Julius was referred to me for therapy last year. On the last session of therapy, I was amazed by his progress and witnessed he practises his reflection and self-care daily. It is the effort of team work, especially his wife, Nicole, who is very supportive and walks hand in hand with him in this journey. I am very touched and moved by the couple's love for one another. Together with Dr Sebsatian Liew and Julius's spiritual director, and through dance therapy, we worked together towards facilitating the healing . I am happily surprised by the results of his process. In the therapy, I empower my client with the tools and skills they need where they can practise them on a daily basis. I observed that Julius practises his self-care earnestly as he is determined to recover from depression. He makes time for reflection, prayers, Me time and exercises. With the tools of learning how to listen to his body in dance therapy, he is able to witness internally to himself in a compassionate way. I am thankful and grateful that Julius is coping better and better. I am honoured to be able to witness his journey. Thank you Julius for sharing your story. It is a first account story without editing. I believe in the authenticity of sharing from where they are. It is also their wish to encourage others to step out and seek help. As a team, with the other professionals and especially the support of family members, working hand in hand together, we can all help someone to battle depression or any other mental health issues.
First account personal story by Julius
I was first diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 17 at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) after a suicide attempt. I was admitted a further 2 times when I was 20 and 26. For me, my depressive episodes were marked by prolonged feelings of sadness and anger and despair. This often led me to consider suicide. During my stays at IMH and my subsequent discharges, I was given fluoxetine, an anti-depressant to help me cope with the day-to-day aspects of life.
Taking fluoxetine did help me initially in that it was able to make me feel more upbeat about life and less sad. This was great I thought and continue to take it without thinking of alternative natural remedies or changing my lifestyle. After about a year after my last discharge and continuing to take fluoxetine religiously I noticed that I was getting increasingly violent whenever I was agitated. My moods were a lot more erratic and this cause Nicole my wife, then my girlfriend to be afraid of me whenever I was upset.
Nicole always accompanied me to IMH for my doctor visits to get my month’s supply of fluoxetine. We would often wait for 1 hour and see the doctor for 1 minute as the doctors would merely ask “Are you feeling ok since your last appointment?” after which they would write me my prescription for my fluoxetine. She was disturbed that the visits to the doctors seemed rather unhelpful in my recovery. Thus she was determined to help me safely weaned of the fluoxetine which we both believe was making me feel worse over time.
Nicole started to do a lot of research on depression and natural and safe ways to feel better. It was a period of trial and error for us as I started to take vitamins and supplements such as B complex vitamins, Omega 3 oil capsules and chromium. I quit smoking and drinking. I made it a priority to see where I could reduce stress in my life and to have sufficient sleep each night. I started to exercise regularly and be open to Nicole about how I was feeling especially when another depressive episode seem around the corner. Changing our diets to one that limited simple carbohydrates, salt and sugar and processed food was a very big but impactful step we took. Being open to the divine and growing in faith strengthened my resolve. A big step in my continuous recovery was understanding my childhood and past hurts in my life by people. Knowing these wounds and hurts and being able to love myself despite them brought my healing to another level.
It was Nicole’s love and support and personal involvement that made me realize that to get better, I need to take charge of the decisions pertaining to my health, physical, emotional and psychological. Despite heeding Nicole’s advice and suggestions by following through with all the measures we were taking, I was very passive in my recovery as I relied on Nicole to “ heal” me. I left it to her to do most of the research and after a while I could see how much burden she had to shoulder for my sake. Burden because she felt totally responsible for my well being and if things were not working out, she felt herself to be blamed. Over time, I realized that I needed to take charge of my own recovery while embracing the support from Nicole if I were to be serious about getting and staying better. How I did that was to do my own research on depression and medication, preparing my own questions beforehand whenever I visited any medical personnel or person involved in my recovery. Claiming a personal responsibility of my health was and is such an important aspect of my well being.
For about a year and a half, I continued maintaining the above-mentioned measures I took to stay well and for most part, I believe I coped pretty well. However in May 2014, I hit a severe violent and depressive bout after over working for 5 days in a row, with little sleep, an enormous amount of stress, an unhealthy diet and picking up smoking again. This led us to Dr Sebastian Liew to find out if there was anything more we could do for me to stay well and prevent another such violent and depressive episode.
It was very affirming hearing from a naturopath that most of the steps we are already taking is very beneficial in my recovery. I took a neurotransmitter and amino acid test. The tests results shown I was low in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps one feel good and motivated. I was also low in isoleucine, an amino acid that helps me to recover after a strenuous exercise. Thus I take a lot longer to recover from strenuous activity and injuries and a higher tendency to feel fatigue. So high intensity exercise was in a way backfiring on my well being because whenever I was fatigued, I would be more susceptible to low and erratic moods swings.
From Dr Sebastian, we explored taking natural supplements as opposed to synthetic man made ones. For example I used to get my vitamin C from a multi vitamin but have since switched to drinking nettle tea. Dr Sebastian pointed out to me the importance of improving my digestion for the absorption of nutrients and supplements. This is because if my digestion were poor, whatever beneficial properties of the herbs and food I was taking would not be absorbed efficiently by my system.
From Dr Sebastian, I got to know Elizabeth. I was keen to explore different ways to get better as I believe in holistic healing. For me to better live with my depression, I realized I had to learn how to deal with it on a physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual manner. Simply relying on supplements or a good diet would not be sufficient.
Elizabeth made me feel very comfortable from the start as we discuss how we could go about our sessions of dance therapy together. From the initial Skype interview I had with her before the commencement of our sessions, I felt I was able to be open to her in revealing sensitive aspects of my life, which would be important areas we can work on during our sessions. The only question I had about dance therapy was if it involves me dancing, of which I feel very shy about. She took the time to explain how dance therapy works and how it might be able to help me gain a better understanding of myself and thus how to better live with depression.
Over the course of 5 sessions, we talked about various topics such how to be able to release negative energy from the body and the concept of the one’s inner child with the influence of both the nurturing and critical parents. Personally, I have many negative thoughts about myself and expectations that have been imposed on me both consciously and subconsciously. These negative thoughts I discovered have played a very big role in my depressive feelings. With Elizabeth’s guidance, we worked through how I am able to identify the sources of these negative thoughts and this has helped me tremendously in the way I think about myself. To be more gentle and loving to myself reduced the incidences of me being too harsh and hard on myself that have not been helpful in accepting myself.
My expectation of dance therapy was that it would enable me to reconnect with my past to explain current behaviors or feelings. Elizabeth told me that the body remembers these emotions and events although cognitively we might have no memory of it. In one session, I was told to reenact the motion of disciplining my dog whenever she urines on the floor which makes me angry. A chill went down my spine when I realized together with Elizabeth’s observation that how I disciplined my dog was in a similar fashion to my violent father. It was a big moment for me as I realized the manner in which I react and respond these days took such a big influence from my past. Without Elizabeth’s help, I might have missed such behavioral patterns or taken a much longer time to be aware of them. In understanding myself better, I am better able to look at my recovery from depression in a more holistic way knowing that it is not just one factor that causes me to feel depressed but a complex web of circumstances that have formed me into the person I am today.
During my first stay in IMH, a teacher who visited me commented how I was courageous to seek help for my depression when most other people would not wish to talk about it. I didn’t understand what she meant then. But looking back now, I realized that what has helped me tremendously all these years was to be open and brave enough to know that I live with a condition which the more I hide from myself and people, the more I would not be able to be better equipped to live with it. I thank God for all the people he has sent into my life to help me when I couldn’t help myself and among them is truly Elizabeth. Praise God!