Lara Zombie ‘State of mind’

Lately, six different friends have reached out to me, separately, to share that they are either choosing to go off work entirely or are deciding to go down to part time. Each one of them has confided in me the deep pain and shame that they are experiencing from making this decision, the societal pressures they experience, and the profound sense that they are somehow defective and unable to live up to the expectations of society around them. In other words, they have the underlying sense that there is something very wrong with them. Why can't they just suck it up, stuff it down and continue on like the rest of the population?


These are exactly the feelings that I have been grappling with since deciding to move to part-time work with my day job five years ago. I was experiencing overwhelming anxiety, fatigue, lac of concentration, inability to focus and/or care for myself in the ways that I needed to. My sense was (and has still been to a certain degree) that there was something wrong with me for not being able to 'fit in' to the working world in the ways that I felt I was supposed to. It has been a deep challenge for me, as a single person, to figure out how to support myself while not working full time, manage health costs without benefits, and just in general keep up with the basic costs of every day life. Still, it was a decision that I felt I had to make for my own overall health and wellbeing. To continue to work full time would have been disastrous for me. It continues to be the right decision for me to work part time, and yet, I continue to feel the subtle and not so subtle pressure around me that it should just be a temporary thing while I work to being able to move back to the correct way of existing. Just the other week I was having a conversation with my mom where she suggested that perhaps eventually 'I would be able to' work full time again. But I have absolutely no intention of going that route and here's why:


I am an artist. A creative type. I like - nay, I require, to be able to express myself creatively. When I don't, my overall health suffers. This creativity comes spontaneously. It does not abide by a 9-5 schedule. It suffocates under the restraints of a boxed in lifestyle where I am overseen by the governance of management and the 'higher ups'. Working a 9-5 job has always, and will always continue to feel like a prison to me. I never understood this entirely as a young person. Fed the social rhetoric of the way that I was supposed to live, I didn't understand why I had such a hard time with it. It was never that I was lazy or didn't want to work. Throw me into an inspired creative project and I will forego eating, sleeping, socializing and pretty much anything else happening in my life in order to complete it. I work around the clock with passion, vigour and dedication. What I despise, is having to sit in an office for eight hours a day, despite what work needs to be done, and even if there is nothing to be done - as if my soul is imprisoned by the conventional, industrial work complex.


But there is another reason for my avoidance of the classic 9-5 and it has taken me years to figure out, acknowledge and honour. And that is this. I am a Highly Sensitive Person, an empath, a healer, an artist, a creative and a deep feeler. Always have been, always will be. It has been that way since I was born. Constantly picking up on the energy and emotional states around me, it has felt almost impossible to simply exist and function in this world in may ways. My nervous system is highly attuned to my environment. I pick up on subtle cues around me. I absorb other people's emotional energy. I have a very difficult time regulating my nervous system and emotional state on the best of days when I'm alone, never mind when I'm out in the world picking up whatever everyone else is giving off. At the age of 36 I have only JUST begun to truly understand what this means and how to manage it and it's been a long road towards that understanding.


Along with the sensitivity traits that I was born with has come inherited belief systems that began in my earliest years. These belief systems have evolved around the idea that I am too sensitive, too deep, too emotional, too much. My feelings and observations and sensitivities about the world make others uncomfortable. Others who are less in tune with their feelings typically do not want to be reminded of their own emotional realities. It is inconvenient and scary for them. It is easier not to look inside and understand their emotional worlds. I get it, it's not an easy or comfortable task in any way. These inherited belief systems have also evolved around the idea that I need to turn off my sensitivity traits and shut my body up in order to conform to the 'correct' ways of existing in this society. It has not felt ok that I require a lot of freedom, flexibility and space for regulation, processing and creativity in order to just function at the most basic level.


To add to this all, it has come to my awareness over the years that many of these sensitivity traits that I embody are either consciously or unconsciously attributed to weakness, frailty, lack of character, strength or even intelligence. Feminine based traits that are my strengths such as emotional awareness, intuition and creativity are typically viewed to be less important than more masculine dominant traits such as logic, productivity and cognition. I have had a hard time finding my place in a society that worships the latter as the superior way of existing and as a result, for most of my life, felt ashamed of who and what I was.


It is no surprise to me that every single one of those friends who reached out to me over the past month to share their work/life changes are also highly sensitive persons. We pick up on the stress around us. We absorb and feel deeply the environments in our homes, relationships, work settings and even our societies as a whole. Over the past year, with the COVID-19 crisis, it has felt often almost impossible to function and continue on with the basic responsibilities of life such as work, home duties, relationships etc. In the past, I would have said that I was perhaps depressed. But I don't believe that is so. When I look at the global climate right now, I understand that I am picking up on the insanity, terror, chaos and unpredictability of the world around me. Others who are less sensitive may be less effected. Me - I look around and have a hard time processing everything that is happening and what we are experiencing on a global scale to the point that it feels hard to do basic tasks. I'm not denying the stress of this experience on anyone and everyone experiencing it. What I do think is that the highly sensitives are the ones who are really feeling it. It's showing up in our bodies, minds and spirits. We are the ones, after all, who will take on the emotional energies of others who are not capable of processing their own stuff. No wonder my friends' systems need a break.


For most of my life I have been led to believe that the idea of emotional energy is 'woo woo'. Why? Why is it that we are so afraid of what we cannot see? Why is it that we must label it as being some type of hippy dippy nonsense when we know that science has proven that everything is just that - energy. Emotion = energy in motion. When we put our hand close to a flame, we know that it will get burned, even though we are unable to actually directly see the heat in the atmosphere. That is not 'woo woo', that is science. So why, when it comes to our emotions do we view this differently? My belief is that it is because we are afraid. We are afraid of our own internal, emotional worlds. And those of us who bring these worlds to light and highlight the reality of them are often feared as well. We are written off as being different, 'woo woo', out there, flakey, hippy, or even weak. My belief is that it is that fear of emotions and sensitivity that causes us to be labelled as such. And I am just SO done...


I am done with somehow internalizing or subtly accepting the belief that my sensitivity is a weakness. I am powerful, intuitive and emotional. These are important traits. This is important work. We need these traits now more than ever. And yet, those of us who have them are left feeling like we can't quite measure up.


In his work focussing on addictions, ADD and trauma recovery, Dr. Gabor Mate speaks of the relevance of genetically inherited sensitivity. He claims that while conditions like ADD, depression/anxiety, addiction, and even physical disease are not genetic in nature, what is genetic is a propensity towards sensitivity. In other words, individuals who are born highly sensitive will feel emotions very deeply, which means that they will also feel pain (their own and others') more intensely, which will give them more of a need/urge to escape that pain through various addictions. In Mate's opinion, this is the connection that is witnessed between artists and suffering. Creative types may be more likely to experience emotional distress and/or mental illness because they are more sensitive to emotions, the environments around them and to the effects of personal and intergenerational trauma. It is not the 'disease' that is genetic, it is their sensitivity. In his book 'Scattered minds: the origin and healing of attention deficit disorder' he writes:


'The existence of sensitive people is an advantage for humankind because it is this group that best expresses humanity's creative urges and needs. Through their instinctual responses the world is best interpreted. Under normal circumstances, they are artists or artisans, seekers, inventors, shamans, poets, prophets. There would be valid and powerful evolutionary reasons for the survival of genetic material coding for sensitivity. It is not diseases that are being inherited but a trait of intrinsic survival value to human beings. Sensitivity is transmuted into suffering and disorders only when the world is unable to heed the exquisitely tuned physiological and psychic responses of the sensitive individual'.

I, myself, have been prone to anxiety and depression. I have developed Complex PTSD as the result of familial environment and intergenerational trauma that I am actively working to heal. I am more prone to burn out, sensory overload and physical illness. I have two autoimmune illnesses that began during periods of deep emotional stress in my life - my body spoke when I was unable to find solace. I have been pathologized, stigmatized, re-traumatized, belittled, medicalized, invalidated, medicated and brushed aside. I have been unconsciously viewed as the 'weak' one, the one unable to keep up with the world the way it is, the one who just 'can't seem to get it together'. What I have really been experiencing all along, has been highly attuned responses to the environment around me and lack of support in understanding how to work with and honour my inherent sensitivity. It is this sensitivity that has allowed me to create beautiful music that has touched others in important ways. It has allowed me to write, to feel, to sing and most importantly, to see deeply into other people's souls and understand why they are in pain and where it comes from. These are gifts, not deficits. I am so absolutely done with the shame and inherited belief systems that have led me to believe that there is something wrong with me and I am SO grateful to finally be at a place in my life where I can say 'no' to subtle or not so subtle suggestions that that is the case. I am grateful that I have the privilege to be able to stand up for my own needs and that I live in a part of the world where I have options and the rights and freedom to make decisions for myself. I am grateful to be stepping into a place of empowerment.


To my dear, dear friends who are making the decisions to take care of themselves despite the belief systems that society, work culture, the patriarchy, industrialization, and our culture as a whole forces onto you, I see you. You are beautiful. You are the deep feelers, the healers, the empaths, the truth-tellers, the seekers and the creatives that our world needs the most right now. You are not broken. You are breaking open. Keep going.


Always here and sharing with you this experience of the healing path.


xo



References


'Scattered minds: the origins and healing of attention deficit disorder'. Mate, Gabor. Random House. 1999.

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Updated: 5 days ago


Over the past three years I've been on a journey of unlearning most of what I was taught to be true within the framework of allopathic medicine in regards to my mental health and the support available to me. This journey has felt incredibly disorienting, lonely, isolating and even scary some days, as I've started to question most of the beliefs that I inherited throughout the years. One of the hugest shifts that I've made is moving from the belief that I am broken and diseased to understanding that my body and all of its responses, coping strategies and adaptations are brilliant survival mechanisms that are always on a mission to protect me, no matter what the cost.


When, after close to two decades of accessing various forms of mainstream care, I continued to get worse, not better, I finally started looking beyond what I was being told by the allopathic practitioners that I was utilizing. I want to share some key things that I've learned that changed the scope of my healing journey in a significant way. Take what you like the leave the rest. I've come to understand everyone's journey as unique with no general 'one size fits all' approach. My intention is never to tell anyone how they should manage their health or to shame anyones personal choices. My aim is simply to share information that I have found supportive on my own path that has helped me to make informed decisions from a place of empowerment. Sending love to you on the healing path.



1) Diagnosis is subjective.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is used like a bible for modern psychiatry. It contains diagnostic criteria for mental disorders, as well as a series of codes that allow therapists to easily summarize patients symptoms for insurance purposes. Every mental health professional must refer to the DSM's codes in order to bill treatment to insurance companies.


This manual is currently in its fifth edition (DSM -V) and each time is it renewed, various diagnosis are either added or taken away due to the cultural and medical beliefs of the time. For example, until in the 1980s, homosexuality was listed in the DSM as a mental disorder until it was eventually removed because belief systems changed. As UCLA Child Psychologist Dan Siegel has put it ‘The DSM is concerned with categories, not with pain’.

Crosbie Watler, a practicing Psychiatrist from Vancouver Island addressed the ever changing nature of psychiatric diagnosis in his article 'A call for action: transforming mental health care’.


He writes:


‘The image of a group of endocrinologists debating whether Type 1 diabetes should be a legitimate diagnosis is laughable, yet this is precisely how psychiatric “diagnoses” are minted. If something is objectively real, we don’t debate its existence, and what was truth does not simply become untruth with the next edition of DSM. The DSM committee meetings provide forums for so-called experts to lobby for their pet “diagnoses”, ones they feel comfortable treating and ones that will enhance their credibility and prestige'


I have received a myriad of diagnosis over the years, which continued to change depending on what the doctor of the day decided. With time, I came to see these labels as just that, labels. I took what helped and directed me towards healing and left the rest. I no longer chose to identify with these diagnosis as I realized that they were not set in stone, and, as I continued to grow, change and heal, so too would the symptoms that led me to receive them in the first place. I learned more about the nature of early trauma, the nervous system and my overall physical health in relation to much of what I was experiencing and realized that I wasn’t a victim to genes and lifelong prognosis in the ways I had been led to believe.

I would encourage anyone who has received diagnoses to look inside and ask for themselves if/how they feel this label is serving them with the understanding that it is to some degree or another, subjective. If the diagnosis resonates and there is healing and context to be found through it, wonderful. But labels don‘t make us who we are - our commitment to ourselves and our journey of self understanding does.


2) The efficacy of psychiatric medication has never actually been scientifically evidenced (The importance of Informed Consent).


Disclaimer: this one was extremely tough for me to swallow and even to believe given the decades that I was treated using only pharmacological approaches. Please know that in sharing this I am by no means intending to shame anyone who utilizes pharmacology as a tool. I have and do use it myself. My aim is to simply provide a broader lense on the topic than I was given throughout my many years of seeking medical support.


With all that being said, here goes...

The chemical imbalance theory of mental disorders has never actually been scientifically proven - psychiatric medications, while shown to provide relief for some, have never been scientifically evidenced to impact brain neurochemistry and have been shown in studies to work only slightly better than placebo.


In his article 'The Chemical Imbalance Myth', Functional Medicine Specialist Chris Kressner writes:

'there is not a single peer-reviewed article that can be accurately cited to support claims of serotonin deficiency in any mental disorder, while there are many articles that present counterevidence. Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not list serotonin as the cause of any mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry addresses serotonin deficiency as an unconfirmed hypothesis, stating “Additional experience has not confirmed the monoamine depletion hypothesis'


He goes on to explain that the concept that mental disorders were a result of a chemical imbalance in the brain was established in 1952 when the first 'antidepressant', iproniazid, was discovered accidentally when

tubercular patients became euphoric while being treated with this drug. However, motivation of Psychiatrists to accept the chemical imbalance theory expanded due to growing competition from non-medical therapists such as psychologists, social workers and counsellors and a drive to differentiate as medicalized specialists focussing on physical treatments like drugs and electroshock therapy. And yet, while medication does seem to support some people in providing relief from symptoms, there is no scientific understanding as to exactly why.


Furthermore, where pharmacological treatments for mental health conditions may be standardized and utilized as common practice, there is good reason to also question their efficacy and even their safety. Dr. Arielle Schwartz, a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of complex trauma, has written in depth about the contraindication and potential harm of the use of benzodiazopines, a medication commonly prescribed to treat symptoms of PTSD such as anxiety and panic.

She writes, ‘In my experience treating trauma for the past 15 years I have seen the negative impact of medical mismanagement of PTSD. I have witnessed clients suffer trying to recover from their psychopharmacological treatments and painfully try and rebuild their lives from the impact of physiological and psychological dependence upon medicine; conditions that are sometimes equally painful or worse than the initial traumatic events’.

Throughout the many years that I accessed medical support for my symptoms, I was prescribed benzodiazepines and various other pharmaceuticals (including anti-psychotics, though I never experience Psychosis) to manage them. They were offered as more of a silver bullet solution, rather than one potential piece of a complex condition and at no point was it suggested that there could be potential harm or side effects as a result of taking the medication. As there was no link made between my presenting symptoms and past trauma, I took the medications prescribed to me while not undergoing the therapy required to process those experiences in a supported environment. This lead to more strain on my brain and body and gradually, a worsening of symptoms both physical and mental. Whenever I reported that the medication I was receiving was either a) not helping and/or b) making things worse, I was met with disbelief or complete dismissal. It’s been important for me to recognize how, many times when these medications were prescribed to me, I was not in an informed position or in a place where I felt strong enough to advocate for myself or to question the directive of the medical providers I was seeing. When we are struggling with our health it can leave us feeling more vulnerable then when we are thriving. Whether we like to admit it or not, there is a power differentiation at play when we seek medical support from professionals that should always be acknowledged.

I am extremely grateful to have never suffered from benzodiazepine withdrawal and/or to have developed a dependence on that specific class of drug.

See the journey of Toronto’s Dr. Jordan Peterson and his long road to recovery from benzodiazepine withdrawal as a result of routine medical care: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=3ktjZhih3LQ).

The worst outcome of my consumption of psychiatric medication has been my need to process the years of built up emotional material that accumulated due to the numbing qualities of the psychiatric drugs I was prescribed. I was also not informed about the difficult road of cessation ahead of me or the impossibility of finding medical support to safely come off these medications, as medical practitioners are rarely if ever educated on withdrawal symptoms and the potential for discontinuation syndrome (a very real condition where symptoms emerge upon cessation due to a withdrawal of the drug from the body rather than evidence of the return of the ‘underlying illness’). My process has involved needing to self research and seek support outside of the medical system in order to safely wean off of medications. It has also involved pulling open capsules and counting beads with a micro scale in order to create dosages small enough to gradually wean in a way that my body could tolerate, as the drugs were not created or offered in dosages small enough for me to wean gradually and safely, and even my pharmacy wasn’t able to compound them for me. I was very quickly and flippantly prescribed these medications but was not able to find any support to come off of them within mainstream medicine. While that journey has been a difficult one unto itself, I am grateful every day that I wasn’t harmed in a more significant way.

To summarize, where I used to believe that psychiatric medications were the gold standard to treat mental health conditions and that they were not only completely safe but a required element of treatment, I’ve since learned through reading, studying and speaking with other survivors that the reality is that they will help some people, others they won’t and some they will harm. It is my belief now that the assumption should never be made that they definitely will help somebody or that they are the best and/or the only treatment option available - and the realities of those individuals who aren’t helped and/or are harmed by these medications should never be denied. While I believe that psychiatric medications have the potential to be an effective tool to support symptom management, not eradication (symptoms carry messages that are very important to hear), I also am a firm believer in the importance of informed consent - ie. ensuring that the consumer has a complete understanding of the potential benefits and risks of the treatment options that they are offered and that they are empowered to make decisions around treatments that are best for them given their unique circumstances.

To be continued...



References:


https://rootstothrive.com/2020/05/20/transforming-mental-health-a-call-to-action/


https://chriskresser.com/the-chemical-imbalance-myth/


https://drarielleschwartz.com/medications-and-the-mismanagement-of-ptsd/#.YJWLa2ZKjUQ


https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(05)72262-5/fulltext

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Updated: May 5


I don't like the term 'mental health'. I have felt this way for a long time but haven’t voiced it because I am afraid that it is too controversial of a thing to say out loud or that it will come across as offensive, invalidating or stigmatizing, which is the last thing that I want to do. I especially do not like the term 'mental illness' but have been worried that perhaps my feelings about that mean that I am in some form of denial about my own experience and the experiences of others. I've struggled with these thoughts for a long time now.

We are living through a period of time where mental health is even just beginning to be placed on the map as a societally and culturally 'OK' thing to discuss openly, which is huge progress in comparison to how things were ten years ago. Even in the last five years I‘ve noticed huge strides in regards to how culture discusses the topic. More people seem to be open to speaking about it without shame. The idea that we should hide it is becoming less prevalent and it seems to be becoming trendy to discuss mental health struggles or the support that one is using to manage their emotional worlds. It feels to me like the onset of the Corona Virus Pandemic has pushed this a step further and suddenly mental health is a universally talked about and shared experience. Not only are we all undergoing some version of ongoing stress/trauma right now, but we are in one way or another, experiencing it collectively - though I recognize the very important role that privilege plays in regards to the degree.


But no, I don't like the term 'mental health' - I still don't. Here's why:

I am a long time anxiety sufferer and have been working with some degree of anxiety or another since I was a young child. For most of my life I didn't even know that what I was experiencing was a thing, never mind that it was an experience called anxiety that was shared by billions of people - essentially that it was a human experience. When I was a child I just thought that I must be ‘crazy’ and different from everybody else. I hid my experiences so well in isolation that not even my parents knew how badly I suffered. Then, when I went to University in Guelph, Ontario in 2003 and my anxiety became unmanageable, I saught support from my GP who referred me to an on campus Psychiatrist. The Doctor quickly diagnosed me with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, explaining that I simply had a chemical imbalance in my brain, a lac of the neurotransmitter serotonin, that required life long pharmacological treatment to be corrected. 'Ok', I thought. 'The problem is that my brain isn't working properly and I need this chemical in order to function'. It seemed simple enough and I was grateful to receive answers. The only problem was - the pills didn't help. Not really. They certainly didn’t solve the overall problem the way this doctor seemed to suggest they would. When I went back to tell them this I was met with blank stares and a prescription to increase my current does of medication. ‘You just need to find the right medication for you. Try CBT', they would say. 'It's evidence based'. And try I did. I tried with therapist after therapist to social worker to psychiatrist. I purchased 'how to' books on CBT and self studied on my own. I even drove to Winnipeg to seek support and information from a not-for-profit organization that specialized in anxiety. There, I met a lovely peer support worker who was hugely supportive in helping me feel less alone, but wasn‘t able to give me tools or understanding outside of the realm of medication and CBT. I continued trying to seek help and support, in and out of mental health crisis, until my final experience with a Psychiatrist in 2016 resulted in their suggestion that I utilize red wine as a PRN for my anxiety. PRN (pro-re-nata) is a type of 'when needed' medication to be used in emergency situations rather than daily. 'You're not an alcoholic', he said. "If you were, you'd be one already'. I tried that and it didn’t go well. It turned out not to be the solution, either.

What I know now that I didn't know then about CBT, is that, while effective in some circumstances with some individuals, CBT focuses primarily on what is referred to as 'top down' processing, a type of tool that focuses on thought management and 'changing the way you think' which, in turn is supposed to change the way you feel. The problem with CBT for those who have experienced trauma (which I would argue is about 99.9% of the population - if you're human you've experienced trauma) is that we are experiencing #nervoussystemdysregulation. In trauma, memories are stored in the limbic system and the emergency centre of our brain, the amygdala, is hyperactive. It is as though your body is primed for threat, ALL the time. Your brain and body want to protect you from danger. They want to make sure that what happened to you in the past doesn’t happen to you again in the present. They want to do this SO badly, that when they sense threat, whether real or imagined, they shut off the 'thinking' part of your brain (the pre-frontal cortex) in order for the survival mechanisms of your brain to take over and protect you from danger. There is not much room for 'changing the way you're thinking' when the thinking part of your brain is literally turned off.

The game really changed for me when I began my training in Trauma Sensitive Yoga. The TSY training that I was doing educated me on the role of the #vagusnerve. This nerve, which begins at the brain stem, travels down through the body to the stomach and intestines . It connects to a wide range of bodily organs including heart, lungs, throat and fascial muscles. The degree of its ‘tone’ is responsible for the regulation of our bodys stress response system. If our vagal tone is high we are more resilient to stress. If it is low, we become stressed more easily. Most interestingly, in the vagus nerve’s bidirectional communication between the mind and the body, 80% of the communication occurs from the bottom up (ie. from the body to the mind), making what is going on in our bodies pivotal to our mental state. In #polyvagaltheory it is often said that 'story follows state’. In other words, the story that is being told by the mind follows the state of the nervous system. If our nervous system is in 'flight' mode our thoughts will be frightened and racing. If it is in 'freeze' mode our thoughts will be slow and hopeless. And if it is in 'fight' mode they will be defensive, fearful, aggressive and angry. Furthermore, when our stress response system is stimulated and our body is sensing threat, this means that the branch of our nervous system which helps us to feel safe, seen, soothed ane connected is not online. This 'rest and digest' branch of our nervous system, the parasympathetic branch, is what facilitates digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as recovery from stress and safe connection in relationship. There isn’t much room to digest food or have fun with our pals when our lives are in danger, literally or imagined. This 'shut down' of our digestive system can lead to what is called intestinal dysbiosis or an imbalance of our intestinal bacteria/flora. Keeping in mind that it’s been estimated that we have more bacteria in our microbiome than we have cells in our body, I'd say that could be pretty problematic to our overall health. Add to the mix that a large percentage of our feel good neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, are produced in the gut, it's easy to see how physiological issues in the digestive tract could lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression. Essentially, the mind and body are one. The one effects the other in a very real and significant way. So why, when we refer to emotional or behavioural symptoms do we call it 'mental health'?

I'd like to take this arguement a step further and open up about some of my personal physical health challenges that became more clear to me in the winter of 2016. For seventeen years I had a series of physical, mental and emotional health symptoms that were left unexplained by my doctors. After stumbling across an article by an MD who specialized in Thyroid Disease, I came to learn that a lot of the symptoms I was experiencing seemed to match the conditions she was describing. I begged my MD to send me to an Internist who I then asked to have my antithyroid antibodies checked and, as I suspected, they came back off the charts. I was experiencing the autoimmune thyroid disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Numerous referals and conversations with my family doctor finally landed me in the office of an Endocrinologist in Winnipeg named Margaret England. Dr. England, who was a staunch feminist from Los Angeles, CA. (how she ended up in Winnipeg, I'll never know) was as blatant with her thoughts about the medical system as she was about her politial views. 'You're not crazy', she told me. 'You're hormonal. All over North America this conditon is being misdiagnosed and unmanaged. It's being treated with anti-depressants when the problem is hormonal. You've been misdiagnosed for close to twenty years and I'm sorry that happened to you. We're going to get you feeling like a human again'. It was one of the first times in close to two decades that I felt validated in my experiences. Dr. England went on to tell me that the medical system is slow to catch up and it takes approximately 20 years after something is 'evidenced' for it to be adopted to common practice. For years, my bloodwork that came back as 'normal' was actually not explored deeply enough to show that my immune system was attacking my thyroid, leaving my cells deprived of energy, my adrenals exhausted, my body inflammed and my brain foggy and tired. This condition was impacting my overall health - including my mental health - in a significant way. There was a very real, physiological reason for so many of my symptoms. The problem was that I had been gaslighted for so long into believing that it was 'all in my head'.

And then, two years ago, while studying the Hashimoto’s expert Dr. Izabella Wentz, I learned that a common symptom of early stage Hashimotos (even before the disease tends to show up in advanced blood work) is anxiety and depression, in particular, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It is also common for individuals with Hashimoto’s disease to be misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder due to the intense hormonal fluctuations that occur as a result of the illness, significantly effecting mood and anxiety levels. This made so much sense to me based on my own experiences.

I don't need to go into a tirade about the various reason why this might have happened to me or about how the system is broken and patriarchal at best and abusive, neglectful and harming at worst. What I do want to highlight, once again, is how the mind and the body are SO intricately linked. My learning continued as I began studying the work of Dr. Gabor Mate, Bessel Van Der Kolk and Peter Levine, and discovered the deep connection between early childhood abuse/neglect and chronic illness. I learned that my early life experiences had shaped my nervous system to a state of perpetual and chronic stress, which impacted my body in a way to facilitate the onset of a chronic illness, and this chronic illness had impacted my emotional health due to the connection between hormones and inflammation on mood and energy. It was all linked. The one played into the other and vice versa.

Back to my original point about not liking the term 'mental health'. Even if you omit everything that I've just shared and simply consider that notion that emotions express themselves in the body, it is easy to see how labeling ‘mental’ symptoms as existing only from the neck up doesn't make sense. That gut feeling you have, the flushing of your face when you feel embarrassed, the racing of your heart when you’re afraid, the warmth in your chest when you’re in love - this exists in the body. They are called feelings because we feel them, we don’t think them. Thought patterns obviously play a large role in our emotional state, but they are not the only players. Our bodies contribute so much more then we can even begin to imagine. I believe that when it comes to mental health, often what we are pathologizing is either a) normal, physiological, mammalian survival responses or b) normal, painful, mammalian emotional states that we are not taught how to process or express including fear, distress and grief. What we are labeling as disease are responses and adaptations that make perfect sense considering the impacts of our environments, early childhood experiences, relationships and even the beliefs and societal expectations of our culture. And in saying this, I by no means mean to invalidate or deny the immense pain and suffering inherent in these conditions. I have experienced it and trust me, I know, that pain is very real.

We have to start somewhere with our societal conversations around mental health. I suppose recognizing that it does exist and is as real and important as any other health related experience is a start. Maybe we‘re not quite at a place where we can recognize the mind/body connection within mainstream dialogue. Maybe just having mental health on the map is enough for now. But I know for myself that recognizing the role that my body has played in my experiences has been life altering. Working with a trauma informed therapist who understands the language of the body has been unlike any work that I've done with a therapist before. At first, it felt frightening to me as it was so starkly different than the talk therapy that I had previously experienced. So much so that it took me several years to fully trust that my therapist knew what he was doing. But the truth was that talk therapy kept me trapped in that space from my neck up - the space where I had resided in order to keep myself safe from feeling the pain that I experienced growing up. The pain that was living, unprocessed, in my body. My work now, is to connect with those physical sensations in as gentle and loving and compassionate a manner as possible, with the support of someone who I feel safe with. I have, after all, been disconnected from them my entire life. This connection is where my healing lies. It's where my relationship with myself is. Its the antidote to the running, hiding, numbing, avoiding and self medicating that I have been doing most of my adult life, unknowingly. It is foreign and terrifying. I am not able to do it on my own. I have had to get help deciphering what these sensations mean, where they live and how I can be with them, as it’s a language I’ve never learned before. This healing I'm starting to do, it has actually less to do with my mind and everything to do with my body.

So, no, the term mental health doesn't quite sit right with me. But I will continue using it because I know that we have to categorize things somehow - and I want to be a part of the movement that begins normalizing these very real, normal, brave and important human experiences. I want to be part of the movement that makes talking about the physiology of trauma as normal to talk about as the physiology of cancer or a broken bone. Because it is as normal as those conditions. It is a real, visceral manifestation of an injury - an emotional one. It is tangible, the opposite of 'woo woo', understandable, and nothing to be afraid of.

With everything happening in the world right now and the impact that it is having on us all, we need these conversations more than ever. I am grateful to be a part of the dialogue.

*if you’re interested in diving a bit deeper into the information shared I recommend reading the articles below and/or exploring the research of Dr. Arielle Schwartz, PHD. and Dr. Izabella Wentz, Pharm D.


References:

https://drarielleschwartz.com/vagus-nerve-yoga-for-trauma-recovery-dr-arielle-schwartz/#.YIxJnyXEiaM


https://thyroidpharmacist.com/articles/myo-inositol-and-hashimotos/?fbclid=IwAR0i9j_9L1sfz_huX6iRJA_


https://www.google.ca/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/healing-trauma-s-wounds/201911/why-cbt-a


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