My father, single father, looks after small child in the 1970's. Limited income. All his brothers are successful. Stops lifeblood, his loved profession, of being a farmer. "You can't bring up a little girl by yourself forty miles out of town". Failed marriage after a failed baby. Relationship cataclysmically fell apart with a lost baby in the last stage of pregnancy. But then another baby conceived on the shattered cusp of that wrecked marriage. He gets the baby and loves it and keeps it. But still, failed future. Desperate sadness at all dreams of that large joyful rambling family crumbling to dust. Just a dad and a daughter.
Then meets new lady. A good lady, but not the happiest most loving lady. But good and tries her best. She gets horrible cancer in a very early stage of that relationship. But you don't desert. Breast cancer becomes the shearing constant torment of bone cancer for 10 years plus. Does what his gorgeous kind loyal, but frustrated soul demands. Hangs in there and does the right thing. Stays with her.
But suffers from depression for years. For so many reasons. The best and most loving father. But also one of the saddest. Trapped in duty. Trapped in self. Trapped in the failure of never having the career that all the men around him have. The language of men. His life is foreign to them and perhaps confronting. How to get out when you are a single parent and then the partner of someone fighting cancer. How to be just another bloke. You can't.
Depression a constant companion. Trapped. But from doing what is asked of him, reflecting on what has happened to him, consequences of actions taken chances not given.
Then the child grows up, the partner riddled with cancer, passes on, to his and her relief. As life does. Then the shock of a heart attack within months.
The heart attack spurs change and a lovely lady enters his life. A lady from a happy place. They walk, they go out, they meet people, they travel, he eats healthier food, prompted by the message of the heart attack.
Depression of 20 plus years lifts. My father has the life I always wanted him to have. At 61.
The changes in his life followed a pattern prescribed recently in a book by Dr Stephen S. Ilardi, PhD, called The Depression Cure. My ears pricked up when I listened to an interview and Dr Ilardi, and he described the six step process to helping cure, or reduce depression in your life. A pattern that was so close to my fathers' changes that I had to mention the book here.
Dr Ilardi writes how lasting health is the result of integrating 6 elements into your life. He was inspired by the 'extraordinary resilience' of aboriginal groups like the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea who rarely suffer depression, and by the fact that our genetic makeup hasn't changed since the days of our ancestors living as hunter gatherers. Living in a much simpler world, outside much of the day, with a large plant and based diet (and we all know greens contain the omega 3 fatty acids and meat from animals fed on grass, and not grain fed diets, contain omega 3 as well).
These are the 6 elements Dr Ilardi cites:
- Follow an omega-3 rich diet – think about all the meat our ancestors ate raised on omega 3 rich grass, not grain
- Exercise regularly
- Enjoy plenty of natural sunlight;
- Ample sleep – Lower stimulation: turn the television off well before you go to bed, avoid caffeine, all basic stuff
- See people and mix. Social connections are integral to our happiness;
- Participation in meaningful tasks that leave little time for negative thoughts – from craft, to painting your house to volunteering
—all things that our ancestors had in abundance.
Quoting from his website, Dr Ilardi calls his treatment the Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC)—has proven remarkably effective in a large treatment study at my university. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either TLC or treatment-as-usual in the community (mostly medication), and fewer than 25% of those in community-based treatment got better.** But the response rate among TLC patients was over three times higher. In fact, every single patient who put the full program into practice got better, even though most had already failed to get well on antidepressant medications.
Food for thought. And yes, for some the above actions may only relieve an inherited tendency. And life and our choices can trap us so badly.
But I can't help but think that these are the ingredients we all need.
That no matter how hard our life might be at this very minute, change will come, and we can help make it come, and with it, wellbeing.