I am not even sure where to start this story, because I can’t even remember when I first noticed I had mood issues. I mean being female my mood was often associated with PMS, and hormones. But not in the way it was supposed to be.
I struggled even as a teenager. I remember always feeling like the odd one out. I was often the loner at our family gatherings as I only had one cousin that I connected with and was my age. So, when we visited the other families, I would always feel a bit alone.
I was the 2nd child of five siblings and the middle sister. My older sister had a more difficult time growing up and my younger sister had a much easier time. So, I always kind of sat in the middle and did my own thing. This taught me independence and the ability to just quietly go about doing my thing, never really standing out. This in not bad but it does mean that when things get difficult, I retreat and hibernate. That is my coping mechanism.
Hormones play a part with mood and again I wish I had my current knowledge when I was younger. I had awful acne as a teenager and I now understand the hormonal connection. I think my diet was average, and it did not help with optimal health. The 70’s was the beginning of pre-packaged and convenience food and although my mum still cooked our food, the snacks were sugary and packaged.
Backpacking around Europe at 20 years old gave me a real sense of freedom and contentedness. For the next 10 years life was good, I traveled both overseas and within Australia, met my (ex)husband, lived in a party house, and then bought our own house. Then at 28 I fell pregnant. I was anxious and nervous (fairly normal fears), but I certainly didn’t embrace pregnancy like some of my friends were able to. So, it was no surprise really that I suffered from Post Natal depression. It was not as bad as some people experience, but those feelings of inadequacy and heaviness hung about for a while. It wasn’t until I started seeing a homeopath that I made improvements to the way I felt and how I saw myself as a mother.
It was in this time that I first experienced a panic attack. It was a most intense experience and luckily one I haven’t experienced again. I seriously thought I was losing my mind! I think it was after this event that I decided to see someone for help. I had just finished my Diploma of Welfare, so I had a few counseling connections.
Also, in this time my relationship with my husband struggled. We were under financial stress and we decided to move to make life a bit easier. And the following years were easier. I gave birth to twins and the for the next 18 months were things were great.
In hindsight I feel that the twin pregnancy is what triggered my thyroid issues. I was having 2 weeks of PMS, a week on my cycle and only one week when I felt ok. I now know that that is not normal, but at the time I was so busy looking after 3 kids under 3 years that I didn’t really think about myself.
When the twins where about 18months my then husband had an amazing opportunity to work overseas. We both agreed and he took the job, while I stayed at home in Australia with the kids. This was tough. My mental health took a nose-dive (probably my thyroid did as well but I was not aware at that time). PMS was horrible and all I remember is thinking how can you feel this tired and still function?
I became a single parent when the twins were 3 1/2 years old and my eldest was nearly 8. The next couple of years were rather horrendous for my mental health but I also had some amazing break throughs. I studied and put myself through a Diploma of Holistic Kinesiolgy. This helped a great deal with my mindset for a while.
I finished the Diploma and moved straight back into my retail work and spent the next 8 years working up the management scale. I was dipping in and out of these periods of time where I felt so tired that I could just sit and cry. And having moments of feelings of gratitude for what I had. Really, I would tell myself what do you have to whinge about.?
Having my kids is what helped me put one foot in front of the other. But as they got older and needed me less, I was starting to feel work was not gratifying and had some big moments of what the f@#k am I here for? What was I put on the earth to achieve?
I spent more time by myself because this was easier, and I was working retail hours which meant weekends, and all my friends had normal jobs. So, I just accepted that my social life was a bit non-existent and really, I did not have the energy for it either.
I hit a bit of a crisis when I was retrenched from a job. It was a very unpleasant situation. This spiraled me into an exceptionally low point. I lost my confidence and when I think about it now, I could also add words like vitality, energy and heaviness. I was depressed!
Family members were concerned so were some close friends. But I just couldn’t see anyway out of the big black space I felt I was in. And because I felt like this getting another job was proving a challenge. I remember falling to pieces and crying in an interview and thought OMG woman you can’t keep doing this. So, I had to work hard on myself to be strong in these interviews and finally a job came along. It didn’t last long!!!
I felt like I had lost my soul and I just couldn’t give it to another retail job. I felt so destroyed that I just couldn’t come back from it. So, I took a job doing something a bit mindless, I thought that might work. It didn’t!!! I got retrenched again. I was relieved this time though because I hated the job so much.
But I was left with the decision of what to do now. I felt my choices where to give up (that is no longer be here) or listen to the voices in my head that had been quietly yelling at me to take another pathway for many years.
I remember this day very clearly; I had walking tracks for different purposes and I headed down the one where I make decisions. I was chatting inside my head, as I often do, asking what is it that I am not hearing, what path am I meant to be following? This is when I realised the only thing left was to study. And to study Naturopathy. I had tried to study this even before I did Kinesiology, but the timing was never right.
But it was this time. The rest is history, so they say! I graduated in 2019 and started practicing as a Naturopath and I know this is where I am meant to be. Those hard lessons I learnt along the way were what I needed to complete my study as it was a tough journey and you really needed some pushing to get to the end.
Mental health is everywhere. In my family, we have experience with depression, bipolar and anxiety. When I started studying Naturopathy in 2014, I was interested in DNA and a particular gene called MTHFR. The more I learnt the more I believed it might exist within our family DNA. I have since learnt there is more than just this gene. There is a whole series of DNA linked to mental health so I got tested. This test looked at 10 genes that have an impact within this methylation pathway. The genes in this system impact heavily on mental health. I have issues with 6/10 genes. Needless to say it really explains the challenges I faced overcoming mental health. With out optimal diet and extra nutrients I really didn’t stand a chance.
So, do I still have issues with mental health even though I have all this information? At times yes! But are they the same? No.
I now understand the importance of diet and lifestyle and how it impacts on your mental health. I understand what nutrients are needed to supply my body with the right ingredients to keep my mood working well. And I can clearly recognise when I am on a downhill slide.
Having this knowledge allows me to work with these DNA issues and ensure my mental health is functioning at its optimal level. It is a bit like my thyroid story, I know what works for me, but unlike the thyroid I need to use these nutrients daily to keep things in check.
This DNA knowledge also allows me to understand and plan for long term health.
Authored by Jan Caton BHSc-Nat, Owner and Naturopath at Magnolia Apothecary and Owner at The Conscious Spender. Jan practices in Mt Evelyn and Kilsyth.