My Story, Part 4: Fun (or Not Hating Life)
There’s one more piece to this that links everything together. I told you it was a revelation for me to learn that exercise could (or should) be fun. I mentioned that food went from punishment, to enjoyment, to health and long-term rather than short-term enjoyment. And I told you that having a baby is our most important priority in life right now.
This is hard for me to speak about in a public forum like this, but I also believe it is important. There is such a stigma in our society attached to mental illness. People think anyone with a mental health condition must be “crazy” (whatever that means)… a sociopath… unable to function. Well… (deep breath)… here goes.
In 2010, I had a bad breakup, to put it mildly. It involved a canceled wedding and some very painful realizations for both myself and my fiancé (now ex). At this time, I felt that I had been repeating some patterns in my life that I wanted to break. So, I started seeing a therapist. I continued with weekly visits for the next three years. To anyone out there who has ever felt ashamed about seeing a therapist, I tell you: it’s a brave choice to work on your issues this way! Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably afraid of examining the skeletons in his or her own closet. My theory is that people who say therapy is bogus or who dismiss it as ineffective are the ones who secretly need it the most.
During the course of this therapy, I was diagnosed with depression and what was potentially a mild form of bipolar disorder. There is a blurry line between the two… depression with bipolar features, or a form of bipolar disorder whose primary symptom is depression. People have said to me that this was an irresponsible diagnosis because I am a high-functioning individual. I believe the opposite is true. Yes, I am a high-functioning individual by most people’s standards. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have a mental health condition. Many people who you encounter in daily life, who seem completely normal to you, might be suffering from depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. For someone to have one of these conditions, doesn’t mean they are a psychopath or someone you should avoid because they are dangerous. These are conditions that simply fall within the range of human experience, and we should practice empathy toward people who have them. Yes, these people would benefit from treatment, and in some cases lifestyle changes can help or even be sufficient treatment in themselves. Above all, the condition should not define the person; someone who has anxiety can also be kind and generous, funny and entertaining. Anxiety is not their only attribute.
In 2011, I began taking medication for bipolar disorder. It wasn’t an SSRI (the class of drugs often used for depression). Rather, it was an anti-seizure medication. I find it completely fascinating the way the brain works. Scans of people’s brains during episodes of acute depression have found patterns of brain activity very similar to someone having a seizure. Having experienced depression, this makes complete sense to me. The brain seizes up and “normal” thought waves can’t be conducted because the depression is crippling and all-consuming. When I’m having an episode of depression, it does feel that way: like my brain is cramping up and I’m just stuck. I know the negative thoughts aren’t helping me, but I can’t seem to move past them.
The anti-seizure medication, Lamictal, solved this for me, almost completely and almost immediately. Life just felt easier. The way I’d previously felt on my best days was suddenly the way I felt every day. For years, I’d wondered (in a very self-critical way) why I couldn’t just get it together, pull myself up by my bootstraps, and be happy. If I felt that way on some days, why couldn’t I just will myself into feeling that way every day? Scientists don’t fully understand why Lamictal works to treat bipolar disorder—its effects with regard to bipolar disorder were discovered by accident—but I am certain that it increases the level of some neurotransmitter that is simply deficient in people with bipolar disorder.
Lamictal worked like magic for me—but then I met Sean and we started talking about trying to start a family. There aren’t conclusive results about Lamictal’s effects on a developing baby—which means that doctors recommend you stop taking it if there is any chance you might be pregnant. So, when I moved to Wisconsin in mid-2012, I started weaning myself off of it. (A nightmare health insurance situation also contributed, since I wasn’t able to get a new prescription for this drug that I supposedly needed for a serious health condition, for about two months after moving... Maybe I'll write another post someday about what's wrong with our healthcare system!)
After I went off Lamictal, I could feel that my mood was not on an even keel the way it had been. Being happily in love helped for sure, and I had discovered some nutritional fixes that made a big difference in my mood (such as taking high-dose Vitamin D supplements daily). But I did start to feel a bit down. It manifested as anger mostly. Sean was very patient, but I know that he was hurt and he didn’t understand why I was acting this way when I had finally met the love of my life and we were finally living together as husband and wife.
I should add that my husband is one of the world’s happiest people, just by his inherent disposition. One of my favorite lines from Sean: “The thing about me is, I either wake up in the morning feeling great, or I wake up feeling awesome.” His intrinsic temperament is just pure sunshine. So when I told him that most days I woke up barely feeling human, and it would take me hours just to stop hating the fact that I was awake, he couldn't really relate, but he is always sympathetic and supportive and always does his best to cheer me up.
Years earlier, I had discovered yoga’s power to combat anxiety, and since then it has been a daily practice in my life. Last fall, desperate not to return to my roller-coaster of highs and lows, in addition to yoga, I increased the frequency of my cardio sessions from once a week to daily. It is sometimes a pain to get out of bed early in the morning instead of sleeping in, but it helps that I work out with a DVD at home and I don’t have to go anywhere or look presentable. Mostly, it’s just become routine now, another part of my day. And it is absolutely worth it. I work out hard each morning, and the exercise buzz keeps me going all day long. I can absolutely feel that my energy is higher and mental focus is better because of it. Shakeology also helped my energy and focus, even when yoga was still my primary form of exercise.
Between my superfood shake and my daily cardio sessions, it almost feels like my personality has changed. Sean turned to me the other day and he actually said, “You’re not depressed anymore.” To me, those were the sweetest words, and that’s what makes it all worth it every morning when that alarm goes off. As hectic as my schedule can get, I’m pretty sure my daily exercise appointment is here to stay.
If you've read my previous posts you know how strongly I believe in the importance of finding a workout that feels like fun and not a chore. Making changes to our health to help us feel our best is, quite simply, what this business is all about for me. I wanted to share the story above and the difficulties I've experienced so that others dealing with similar issues will know that it's safe to approach me and ask questions. As a health coach, I am not equipped to address every sort of problem. I guide people toward food freedom, but in some cases people need treatment for an eating disorder. That is not something I can provide, and I encourage those who need it to seek treatment without shame; that is the kindest thing you can do for yourself! I also am not equipped or trained to counsel or treat people suffering from depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, but I am happy to share my own experience and answer questions. If you email me, I will write back! And I absolutely believe that nutritional and lifestyle changes can be an essential complement to proper treatment—and these things (nutritional and lifestyle changes) are the heart of what I do as a coach.