Many of you have asked me for this blog post over the last year, and I haven’t felt ready to write it until now. There are a few reasons I haven’t, the first being that I just wanted to enjoy feeling better, and in a way forget how bad things were. Another reason is that there is just so much to share, it’s overwhelming to even think about sitting down to write it all out. The last reason is because there are a couple people in my life that I don’t wish to share this with, for no other reason than I just don’t feel the desire to let them into my life in such an intimate way.
I wasn’t even sure I would ever write this post. When I wrote about what I was going through when it was happening, it was mainly because it was impacting other people. I felt I had let a lot of people down. But now, there isn’t anything in my life that is negatively affecting those around me. My family is celebrating their time with me, and nothing in my life is preventing me from accomplishing my work, so there isn’t anything I feel I need to share to “explain.”
However, at some point I will be writing a post that may need to reference this one, because that is something I feel very much inspired to share, and in thinking about that this morning, I felt compelled to finally to share this. I felt ready, and willing, and my hopes are that this post will help someone else going through a similar situation.
There really is so much to say, that I don’t know how to begin, and I am positive that I will have left something out. I think it’s best that I link to the post I wrote when I had the crash, even though I have some different thoughts on some of the things that happened looking back, than I did at the time. But I if I try to recap all of that, then we will be here for a month reading this thing before I even get to the healing part. Even still, grab a bag of Siete tortilla chips, because you’re gonna be here for a while.
I will start at the beginning of the worst year. This was March of 2015. We had just canceled our book tour for Make it Paleo II, and Bill’s grandfather had just been hospitalized. Bill and I were driving back and forth to southern Pennsylvania to work with a doctor who suspected I had mold toxicity and Lyme disease; meanwhile Bill’s only living grandfather was dying. I was barely eating, I wasn’t sleeping, and I was absolutely distraught that I couldn’t be any support to Bill’s family at this time. I was diagnosed with both mold and Lyme, and thought my life was over. Bill’s grandfather passed away, and I couldn’t support Bill at the funeral. I was in a really dark place.
I threw myself into mold treatment, and an adrenal protocol, but I couldn’t really leave the house, and couldn’t socialize at all. I even had trouble being on the phone without my body going completely nuts and starting to panic. 4 months into mold treatment, I got the all clear that I had detoxed all of the mold from my body, faster than my doctor had ever seen, but I was still getting worse. I missed my cousin’s high school graduation party, Bill’s cousin’s high school graduation party, birthdays, housewarming parties, and I was starting to fear the holidays coming up. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t walk into the grocery store. I couldn’t shower without Bill sitting in the bathroom with me, because every time I showered I was afraid I was going to pass out. I couldn’t go on walks further than reaching the corner of our street, and if Bill wanted to leave the house for the day, I made my mom come stay with me. I had gone from just having anxiety, to having anxiety plus severe hypochondria because I had been diagnosed with so many illnesses. I didn’t feel safe in my own body, and the only way I felt remotely comfortable was at home with Bill or my mom. Anything else stressed my body out so severely that I just couldn’t function, and I hated for anyone to see me like that, so I just avoided everyone.
My 30th birthday came and went, and I spent it in the house, not able to recognize myself. I didn’t want to celebrate, and I didn’t want any gifts. The best gift I could receive was to feel healthy, and I didn’t want anything else. I was starting a new decade in a place that I never thought I could ever get to. I thought I’d be having a baby at 30, not be a prisoner in my own house and body. Nothing like this was supposed to happen to me, and I had no clue how I got here.
October showed up, and with it an announcement that Bill’s sister was expecting. Bill was the one who told me, because I wasn’t able to go over to his parent’s house with him when they wanted to share the news, so he was told without me. I still remember the look on his face as he told me his sister and her husband were having a baby. He tried so hard to smile while he said it, and pretend like nothing was wrong, and like the news coming from him wouldn’t hurt. I promptly fell apart as soon as the word “baby” escaped his mouth, and thought I would drown in my own tears that day. I was missing everything, and felt as though I was no longer part of his family. I was the ghost of the wife he was supposed to have.
We didn’t attend any holiday gatherings that year, and by that point I had decided to work more on deep-rooted emotional trauma than Lyme disease, or any other diagnosis. For some reason, I couldn’t go down a path of treating Lyme. In my gut it felt wrong. Lyme is an old bacteria, I know a lot of us have it, and the few bands I showed were cross-reactive to viruses. My test results even suggested I do another form of testing to be sure, but my doctor said that lab was the only one he would use. I, of course, am not an expert on Lyme disease, and I do believe it is something that ails some people very severely, but it felt like the wrong path for me to take.
I started working with Katy Bray in October, and Jessica Flanigan around the same time, and decided to focus solely on anxiety. They are two women who are highly gifted, amazing coaches and guides, and both experienced something very similar to what I was going through, and had come out on the other side. I felt confident in their guidance, and after going through two therapists without success, that type of coaching felt like something I wanted to try instead of therapy. Instead of thinking there was something like Lyme disease causing my anxiety, I felt like the right path was just to approach anxiety as the root. I started a new supplement plan “for life” as I called it, that I put together myself. Instead of taking supplements for an illness, I took the supplements that I’d be taking if I were healthy, and continued eating in a way that honored this as well. I slowly started to get better. I tried out a Fisher Wallace Stimulator, which seemed to help at first. I started driving a little bit. I pushed myself to go a little further on walks. I was able to socialize just a bit more than I was prior. I started grocery shopping with Bill. I thought I was really making progress, and things would get better. I just had to be more patient. I just needed more time.
Then March rolled around. It had been one year. One year of barely being able to leave the house. One year of missing my family and friends. One year of struggling more than I ever thought was possible. One whole year, and I was barely better. One morning we had to drive across town, and I spent the entire car ride thinking I was dying from panic. I felt the carpet ripped out from under me, and went spiraling down once again. Any stability I had gained was lost in that hour in the car. I was in a really dark place, and I didn’t know how to dig out this time. My sister was getting married in about two months. We had a nephew arriving in about 3 months, and the way things were going, I would be missing both events. It had been one year, and I couldn’t bear the thought of suffering like this any longer. I didn’t know how I would ever forgive myself if I couldn’t be at my sister’s wedding or meet our nephew, or worse-keep Bill from being with his nephew. I didn’t know how things would ever get better, and I was absolutely terrified that I needed to be hospitalized. Not because I wanted to hurt myself, but because I didn’t know what was left for me to do. I felt completely out of control of my own body.
I had just ordered Kelly Brogan’s book, A Mind of Your Own, so I held out hope that there would be something in there that helped me keep moving. I got the book, started to read it, and then threw it in the trash. There was nothing in that book that I wasn’t already doing, and I was pissed. Why didn’t anything work for me? I didn’t know what had happened to me. I was losing more of myself, and didn’t know how to get it back. This threw me into probably the scariest emotional state I have ever been in. I was so far gone that I stopped being able to swallow food at this point. I would take bites of food and swallow it with water like pills just to get something in my stomach, with it sometimes taking multiple sips of water for the food to actually go down. I did this every two hours to try to keep some stability with my blood sugar. Between having no nutrition in my body, and panic, I felt like I was going to pass out all of the time. I think I lost 5 pounds in a week, and was already pretty thin at that point because I was going on 3 years of having minimal appetite.
Bill thought maybe it was just a hiccup of seasonal depression. Around this time we had started just a little bit of gardening, and he was hanging our gutter system of strawberries. He had asked for my help, and I remember standing outside, staring at him hanging gutters, crying, wondering if I would ever feel normal again. I just stood there with tears streaming down my face, while he tried to keep me busy. Bill made me sit in the sun, and walk on the treadmill in our basement. He thought some form of exercise would help me push through the state of depression I was in, and I remember walking on the treadmill at a snails pace, crying uncontrollably while Bill told me it would be okay, and that I had to just keep walking.
Right around this time I had gotten my results back from my DUTCH hormone panel that I did through Zesty Ginger, and they were absolutely awful. It looked as though I had PCOS (I do not), and my cortisol was through the roof. My hormones were a complete mess. I felt like I was chasing my tail, and getting nowhere. How had I done all of this work over the last year, just to be at my all-time low?
I had a session with Jessica and was talking to her about how distraught I was because I had taken this path to avoid medication, and felt like I was failing. While on the call with Jessica, an old memory came to me. When Bill and I published our first cookbook, we were visiting my aunt in New York. She is a very talented sports psychologist, and she was talking to me about medication knowing how I’ve struggled with anxiety most of my life. I didn’t know much about it at that point, so I was pretty neutral to the idea. The thing that stood out to me about that memory, was that I remembered her turning to Bill and saying “you would have a completely different girlfriend.” She didn’t say it to hurt me, but in that moment I must have decided that I wasn’t good enough without medication. I wasn’t good enough just as I was, and I needed a drug to make me a better person, not just for me, but for Bill. I told this to Jessica, and she had me do a forgiveness exercise. I did the exercise as she instructed, and something I didn’t expect came from it. I did find forgiveness, and peace, and I also found that I was ready to try a medication. I forgave myself for believing that I wasn’t good enough without medication, and instead of running away from it, I ran toward it.
I didn’t feel failure. I didn’t feel any shame. I was just ready. The thing I found so interesting was that I reached out to a few of my close friends in the Paleo community who are doctors, and told them what I was considering, and they were all on board. I guess they wanted to support my wishes when I was avoiding medication, but when I was ready and willing they agreed it was the right step to take, and said I could absolutely use it to get out of this tough time, and keep working on my health. I was a little upset that this wasn’t told to me sooner, but I knew that I wouldn’t have listened. I had to hit rock bottom to really be willing to give it a try.
I was terrified to try medication. I had been programed to believe antidepressants were evil mind-altering medications, and if it didn’t make me worse (which it surely would), it just wouldn’t help. I have mentioned before that I did try one a few years back, without much luck, so I was very worried that I wouldn’t get much relief, but I knew I had to try a different one than I had taken before, and really give it a shot this time. I knew I had it in me to do the hard work, but I couldn’t get out from under the anxiety. I needed something to break the cycle, and I couldn’t do it on my own. I knew my hormones were playing a role, but felt like I would never be able to get them in balance if I couldn’t get my body out of fight or flight. Not only did I need to give this a try for myself, but I really wanted to do it for Bill. He stood by me through all of this. He was my advocate to friends and family when I couldn’t be my own. He was my biggest cheerleader. He gave up everything with me, for me, and I had to try this for him.
The week I started taking a medication was even harder than the ones that had just passed. There was an entire day that I didn’t move from one spot on the couch, because I was so scared of side effects that I just tried to stay as still as possible. I was so terrified that I told Bill that I didn’t know if I could do this. He looked at me and sternly said, “You have to.” He had finally realized that something could really change quickly now, and he was pushing me toward it. Just putting that in print makes me cry. I put him through so much.
I pulled from everything I learned from Jessica during this time. I covered up the label of my prescription with a post-it note that said, “I trust my life.” I drew a heart on the calendar for each day that I took that one pill, and said “Thank you” every time I swallowed it. I got through the first two weeks from support from my family, and friends. I couldn’t have done it without them. I remember talking to my aunt, who had suffered 4 miscarriages when she was my age, and saying to her “I’m scared it won’t help. I’ve done everything, and nothing works.” To that she said to me, “I thought I was going to miscarry for 6 months the 5th time I got pregnant, but that one ended up being Paige.” That stuck with me, and helped me have just a little more hope.
After about 5 days, I started getting out of bed before 3 pm. I guess by that point, I wasn’t so afraid of taking the medication, and decided it was safe to move. I was able to slowly eat more. My body was calming down a bit. I didn’t get any side effects from the medication, and I know the benefit I felt was not placebo, because things started to go away that I didn’t even know were from anxiety, and I really was so doubtful that it would even help.
At this time, I also started working with a therapist. A friend of mine referred me to The Center for Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy in NYC. They have a specific form of CBT for people with OCD that is highly effective, and it works very well for all sorts of anxiety disorders. Thankfully, they will work with patients around the country via Skype. I looked through the list of therapists, and picked one that I thought looked like someone I would want to talk to. I started working with her right away, and implementing the tools from therapy immediately. My aunt who is a psychologist was one of the people who really supported me through this, and she was really happy to hear that I decided to get back into therapy, because the success rate for anxiety and depression is much higher when you combine therapy with medication. This was another situation where I felt ready to try something that didn’t work so well in the past. I had high hopes for this therapist and their form of therapy, and I was ready to really take it on.
The therapy is a form of exposure therapy, but not like what you typically think of with exposure therapy. When most of us think about exposure therapy, we imagine someone with say, a fear of spiders, going to a pet store and having a spider crawl on their hand. Or maybe someone who is afraid of heights going to the top of the Empire State Building. I think when we imagine these scenarios, we often imagine the person doing the exposure therapy freaking out while it’s happening, and it being this really dramatic experience. This therapy is different. It’s very much about your thought process. Your exposure might only be a thought. So for example, when I started all of this, a fear of mine may have sounded like:
“I’m scared to walk into Target, because I’m afraid I will have a massive panic attack as soon as I walk into the back of the store, and I wont be able to get outside before I pass out and die.”
So an example of how I would implement the therapy is, I would walk into Target (or even on the drive to Target) and say to myself:
“I might have a panic attack as soon as I walk into the back of the store. I might not be able to leave. I might pass out, and even die, and it will be really embarrassing. Someone might call an ambulance, and it will make a total scene.”
This switch in thought process gets your brain to stop obsessing about what you fear, and let it go. It’s highly effective, and really cool! My therapist told me to pretend like I was on Fear Factor. Most people wouldn’t expect the grocery store to be a scene in Fear Factor, although maybe I’m wrong about that. I guess it depends on the store…
After about two weeks on medication I could feel my body calming down, and was seeing improvement. It was also allowing the therapy to work. Finally things were coming together, and I was crawling out of the dark hole I had landed myself in a few weeks prior. I had spiraled so far out of control that it was like I had to learn to walk all over again. I had developed so many fears over the last year, more than I had started with, and knew it would be a long road of working through all of it. I started with baby steps of the exposure therapy. I had a really hard time riding in the car, so Bill and I got in the car and drove around the block. We did this every day, and then drove a little further. I just kept expanding. I kept exposing myself to things that had become difficult over the last year, but in a way that felt doable. The week before my sisters wedding, Bill and I drove to my aunt and uncle’s house to spend some time with my family so I would feel more comfortable on my sister’s wedding day. The drive was hard for me, and I even said, “That was really hard” while shaking, when I walked into my aunt’s house. No pretending anymore, I opened myself up to acceptance of my struggles, and opened myself up to support from my family as well. I was greeted by my mom and my aunt who in unison said “it was!?” and gave me a big hug together. They told me how proud they were, and clearly were so happy I was there with them. It was really great to be with my family again. I didn’t realize how much I missed them, and needed them.
There were some things I had to push harder for, like my sister’s wedding, and meeting our nephew, but I did both even though they each had their own challenges for me at that time.
Over the last year and 10 months I have only continued to improve. Medication really helped me dig out of a really awful time, but it didn’t “cure” me, and that’s really important to acknowledge. I never stopped working on myself, and I never will. The therapy I’ve done has helped so tremendously. I still work with my therapist 2-4 times a month, and she has been such a huge part of my success. I’ve gained so many tools from her that I will take with me through my whole life.
Once I felt stable enough, I decided to take on a health issue that I knew was significantly contributing to my quality of life, and my hormone imbalance. I found a Neuromuscular Dentist near Pittsburgh, and decided to seek treatment for the severe TMD that I suffered with. A doctor I had worked with had told me that my adrenals would never fully heal until I addressed TMJ, so I knew I needed to make it a priority for my recovery. I have shared my TMJ/ TMD journey on my Instagram, but I have yet to write about it here. I plan to share about that in more detail soon, but it has made such a difference in my life. All of the symptoms I had, which I was told were from other illnesses I was diagnosed with, have completely gone away since correcting my bite. I no longer feel like I’m moving when I’m standing still. Headaches are gone. Anxiety has reduced even more than it was before, and keeps reducing. I have more energy than I have in years, and can workout again. I’m no longer severely intolerant to heat. My jaw doesn’t click or pop anymore, I can eat without my jaw becoming fatigued, and my whole body becoming exhausted. The list goes on, and I will touch on all of that when I write about my dental experience in the future.
I started going to acupuncture regularly in May of 2017. This is another treatment that I added in for additional hormone balancing and stress reduction, and I have really been enjoying my sessions. I love my acupuncturist. She is truly talented, and has helped me improve my health even more. Along with acupuncture I also have continued to do energy healing. I worked with Yola Mehmeti regularly for several months, and have recently started seeing a Reiki Master, Wendy Borne, who is near my home. Both of those things have been important for me to release old blockages from the past, and have helped tremendously. Working with Yola in particular made a huge difference for me. She has such a loving, calm energy, and I could really feel the energy shift in my body during and after our sessions. She has since become a great friend of mine, and I love her very much.
I just recently had my hormones retested, and Meg, the midwife who has helped me with my hormones said, “I don’t know what you have done, but you accomplished something so difficult in a short period of time, keep doing what you are doing.” My hormones look very different now than they did right before I started to get better. My suspicion was correct. I got myself out of flight or flight, and all of the other work I have been doing finally took hold, and my body started to heal. My cortisol levels completely changed. I show no signs of PCOS (which was confirmed via ultrasound as well), my progesterone was a tad low, but all in due time. Things are really on the mend with that.
Now I can drive anywhere by myself. I do just fine home alone, even if Bill is out of town, and I actually enjoy my time to myself again. The holiday season this year was better for me than it has been in many years. I can eat again, and really enjoy it! After 4 years of struggling with my appetite, it is now completely back! I no longer need so much support from Bill, and in fact I am back to feeling like I can be a good support person for someone who really needs it. I was there for my sister when she had to spend part of the day in the ER. I comforted Bill’s elderly grandmother when her tooth fell out while we were visiting. I held my sisters hand through a procedure that was hard for her recently, and I helped my mom breath through a painful knee injection. Being able to be a support person for someone in need is such a gift to me, and one of the things I am most grateful to have back.
I’m starting to forget the person I was for that difficult year, and even the years before that. It’s becoming harder and harder to remember the awful things I felt, and some days it just seems like it was a bad dream. Every once in a while I will get a wave of what I call PTSD from that time. Something will trigger me, and remind me of what I went through, but I just acknowledge it, and work through it as it comes. I have a whole toolbox full of things that have improved my quality of life, and help me continue to work through challenges. I feel better than I have in a very long time, and I just keep improving as time moves forward.
I am grateful for what I went through, but reflecting on it comes with its challenges. This was a very difficult post for me to write. It’s hard for me to see it all in print, and relive it, although I’m always willing to talk about it with anyone who asks me. I feel like anxiety robbed me of enjoying my wedding day, the first 3 years of our marriage, and starting a family when I wanted to. I missed out on a lot, and it’s hard for me to not feel resentment sometimes. They say hindsight is 20/20, and I do wish I could go back in time and do things differently, but I know that the path I have been on is the one I was supposed to be on. Things happen as they should. Everything is in perfect order, and I’m still learning to trust my life. This difficult time brought Bill and I even closer than we were. We were a great team before, but we are an even better one now. And maybe we didn’t get our baby when we wanted one, but I know that our baby will be the one we are supposed to have, and when we meet them, we will know everything happened when it was supposed to.
I think there is a lot of work our world needs to do when it comes to mental health. The conventional route doesn’t address the whole picture a lot of the time, but the holistic path dismisses treatments that might be necessary or helpful. I see, and have experienced working with practitioners who told me to avoid medication and told me therapy wouldn’t work until I got all of the toxins out. I’ve spoken with people in our community who have used psychiatric medication and haven’t wanted to speak up about it because of the stigma, or the fear mongering in our community around medication. I’ve also been to doctors who say that nothing alternative will help, and medication is the only treatment you can use. There really needs to be some balance here. There are times when medication is necessary, but it’s important to know that it’s not going to be a magical cure, and working through anxiety still takes work, dedication, and a lot of support. I am a very strong proponent of psychotherapy as well. I think medications are very easily prescribed, without a suggestion for therapy to compliment the medication, and this is a part that is very important, and should not be missed. I approach therapy as part of my job as someone who has anxiety, and it’s not optional. My emotional health doesn’t just impact me. It impacts everyone around me. I have found therapy so helpful that I probably see my therapist more than I really need at this time, but it really makes a difference for me.
We are all unique, what worked for me may not work for someone else, and what didn’t work for me may have been the thing that helped another person. However, it is irresponsible for practitioners in the wellness world to tell anyone they should not be taking a specific drug for their mental state, or advise them to not see a therapist, or stop therapy, especially if they are not a mental health practitioner. People need to be really careful here. From my experience, people I worked with often had no clue how bad things really were for me, though that was partly due to the fact that I tried to put on a brave face most of the time. And as my mom will tell you, I can be quite stubborn, so I know I had to come to these conclusions on my own.
I may always be a work in progress, and there is a lot more I would like to do to improve my health, but I’m becoming more accepting of being someone who struggles with anxiety. For so long I felt like it was a flaw on my personality, and had to find a way to get away from it. All I wanted was to escape it. I wanted a reason for the blame to not be on me. I didn’t want to be “broken.” I don’t believe it’s my fault, and I know that I’m not broken, but now it’s okay to me if there isn’t a root cause that can be healed by detox, or treating some other random illness. Instead of pushing anxiety away, I pulled it closer to me, and that’s when I started to heal. I stopped running away, and instead ran toward it. I accepted myself as I was, forgave myself for how I was, and loved myself as I was. This was not easy, and has gotten easier, but is still challenging at times.
This experience has made me the person that I am, and I like that person. I have more compassion for others. I know how to care for myself-which is a highly underrated ability, might I add. I am more equipped to care for those around me, and I have learned how to face my fears in a really productive way. I’ve grown and expanded a lot through this experience, and I am grateful to have gone through it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I hope sharing this will help someone who may be going through a similar situation, and please, if you are hurting, make sure you reach out to someone for help. Help is available, and healing is possible.