Every time I hashtag an entry on social media or fill out a brief blogger bio, I share my list of autoimmune and autoimmune-related disorders in order to reach out to those who are suffering the same: asthma, allergies, endometriosis, adrenal fatigue, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis. Yeah, it's a list. I'm aware. To those of you who are following along because you're in a similar boat, you get it. To some of my family and friends, they think I'm a hypochondriac. And that's ok. I don't expect someone who hasn't lived it to understand, and like I shared in my The Raw Truth about Living AIP post, I really hope that those skeptical individuals never have to live what we live through in order to understand.
But there's a couple items on the list that I tend to skip. And they should be there. In fact, those same conditions are often glossed over frequently. People don't like to talk about them. Lots of people struggle with them—there are commercials about the issues, there are billboards with hotlines to call if you want to talk about them, there are doctors a dime a dozen more than willing to write you script after script if you need them—but when it comes to daily conversation... Well, people don't like to bring those up; they don't like to acknowledge them. So I'm going to do it. I'm nervous about bringing them up. I'm nervous about acknowledging them. I'm nervous about sharing with you. But I'm going to do it anyways.
So here's my ugly laundry list of conditions—ALL OF THEM:
- Severe allergies/Food intolerances
- Adrenal Fatigue
- Nail and Scalp Psoriasis
- Psoriatic Arthritis
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder
- Major Depression/Mood Disorders
Now granted, not all of the conditions are directly autoimmune or autoimmune-related. But the more and more research that is done, the more the argument is that a lot of these issues are all tied together or tend to go hand in hand—they're co-morbid disorders, if you want to use the official terms. (The National Psoriasis Foundation shared an article today with studies that documented the prevalence of depression and anxiety in psoriatic arthritis patients.) And these issues are really not as uncommon as you would think.
So the AIP community has decided to come together and set aside a week each year to talk about Emotional & Mental Health in the AIP community: November 30-December 4. And this year, I'm going to talk about mine.
Looking back to my pre-AIP days, I had some serious mental health issues that were worse than I actually realized at the time. They were socially-crippling, and at my lowest points, I was very high risk for causing personal or permanent harm. I was overwhelmed at everything and struggling with severe anxiety. I was very negative, had trouble interacting with people, didn't do well making friends, often had severe crying spells where I didn't leave the bed for days, couldn't cope with the demands of jobs or deadlines. The anxiety and insecurities caused or exacerbated huge mood swings. The doctors suggested bipolar disorder, but none of the medicines ever worked. No matter what we tried, I only seemed to worsen and continued to spiral downwards.
My brother finally talked me into trying Paleo for "just 30 days", and I slowly started to see a turn around. I was back and forth with Paleo and so up and down with my moods, until I eventually saw some improvements. I did better over the summers, but always seemed to sink even worse into despair when the summers were over. Last summer, I took the plunge and started AIP. And that's when everything changed.
I'd say that AIP gave me my life back, but AIP actually gave me my life. My moods were through the roof happy and content by comparison. They stayed more consistent. I had more energy and willpower. I started to feel more confident and more able. Family members started to notice how much more stable I was emotionally and mentally. My mother was in complete disbelief and didn't think diet could make such a huge difference, but nevertheless, told me: "I don't know exactly what you're doing, but don't stop."
The key to my happy mental health was probiotics. AIP encourages the use of fermented foods so the first steps I took when I started AIP was to learn how to make sauerkraut (I like Eileen's recipe at Phoenix Helix: No-Fail No-Pound Sauerkraut) and how to brew my own kombucha. As long as I keep a consistent flow of probiotic-rich foods and drinks in my diet, I improve my gut health and thereby, my mental health. Learning this about myself was the most liberating thing. I could suddenly handle life so much better. I could take on more things. I made new friends and kept the friendships. I mended torn relationships with family members. I approached school and work in a whole new light. I still had ups and downs, but without the roller coaster of crazy highs and nasty lows. I also understood the ups and downs better, and more often nowadays, I can recognize the patterns and either slow them or stop the process before it gets out of control.
I still don't do well over the winters. When Daylight Savings Time ends and the days gets shorter, I immediately see a drop in my moods. I've been struggling the last few weeks with a lack a motivation, a desire to just laze on the couch and let everything go. Initially, I caught myself getting overwhelmed and saddened, because I felt like I was slipping backwards. But when I put things into perspective, I realized that I am still stronger and healthier and better mentally than I was a year ago. This time last year, I felt abandoned and alone when it got darker, and I cried every night on my couch or in bed. This year, I turn on the tv for noise and company. I stay later at work to be around coworkers and friends. I get moving in the kitchen, cooking healthy AIP foods to keep me on track. Yes, it's easy to get lost in the slippery slope of sliding backwards. But if we're smart (and we are if we've gotten this far), we'll stay positive and realize that it's all relative.
Compared to last year? I've come a long way. And winter won't last forever. Summer is months of great healing for me, and they are just around the corner.