“Grandpa, will I grow up to be a good man or a bad man?”
“Well, son, that depends on which dog you feed.”
This is the story that began my third therapy session with Kate. I was as confused as the little boy.
Kate explained that if we feed the wild dog within us, it will grow to be big and strong. If however, we feed the puppy within, it will grow to be big and strong. It is our choice.
Yet, there are times when we need to bring out our inner-wolf. There are times we need to be as gentle as a puppy. The secret, Kate explained, is to try to live as much as possible on the middle, moderate road. This squared with my professional training which indicates “both” is typically the best choice ~ the space between “either” and “or.”
In essence, this is a lesson of the light and shadow aspects of all our personalities. It is also about choices. Will we become victims of circumstances? Or, will we grow stronger in our ability to survive, thrive, and find joy?
What do we feed? Do we feed our anger and thirst for revenge? Do we feed our pain and humiliation? Or, do we feel happy memories and a strong sense of self? Do we eat junk or healthy food? Do we think of ourselves as victims or victorious?
Therapy is very much like excavating an archaeological site. We gently dig around in the dirt until we unearth buried treasure. As we continue with our healing process, we naturally jettison the junk: the unhealthy aspects of our personalities and lives. We take out the trash.
After we take out the trash, we need to fill up the empty spaces. Nature abhors a vacuum. So, we need to replace the junk. . .to showcase the treasures we unearth with our digging. . .we need to replace the negative with something positive and valuable.
Heathy Food as an Antidote to Depression
Of course, with this metaphor, Kate was also gently reminding me that I literally have to feed my body healthy food. I need to jettison my habit of not eating until 10:00 or 11:00 at night and then stuffing myself with whatever is readily available. . .which tends to be junk food. It fills my belly, but it doesn’t fuel my body, mind, or soul.
I don’t like to eat. You’d never know it to look at my obese self. I have a very bad habit of relying on adrenaline and coffee to power through a day without eating or taking a break. My employers rewarded my workaholic tendencies. But, as I age, my body is rebelling. My adrenal system is shot. My cardio-vascular system is clogged. Years of Complex-PTSD episodes are eating a nasty hole in my esophagus which is causing sinus infections and will in time morph into cancer. And, my junk food diet leads to malnutrition which causes periodic bouts of deep depression. Who knew?
So, I need to change my bad habits. My gastroenterologist prescribed medication which makes me physically ill if I don’t timely eat breakfast and dinner. I’m on a mission to find appealing food that is healthy and simple to prepare. In the process, I’m discovering that I have substantially more energy on the days after I eat healthy. This increases my energy to exercise which helps me get a good night’s sleep.
Dr. Henry B. Head told me decades ago that the best antidote to depression is to:
- eat healthy
- get a good night’s sleep
He’s right, but the trick is to find a place to jumpstart the cycle when we are profoundly depressed. I have discovered that I can start with a breakfast of fiber-rich cereal and berries. In a few days, I’m able to add a dinner of grilled protein and salad. A few days after that, I’m feeling like taking a walk. In about a week, I’m sleeping through the night.
Recommended reading and diet: The South Beach Diet