One of the things I have learned in Morocco is that you just don’t talk about certain things. (Which is why some of you realize there is a gapping hole in my blog). And that’s fine. I respect that. In Morocco things happen behind closed doors and are kept private. If that weren’t the case you would not have total exhilaration when you pass through those high pink walls in a seemingly blank alleyway and enter the nirvana that is a beautiful Riad. Its cultural and I respect that. It’s taken me awhile to learn and sometimes I slip up but mostly these lips are sealed.
But my lips are not sealed when it comes to talking about mental health.
I believe, if you have the strength to speak about it, you should. The silence, shame and stigma that exist around mental health does no one any good at all. There is so much misunderstanding and difficulty accessing resources and information, that we have to talk about it. I recently did and holy crap did I learn a lot.
One of the things I most firmly stand for in this life:
Once you become aware of a condition, it is your responsibility to change / fix / correct or eradicate it.
If you come to learn that a job, relationship, or situation is no longer realistically viable, you must go about the business of changing it. You must. Because once you know you can’t move forward, what other choice do you have? Live with it? Ok sure that’s a choice but damn sister….it’s not a good choice. Do yourself a favor. change things up, solve the issue and move on to a more healthy and happy existence yes? And so it goes.
I have suffered from depression for many years and I have been medicated for a long, long time. When I went to the first doctor in Calgary, she gave me a note that allowed me to stay on government benefits for several months longer than I might have been allowed at the time. It was meant to get me over the stress of moving across the country from Calgary to Toronto. I laughed it off and thought “Whoa, free ticket. That’s pretty cool what you did there.” But I soon came to realize that I was in fact in need of that time. Desperately. In fact, I was not capable of moving, settling in to a new reality with my dad AND finding employment. I really did need a break. I didn’t pick up on that until much later and when I did I was mortified that I actually had an ILLNESS that prevented me being a functioning member of society. I was a victim of my own ignorance. (And that wasn’t the only time! Ha)
Now we all know you can run, but you can’t hide. I have good days and I have bad days and I pretty much cut myself slack on the bad days. But mostly I have been too busy traveling, basking in the sunshine, building relationships and businesses and new languages to stop and think too much.
Lately though, I have been noticing an increase in bad days. It’s been harder to get out of bed and stay out of bed. It’s been next to impossible to get motivated for proper exercise without the benefit of a great trainer. I have had a hard time making healthy food choices or making more than a cursory effort to maintain some of my relationships that aren’t day to day.
I also started to have issues with hives. I’ve had chronic hives for 7 years and I’ve been told to just medicate and live with it. But when I started bursting forth anew on a pretty regular basis, that’s not cool.
These things are problematic for the simple FACT that if I intend to continue living in a country with suboptimal health care, I need to stay healthy. Morocco is not a place to live if you have any manner of chronic illness. It’s just not. So I HAVE to address these issues. And I need to do it without the benefit of western medicine. And let’s also acknowledge that while I do have these two chronic conditions, I have back up plans for my back up plan for getting my meds should something go ary. Done. Safi. Complet. My strategy on both fronts has always been to take the pills, feel better. Done.
So this is where my latest adventure began. Being drugged up to the max dose, not having a doctor handy to consult with, and feeling like something had to change, I set out to ask for help and to help myself.
First stop, I had to deal with my hives. I reached out to an American woman who had recently moved to Marrakech with her kids, husband to follow. She is a holistic nutritionist. Perfect. Hives gotta be about diet right?
I am not new to the itching and when it first started I saw the doctors and did the tests. I couldn’t get most of the tests though because I couldn’t get off the itching meds long enough to actually draw blood. “Elimination diets never work” said my allergist. Ok. But I did scour my environment for causes. I learned about additives and bans and obscure names on labels. And it eventually settled. I take Reactine. Bobs your uncle. Until he’s not.
So I met with this really lovely women, lets call her Charlotte, for coffee, and at the end of the day she said – just go dairy free and gluten free.
Ok WHOA crazy lady. Not going to happen. I am not one to go running off on the latest fad and giving up gluten. I watched my friends do it and not only is it super hard to do, it leads to a really boring diet and a lot of hassle. ALSO, I have friends who are real chefs. I have worked in a hotel kitchen. I know what happens when someone mutters “allergy”. I am absolutely not going to be that person. No way. SO nice meeting you but no.
Oh I thought about what she said. She’s a professional. I value her opinion and education and I believe she believes in what she is saying. But hello….! All sorts of previously held beliefs jumped into my head. This is crazy. There has to be another way.
Then I found myself having a discussion with someone else about depression. I said “I’m medicated. All my doctor has ever offered me is talk therapy as an option. I don’t understand how talking can solve my problems when we all know that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain.” I didn’t say it out loud but my outdated and completely wrong beliefs also included the fact that it’s hereditary and I was likely to get it because my mother said I would.
Well. Thank Frank this lovely woman spoke up and said, “Listen moron. (she was much more polite and yes, I am working on my negative self talk) Depression is totally curable with talk therapy and other strategies and of course you can get off your meds one day, you dumb ass.” (Again, yes I hear the negative self talk and I’m addressing it).
Whaaaaatttttt? I know. I’m an intelligent woman. How did I not bother to Google this over the past 10 years? All I can say in my defense is – I just didn’t. I never actually sat up and said “I am going to challenge what I believe to be true and put some effort into doing research on my own.” Because the doctor is always right. Yes, I am of that ilk.
So two books had been recommended by these two fabulous women. First I started to read The Feel Good Handbook, Dr. Burns. He not only told me I was completely wrong headed about depression but he presented a little quiz that I took which resulted in an evaluation of “severe depression”. Whoa. Time to get serious Black. I might be high functioning yes, but I got get a hold of myself.
I literally read this book with my mouth hanging open. What I had just come to think of as personality traits, or side effects of the medication, are actually symptoms of depression. (Insert retrospective face palm). I have been living with this for so long I don’t even know if I ever knew this and forgot, or if I just never knew.
Did you know that memory loss is a symptom of depression? I thought it was a result of all the weed! Who the hell knew!?
Before going into the meat of that book on how I might fix myself, I had the presence of mind to revert to the book that Charlotte had recommended called A Mind of Your Own by Kelly Brogan MD. Thinking that I could attack the food issues to more immediate affect, I dove in and lookey there – turns out cows’ milk will actually kill you if you give it a chance. I read her book with gusto and her premise is that by removing dairy and gluten from your diet, you can cure depression over the long term. Now I have to admit I skipped over the part about vaccines because I can assure you I do not have any time for anti vaccine talk. None. But the rest of it I figured I could at least try without harm.
So now I am dairy free. I still ingest gluten because removing dairy turned out to be a lot more complicated than I bargained for. I subbed in goats milk for my morning coffee which is great. And I’ve been eating goat yogurt for a long time. Goat cheese is great. I have not ventured far outside my cocoon and haven’t been to a cafe where the words nus-nus just roll off my tongue like a silken thread of delicious cow’s milk freshly squeezed from the udder of a handsome bovine…..(Wow that got out of hand). Americano for me please. I WILL learn to enjoy black coffee. Also, Marrakech has a very singular menu in the majority of restaurants. For example quiche and pizza play a big role. As do panna cotta, chocolate mousse and creme caramel. DAMN. I love a good flan. But alas….. no creme for my caramel. Gluten is a WHOLE other ball of wheat.
So I am dairy free and will tackle gluten next month. One thing at a time. And I’m travelling next week so let’s just take things slowly. Apparently I’m not the sharpest knife in the haystack. (Oh again with the negative self talk). (AND a mixed metaphor!).
HOWEVER, I have to report at this point that I have been dairy free for ALMOST 6 full days. I have not noticed any major changes. I don’t feel different. I don’t look different. I don’t speak different. Nothing. How much patience must I have? When indeed will my life change completely because of this?