I distinctly remember the shift. It was my freshmen year of college, and I was 19 years old. I sat staring at my water bottle, too anxious to leave my dorm room until I drank a certain amount of it; right to the line. Then it would be OK to move on to the next task on my list. What had happened to me I wondered. I had become so anxious, afraid, rigid and obsessive that I found basic daily living extremely draining, scary and challenging.
I went home that summer and was diagnosed by my family doctor with Anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. And so began a decade of “managing my mental disorder” with a myriad of prescription drugs.
The decade looked something like this: Effexor to Prozac to Vyvanse to Lexapro to Zoloft. And always Xanax on top of those as needed. Not one of those drugs fixed me (because I wasn’t broken). Not one of those drugs corrected my chemical imbalance (because there was not one). Not one of those drugs was without a list of negative side effects that only made my life worse.
During those years, I searched endlessly for the fix – that one thing that would get my anxiety and OCD under control. It had to exist, didn’t it? “Manage” and “treat” were the words they used with me. A year ago I sat with a counselor who spent our entire first session reading me the pages long descriptions of my diagnoses from her DSM book. I felt like I was sinking as she read on and on describing generalized anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and OCD. I felt devastated as she concluded with “yup, that fits you!” When I asked her what her plan for me was, she replied, “These are things you will always have, but we will work together on strategies to help you cope.” I felt sick. I left and never went back. Today I realize that the sick feeling was not because of the bleak prognosis she gave me, but because I knew that she was wrong.
It was not stubbornness or denial that refused to believe her that day. It was something inside me that knew the truth; a truth that despite years of being dismissed, refused to give up. I had no idea what that truth was or even looked like, but my body and mind knew it deep down. And they gently hung on until I was able to see it.
The transformation I have experienced over the last 4 months feels like I have begun a brand new life. I know that forever I will look back on my life and draw a line between the past and today, marking it as the shift that changed everything. The shift where I returned to myself.
It was seeds of truth that began my transformation, and that began with Dr. Kelly Brogan.
I heard Dr. Brogan speak on Dr. Aviva Romm’s podcast. She spoke about the drugs that I had used and was still using. She spoke about my diagnoses. In a matter of minutes, everything I was told and believed about these topics began to fall apart. I was confused and angry. As I listened to her voice, I sat in my car and cried. I cried because I felt so deceived. And I cried because her words screamed hope.
Of all the things I learned from Dr. Brogan, the only one that mattered, the one necessary to find my way to today, was her telling me that the most important key to my healing was my mind and my beliefs. I have never been given such power in my entire life. When she told me a pill wasn’t going to fix me and that I’m not broken, I shattered in relief. I shattered because they had never fixed me, and deep down I knew they never would. Everyone told me I had a disorder, a disease. She was the first and only person to tell me otherwise. From that day forward, I proceeded with the understanding that my body is complex, and that it wants to be well. That it wants to heal. I listened to my body. I figured out why it was screaming in fear and sickness all these years. And I overhauled my entire life. Someone asked me the other day what I did to heal my mind. And all I could say was “everything.”
“Everything” sounds overwhelming. But it is actually quite simple. I eliminated what was making my body upset, and I started giving it what it needs to function well. And when your body is functioning well, your mind changes. As you support this with your thoughts and beliefs, a whole new you emerges.
Dr. Brogan taught me to begin to speak to my body in a way it understands so that it could heal itself. This is what I did: I began meditating everyday. I focused on breathing. I became mindful in tasks. I broke the habit of panic. I learned about how to get quality sleep, and I made it a priority. I connected with nature. I disconnect from TV, electronics, internet. I overhauled my diet. I cut out processed and inflammatory foods. I addressed my gut health and resolved candida. I stopped caffeine and alcohol. I started using a collagen supplement. I used supplements, diet and lifestyle changes to balance my hormones and support my liver. I removed chemicals and toxins from my home and bath and body products. I focused on balancing blood sugar through my diet. I became mindful when eating to improve digestion. I added high quality fat and protein. I stopped over doing it with exercise. I started taking vitamins and minerals to support my body. I began simple detox practices like oil pulling, tongue scraping, and hot baths. Food became medicine. I added plants, herbs and adaptogens to support a calm mind and manage stress. I stopped pharmaceutical drugs like hormonal contraception, antibiotics, allergy medication and pain relievers.
In speaking to my body this way, I met myself. I felt separate and distant and at odds with my body before this. Soon, we were working together.
The changes I’ve experienced are vast and range from being able to fall asleep at night, to resolution of digestive issues, to better skin, to resolved joint pain, to a restored menstrual cycle, to an improved immune system. I could go on.
The biggest change however is my mind. I feel calm. My racing thoughts no longer haunt me. The feeling of panic that drove most days is no longer here. In the presence of external stressor, my body no longer panics. The impatience, irritability and harshness I reacted with daily simply don’t happen. I feel in control of my thoughts. I am present. I feel happy, hopeful and optimistic about life. I enjoy everyday things and no longer live in fear, dread and overwhelm.
I weaned off of Zoloft completely 1 month ago. I experienced no return of symptoms while weaning. I instead felt more clear and present with every day that passed. Those first days frightened me. I had given so much power to those little pills. Then I remembered Dr. Brogan’s words that my mind is more powerful than a drug. And she was absolutely right.
“My anxiety” was as much a part of me as my name before this. I used the phrase daily. It defined me, and it defined my future. I haven’t said those words in months now. They are no longer me. I feel like I have returned. But “I” is a me that I have never actually met until now.
It may seem hard and overwhelming to make so many changes. But the only hard part is starting. Because I promise you that deep down nothing will ever be as easy as coming home to yourself. Your mind knows the way, and once you help it along, the journey will feel easy and you will feel free.