Healing The Body Through Emotional Release

It was a gradual decrease in energy that seemed imperceptible at first but grew as the months dragged on.  When I was finally diagnosed after three years of doctor visits, I was so exhausted it was an effort to get out of my pajamas in the morning.  It was a shame too, since working all my life, I finally was able to retire to write my book, but I was too tired to think.  Managing only a yoga class per day, I would come home and lay in bed with a computer on my lap trying to concentrate long enough to accomplish a day’s work.  

Although this story has a happy ending, the sad aspect is that we are not all as “lucky”.  I am telling my tale of depression because I want readers to understand the most important aspect of wellness;  namely that we are ultimately responsible for our health and well being.  No other person we encounter in life has our goals and motives, our inner intelligence and knowingness of our individual bodies, and most importantly, has as much at stake as we do.  When you read my story, please look for all of the lessons then write to me about your wellness victories.  We all need to help one another against a system that is just not aware enough to handle the health crises this nation has gotten itself into.

Depression:  Is this just the beginning or is it the end?    

One doctor after another said the same thing, “You’re depressed”.  “That can’t be,” I said in amazement, “I’m a happy person!”  But was I was lying to myself?  There were many traumatic events leading up to this time including the terrible break up of a relationship just months before marriage, a catastrophic event in my son’s life, 9/11, and finally the loss of 90% of my income just weeks after the towers fell.  All of this happened within one year.  Couple this with a move to New Jersey and another failed relationship, and you have enough traumas to collapse even the most stalwart optimist.  But still, I didn’t feel unhappy and since I had never been depressed before, I had no idea what condition really felt like.  

“Donna, you have all the symptoms and would probably do well on an antidepressant.”  This was the common statement made by three professionals, including my gynecologist, my general practitioner, and a psychiatrist I finally agreed to go to.  Since antidepressants weren’t an option for me, I continued on to find a doctor who would offer me alternatives.  It was during this time that I decided to seek out professional help for my ADD.  Those symptoms had worsened since my childhood and I needed desperately to get back into focus.  I found a neurologist in New Jersey who specialized and was famous for treating adult ADD and I started to see her regularly.  She put me on Ritilin and some of my symptoms improved, but time would prove to show that many of them worsened and the drug almost killed me, literally. 

During one visit to the neurologist’s office she noticed my ferritin level was low.  It was supposed to be around 30 or so, but instead mine was only 11.  I asked what significance this could have.  She went on to tell me that she read a study done on people with ADD having low ferritin levels and that it was probably a symptom of ADD.   I thought it was unusual and worth investigating so I remembered to ask for more blood work from my regular doctor. 

The next couple of months went by and my blood work was checked again.  This time the ferritin was down to 9, the next blood test would read about 5.  This was getting scary, but my doctor was undaunted.  Maybe I should go off the medicine?  “No”, she said.  “One has nothing to do with the other.”  By now my skin was hanging on my bones I had lost so much weight.  Its tone was a white/gray color and my veins were showing through my skin.   I was freezing all the time and although my attention span was greater and my energy was okay because of the drug, I was really loosing it mentally and my depression was getting worse. 

In July of 2004, less than 9 months after starting that drug, my body would finally rebel.  I woke up one morning and noticed my face was contorted and funky looking.  Thinking it was because of lack of sleep or a bad night, I shrugged it off.  The next day, it was worse and by the third day, I was in a panic.  My eyes were drooping, my nose was almost pointy, and my mouth was puckered.  I looked awful! 

I immediately started to look up my symptoms, googling “droopy eyes” and sure enough, a web page popped up with my exact issue!  It was called the “amphetamine look” and described droopy eyes, pinched nose and pursed lips as its symptoms, and guess what?  The site was about Ritalin and the dangerous side effects it can cause in the brain.  Needless to say, I got off the drug immediately even though my neurologist actually told me not to worry about it.  Then I dumped her as fast as the drug.  

Getting off the Ritalin helped some of my symptoms but the exhaustion came back and my mind became cloudy once again.  Now the “depression” was obvious, occasionally leaving me with a sense of hopelessness and often times thinking there was nothing left to live for.  There were actually days out of my month that death seemed a solution to the issue of my emotional exhaustion and mental anguish.  I remember driving down the turnpike, looking at the overpasses and wondering how fast I could ram into one if I wanted to finally end the misery.  After that day, I realized, “Something had to give”.

I had enough of doctors though so I would do my own investigating.  Sitting one day in my usual horizontal position, lap top resting comfortably, I googled the words “tired and depressed”.  You can just imagine the number of sites this search produced.  I was daunted to say the least.  Instead of becoming overwhelmed though, I decided to create a mantra and said to myself, “Lead me to what I need to hear.”  The word “symptom” popped into my head.  I decided that this depression was not a state of being, most especially since I never took ownership of it.  Perhaps it was really a byproduct of something that was going on in my body.  I changed my search, and decided to investigate my other symptoms.  When I googled “low ferritin”, a site caught my eye.  It listed the words “iron deficiency anemia” so I immediately clicked on it.

The site was filled with information about low iron levels and the symptoms it causes.  The doctor who wrote the research believed that low iron levels caused many symptoms that mimicked and included depression and doctors were unaware of its serious affect on the body.  In addition, he believed the medical association’s idea of what is within normal range for ferritin was just too low.  At the current standard which was a level around 14, there was enough iron storage to keep you alive, but not enough to live symptom free.    

It seems I had all of the other symptoms as well and not one doctor ever thought to associate them with iron deficiency.  Apparently, my hemoglobin was always within normal range, or should I say, just a hair above normal, but that didn’t explain why the neurologist didn’t pick up on it.  After all, wasn’t she the one who read the “study” linking ADD with low ferritin levels?  Funny how it took me as a lay person to realize that low ferritin wasn’t a symptom of ADD, but instead, ADD is a symptom of low ferritin!  No wonder why my ADD was acting up.  It was my low iron levels that were causing all my mental confusion, not the other way around.

After reading the site further, I concluded that my diet was so iron rich, it could have masked the issue.   It seems that eating anything containing iron just before a blood test could change results.  I called my general doctor that day and requested to be put on prescription iron.  He denied me because I wasn’t anemic.  When I told him about my ferritin levels and the website, he told me it didn’t matter.  I was frustrated and wanted to dump him too, but instead I had an idea.  I requested another blood test to see if I was in fact anemic.  He agreed to give me a script.  The day before the test, I fasted and ate nothing that could put any iron in my blood.  Sure enough the results showed I fell below the normal range and he gave me a prescription for iron.  Within a few months, my ferritin number began to rise, my mental cloudiness cleared up immediately and my depression subsided, but it would be some time before I was physically back to normal. 

The most surprising aspect of this story is the reason why my levels were in such bad shape.  When investigating the loss of so much blood, I discovered that donating a pint every few months would deplete me enough to sabotage my system.  After all, I was a menstruating female losing some of that precious protein every month.  Although donating was a contributing factor, I truly believe I lost my iron along with my will (hence the phrase “iron will?). 

The traumatic events I experienced literally sucked my life force (and you could say the blood) right out of me.  Suffice it to say, I had more than enough reason to be depressed from the last years of trauma I endured, but I was a master at manipulation and seeing the positive in everything.  I didn’t want to allow the episodes to change my bright outlook.  But our body’s are made to heal themselves and there are always contributing factors to any physical or emotional symptom we experience.  If I had gone on antidepressants as all four doctors suggested, I would have never pursued the physical or emotional issues and would most definitely have gotten worse. 

I am extremely grateful to the anemia I experienced.  It forced me to stop running away from my past and instead deal with it.  After all, what else can you do when you are literally laying still?  The time it took me to become diagnosed and then physically healed was time I took to read, research, and of course, journal, which ultimately led to my emotional scars being healed as well.  Whether the onset was physical or emotional though (What came first the chicken or the egg?), doesn’t matter.  Pursuing alternative methods to deal with the depression is what ultimately got me back to normal.  It has been years since the diagnosis and my skin tone is normal, my ferritin levels are over 30 and I am NEVER depressed or exhausted anymore.  Iron, in a little tiny pill, returned my life and my will to live it beautifully.

Love and Peace Always,  D