I’ve always been very open about my experiences with mental illness (though I don’t love that term), and I figured this was a good space to publicly share my story & how pursuing a healthy body, mind & spirit has been the best treatment I could have ever asked for.
[Disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, doctor or professional of any kind. This is only my own personal experience.]
I’ll dig into my background and experience here for a bit, but overall I want to focus on the healing I’ve experienced and how I got there because this isn’t a sad story to me anymore. Also, clicking the words of each “disorder” or therapy treatment I discuss will link you to more information about them. But without further ado:
At age nine I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I had severe obsessions over multiple fears and false guilt, and the compulsions that resulted ruled my life for many years. It was a very stressful and difficult time for me and my family, but I was treated by a therapist with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as well as Exposure Therapy and made a lot of progress that way—I highly recommend seeking this sort of professional help if you are dealing with any sort of mental illness.
Side-note: Though it was suggested, my parents decided against putting me on any sort of medication. I’m very grateful for this because I feel like going through the experience of dealing with my OCD directly forced me to overcome it long-term, and taught me how to handle my obsessive thoughts. However, I am not in ANY way saying that medication is the wrong path. I have no experience with it personally, but I know it can be an extremely useful and sometimes necessary tool to address mental illness and that has my full support. The only one who can make that decision is you. Just thought I’d throw that in there.
My OCD would have a major tendency to flare up at night—when my therapist heard this, she wondered if I was having any sugar after dinner or around bedtime. Well, at this time in my life, the best part of my day was a bowl of ice cream after dinner, which, spoiler, was not helping. So we ditched the sugary snack post-dinner and guess what? My obsessions went way down. It didn’t fix everything—nothing was a cure-all—but the impact was ridiculous for something that seemed so insignificant.
Can you see where I’m going with this?
My OCD mellowed out a lot around age 13 after years of hard personal work and therapy, with a huge dash of emotional support from my incredible family and a sprinkle of the beginnings of my battle against processed sugar. I also found acting, my passion & now career, at this time. I had about 4 years of no major spikes in my obsessions, and though my OCD has never completely gone away nor will it, I was doing great.
As senior year of high school rolled around, the stress levels in my life skyrocketed thanks to college applications and auditions (in order to get into an acting program like I’m in now, you have to audition for many programs in hopes of getting into one—the acceptance rates for the programs I wanted to go to were all lower than 5%. HELLO STRESS) and I had my first panic attack.
I remember it coming on out of nowhere–I was sitting in my room working on homework when all of the sudden I wasn’t able to breathe. It felt like I had just run a marathon and I started to hyperventilate, and I distinctly remember feeling like I would never return back to normal again. Overall, not a pretty sight or a pretty feeling.
I returned to therapy after that, and was diagnosed with an indistinct combo of what is currently classified as General Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. This wasn’t at all surprising because of my history with OCD—a lot of these sort of mental illnesses like to mix together to form one’s own personal “disorder” salad.
I gained a lot from this stint of therapy as well, and you know what the best part was? One of the very first things my new therapist suggested was to limit my sugar & carbs. Whaddya know?! Unfortunately at this time that didn’t really stick with me—I wasn’t able or ready to comprehend what that would look like seeing as I was chin-deep in the Standard American Diet.
I still saw improvements from the therapy alone, but when I changed my diet a few years later (in 2015), I REALLY got to reap the rewards. But before that…
I started college! I was accepted into my dream school and am in the midst of my third year there currently. It’s an intense and rigorous program, and my freshman year was riddled with panic attacks and a resurgence of my OCD. It was painful to face and I didn’t have the clarity to see that what I was putting into my body and how I physically treated it had an effect on my mind. I was having at least two desserts a day (milkshakes were a staple) alongside very processed carbs and fats for all my meals. I didn’t really have a grasp on exercise (though I was introduced to yoga at this point which was a wonderful help that year), and I wasn’t giving myself any time to rest or recover in any way, shape or form. And I was wondering why my anxiety was at an all-time high! Hindsight is truly 20/20.
That summer I jumped right into cutting sugar and processed carbs, as I talk all about in detail here: My Holy Grail Diet: Why I Eat Primally (LCHF/Keto)
Please take a look, as it goes into specifics much more about what exactly changed in my diet. This also began the healing of my chronic migraines! Though I consider myself paleo now technically, low-carb is where I started and how I began my strides towards physical & mental wellness. After that first week, I never looked back.
The following school year, things were certainly looking up in comparison to the the year before. I had kept up my new way of eating in terms of no processed sugar and totally low-carb, but my diet was riddled with replacement desserts chock full of highly-processed ingredients I couldn’t pronounce & artificial sweeteners all day, every day. I had no balance in what I was eating—as long as it fit in my low-carb category, I could eat as much of it as I wanted, and I did. I’m talking LOTS of low-carb cookies, bars, fudge, cakes, everything. Spoiler: low-carb things don’t keep you low-carb when you eat a mountain of them. I was healthier than I had been, but I was not healthy.
Though mentally I felt slightly better than I had freshmen year, sophomore year was incredibly tough. My wonderful boyfriend was studying abroad across the world first semester, and being away from him was a major stressor. I encountered depression for the first time (also not surprising—anxiety & depression are best friends), I felt deeply lonely & I was eating a diet lacking in nutrients PLUS I was almost never treating my body to good exercise. It was a dark & trying time, but my experience dealing with OCD gave me the leg-up I needed to tackle it on my own terms.
Near the end of sophomore year I really began to dive deep into the world of nutrition & wellness…information about how food, energy & nutrients work together began to really sink in. I took a good look at my diet and saw it for what it was for the first time: better than it used be, but still full of nasties all the time, every day. Highly processed & unstable oils, weird additives & ingredients, basically a whole bunch of anti-nutritional waste that was holding me back from experiencing the cleansing benefits of beautiful, whole foods. It was time for me to make a change and see what could really happen if I put all my eggs in the unprocessed, real-food basket.
And that brings us to today! The last six months have been, without a doubt, the best six months of my life. I focus on eating real, unprocessed foods (colorful vegetables, fruits, responsibly-raised animal meats [i.e. grass-fed, cage-free, wild-caught, etc.], nuts & seeds), I exercise at least five times a week in some form or another, and I am THRILLED to report that I have never been better mentally. I haven’t had a panic attack in who knows how long, and my anxiety has calmed so much that I haven’t even thought about it enough to notice. I never, ever thought I would be able to say that.
Leaving the processed foods at bay and really boosting my physical activity TOGETHER have made all the difference—I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today had I let either of those slip to the wayside. This is by far the most physically active I’ve ever been and the difference in my mental state is astounding alongside this newfound way of eating. My mind feels clear, light & buoyant, as does my body, now that the weight of poor physical & mental health has been lifted. I truly feel unstoppable.
You have no idea how much joy I feel in writing the conclusion of this post. I honestly never thought I would be feeling as good as I do nowadays, and it tastes even sweeter knowing what an emotional and trying journey it was to get here.
Most importantly, I am so glad I get to share this story with you. If my experiences bring any reprieve to anyone out there feeling the weight of mental illness, I will be so satisfied. You are not alone, and hope is out there. Don’t be afraid to find it.
You deserve a pretty miraculous life…give it to yourself.
Please feel free to ask any questions or share any of your own experiences down below. I’d love to hear them.