I didn’t feel joyful for a long time after my dad died suddenly, just two years after my mom died of a long illness. I slipped into a depression that was difficult to overcome. I finally sought help and went to a counselor. I took in a picture of me from before my parents died and showed it to her. I told her. . . “I want to be this person again.” She listened to my concerns and told me I was clearly depressed and asked me to have my thyroid checked. I was morbidly obese and was gaining weight and had no motivation to diet or exercise much less do anything at all. I felt like – “okay, if it”s medical I can fix it”. But it wasn’t going to be easy. She wanted me to see my general practitioner, my ob-gyn and a dietitian. I needed a team! That’s how bad it got. But I realized then that it wasn’t just one thing. It wasn’t just my emotions, just my weight, just my health, just my mood. just my outlook, just my habits, it was everything. Everything was out of sync. And I needed a major adjustment.
I was so unhappy. I didn’t know why really. I was at my breaking point, barely able to manage going to work. I couldn’t wait to get home and get in my pajamas and get into my safe warm bed. Why was this happening to me?? It turned out not to be my thyroid, however my liver triglyceride levels were high. I had more tests and it was discovered that I had a moderately enlarged liver. This was scary for me since my mother died of liver disease and my sister was on the liver transplant list, suffering from the same affliction. I refused to accept that I was to be diagnosed with liver disease at 39.
My counselor helped me so much, because she gave me a focus. With baby steps I started to get motivated, first to discover that I had a health issue that was adding to my depression, then upping my antidepressants to a level that helped me to feel normal again, then adding some exercise to my daily routine. Just getting out of my chair and moving was a big step!
I had so many big steps to take. I wanted to improve my health and I wanted to move on with my life. I knew I needed to lose weight and get in shape and I hoped that this would help my outlook as well as improve the condition of my liver. I started to do research. I read anything and everything I could find on the internet about liver disease, fatty liver, cleansing the liver, anti-cancer diets, healthy diets such as the Mediterranean diet, and super foods.
I started cutting and pasting articles into a word document. It was getting too hard to remember what foods were good and what bad things to look for on labels of foods that should be avoided. So, I started a list. I worked at it every chance I got. I went grocery shopping and stocked up on everything on the good list. Things that are easy to digest by the liver, things that promote cell growth and are helpful to maintaining a healthy liver, anything that would make me healthier and fit. I decided to only put things in my mouth that were healthy for me. I didn’t think of it as a diet as much as a regimen, my medicine. Little did I know that I would be so successful, not only at lowering my liver test results, but at restoring the joy in my life. I was taking charge, I was doing something good – for me and for my family. I was looking better and feeling better. I was gaining strength and fortitude.
At this time I felt like I was getting less support from my regular supporters – but also getting more notice and more encouragement from those who had been less involved in my trials and tribulations. I think the regular supporters were getting used to the sad old me and were too close to realize that something had seriously gone awry. For months everyone close to me enabled me to sink into this hole I was in because they knew I was grieving. I am still grieving. I miss my parents so much. Even now. But I knew there was something else, something wrong. I couldn’t be joyful. I couldn’t be myself. I didn’t enjoy the things that make me who I am. I didn’t feel like me at all. I walked in my shoes, I resembled myself, I was able to make everyone believe that I was okay – and I was, just barely okay. I never got suicidal, I never got to the point that I wasn’t able to function – I just felt bad, all the time. And I wanted to feel good.
I have every reason and every right to feel good. I am healthy. I have a great relationship with my husband. I have wonderful kids that I am so very proud of. I have a good job and we make a decent living. We own our home and our vehicles. We eat right, most of the time. We travel, we have friends. We are in good relationships with our family. Why wasn’t I happy? Why wasn’t I doing projects, scrap booking, planning parties, entertaining, writing, doing any of the things that I used to enjoy?
I began feeling better when I changed my diet. I cut out cold cuts, dairy products, red meat and white processed grains and refined sugar. That’s a lot! I ate small meals almost every hour to curb my hunger and to keep my sugar level up. I had a dependency on sugar and bread. I used to drink a coke every afternoon to keep from getting that shaky feeling. Now, I eat fruit, vegetables and nuts! After I did this for a few weeks, I noticed I needed less snacks to get me through to meal times. I enjoyed full fat dressings with my salads and loaded them up with nuts, beans and fruit. I drink tons of water and V8 juice. I exercise when I can, walking mostly. I switched to soy milk and I don’t remember the last time I had a burger or a piece of pizza!!
And guess what! I feel joy again! I sing, I hum, I walk with a spring in my step now! I walk with the determination that I had before my parents died. Someone actually commented recently that the sound of my steps (in high heels) sounded like someone with authority was coming down the hall! A far cry from the shuffles my tired feet were making in my slip on loafers a few months ago!
Joy to me is that spring in my step. The feeling of “what’s next?” Looking forward to things. Having a positive attitude that things will get better. Loving each moment and considering it a blessing to be here. I was worried at first when I began to feel this way again. I asked my counselor, “Is this drug-induced? If I forget to take my pill, will I crash? At some point might I come down from this?” And she simply said, “No Melissa, what you are feeling is joy. This is how people feel all the time. It’s normal.” Wow! I am normal again!!! Thank God! It feels good!
So, what was wrong with me? Anything serious? Not really. I wasn’t abused as a child, I never experienced sexual abuse or neglect. I had a very normal childhood and a good teenage experience. I married relatively young and I had three great birthing experiences. My husband and I have dealt with some marital problems, but have emerged better and stronger and more in love than ever. So – why the deep depression?? Why did I get so low??
My feeling is that I was addicted to all the yucky foods that caused my liver to get overloaded. I loved eating burgers and fries, pizza, fried chicken, cake, candy, sodas, donuts, Danish, all of it. There were times that I realized I hadn’t had any vegetables or fruit for over a week. I thought that drinking diet soda or Crystal Light drinks were helping me keep my calorie intake down. Really it enabled me to eat more junk and contain harmful chemicals and preservatives. Combine the poor diet and weight gain, lack of exercise, the hormonal imbalance, with clinical depression and the severe losses I suffered and you are left with a shell of a woman who was once vibrant and fun.
When I was sad, I would tell myself not to worry about what I was eating or the lack of exercise, I didn’t feel like adding it to my woes and I would get around to it eventually. I let myself go for a few years. When I got to the point that I had gained so much weight I didn’t think it mattered if I dyed my hair or had a manicure, I knew I had hit rock bottom. No one noticed when I stopped wearing makeup. No one said anything when I was breaking out with zits all the time and wearing my hair up to hide the gray. I was weepy all the time and people irritated me. I wanted to be alone. I was intoxicated with junk in my body.
Once I cleaned up my act, I felt so much better. I realized that my hair wasn’t falling out any more. It used to come out when I brushed it or even ran my fingers through it. It was shinier and healthier. My nails were stronger, not soft and brittle. I had less aches and pains, less stiffness in my joints, fewer headaches. I hardly ever need to take pain medication which I had been using daily for arthritis pain. I had much more energy. I even reduced my caffeine intake by waiting to have that first cup of coffee until after I have my morning oatmeal or yogurt. I find that I rarely finish the cup now. I get the energy I need in the morning from the protein instead of the caffeine. I don’t mind my husband seeing me naked anymore. I am still fat – still overweight, but I don’t feel as heavy! My heart isn’t heavy, my mood isn’t heavy, my body isn’t as heavy! My face cleared up. I am wearing makeup again and my face looks thinner. I look like the person that I had hidden, perhaps buried, deep inside once again. I had been trying to bust out of my depression for so long. I have arrived! I now care about how I look and I am enjoying wearing clothes that hadn’t fit for a long time. It’s like having a new wardrobe. I actually wore a belt the other day!! I needed it because my jeans are getting too big! That is so cool. But it’s not the only reason I feel joy.
I think the chemicals in the processed foods I was eating were bogging me down. Weighing me down and eating away at my energy. I think it was giving me negative thoughts and messing with my emotions and hormones. The super foods that I eat daily now, make me feel good. I feel younger, energized, even more loving and peaceful!! I am the person I wanted to be, inside and out. Being joyful means being hopeful. Having hope means looking to the future. I am now anticipating what might happen next, wondering what exciting interesting and beautiful thing is coming my way. I love myself and I love my family. I love my life and truly enjoy each moment. I can see the beauty even in the darkest moments.
Gifts of Time
Time brings a kind of wisdom
only the heart can understand.
We come to learn that life’s journey
is about the pursuit of our dreams,
That beauty is found in moments shared
and that the joy of loving
is the real reason we are put upon this earth.