“Racing heart. Intense nausea. Paralyzing fear. Uncontrollable shaking. Stomach in knots. Heaviness in chest. Reassurance after reassurance from family and friends I was in fact, okay. Rituals in my head said so I would be in fact, okay. Developing certain habits I had to do so yes, I would be okay. This was a glimpse of what my life looked like for 14 years.
At the age of 8, I had my very first panic attack, which spiraled a long journey of my battle with mental health. In 2004, my sister caught a stomach virus, and for some reason this spiked the most intense, debilitating phobia I would carry with me for a very long time. I remember pacing back and forth in my driveway hyperventilating, crying, shaking, and absolutely terrified at the thought of me or anyone else I knew vomiting. I didn’t understand what was so terrible about it and why I was reacting the way I was. I mean, no one enjoys throwing up, but at this moment I had developed a completely irrational phobia which was about to run my entire childhood and life as I knew it.
As the days went on, my anxiety got progressively worse. I started to form strange habits. For instance, if I didn’t do something a certain way, I would get sick. It took me so long to do the simplest tasks. I had to switch the light on and off four times, or else I would get sick. I had to say a ritual in my head every time I left the room, or I would get sick. As frustrated as I was with myself, I was more confused than anything. I was always a very happy kid and within one day I went from living a carefree, joyful life, to living consumed by negative thoughts and fear.
About 5 months after my first panic attack, I was diagnosed with anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Emetophobia (the phobia of vomiting), and was placed on my very first antidepressant. I remember sitting in the psychiatrist’s office, feeling so ashamed of myself. I didn’t understand who I was anymore. I felt absolutely broken, confused, and terrified by the person I had turned into.
The medication I was put on started to give me a little relief, but it took time and many adjustments. My anxiety and OCD would fluctuate frequently, leading to psychiatrist appointments every six weeks to adjust the medication, and therapy twice a week to try to help everyone else understand what was going on. After some time, it all started to work. I would feel like I was gaining control of my life again and then a few months went go by, and more flare-ups occurred. These flare-ups led to more adjustments in my medication, which sometimes would help, but other times it would make me feel worse, and the cycle continued. The worst part of this cycle was my anxiety would make me extremely nauseous, which would trigger the anxiety more, which would make me more nauseous, etc. It was a never-ending circle of nausea, panic, and fear.
This cycle continued all the way through college. I ended up getting to a pretty good place when I went several years without needing an adjustment in my medication. My junior year hit and another flare-up happened. I went back to my psychiatrist because, at the time, medication was the only known answer to my struggles. As I walked into her office (already being on 200 mg of Zoloft, the highest legal dose of medication you can be on), I sat down in the same chair I had been sitting in for years, telling her the same problems I’ve been dealing with for years. What she said to me this specific day changed my life forever. She said, ‘Technically you are on the highest dose I can legally prescribe you, but you have been on this medication for long enough, I am confident to push you up to 225 mg of Zoloft. You can start today.’ I walked out of the office and something just clicked. I didn’t want to rely on medication anymore to be happy. I didn’t want to live my life this way any longer. I knew in my heart there had to be some other option.
When I got home, I started doing some research. I talked to a close friend who was into holistic health, and she showed me specific essential oils which could help with anxiety. It gave me some relief, but I knew there was way more to it. I went back to her, and we did my very first meditation together. I felt relaxed afterward, but I still knew there was more I could do. As I did more research, I read something completely new, no doctor had ever told me before. I learned roughly 90% of serotonin (what regulates feelings of wellbeing and happiness, and what the antidepressants were trying to adjust) comes from the gut. I was blown away by this. Could what I was eating really be the root cause of all of this suffering? From that moment on, I became aware of the foods I was putting into my body, and how I felt after doing so.
My diet my entire life consisted of quite possibly THE most unhealthy foods. I basically lived off of junk food, bagels, pizza, and pasta. I knew this was going to be an adjustment, but it was quite obvious my gut was inflamed, and there was a very good chance this could be an answer for me. It was a long, slow process, but I gradually started incorporating more and more whole foods into my diet, while cutting out as many processed, artificial, inflammatory foods as possible, and this made all the difference in the world for me.
Throughout the process of learning about healing my gut and feeding my body the proper nutrients it was so badly craving these past 14 years, I managed to wean myself off of my Zoloft entirely. I stopped seeing my psychiatrist and therapist, I began a practice of daily meditation, I developed a passion for lifting, and I fell in love with taking care of my body. I believe this journey worked for me. I graduated from college in May of 2018, and within the same week, I enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, which is an online school which allowed me to pursue my dream of becoming a certified health coach. I now coach women to help them free themselves from anxiety through mindset, movement, and nutrition.
My journey was far from easy, but it was an experience I will be forever grateful for. It taught me resilience, it taught me strength, and it taught me how to treat my body properly. I’m not expecting to never have any anxiety ever again, but I now have the tools to power through any obstacles which come my way. To this day, my phobia still briefly exists, and I do feel anxious from time to time, but I’m still a work in progress, and I’m proud of the person I grew up to be.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Courtney Hayes of Tampa, FL. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear about your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more powerful stories like this:
‘There were two types of girls: skinny girls and fat girls. Being fat was the worst thing we could be.’: Woman loses 100 pounds after ‘the perfect storm’ in college, immerses herself in world of fitness
‘Did yoga do this to you?’ I woke up seeing double. Things took a turn. ‘I know it’s a lot to take in.’ I was shocked.’: Young woman comes to terms with multiple sclerosis diagnosis, ‘I won’t let this hold me back’
‘I was 45, divorced, childless. The single, desperate, drunk girl at the bar. My biological clock was DEAFENING.’: Woman battles depression, addiction for decades, now ‘healthy’ and ‘loving life’
Do you know someone who could benefit from this story? Please SHARE on Facebook to let them know a community of support is available.