Recently, I injured my knee in a ski accident. The last time I had a knee injury, it was a 16-month process from injury to MRI to surgery to recovery. And during that time my mental health took a nose dive. My old friends of depression, suicidal ideations, anxiety & fears of weight gain all reared their ugly heads. I quickly plunged into the pit of mental health, only 1 short year after my last (and final) suicide attempt in 2009. I felt guilt and shame that I was in this place again.
I also wondered and reflected on the age-old question: Why am I depressed? Why am I feeling the way I am feeling? Leading up to the injury, I wasn’t depressed. Dare I say I was actually feeling pretty good, for a nice change. So, how come the slide into the mental health pit of depression, despair, and defeat? Was it all because of my knee? The process I teach of how to manage one’s mind so they aren’t at the mercy of it has an important step which I call “Reflect”. With every depression episode I have had (and there have been so many over the last 45 years) – I find that it is important to look back and ask “what happened?” and more importantly – which of the ten steps that I discuss in Beyond the Label have I slipped up on?
In 2010, what I learned was I had been using exercise as my primary stress and weight management tool. I pounded all my problems out on the pavement, processed difficult conversations in my head while running, was also able to let go and just be in the moment and always felt so much better after a run. Essentially, I had put all my health management eggs in one basket: the exercise basket. And it served me well, until I got injured and lost this coping mechanism.
I recently attended a lecture on health put on by Next30 – a group that is looking at the next 30 years in Alberta – and one of the guest speakers was Hayley Wickenheiser – an Olympic Gold medalist. She was talking about the importance of exercise in health and how that needs to be a priority for Albertans. My comment was that there is more to health than exercise. Don’t get me wrong, I am very much pro-exercise; however, you can’t out exercise a poor diet. And what happens when you can’t exercise or are injured – then what?
When I wasn’t able to exercise with my last injury, my mental health suffered. The blessing that came out of this – the growth if you will – is that I realized that I needed to go back to the health drawing board to figure out how to help myself. I had dialed in the physical foundations of health: diet, sleep, exercise and managing stress; however, I still needed to work on my thoughts, emotions, boundaries, core beliefs, limiting or shadow beliefs, unconscious commitments, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, neuroplasticity, and love for myself. It was through this period of personal growth and inner work that my book: Beyond the Label: 10 steps to Improve your Mental Health with Naturopathic Medicine was born.
For me, mental anguish far outweighs the physical limitations I am experiencing with my current injury. Despite the blood clots and torn ligaments, my spirit is strong and secure. I know I will get better and I am on the long road to recovery. The difference between my previous injury and this time round is I have learned how to manage my mind so that I am not at the mercy of it. Back then, I wanted my life to be over and now I want to live. What a huge shift in perspective! I am already looking forward to when I can ski, run, swim, hike and bike again.
My message to you is that health is comprised of many factors. All of them are important and can impact each other, for example, when you start eating better, you will have more energy to exercise and when you get outside with fresh air, you sleep better – almost like a domino effect. Ask yourself if there is one thing that you are over relying on to support your health, such as exercise and if there is something that you aren’t willing to look at, such as your shadow beliefs. Often, what we don’t want to address is what needs to be addressed and contains the medicine that we need. When health is built on a solid foundation that supports the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of health then you have the skills and mindset to support yourself through setbacks and challenges that can arise.
Ultimately, listening to your body is key. Your body is not failing you, but rather, you are failing your body. The advice my 14 year old son gave me when I explained how my ski accident occurred was this: “Oh mom, don’t you know that when you feel like that, the best thing to do is stop, breathe, regroup and then continue on?” – if I had done that, I may not be in my current predicament. I am grateful for the gifts, lessons and teachings that life is giving me. And if you ever feel flustered, remember what my son said: Stop and pause. Take a breath. Regroup. Redirect. Carry on.
Sending you all healing thoughts.
Dr. Chris ND