• Well-being

    Depression 101

    I always say I’m a jack of all trades, master of none.  If I’m having a good day, I think it’s awesome that I know a little bit about everything, that I can do just about anything well, maybe not exceptionally, but competently.  If I’m having a bad day, I think that’s great and all, but no one hires the person who’s OK at a bunch of things.  You hire the expert and I’m not an expert at anything.  Except I am.  I’m an expert at depression.  And I really wish I weren’t.  I don’t want to make a career out of depression.  I want to leave it behind me, but I have to admit that living with it since I was five pretty much makes me an expert, though I have no official expertise other than my own experience.  In the thirty-seven years since, I’ve learned ways to cope, ways of surviving but not really coping, gone down numerous dead ends on my quest to healing, and sought out just about every alternative option known to man.  

    Western medicine and psychology were the first stage for me, but after the initial slight improvement, they were pretty much worthless to me.  If anti-depressants and therapy work for you, do it.  Use anything you can find that helps you return to your natural well-being.  It did nothing for me and I know that there are others like me out there thinking there has got to be a better way.  I think that’s why I’m still here—thinking that there must be something else that I just haven’t tried yet.  Otherwise, I would have committed suicide long ago.  

    I tried just about every alternative therapy I could find from reiki to massage to acupuncture to energy work and everything in between. Many things helped, but I was never able to really turn the corner until I went to Peru for ayahuasca ceremonies. Now, there are clinical studies on the use of hallucinogenics for treating alcohol and drug addiction and depression, but in 2006, it was something only to be found in National Geographic Adventure magazine, which is where I read an article about a women who went to Peru and healed her depression with ayahuasca.  At that point, it was literally do or die time because I needed a solution or I was going to kill myself.  I was done.  But because I was done, I was also able to let go of the resistance enough for a solution to come through.  It was an incredibly extreme solution, but it was the only thing that helped me.  I came back after doing ayahuasca feeling like there was a light at the end of the tunnel.  I knew I still had a lot of work to do, but there was hope again.  It turned out to be a lot longer road than I anticipated, but I finally felt like I was on the right path.  

    Ayahuasca is illegal in the US.  It’s worth looking into what’s right for you.  When the options available in our healthcare system aren’t working for you, you need to think outside the box.  We’ve been taught that these types of drugs are morally wrong, but OxyContin was not only legal but advertised as non-addictive until millions of people became drug addicts because of it.  What feels right to you?  What do you need to return to your well-being?  Don’t rely on doctors who don’t know and don’t have all the information to be your sole source of guidance.  Learn to rely on your own guidance.  Your body knows what it needs.  Your inner being will guide you if you listen.  That’s what this is all about.  Learning how to hear that guidance and then listening to your connection to Source energy and following that guidance.  Only you know what’s best for you.  

    Here’s what I know now that I’m mostly out the other side of depression.  I say mostly because you’re never “cured” and never have to think about it again.  For me it’s daily maintenance.  Maybe there will come a day when I’m just happily living my life but right now it’s WORK.  You can’t go to the gym every day for a month and then say, OK I don’t need to exercise anymore, I’ll be in shape for the rest of my life. You have to be consistent and your mental health is the same as your physical health.  What you put in is what you get out.

    My mental health is dependent on my physical health and vice versa. You need to take care of yourself mind, heart, body and soul. That means moving my body, getting out in nature, eating properly and meditating every single day.  For me that’s going for a walk or hike, doing yoga, meditating twice a day and eating lots of vegetables and whole foods. 

    As I walk you through what I do on a daily basis, a lot of you reading this will think, are you kidding me?  I don’t have time for that.  I understand, but I’m single, with no kids, and a mostly anti-social introvert, so I basically have no life and have a lot of time on my hands.  I’m working on opening up to more relationships, but in the meantime, it means I have a lot of time to focus on myself.  Not doing everything I do on a daily basis means I fall back into the black pit of despair pretty quickly.  It sucks some days because I think my entire day is taken up just trying to maintain the basic foundation of mental health.  But the alternative is darkness and suicide, and I know I don’t want to go back there.  So when someone tells me I don’t have time for that, I think I don’t have an option.  It has to be a priority for me or else I’m barely even alive and I’m certainly not thriving.  

    Your well-being needs to be a priority to you.  You don’t have anything to give until you take care of yourself. You and your well-being need to come before your kids, your spouse, your job, and that’s really tough for people to do.  We’ve been told that’s selfish, but if you’re empty, you don’t have anything to give and you’re teaching your kids and everyone around you that they need to put everyone else first, even if it means completely undermining their own health.  That’s not the message we want to give and it’s not what we want to see repeated in the next generation.

    So here’s my day.

    3 mile walk
    15 minutes yoga.
    45 minutes exercise (squats, lunges, handstand, jump rope, core, etc. depending on the day)
    25 minutes meditation
    Get ready for the rest of my day
    Walk to work setting my intention for the day as I walk. 
    Be conscious of when I’m going out of alignment and try to right myself immediately.
    Walk home, mentally making the transition so I don’t take any of my work problems home with me
    Get home and do 20 minutes exercise (The extra exercise is partly because I’m working on strengthening certain areas and partly it’s because I just need to move or I go stir crazy with anxiety.)
    Another 25 minutes meditation before going to bed
    Sleep meditation to fall asleep (25 minute meditationand then 1 hr of music)
    Get up tomorrow and repeat.


    • Follow the candida diet (no sugar, no dairy, etc.), gluten free, vegan diet, all organic if you can.  Eliminate processed foods, alcohol and caffeine. Do this for 6 months minimum and then start adding things back in slowly so you can assess which ones affect you adversely. 
    • No smoking or drugs, not even marijuana, which a lot of people use for the anxiety that so often accompanies depression.  Marijuana mimics my depression, but makes me incapable of dealing with the issues that come up because I’m high.  That makes me more anxious underneath even though the surface is numbed by the drug.  Learn to deal with your emotions without any pharmaceuticals.  That said, do whatever you need to do in the short term to take care of yourself. I went to Peru to take something similar to LSD, so I’m the last person to pass judgment. Just ask yourself, is it for your health or to escape your life?
    • Exercise outside in nature for at least 20 minutes a day—every day no matter what.  It can be a nice easy walk, just move you body.  Studies have show that a 20 minute walk has the same effect as taking an anti-depressant, just without the side effects.
    • Meditate.  I started with guided meditations because I had so much trouble quieting my mind.  I kept saying mediation where you quiet your mind and eliminate thought just didn’t work for me.  The truth was I was too lazy and too scared to deal with what would come up when I did quiet my constant chatter.  I only saw real movement when I put in the time to find that true connection to my inner being.  There were times when I only got to half a second of feeling good and the rest of the 25 minutes was my mind going every which way.  Then it became a full second, then a couple of seconds.  I’m not going to lie, I was severely frustrated that I’d been meditating for six months and the most I could come up with was a couple of seconds of silence, but I kept telling myself that that was more than I had had before and I knew the other way lead to misery, so at least I was on the right track.
    • Massage. I used to think getting a massage was a luxury and one I couldn’t afford, and it is out of reach for a lot of people, but if you can get a monthly (or weekly) massage, do it.  For me it’s maintenance.  I have a lot of anxiety and it gets knotted up in my muscles.  The stress release, not to mention the lymphatic drain and overall benefit to my physical and mental well-being, are worth the money.  

    If you’re thinking no way, I’m not doing that, what if I told you this would turn around your whole life?  Would you do it?  If the answer is still no, then you need to ask yourself why you’re saying you want to heal but are turning down valid options.  It’s a process.  It’s been over the course of years that I’ve figured out what works for me.  It’s going to be different for you. Take what works and leave the rest, but if you’re in resistance, then you’re avoiding and just saying it doesn’t feel right for me.  Some things are presented to me that just don’t resonate with me. Other people rave about them, but they just don’t work for me. Journaling is a good example. I can feel I have some resistance to it, so I do need to look at that, but mostly it just puts me in my head when I’m trying everything to get out of my head. There’s something about writing things down that engages my left brain and instantly I’m in my Virgo list making brain. Check in with yourself and learn to distinguish between resistance and resonance. It’s ok if something isn’t for you, just make sure you’re not saying no from a place of fear. 

    I still have bad days, sometimes really bad days, but I always know I can bring myself back into alignment and balance. That’s such a huge gift. I know I have a rock solid foundation that can’t be shaken by anything. No matter what life throws at me, I know if I sit and meditate I will get to my happy place. It may not be today or even tomorrow, but I know that within a couple of days at most I will regain my well-being. Don’t let anyone make you believe that having a mental illness makes you weak. Every single day that you reach for joy and happiness makes you strong and beautiful. 

  • Nature

    Zuma Canyon

    November 2019 Zuma Canyon Sunset over Malibu.

    Fire in nature is cleansing and beneficial but the landscape has to be destroyed before the benefits can be attained. I tried to keep that in mind as I went hiking in early August in Zuma Canyon for the first time since the fires in Malibu last fall. I wrote down my thoughts at the time but I never published them, probably because I was trying to be more optimistic than I was. It was disheartening to see the devastation to this beautiful area. I returned to Zuma just before Thanksgiving and was able to gain a better perspective and to see how much new growth there was. In August I thought it would take 5-10 years for the area to recover, but less than four months later, I’m thinking that in another 2-3 years, everything but the trees will be back to normal. That’s pretty amazing that nature can regrow an entire landscape in just four years. It gives me hope for other areas that humans have destroyed. If we just let nature be, we don’t need to fix anything. 

    Zuma Canyon has always been one of my favorite hikes in LA—a 10 mile loop up and down the mountains through native chaparral with an incredible amount of biodiversity, which you really only see in the spring when everything blooms and you realize how many plants are dormant for most of the year.  Tall bushes and shrubs cover the hillsides with shorter plants packed in underneath. At least they used to.  To say I was shocked by the destruction is an understatement. As I drove up Busch Drive, I passed empty lot after empty lot, the only thing left being the cement foundations and a couple of charred gates.  Only a couple of houses escaped the fire.  As of November, some people have started to rebuild, though other lots remain vacant. 

    August 2019 Zuma Canyon There used to be a house here.
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon Busch Drive
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon The house is gone but you can see the empty swimming pool on the left.
    November 2019. Busch Drive, Malibu. Starting to rebuild.

    The only plants growing were ones that had cropped up since the fire, mostly non-native grass.  All that was left of the ten foot tall shrubs were charred stalks.  I usually do the hike in the afternoon because then most of the hike is in the shade.  Unfortunately, that’s no longer true. There’s no shade anywhere because nothing is over three feet tall.  

    August 2019 Zuma Canyon
    November 2019 Zuma Canyon
    November 2019 Zuma Canyon The light green in the foreground is native sage.

    The trees in the creek bed have tons of tiny shoots coming out of their trunks, but the branches are all dead.  Usually when a fire goes through, the older, more established trees escape with just some charred bark, but this fire burned so hot that it left all but the hardiest trees in ashes.

    March 2016 Zuma Canyon
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon Burned area in the foreground with the intact neighborhood behind it.
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon Burned area in front, untouched neighborhood and the ocean in the back.
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon Creek bed at the bottom of the canyon with a few trees still alive.

    In the last four months, everything has doubled in size, which is amazing because we just got the first rain of the season. All the growth has been fueled by dew and mist from the ocean air, which I find just incredible. Most everything is still under two feet tall, but there were a couple of shrubs that were in the 5-6 foot range. 

    November 2015 Zuma Canyon The bushes are so high they cover up the bottom of the picture.
    November 2019 Zuma Canyon These are about 18” high.
    November 2019 Zuma Canyon New growth starting to obscure the charred remains.

    There were a couple of lizards at the trailhead, but otherwise I did not encounter a single animal outside of insects and birds.  I met a local woman whose house luckily escaped the fire and she said a week after the fire, the trail was littered with animal carcasses and the only place you can find rabbits and snakes are in the neighborhoods that didn’t burn.  If this is true of all the areas the fire hit, it’s going to be a long time before animal life is going to return to the deepest areas.  By November, deer had returned to one section of the interior, miles from the trailhead, but the only other life I saw were a couple of lizards near the trailheads. 

    August 2019 Zuma Canyon This used to be thick brush you couldn’t even see through. Now you can walk through it.
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon The only shrub in the entire canyon that survived the fire.
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon All that’s left of the horse watering trough.
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon Monkeyflower
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon
    November 2019 Zuma Canyon

    That said, I was really happy to see all the new growth.  Nature is always in a cycle of rebirth and the landscape will recover, though it’ll be years before it will look like it did a year ago.  All the native flowers have come back and they were still blooming in August, which is really unusual.  

    August 2019 Zuma Canyon Mariposa lilies blooming
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon Monkeyflower everywhere.

    Tons of orange monkeyflower, some fireweed, and most heartening to see, swaths of mariposa lilies. Mariposas are one of my favorites, but I think they may end up getting choked out by the rest of the chaparral or maybe I just don’t see them in the density of the hillside.  This time, I saw them everywhere; all along the way, there were vines of white flowers.  Tons of mariposa lilies were still blooming in November, with many buds ready to bloom. I’ve never seen that. 

    August 2019 Zuma Canyon The white spots are all mariposa lilies.
    November 2019 Zuma Canyon Mariposa lilies in bloom.
    November 2019 Zuma Canyon Mariposa lilies blooming in the middle of the trail.
    November 2019 Zuma Canyon Unfortunately the poison oak recovered quickly.

    Since every plant had been burned to the ground, the normal variations in height weren’t on the mountainsides.  It was really beautiful to see the elegant shape of the mountains without all the bushes and shrubs.  Such gorgeous lines.

    August 2019 Zuma Canyon Beautiful lines on the mountains.
    November 2015 Zuma Canyon
    August 2019 Zuma Canyon
    November 2019 Zuma Canyon

    I kept having to remind myself that the absence of animals and vegetation wasn’t a bad thing, which is also an important reminder in life.  You can either lament the things that have come to an end or see the rebirth and growth and embrace the beauty that is unfolding.