Last week, I shared one of my daughter’s stories on the healing power of food. Now it’s time for my other Dudette’s story. She has had a real tough go of it since she was eight years old. Anxiety, OCD, Emetophobia (intense fear of throwing up), panic attacks, on a variety of strong medications. It has not been an easy journey for her. But you know what finally saved her? Yep…you guessed it. Her diet. She is now 22 and the healthiest and happiest she’s ever been. Oh…and she is not on any meds. Here is her story. Please read it. It can change your life or the life of someone you love.
Thanks Dad. Like my sister, I just wanna say what an incredible human being you are and out of all the fathers in the world…
Yeah…this is still Gluten Dude. Ok sweetie…take it away.
In February of 2004, I had a stomach virus and I threw up a few times. It wasn’t fun, but it was life, and within 24 hours it had passed. I survived and moved on. Fast forward one month later to March of 2004, my sister had gotten that same stomach virus and for some reason, it triggered this intense fear, anxiety, and panic that would consume the next 14 years of my life. I specifically remember hearing that my sister was inside getting sick, and I was hysterically crying, pacing back and forth on my driveway, terrified at the thought of her, me, or anyone throwing up. This was the first panic attack I had ever had in my life, and it was paralyzing. I had no explanation for this phobia I had developed, or this anxiety that was taking over me. Within 24 hours, my sister was completely back to normal, but my life had completely changed.
As days went on, my anxiety got progressively worse. I started to form these habits, where I felt like if I didn’t do something a certain way, I would get sick. It took me so long to do the simplest tasks, such as leave a room or turn the light off. I had to switch the light switch on and off 4 times, or else I would get sick. I had to say a ritual in my head every time I left the room, or else I would get sick. As frustrated with myself as I was, I was more confused than anything. I was always a very happy kid, and within one day, I went from living a carefree, joyful life to living this life consumed by negative thoughts and fear.
After seeing their daughter transform into this completely different kid filled with worry, my parents made the decision to take me to go see a psychiatrist and a psychologist, to try to get to the bottom of this, and get me the relief I so badly desired. After multiple screenings and evaluations, I was diagnosed with severe Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Emetophobia (the phobia of vomiting). I was also placed on my first antidepressant. Although it felt good to get some answers, I remember feeling so ashamed with myself. I still didn’t understand why I had to struggle this badly.
The medication I was first put on started to give me a little relief, but it took time, and many adjustments. My anxiety and OCD would fluctuate very frequently, leading to psychiatrist appointments every six weeks to adjust the medication I was on, and therapy twice a week to try to help everyone understand what was going on. Eventually, the medication I was on and the therapy I was doing started to work, and I would feel like I was gaining control of my life again, until a few months would go by, and more flare ups would occur. These flare ups led to more adjustments in my medication, which sometimes would help, but other times they would make me feel worse, and the cycle continued.
This was my life, and I had learned to accept it. I think one of the worst parts about all of this was the unknown. Going about my normal day, when a panic attack would come on out of nowhere was one of the scariest parts. I would be left shaking, crying, and beyond nauseous. When I had these panic attacks, my biggest fear was that I would throw up, but these panic attacks would leave me so nauseated that I would just worry more, making the nausea worse, making the anxiety worse, etc. It was a vicious cycle.
Over the years, I had seen more psychologists and psychiatrists than I could keep track of. They all were trying to give me the right tools and medications to get me back to normal, when in reality, normal was the last thing I ever felt. Even when medications would work, I still had this fear in the back of my mind that I would spiral again. Eventually, I felt like I had gotten to a pretty good place. I was going long periods of time without panic attacks, and I went over a year without the need to adjust my medications. I got towards the end of my sophomore year of high school, and the time finally came…I threw up. It was the first time since second grade, and guess what? I didn’t die, it wasn’t pleasant, but I survived.
However, my mind thought otherwise. Immediately after I got sick, I had one of the worst panic attacks I had ever had in my life, terrified that it would happen again. I felt like everything I had worked past had come rushing back in, and I was right back to my 8 year old self. I ended up spending the next 8 months convinced I had a stomach virus. I was constantly nauseous because of how worked up I always was, my habits were back and worse than they had ever been in my life, and the worst part about it all was that I was oblivious to the fact that this was all anxiety based. I truly believed I was sick.
For 8 months. I was living off of plain pasta, crackers, applesauce, and bananas. You would not see me leave the house without a stack of saltines and a Ginger Ale. I was missing school and missing out on time with my friends. I was in a relationship at the time that was falling apart because the person he started dating no longer existed. And I was down 20 pounds.
There was a time where the feeling was so intense, that I looked for ways to feel anything other than the anxiety and the nausea. This is a picture (to the right) from after trying to find some kind of relief. I had tried to cause pain by scratching up my arms in order to distract myself from what was really going on.
I was seeing a new therapist who I loved, but I felt so sick at our sessions that I could barely pay attention to what she was saying to me. Aside from feeling anxious and frustrated, I started feeling depressed. This was not the life I wanted to be living, and I truly believed that unless the medication I was on was helping, this would be my life as I knew it.
Just like every other time I had spiraled downhill, I eventually got myself back to “normal”. The new medication kicked in, the anxiety and OCD faded out a bit, and I was back to living my life. I graduated from high school, I went off to college, and I lived my life. My habits and anxiety never fully disappeared. It was always something that was there, I was just so used to these tendencies that I had a better handle on it, and knew how to keep it to myself.
Now, fast forward to the summer before my senior year of college. I noticed that I was starting to feel my anxiety flare up a little, and I wanted to get one step ahead of it before it got any worse, so I went back to my psychiatrist (because at this point in time, medication was the only known answer to my problems). I was already on 200 mg of Zoloft, which is the highest possible legal dosage of this medication. After sitting in the same chair I had been sitting in for years, talking to the same doctor about my same problems, I remember her exact words.
“Technically you are on the highest dose that I can legally prescribe you, but you have been on this medication for long enough, that I am confident to push you up to 225 mg of Zoloft. You can start today”.
I walked out of that office that day, and something just clicked. I called my mom and I told her I didn’t want to be on medication anymore. She was taken back to here this, because medication was always the answer to my problems. In my heart I just knew there had to be some other option.
I went home that day, and I started doing my research. I talked to my one friend who was very into holistic health, and she showed me specific essential oils that could help with anxiety. I went home and I bought the oils. That gave me some relief, but I knew there was way more to it. I went back to her, and we did my very first meditation together. I felt relaxed afterwards, but I knew there was more to it. As I did more research, I read something completely new, that no doctor had ever told me before. I learned that roughly 90% of serotonin (what regulates feelings of well-being and happiness, and what the antidepressants were trying adjust) comes from the gut. I was blown away by this. Could what I was eating really be the root cause of all of this suffering? From that moment on, I became aware of the foods I was putting into my body, and how I felt after.
Before I go on to talk about how food helped changed my life, let me just mention that my diet up leading up until this moment consisted of bagels, pizza, pasta, bread, cookies, cupcakes, candy, soda, and juice. Every. Single. Day. I was quite possibly one of the most unhealthy eaters, but I never thought it mattered because I naturally have a fast metabolism, and I thought that the only reason you had to eat healthy was to get in shape.
After doing more research and some experimenting, I was shocked to learn how certain foods were affecting me. I started by experimenting with dairy. I was noticing that I was feeling more nauseous, anxious, and tired when I had dairy, so I cut it out. It wasn’t easy, but I wasn’t messing around at this point. The amount of anxiety and frequent upset stomachs had decreased, but I knew there was more I needed to do.
Having a father with severe Celiac disease, and a sister and mother with gluten sensitivity, I wasn’t surprised to learn that gluten was something I needed to eliminate too. Needless to say, I noticed even more of a difference, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. I kept repeating this process of noting how I would feel after eating certain foods, and eliminating them if need be. I ended up cutting out dairy, gluten, eggs, meat, and all processed/artificial foods, and it made all the difference in the world.
Throughout the process of learning about healing my gut and feeding my body the proper nutrients it was so badly craving these past 14 years, I managed to wean myself off of my Zoloft entirely. I stopped seeing my psychiatrist and therapist, I began a practice of daily meditation, I developed a passion for lifting, and I fell in love with taking care of my body. I graduated from college this past May, and within that same week, I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is an online school that will allow me to pursue my dream in becoming a certified health coach. My journey was far from easy, but it was an experience that I will be forever grateful for. It taught me resilience, it taught me strength, and it taught me how to treat my body properly.
I’m not expecting to never have any anxiety ever again, but I now have the tools to power through any obstacles that come my way. To this day, my phobia still briefly exists, and I do feel anxious from time to time, but I’m still a work in progress, and I’m proud of the person I grew up to be.
We are all a work in progress my beautiful girl and will be until our time passes. I’m proud of the person you grew up to be, but am also proud of the person you have always been. I’m so sorry for all of the pain you had to endure. I know it was a tough ride. You are the most resilient person I’ve ever met; hence the tattoo on your arm.
Thanks for sharing your story, shining a light on how diet can help with anxiety and for being a role model for those in similar situations. I love you.
To everyone else, my daughter wants to help others in her situation. To that end, she is studying to become a health coach, with a focus on diet and anxiety. On Instagram, she’s @becoming_courtney. Give her a follow if you think she can help.
Thanks for listening to both of my Dudette’s stories. Food can heal you. My entire family is a living testament to that. Hopefully, this leaves you with something to chew on.