I started this blog to help people. I feel like I’ve found the latch to my cage after years – no, decades of suffering – and that’s fantastic. But when others tell me their stories, or stories of their loved ones in pain, I found I couldn’t help. I would try to tell them my story, or even just tell them of the keys I’d found. But it isn’t an easy thing, to help someone see how much this odd “therapy” can help, especially in the aisle of a grocery store, or over cookies at a kid’s birthday party. Too quick of an explanation and people smile politely and dismiss me as another crackpot. I get that, but usually, a quick explanation is all there is time for. I thought that if I put these pages together, I could just offer people the url, then they could have all of the information I did. They could read when they wished, and explore as deeply as they wanted, and it would be there when the “I’ll try anything” moment hit.
It hurts to know there is someone – anyone – in pain, and not be able to help. My hope is that this format will touch more people and help. To give comfort, is everything.
I have suffered from depression all of my life, even as a tiny kid. At various times, anxiety has also stamped its brand into my skin. While I don’t know that it would help anyone to know the details of my life, can I just say that it hasn’t been pretty? Fill in the blanks with whatever that brings to mind. I have fought through the horrors of depression for decades.
And now they’re gone.
That’s the point. It wasn’t that I’d never tried anything. I’ve been on more med trials than I can count. Nothing ever helped me much, or for long. Maybe the lows were blunted sometimes. A bit. No more than that. I took pills anyway. Handfuls of them morning and night. They helped enough to keep me alive, but I don’t know that I ever counted it as a blessing that they did. I’ve always been a fighter, and I didn’t give up just because I was “treatment resistant”.
Here’s a list of some of the things I’ve tried. I’ve tried to remember as many as I can, and talk about any help they might have offered. So here you are, in no particular order.
- Biofeedback: No help
- Acupuncture: No help
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: helped with my mindset and unhealthy behaviors, but didn’t cure the depression.
- Traditional Talk Therapy: It seemed to help just to talk sometimes, but never made the depression go away.
- Art Therapy: No help
- Giving up all sugar, including “natural” sugars like agave, and sugar substitutes: Helped quite a bit, actually. If I was to recommend one thing beyond cold water therapy, this would be it.
- Vegetarianism: No help
- Specific Protein Diet: No help
- Paleo: Made things worse
- Migraine Diet: No help
- L-Methylfolate: Minor help. Did smooth some of the basic negatives of depression. As good as any prescription med for me, anyway. Which, admittedly, isn’t saying much.
- Sam-e: No help
- 5-HTP: No help
- Fish Oil: No help
- Veganism: No depression help, but was fantastic for my arthritis.
- No added salt diet: No depression help, but got rid of my migraines and drastically lowered the pain I had from my monthly.
- Massage: No help, but still worth it!
- Chiropractic: No help
- Physical Therapy: No help, but hey, my back felt better.
- Light Exercise/Cardio: Maybe a little
- Heavy Exercise/Weights + Cardio – we’re talking DRIPPING sweat: Yes, it helped a lot, especially if I was exercising in the heat. Needed 90+ minutes a day to be “enough”.
- Hatha Yoga: Helps a bit with calming.
- Hot Tub: No help, but still, utterly worth it.
- Kundalini Yoga: Maybe a little
- Green Smoothies: Nope, but really improved my blood sugar control.
- Horse Therapy: Yes, helps when I’m really low.
- Whole Foods Plant Based Diet: Wish I could tell you. I was already doing the cold thing when I started. I’ve heard good things about it helping, and heck, it can’t hurt.
- Magnesium: No help
- Fasting: Lift in mood by day two, didn’t really last more than a week or two after, but it was something.
- Wim Hof: I was already doing the cold when I found Wim, so yes his prescription for cold will help. The breathing thing he does is the bomb for anxiety.
I’m sure there were more I don’t remember. My point here being, there are a lot of things to try, and I’ve tried a lot of them. Maybe you have too. I was psyching myself up to pony up the cash for neurofeedback, TMS, possibly psychedelics, and if all of those failed, electroshock. Yes, it was that bad.
When I hit my 40’s, I had exhausted most of the things in my list. I’d also given up on trying most new meds. My depression was the worst it had ever been. But that wasn’t how I got here. I got here because my then 15 year old son’s anxiety and depression ramped up to the point that he started cutting and threatening suicide. My last therapist had kicked me out (nicely) many years prior, saying that I knew enough, I just didn’t need therapy anymore. But when your kid starts walking down that road… It was terrifying, and I had no idea how to help him. I went back to therapy (he’d been in therapy for years), basically determined to kick depression’s ass. Not for me, but to save my son.
I kept a journal of that time, and I’ll eventually link the book I wrote on blog here. It will give you more info and detail if that would help you – or if you’ve just got a boring, Wednesday night to kill, but really? You don’t NEED all of that information. You need the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books version. So, here you go…
Basically, I didn’t know how to deal with the depression – for me or him – so I started therapy trying to describe it. I found I had a few different “faces” of my depression, each expressing itself in different emotions and coping mechanisms. The most dangerous of these in terms of possibility of committing suicide, was a kind of depression I describe as overwhelming tension or pressure, that is felt as pain – staggering in both intensity and constancy. Eventually, my shrink suggested contrast therapy as something to try. The idea behind this was that this constant, unrelenting pain would be broken, or at least disrupted, by tossing my butt into freezing, cold water.
I researched it thoroughly, and you can see that ever-increasing body of evidence under the “research” tab. Again, the RD condensed version. Depression is thought to be brought about through a lack/imbalance of catecholamines (serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine, etc…). Exposure to cold, and especially cold water, increases the levels of these catecholamines in your blood (especially norepinephrine) up to double in the 1st 2-4 minutes in cold water, continuing to increase at a fairly nice clip up to about 20 minutes, at which point, things level off a bit. Why do the catecholamines increase? Because vasoconstriction (the body shutting off blood to your fingers, toes, arms, etc… when very cold) is facilitated in part, by your body producing more catecholamines, and especially norepinephrine. You get cold, and your body automatically goes “Hey! Make more of those catecholamines so we can cut off blood to the extremities and maintain core temperatures here!” The body does that because if your core temperature gets too cold, you die. So to conserve heat in your trunk, the blood gets shut off to the places that are harder to keep warm, by constricting those blood vessels.
Ever go to the ocean or a cold river or lake, and folks get in, only to scream and laugh as they splash their way back out? They enjoying a lovely spike in happy chemicals, otherwise they’d be screaming and crying on their way back out. Anyway, generally these chemicals can’t easily go into the brain where they’re needed, due to a handy thing called the blood-brain barrier. So even if someone gave you a nice injection of serotonin, for example, a lot of it wouldn’t get to your brain. But cold increases the permeability of that barrier. The very thing that increases the concentration of catecholamines, makes it possible for the brain to get hold of these chemicals better than usual. Can I prove it? Nope, not unless a bunch of people line up for a brain biopsy – because evidently, though you can prove an increase in catecholamines circulating in your blood, you can’t stick a needle into your brain and still be ok. But the science is there to evaluate the hypothesis as likely. Bottom line? Cold=Happy. Note that too much cold can also kill you, so please read the cautions and be careful.
DISCLAIMER: I actually AM a doctor, but the wrong kind to be giving you medical advice. I have a PhD – a research degree. That’s great, because I have a background in science, and can make some good determinations about what articles to look at and which might be bunk. It’s not good enough, because I am not a medical doctor, nor do I play one on tv, and therefore, my advice should not – in any way or under any circumstances – be considered medical advice. So, once again, read what I’m saying, and then talk to your doctor BEFORE trying anything, especially if you have some medical condition that might cause issues with three minutes of getting cold.
At any rate, the shrink’s suggestion and my own research both corroborated that there was substance and hope there. That the cold might, in fact, be useful for depression – so I tried it.
Spoiler alert! It worked. It worked spectacularly. It worked miraculously.
It didn’t just work a little. It worked a lot. Not a “gosh, this might be helping”, but an “OMG! There’s a whole different world out there beyond depression!” No doubts. No room for wondering if I’m just having a good week. This isn’t a little change, it’s a whole, new universe I didn’t even know existed.
So was everything perfect in my life from my first cold shower on? Nope. Sorry. Wouldn’t that be nice? For details on the progression I experienced week by week, see the “How To: What to Expect” section. I really AM trying to make this as easy on you as possible. I want you to try this, if it’s right for you. I want you to feel better. So here you go: short version. Things began improving from the very first cold shower. They just kept getting better, until I eventually came off of all my medication and now live med free (which, if you go that route, should be done under the supervision of your doctor, and yes, I did it that way). What didn’t get fixed, was a lifetime of bad habits, coping mechanisms, and ways of reacting. I’d been through decades of therapy, but some things were stubborn and seemed to defy fixing. The good news is, when I didn’t have to fight my own brain chemistry every day, it became possible to fix these things. Or at least to begin to find success in working on them, which led to steady improvements to things I’d never been able to make a dent in before.
Every morning, first thing, I either shower or bathe in water 60 degrees F or lower, for 3-4 minutes. I’ve learned some Tips and Tricks to make things easier and more effective, but these are the basics. And because of those few minutes a day, I live my life free of depression.