The toughest time

TW; This post focuses on mental illness. It is personal but I’ve wanted to write it forever.

My brain makes me feel sad, apathetic, and numb when there is no external cause for those feelings. Then, at other times, I’m jubilant and racing with energy. Often been called moody and those difficult-to-control moods negatively affect my life.

It’s something I can’t quite explain though I’ve tried many times. I’ve tried to explain the way my brain works to myself, to friends and family, to doctors, to counselors, and it feels like I’ve never been able to get it right. The closest I’ve come to explaining myself is when I say I have depression and anxiety. But even then I’m not sure that captures it. My symptoms don’t present as typical depression symptoms like crying or feeling worthless. I’ve been tested for mood disorders but came up clean. Maybe cyclothymic disorder or maybe I’m just melodramatic and whiney (at least that’s what the unwanted negative voice in my head sometimes says).

So far I haven’t taken this laying down even though I’ve had plenty of days when I don’t want to get out of bed. This sickness is something that’s part of me and I try to deal with it head on. And I’m learning to have more patience wit myself and others.

The message to reach out for help has come across loud and clear. End the stigma and everyone has mental health, and all that. But there hasn’t been much education or discussion about what the receivers or listeners can do to help. I’ve reached out countless times only to be told everyone has ups and downs, that lots are fighting battles behind closed doors, it’s normal to feel anxious, etc. Conflicting messages around mental health are confusing at the best of times. When I’m in a dark place they’re too much to handle. All I can think is if everyone feels like I do then the world is seriously screwed up. We shouldn’t be indignant or competitive. Shouldn’t we be searching for answers to why we’re all fighting with our own minds?

There are theories about modern society and stress affecting mental health. There’s also a growing concern that sugar negatively impacts our brains. I believe that!

My reality is that I look like a ‘normal’ well-functioning adult. I have a full-time office job, I’m a mother and a partner, I have interests, and I feel OK half the time. But the rest of the time knocks me down and leaves me feeling helpless and weak. My mind relapses to unwanted negativity and feeling inadequate. I grab supports like my CBT training, family, movement, and slowly try to haul myself out of the hole. Even when I’m feeling good, I know there’s a part of me that’s uneasy with expectation that I’ll trip or fall down again. It truly feels like I’m taking one step forward and two back with everything.

It’s a recognition that that there are a million ideas running around my head but I feel paralyzed to act on them. Or I’m discouraged by the false starts and lack of confidence. I swing from wanting to take over the world to hardly having the confidence to function. I have missed opportunities because my brain tells me I’m not good enough. I’ve not applied for jobs (even ones I’ve been sought out for), cancelled interviews, and given up on endless good ideas. My depression and anxiety rob me of confidence and energy, and trying to help myself with all sorts of interventions is so tiring. My mental health is my main hobby.

This is a post about how a difficult time in your life can be called the toughest time – not because of how hard it is but because of how tough you are. Or how tough you have to be. This may seem idealist or trite but I’m going to put it out there anyway because I think it’s true: we are all more capable and have more endurance than we think. Find the strength to change the narrative in your head and spin your situation into a positive light. It’s easier said than done but so worth it. And each time your flip your perspective is practice for the next time. So each time gets a tiny bit easier, faster, you retain that muscle memory, and that’s how habits are formed.

It all starts with recognition of a negative thought process or bad feeling. Identifying it is the key to turning it around. I have found mindfulness meditation and CBT beneficial but, like most good things, they took time to develop and grow to something intuitive and useful for me. I’m still learning and adjusting.

Following a ketogenic lifestyle has also helped tremendously. There are clear links between keto, fasting, and improved cognitive function. I also struggle with disordered eating so keto has been a powerful tool to help with that, too.

After the struggle and work, it’s far too easy for me to get complacent when things are okay, or give up when they’re bad. Rerouting thought pathways can work wonders but it’s a constant battle. I know when I let my guard down during a good streak, or find myself suffering in a dark time, I need to put in the work. You too may need to work harder or differently to not fall into that hole, or to pull yourself out. It’s in the dark times that I need to stay the course with my ketogenic lifestyle, self care, and health practices. When it feels easy to give up is exactly when I (and you) need to keep going.

If you’re struggling, I encourage you to check out a group that’s helped me: Sick Not Weak or find your own support to get through the toughest times.

Video talk on food addiction

Be the buzzkill: Food addiction is just as powerful as drug addiction. This video came up in my YouTube feed because I’m subscribed to YouGotThis aka Dr. Kathleen Hallinan. I encourage you to watch it if you relate at all to food addiction or having little control over food in your life.

The doctor talks about similarities between food addiction and her heroine-addicted patients. She talks about staying away from tiggers for the addictive behavior (incl. people and places). And she talks about denial. It’s a plain but powerful message. As someone who still struggles with food issues I found it hit home on a lot of points.

The point I found most interesting was discussion of the lack of social pressure to reform or heal from food addiction. I find a ketogenic lifestyle keeps me away from my triggers for the most part. And I’m learning so much about nutrition, my body, and my mind. I honestly believe sugar as persistent in our society is evil. But will I always do keto? I’m not sure. But right now it helps me fight my own battles.

Judgement and criticism

I’m sure I’m not alone in experiencing judgement, criticism, negative comments, and odd looks when some find out about my ketogenic lifestyle. Some people think it’s okay to care and comment on others’ diets. It likely stems from the same place judgement grows for other alternative lifestyles. Add to the situation that keto has been a hot topic in the media lately and is growing traction. More and more people out there know a little bit about keto and unfortunately that little bit can be negative or just wrong.

You could start by not explaining yourself at all. You don’t owe anyone an explanation of how you live or what you eat. If you’re in a situation where you feel the need to divulge some reason or info you could simply say you’re cutting out sugar, or cutting back carbs in your diet. Give limited information without adding any of your own commentary. I bet if you follow a ketogenic lifestyle for a while you will stop caring what others think. Thankfully, this is where I am for the most part and have my good results to rely on when others judge.

For those I’m closer with and feel would be open to some respectful discussion, I have gone into more details about my diet, why I decided to try it, and why I’m sticking with it. I talk about my unhealthy relationship with food including binging and hiding food, which was essentially an eating disorder. I had an addition with food and even found benefit in attending Overeaters Anonymous meetings. I’ve used the comparison that you wouldn’t say to someone with an addition to alcohol, “oh, just have a sip” or “one drink won’t kill you.” Same should go for someone in my situation but yet I have heard “just have a taste” or “treats like a cupcake or cookie are what [insert holiday or celebration] are all about!” Sometimes people honestly don’t realize how hurtful or triggering their comments can be to someone dealing with such issues.

Finally, if you get the nerve to just be brutally honest, you can give as good as you get. I don’t suggest being snarky but hold your ground. If someone says, “oh, I could never give up bread because it’s so good” tell them that no doubt, traditional bread, pasta, beer, etc. are delicious but your health is more important than a sub-set of delicious foods. There are plenty other delicious foods which you’ve found to not aggravate your inflammation, obesity, diabetes, depression, hormones, etc. If someone says flat out that keto is unhealthy then you could argue with them but I doubt it will be useful. Engaging with someone who who already has their mind made up or isn’t open to learning something is a waste of time. I’ve found it best to say something like, “we’ll have to agree to disagree,” and know they are as entitled to their opinion and behavior as you are to yours.

Now, I totally understand this judgement goes both ways. Search about keto online and there are countless articles, blogs, videos, etc. telling everyone that this is the the way to go. Do I personally think a low carb, high fat diet would help many, many people? Yes. But I’m not going to pew pew anyone for how they chose to live their life. I’m here if anyone wants resources, to chat, to learn about my experience, etc. But I’m not badgering anyone to adopt keto. It’s not ‘my way or the highway’!

We need more acceptance in this world. I don’t comment much in online forums, but I recently felt compelled to make a comment when I disagreed with something – from the great Dr. Berg no less. On a recent Instagram story, Dr. Berg recounted seeing a family in a restaurant when a mother gave a young child juice in a bottle. He urged people to not do this, and (this is what made me concerned) to step in and say something to any mother who gives their child high-sugar food so they could be educated about sugar’s negative effects. I commented and said something along the lines of: please do not encourage shaming mothers because everyone has bad days and moments. That juice might have been the only thing holding everything together that day. I’m a mom and know that sometimes the day, my kid’s behavior, or my sanity can be hanging by one small thread. And it’s not just mothers who have responsibility for nutrition and education in a family so don’t pick on us.

I hope Dr. Berg keeps his up with his teachings and more people do jump on the low sugar train. But please don’t publicly shame someone or get on your high horse to criticize if you see something you don’t agree with. Kids are given sugar everywhere including in schools. I argue that we’re all trying to do what’s best for ourselves and our families. It would be amazing to see advocates like Dr. Berg lobby government and industry to change their ways instead of shaming or attacking individuals just trying to live their lives. I’m hugely supportive of not giving kids sugar. But there are times I let my own children have a juicebox or even candy depending on the context because parents need to pick their battles carefully. Or they have rice or such if we’re dining with friends from a different cultural background and higher carb offerings are on the table. I hope public figures in the keto world understand this and use their publicity and knowledge to help us navigate our sugar-laden society better and advocate for bigger changes. Let’s not sink to the level of those who criticize us for following a ketogenic lifestyle. We can act better and smarter. Everyone: please be tolerant of others, lead by example, and petition for change in systems and regulations instead of wasting energy in comments sections or gossiping.