Rock bottom is a place of humble beginnings, a place of rebirth. As humans, we are driven by an innate desire to survive, however, for many reasons we cause our own suffering, often because, at some point…
we stop listening to our inner wisdom
.....the compass that leads us through life. Whether driven my shame, greed, pain or fear we move away from our unique balance and into habits, thoughts, relationships, jobs, etc that do not serve us. My own story is a poignant example of this. Although unique in it’s own way, I hope it serves as a guiding light or inspiration for those of you who are suffering, whether quietly or out loud.
I experienced several “traumas” throughout my youth, however, the resilience of being young and naive was on my side. It wasn’t until mid-twenties after a break-up and the pressure of graduating from university did I begin to experience a breaking of that resilience. Up to that point in my life anxiety was a foreign concept (or at least I was unaware of it), but the balance was beginning to tip. It was a gradual process in which I began to experience increasing episodes of heart palpitations, nervousness, insomnia, and lack of focus. To cope with this I began looking for ways to escape through food, alcohol & exercise. I was pushing my body to the limits; ignoring the messages it was sending me. It’s no surprise that this wasn’t going to last long, and eventually I had my first panic attack.
IT. WAS. TERRIFYING!
And although I recovered unscathed, the fear of having another one loomed in the darkness of my mind and body for years afterwards. I ebbed in and out of anxiety & depression as I tried to find ways to cope. It was also from here that my gut started to deteriorate. I began experiencing the classic symptoms of IBS; periods of diarrhea followed by periods of constipation, bloating and gas. It was torture. The worst part is that I suffered in silence because of the shame I felt over my anxiety & depression. I thought I was stronger than that, that there was no way (with all the good things I had in my life) that I could be “plagued” by mental health issues. I began to loose hope. And began to view my body as the enemy because it was causing me so much pain.
In an act of desperation I decided to go visit a doctor to see what insight he/she might have for me.. In a 15 minute appointment, I was labeled with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and DEPRESSION and sent on my way with a prescription for an anti-depressant. I remember walking out of the office in disbelief and felt even more ashamed. It took me a week to fill the prescription because deep down I intuitively knew there had to be another solution, however, at that point in my life I was unaware of those alternatives. So begrudgingly I filled the prescription and began taking the anti-depressant. After only a week I knew something wasn't right as it felt like a veil had been placed over my mind. I immediately stopped taking them. I was now back to square one, but felt even more scared, lonely and hopeless.
I had hit rock bottom.
In hindsight, the beauty about rock bottom is that when we feel we have nothing to loose, we are closer than ever to our own truth.
“From our darkest moments we are forced to dig deep into our hearts to find direction; to connect with our intuitive knowledge, strength and resilience.”
~Dr. Rachael Lovink, ND
I could no longer ignore the loud, unbaiting signals my body was sending me; the anxiety, the depression, the digestive issues, the poor sleep, etc. The signals that were telling me something was out of balance. My body was crying for help. So, I finally decided to listen.
I began the process of searching for a “natural therapy” for depression. That is when I stumbled across the book Clean, which my dear brother had given me a few months earlier. It couldn't have been better timing; and I now consider it a serendipitous miracle because it changed the course of my life!
After reading the book, I decided to begin the detox program (you can read more about it here). I won't lie and say it was easy, but the desperation to see it through to the promised benefits on the other side kept me going.
On the 7th day I remember waking up with a strange sensation. I woke up happy, energized and with a sense of calm and clarity I had not felt in years. It felt like I was finally home, in my own body, present and aware. Like the fog had finally lifted (not to mention that all my digestive symptoms had resolved).
The process was soul quenching because it reaffirmed what I already intuitively knew; that the body knows what to do if given a fighting chance. That fighting chance was an opportunity to build a foundation of resilience rooted in nutrition and elimination of toxins. The resilience also gave me an opportunity to address the emotional baggage I had been carrying with me for so long. Because when we feel supported by our body we have the resources to explore the deeper parts of our mind.
It was from this experience that my passion for health was reignited. I had experienced first hand that the body is connected, and that by “feeding” one part of it we feed the whole. By addressing my nutritional and digestive concerns (for example by putting out the inflammatory fire in the gut, read about this in my previous blog) I was able to fix my mental health concerns. Our body’s parts are all connected, and so it is imperative that we address health and healing in this way.
So, in coming full circle I share my story as a way to inspire and give you hope. We are incredibly resilient as human beings when we pay attention to the messages it is sending us. The physical, emotional and mental symptoms we experience are pieces of information from our body that something is out of balance. When we look at them that way, we have 2 choices;
1) Listen and make meaning out of them to create instructions for our health
2) Ignore and suppress them & continue to incur suffering
I think the choice is pretty clear?
This alternative approach to mental health involves being curious and willing to go on a journey of self-exploration in which we uncover the sources of our pain so we can touch it with kindness and compassion. I love how eloquently Dr. Kelly Brogan, a leading expert on the subject of non-pharmacological treatment of depression & anxiety, summarizes the process of healing from the inside out:
“We can move beyond the chemical theories, the complex analysis, and simply be in the process of sending the body-mind a signal of safety. Safety looks like ease. Trust. Curiosity. And even surrender. It’s not a fight. It’s not a battle. It’s a cooperative exchange and an exploration. It’s becoming more of our whole selves because we are becoming less fragmented and self-evasive. We stop hiding parts of our personhood from our awareness. We embrace it all in order to heal.
I now look for the story in any physical symptoms that arise in me, and in the physiologic specifics of my patient’s conditions. Exploring these stories often reveals the key to true wellness.”
The first step towards healing is simply awareness. Paying attention. Being curious about our symptoms. Changing our frame of mind to see our body as a wise guide instead of the enemy. One simple way to begin to change this relationship is through our breath. Learning to breath again is incredibly empowering because it proves to ourselves that we have the capacity to influence our experience in each moment. We have the power to shift ourselves out of panic, fear, stress and anxiety and into calm, peace, acceptance and relaxation. And once we learn to do this, we cultivate a physiologic body response (our parasympathetic state) that is fertile grounds for healing to begin. So here’s how it works:
Our diaphragm is one of the major muscles involved in deep inspiration. We can purposefully learn to activate it by breathing deep into our belly. You can practice this by placing your hand on your belly, and with each breath in imagine filling your belly up with air (like a balloon). In doing so, the diaphragm expands down into your abdomen and “massages” the vagus nerve. This nerve is the key to activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which is your rest & digest state. So with each breath in, we trigger a response in our body that tells it “you are safe now” (aka. "you don't need to run from saber tooth tiger anymore"). To know we hold this ability is incredibly powerful, because it means we always have a safety switch for our overly active stress response.
I encourage you to try this exercise seated or laying down. Aim for 10 breaths in and out. It is best used as a technique to calm yourself prior to bed, prior to meals, when you are feeling tense or wound-up, as part of your meditative practice, or simply at a moment when you are feeling overwhelmed by your pain or difficulty (whether physical or mental). And remember, learning to breath again is like any skill in that it requires practice. So be patient and diligent in its pursuit.
Dr. Rachael Lovink, ND
Dr. Rachael Lovink is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in Victoria, BC. She has a passion for helping you uncover the root cause of your illness. Her special interest is in the treatment of mental illnesses (such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, etc) with the use of non-pharmaceutical intervention such as targeted supplements, dietary intervention, IV nutrients/injections and lifestyle counselling.
The Information provided by Dr. Rachael Lovink is intended solely for educational purposes, and is not a substitute for the medical advice provided by another physician or healthcare professional. You must never disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking medical advice because you are accessing and using the information provided by Dr. Rachael Lovink. The Information cannot be used for the purpose of diagnosing, treating, or in any way mitigating a specific health issue or disease. It can also not be used with the intention of prescribing a medication or other modality of treatment. You must always speak with your physician before starting any new approach to managing your health, including vitamins and minerals, exercise and other therapeutic modalities. Further, you should seek medical advice immediately if you suspect that you have a medical problem regardless of using the information provided through the website.