You’ve heard ‘em all: blue, down in the dumps, in a slump, in low spirits, melancholy. Yup, I’m talking about depression. It touches us all in some fashion over the course of our lives. For most, it just slows us down a bit from time to time. For others, its effects are strong enough to end a life. Although it is far from being a laughing matter, depression can actually be greatly improved by laughter. That and love and carving.
I am predisposed to depression; it runs in my blood. My dad had bipolar disorder and several of my siblings struggle with bouts of the blues. Depression hit me hard as a youngster. Before I graduated college, I attempted suicide two times (one attempt should have, by rights, ended my life, but for some reason did not). As an adult, I finally came to grips with the reality that I had to own this depression thing or it was going to own me. And off I ran to the doctor’s office without passing go or collecting $200.
As docs are wont to do, mine put me on Vitamin P (Prozac). It did take care of the depression, alright, but it made me numb. Although the feelings of despondency and thoughts of suicide stopped, virtually all of the positive emotions stopped too. I didn’t care about much of anything – even the stuff I usually cared about deeply.
For several years, I stayed on Vitamin P. Eventually, I came off of it , hoping the depression had magically evaporated into the ether. But it hadn’t. After a couple of weeks without meds, my husband begged me to start taking them again – immediately. So I did. But I couldn’t decide what was worse: living with uncontrolled depression or living with my emotions locked securely in a box to which I did not have the key.
Over the next couple of years, I tried several different antidepressants in an attempt to resurrect at least some of my emotions. But each of the meds had the same basic result: a flat, colorless life. And I was sick of it. So I came off of the meds and didn’t tell anyone.
Before I weaned myself off of the meds (self-weaning is not medically advisable, people – do not try this at home), I did lots of research about depression – ‘cuz I’m a dork like that – to find out what makes it tick and what I could do to alleviate the symptoms without medication. Turns out, three substances produced in the deep, dark grayness of the brain are primarily responsible for controlling our mood: norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. And guess what produces them in spades – laughing, loving and carving.
So, I set out to include more of those activities in my life, and sure enough, within a couple of months, my moods had leveled out so much that I no longer felt that I was at risk of hurting myself and/or driving those around me nuts. And best of all, I felt truly at home in my own head for the first time since I was a very young child!
“Harumph!” you say, understandably skeptical. Allow me to explain why this seemingly simple tactic was so deliciously effective. Oh, and did I mention this approach to depression costs nothing (once you own a Trikke, that is)? And has no negative side effects? Uh-huh, I thought that might grab your attention!
Laughter is, in truth, good medicine. “Laughter releases endorphins [including norepinephrine], neurotransmitters that have pain-relieving properties similar to morphine and are probably connected to euphoric feelings, appetite modulation, and the release of sex hormones. Studies have shown that laughter boosts the immune system in a variety of ways… So when you feel better after laughing, you really are happier and healthier.” (link to source)
Loving. Now, we all know that love makes us do some weird, wild stuff. We act this way (especially when we’re falling in love) because we’re high on endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin – natural feel-good chemicals our brains produce. And those same chemicals also help keep depression at bay. (Link to more info)
Carving on a sweet cambering machine is my preferred method of exercise. To me, it feels more like having fun and less like working out. The second I step on my Trikke, my cares vanish into thin air, the myriad computer-like applications that typically run in my brain 24/7 come to a screeching halt, and all I see is the road in front of me. No worries, no stress, just carving. It’s the quickest way to my Zen state. This happens because exercise produces dopamine and serotonin (mood enhancers) in quantities strong enough to equal the antidepressant effect of a popular prescription medication (link to source). And, exercise also helps the brain use norepinephrine more efficiently (link to source). Bonus!
Living, loving and carving may not be the key to lifting everyone’s blues permanently, but it sure helps me enjoy being alive. So! The next time you feel that your heart has fallen and can’t get up, won’t you try watching a comedy, snuggling up to someone special, or taking a leisurely ride on your Trikke? What’s the worst it can do – help you feel better?
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This blog is not a substitute for medical advice. Consult your physician before beginning an exercise program and before stopping or changing any medication.
You may also like, Elise Bennet’s Trikke Tale:
From super disabled to Supergirl, thanks to her Trikke.