I can only tell my story in hindsight, now that I understand and accept the way that I felt. We are all wired in different ways, some of us more chilled and laid-back whereas others more wild and full of beans. I just classed myself in the ‘wild and full of beans’ category and was proud of it. As a child I was popular at school, good fun, extremely diligent, a high achiever, in all the sports teams… I think you get the picture!
Drowning Anxiety with Alcohol
However, when I left school and started university things started to change; I didn’t know anybody at university and having come from a boarding school surrounded by friends, I actually had to go and meet people! Looking back, I was actually incredibly scared but muddled on as we do, partying hard and drinking too much throughout my 3 years there. I actually loved it, had the best time just as I did at school. I moved to London to work and carried on much the same. As the years went on I started to suffer really badly with anxiety and bouts of depression. I started taking anti-depressants and carried anxiety around with me everywhere, which I drowned out with alcohol in the evenings.
As I said at the beginning, it is only in hindsight that I am able to talk about my story, now that I understand and accept the way I felt. When you are muddling on you haven’t the time or patience to think about how you actually feel; you just crack on as best you know how. So here goes, this is all about me and my story…
Endless Sleepless Nights
I was brought up in Wales on a farm, loved the outdoors and came from a loving family. I am one of 4 siblings – an older sister and two younger brothers. When I was 7 years old my father committed suicide. I don’t remember grieving at all but I do remember putting on a brave face. At the age of 9 I went to boarding school, and coming from a local state school in the middle of Wales this was a huge change: I felt completely out of my depth and incredibly insecure. However, I did get on and loved school, getting into all sorts of mischief and had a great time.
All the same, I had a constant underlying fear and anxiety that I wasn’t able to express at the time. After all, how does a child vocalise such a thing? I dreaded being quizzed about my family by friends. As you can imagine at an expensive boarding school, the question, ‘what does your daddy do?’ came up often in conversation. I felt on edge a lot of the time. I had endless sleepless nights, I was always the only one awake in the dormitory. Bouts of insomnia continued through my life until I finally sorted my health out. Holding onto such fears and feelings of insecurity from such a young age becomes fairly deep-rooted in you and a difficult one to just shake off.
When old enough I found great release in alcohol. There have been times in my life where I have been very dependent on alcohol and I have done many things that I am not proud of. Alcohol was the only way I knew how to get through stressful times, relax in the evening, sleep, socialise and stop the anxious feelings and continuous thoughts. During these alcohol dependent years, I was up and down but when I was feeling good I had a great time, I loved to party, but on the down side I was a nervous wreck, panic attacks were all too familiar. Lip trembling, heart racing, sweating profusely – and this would often be around friends who I had known for years. I then stopped enjoying seeing my friends and felt like I had lost everyone including myself. I knew I had to make an effort to see people but I just found it too stressful.
On Tapping into Mental, Spiritual and Physical Wellbeing
Something needed to change: I needed to do something to make me feel good about myself, proud of myself and to boost my self-esteem. Ironically enough, even though I have abused my body in the past, from a really young age I have always been extremely health conscious and this was the area I wanted to pursue and felt a connection with. I needed to help others to help me in return. But what I didn’t realise was that it wasn’t as easy as that, I had to sort my own problems out first, as I was no good to anyone the way I was. I did this through nutritional therapy which is so much more than just healthy eating, it is a completely holistic view of health, tapping into your mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing. I enrolled at the College of Naturopathic Medicine to study Nutritional Therapy, the best decision I have ever made. I have totally transformed myself and am free from the torturous chronic anxiety that I carried with me for so many years and I am not dependant on alcohol any more… that feels good to say.
I suppose as you are reading this on a health website you are probably more interested in how I got myself better. Well, it started with talking to a nutritional therapist (there were tears and that in itself was very therapeutic and part of my healing process). I have seen many counsellors in the past, who had helped me short term but not long term. I knew that for me there were some imbalances going on that I needed to get to the bottom of. I love science and facts, so I wanted to do some testing to see what was going on in my body in black and white. The tests showed:
- High levels of cortisol (stress hormone) which equates to high anxiety. This made sense and explained why I would wake up with a racing heart every morning.
- Dysbiosis of the gut (imbalance of gut bacteria). I used to get sugar cravings all the time, which I now know is linked to imbalances in the gut. My healthy bacteria levels were so low that I wasn’t producing the right level of neurotransmitters – namely serotonin (happy hormone) and GABA (anti-anxiety hormone) which are made with the help of good bacteria.
- A severe deficiency of B vitamins which is linked to depression. Alcohol impairs absorption and secondly the good bacteria (that I was lacking) produce B vitamins.
- Low tryptophan levels (the precursor to serotonin).
- And more besides!
What I Did:
I focused on reducing my alcohol intake. While I didn’t stop drinking completely, I cut it down considerably. Alcohol has so many implications for mental wellbeing, for example it impairs tryptophan transport across the blood-brain barrier, which as mentioned before is the precursor to serotonin (happy hormone). I followed a gut repair protocol:
- Removing the underlying cause of imbalance including any bad bacteria and candida that resided in my gut through the use of food and supplements.
- Repairing my gut lining as there is high probability that this was leaky and inflamed. A leaky gut can lead to undesired particles such as toxins, bad bacteria, undigested particles passing into the bloodstream causing inflammation throughout the body and the brain. Depression is an inflammatory illness, so it is important to reduce inflammation in the body for optimal mental wellbeing.
- Replacing essential digestive enzymes to aid in digestion and absorption. Chronic stress reduces digestive enzymes and stomach acid. An insufficiency will inhibit digestion and utilisation of nutrients so that important nutrients pass through the body unabsorbed.
- Reintroducing healthy bacteria through probiotic supplements and later through fermented food and drink. This further supported my gut repair and increased neurotransmitter production. 90% of the body’s serotonin is made in the gut with the help of these good bacteria.
- Retaining a healthy gut by healthy eating, exercise, stress management, getting proper sleep and continuing to maintain a diet that supports my healthy bacteria.
As well as the above gut repair protocol, I also supported my body to help calm me down and reduce anxiety, improve sleep quality and lift my mood. This helped stop me reaching for a drink, as up until this point the only way I knew how to relax was to have a drink. I did this by supporting my parasympathetic nervous system which is your ‘rest and repair’ nervous system as opposed to your sympathetic nervous system (your fight or flight) which my body was in 99% of the time. I am telling you my story because I want you to know that I am here to help you and not judge you. I hope you will feel that you can trust and open up to me so that I can help you on your journey to a healthier and happier life too.
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