"Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and
feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize
fishing is stupid and boring."
"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see
the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the
people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you
started is not the same as never leaving."
-- Terry Pratchett, "A Hat Full of Sky"
It's hard to discuss my own mental health with both humor and compassion. I used to think, for instance, that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is generally suffered by Icky People with Bad Skin Who Wash Their Hands a Lot. And that people feel Chronically Depressed only when they are sad about something, and therefore need only to Get In Touch with Their Feelings and Pull Themselves Up By Their Bootstraps in order to solve the problems they perceive. And that people who have "Anxiety Disorders" are just plain weird.
So it is a teensy bit challenging for me, especially recently, to accept my own Issues. And, in recent months, to try to figure out what the hell is going on inside my head.
For the record, in my happier moments, I LOVE my own self. I feel Brilliance! On good days, I actually have no compulsion to _be_ brilliant, but I can see and appreciate it all around me, great big gobs of Goodness that illuminate our world. On good days, my thoughts are fascinating to me. It's a joy to be alive! I love the ways I synthesize information, and observe what's going on, and how I love other people and life and things with intensity, passion, and attention to detail.
I love how I organize, and seek efficiency, and how I find disparate threads and weave them together, and prepare great food, and appreciate adventure. I love how many super-clear memories I have, reaching way back into my childhood. I love how I can replay memories at will (for example, Jeff's and my First Kiss is a popular re-run).
I love my self-control and willpower and stubborn emotional strength, which I can employ to Get Things Done. I love my physical strength and my arm muscles and my straight, shiny hair.
But lest you begin to envy my Thoroughly Figured-Out Life, I'm here to talk about my Bad Days. At these times, "Depression," "Anxiety," "Perseveration," and "Intrusive Thoughts" don't even begin to cover the ways I feel. Sometimes I struggle so much that I hate myself for it, for possessing a brain that is so hard to deal with. My emotions and thoughts at their very worst are irrational, incredibly repetitive, repulsive, sickening, boring, and borderline-delusional.
On Bad Days, I can barely believe that I have ever experienced Fun. Instead, bouncing around inside my head like glass-shard-enriched popcorn, are infinite variations of (or at least seven hundred and fifty eight thousand possible ways to imagine) how my husband will leave me and my friends and children will hate me always because I'm Not A Good Person.
It's hard to explain exactly how awful thoughts can feel, let alone why, especially when they stop making rational sense. And somewhere in this vast, hazy place - between normal/understandable levels of insanity and full-on schizophrenia - are ways-of-feeling that will qualify someone like me for many possible psychiatric diagnoses.
Sometimes, a person's Bad Days will have truly visible catalysts, like when something Tragic or Violent or Just Plain Hard has occurred, and everyone is pretty clear that if they were in that person's shoes, they'd feel bad, too. And we all know that stress has a cumulative way of building, so what feels hard for one person, one a particular day, might not feel so hard for another person (or even the same person, on a different day!). I've even experienced a moderate number of Just Plain Hard and Stressy Days.
But right now I'm talking about when my stress responses are at a fever pitch, and nothing is obviously or externally the matter. And it's hard to accurately gauge when this is happening, and exactly how much of my thoughts are reasonably worth trusting at these times, if I manage to figure out that this is happening in the first place. In other words: it's Very Easy to Believe Ones Own Thoughts.
Take an ordinary task, such as grocery shopping. There are various approaches. Maybe you (meaning me) think: "Maybe I'll go grocery shopping tomorrow." And on a good day, things sort of flow from there, as you make a list, maybe check a few recipes to make sure you have the ingredients, and check out the family schedule to plan the best time to go. And then you go grocery shopping when the time comes.
On bad days, even the decision to go grocery shopping feels ridiculously complicated: "Maybe I should go grocery shopping. But I am so tired! I want to sit and stare at the wall, and then do My Own Thing in a Quiet Space. There is hardly any extra time in my life, and I don't want to use it up on going shopping! Why am I such a bad planner? If I planned for what I wanted, then I would get it, and wouldn't be so boring. It's like I stress myself out totally, just by existing. There is no way I want to deal with the logistics required to make it possible for me to go grocery shopping. And what if I see That Woman at the grocery store, the Perfect One who always asks me how I am but doesn't mean it because she's so totally perfect that she doesn't have to worry about anyone else? I HATE her.
"It's horrible to hate people, so I won't tell anyone, because only a horrible person would hate someone just because she is totally perfect. Also, I haven't made a menu for our meals this week, so how can I shop? Man oh fucking man, I am SO SICK of housework! I don't WANT to make a menu. I don't want to vacuum. I don't want to fold laundry. But I hate living in a pigsty! If I had a well-paying job we could hire a housekeeper. Except that I can't possibly have a full-time job, because then who would homeschool our kids? Also, the housekeeper might not cook as well as I'd want, and my kids would end up liking her better than me, so I don't want a housekeeper.
"But a trip around the world, THAT is what I would do if we had a lot of money. I should check on airfare to Hawaii again, and try to organize a family vacation so we can actually get away. We NEVER take vacations! If Jeff and I felt better, we'd have the energy to do so much more, and deal with our kids at the same time. What can I buy at the grocery store that will help us feel better? I have to figure that out, and put some new foods or supplements on the grocery list, once I finally get around to making one. Why should I make a menu anyway, though? The kids just complain about food. They will probably hate me when they've grown up, for obsessing about their meals and STILL being unable to get them healthy.
"Also, I don't wanna go shopping. If I go, I will see all the other Smart, Successful Women who _additionally_ have careers, and whose children are way more well-adjusted and healthy than mine, and I will feel like a failure. I feel like a failure now! If I go grocery shopping, I'll just feel more like a failure. Trying to plan a grocery shopping trip is stupid! I'm stupid. I should just _Go Grocery Shopping_! What idiot spends so much time _thinking_ about grocery shopping. There is No Need to Plan. Why do I even like cooking? I shouldn't use recipes. If I didn't try new recipes, then I wouldn't need to buy so much food, or plan, or spend time in the kitchen, and my life would be easier. Why don't I make my life easier? If I were a better person, I would make my life easier, and then I would be a better wife, and a better mother. And speaking of which, if I start asking Jeff about his plans for tomorrow, then it will totally stress him out, and he won't want to discuss it, and then I'll have to do all the scheduling myself, and plus, I'm sure Jeff is right at this moment feeling stressed out by me feeling stressed out about grocery shopping, which is further proof that I am a Bad Person. Also, my hair looks really bad, and I don't want to go out because if I do, everyone will notice that it isn't nearly as nice as a movie star's..."
On a bad day, it takes me approximately 3.75 seconds to think those grocery-shopping thoughts. Which means that I still have to live with myself for 86,396.25 seconds more in order to get through the average Bad Day, which is a Totally Exhausting prospect, and is only partially made easier by some amount of time spent sleeping (my dreams are often more of the same, and insomnia sometimes arrives to kick the fun up a notch).
Sometimes on a moderately-bad day, I can look in the mirror and think simultaneously "I look good in these jeans" AND "I hate myself", and I can laugh and pull myself back to reality and go on with my life, allowing the perseveration to dim down to a dull, manageable roar. But when things are moderately worse, closer to Really Bad, when the Black Cloud is enshrouding me more deeply rather than burning off, it's the horrible and irrational thoughts that carry the day. Either huge amounts of concentration, relaxation, peace and quiet, Personal Space, and intellect are required to put a wedge into the black cloud...or there seems to be nothing capable of lifting it at all. On my Bad Days, I feel certain that if brains had pain receptors, mine would be exploding like the ones in angry cartoon characters.
And sometimes, on Really Really Bad Days, I feel like my entire body is being pushed down by the weight of ten thousand tons of black horribleness, and I can't get up off the floor for a really long time.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (notes from Wikipedia):
"...[OCD] is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry; by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety; or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions."
Hand-washing or tic-like avoidance or compulsion is sometimes a piece of the syndrome's presentation, but not always. "The acts of those who have OCD may appear paranoid and potentially psychotic. However, OCD sufferers generally recognize their obsessions and compulsions as irrational and may become further distressed by this realization."
"...The diagnosis of major depressive disorder is based on the patient's self-reported experiences, behavior reported by relatives or friends, and a mental status examination. There is no laboratory test for major depression, although physicians generally request tests for physical conditions that may cause similar symptoms. The most common time of onset is between the ages of 20 and 30 years, with a later peak between 30 and 40 years..."
Prior to having kids, my mood symptoms were like a bad paper cut: annoying, but fairly manageable, mostly allowing life to go on. The Black Cloud was episodic, surfacing mainly during times of stress, and often triggered by my ongoing hormonal challenges (otherwise known as "PMS"). Gradually, I acquired coping skills to deal with these "moods" when they descended (otherwise known as "personal growth"), and later, how best to get back on my feet after a Bad Mood Attack. We all have bad days, right?? Doesn't it get pretty silly when you try to pathologize a bad mood?? I used to think so. But things were especially manageable back then, when I had the luxury of Lots of Time To Focus On Me, and Very Good Lifestyle Habits, combined with Creative and Social Outlets, my supportive family (and later, a supportive spouse), and a Tendency Toward Maintaining A Balanced Life. Yeah, there were some really bad days, but they happen to all of us, don't they?
There is always a seed for the suffering. There are those big ones, like existing in a war zone, experiencing the death of a loved one, losing ones job, or being abused, among many other potential Badnesses that can happen in a life. Even dealing with a child's tantrum can drain a person's mental and physical energy, and then there's the way that chronic small stresses can lower a person's overall reserves over time.
But the seed is not always the _cause_ of the suffering, even though it's sometimes essential to remove it in order for the suffering to cease. There can come a point when a person's perception of a situation just doesn't jive with what is actually happening. We understand this most acutely when a person is schizophrenic, or delusional, but (and I keep coming back to this because of my very personal interest): at what point does a person move from normal, and Unusually Stressed...to Not Normal At All?
There has to be that point, and I'd argue that it's different for everyone, and within every situation, creating possibly infinite material for psychology text books. After all, how often do you hear about people who experience acute stress but emerge resilient, humble, and even happy after all is said and done? There is no clear roadmap to help us understand a Normal Path through life.
And of course, as Jeff says, stress is a moving target, and the equation basically works out to: STRESS = (amount you have to deal with minus the amount you can handle). If you can handle a lot of stress on a particular day, and your life is basically low-stress in general, then you are the happy person who enjoys "leisure" time in which to engage in pleasant activities. Otherwise...well, you may be looking at a Really Sucky Day.
I will argue further, later, that a person's physiology - otherwise known as _their entire body's_ health status - has a lot to do with their psychology. And I'm NOT saying that a heightened emotional response to a given situation isn't valid, or understandable (if an outsider knew all the details), or that it isn't actually being experienced by the person who's feeling it. But - and this is so often my challenge - what if a person's _common reactions_ are so generally out-of-proportion that they experience a cup of spilled milk as so acutely stressful that their physiology rivals that of a person staring into the barrel of an enemy's loaded gun?
And what if a similar sort of heightened physiological/psychological stress response occurs multiple times on many or most days of this person's life?
It's hard to imagine paper cuts taking over your life or becoming a debilitating sickness. I'm well aware that some people's achilles heels are way, way worse than mine ever were or are. But mental illness is not innocuous simply because it doesn't present as a black eye or an open, bloody wound; an off-balance brain-and-body can overwhelm a person's coping skills. It happens at that not-very-definable moment when a person's emotional experiences _overall_ are much more severe than might objectively make sense, AND when this becomes more common instead of a rare occurrence, and when it takes an increasing (and eventually large) amount of Coping to make it through most basic, daily activities.
I am certain that symptoms like mine must be at the root of at least some cases of severe narcissism. Plus, I have often thought that if anyone knew about the goings-on in my head on Bad Days, then they would not like me any more. I tend to withdraw hugely when I am having a bad day, or a bad week, or a bad month, because all of my energy is focused on Making It Through. Gradually, over the course of days or weeks that feel Really Hard, I have to gather more and more of my energy to fulfill any particular basic/daily mother-, wife-, and home- (forget about -civic) responsibility. I am positive that this is where many of my Control Issues spring from. If I felt strong and resilient and Capable most of the time, then perhaps it wouldn't be So Incredibly Important for my children to be IN BED RIGHT NOW, because I wouldn't feel like my very LIFE DEPENDS ON BEING ALONE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. When my brain feels exhausted _and_ my life situation is feels exhausting, then the net effect is that I feel tired enough to puke, and frustrated and resentful, to boot.
The interesting flip side, of course, is that doing a lot of exhausting things all by themselves (even with no accompanying mental health issues!) will _also_ make a person feel exhausted, and so it's like there is always a balancing act going on, between what is happening, how one feels, and what one perceives.
And this means that during periods of time when things start feeling better in my head _or_ in my life-in-general, I gradually let go of a lot of rigid routines and schedules and plans. I can come to count on my own strength to be there when I need it, so there's not as much need to calculate everything, or to behave as if my own energy is an incredibly limited commodity.
The problem, and why I am writing all this down, is that for the past decade - and up until this spring - I had not experienced any stretch of time during which I had Stable Mental Health _and_ a low-stress life for more than a few weeks. Furthermore, during this decade there was only one long stretch during which I enjoyed Stable Mental Health for nearly an entire year - and during that time our family was experiencing some hugely stressful events, so it wasn't really a net gain, if you know what I mean.
I could seek some sort of label, maybe a diagnosis that would incorporate elements of obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, or even just "Premenstrual dysphoric disorder". But for every single one of these disorders, you'll find comprehensive notes that explain that "a wide range of physical or emotional symptoms...typically occur", "the cause is unknown", "treatments are currently limited", and "treatments are not able to cure the disease, only to moderate the severity of the symptoms."
In 2004, I experienced: My Body, On Post-Partum Hormones. After the birth of Ben, and his challenging health issues that grew gradually more dramatic and stressful over the next six years, came the stress of trying to heal him and the rest of us, and to survive what felt like a constant deluge of stress. It felt like we were making many positive changes during this time (2010>), dietary and otherwise. But a still-very-difficult-situation with Ben was compounded by additional offspring who didn't sleep well, continuing health issues for Jeff and me, and the ways that family life had this tendency toward feeling exhausting, consuming, and isolating.
My mental health and "PMS" got dramatically better for about a year after we started GAPS, even while Ben's eating and behavioral issues were more acute than ever. I sometimes think that it was only because I gained more strength due to to our new diet, that I was ever able to live through the task of getting our child to _eat_ our new diet.
And then...I felt like I'd reached a plateau of improvements in my own health. And then another year passed. And things were still very stressful, and obviously, despite having (ahem) a Breakthrough in 2012, it wasn't exactly the breakthrough I was hoping for. Plus, Eliza's nursing, feeding, sleeping, and delayed development issues were tremendously challenging, both physically and emotionally. Over the past few years, I gained a _tremendous_ number of mental-health-enhancing coping skills, and ways of compensating for feelings of enormous fatigue. I gained an even more huge appreciation for my amazingly supportive spouse, and extended family, and friends. I learned to appreciate the treasured, shiny moments of Awesomeness that I often experience even during days and weeks and months dominated by stress and flustered feelings-in-the-head. I acquired glimmerings of compassion for others, and ever so slightly larger amounts of humility than I formerly possessed. I have been able to provide myself with more compassion than I was able to in the winter of 2012.
But when I considered the matter fully one day last fall, I had to admit that I had not gained a Low-Stress Life _nor_ a Generally Good, Stable-Feeling Brain.
There was a night last fall when I went to my modern dance class, to which I doggedly dragged myself because I was reading for the zillionth time about how it's-important-to-do-things-that-you-enjoy, and that "depression can be mistaken for exhaustion," and because I am always trying to get around my mental-health hurdles by telling myself things like: It-Will-Possibly-Be-Good-To-Force-Myself-To-Do-Something-That-I-love-and-Used-To-Find-Fulfilling-But-Which-Currently-Feels-More-Like-Hard-Work-Than-Anything-Fun-At-All.
I arrived at class, feeling sluggish and slow. I was also late. I changed into some yoga pants, and still felt disheveled. I had forgotten to bring a hair tie, and it was quite possible that I hadn't brushed my hair in maybe two or three days. I couldn't remember the last time I'd actually finished an actual task, one providing A Sense of Accomplishment (aside from doing a load of dishes or folding a batch of laundry, which absolutely almost hardly EVER counts). I felt entirely devoid of energy, if anyone was asking, which they weren't, because why would anyone stop dancing in order to inquire about my energy level on a one-to-ten scale? I couldn't remember when I'd last had an actual conversation that didn't concern poop, or Who's Faster Than His Brother, or How Crazy Tired I feel. My perseveration in the moment was on the topic of how I devote my life to my children and my family, but that maybe this is just not the right choice, since obviously it hasn't yet provided me with any longstanding sense of balance, nor the Perfectly Healed-up, Well-Adjusted children that my to-do list establishes as my Goal...
Anyway, there I was. I got a spot in the back, and tried to move in time to the music, and maybe - was it possible? - lose myself for a little tiny moment or two. We finished our warm-up, and followed the teacher's directions to face the side wall, and at that moment I spotted a classmate on my left.
Oh. My. God.
This woman had the most perfect teeth I had ever seen. I mean, you always see perfect teeth on movie actors, but movies are different: you can assume that directly off-screen are half-a-dozen make-up artists and hair-dressers, waiting to coif and preen the actors to perfection. Maybe the actor has even had veneers! (Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Demi Moore have all supposedly had them.)
But the woman dancing next to me was probably not that rich. Which meant that her teeth were probably _really_ as nice as they looked. She was just dancing around in her leotard, and I could not stop looking at her.
Weston Price was right in SO MANY WAYS, and not nearly enough people listened to him. Surreptitiously spying on Pretty Teeth, I couldn't believe how much I wished that I could go back in time and change my great-grandma's diet and lifestyle so that I might positively affect my own, and have teeth as nice as this woman's. Physical perfection is our Birth Right, goddammit! Broad, beautiful faces, straight teeth set in jaws that are big enough to house them all (and to flash brilliant smiles at all who stand nearby)...all these attributes come from good nutrition! And a healthy life. And good habits.
And human gorgeousness, which, while not the be-all or end-all, is still a very attractive possibility if you happen to be human.
I was sort of standing there, totally not dancing in time to the music. I hastened to catch up with the rest of the class.
As I "danced" (although I'm not actually sure what I was doing, considering how often I craned my neck with ridiculous fascination to gaze at Miss Toothy Perfection), I noticed how beautiful her hair was. No split ends. And her eyes - perfectly set in her perfect face, and probably not nearsighted at all. Although we had never met before, it was easy to see that she had an absolutely perfect life, a fantastic career, and relatively few troubles, while the few challenges she did have would be oh-so-easy for her to bear, seeing as she was so incredibly physically perfect and therefore also emotionally resilient and happy. NEVER was she depressed or obsessive!! I could tell just by looking, which I was doing at every possible opportunity.
My mouth felt tired and small, and hurt because of how much teeth-grinding I'd been doing lately. My hair was so frumpy, and it was obvious already, after a 2.5 second visual analysis and mental evaluation of my Gorgeous Classmate's Teeth, that compared with her, my life was nothing. Why did I even exist??
Actually - and my heart began thumping with the sheer terror that was building in my chest - I was sure that everything would be over when Jeff met this woman. He would probably realize his mistake in marrying me, and decide to elope with Miss Impeccable Smile. I had heard her mention a fiancé during a super-quick exchange with another classmate, but once she met my awesome husband, she would quickly realize her mistake (possibly the only mistake she'd made since 1987) and leave the other guy. She probably liked to program in Drupal, just like Jeff!
Her teeth were the main things that clued me into all this, but there were other clues too: her perfect jaw, incredible body, and the way she laughed. All these indicated a person who was young, talented, highly fertile, and perfect in most every way (with only tiny Quirks to set her apart from and make her better than the rest of the seething masses). Plus, she would probably live well into her nineties, unless she was immortal, which was actually a real possibility, when you got right down to it.
I mean, it was obvious about the near-future elopement-with-my-husband-bit - she and Jeff had so much in common, and she would have so much energy that she would be an amazing housekeeper. She would always want to do the dishes, and she would probably like action movies! In the evenings, she would stay up till midnight (with absolutely NO ill-effects from sleep-deprivation), and she'd do fun and intellectual things while also regularly setting aside time for her practice of transcendental meditation. She would awaken at dawn to prepare hot breakfasts. She would always speak soothingly. She would be a perfect stepmother to my children, so much so that they wouldn't even miss me when they accompanied Miss-Teeth-Perfection and Jeff-who-used-to-be-my-husband to Aruba, where they would live together in their new beachside mansion-with-butler-and-housekeeper (did I mention that I could tell she had an inheritance sitting in the bank, which - according to the terms of the trust - could only be legally spent on off-shore real estate?).
I would be left with only my frazzled thoughts and less-than-perfect teeth, gazing confusedly into the middle distance like a character in a movie who Cannot Figure Out What Just Happened.
How does it feel to be perfect?? I wondered if Miss Perfect Toothiness felt like her mouth was twice the size of everyone else's, and if she pitied the 99.9% of her fellow countrymen who suffer from an epidemic of poor nutrition, tiny jaws, and attendant physical Problems. Maybe she was just so happy and carefree that she was unaware of the suffering around her. But anyway, Miss Dental Superb-ness was probably so good at managing her time that she could volunteer to Help The Poor in addition to being a full-time microbiologist, and she was probably really great at blow jobs, and was never thoughtless to anyone, nor had she been unkind in over seventeen years...
Okay, so I'm sharing a bit of my personal insanity here, and while it's okay to laugh at me, you must know that in the approximately 7 seconds' worth of thoughts that I transcribed above, I have shared some truthful Vulnerabilities. Like, I was feeling tremendous amounts of pain that night. My body felt like it was being squeezed by an enormous vice-grip of horribleness. And I hereby admit to feeling tortured by Thoughts That Sound Funny, but Feel Super Crazy Horrible. I also admit that I have physically collapsed on the floor before thoughts like these have released their grip. I get kind of scared to admit this to people, but then again: if, fifteen years ago, I could have learned some of the things I've learned recently, I would be a very appreciative person. I hope that it might be useful to share some of the things that people often never do.
I often feel the need for disclaimers. For instance, I _know_ there is a spectrum, and that most everyone has felt (or even often feels) self-doubt, guilt, low "self-esteem" and self-blame, and I am aware that I'm not the first human to compare myself with others, or to feel any of the other emotions that cause self-help books to fly off the shelves and onto the NY Times bestseller lists.
But I am absolutely not being funny when I say that when OCD thought-loops like these run for days and weeks or even months at a time with little respite, I feel like I want to jump out of my skin. When the Intrusions start up, I have very little choice about my participation, although I can sometimes manage them so that the thoughts run a little more slowly, and I can sometimes distract myself with mental games, especially if I'm feeling well-rested or have a fun project that needs my attention.
Sometimes, I can function fairly normally, and I am able to hang on until the thoughts ease. I have to concentrate really hard on not getting frustrated with tiny things and annoying problems, but the best-managed Episodes of mental anguish pass without anyone noticing that very much has happened at all. Sometimes, my brain allows the rational part of me to notice something, anything, that can bring me back down to reality, and allow the perseveration to go down to a dull roar.
This is what finally happened that night when I was dancing, right at the end of class, after I'd convinced myself how I was obviously inferior to Miss Perfect Tooth in every possible way, and not only that, I had no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
We were doing a complicated combination and we were all kind of goofing up, and laughing about it...when I finally, finally got it! Figured out the steps. Made it all the way through, without flubbing, even when Toothy Gorgeousness laughed and gave up in the middle, and backed up to the wall to wait until the end. I finally pried a gap in the Crazy Making Thoughts, and was able to realize: I figured out this dance combination! I DO have a redeeming quality! And just because of that tiny split second of getting some Light, my brain was able to recognize that it probably wasn't worth committing suicide simply because Miss Perfect Teeth and Perfect Hair and Perfect Everything had more perfecter teeth and hair and everything than I perceived myself to have. My brain could finally authorize a Nice Deep Breath. I could see that I was actually attending a dance class, and that I could possibly have fun there, and that I could also, maybe, possibly work on my own dancing during a few minutes of that dance class, rather than focus exclusively on somebody else's.
But the perseveration was barely below the surface, still like a roiling, darkling sea - just waiting.
Right before New Year's 2014, my body's depletion felt really intense. We were still reeling from the aftermath of our neighbor's death. We had just moved (and assumed more financial Risk in the process than we usually care to do). Eliza's "high needs" still felt high. Ben's needs still felt high. Jem was desiring some more attention. Jeff and I are both very committed to homeschooling, but doing so in some ways means that we've given up any social support that our government grants to families - which does rankle right around when we pay our taxes, which we were just about to do. Our feelings of isolation and exhaustion were coupled with a much-reduced Childcare/Parental-Time-Off Schedule. And while our family's overall health has improved over the past four years, it wasn't feeling very stable.
Additionally, Jeff's and my fatigue was really intense. The winter was starting to feel very long and cold and dark, and it was just beginning. I felt like I was constantly trying to do too many things at once, and too many of those things felt like drudgery, and then I wasn't feeling as grateful as I should for all the good things in our lives. Our life-situation felt lacking in overall balance and rejuvenation...
...And my mental state was Not Good. At All. It was like someone was carefully, deliberately - with a sheet of the finest card stock - scouring my body with thousands of paper cuts, especially in the most tender, vulnerable parts. And at the same time, tiny little stents were holding each skin separation open as wide as possible, while I was being repeatedly doused by every conceivable caustic and acidic substance.
I am not good at understanding the gray zone between Normal and Really In A Bad Way...but after a certain point, at the certain point I'd reached on January 3rd 2014, I was pretty certain that my "Bad Moods" and "Bad Thoughts" had crossed the line into pathological.
I don't believe, all things being equal, that a person is _destined_ to suffer excessively from their personal vulnerabilities - rather, depending on each person's life and luck and stress and genetic/epigenetic susceptibilities, we all have an achilles heel(s). Some people Get Allergies, or Gain Weight Easily, or Get Skin Rashes, or get achy joints, or Catch Bronchitis when their bodies are stressed. For me, the allergic weight gain of horrible bronchial rashy joints happens inside my head.
Over the course of this past decade, I discovered many things that seemed to heal and help my body, and the rest of us. But the amount of energy I had to put out seemed mostly to deplete my Health and Well-Being Bank Account: 1 step forward, 1.01 steps back. Lots of steps forward...and not a large percentage of overall backsliding, all things considered...but still: a gradual decrease in Total Energetic and Emotional Reserve.
For several years now, ironically, the slow but sure (and increasingly noticeable) health improvements of our children has allowed remaining Family Life Imbalances to show up in stark relief. After graduating from Long-Term, Full-Time Crisis Management, but still dealing with High-Needs Baby #3, Complicated Cooking Plans, and trying to restore balance and fun to parenting two other children and keeping our household financially and logistically afloat, what exactly comes next?? It has been really difficult to figure this out, especially when our life situation doesn't exactly feel generously endowed with time for relaxation and reflection. And yet, my children were growing. And often thriving. And we were Moving Forward. And I had many certifiable Reasons to Feel Happy.
But of January 3rd, 2014, I couldn't remember the last time I had had a day during which I felt more happiness than full-on misery. I couldn't remember the last time I'd experienced a full day during which I felt energetic. I couldn't remember the last time that I hadn't dreaded Jeff going in to work at the beginning of the week, when I hadn't felt overwhelmed by basic activities, or when I'd spent more than about five minutes at a stretch enjoying my children.
The point is not necessarily that my life was inherently un-doable. But it's the intersection between physiology/functioning/"personality", previous life experiences/memories/habits, environment (including diet, but other factors as well) and current situation, that blends together to create what we call Psychology.
It's hard to get up after falling down. When you've felt pain, you make associations and decisions and behave differently. When the pain is "in your head," it gets very confusing. Why is it hard for a toddler to stop tantrumming? What happens when the terrible mood lifts, but the life-long habits are left? What happens if you start to feel better...but can't depend on feeling better for any length of time, and thus develop new avoidance behaviors based on your fear of Feeling Worse Sometime Soon?
For someone existing in a war zone, it's likely that changing their diet will not have nearly as good an effect on their psychology as getting the hell out of where they are. For someone in a relatively calm and safe situation, who at one point experienced trauma, Talking Things Through with the aid of an experienced therapist could really help them move on. But for a person who has had a large but not super-extreme level of stress in her life, and who still experiences panic attacks and dreadfully terrifying levels of intrusive thoughts and depression...well, it's just not clear WHAT is the right course of action, all things considered, to deal with an invisible but certainly (I think) physiological state of pain.
Anyway, as I mentioned, on January 3rd I was finally clear that I had recently been experiencing WAY more misery on your standard-average misery scale than was actually warranted by my actual life. I couldn't tell you how MUCH misery I might optimally expect to feel, all things being impossibly equal, but on that day I could finally assure you that it was like pornography, in that I would know it when I saw it (or at the very least, when I was at least a little closer to optimal). And I was absolutely, positively sure that I would prefer to NOT feel, in general, like I was oozing through a black haze of obsessively depressive and self-defeating feelings and thoughts during most of my waking hours.
On January 3rd, I was sitting in the living room of our beautiful new house. I had gotten up way too early for the umpteenth time, and I felt tired. Exhausted, actually. But also, I felt like I was truly existing in hell. My children were happily playing, and Jeff was attempting to work to earn us some money, and my body felt so heavy that I didn't think I could stand up in it. The horrible thoughts, despite me writing them down and intercepting them and understanding them and analyzing them and sticking out my tongue at them and laughing at them, felt similarly (although probably not as permanently damaging) (although, who knows?) as having my eyeballs punctured with needles. I hated myself with such a horrible passion that it felt more real than anything in the world.
On January 3rd, my brain was so overwhelmed by whatever the fuck was going on in there that I felt like I couldn't stand up any more. I huddled on the living room floor for two hours. I could not understand it, I couldn't rationalize it, I couldn't control it, I didn't want to make others suffer because of it, couldn't bear the thought of the possibility of another fucking three-month Nervous Breakdown, and I screamed at my children and snapped at my husband before I ran upstairs, sobbing, and lay on our bed and just cried and cried. I couldn't believe I'd had the energy to run up the stairs, because now I lay there and felt like maybe I would never move again, let alone stand up. I didn't feel much better even after the whirling in my head subsided. I felt dull and stupid and slow and pained.
On January 3rd, I'd gotten to the point when things were not "normal" anymore, even on a spectrum that includes lots of space for hormonal fluctuations. Jeff was beginning to take more than just occasional days-off from work in order to peel me up off the kitchen (or the living room, or the bedroom) floor, and he was hanging out with the kids while I cried a lot, and recently my friend had called me long-distance to remind me that she didn't think that my "leaving" would relieve the "burden" on my family, and then my mother told me that if something didn't happen soon, Things Will Be Out of My Control and that psychiatric drugs would be preferable to this.
Anyway. As you may be able to see by now, it just doesn't actually matter if the contents of the actual Intrusive Thoughts are humorous, at the time when they are happening, because nothing much in the world _feels_ humorous. Sometimes, over this last year, I've been able to engage the Watcher part of my brain to at least recognize in an intellectual sense that something Funny is happening...but often the watcher degenerates into the overall din in my head by chastising me on her findings: "You're so stupid! Why aren't you laughing at your ridiculous thoughts? You must have lost your sense of humor, you stupid idiot!"
So there I was, in the torture chamber of my mind, additionally practicing self-flagellation by informing myself that I am nothing but an uncontrollable, sometimes-manic OCD lady, applying branding irons to my feelings of exhaustion.
The exhaustion had been there for days, weeks, months, YEARS - what was the point of trying anymore?! How was it possible that diet or teas or fermented foods could help to cure an incurably hopeless case such as myself? There must be something wrong with me that would make it forever impossible to feel good for any longer than a couple of moments at a time.
I desperately, somewhat obsessively, dutifully researched. I began implementing every possible dietary modification and supplemental strategy that I could find. (An entire update devoted to my continuing thoughts on this is forthcoming.) It wouldn't work, but I'd try it anyway, because somewhere very close to the surface, I wanted to feel better. I probably wouldn't know if anything was working, though, because I felt so shitty and out-of-touch with my body that I wouldn't even be able to tell if anything started feeling good underneath all the craziness.
At this point you may be kind of annoyed at me, for taking the term "mental illness" in vain while not even spending much time in a doctor's office in order to be professionally evaluated. But I have one main reason that makes me feel confident and qualified to determine that I personally have "symptoms", rather than "nothing at all besides a pileup of neuroses and a tendency toward complaining."
The reason is this: sometimes, my symptoms go into remission. And I don't mean that normal good-day/bad-day sort of difference, which I think everyone experiences. In my case, the difference between feeling symptomatic and asymptomatic is how I imagine my grandfather would have felt, during the last fifteen years of his life, if he'd ever experienced a day during which he could breathe normally, deeply, and without his oxygen machine.
I've had many good days even during most of my life when I've felt Symptomatic, and many _many_ good moments. But there have also been rare, extended periods of time during which I felt amazingly, fantastically _good_ for many days or weeks, in a non-manic and very real way. The most notable time in recent memory was in 2010, when we first started GAPS. Despite the acute craziness of our lives at the time, my head was remarkably clear for many months.
The most recent three-week period occurred during the last week of January and the first weeks of February, 2014.
My god, it was like a miracle.
At the end of January, right after the new dietary regime began, I got my period, the first since before I got pregnant with Eliza.
And instead of getting PMS...the Black Cloud of Horrendous Obsessing and Compulsion and Depression-oriented-anxiety was gone. GONE! I had no idea where it went. Nothing at all had changed in my life. I still had three awesome kids and a fantastic husband and great family and friends and a beautiful, brand-new house. I was still doing a shitload of cooking and a crapload of dishwashing. The difference: I could _feel_ this, rather than intellectually understand it. My telomeres felt like they were lengthening. I didn't actually know what telomeres were, but I could tell that they should be long, and that mine were growing longer by the minute. (I could have looked up what telomeres actually are, but I actually, surprisingly, did not feel compelled to research this. I was so fascinated by my brain feeling so gosh darn lovely, that I just didn't want to be reading so many things online.)
Every so often I jotted down a few notes to myself, because it was so novel to experience the world with a Differently-Abled Brain:
"2/9/14 - This is not the same as feeling happy, because happiness has the connotation of feeling happy _about_ something, and I'm not. I'm just...not feeling terrible at all! I'm not feeling worried about when I'm going to feel terrible! I'm just looking around and noticing what's going on, which isn't always good, but I'm feeling like that's okay. It's like having a battery that isn't low all the time, and a brain with slightly more neuronal connections than strictly necessary, so that my thoughts have a chance to feel ROOMY.
"...Other interesting notes: my digestion is crazy! But hey, who cares about a few farts if you're feeling good? I'm able to find words for things more quickly. I don't feel clumsy anymore. And I don't have a compulsive need to Figure Things Out. This is so strange! Where did that drive (?obsession?) GO?
"Also, I feel pretty! (I keep humming 'West Side Story'.) I keep getting bad moods that are actually _bad moods,_ during which I feel righteously indignant...and then get over it. Like, the indignant feelings just fade away really quickly after I've dealt with things, so I can go back to feeling happy. I feel capable of feeling annoyance, and then feeling better - of getting a headache, and then feeling better. I feel resilient! I actually want to say hi to people, and I actually wonder how they're doing. It's amazing. I used to, for like most of my adult life up until a few days ago, feel the need to First of all have all my ducks in a row, simply because I knew that if things got too stressful (which they often do, around here), I would not have the capacity to be in the middle of it all without collapsing into tears. It's so crazy, but right now I feel like if things go wrong, that would still be okay, and things would come out the way they should in the end."
"2/15/14 - This is insane, to not feel insane! I feel so much happier, so much of the time! You know what else? I actually feel like taking showers. And I hate showers! I am also motivated to change my clothes, which probably sounds ridiculous, but usually I would just rather wear the same outfit every day even when I make myself change. I have this glowing sense of feeling good about myself, and worthy. I almost enjoy the new and interesting sensation of feeling righteous indignation, venting it, letting go of control (knowing that it's not going to set me back forever), and getting over it.
"I am totally bloated and gassy, but who the heck cares? I look good, and no one would ever know that I'm rocket-powered, or that something in my guts is making something in my brain feel so insanely good. I don't even mind washing dishes.
"I feel like saying hi to people. I perceive others' intentions as generally good. I like people again! I don't _need_ to do any particular thing. This will sound totally hokey, but: I feel such strong feelings of Trust.
"I LOVE not needing to be so in-control, because even if things _don't_ go the way I want, I can see how that could be okay. I don't feel helpless and suffering! I am so so so appreciative. I love being with my children. I love being with my husband. I am so able to see how far we've come. I'm having the sensation that PTSD can go into nearly instantaneous remission. I am so excited about possibilities."
Jeff said he hadn't seen me like this in over ten years.
I had done a bunch of research, but since I'd started a whole lot of things, all at once, it was hard to tell what was making the most difference.
I'd begun taking resistant starch daily, and additionally eating Paul Jaminet's recommended ~600 starch calories per day, mostly from white rice or potato or plantain or taro or sweet potato. I started "intermittent fasting," in this case eating only in an eight-hour window between eleven a.m. and seven p.m. I started supplementing with very low doses of iodine, planning to sloooowly titrate up, and eating a ton of coconut oil (to push toward ketosis). I added Vits. D, K, and C to my supplement list that included fermented cod liver oil, and ordered vitex and maca and Brazil nuts that are actually from Brazil, so that they might contain some selenium.
I was counting the moments of every day, grateful to be alive, so amazed to feel so happy!
And then...three weeks later...I ovulated. I could feel the black cloud descending like the mind-fuck that it always has been, only this time there was a huge contrast between how happy I'd just felt, and the wall of terrible, uncontrollable, depressive/OCD blackness.
I tried to stay hopeful, and encourage myself to keep doing all the things that had seemingly promoted such vast improvements only a few short days earlier. Only a week into my luteal phase, my mood was sagging so low, and the fatigue was so intense. I kept myself going by hoping that once my period arrived, I'd feel better again. For the next week, I tried to make sense of things, and I Read Things Online in my renewed urgency to understand what is going on when my moods do this, and to find some hope that I was still on the right track, that if I could just drag myself through the next few weeks or months or years, then I might find a way to exist with less of a desire to crawl out of my skin.
I wanted more of that feel-good feeling!!
It's kind of a cliched, oft-repeated truism that "...if you're suicidal, that's the time to seek help."
And I have always prided myself on wanting to stay alive. Despite my episodes of depression, and even during the winter of 2012, I didn't have suicidal ideation. I love my life, gosh darn it!
But it was on the day when my period finally came in February 2014, but did not bring with it any relief from the horribly crushing feelings of doom, when I couldn't get up from the kitchen floor. And I called my mom, and then Jeff (who had just gotten on the bus to go to work), because this time I really did want to die.
I wasn't melodramatically planning my death. But the experience of existing inside my head, right then, with all the accumulated experiences of dealing with my particular brand of mental Challenges, was so excruciatingly hellish that I could think nothing except: "If this doesn't stop, then I would rather be dead." And then I sobbed, because of the sheer, crazy frustration of wanting so hard to be able to want anything else besides ending my life.
There _is_ a difference between "Wanting to die because my life sucks" and "Wanting to die because I feel so shitty."
At least I was experiencing the latter - maybe this was a Better form of suicidal leanings than I might otherwise be having??
Panic attacks are horrible. When people first experience them, they often think they are having a heart attack and call 911.
During that week after the Kitchen Floor episode, I had one panic attack after another, sometimes even during the day. And then one arrived that was the worst yet, despite there being absolutely no seed of a worry or frustration or annoying event. My panic attack came out of the sky, while I rested on the couch, trying to get the energy to brush my teeth. It lasted for so long, and it felt like I couldn't breathe for a very long time afterward.
The Watcher part of my brain hovered, watching me sob and writhe in anguish, and the Watcher said encouragingly, "I'm not blaming the panic on anything external. I did a very good job! This was the best panic attack yet."
An important thing to reiterate about OCD and Intrusive Thoughts is that the _substance_ of the thoughts is not necessarily the problem (although they can certainly be ridiculous, or annoying, or even, at times, dangerous). What always does seem to be a problem is the _quality and repetitious nature_ of the thoughts, and the ways in which the brain prioritizes them.
It takes a lot more than yogic relaxation to stop it, which probably doesn't make much sense to a person who doesn't experience this unpleasant mental situation.
Back when I was young and extremely judgmental (as opposed to now, when I'm a bit older than I was then), I used to scoff at a great many people, behaviors, and things. I lacked compassion, you might say, for those in whose shoes I had never walked. For instance, I remember learning about a fairly common phenomenon, wherein a woman is abused by her partner, but instead of leaving...she stays. "Leave him!" her friends beg her. "He's no good! Get out!" And still she stays, and stays, and stays, even though she cries often about the beatings. Ten years later, some women are still taking the same old crap, and crying, and any remaining friends are still telling her to leave - but for some crazy compilation of reasons, some women just don't go.
"That is SO ridiculous," I used to say, when discussing such stories. "Why on EARTH would anyone stay with someone who is that messed up!?" I still do not know the answer, and luckily I have never even remotely walked in those sorts of shoes. But I have learned that situations are almost always more complicated than they appear to those on the outside. And sometimes there is no Best Choice (a fact that I did not believe, back in my idealistic youth when I was sure that _I_ would avoid major life conundrums simply by making rational decisions all along the way). In certain situations, there might only be choices that feel like the least-worst options, but sometimes by such a narrow margin that it's difficult to notice.
I still have no conception of what it's like to wear most other shoes besides my own. But I do have a slightly worried inkling that I am beginning to sound like the broken record of the woman described above, who endures long-term abuse, in one respect: ten years ago, well-meaning friends and family were advising me on How To Deal with my new baby's reflux, and "colic," and poor sleep, and breastfeeding difficulties, and my body's physical and emotional symptoms of Pain. "You've got to take care of _you_," everyone said. "You aren't doing anyone any favors by being a martyr! You've got to put on your oxygen mask first, so you can take care of the baby."
Now my baby is ten years old...and I sometimes feel farther away from understanding how to Take Care of Myself than I ever have been. Sometimes I feel incredibly embarrassed by this, because I can see through other people's eyes: Something's got to give, Sara! You have to make better choices, so that What Gives isn't _you_! For God's sakes, it's been TEN YEARS and you're still so freakin' stressed out and depressed! Why don't you get out of the kitchen and just _live_?
Some rational part of my little human monkey brain keeps plugging along, trying to figure things out, trying to understand what to do to help myself, hoping that I can find balance in my life without majorly sacrificing the few items that remain on my list of What I Think Are Important Things.
Some part of my brain thinks I must have flubbed up completely, somewhere along the way.
Some parts of me just want to crawl into a cave somewhere, and hibernate (or else find a nice beach somewhere, and sunbathe) for about a year, before even trying to make even one more single decision concerning _anything,_, or to even _think_ about logistics in any way.
Somewhere in the middle is where I am when I feel stuck - overwhelmed and exhausted, yet on some level acknowledging that I am doing the best I can, and trying not to miss the especially luminous moments that can be noticed even on the worst days.
Lately, even if I am not always able to muster compassion for somebody's else's situation, I am incredibly aware of how much compassion others _deserve_, if I were actually able to muster it (i.e. a lot) - which must count for something, at least, in the grand cosmic comedy show.
Some thoughts on human functioning:
1. A capacitor is "...an electrical component used to store energy."
2. To be "incapacitated" is "...to make (someone or something) unable to work, move, or function in the usual way."
3. Therefore, when you have exhausted your reserves, and your Spark is temporarily very, very small, you are likely to feel incapacitated in the face of even a smallish amount of stress.
I know you (meaning me) are not "supposed" to compare yourself to other people. But how the hell else do you figure out whether you're in the realm of normal or not? Which is why I have often turned to my friends and family, sometimes desperately, to understand: am I going insane? Is this what other people feel? Are the feelings a result of something, or a symptom in their own right, or are they both at the same time? Do you know about any other affordable, holistic ways to treat the feelings of being in hell? Do you think that what I'm experiencing is transient, or chronically episodic, or can it ever get to an overall more sustainable level than it is now?
Someone once told me that the value of a diagnosis for mental illness is: 1. Getting your "Health" insurance to pay for treatment; 2. Helping other people feel better by giving them a name to call what you're dealing with; 3. Helping you explain things more quickly; and 3. Getting external validation. Beyond that, even with a diagnosis, the question remains: what do you do about the Problem?
Over time (and especially over the past two years), I have accumulated a large tool kit of Ways Of Coping when my head gets bad. I really do get it, now, the ways in which thinking (and therefore various types of therapy) can affect ones physical state - in other words, I do see that one can often "think" oneself out of a Bad Head Space, and probably affect all sorts of positive physiological changes at the same time, "simply" by thinking. I have found remarkable relief from suffering at times, using what one might call "cognitive behavioral" techniques - or just Ways To Rememeber That Life Is Fundamentally Liveable.
But I have this feeling that once again, there are parallels to the allergy sufferer. There are various forms of relaxation and breathing and meditation that can undoubtedly help someone whose sinuses are throbbing unmercifully. But there may also come a point when the person says, "I do not want to work toward enlightenment via Physical Suffering - could I PLEASE have an Advil?"
Likewise, my own "Pain-Body" that descends as a Thick Black Cloud has often, through my life, felt nearly intolerable. For a couple of years after making major dietary changes, I thought that maybe, for the first time, I was closer to finding lasting relief. But the hormonal cycles of despair were getting worse even before I got pregnant with Eliza, and for the past two years - while I have had sometimes-even-month-long bursts of Feeling Good In The Head - my Black Cloud symptoms have taken a tremendous amount of my energy.
But I don't want a Prozac Advil!!! No way no way no way. I don't want to take drugs, for all sorts of rational and irrational reasons. This is not a judgement of anyone who chooses to use them, because if I felt like the drugs were right for me, I would take them all. This is just me, who never never never wants psychiatric drugs.
But mostly, I don't want to need them.
There is plenty of controversy about the "right" way to deal with mental illness, depression, Bad Moods, Bad Personalities, and Processing Bad Experiences. Almost everyone agrees that in general, grief and sadness and anxiety are, at least to some degree, a natural part of the human experience. Almost everyone also agrees that if a person is having a psychotic break, or is experiencing similar escapes from reality, then that is a pathological situation. But in between is that huge gray area in which many people's symptoms exist - whether caused by the stress of our modern lifestyle (including our Full Plates - figuratively, and also literally full of Stressful Foods of Commerce), toxic experiences, toxins in our environment, or a combination of these factors and others.
I am sometimes scared that I will never get better. And sometimes I see glimmers of hope, and am sure that my mental state will improve along with my gut flora, if I just keep plugging along and trying to figure it out. And in between, I am trying to find a balance between constant searching, and despair, and apathy, and denial. I haven't figured this out, believe me.
I think that in general, people tend to be more stoic than they seem, and have a higher tolerance for various symptoms of ill-health than we give them credit for. I say this because, whenever I end up in a conversation with almost anyone, I generally discover that they deal with many more "private" symptoms than I had originally suspected, often without complaint _or_ treatment.
I personally tend to feel worse and more vulnerable when I assume that I am alone in my suffering and dealing with more than (I think) most people have to handle. This is one of the reasons I think it's important to talk about symptoms - in order to understand what's normal, and how to navigate the untidy waters of Healing Our Bodies.
I can understand that at this point, many of you are shaking your heads and saying, "My God, Sara, not everyone needs to take on Healing as a full-time job! We're all Individuals, and you know, you really should let it just be that way. People get the occasional headache and runny nose and Sad Feeling, and you don't have to pathologize it every single time! In fact, I don't like talking about my bowel movements. Just appreciate our uniqueness, and get on with your life! Can't you just go watch a movie and relax and give up on this stuff sometimes? You need balance in your life, girl!"
Which is, I think, exactly one of my points.
According to wikipedia, one of the definitions of "Nucleation" is "the extremely localized budding of a distinct thermodynamic phase." When liquid comes to a boil, the individual Big Bubbles are going to form somewhere - but suspended particles or minute bubbles can provide nucleation sites for the Big Ones, encouraging them to form just a teensy bit more readily in one place than in another.
I think that the concept of healing mental illness, and identifying the Seeds of human suffering, is like nucleation. The goal is not to stop the boiling, which will inevitably occur. Nor should the goal to be to remove every one of infinite possible nucleation sites that can be a Seed for an eventual Problem. The goal is more like: create a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and normalize the boiling point of a person's physiology.
In the course of my googling during this past winter, I discovered a psychiatrist who is one of the few in the world who specializes in women's health, and pre-, pregnancy, and postpartum psychiatric issues. And she doesn't recommend the use of psychiatric drugs for treatment of depression, anxiety, or many of the myriad diagnoses for which antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are frequently prescribed.
Dr. Kelly Brogan points out, "There is about a concordance of between about 32-42% between psychiatrists," when it comes to defining what given person's diagnosis should be. But mostly, she says, the medications fail to address the root of the problem. She feels that mental health is inextricable from overall physical health, and that inflammation and autoimmunity are much bigger drivers of our mental health than the serotonin deficiency hypothesis acknowledges.
"How do we identify a real pathology with an identifiable cause? When you don't have evidence and science, you create a vacuum for the pharmaceutical company to enter. ...Your toe can hurt because someone is standing on it, or the hurting can be caused by something tied around it too tightly, or for any number of other reasons. The pain itself is not the problem..."
In ["Forget Everything You Think You Know About Mental Health"](http://kellybroganmd.com/article/new-psychiatry-forget-everything-think…), Brogan writes: "...in a series of wonderful papers, [investigators have discussed] the conceptualization of depression as 'sickness behavior' with accompanying social withdrawal, fatigue, loss of appetite, decreased mobility."
That is so interesting, don't you think? That while mental health issues make take center stage in terms of Symptoms That Feel Most Debilitating, other symptoms like painful joints, IBS, "stomach aches", skin rashes, or autoimmunity, _are not unrelated_. (I didn't mention it earlier...but hypoglycemia and constipation were definitely flaring for me during my Worst Days last fall. These Other Symptoms are not necessarily _causes_ of a mental health crises, but should not be ignored...)
You can see why Brogan was a good person for me to find, during my googling sessions in February and March, while I waited for my maca and vitex and concentrated supplemental iodine to arrive in the mail.
Healing my body in order to address the torture in my mind is the strategy and possibility that keeps me most hopeful, most of the time.
It's been two months since my last Really Bad Bad Mood. I am trepidatiously hopeful, because lately it always feels like it's A Little Too Soon to Draw Conclusions. I continue to maintain and add to my (and my family's!) Really Comprehensive, Inflammation-Quelling, Brain-Nourishing, Body-Healing, Drama-Reducing dietary and lifestyle interventions, which now includes daily regular exercise for me for the first time in three years. I am noticing overall improvements in my mood and digestion, among other Personal Indicators, and I'm cautiously thinking through my thoughts on various dietary and other supplemental strategies that I will share with the interested (and brave! And willing-to-read!) soon.
The slow improvements recently have not been nearly as sudden and remarkable as the three weeks of Happiness that I experienced in January/February. And while I want to someday be able to outline exactly how I found my way from Suicidal to Extremely Blissful...well, hell, if this continues, I'll take stepwise improvements over Lying On The Kitchen Floor any day.
Mostly, I hope to be someone who, someday, can say reassuringly to someone else dealing with a Whole Lot of Pain: "It's okay. You will make it through. You will love your life again. I know, because if I can do it, then so can you."
For now, I'll just say that I'm grateful for every day when I feel gratitude for all whom I love, and all that I have. Today happens to be one of those days. And for now, that has to be enough.