghost than the person I used to be.
I withdrew socially, spent literally hours staring at the ceiling in my bedroom, and just felt utterly lost. I also really struggled with massive bouts of anger and so my mood was all over the place – just never in the good places.
There were physical symptoms too that caused a lot of worry. The eczema I had up until then suddenly spread from small patches on my hands to my arms, my legs and my face. I had these super sharp hip pains that made me feel like I was 80. I was super tired but my sleep was disturbed, and I would often wake at night and then struggle to go back to sleep. Plus, I felt that I was reacting to so many things in my environment: tons of different foods, pollen and chemicals in household products. I just felt like such a mess, and I kept worrying about how much worse things were going to get…
I tried antidepressants twice but they didn’t help me unfortunately. I saw a counsellor for a few sessions but her and I just weren’t the right match.
Luckily, I then had a bit of a lightbulb moment. I was browsing my partner’s bookshelf and found this big book on nutrition called “The optimum nutrition bible” by Patrick Holford. Having always been interested in nutrition, I started reading a few of the pages and what followed were lots of aha-moments.
I realised that my physical symptoms were very much linked to my mental health symptoms. The eczema, hip pain, allergies were linked to the depression and ridiculous fatigue.
I started to understand that imbalances in my body were contributing to all of the symptoms, and that in order to get better I would need to address the health of my body as a whole.
Over the following months I then focused on restoring the health of my body and mind. I learnt about blood sugar balancing and how to eat for a calmer mind and better mood. I worked on my gut health through nutrition and supplements. I removed foods that I am sensitive to. I started running which made an enormous difference. I took anti-inflammatory supplements.
I also formed a strong new friendship. I changed jobs and reflected on meaning and purpose in my life. I learned about self-compassion and really focused on growing my self-worth and confidence. I went on meditation retreats, learnt about forgiveness and removed myself from negative influences.
All these changes didn’t all happen at once, of course. But once I began to feel better, I felt motivated and empowered and simply took the next best action step. It was a gradual process that unfolded on its own, and it’s left my in a much better place than before I became so unwell.
My experience of suffering from depression lasted for about two years, and that’s now over 6 years ago. The hip pain is gone and the eczema is too unless I eat things I’m sensitive to. I sleep really well at night and don’t struggle with fatigue.
After my incredible experience of overcoming depression naturally, I trained in nutritional therapy and then positive psychology coaching as well. I have been practising for three years and specifically specialised in depression and anxiety last year.
I now help my clients to improve their mental health in a natural and sustainable way as well. We might run laboratory testing if needed to help understand root causes of symptoms. We very much focus on lifestyle changes, so improving nutrition, moving the body, calming the nervous system and supporting good sleep. We also delve into self-worth and confidence, mindset changes, meaning and purpose and more.
So for me, my own battle with depression lead to this beautiful career that I am very proud of. As the saying goes: Rock bottom will teach you lessons that mountain tops never will.
2020 has and still is obviously a big struggle and I’ve had my fair share of emotional rollercoaster rides this year. But my mental health is no longer this big mystery to me. If I feel down, I know what to do about it if I want to. And knowing that means the world.
Claudia Smith is UK based nutritionist and coach specialising in mental health. This is her website and you can follow along on Instagram here.
Claudia’s podcast “The better mental health podcast”: