By Dr. Shawna Darou, ND
As with most people who get into healthcare, I also have my own story and path that led me to naturopathic medicine and I’m sure I have shared some of it with a few of you. Today I was reflecting on mental health, and my own journey over the years. When I look back, I am immensely grateful for the life I have now, and the relatively less day-to-day struggle. Since childhood, I have suffered from social anxiety, had several forms of eating disorders as a teen and through my 20’s, and many years of deep depression. My path to where I am today has certainly not been an easy one, but I now look at it as a phenomenal way to develop empathy, compassion and understanding in my work, and in my life.
I was asked today about what helped? What really worked?
As with almost all chronic, deep-rooted health conditions there are many layers, and there was not one single thing that changed everything.
I could certainly say that a gluten-free, casein-free diet was significant: it stabilized my energy levels, stabilized my weight, and magically stopped the relentless food cravings.
Discovering issues with methylation, and an increased need for B-vitamins (folate and B12) made an incredible impact too especially with anxiety, along with realizing that a fully plant-based diet was not able to give me all of these nutrients sufficiently for my emotional well-being.
Removing toxins from my life as fully as possible stopped the brain fog, energy fluctuations and certainly helped with mood as I recognized my job as a young engineer with exposure to chemicals in the petrochemical industry were triggering events to the deeper episodes of depression.
Tracking my menstrual cycle and learning the patterns and ebb and flow of emotions, and simply recognizing the predictability was life-changing too. It’s amazing how much easier it is to be compassionate and breathe through a difficult wave when you know it will pass in a couple of days.
Discovering the types of exercise that my body thrives on, and the mood-elevating effects of short-duration high-intensity interval training has certainly made the mood lows, much less of an issue.
Most importantly though, before all of this, what shifted my mental health and especially the depression was commitment to a meaningful life and one filled with purpose. Making the decision to pursue a career in naturopathic medicine was a strong heart-felt calling, and one that didn’t make much sense to those around me. I was already an engineer with two degrees behind me and lots of potential, and yet I started again applying to naturopathic medical school.
My work with you in my clinic, my drive to constantly learn more so I can help more people creates true meaning in my life. I have found that maintaining a focus on something bigger than me through my work, and in a field where my brain is kept busy through endless, exciting learning is truly what keeps the depression away.
I wanted to share this today, in a moment of vulnerability because I think that we often feel so alone in the struggle. What I’ve learned through talking to thousands of patients, is that even those who look like they have it all together have their own struggles. This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Brené Brown:
Everyone has a story that will break your heart. And, if you’re paying attention, most people have a story that will bring you to your knees.
Thank you so much for showing up with your own vulnerability in my office, and I hope that this short article inspires you to look at your life to find where your meaning and purpose lie. Remember that it doesn’t have to come from your work – it can be your family, art, connection with nature or friendships too, but regardless of where you find meaning – it has an enormous impact on your health too.