A friend recently told me my Facebook pictures traveling across the globe and surfing made him depressed. I felt awful. Not just because I hate when my friends are sad, but also because I’ve suffered from depression. Prior to quitting my fulltime corporate job in 2009, about six doctors told me I had depression. In kinder words, I told all six of them to go to hell. I am an athlete. Athletes don’t get depressed, I thought.
Instead of listening to doctors’ orders to take a pill and see a therapist, I ran miles until I injured my foot. I did headstands in the middle of the night to fall asleep. I gave up sugar, then alcohol, then coffee, and then at points I took each of them back up again. I went to a Buddhist monastery and learned to meditate. My friends called me a “hippy.” I surfed until I couldn’t paddle my arms. I experimented with an array of vitamins the guy at Whole Foods told me were good for “boosting the mood.” And I drank Kombucha tea, by the crate.
Some of my healthier recipes – the yoga, meditating, balanced exercising, eating greener and cleaner – worked.
The rest were haphazard attempts to nullify a pain so deep, I thought it was just PMS on steroids. I was moody, sad, then angry, and then just really sad. I called in sick my last few months of that job, a lot. I think most of my friends assumed I just went surfing. On many of those days, that’s exactly what I did. When I was done with work, I’d surf or swim in the open ocean alone, secretly wishing a large fish would eat the chunk of my brain that wouldn’t stop spinning. Depression felt a lot like swimming through seaweed. From the surface, it looks so easy to swim through seaweed, but if you have ever swam in the open ocean, you know how difficult it is to cut through such viscous weeds rooted deep to the sea’s floor.
At the time, I thought my depression was a result of breaking up with a long-term boyfriend or being in a job that I no longer cared for. It was an awesome job, but I wanted to be a writer, and at the time I was in marketing.
A few months after feeling like I had PMS on steroids, I eventually started to feel a sense of numbness so deep, I stared at my ceiling for hours at a time. One night while stuck in sig-alert-style L.A. traffic, I finally broke down and started crying in my car. At that point, I realized I needed to get help. A week prior to the traffic incident, my parents planted the seed when my mom lovingly drove to my house one night, concerned. She laid it all on me with a tone that finally made me get it. “Your grandpa committed suicide when I was eight, your grandma was an alcoholic, your dad died when you were 11, the list of “isms” in your genes is a mile long! What makes you think because you surf and run and do yoga makes you exempt?!”
I quit my job. I saw my therapist. I took a pill. I started pursuing my dream of becoming a writer, which was hard. The life of a freelance writer is up and down, and it’s still hard, but it’s rewarding enough that I am not giving up. I eventually learned how to really meditate, to eat clean, to work out in a less extreme fashion than competing in triathlons and running miles for hours at a time, and I started being nicer to myself.
After a few years of up and down and sometimes using men and extreme adventures to deal with the depression that crept back in and out from 2009 to 2013, I found balance. I discovered a way to not be a “starving” writer. I attempted to write a book, which was a cathartic experience, and I fell in love. The depression lifted.
Last year, I cut the lowest dose pill that I already took in half, and began to feel everything I felt in 2009 all over again. The brain is funny that way. I breathed through it. I meditated. I was in New Zealand at the time, and I believe New Zealand’s clean air and hilarious citizens helped get me through it. The man I fell in love with was also incredibly supportive, and using humor and honesty made everything better.
When I came back to the U.S. I started doing neurofeedback. The Spanish soccer team and Red Bull athletes use it. It worked a little. Meditation worked more. That athlete in me will always try to “will it” away. The smarter version of me knows I just have to breathe through depression when it comes. That’s the only way it ever goes.
Last year, I wrote a book about my story using surfing, adventure and eventually love to fight depression. There are some hilarious parts where I went on extreme adventures and dated extreme guys. There are points in the book where I think my writing is brilliant, and others places where the writing is garbage. The book is not ready. I got scared of writing the truth — of admitting that I ever had or have depression. That itself set me back, which is part of the reason I decided to write this post today.
There’s a big misconception about what the face of mental health looks like. I bet most people would never assume a surfer girl with a Cheshire grin could get depressed, or that it ran in my family, and that at times it still affects me.
I don’t post the times I am sad on Facebook. Who wants to put a picture of themselves crying on Facebook? Now, that’s really crazy! I do think that there’s a lack of honesty in social media that can be confusing for people who have used sites like Facebook to compare themselves to others. I, myself, have been guilty of the destructive behavior of comparing myself to others on a social engine that isn’t totally real.
It doesn’t work.
I am not sure where this is going except to say I am really sorry if my pictures have ever made you sad. I have chosen a path that while not easily, has led me to find my own version of happiness. I have experienced depression and it is a terrible feeling, but one I no longer want to keep running from. I also know that if I am totally honest with myself and with others, and do as much in my life with love (from writing to teaching surfing to talking to my friends) as I possibly can, that the depression goes away.
To my friend who got depressed after seeing my surfing pictures, I am sorry. If it makes you feel better, you can come visit me on my next adventure. To everyone else who reads this – love yourself and others a little more today than you did yesterday. That’s one answer that’s foolproof.