Anxiety, Depression and the Journey To Health
Chris Sutherland, drummer for Bat Out Of Hell Toronto, formerly of Kim Mitchell, penned this wonderful story about his journey through the forests of mental health. Anyone that listens to Outta The Park knows how we feel about this topic.
Chris was gracious enough to allow us to share his story. We are all at once proud, inspired and awe struck by his tale. We are honoured to call him a friend of the show.
Please take the time to read this.
” As of today I have lost 100 pounds from my heaviest weight. One Hundred Pounds in almost exactly ten months. I’ve just had a full physical and literally have NEVER been in better shape. I’m honestly shocked I’m here.
In middle of May 2017 I ended a run of the Bodyguard musical. I was deep in the bottom of the worst depression of my life. I had done some therapy a couple years before, and was diagnosed with severe anxiety, and a panic disorder. I decided to take a few weeks off at the end of the show run and just recharge. I figured I was burnt out and a break would fix it.
The depression kept on raging and I was in a very bad place. I was actually suicidal. I needed the depression to stop. I literally could not take it anymore. Fortunately, the therapy from the year before had sunk in just enough to hang on to me at the last second.
So, I went for a walk until I didn’t feel like doing IT. I walked every morning for weeks. If I walked, I felt a bit better. Mostly, it was because the weather was incredible and I didn’t have anything to do. I had never taken three weeks off. EVER. And I sucked at it.. I kept walking. Still not feeling better, with my body all hurting and broken. Slow 4 – 5km walks in the morning. I’d just go walk the shitty feelings out of me until I was so physically burnt, I’d feel something else. Sore and tired. After a couple of weeks of that, the depression starting lifting.
For years I had been on a bunch of anti depressants and other pills for various anxiety symptoms. Around this time, they all started making me nauseous. Every time I took them I’d be retching within an hour. That evolved into full on throwing up on the daily. I was feeling somewhat better mentally, but couldn’t continue that barf business. So with my Doctor advising, I slowly started to wean off the pills to maybe try switching to something not making me sick. My stomach was a mess, so I decided to do some research for a cleanse or something to hopefully stop the barf. Then, I fell down the information rabbit hole.
I had always known that I have a wheat allergy. So I quit all wheat, and gluten. I quit drinking. That actually wasn’t a big deal, I was over it anyway and didn’t care anymore. I’m allergic to all of it. The effects were very clear and very related to my depression. Hangover = Depressed.
I watched the plethora of food docs on Netflix and read almost everything on the entire internet about food science. I was super freaked out and decided to quit ALL processed food and as much sugar as I possibly could. I couldn’t eat without being sick anyway, so I just needed to get off the prescription drugs and eat basic food. Over the next few months it evolved into eating only meat, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, water and coffee. After a few weeks, nausea gone. AND so was the depression. Zero pills.By then I was dropping weight and wasn’t sick for the first time in months. I just stuck to it because I felt better. Partly…
By July I was firmly in a routine. Walk all morning. I would add a small distance every day and pushed myself to be even ten feet better daily. By the end of September I was walking 16km a day, six days a week, at a hard pace. Only walking and never running. I have a couple of chronic injuries from drumming that don’t allow me to run at all. Then all winter I added a few ab / core exercises that were simple body weight only, with stretching at home, post walk. Another important development was taking off my headphones.
I caught my reflection in a shop window one day while walking and noticed my posture was awful. So I started to think about it while walking and then started noticing breathing. They were both a mess. So I took off the headphones and started to pay attention to everything my body was doing. Posture, breath, and keeping the pace as a even as possible. I could barely make it a block in good form. Taking off the headphones was huge. Silence helped me work through so much mental stuff. And focus on posture and breathing. Eventually turning the walks into a kind of moving meditation. My posture is now a lot better and some of my injuries have simply faded.
At this point I had learned so much about my eating. I was weighing in daily, which was important motivation for me. I counted calories from sugar and kept them very low. Then I tried doing a daily fast. No food after 10pm, Then, wake up and walk in the morning and don’t eat until after. That combo got me dropping weight so fast I was actually a little concerned a couple of times. The Dr. said I was fine. I felt amazing. REALLY amazing. I would still once a week eat something totally ridiculous like an entire large pizza. Other weeks, I wouldn’t eat crazy stuff at all because I was so in a groove. I always made very thoughtful decisions whether or not if I had earned it or had calorie buffer. I was very focused. It turns out, where my body performs best is VERY low calorie. Shockingly low. I thrive there mentally and physically. As soon as my caloric intake gets too high, I’m tired garbage and my depression returns.
Now, I eat the food I have to eat to survive, stay alive and stay mentally healthy. Fuel. I no longer eat for joy or pleasure or to be a foodie. I’m mentally reprogramming myself. I still get cravings but those couple of indulgences a week are for that specific pleasure zone. And I don’t consider them a reward when it’s calculated enjoyable indulgent poison for me. I understand the consequences of eating each bite fully. I still do the hard work every day to have that privilege. A lot of “food” I used to eat now just looks like poison to me. I know that if I eat it, I’ll be sick. I still do it occasionally and relearn my lesson.
Once this started getting ahold of me I learned the most important part. I had to be honest with myself to survive. I was sick of being sick, and sick of lying to myself that I was ok. I had great momentum and I knew what I needed to do to get healthy. I also knew what I needed to stop doing.
I got obsessed with honest decisions to the point that every tiny choice went under the microscope. Every time I would want to bail on walking, or eat something that wasn’t my basic fuel, I asked myself why. Like REALLY why. No lying. Own it. Liars don’t heal. I would make myself SERIOUSLY FUCKING OWN IT and work through the consequences. It got SUPER ugly. The honesty wasn’t fun for a second. But, every time I applied brutal honesty to a decision, something improved. Every authentic and true decision added something positive. At the very least, I wasn’t disappointed in myself which could be turned into a positive.
The other part of the perfect storm was being surrounded, at the time, by so many incredible friends that had been conquering epic stuff. Watching friends being authentic, driven, caring, and also being in incredible shape or finding great success in their own difficult journeys. Scott Atkins, Calvin Beale, Mike Ferfolia, Ryan Van Poederooyen, Beverley O’Keefe, Steve Smith, Giovanni Spano, Rob Fowler, and so many more. They all kick ass, and kicked my ass at some point or another. A lot. They said important things and did the exact right things, at right times to keep me pushing through tough spots. They may not even know how much they helped. So THANK YOU. BIG LOVE TO YOU. And especially to Meladee. Who helped when needed and knew exactly when to leave me alone if I needed that too. She was the most important love, support and endless inspiration.
I still get depression, panic, and anxiety. Only now I’m equipped to deal with them and have a plan. I’m able to recognize my depression, be aware, safe, and get my way clear of it using what I have learned. And I’m able to work long days productively without being a mess inside. Oh, it still happens. It’s just more ok when it does now. I’ve also learned to be more kind to myself. Some days you just don’t have 100% and it’s ok to just be enough.
The “secret” was improving my mental health to the point where I was able to effectively go after physical health. I’ve learned more about myself than I ever thought possible. I’ve accomplished something I NEVER thought possible. I honestly never thought I could ever be in this physical shape and it is without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done. But it showed me what is possible. I did the work. Brutal hard work. Brutal honest work. I’ve never worked this hard for anything else in my life.
So using my new life skills, I am embarking on a journey. I’m going to learn to play the drums. Some of you are laughing at a silly joke. Others know just how ugly and scary that is going to get. Sooo many lies to take care of in my drumming. Lol .
So if you don’t recognize me on the street. It’s ok, I don’t recognize me either.
Thank you to everyone for the kind words, excitement, endless support and love.
Chris was a guest on OTP Sessions. His interview can be heard here.
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