I received word yesterday that a friend from long ago had committed suicide. The news hit me hard.
This time of year (February) in the Pacific Northwest can be particularly hard for anyone who experiences depression. We’ve just spent the last 3 months going through the darkest, wettest, and coldest part of the year, and for many it can bring out or intensify depression. So much so, that some people feel like their feelings of despair are beyond their ability to handle them.
I feel sorrowful to know that my friend was one of those people. I feel despondent knowing that another human felt that level of emotional pain.
I can actually identify with what my friend was feeling though, since depression runs in my family. Most winters, my family and I notice a marked increase in depressive feelings around this time of year. In the past, I managed my depression by ensuring I ate adequate protein for blood sugar balance, adding in some targeted amino acids, plus B vitamins, which worked well, but this time of year was still always a struggle.
This year is my first winter since going on a ketogenic diet and I can tell a HUGE difference in my mood. In the past, I often used food to comfort, numb, and dissociate from my winter depressive feelings. While I still feel that familiar depression nipping at my heels right now, it is nothing like I’ve felt in the past. I feel hopeful, happy, calm and peaceful most of the time, whereas in the past I always felt quite despondent this time of year. The change in my mood since going keto also makes it much easier to follow through with the things I know are healthy ways to experience and regulate emotions.
At first I did everything “right” last night as far as healthy ways of handling my dismal mood. I noticed and named my feelings (sad, unhappy, sorrowful, despondent, and so on) and I sought out consolation in friends and family (love you guys), I attempted a mood state change and emotional regulation (watched a comedy movie), and even had a visceral release of my emotions (yay for crying!). And even though all of that felt healthy and appropriate, I still fell into an old habit of seeking out comfort and numbness in food.
Now, I did not “cheat” and go off keto and overeat carbohydrates. But I did overeat some keto-friendly foods when I wasn’t biologically hungry. I knew in the moment that I wasn’t hungry and I was eating because I wanted some comfort, to feel better, to numb the emotional pain.
Turning to food for comfort is not right nor wrong. I mindfully accept what I did without judgment. The issue for me comes down to reducing long-term suffering and being authentic in my keto life. When I turn to food for comfort, in the long run, it increases my suffering because it increases cravings and the likelihood that I will do the same again. It reinforces the habit that I want to let go of. Plus it jeopardizes my ability to remain in ketosis, which is key to maintaining my health right now.
Habits are hard to unlearn. It takes awareness, commitment, and determination. I’ve made a lot of progress in my emotional regulation skills, but I’m not perfect. I’m human.
And Northwest winters are a bitch. And Depression is an asshole.
Please ask for help if you need it.
If you or someone you know is feeling depressed, suicidal, anxious, lonely, having issues with drugs or alcohol, or just needs someone to talk to, call the Crisis Line 24 hours a day:
Call 866-4-CRISIS (1-866-427-4747)