Taking steps forward with therapy

I am writing this post after my first therapy appointment with a new therapist.  I got a recommendation from an amazing friend of mine for a therapist she said changed her life.  After the big emotional meltdown/breakthrough I had 2 weeks ago, I knew it was time to take a step towards figuring things out.  I have always been nervous about therapy, scared of what deep rooted things would come up.  I was definitely nervous about this appointment but knew it was for the best. 

I had gone to see someone for a session a few months ago, but I didn’t feel a connection and when it comes to therapy I definitely want to feel open and safe with the person.  When I walked into my appointment today I immediately felt a different vibe.  The space was way less clinical and much more inviting.  I had an image in my head of an older bald man with glasses for some reason but that is the opposite of what my therapist turned out to look like.  He was much younger than I expected, laid back looking.  I sat down across from him on the couch and the first thing he asked me was how I felt about being in that space.  I was honest and told him I felt nervous and so we did a breathing exercise together.  I felt much calmer and knew this guy was way more my style.

Since it was my first session with him we touched on a lot of the basics; my childhood, growing up, family dynamics, high school and college years, past relationships and what my current struggles are.  We really just brushed the surface on these topics so he could take a mental inventory on things to come back to going forward.  He asked what the main thing was I wanted to uncover and I explained to him my sleeping issues.  My problems with sleep have been going on now for a little over 3 years and have severely impacted my life.  It has gotten to the point where I won’t go out at night and if I have to I automatically put into my head that I won’t be able to sleep that night. 

When my sleep issues started, they were a symptom of anxiety I was having about work.  I did a bunch of my own research and found some tips for sleep issues.  The majority of what I found said that it was important to have a consistent bedtime and nightly routine.  After learning this, I started developing my own nightly routine.  It has gotten to the point where I have convinced myself that if I am not home at night, doing my nightly routine than that will result in a night where I can’t fall asleep.  Since I have this anxiety about not being able to fall asleep, now if I am out at night that is all I think about and I can’t even enjoy where I am. This has caused a lot of strain on my relationship with friends and with Derek, who is a very social person and loves going out.  I know I am not going to become someone who loves going out at night all the time, but I want to get to a place where I can go out and it’s not even something I think twice about.

Something I really connected with that my therapist said was that we have “sub selves” or different parts of our self that make up our whole being.  We aren’t any one of these particular selves but more a collection of them.  Sometimes we create “sub selves” as a protection measure or for some other self-preservation reason.  He said it is important to be able to sit with our bodies and listen to what it has to say to us.  Towards the end of our session we did a visualization exercise that was incredibly helpful.  He had me close my eyes and imagine watching myself get into my bed at night.  He asked what I felt and I could feel the anxiety start to rise as I was visualizing myself going to bed.  He asked where I felt this anxiety and I told him in my chest (this is where I always feel my anxiety, a heart pounding tightness).  He asked me to ask this anxiety if it was there for a reason and the first thing that popped into my head was “no this isn’t serving you.”  I was surprised by this, I thought I would have trouble being open to this technique but things just popped into my head. 

I wish I had recorded the session because I don’t remember exactly how he worded it but he then asked me to sit with the feeling in my chest and ask what I needed the most (or some variation of this) and the first thing that came to my mind was compassion.  We talked a little bit more and then my session was over and we would pick back up with things next week.

Having the word compassion come up for me felt like a huge awakening.  Having compassion for myself is something I know I struggle with.  I know I am too hard on myself, in many aspects of my life.  Especially with the sleep issues, I get mad at myself for not being able to sleep and end up extremely frustrated.  I am hard on myself when it comes to food, exercise and the way I look.  I was super hard on myself when I found out all my healthy habits had actually had a negative impact on my health. I am hard on myself when it comes to work, always feeling like i don't do enough or I am not smart enough. I am overall not very compassionate towards myself.  It is like my body/mind had to manifest a physical condition in order for me to figure it out.  My new therapist is so right, if you listen, your body will tell you what it needs, your “sub selves” are there to help guide you.  I am really excited about this breakthrough and to explore it further.  I know there is a lot more to uncover and it is going to be a long and most likely hard process, but I am way less nervous and way more excited about it.  And it feels really good to finally be able to talk about it and share with you all. 

If anyone has had similar experiences or can resonate with this or just wants to feel less alone I would love to hear from you!  You can always send me an email or a DM.  In sharing my story, I hope to be inspiring and supporting others. 

LOWFODMAP check in

So, Derek and I have been on this diet now for about a month and a half.  We are halfway through the 3 months suggested by our doctor.  If I said we weren’t extremely excited to be done with this I would be lying.  I already have a full list of restaurants I want to go to as soon as it is done! Things started off pretty rocky.  It was such a huge adjustment to be so restricted on what we could eat.  I was spending so much time grocery shopping and cooking.  In the beginning stages I was also always looking things up to make sure I had the correct serving sizes and that I wasn’t combining FODMAP foods.  It was exhausting.  Not only was it time consuming but our bodies also felt bad.  We had about a two-week period of detoxing where we felt pretty terrible. 

There are a few things I picked up to make this whole process easier.  One was simply just being more familiar with what was allowed and getting into a groove of meals I could make.  Once I wasn’t always double checking ingredients, it made things go by faster.  I started getting groceries delivered which saved SO much time.  I have been using Amazon Fresh and also Milk and Eggs.  These services have been life changing.  Figuring out how much we actually eat has been very helpful.  I would prep some chicken and vegetables thinking it would last a couple days and it would be gone by dinner.  Since the diet is so restrictive we have been eating way more of what is actually allowed so it runs out super quick. 

The social aspect of it has been the hardest.  Much of our social life is going out to dinner as a couple and with friends.  We didn’t realize it would be so hard, that we wouldn’t really be able to eat out anywhere.  We tried a few times going out and eating beforehand but it just made things harder and for me was super frustrating to be surrounded by all the foods I couldn’t have.  I felt like I was being taunted.  We have made adjustments and have been more creative with our outings and activities, trying to make things less focused on food.  Being in Southern California makes things easy because there are so many outdoor adventures and beautiful places we can go to distract us from missing out on food.

One of the biggest things about being on this diet that I didn’t even think of is how it affects us as a married couple.  As excited newlyweds, we love exploring together.  Throughout our relationship and in the first few months of marriage before starting the diet we would go out to new places and take little weekend trips away.  Being on this diet has made that basically impossible.  We can’t really be gone from our apartment all day let alone go away for the weekend.  This is something I really miss and never realized was such a big part of us.  Another big part of being a newly married couple is going out with our other couple friends and this is something that has basically been put on hold for now.

Being on this diet you can’t be lazy.  You can’t come home from a long day, sit down on the couch and order food from your favorite restaurant.  If I am running to a client and didn’t have time for lunch I can’t just pop into Whole Foods and grab food from the hot bar or even a smoothie.  Every meal has to be planned out and prepared.  There have been many times where it is late in the afternoon and all of the sudden I remember I didn’t take meat out of the freezer to defrost in time for dinner.  These are little things you take advantage of when there aren’t many restrictions to what you can eat.  You know if you need to you can run out and grab something or order in, but not for LOWFODMAP. 

This diet is not something I would recommend unless prescribed by a diet.  It is not something to be on long term because there are so many restrictions.  I know that we are doing this to heal our guts and figure out what triggers side effects, but I also feel my body is missing some key nutrients from foods we can’t have.  After the elimination 3 months we do a reintroduction.  Each of the letters in FODMAP stand for a different category of foods (mostly different carbohydrates).  We will test each category individually for 3 days to notice any symptoms and between each category we will do a 3 day “wash period” to make sure our system is clean and we know what exactly is making us feel badly. 

What are some things that I miss the most?  Brussel sprouts is number one.  I absolutely love these roasted veggies.  There are so many restaurants in LA that have the best roasted sprouts and I can’t wait to have them again.  I miss smoothie bowls.  I can still have smoothies but they have to be very specific.  I can’t have certain fruits and others can’t be mixed together.  I used to make a smoothie bowl every morning with riced cauliflower, banana and strawberries topped with granola and other goodies.  Most of these things are off limits so I have had to switch up my go to breakfast.  I miss my go to weekend treat, Halo Top ice cream.  The dairy free oatmeal cookie is my favorite flavor and I CANNOT wait to have it again. 

When I find out which categories are triggers for me I am not going to cut them out of my life forever if it is something I really enjoy.  Since I have had problems with restrictive eating before, I don’t want to put myself in that place again.  I am a true believer in eating intuitively and giving your body what it desires.  Knowing what are triggers will be good knowledge to have and I can make a decision knowing what the consequences will be.  I do not want to go back to a place of severe restriction and labeling foods as good and bad.  I want to be in a place where I am educated on what functions the best with my body and then go from there.

Derek and I are both super excited to go back to a non-restrictive lifestyle and enjoy our time as newlyweds exploring our city and surrounding areas.  We are excited for the summer and hanging out with friends.  I am excited to not have to cook every single day and sit on my couch at night with a pint of Halo Top.  We are so close!

When your coping mechanisms control your life

There are things I have struggled with for many years that I never wanted to admit to myself or to anyone else.  Things that make me feel weak, that paralyze me and control my life.  Things that I have known for a while were harmful but I just wasn’t ready or didn’t feel strong enough to deal with.  I wasn’t strong enough on my own before, but now that I am at a place in my life where things feel good, with friends who I trust and a partner who makes me feel safe, now I am ready to admit to myself that the coping mechanisms I developed when my life felt out of control have been controlling my life and left me with intense anxiety. 

If you have been following along with my journey than you are familiar with this story but if you are new, let me explain.  When I went to college I ended up feeling lost.  I didn’t find a solid group of friends, I missed my family like crazy and the school work was kicking my ass.  This feeling of being lost led me into an unhealthy friendship and living environment.  By the end of my junior year I was miserable.  I was extremely unhappy; I had isolated myself and I was very overwhelmed with the pressures of my major.  I started developing coping mechanisms to make me feel more in control.  Since everything else in my life felt like it was in turmoil, I turned to things I could control, my diet and exercise.  I started being very restrictive with what I ate and very strict with how much I worked out.  I started labeling foods as good and bad.  I started measuring my self-worth with how much I exercised and what I looked like.  I was extremely hard on myself.  I would never let myself have “bad” foods and if I did I felt weak and would want to punish myself with more exercise.

Having control over these areas of my life made me feel like things were better, that I had a grasp on my life.  These controlling tendencies and my resistance to letting go of that control became how I viewed myself.  I told myself this is just who I am, I like things a certain way and that’s that.  After I finished school and was back home with my family I started to feel better.  I was happy and less stressed so my control coping mechanisms weren’t needed as much.  I moved to California, started over and I was on my own to be in control of how my life went. 

Over the past two years many new and stressful things have come up.  I was in a job that was extremely stressful and gave me tremendous anxiety, I got engaged and started planning a wedding. After the wedding planning, I started on a new health journey of healing adrenal fatigue and a special diet for gut health which has been very difficult. I became more stressed and overwhelmed and my needing to control everything came back full force.  I know that I have been lying to myself all these years, that these controlling ways are not who I am, they are my coping mechanism for stress and they have become more harmful than good.  I have come back to a place where if I feel like I don’t have control over a situation I get intense anxiety, sometimes physically debilitating anxiety.  If I had a plan for dinner and then something came up that changed this plan, it would cause me physical discomfort and anxiety.  Since I want to be in control, I want to control where I am going and what I am eating, it makes me feel safe. This has become a more serious issue I want to address because it is negatively impacting not just me, but my husband. 

Since I have anxiety related sleep issues I feel like I have to be home every night to control the little steps I take as part of my sleep routine.  I work myself up and convince myself that if I don’t do my bedtime steps that I am not going to be able to fall asleep.  This need for control keeps me from having a fun social life.  Instead of being excited when Derek asks if I want to go to dinner with friends I get anxious.  My mind immediately starts thinking of how I won’t have control of the situation and I won’t be able to sleep.  This makes me upset and I fight against going out and this is not fair to Derek, I’m holding us back from life. 

No one wants to admit that they feel weak, that they can’t overcome something on their own.  I have been hiding behind my anxieties and playing them off as character traits.  I have convinced myself that this is just who I am and that should be accepted. Deep down I know this isn’t true, I have known it all along.  Life is going to be stressful at times, things are going to be tough and I can’t keep coming back to my controlling coping mechanism to handle it.  This way of dealing with things creates a negative loop of stress and anxiety and digs me into a deep, dark hole. 

Admitting this to myself and to Derek was exhausting.  After our big conversation about all of this, I felt like I had run 12 marathons.  I spent the day on the couch barely able to keep my eyes open from crying so hard.  But it also feels good to let it all out, I feel lighter.  Just the simple act of speaking these words out loud has lifted a giant weight off my shoulder.  I am going to continue to be proactive with this and see a therapist.  Sometimes we get too close to things and so do our loved ones so we need an outside, unbiased opinion.  I have always resisted this because I felt like I was giving up, like I couldn’t handle it on my own.  I wanted to be strong enough to figure it out myself.  With Derek’s help I realized that admitting all of this and seeking help is the strong thing to do, it takes courage to admit you need help. 

I am both excited and nervous for this journey.  I know it is going to be hard and emotional and at times I might want to give up.  But I am doing this for myself, because I deserve to be happy to live a life where I am not controlled by my stress and anxiety.  I am also doing this for Derek because he deserves to live his best life and I don’t want to be holding us back. 

I lied and said I was busy.
I was busy;
but not in a way most people understand.

I was busy taking deeper breaths.
I was busy silencing irrational thoughts.
I was busy calming a racing heart.
I was busy telling myself I am okay.

Sometimes, this is my busy –
and I will not apologize for it.

-Brittin Oakman-

 

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Fixing my health for more than just me

There are many reasons why health is important to me.  One of them is I want to feel and perform my best so that I can be the best possible version of myself.  Another big reason my own health is important to me is because I want to be healthy for my family, specifically for when I want to have a baby.  Being recently married, kids is a fairly common topic of discussion.  When do we want to have them, how many, etc.  I decided that 2018 was going to be the year of health so that I could make sure my body is on track for myself and for carrying my future children. 

I don’t think this is a topic that is discussed very often.  You see and read all the time about people’s personal wellness journeys, but I want to go deeper.  I am devoted to health and wellness for more than just myself.  One of my main motivations for going to see a functional medicine doctor and figuring out what I needed to work on was to ensure that I am in the best health to start a family.  I knew my hormones were out of whack so I definitely wanted that tested out and I knew my energy was too low to support a growing life. 

Finding out there were so many areas of my health that I needed to work on really threw me initially.  I was disappointed in myself to learn that these “healthy” habits I had formed actually had caused me harm.  I was pretty down about this for a while but decided I needed to change that energy and focus on healing.  Right away I started taking steps towards getting myself back to where I should be.

Since it came back that my hormones were unbalanced (high estrogen and SUPER low progesterone), I made the decision with Derek to remove the IUD hormonal birth control I had been using.  Since the IUD gives off hormones, it was causing my body to stop making ones on its own.  Balanced hormones are extremely important when trying to get pregnant.  I wanted to give my body all the time it needed to readjust and not have to worry that we would have problems in the future when we were ready to get our family growing.  I have already felt significant changes since going off hormonal birth control.

Through extensive blood work, I learned that my low energy levels were from severe adrenal fatigue.  Basically, from extra stress and over working out, I pushed my adrenals past their limits and I was feeling the consequences.  Since then, I have drastically changed my workout schedule and have implemented new techniques to lower stress.  I am working on being way more intuitive with my body and what it needs.  If I have a class scheduled but I wake up feeling tired, I know have no problem skipping and doing a slow walk instead.  I started taking baths at night to relax and also meditate daily. 

Just as important as it is to be healthy for me, it is also that important to be healthy for my family.  I have thought about being a mom since I was a little girl, it is going to be one of my greatest achievements.  I want to make sure that I am giving everything I possibly can.  If I am running on fumes, I am not going to be able to be my best.  This way at looking at my health has made it easier for me to slow down.  Since there is more at stake than just me, it gives me an extra reason to pause, rest, and listen to my body. 

4 weeks of LowFODMAP

Derek and I have officially hit 4 weeks of eating LowFODMAP.  The first 2 weeks of it were extremely difficult.  Our bodies felt physically terrible.  We were detoxing all the sugars and fermentable foods from our bodies and we felt tired, felt irritable, had stomach pains and experienced some bathroom issues.  I was spending hours a day in the kitchen meal prepping.  I thought I had made enough for a few days but it was amazing how fast we would go through food since we were so limited on what we could have.  It also took extra-long because I had to constantly look up amounts of foods we could have and make sure I wasn’t stacking any FODMAPs together.  I was extremely frustrated and was questioning if doing this diet was worth it. 

Another thing that has been extremely difficult is the social isolation.  I didn’t realize how much of our social life involved going out to eat with friends.  If we went for a Sunday hike we would usually grab lunch after, we would meet friends for dinner and most birthday parties and celebrations involved eating.  It isn’t like we can’t go out, but it is hard to be at dinner with friends and you can’t order anything... so you just sit and watch and get more frustrated.  Since we are a little more housebound than usual, it has caused Derek and I to get on each other’s cases a little bit more.  I find myself getting annoyed if he isn’t cleaning the dishes or helping pick up around the apartment (side note he is doing an amazing job helping).  We are constantly together and not getting out to socialize so you can see where some bickering would arise. 

It was after the 3rd week that we actually started to finally feel better on this diet.  We noticed way less bloating, gas and bathroom trips.  I have gotten used to cooking and I know off hand what I can make and what goes together.  I have started using Amazon Fresh for groceries and saving that time has been a life saver.  Why we got on this diet is finally starting to make sense and that makes us way more positive.

Besides our LowFODMAP journey, the point of this post is more to focus on something surprising that we both have learned.  We learned that we find so much comfort in food, more than either of us realized.  Derek was always someone who said he didn’t care about food, sometimes he would even forget to eat if he was engrossed in work.  (I am certainly not like this; I think about my next meal while I’m still eating my current one.)  What Derek came to realize is that after a long work week, he craves a nice burger, some fries and a beer.  He finds comfort in this food and it is a nice reward for a stressful day.  Now that this comfort has been taken away it makes it so apparent how much he needs that comfort. 

I have realized the same thing.  I care about food and what foods I am putting into my body but I also have my own comfort foods that I turn to.  On a Friday night, you could usually find me curled up on my couch with a pint of Halo Top ice cream.  In the morning if I had a long day ahead I would make a giant smoothie bowl with tons and tons of toppings. On a weekend after a nice hike or a bike ride all I want is a giant plate of sweet potato fries. I never realized how much I relied on these comfort foods until I wasn’t allowed to have them anymore. 

I don’t think it is a bad thing to be comforted by food.  We should feel good eating and find a sense of comfort in the foods that we eat.  After a long week, I feel like I deserve a treat, it makes me happy.  Since our typical comfort foods are currently off limits, I have to be more creative in the kitchen to satisfy our cravings.  There are tons of blogs out there that post LowFODMAP recipes and they have been extremely helpful.  Derek and I both like something sweet at night so I found a great chocolate chip cookie recipe for Derek and I have found that steamed carrots are surprisingly sweet and even better lathered in peanut butter.  We are also getting more creative with our social life.  We now ask friends to meet for later afternoon activities like hikes and walks so that we can eat lunch at home beforehand.  We started planning dream vacations and thinking of our future family and dream home to break up the monotony of sitting around every night.  I have also found some restaurants that have dishes that can be modified to fit our diet so we can at least feel like we are getting a special treat outside of the house.

This diet has been a huge lesson for us.  It has taught us how much food affects us, more than we even thought. Food affects our bodies, our energy, and our mood. It has taught us how much our social life revolves around eating and drinking and that we need to be more creative with our friends and activities.  It has taught us that we each have comfort foods that we rely on.  And the most important thing it has taught us is how strong we are as a couple and how much stronger we are getting by doing this together.  We have been each other’s biggest support systems and I am so grateful to have such an amazing partner on this crazy journey. 

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