A different take on "Bell Let's Talk"

As many of you know, yesterday was "Bell Let's Talk" day in Canada, a cause created by a large Canadian technology firm (Bell), dedicated to helping put an end to the stigma towards mental illness, and empowering those who do suffer to speak up and be heard. This is a GREAT cause, and I'm all for spreading awareness around ANY chronic illness, especially the invisible ones, and I think Bell is paving the way for this to happen. 

As someone who has suffered from anxiety and severe depression (suicidal thoughts) for 22+ years, I completely understand what 1/3 of the population suffering from a mental illness goes through on a daily basis, and I sincerely empathize. I spent years suffering in silence before finally realizing that how I felt was not normal, and that I desperately needed something to help me end the mental pain. At 26, after trying many other drugs, I discovered cipralex (20mg / day), and after the first pill, I began to feel HAPPY, MOTIVATED, ABLE to CONCENTRATE, LESS ANXIOUS, and no longer HOPELESS and EMPTY, for the FIRST TIME in years. I did experience side effects from the medication (nausea, insomnia, low sex drive, unable to feel emotions as much as before) but I was willing to take them over the depression and anxiety. At the time, this drug was my miracle cure for my anxiety and depression, and I am forever grateful for finally learning that there was a better way to live my life.

Just 3 months ago, in November 2016, my fiance and I discovered that I was pregnant (yay!), and although I suffered from severe 24/7 nausea, my depression and anxiety symptoms began to slowly disappear, and eventually I didn't feel the need to reach for the Cipralex anymore. At my monthly IV appointment with my naturopathic doctor, I mentioned this fact to her, and she stated that many women find relief from their anxiety and depression during pregnancy, due to the increase in the sexual hormones, estrogen and progesterone. 

Although I practice as a nutritionist, and have done countless hours of research over the last 20 years, I never discovered this one fact, that low levels of these hormones (or progesterone in my case) could cause depression. What an "AHA!" moment for me! I immediately felt a huge sense of relief because I had solved the depression and anxiety puzzle for myself! On top of that, I wouldn't need the cipralex any longer, which also meant no more awful side effects! Wow, the body never ceases to amaze me!

Unfortunately, my pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. Although this happens to 25% of pregnancies and to many women I know, I was hoping I would never have to be a part of this sad, depressing, statistic. Because I have suffered from health issues for 2/3 of my life, I always had a fear that getting and staying pregnant would not be easy for me, and when this happened, that fear rang a bit truer for me. Needless to say, after the miscarriage, I felt very down and depressed, and did what my body and mind needed in order to cope with the loss. We had already purchased a few items for the baby, including a rocker, a couple onesies and a handful of books (I'm a HUGE book lover), had gotten a BUNCH of hand me downs from my brother and sister in law, had announced it to family, were planning on having my dad paint the nursery, my fiance's mom and sister were chatting about shopping for our baby, my mom and I were making plans to go shopping, and my parents had even gotten us a gift for the baby.

Eventually, the increased progesterone and estrogen levels from the pregnancy left my system, and my depression came back with a vengeance. The worst day of my depression since experiencing the miscarriage just happened to be yesterday, during "Bell Let's Talk", and on day 21 of my cycle (the day progesterone should be at its peak) - what a coincidence (not)! Last night, after an incredibly hard day both mentally and physically, I decided it was time to take the Cipralex again, I just couldn't take the pain any longer. I feel so sad that I am having to take the medication again, but now that I have confirmed what is causing my depression (hormonal imbalance), I know what tests to have done and what treatment to request. 

I have known for a couple of years that my progesterone levels have been god awfully low (based on what I learned in school and the research I've done), and my guess is, the issues began when I had my first period at 10 years old and experienced heavy, painful, irregular periods with extreme moodiness. Although I've known this for some time, I never got the chance to request the blood work from my doctor because I was so bogged down with working on reversing my fibromyalgia symptoms and managing my chronic back pain, that I put my reproductive health on the back burner. This is something I now strongly regret, and I'm sure many women before me have done it as well. 

During a woman's cycle (we'll use 28 days as a guide, although many women have shorter and longer cycles), the first half (14 days) is called the follicular phase, which is where the body prepares for ovulation and estrogen levels are at their highest. The last half of the cycle (14 days) is called the luteal phase, where progesterone is produced by the collapsed follicle until either the period begins or until the placenta takes over for producing progesterone during pregnancy (progesterone = pro-gestation). Due to my low progesterone levels during the luteal phase of my cycle, the minute the 15th day hits (1 day after ovulation for me), I basically turn into a raging bitch, where I experience irritability, anger, depression, anxiety, and severe mood swings for 14 days right up until my period comes, and then I am right back to my old self. Pretty messed up eh? 

Here are the top symptoms of progesterone deficiency:

1. Menstrual irregularities

  • long cycles
  • irregular cycles (my cycles are 24-30 days, so I'm not sure I would call them irregular)
  • short luteal phase - time from ovulation to period is less than 10 days (based on my tracking, mine ranges from 10-14 days depending on the month)
  • a diagnosis of polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • endometriosis
  • ovarian cyst(s) - the ultrasound technologist discovered a cyst on my right ovary during the dating ultrasound for our baby, I never would have known it was there, when it started, etc. my doctor is currently monitoring it as a "watch and see approach"
  • menstrual cramping (mine are quite severe and always have been)
  • blood clots (mine are normally quite large - the size of a twoonie or bigger)
  • spotting mid-cycle or before your full period begins (I spot 4-7 days before my period actually arrives - let's just say I have ruined many nice pairs of comfy Victoria's Secret underwear)

2. Infertility

Progesterone is one of the primary hormones involved in achieving and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. It prepares the lining of the uterus for an embryo to implant. If you are having difficult conceiving or have suffered from multiple miscarriages (doctors in Canada won't check until you have 3), it is worth having your progesterone levels checked as they may be low

3. Skin changes

  • acne - adult onset
  • brittle nails - cracking, splitting, peeling (mine do this all of the time)
  • dry cracked skin - skin on your heels or hands crack (the soles of my feet are disgusting - they are hard and crack so much!)

4. Depression, anxiety, mood swings

After age 30, most of us experience a drop in progesterone and one of the first signs of this lowered level is a shift in mood. Progesterone is responsible for stabilizing our mood, so if you are experiencing uncomfortable shifts in mood lately, please check your levels

  • as you know, my depression, anxiety and mood swings are pretty severe during my luteal phase, and because I'm 32 I'm at an even greater risk for the drop in progesterone

5. Low libido, fatigue, foggy thinking (Less keen on sex, feel like having an afternoon nap, can't remember names or words as well as you once did)

  • I've noticed lately since tracking my cycles in detail that my fatigue comes back a bit during my luteal phase

6. Slow metabolism, weight gain around the midsection, sugar cravings (as we age and progesterone drops, it can slow down our ability to burn fat)

  • during the luteal phase of my cycle, my sugar cravings are THROUGH the roof, but during my follicular phase, I have NO desire for it! 
  • over the last few years I've had extra weight around my mid-section, which I've tried to keep in check through my diet and exercise, but it doesn't seem to want to leave!

7. Migraines, headaches, joint pain, allergy symptoms

  • my back pain is much worse during the luteal phase of my cycle due to the added inflammation (progesterone is a natural anti-inflammatory)
  • I only experience headaches or migraines during my luteal phase (a couple)

Over the last 14 months, I have done what I possibly can to try to fix the issue naturally through diet and lifestyle changes, as well as IV therapy, however, it is evident that this has not been enough, and I am in need of some extra help. It's finally time for me to take this problem into my own hands, and get my sex hormone levels checked ASAP. I have a blood work request from my doctor to have my estrogen levels checked on day 3 (next week), my progesterone checked on day 21 (in 4 weeks), and my follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). My naturopathic doctor will check other levels such as my DHEAs, prolactin, testosterone, and thyroid (even though it was checked 2 months ago) just to be sure everything else looks okay. Just over a month from now I should finally have some answers, and will hopefully be working towards eliminating my 2 week per month mood swings, my depression, and ensuring my fertility is okay, and I can in fact carry a child to term. If my progesterone levels are in fact low (I don't doubt they are though), my naturopathic doctor should be able to prescribe me either progesterone cream or suppositories. 

As a nutritionist, I truly believe in doing whatever we can to try to fix the ROOT CAUSE of the health issue(s), rather than covering up the symptoms with pharmaceuticals. The cipralex changed my life immensely in such a positive way, however, for some time I had been researching ways to reverse my depression and anxiety naturally. I can't wait to fix the root cause of my depression and anxiety! 

For all of you out there currently suffering from anxiety or depression, I strongly encourage you to investigate into the root cause(s) of your health issues with a trusted naturopathic doctor and nutritionist. The causes could be STRESS, GRIEF, TRAUMA, MEDICATION, NUTRITIONAL DEFICIENCIES, LEAKY GUT, LOW AMINO ACID LEVELS, LOW PROGESTERONE, and many more. For some, it may take a while to get to the root cause of the issue(s) and then treat them (look how long it took me to figure it out!) so please BE PATIENT! Because it takes a while for the body to get out balance, it takes a while to fix the issues as well, but trust me, holistic methods DO work!

***Please note: please do not ever stop taking or taper off of your anxiety or depression medication without the care of your prescribing medical doctor***

I applaud Bell for working towards ending the stigma on mental illness, however, I truly believe it's now time to talk about more holistic ways of managing or reversing chronic mental health issues. This doesn't necessarily mean going off of the medication - it could also mean using natural means in conjunction with the meds. It's time to get to the root cause of these problems, in a similar way our grandparents did! Hint: For starters, we need to stop eating the inflammatory "SAD" diet, aka the standard american diet, as unhealthy as its name. 

If you're open to chatting about your mental illness, I am all ears; I'm here to listen, support and guide you towards long-term health.

Yours in health,

 

 

Life with Fibromyalgia Before and After Holistic Nutrition

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at 13 years old (after suffering for 2 years), and for 18 years I lived with the pain, fatigue and insomnia, while using conventional medicine along with holistic health here and there as treatment. It wasn’t until I discovered holistic nutrition and lifestyle changes (diet, stress management, removing toxins, deep breathing, exercise, etc.), that I realized the body DOES want to heal itself. The body wants to be in a state of health, or homeostasis. After much research, I altered my diet, saw a naturopathic doctor for added support, and now at the age of 32, I believe that I have put my fibromyalgia into remission and I have NEVER felt better. As long as I continue the holistic lifestyle changes, I don’t feel any fibromyalgia symptoms. Below is a description of how fibromyalgia affected me in the past, and how I’m living now.

1. SLEEP

In the past, I suffered from insomnia. It took close to an hour to fall asleep; I did not experience a deep, restorative sleep; I was restless, tossing and turning and waking most of the night; and experienced restless leg syndrome. I needed to be in bed before 10 PM and although in bed for 12 hours, I only got 3 hours of sleep. I woke up feeling very unrefreshed, fatigued, groggy, in a lot of pain, unable to move, stiff and sore. During the school / workweek, I set my alarm an hour before I needed to begin my morning routine of getting out of bed. I would set my alarm for 7 AM and hit snooze every 10 minutes until 9AM (yes, 2 hours of that irritating sound!). Although my mind wanted to wake up and start the day early like most of the world, my body would not allow me to do that. As a student, once I was out of bed, I would drag myself down to the kitchen to make a triple espresso macchiato, and sit on the couch drinking it for 1.5 hours before even thinking of attempting to get the day started. As an HR professional, I set my alarm at 5AM in order to leave the house by 7. I had no energy to shower, put on makeup, do my hair nicely, or make breakfast: I dressed, brushed my teeth, left the apartment and got a coffee on the way to work. Once I was at work, I had my second coffee before 9 AM.  

Now, I ensure that I go to bed at the same time every night (10PM). I read my kindle for 30 minutes; I fall asleep easily; I stay asleep the majority, if not all the night. After 7-8 hours of sleep, I wake up feeling refreshed without hitting snooze. I am no longer in pain, fatigued, stiff or sore, and I DON’T reach for the coffee as I used to! Instead, I make an herbal tea, a fresh pressed juice, or lemon water. I can meet the morning challenges of showering, putting on makeup, doing my hair, making breakfast in time to start my workday. For the past 20 years, I have been prescribed the medication, cyclobenzaprine (flexeril) 10mg taken at night to relax the central nervous system enough to allow my body to sleep. I am still taking this medication, and one of my goals is to wean off the medication by practicing the natural ways of calming the nervous system in order to sleep.

2. CHRONIC PAIN

In the past, on a rating scale of 1 to 10, I would have rated my pain between 7 and 9 most of the month, and 5 a few days of the month. For 5+ years my pain specialist prescribed very strong narcotic pain medication: 18mg Hydromorph-contin twice per day, and Dilaudid 6mg twice per day for “breakthrough” pain along with 30+ lidocaine weekly injections in my neck and back. A second pain specialist performed cervical, thoracic and lumbar epidurals for back pain once a month. Despite the treatment protocols, my all over body pain would flare weekly. I was unable to sit or stand at work for more than 15 minutes, even with back supports, heating pads, and ergonomic chairs.

Now, my severe back pain has diminished by 75% and my all over body pain is non-existent. I see my doctor for lidocaine injections every 3-4 weeks, and my pain flares ONLY when I do not follow my natural protocols. The pain I do experience is from the thoracic scoliosis curve, not fibromyalgia. I have investigated all avenues of treatment, both conventional and holistic, and unfortunately, other than the lidocaine injections, there is no recourse to eliminating that pain.

3. CHRONIC FATIGUE

In the past, my fatigue was SO bad that I had only 10% battery life and it would NOT charge. The energy I woke up with was drained before eating breakfast, hence the need for the triple espresso! While working in HR full time, I was taking narcotics for the pain, which provided me with some “fake” energy to get through the day, and crashed at night and on weekends. My fatigue was SO severe that I would rest on the couch ALL night and on weekends. I could only handle leaving the house once a day, for a VERY short period of time, so I had to plan out my week of errands ahead of time. I had no energy to cook, clean, grocery shop, work, take the dog to the park or a walk, couldn’t exercise, and couldn’t make plans with friends very often. I would see one friend a month, and mostly chat with my online “spoonie” friends. When I spent time with my niece and nephew (under one and three year old), it drained me to watch them, so I could never babysit them on my own. When we travelled, I had to space out our activities and ensure there was a LOT of rest time. My body could handle 3 day vacations, but any longer would take a HUGE toll on me.

Now, I BARELY feel ANY fatigue. I have been able to wake up, clean, cook, grocery shop, take the dog to the park or a walk, run more errands, work on my business, work with clients, see family and friends, and exercise. It feels as if I now have the energy of a healthy person. I have forgotten what having chronic fatigue feels like until I flare.

4. ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION

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In the past, my depression was severe without medication, and my anxiety was much more than the typical “worrier” experiences. The smallest things would overwhelm me; I experienced social anxiety (hated crowds bigger than two if I didn’t know the individuals well), was clinically depressed, irritated easily, cried at the drop of a hat, felt “jumpy”, constantly worried about EVERYTHING, had a very negative outlook on life and my thoughts weren’t very positive. I was miserable to be around (heck, I didn’t even want to be in my own mind). After 10+ years of anxiety and depression, at 26 I began to test out different medications, finally settling on Cipralex, 20 mg per day. Right away, within 30 minutes my depression was almost wiped away. I felt a huge, dark cloud lift off my brain for the first time in 10+ years and it felt amazing. The medication allowed me to live a more normal life, but the awful side effects were always at the back of my mind. 

Now, as of November 2016, I am no longer on the Cipralex, and am managing my anxiety and depression naturally. The medication was a HUGE help until I changed my diet and lifestyle habits. Due to the negative side effects, my goal was to stop taking the medication, and I succeeded.

5. STIFFNESS

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In the past, my morning stiffness was an 8 out of 10: I had to stretch in bed for an hour before getting up. Once I was awake, I walked around feeling like the “tin man”. If I stayed in one position for longer than 15 minutes, whether sitting, standing, or laying down, it was difficult to move out of that position; my joints would crack; and I felt like I was 100 years old! My stiffness would last all day until I went to bed and did it all over again the next day.

Now, I have NO stiffness in the morning; I can get out of bed as soon as I wake up, and I don’t feel the need to stretch. I feel limber and pain free all day and I can sit or stand for as long as I want without feeling the pain.

6. MENSTRUAL PERIODS

In the past, my menstrual periods lasted 5 days and were EXTREMELY heavy with large clots requiring a tampon change every two hours while also wearing a pad (ruined a LOT of expensive Victoria’s Secret underwear), and were very painful. I got my first period at 11 years old and my family doctor put me on the birth control pill to reduce my symptoms. Because I was on the pill, my periods came every 28 days like clockwork. I still had SEVERE menstrual cramps to the point where I had to lay down and could not function. I felt bloated (looked 6 months pregnant), was fatigued, cranky, craved sugar AND salt AND coffee BADLY, was irritable, and a complete bitch. I stopped taking the birth control pills 2.5 years ago. My symptoms became MUCH WORSE at that point because my body did not have synthetic hormones (estrogen and progesterone) to alleviate the symptoms.

Now, I am still no longer on the pill, and my periods have gotten SO much better: I have 2 to 4 days of spotting before my period, then when “miss flo” arrives it’s MUCH lighter, sometimes only requiring a pad. I don’t experience any bloating, and my sugar and salt cravings are mild. I am still irritable, and I have narrowed down the cause of this as an imbalance in my body, so I’m working on that through diet and supplements.

7. BRAIN FOG (MEMORY LOSS, CONCENTRATION ISSUES, AND DIFFICULTY PERFORMING SIMPLE MENTAL TASKS)

In the past, I had absolutely NO short term memory, but my long term memory was great. It was very difficult to concentrate for short OR long periods. I had to write EVERYTHING down, then put a reminder in my calendar to LOOK at those notes, and then my fiancé had to remind me to look at my calendar and notes. In university, I could not concentrate in class, and focus on assignments or studying for exams, and I had the attention span of a nat. I’m surprised I made it to my 4th year with an A average. For the last couple of years, my fiancé would repeat things over and over and send reminders via text and email, and I would STILL forget.

Now, my memory isn’t perfect, and I have to write things down, but, I remember to look at my notes and take them with me. I do NOT experience the fibro fog anymore and my concentration has dramatically improved.

8. IBS (IRRITABLE BOWEL SYNDROME)

In the past, I would alternate between constipation and diarrhea, and never experienced normal stools. I did not have a daily bowel movement (we need 1-3 per day), and the constipation was much worse on the narcotics (I had a bowel movement every 7 days and it was QUITE painful). I used to experience gas, bloating, heartburn, and nausea after every meal.

Now, my bowel movements have never been this good! I go 1-3 times per day (depending on the day), and they are “foot long floaters” as they should be. I am very rarely constipated, never experience diarrhea, and the only time I experience gas, bloating, heartburn, or nausea are when I eat foods that I know my body cannot tolerate.

9. TENSION AND MIGRAINE HEADACHES

In the past, I experienced tension headaches behind my left eye almost DAILY. I also experienced migraines weekly. I would lay down in the dark for hours to relieve the pain and nausea.

Now, I get a mild headache once a month, and it’s normally because I am dehydrated.

10. SENSITIVITY TO ODORS, NOISE, BRIGHT LIGHTS, MEDICATIONS, FOODS, AND COLD WEATHER

In the past, I was extremely sensitive to loud noise (we’re talking keep the TV at the lowest possible volume loud), bright lights, especially fluorescent lighting. I would prefer sitting in an almost dark room squinting while trying to read, rather than turning a light on; had my phone light on the dimmest level possible, I rarely turned lights on when entering rooms. Sunlight was blinding and made me tear up. I got very agitated from loud noises and bright lights (going to a club in University was OUT of the question), and I would snap when there was too much stimulation around me (TV, phone, talking, lights). I was very sensitive to temperature and was ALWAYS COLD, wearing sweaters and pants in the summer, and winter weather in Canada is normally unbearable so I stayed indoors. I was also intolerant to SO many foods (too long to list).

Now, I am staying away from most of the foods I am intolerant to until I completely heal my gut (almost there)! I am still very sensitive to cold weather. I have a hard time going out in the Canadian winter because breathing in the cold goes straight to my spine, causing pain and an incredibly uncomfortable feeling. Bright lights and loud noises still bother me.

11. IRRITABLE BLADDER

In the past, I experienced MONTHLY urinary tract infections. If anyone reading this has experienced one, you KNOW the excruciating pain and un-comfortability this causes! I didn’t know about natural treatments then, so I did what anyone else would do – go to the doctor and get antibiotics to kill the bacteria. I took the antibiotics monthly, killing both the bad AND the good bacteria the body NEEDS to function properly. The UTI’s did not go away and this led to kidney infections. Even though I followed all instructions to prevent UTI’s, I STILL ended up in walk-in clinics, urgent care and the ER monthly with chronic UTI’s. The UTI’s affected my ability to work and have a healthy sex life.

Now, I DID experience my first UTI in 1.5 years in October 2016, and did go see the doctor for antibiotics because I was leaving for Japan the next day. I made the decision to avoid taking the antibiotics and treated the infection NATURALLY! I have now found natural means to prevent the infections from occurring, and hopefully my body will build back the good bacteria soon! I have not taken antibiotics in over 1.5 years!

12. REDUCED TOLERANCE FOR EXERCISE AND MUSCLE PAIN AFTER EXERCISE

In the past, although my body did NOT have the energy or stamina, or health to exercise, I pushed myself to play soccer competitively from the age of 12 (just before I was diagnosed but symptoms were there) until 23. I loved the sport so much because it was the one activity that brought me happiness. However, playing soccer 5-7 days per week worsened my symptoms, especially the next few days after a practice or a game. I now know that pushing myself that much actually made my illness worse, and I paid for it in my 20’s. I finally quit playing soccer at 25 due to hip issues, and my pain and fatigue. I replaced the soccer with indoor court volleyball and hot yoga. I dragged myself to volleyball weekly, and somehow got through the 60 minute games. Doctors recommended yoga and swimming – I tried hot yoga and although I LOVED the heat and stretching, my body HATED it. I was exhausted before the class even began, but would push myself to go every other day, until my body finally said enough is enough.

Now, I recognize that over-exercising is stressful on the body, so I now focus on low impact activities. I walk the dog daily, and take him to the park. My pain and fatigue are minimal, and I plan to play volleyball and hopefully yoga soon.

13. SWELLING IN THE HANDS AND FEET

In the past, my hands and feet would swell like balloons in the cold, heat, and during exercise. My hands would become HUGE and PURPLE!

Now, I have not seen this happen in over a year.

14. TENDER POINTS

When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia at 13, I had all 18 tender points on equal quadrants of my body and they were EXTREMELY tender and painful to the touch. I would cringe if someone barely touched me.

Now, I still have the 18 tender points, but they feel much less mild to the touch, and I’m ok if others touch me.

FINALLY FEELING HOPEFUL!

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After living with fibromyalgia and dealing with our Canadian medical system, and finding no long-term solution to my numerous health issues, I felt hopeless about life. I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to hold down a job or take care of myself. I thought I would be on strong medication my entire life. I thought I would suffer a depressing, painful, life, and all at the tender age of 30!

Now, I feel 100,000,000 times better. I am living without pain or fatigue. I have restful sleep. I am no longer depressed or anxious. I am able to work, exercise, run errands, cook, clean and see friends and family. I am no longer suffering! I feel like the world is my oyster, and I can do ANYTHING I set my mind to!

I am confident that most chronic illnesses can be managed through holistic nutrition. If you'd like to start YOUR journey to lifelong wellness, feel free to contact me!

Yours in health,