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- I’ve been feeling very tired and sad.
- For how long?
- On and off for the past seven months.
- Have you been experiencing any other physical symptoms?
- I wake up too early in the morning and can’t fall back asleep. I can’t concentrate. … And I have this feeling of pressure in the middle of my chest.
- Aha… What else?
- I’ve lost my appetite; and my libido. All I want to do is stay in bed and cry all day.
- Well… I think you are experiencing a bout of depression.
- Why would I be depressed?
- Well… Depression is typically the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain.
- So how do I cure it?
- Don’t worry. I’ll prescribe you an antidepressant. You’ll be fine.
- OK. Thank you doctor.
Great! So Jane goes ahead and takes the medication. Now she’s happy again. Well… not exactly “happy,” but at least she is not experiencing those horrible negative symptoms. Now she sleeps all night, she feels more energetic, her concentration has improved, she no longer feels like crying all day, she has regained her appetite, and the pressure in her chest is gone. True, she’s been gaining a lot of weight, and more often than not she’s constipated. Also, her libido is still non-existent. So much so that her husband stopped trying to have sex with her. She thinks that he probably got tired of being rejected. She sometimes wonders if he’s having an affair. But for some weird reason non of this bothers her. Interesting… Some of her friends have been telling her that she seems sort of detached from her emotions. But hey, she’s not suffering the way she used to, right?
Now, the doctor stated a simple truth: Depression is a direct result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. The same way that a wilted plant is a direct result of lack of water. However… what if someone curious — like I was when I was a psychology student — were to ask, “Wait… but what causes a chemical imbalance in the first place?” Most scientists would most likely respond: “There are four factors accounting for the development of a chemical imbalance in the brain: 1. genetics, 2. life stressors, 3. a combination of both, or 4. some rare conditions that pertains to such a small percentage of individuals that it’s not worth even mentioning.” Medication restores the chemical balance in our brain by modifying how our brain cells function. It does not change the actual cause of our imbalance, be this our genetics, our life stressors, or a rare disease. Any of these factors, therefore, will continue to affect us, one way or another.
Meanwhile, and just for the heck of it, let’s take a peek into Jane’s life? Maybe we could find out if any of these factors are present, and therefore contributing to her chemical imbalance in the first place. > Hmm… Let’s see… Did I mention that Jane drinks alcohol? Well, yes she does; two whiskeys neat after work. They help her wind down — along with the half pack of cigarettes she smokes a day. She also has six cups of coffee and way too many sweets daily just to keep from passing out at her desk. She knows she should try to workout and eat healthier. But who has time to go to the gym or cook? She works in an extremely high stress environment, sometimes up to 70 hour a week! And her boss is a bully who is constantly rushing her, putting her down and threatening to fire her. She is wracked with guilt because her frequent overtime hours hardly allow her to see her two year old son, who seems to rather hang out with his nanny and watch TV than play with her lately. > Therefore, the main factor accounting for Jane’s imbalance is an overwhelming amount of emotional, physical, and psychological, STRESS. > Because we live in a world that leaves little room to the proper care of our health, we tend to write off these stressors with the paradoxical and yet acceptable excuse: “I don’t have the time to deal with this right now. I’m too busy.” Unfortunately, we are oblivious of the fact that these are the very causes of our depression.
So what’s the moral of the story?
In all my years of treating patients with depression, I never met anyone that couldn’t come up with a list of possible stressors that could explain the onset of their symptoms. After looking into their lives, it’s always been easy to identify the source or sources of imbalance, or what I call the “dysrhythmic behaviors.” Dysrhythmic behaviors are the behaviors that increase the release of stress hormones, which in turn make the brain lose its “rhythmic precision” to release chemicals. Cigarettes, recreational drugs, alcohol, caffeine, unhealthy foods, lack of exercise, severe emotional stress, financial problems: these are at the root of depression. > > And yet, it is very common to hear people who are dealing with depression say, “I don’t take care of myself because I’m depressed,” when unless they have a — rather extremely rare — health condition that renders them depressed, the truth is more like: > “I am depressed because I don’t take care of myself” > Please understand that I am not vilifying the use of medication. I believe medication is a great spring board for those who need a first push in their attempt to address their chemical imbalance. However, simply taking medication without addressing the real problems will not cure depression. It will only mask it. > > So, when you hear “chemical imbalance in your brain”, please ask yourself this question:
“Is this chemical imbalance the trigger of my problem or is it the result of my problem?”
Your chances of finding the actual factors underlying the onset of your depression will increase dramatically if you look more into your life and the way you live it before you look into your genes.