Long and vulnerable post
Life’s challenges. Why is it that for some, it can take them down while others can rise strong from their experience(s)? I don’t need to tell you that mental health is complex and does not discriminate. We haven’t gotten it figured out yet, which is why we are mourning the loss of another beautiful soul to suicide. We’ve got to figure this out because RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE. THERE IS HOPE.
But have we been looking at it all wrong all along? Is it really mental health or it is undetected physical health issues that lead to inflammation of the brain and thus, misfirings of the brain leading to a loss of resiliency, leading to agony and unreason? Or is it a combination of both? Stress, in and of itself, has a tremendous, physical effect on the body, especially to our hormonal regulation and gut health.
Some say, it takes therapy, leading to a shift of the mind, and maybe some medication for those with mental health challenges to feel better. Others think you only need to have Belief that things will get better – and to be mentally strong. I am embarrassed to admit, I used to believe the latter wholeheartedly…that is, until I was taken down hard. Very hard. Then, and only then did I truly understand complete and utter agony that to others could only seem completely baffling and nonsensical. While someone else might have been more resilient or “stronger,” I was not thinking logically. I could not really “think straight.” It seems unfathomable to the outsider. “What right do you have to feel that way? That does not make any sense! You are being self absorbed, selfish!” Nobody said these things to me except myself because I was too scared, ashamed, and confused to admit these unwelcome thoughts. They shocked me to the core. I hid them.
I was peri-menopausal, I had a myriad of weird and somewhat debilitating symptoms that were affecting my life that didn’t fit in any box of diagnosis. As a side hustle, I had previously worked as a fitness trainer and was also a racewalk instructor. I ran most of my adult life. I KNEW intellectually that these were things I that would help but I lost all my will to do them, I lost my reasoning. And so, I was offered anti-depressants. My gut was a mess but I had not realized it. Inflamed gut = inflamed brain. An inflamed brain doesn’t think logically. In fact, it can be quite illogical as we know. Anti-depressants can be a life saver for some but they can also affect others in the opposite way and drive the mind mad with suicidal thoughts – it’s right there in the information packet that comes with anti-depressants. Those on medications need VERY close monitoring. Is it better or worse? It changes too.
What pulled me out of this weird downward spiral was a series of steps and the spark might seem a bit woowoo to you. I was sitting in my car alone, feeling the worse yet, listening to the radio and trying to shut my brain chatter off. I don’t remember what station but it was a talk show that was interviewing a psychiatrist who said she had a Reiki practitioner on staff who worked miracles with her patients. She had no idea how and why Reiki was working but it was. It turns out that I had been seeing ads for a Reiki class and I also had no idea what it was but got a glimmer of hope. My husband was also extremely supportive and proactive in helping me. I was lucky and blessed. [I’m not saying “Reiki” is the answer, please read on!]
I started the Reiki classes (thinking it was simply for stress relief but it ended up being so much more), and started feeling better. It somehow calmed my nervous system, allowing my body to get out of “fight or flight” and get into “rest and restore” so my body could heal. As I began feeling better with Reiki, I added exercise (honestly driven by my husband who literally pulled me out of bed to do it), and then an anti-inflammatory diet. My brain and reasoning awakened. The anti-inflammatory diet in particular was the tipping point. The difference was dramatic. Night and day. This was over 8 years ago.
While I certainly faced some significant challenges before this happened, including a breaking heart while helping a loved one also overcome extreme adversity, most people who have a healthy constitution can handle tough times like this. We all face very tough times in our lives and it’s really not our place to compare who’s had it worse because some things we just don’t know about. It’s resiliency. But what happens when you train for resiliency in you mind but your body isn’t healthy, and affects your mind? There is SO much emerging science about this, you can literally find a new breakthrough everyday.
Unfortunately, it’s not mainstream to start looking at the gut or even the overall health of the body when someone has a seemingly “mental” disorder. And what if someone doesn’t have symptoms that check off the boxes into a diagnosis? And what does a diagnosis give you but a treatment strategy that usually provides a medication but rarely does it look for the root cause and start there or at least tackle in tandem. Is there an undetected gut infection or nutrient deficiencies? What about additional thyroid markers beyond the standard TSH screening? Are the gut issues contributing to food sensitivities which are exasperating the issue? I have seen first hand how an unidentified food sensitivity to gluten contributed to a full out bout of rage, scary for the person raging and those witnessing the troubling event (note: there are studies that link gluten sensitivity to schizophrenia).
A practitioner that is proactive about staying on top of current research and who looks for the root of the cause rather than masking the symptoms is what I recommend. In fact, my journey inspired me to go back to school to study nutritional therapy and then later add additional advanced training methods so that I can really dig deep and look at my clients as a bioindividual. I’m not saying ALL mental health issues can be solved this way but I suspect from my experience and those of my professional colleagues, this approach will prevent a lot of heart ache. There is not likely ONE answer or one way. I also want to emphasis that I wholeheartedly believe in mental health counseling along with a comprehensive physical evaluation. One should not go without the other.
I can now say that I am resilient. I was a lucky one. I did eventually rise strong. There is HOPE. I am very aware of any cues that start taking me down that dark path again. I take a good look at my life and nip it in the bud. How is my nutrition, sleep, stress relief strategies? Am I drinking too much coffee or wine? Have I slipped in too many treats, affecting my blood sugar? Am I connecting to my loved ones? Later, when I was ready, I also had to work on forgiving myself and let go of shame as those toxic thoughts become toxic to the body, contributing to dysfunction, this is real science, it’s called psychoneuroimmunology.
As we age, our toxic burden increases and we have to be much more diligent about our exposures to bad food and toxic chemicals we may be putting on our skin and those in our environment (regulation is very poor). Our thyroid is very sensitive to toxins. The hydrochloric acid in our stomach reduces as we age (and especially when we consume too much alcohol and bad food) and what happens right there in our stomach sets up the rest of the digestive cascade that helps us break down and absorb our nutrients. All the best food and vitamins and minerals in the world will not matter if your body isn’t properly breaking down and utilizing the nutrients in your food or if you are eating otherwise healthy food that you are sensitive too. If your food isn’t properly broken down, then it can damage your gut lining, causing inflammation and leading to many unwanted problems. Working with a skilled nutrition specialist or Functional Medical practitioner can help you with this. I didn’t know any of this before!
I encourage you, please, if you are feeling really off and are exasperated at getting no answers going from doctor to doctor (that was me), find a practitioner who will be a root cause detective and an advocate for your health. Make sure your gut, thyroid, stress and sex hormones are being properly assessed. There is a lot you can do to reduce inflammation in the body. A great place to start to clear the cobwebs is with an anti-inflammatory diet. Try your best to stay connected with supportive friends and family and tell them what’s going on. If you find that any of your friends or other loved ones are pulling away, reach out to them. They may be feeling as I described but are ashamed, confused, and so so tired.
If you need emergency help, please contact https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.
If you know someone who has been affected by suicide, please be compassionate with them and share your love.
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