Social media tells me that today is World Mental Health Day, and the posts I’ve seen have prompted me to share, as this topic has been forefront for me once again.
I’ve shared many times about my challenges with mental health over the years. And whilst I’ve made great strides this past year with my health, I’m not yet 100% there.
Many times I’ve pondered what has caused recurrent bouts of depression since my teens. The first time I saw a GP about it, he told me it was a serotonin issue in my brain. I sought counselling (cognitive behavioural therapy) during 2 separate periods in my twenties, and concluded that I had depression because I didn’t have adequate skills in managing my thoughts and behaviours. Perhaps it was a genetic issue. Becoming a parent was the scapegoat for a while. At one point I thought it was because I was spiritually lost. I’ve sometimes wondered if it’s because I lack adequate discipline in responsibly managing my energy. And at times I’ve blamed myself for simply sucking at life.
Whilst each of these reasons may contain at least a grain of truth, none of them offer a complete answer. They’re all stories, and they all play a part, but I’ve learned more this past year that has been so incredibly significant.
Since finally taking control of my thyroid health this past year – I was diagnosed with postpartum thyroiditis almost 10 years ago, and later Hashimoto’s – I’ve educated myself and discovered that my thyroid issues have likely played a huge role in my mental health challenges. When my thyroid markers were at their worst, my mental state was so messed up that I wanted to die.
The beauty of this excruciating experience was that when I finally began to improve my thyroid health, my mental health was no longer even an issue. I no longer sobbed uncontrollablly throughout the day, life became joyful again, I was motivated and energetic, and life was no longer a slog – it was easy to just do life, and be content. I didn’t have to work so damn hard to be ok. This taught me that depression wasn’t a personal failing or a personality flaw. There was a very obvious and tangible reason for the depression, and working out how to treat and heal my thyroid would solve the mental health challenges too.
Frustratingly, the past month or so has seen my mental health begin to slide again, despite great thyroid markers. This has coincided with a flare up in gut issues, which had previously improved, and which my GP and I are again working to resolve through a functional medicine approach. Given what I’ve experienced and learned, I’m confident that as my gut health improves, my mental health symptoms will too.
Important notes to take from my experience and learning (keeping in mind I’m not a medical professional or health expert!!):
- If you have mental health issues, it might be worthwhile getting your thyroid checked. Research this first, from a functional medicine perspective, because my understanding is that that majority of doctors (endocrinologists included) don’t test adequately. Testing TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) only is grossly inadequate. Look into the significance of Free T3, Free T4, TPO ab, Tg ab, and Reverse T3, as well as other related blood work such as iron/ferritin, vit D, and more. Research!
- The gut produces serotonin. There is a gut-brain axis. Hence, your gut plays a massive role in your mental health. I used to think my guts were fine. I didn’t realise how low my bar was for “fine”. Again, seek the help of a qualified practitioner who can support you to treat the cause of gut issues for true healing rather than band-aid “solutions”.
- Physical/medical health issues can be a causative factor in mental health, beyond just feeling down because you’re sick. Working out why you’re suffering from a mental health condition is vital.
What I do to support myself in the meantime, whilst working to treat the cause:
- Mindfulness – SO worth the effort, and supports me enormously during what would previously have overwhelmed me.
- When meditating is “too much”, I listen to binaural beats (check out @sonesence_music – my fave)
- Gentle exercise (yoga or walking in nature is my balm).
- Eating well and ensuring my blood sugar levels are stable (getting hangry is no longer an issue, which helps enormously).
- Getting adequate sleep.
- Aromatherapy – my essential oils are such a beautiful support emotionally and for my mood.