**I am starting a two part series on my journey to health. Be prepared, it’s long 🙂 It’s also very personal. And scary. Here is part 1. Please check back to see part 2 tomorrow.**
I’ve been actively trying to get my body back to full health for the last 10 – 15 years. I know a lot about health and nutrition. And I can give great advice if you need it. But I have a confession to make. I’m still not healthy because I’m too afraid.
Have you ever wanted something so badly yet been so afraid to get it? Sound like an oxymoron? Let me explain.
I have lived my entire life in fear. For as long as I can remember I’ve had anxiety. As a very young child I was afraid. And it continued through my entire life. It’s not just the usual worrying about a big event or something. It’s deep rooted. Something out of my control. Underlying anxiety for no reason that I can’t get rid of.
|photo credit: theundercoverrecruiter.com|
I was afraid to say the wrong thing. I was afraid to not say the right thing.
I was afraid to touch any electronics in our house for fear of breaking them.
I was afraid to say I had to use the bathroom when we were riding in the car because I didn’t want to make my dad stop or get criticized.
I was afraid to get a bad grade.
I was afraid to make a mistake.
I was afraid to not be perfect.
I was afraid to disappoint someone.
I was afraid of getting fat.
I was afraid there was something wrong with me.
I was afraid of being different.
I was afraid of not following the rules.
I was afraid of standing out.
This list could go on and on and on. In the end I was afraid to just be me.
Fast forward to today. I’m 33. I’m a wife. I’m a mother. And I’m still afraid.
In the last few weeks God has really been speaking to me through sermons, Bible reading and personal devotions, conversations with friends and my own thoughts guided by the Holy Spirit. And everything has kind of come full circle.
It is what started all of my problems. And it is what continues to fuel them to this day.
As a young child I had a lot of anxiety. It’s partly genetic. It’s partly learned. The anxiety impacted my health very early on. Of course I didn’t know the first thing about anxiety or health in general at the age of four 😛 I was just a little kid wanting to have fun. But I started having bladder problems. That in turn made my anxiety MUCH worse. I thought there was something wrong with me. I already felt different from others. The anxiety about the bladder problems just made them worse. The more I thought about it the worse it got.
This caused even more health problems. I had ear infections every winter and lots of antibiotics. I had frequent headaches. I developed digestive issues. And the anxiety eventually impacted my reproductive health (although I had no idea that this was happening). And as the health problems appeared…the anxiety got worse. With each new problem I became more and more afraid. What was wrong with me?
On top of the learned anxiety and ensuing health problems I also had major social anxiety. I was painfully shy. So shy that I was even afraid to talk to my own dad when I was little. I adored him, but was still so shy with him. I was the third of four children. I was the “easy” child that didn’t cause much trouble. I followed the rules and didn’t want to do anything wrong. So nobody noticed my anxiety (I hid it well). Nobody pushed me to get involved in activities and try new things. My parents are introverted as well. So we mostly stayed home anyway. I didn’t learn to push past my anxieties.
I did make a few friends in school and with neighbors. But I was still very shy and so acutely aware of being different. Other kids wondered why I never talked. They would talk about me. They thought I was weird or snobby when really I was just shy and would have given anything to be able to feel ok about myself and feel normal and talk to them.
In junior high everyone starts to change. Your body changes. Things you think about and worry about change. In eighth grade I started my period. It happened once. And then not again for quite a while. Once again I felt so different from other girls. But I was too afraid to say anything about it. I thought there was something wrong with me. But I tried to hide it. I just didn’t talk about that kind of stuff. I now know that it was likely caused by my years of anxiety and stress.
Then in my early teens my anxiety turned into the need for control. If I was always afraid of the unknown I would take that out of the equation. If I controlled everything then I wouldn’t have to be afraid anymore. So where did I start? With my looks of course.
I was afraid of not looking perfect. I heard comments from neighbors about my weight (even though I was not that big…just a normal teen with a body starting to change shape). So I changed the way I ate. I cut back significantly on the amount of food I ate. I was afraid of eating any fat. I started exercising. And my weight went down…and so did my health.
|photo credit: singaporepsychiatrists.com|
My behavior became obsessive and thus began my journey with OCD. I was afraid to eat. I was afraid of not looking just right. I was afraid I wasn’t eating enough at the same time I was afraid of eating too much. My life had to be in perfect balance. If something out of my control disrupted it I panicked.
By the time I was in college I had a pretty set routine of what time I woke up, what time I ate, what my bathroom habits should be like every day, how much I should exercise. By trying to fit in and be in control I actually made myself stand out more. I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing if it didn’t fit into my routine or my rules. And I hated it. But I didn’t know how to get out. My controlled life was so out of control. That, along with the stress of not knowing anyone and being away from friends and family, made my anxiety return full force.
During the last couple years of college I had such skewed eating habits. Everything had to be low fat. And I had kind of a starve and binge mentality. I would let myself get super hungry. Then stuff myself…and of course not feel good. And then wonder why. I was eating total junk food. And nothing nourishing. I also was obsessive about exercise. I ran every day. No days off…ever.
Oddly enough my messed up eating habits actually helped me to a degree. Even though I thought I was eating “low fat” and exercising a lot I was eating quite a bit. Which is what my body needed. I gained some weight (even though I didn’t realize it since I didn’t have a scale where I lived, and I shopped quite a bit and always had clothes that fit). And for the first time in my life I had a regular period every month. I was beyond thrilled. I actually felt somewhat normal.
I felt pretty good about how I looked. My reproductive system was starting to work. And I was dating the most amazing man I’ve ever met…now my husband. Only by God’s grace did I manage to get through college, fall in love and marry the man of my dreams. I still don’t know how that happened. And I am so thankful that even with all of my quirks my husband loves me.
I still struggled with anxiety and OCD (although I still had no idea I had OCD) and digestive problems. But I kept going. I started my full time job as an electrical engineer a few weeks after graduating from college. That made the anxiety flare big time. I had no clue what I was doing. And I didn’t want to make a mistake. I put myself under way too much pressure.
Then a few months later I got engaged. I was excited. But also nervous. How would I adjust to married life? Would my husband still love me once he lived with me and knew the real me with all of my routines, etc.? I worried, but kept on going.
Then I made one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. A few months before getting married I started taking birth control. And that was the end of my reproductive health. Since that first pill (10 years ago) I have never had a period on my own (without synthetic hormones).
On top of the reproductive issues the birth control impacted me psychologically and made my anxiety and OCD worse. Within a year of starting it I would get sick each month from the pills. I cried more easily (I’m not normally one to cry much). I also started to have panic attacks.
Both my mental and physical health rapidly declined. My digestion got worse. And that made the anxiety worse. I started trying medications and restrictive diets (to try to help the “IBS”). I lost weight. I lost my sanity. I lost control. But I tried as hard as I could to maintain control.
My family did not realize what I was going through and didn’t like the “new” me. They didn’t know that it was so out of my control and that I hated what was happening. So they were distant and a bit harsh with me. Which made things even worse. I felt out of control, alone and like I was disappointing everyone.
I started seeing a psychologist. Therapy helped with some of the anxiety. And I found some balance. But the OCD was so deeply rooted. I still had not been diagnosed and had no idea that’s what I had. I finally opened up to my psychologist and my husband one day and started the journey to more healing. But it was also so scary. Have you ever tried exposure therapy? NOT fun. Basically you force yourself to do the things you’re afraid of or to not do the things that keep you calm.
I had ups and downs. I had times where I felt ok and times where I felt worse. I went through fertility treatments. Which meant more hormones and more anxiety. I had a baby, which turned my world upside down and caused severe anxiety due to the OCD. I went through more fertility treatments.
|August 2009…me at about my lowest weight and poor health, just before starting fertility treatments.|
I finally discovered real food in 2010 and thought I had found my answer. After following Nourishing Traditions for a bit I came across GAPS. I thought it was going to heal my gut and free me from all of my health problems. Instead it just fueled my obsessiveness and caused more harm than good. I finally had another child…and more anxiety and issues with OCD. I also was at my lowest weight (around or below 100 lbs.). I had no energy. My OCD was bad. My anxiety was bad. My moods were bad. My digestion was very bad. I hit my limit. Something had to change.
Stay tuned for Part 2 to hear the rest of the story…