Racing heart. Intense Nausea. Paralyzing fear. Uncontrollable shaking. Stomach in knots. Heaviness in my chest. Reassurance after reassurance from family and friends that I was in fact, okay. Rituals said in my head so that I would be in fact, okay. Developing certain habits that I had to do so that I would be in fact, okay. This was a glimpse of what my life looked like for 14 years.
At the age of 8, I had my very first panic attack, which spiraled a long journey of my battle with mental health. In 2004, my sister caught a stomach virus, and for some reason this spiked the most intense, debilitating phobia that I would carry on with me for a very long time. I remember pacing back and forth on my driveway hyperventilating, crying, shaking, and absolutely terrified at the thought of me or anyone else that I knew vomiting. I didn’t understand what was so terrible about it. I mean, no one enjoys throwing up, but in this moment I had developed a completely irrational phobia that was about to run my entire childhood and life as I knew it.
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. 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.
About 5 months after my first panic attack, I was diagnosed with Anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Emetophobia (the phobia of vomiting), and was placed on my very first antidepressant. I remember sitting in the psychiatrist’s office, feeling so ashamed of myself. I didn’t understand what had happened to me. I felt absolutely broken, confused, and terrified by the person I had turned into.
Eventually, 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. After some time, 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. The worst part of this cycle was that my anxiety would make me extremely nauseous, which would trigger my anxiety more, which would make me more nauseous, etc. It was a never ending cycle of nausea, panic, and fear.
This cycle continued all the way throughout college. I ended up getting to a pretty good place where I went several years without needing an adjustment in my medication, until my junior year hit and another flare up happened. I went back to my psychiatrist because at the time, medication was the only known answer to my struggles. As I walked into her office, (already being on 200 mg of Zoloft, the highest legal dose of that medication you can be on), I sat down in the same chair I had been sitting in for years, telling her my same problems I’ve been repeating for years. What she said to me this day changed my life forever. She said, “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 and something just clicked. I didn’t want rely on medication anymore to be happy. I didn’t want to live my life this way anymore. I knew in my heart there had to be some other option.
When I got home, I started doing some research. I talked to a close friend who was very into holistic health, and she showed me specific essential oils that could help with anxiety. It 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 wellbeing 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.
My diet my entire life consisted of quite possibly the most unhealthy foods. I basically lived off of junk food, bagels, pizza and pasta. I knew this was going to be an adjustment, but it was quite obvious my gut was inflamed, and there was a very good chance this could be an answer for me. It was a slow, long process, but I gradually started incorporating more and more whole foods into my diet, while cutting out as many processed, artificial, inflammatory foods as possible, and this 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 in May 2018, and within that same week, I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is an online school that allowed me to pursue my dream in becoming a certified health coach. I now coach women to help them break free from their ways of being that are no longer serving them through mindset, movement, and nutrition.