The Real Culprit Behind My So-Called Depression

(Yana Gayvoronskaya/Alamy)

The daunting episodes that hit me were not severe at first — just a tired feeling.

But they soon turned into exhaustion, along with a queasy sensation in my gut. They then increased in frequency and intensity, and became so disabling that I had to lie down for an hour or more and at a time and then drag myself up. I felt miserable.

I went to see an internist here in Southern California and described my symptoms to him. After a general examination, he ordered blood tests. No clues there. Then he ordered further tests, including a thyroid test. Still, no clues.

Next he sent me to a neurologist, suspecting there might be a brain or nervous system malady. I still recall the neurologist’s words to me, in his foreign accent: “There’s nothing wrong with your brain. But I wonder if you might have a potassium deficiency. If you’re feeling low, eat a banana and see if that helps.” No problem. I loved to slice a banana onto my wheat cereal just before I poured on the milk at breakfast.

A Diagnosis and Prescription I Couldn’t Accept

At what turned out to be my final session with the internist, he said he had done every appropriate test available (not true, as we shall see).

He concluded, “I think you’re clinically depressed, and I’m going to put you on an antidepressant.” He handed me a small sample bottle. I asked about the side effects and contraindications, and I was shocked at the dreadful list of what might happen if I took those pills.

I told the doctor that I was familiar with depression and had felt emotionally “down” at times, but this was different. It was more visceral, more physical, and more diffused throughout my body — particularly in my abdominal area. I told him I would not take the antidepressant, and I stood up to leave. As I exited, he had a stern look on his face and a warning tone in his voice as he exclaimed, “You’ll be sorry!”

New Doctor, New Diagnosis: Food Allergies

Shortly thereafter, I met someone at a health food store, and we were discussing our mutual woes. She told me there was an endocrinologist in town who had helped people she knew who had symptoms similar to mine. I located him, and I recall that as he quizzed me, he typed data into his computer while occasionally looking at me over his half-glasses. Not exactly a warm, fuzzy bedside manner.

But soon he muttered, “Hmmm … I’m going to order a blood test for food allergies.”

I vividly recall the chart that he showed me about a week later. It had a scale of seriousness. One food was in the “severe” category — a sensitivity that could wipe me out for hours or days, not a mere “intolerance.” Then a couple of foods were in the “moderate” and “mild intolerance” categories. The item in the “severe” sensitivity category was cow’s milk. In the “moderate” category, wheat appeared. And in the “mild” category was … bananas!

Good grief.

So I completely eliminated those foods from my diet, and my dreadful symptoms disappeared. I wasn’t depressed — I had food allergies and sensitivities.

The Wisdom of Second Opinions

Here’s the clincher: A short while later, I was out of town conducting a weekend workshop, and at the Saturday night dinner I was very specific with the server: “I’ll have the halibut, but with plain brown rice and steamed broccoli. No butter.”

Sunday morning I woke up with the dreaded queasy symptoms. At lunch, after the workshop ended, I ate at the same restaurant and asked the server to check with the kitchen and see if there was anything I had ordered that contained dairy. He came back and said, “Yep, the chef says there was cream in the raspberry sauce on the halibut.”

Oy!

Years later, I can occasionally eat a slice of toast or a banana, or even a bit of sour cream or butter. But what if I had followed the internist’s advice? My symptoms would have continued, and he probably would have increased the dose of the antidepressant he prescribed, or have me try a different medicine. I would be a basket case.

What I learned: If you have doubts about a diagnosis or treatment and have the time to investigate, it’s wise to get a second opinion, or even a third one. In some cases, your intuition, self-awareness, and self-knowledge might just be more valid than a medical doctor’s opinion.

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