A Balanced Approach to Depression:
an interview with Catherine Carrigan
by Mariah Mannia
Catherine Carrigan is certified as a Brain Gym instructor, a Touch for Health practitioner, and as a personal trainer by the American Council on Exercise. She is also an educator and an author/columnist. Her personal goal is to create a social revolution in the social and medical approach to handling depression.
Mariah: What is the basic message of your book, Healing Depression?
Catherine: Recent research about the brain, advances in nutrition, and greater understanding of the mind-body connection have given new hope to those who have previously been told they will always suffer from a mental illness. In the past, the words "healing" and "mental illness" were never connected; the old paradigm was to "manage" mental illness. Society has come a long way since we incarcerated and hid away the mentally ill. The next step was advances in medication. A new paradigm is now emerging: that it is possible to overcome even the most lifelong mental depression.
Mariah: Tell us about your own story of healing depression.
Catherine: I can't remember when I first felt depressed; it was always with me. I began seeing psychiatrists at the age of 16, and began taking various medications at age 18. I was hospitalized at the age of twenty after being diagnosed as a manic-depressive. At the time, the inference was that I should be very ashamed of myself. I know that it takes tremendous strength to live with mental illness and it takes even more strength and courage to overcome it but it can be done.
Many times, as I was working on my own healing, I felt quite frustrated at the amount of time and energy I had to spend to sort through the physical, emotional, and spiritual complexities. Now I see that as I have healed myself, I have been able to bring light, love, and peace to so many others, not by doing anything great or grand, but simply by living and loving my life. I no longer think of myself as a mentally ill person.
Mariah: Do you still experience depression from time to time?
Catherine: One of the top psychiatrists in Atlanta has given me a clean bill of health. None of us is perfect, of course, but what I experience now is a normal range of feelings, I think, and we have to remember that all of our emotions are given to us as a blessing. Carl Jung said that the only way to truly live in the light is by always being aware of where our shadow is.
Mariah: How do you care for yourself today?
Catherine: When I first got off my drugs, I had to spend a lot of time taking care of myself. The more integrated I become, the easier it is for me to maintain mental and emotional balance, and the more I have to give to others. Basically, I have several rules for my life: I do what I love, I hang out with people I really care about, and I watch myself very carefully to manage stress and not push myself too hard. Many times, I wish I was more ambitious, but I also am learning where true joy lies, and I am finding it.
Mariah: What kind of professional support do you think people with depression need?
Catherine: First, body-oriented therapy, be it Brain Gym, Touch for Health, yoga therapy, Rolfing, massage, or any of the endless variations of therapy that allow us to release long-held neurological patterns. Dr. Candace Pert has made a wonderful contribution by showing that our memory is held all over our body; traditional therapy can make a dent in what's going on, but to really release and change patterns, I believe we have to deal with the body.
Every thought we think affects our body chemistry.
Second, depressed persons need therapies that integrate the brain, like Brain Gym or EEG biofeedback. In a nutshell, research out of Harvard shows that when we're depressed, we don't access the left frontal lobe or the right posterior parietal lobe. When we're no longer depressed, our brains are integrated: we have higher levels of electrical activity all over the brain, and we are running on all cylinders, so to speak; we are able to access everything. If we can use brain integration techniques to change the neurological patterning and maintain that integration with adequate nutrition, I believe it is physiologically impossible to be depressed.
That brings us to the third thing needed: appropriate nutrition. The brain uses 25 percent of our glucose and can detect minute changes in blood sugar, so our mood can change with every meal. We are also more sensitive to allergies, chemicals, electromagnetic radiation, and other bombardments than previously realized. No one wants to give up chocolate cake; it is not a matter of being noble, it's simply a matter of giving the brain what it needs to operate in a stable manner.
Finally, I believe that depressed people need reality therapy. Every thought we think affects our body chemistry. I believe that therapists of tomorrow will be more like spiritual scientists who explain how anger and stress affect our body chemistry. The point is not to suppress our reactions but to rise above them, transmute them to love and forgiveness. If everybody who was depressed understood how their thoughts created the negative soup they want to avoid, they might be more motivated to grow spiritually and learn to love themselves and others more unconditionally.
Mariah: Healing Depression has been called "a source of hope for mankind". Can you comment on this?
Catherine: I just live my life every day and don't see myself as anything other than an ordinary person. I believe that each of us has a purpose in life, and I have found that by assisting others to be happy and healthy, I myself find great joy. I have received calls and letters from people around the world. I always talk to everyone.
When I was writing my book, I thought of the man who broke the four-minute mile; after he ran that fast, many others followed. After being told my entire life that I would always be a manic-depressive, that the best I could do was to take drugs, talk about my childhood forever, and shut up to the rest of the world about my condition, I wanted to offer hope that it is possible to overcome depression. The whole time I was on drugs, I was suicidal every other month. I am blessed, and I give thanks every day and humbly ask for guidance on how to return the blessings I have received.
Mariah: In what ways do you currently work with people who are depressed?
Catherine: I work with people who want to get well. I am a personal fitness trainer in Atlanta and teach seminars around the country on my book. I work with nutrition, do Brain Gym and Touch for Health, and enable my clients to develop plans to learn how to take care of themselves. I am also very conservative: I send all my clients to doctors when necessary.
Catherine Carrigan will be presenting a weekend workshop, "Self-Healing Techniques for Depression," July 31-August 1. This event is sponsored by The Holistic Depression Network. For more information or to register, contact the Network at (206) 528-9975.