When I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety and panic disorder a few years ago, I saw it as a burden. I was 26 years old and my focus was on providing for my family.
Dealing with anxiety seemed like yet another battle I’d have to endure. Doctors told me that I'd have to take pills three times a day for the rest of my life if I wanted a chance at a normalcy.
To make matters worse, some of my friends stopped calling and I felt completely isolated. I was no longer getting invited to events and it seemed like no one wanted to be around me anymore.
Up to this point, my lifestyle was never brought into question as a possible cause of my disease. At my monthly doctor visits, I was never asked about my diet, supplements, or any stressors in my life. My doctor knew I was a smoker but rejected the idea that smoking was a possible trigger for my anxiety.
Since he didn’t question it, neither did I.
I was under the impression that my regular visits to Five Guys (for a burger and fries) had no impact on my disorder, nor did my affinity for Snickers Ice Cream Bars, Cool Ranch Doritos, and Blue Moon Wheat Ale.
Since I was an avid weightlifter and looked fit, everyone (including me) assumed that I was healthy. Wrong!
After approximately eight months of following my doctor's orders, things got progressively worse. I became addicted to my anti-anxiety medication, contemplated suicide on multiple occasions, survived a Vicodin overdose, and lost control of my life.
My addiction had reached its peak. I was taking upwards of 8 mg of Ativan daily (more than four times the recommended amount), occasionally mixing it with alcohol to increase the sedative effects. All while contending with my four-Vicodin-day habit.
I was knocking on death's door and I needed a way out. As a child, I had witnessed my father's drug problem and I wanted to break that cycle.
Desperate to find another way, I researched the benefits of a plant-based diet on a few healthy living websites and decided to change my lifestyle. I quit smoking, eventually gave up alcohol (though I still have an occasional glass of red wine) and started a daily yoga practice.
In changing my lifestyle, I discovered a few underlying health issues that went undetected for many years. I had a gluten intolerance and a Vitamin D deficiency, in addition to a cyst on my right cheek that had to be surgically removed.
Bloodwork revealed that I didn't have the bare minimum of necessary nutrients. To top it off, my horrible health habits had culminated into walking pneumonia, which I discovered when I was eventually hospitalized due to breathing difficulty. There I found out that my left lung was losing function and was on the verge of collapse.
By addressing the underlying issues that were causing me distress, I was able to finally heal. I wound up going off all meds after about a year of my new lifestyle.
My disorder forced me to focus on what I was putting into my body and how I was living my life. So far it’s been close to two years of this lifestyle and I’m drug free, a yoga guide, and wellness coach.
Looking back, my addiction and mental health condition were blessings in disguise. Truth is, had I continued with the lifestyle I was living, chronic illness was inevitable and only God knows where I would’ve ended up.
I used to believe that a mental health disorder was crippling, debilitating and limiting. Throughout my journey, I’ve realized that's only true if you allow it. Dealing with a mental health disorder is not a sign of weakness — it’s a testament of strength.
I never intended to be a health advocate or wellness professional. I changed out of necessity, not choice. The changes I made in my life are what ultimately saved my life. I now understand, it's not the event itself that has the power as much as it is your reaction to it!