Messages from the Dark: Lessons From My Recent Depressive Episode

It was about 10 p.m. on Mother’s Day and I was a mess. On paper, it had been the most thoughtful and perfect Mother’s Day I could imagine. Yet there I was, settling in for a restless night on the couch. (When I commit to shutting down and hiding, I really go for it.) It dawned on me, after a shame- and disgust-filled crying jag:

“Oh sh*t, I’m depressed.”

Earlier that day, I’d gotten the royal treatment from my husband and kids: breakfast in bed, a gift I’d been wanting for a long time, the sweetest notes and cards, a moms-only trip to a fancy juice bar, a freaking picnic in the park with a bouquet of flowers and delicious food. They absolutely outdid themselves! My response to all this love, attention and pampering? Total flat line. Meh. Dead inside—followed by disgust that I couldn’t seem to access gratitude and love while my inner world was feeling dark, heavy, and sad, sad, sad.

That day, as we made the long drive home from visiting family, the car was quiet, but my internal dialogue was a screaming match. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! You are an ungrateful, entitled, awful b*tch.” My kids and family had even told me I was the best mom in the world. “Good one,” I thought. Despite all the gifts and love I was given on Mother’s Day, my day was defined by tears, fears, and shame instead of smiles and gratitude.

As I settled down for my night of self-induced isolation on the couch, I reflected on the last few months and got real with myself about what life had been looking and feeling like. I started to see a theme of sadness, irritation, reactivity, surviving, barely getting by, and chronic disconnect. I got honest with myself and acknowledged my depression in the “oh sh*t” moment described above. My next thought: “How can I fix this by morning before anybody finds out?” I felt an intense need to hide it, fix it, and figure it out alone. I was so ashamed of my lack of gratitude, of treating my husband with impatience, of the way I’d been abusing my body and mind, of all the ways I’d shut down and disconnected. I’m a health coach, for pity’s sake! How had I ended up here—out of control and clearly not emotionally thriving? Where had things begun to unravel?

Getting myself back toward physical and mental healing this spring was quite a process—and one I’ve supported in many of my autoimmune clients. In fact, I think that every health coaching client I’ve worked with has dealt with depression in some way. The mind-body connection becomes very clear when dealing with autoimmune wellness, so today I want to dive into my personal experience with depression and share some lessons I learned along the way.

1. I got stuck in a shame sh*t storm.

This brilliant terminology comes from Brené Brown, and it perfectly describes the whirlwind narrative I’d been living: that I was flawed, not enough, didn’t have enough, and I generally sucked at everything having to do with friends, career, and family. The story was so powerful because it validated every fear, worry, and insecurity I’ve clung to throughout my life even while working hard to rewire them. I felt like I’d been in front of a shame firing squad, getting hit with bullets of “not enough” to the point that I was totally defeated.

My first instinct was to hide my depression and sadness from those around me—I had unconsciously been doing it for months. I knew I had all the tools to figure this out. After all, I’d helped others with similar issues do the same many times. I kept telling myself to get it together and access the resources I needed…but I couldn’t take action to make the shift. How frustrating and humiliating, to know where you need to go but not be able to take the first step! I hid my deepest feelings from my husband, parents, and friends for weeks, and showed them a shut down version of myself while the inner war raged on.

The lesson: name your shame.

Brown teaches us the power of naming shame. In hindsight, I wish I had done it sooner! The morning after Mother’s Day, when hiding seemed like the only course of action, I remembered when a family member was depressed a few years ago. This relative was encouraged by a therapist to reach out to someone they trusted and share their experience of feeling depressed. They called me and vulnerably shared with me their sad, stuck, and fearful feelings. I was so grateful for the connection that unfolded from that! I got to show up for him and show him he was loved and supported. It was this memory that caused me to tell my husband and parents I was depressed, and to reach out for support and love. To share the following with those I love and trust would have opened things up for me worlds sooner: “The story I am telling myself…”

“…is that you don’t trust that I can successfully fulfill my career vision and take care of my family simultaneously.”

“…is that you think I am weak and fragile and impulsive.”

“…is that you think I have poor judgment.”

“…is that I am not enough and not worthy of being your friend.”

When we follow Brown’s teaching, we look at our shame story as our “sh*tty first draft”. This approach helped me to release my death grip on the stories that kept me feeling awful and have honest conversations with those near and dear to me (and even some who were involved in the shame stories). I was truly astounded with what I received when I let people in and leaned into vulnerability. My parents came to visit and stayed for four days, preparing food, helping with house and yard work, and showing me they had my back. My husband hugged me and cried with me, telling me that he loved me and it was okay. Bringing people into my shameful secret was the single most helpful thing that I did. When it wasn’t a secret anymore, I could talk about it and receive love and support.

2. Self loathing led to sabotaging eating habits.

While I was deep in the shame sh*t storm, I was questioning my value, my worthiness, and my capabilities. I stopped being mindful of what I ate, how food was making me feel, or the fact that I was gaining weight. I didn’t feel deserving of nourishment. (Plus, the junky comfort foods I was eating gave me moments of feeling pleasure and helped me avoid and numb the emotional pain I was feeling.) Months of this kind of decision-making led to an inflamed body, stripped of nutrients. I knew intellectually that I was abusing my body and I would tell myself I’d get on track “tomorrow,” but tomorrow never came.

The lesson: food is fuel.

My body ran out of gas—it was barely chugging along! My mood is heavily impacted when my body isn’t properly nourished, so the resilience to “get it together” was nowhere to be found. It took my mom traveling hours to visit and literally feeding me every meal to refuel my body from the inside out. I removed sugar and simple carbs and got back to eating real food three times a day. I also added a methylated B complex, vitamin D and some adrenal support to jump start my system again. I could practically feel my cells being resuscitated as they got the nutrients they needed!

Prioritizing nutrition was a game changer in getting me back on track. Food matters! We get to prioritize healthy choices to keep our bodies and mental wellness in a balanced and thriving state. This is especially important for those dealing with autoimmune issues, as we know the mind-body connection can have such profound impacts on healing.

3. When the soul speaks and is ignored, it shouts.

I have been dreaming of expanding my business to include some end of life services. When I brought this up to a few important people in my life, I didn’t get the response I was looking for, and I took it personally. I stopped dreaming, I stopped creating, I stopped thinking about the dream that felt like my soul’s medicine. I threw in the towel because it felt like others didn’t believe in me. Yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I began to resent those who were holding me back from my dream—and I hated myself for denying my life’s purpose.

I also got sucked down a rabbit hole of denying the self care that feeds my spirit. I’ve written about soul-centered self care before—the habits and practices that fill us up and make us feel relaxed, engaged, and in the flow. When I was deep in my depression, I stopped caring for myself in all ways. I didn’t prioritize myself because I didn’t value myself and I didn’t have the energy for it. I just wanted to check out.

The lesson: listen to what your soul yearns for, and it will tell you.

To deny what our spirit is asking for is a recipe for depression. If we really stop and listen to our life’s purpose, we find a strong pull to create it in this life. Not only that, but we get to support that calling with habits and practices that allow us to thrive. Restarting my morning routine alone set the stage for better choices throughout the day! When I show my body and spirit honor by treating myself well and listening to my inner purpose, I’m rewarded exponentially.

In fact, the momentum I created when I tuned into my vision—rather than relying on the validation of others, or wallowing in self-loathing—has truly been a force to be reckoned with. I am leaning into my passion and showing up vulnerably in order to create this next facet of my career, and I know it’s the right path because my spirit keeps calling out, “Yes!” at every turn.

Have you also spent time walking in the dark? What impacts have you noticed on your autoimmune symptoms? What solutions have you found? I’d love to hear more in the comments.

About Sarah Kolman

Sarah Kolman RN, MA, CHPN, INHC is an AIP Certified Coach, Registered Nurse, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, and Contemplative Psychotherapist. Sarah’s unique one-on-one health coaching practice blends her nursing and psychotherapy experience with holistic and nutrition-based health concepts. A passionate student in the field of psychoneuroimmunology, she helps her clients heal by focusing on the brain-body connection and its profound impact on wellness. With Sarah’s support and guidance, clients learn to manage stubborn symptoms that have persisted through countless traditional treatments. Learn more about Sarah’s coaching services by visiting her website, www.this-one-life.com. Her book Full Plate: Nourishing Your Family’s Whole Health in a Busy World is available on Amazon. You can follow Sarah on Facebook.

4 comments

  • Lisa says

    I was very eager to read this, but didn’t have high hopes. I thought it would be a “put on your big girl panties” kind of post. But I’m glad I read it. You explain that shame cycle that I too get into. You can’t feel better without self care and when you are depressed, you convince yourself that self care is selfish. Eating poorly (comfort food) for me, is both a momentary boost and self flagellation. I can ease my discomfort and know subconsciously that I am harming myself, because I’m a piece of crap and deserve it, right? It’s such a vicious cycle. I wake up most mornings saying just as you did, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow”. I love the vision of your mom literally feeding you spoonful by spoonful until you got to the point where you could do it yourself. I know she didn’t spoon feed you, but that made me smile to visualize it that way. Brene Brown is a genius! Thank you for taking the time to write this. I’m going to go drink some bone broth. 🙂

  • Holly says

    I have found myself depressed and sad as well. Exercise helps as well as talking with someone that understands! Thank you for a genuine article!

  • Melissa says

    Last fall I felt so similar to what you described. I hated myself for feeling it and for not being able to stop feeling it. I now know that I had a sub-clinical bacterial infection the wrecked my gut but not before it triggered psoriasis (huge family history) and psoriatic arthritis. I don’t have a diagnosis of PSA yet and I am hoping that AIP will keep me feeling good and out of the hole that I was in last fall and am maybe not quite out of.

  • amy says

    thank you for sharing this part of your life with us.

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