Some things were easier when I was living outside of reality.

rear view of a boy sitting on grassland

So my son lost his job. He was fired the week before Thanksgiving. His dream job… Well, all right, perhaps it was not his dream job. Let’s just say it was my dream job. One that I would have loved to have had myself. My stomach is still in a knot as I write this post; a week after first hearing the hard news.

He seems ok with it. It seems he’s learned from the mistakes he made. The work wasn’t fulfilling him anymore. He would have quit soon anyway had he not gotten fired. Still. I felt like I’d been smacked in the gut by a bear.

After a day or two of pain, I found myself longing for the foggy dissociative haze that was once my brain. A numbed out holding place where nothing hurt deeply. Everything could be minimized (well, he was going to quit anyway!), spiritualized (God’s got this! Surely this was meant to be!), or blamed (those dirty pigs, firing someone right before the holidays!?!?), OR, (my unique speciality), DOING ALL THREE AT ONCE.

I no longer deny the reality of my abusive childhood, nor my present mental-health-struggles. Living in those truths is changing my brain. One might think that things would get easier when one is getting healthier mentally. It is a bit trickier than that for me. I denied reality (as an unhealthy coping tool), for so long that there are consequences. Bad news is harder to handle than it was prior. The pain is sharp. Foreign. It tempts me to return to the emotion-less-void that is still so familiar to me. On the flip side, exciting events can, literally, be overly stimulating. I also have to enter into those slowly and with caution.

All of which makes the holidays, err, interesting.

Very early in the morning on Thanksgiving day, I put a turkey in the oven with my heart heavy over my son’s situation. The feeling of loss had eased some, but not enough for me to host a gathering with a smile on my face. I knew I had to pull myself together before the turkey was done. The familiar ‘place’ in my mind was waiting for me to return. I entered into the numbness with relief, because, well, have you ever hosted a Thanksgiving dinner at your house?? It is a ton of work!

The scary part is I didn’t even notice, or feel, the burn on my arm that happened when I put the turkey in the oven. An hour or so later I saw the ugly red gash and only then did the wound begin to throb.

That’s when I realized that it is better to be in reality after all. Because to harm yourself, or to have another harm you, and not even feel it, is scarier to me, now, than anything else. Denial is not a place I want to be anymore.

I thought of Jesus weeping outside of Lazarus’s tomb. The shortest verse in all of Scripture: John 11:35. A mere two words: Jesus wept.

Dead Lazarus–whom Jesus knew would be raised from the dead in mere moments. Why the tears? Why not  focus on the miracle, which was literally about to happen, and which Jesus alone knew was about to happen. It seems strange–why He would cry. Everyone else, who had no idea Lazarus was about to come back to life — sure — it makes complete sense that they would cry and wail and mourn. But why was Jesus crying over something He was about to fix?

Perhaps it is because Jesus didn’t deny any truth. Not for a second. And in that moment, wherein Jesus wept, there was death and loss and hard changes and grieving people all around Him–and so He cried too. He felt the pain. The God-man who is full of Grace AND Truth… stayed in reality.

Scripture doesn’t record Jesus’ reaction when Lazarus emerged from that tomb moments later. But I suspect Jesus was shouting, laughing, dancing, hugging and crying happy tears along with everyone else. I have a hard time believing that He was just standing there, aloof and removed. I think He engaged fully in the celebration which likely ensued.

Living outside of reality works to escape the pain of life, in your mind at least. But the body knows when an injury has occurred, even when the mind is somewhere else. The body always knows. Books have been written about that (The Body Keeps the Score. When the Body Says No.). I’ve read them both in my recovery. They make some very good points; I dare say: chilling points about the importance of living in reality. Indeed, just like my Thanksgiving day oven-burn, it can’t be ignored forever. The body will get the mind’s attention eventually and then it will hurt. We think we can ignore it as a way to deal with it, but it won’t disappear like a salesman at the door. It waits and waits, even though you never invited it in, the pain doesn’t leave. The saddest thing is that a whole lot of restorations and resurrections might happen while you are ignoring the door.

It would be a tragedy to miss those while hiding from pain. And so, while part of me still wants to numb out, a bigger part of me wants to experience all of life. The pain and the joy. The sadness and the celebration. So I placed the good china on the table with a gash on my arm, tears in my throat, and a smile on my face. I felt it all that day. My emotions looked like the heaping bowls of sides, the platter of turkey, and the four kinds of dessert. Or was it five?

There was too much of everything.

But it was good.

pastry on cake stand

 

The book Educated & Breaking My Upbringing

books school stacked closed

Two of my therapists suggested daily meditation to heal my brain. Both therapists also suggested Yoga (as did my family doctor). I smiled and nodded and ignored the advice. Later I vented to my BHH: I don’t want to exchange one brainwashing for another brainwashing! I want to break my upbringing not repeat it!

Yoga, to me, is a bit like tattoos. People get really into it and then like to show off their ‘newest ones’, often times on Facebook. Meanwhile I had a foam mat and soy milk in the fridge before FaceBook existed. I would contort my body in a ‘new one’ and immediately holler, “come, quick, come and look!” to my children and husband. I would even bow and say namaste to others, who didn’t know what the heck I was talking about, (which only fueled my ego more).

The practice did not do much for me physically, other than make me walk around taller because I believed I was ‘all that’.

After I got sick (PTSD/Anxiety), the physical therapist who helped me unthaw my anxious-neck, (and who also works closely with my family doctor), warned me not to do Yoga. She lowered her eyes and whispered, “It is not safe for a lot of people, and if they push themselves, or have poor supervision, it can be dangerous. I wish he (my doctor) would quit telling so many people to do it.”

I was glad that at least one professional I was seeing was affirming what I’d already decided was not ‘for me’. Shortly before I got so sick, the ministers I was listening to on youtube (to try and undo all the religious abuse I’d endured) all warned me about yoga being a possible doorway to demons. Through them I learned what namaste actually means (the divine/god in me recognizes/honors the divine/god in you). Turns out I was the idiot tossing around a phrase that I had no idea of the meaning. As a child, when someone was acting full of themselves, we used to say, ‘Wow, who do you think you are–God!?’ So it was for me. In my early thirties, I had all of my life ‘figured out’ (or so I thought), one might even say I was acting like I was God. I mean, some of my favorite lingo was…calling myself god… so there’s that.

After I crashed, burned, and could barely leave my house from social anxiety, I knew certain things wouldn’t work for me, no matter if every expert on the planet says it’s the go-to-thing for healing PTSD and Anxiety (and most do).

Meditation gave me pause because I was a huge daydreamer as a child; to escape. (And, again, I knew I needed to break the upbringing; not continue it.) So I sought out benign activities that would calm my central nervous system without reverting to childhood brain numbing tactics.

I’d always enjoyed nature and watching birds. So one of my changes (and fill-ins for daily ‘meditation’ time) was to become a seed-toting, birdbath warmer in the winter, crazy bird lady. If you feed and water them; they will not disappoint you. Now I simply walk by the window, and I am immediately drawn in, letting my brain get fixed by the jays fighting over the peanuts. It brings me complete pleasure and peace, without having to think about anything, beyond whether or not the feeders need refilling.

All that birdwatching transfers to nature watching in general.  When I travel anywhere, my mind is immediately soothed from sunsets. Snow. Rain. Clouds. Trees. Birds. Butterflies. Even examining the unique plant in the corner of my accountant’s office can calm me now.

There was one survival tactic from childhood which was beneficial to me: I was a voracious reader. I believe that reading so much planted the seed to break away from my abusers. So, as I’ve written about prior, I started to read again after I got sick. Seriously read–for enjoyment as well as for learning purposes– all of which is very healing for me.

The book Educated by Tara Westover is everywhere right now. At my local Barnes and Noble, there are copies around every corner and across many genres. I’m glad I had already read it prior to my last trip to B & N, otherwise I might have thought it was being completely overhyped. (I sometimes intentionally avoid highly marketed offerings.)

BUT. It is worth the hype. Seriously. Best book I’ve read in years.

I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. For me, I found it incredibly helpful in viewing my own past, and my own journey out of a damaging upbringing. Presently, I am aware of the lingering trauma bonds from my family of origin. Such strong bonds make this time of year (holidays) hard. Seeing the author’s ties to abusive and neglectful family members–her willingness to return ‘again and again’ to her family home, (at least one poignant ‘return’ occurred at Christmas time), and my desire (as the reader) to scream through the pages “STOP! QUIT GOING BACK! DON’T GET INTO THAT VEHICLE WITH YOUR INSANE, ABUSIVE BROTHER AGAIN!” gave me serious pause.

What would another person reading MY story say to me? Likely they’d be screaming silently too: “Your life is so good now; you have every right to ignore and walk away from the people who did that to you! Don’t screw it up by going back into relationship! And, for God’s sake, don’t let yourself get physically near to any people who have once physically abused you, you are crazy to do that!”

It is so obvious when separation NEEDS TO HAPPEN in another’s life. Not so clear in my own…but as a result of reading such a poignant memoir of a neglectful and abusive upbringing– something in me was just…severed… it was getting ready to happen, but some major movement inside of my heart definitely DID happen after reading Westover’s book Educated. For that, I am so thankful.

There is tremendous value in sharing our stories; letting other people see ‘themselves’ in the things we share.

The hearers/readers are able to choose their own form of healing, knowing what has and has not worked for them in their own past. It’s best when there is no strict ‘formula’, or method that someone else is suggesting. Let the reader figure it out. Likely their mind already knows the way out. It just needs some nourishment to get there.

It’s a lot like putting seed in a bird feeder. The landscape changes for the better when someone is willing to put food out. No thinking required. Just sit back and enjoy your brain being fixed.

Be Still & Be Aware

brown book page

Be Still (Psalm 46:10) is a big deal. A relative put it over a door frame, someone posted it near an interstate in Minnesota, a woman at Bible study has Psalm 46:10 for a Bible cover, and I’ve purchased ‘Be Still’ gifts for friends.  It is also a mantra for people in recovery. Indeed, my Christian therapist reminds me often: ‘Be Still’.

Which means I have researched it quite a bit. It’s just what I do. Educating myself is a major way that I cope with an anxious disposition. After all, God did declare, through the prophet Hosea, ‘my people perish for lack of knowledge.’ I like to make good and sure that I don’t resemble that observation.

But I digress. In short: I’ve known for a while that Be Still is used in New Age religions. ‘Be Still and know that I am God’ is a mantra to affirm human divinity. I found at least one spiritual guru, in a quick google search, who admits that he prefers using this Bible verse over those found in the (Hindu) Vedas; (paraphrasing him from this link). Chanting this Psalm, as if you are saying it about yourself, affirms that one actually is God*. (*if you believe that; which I do not).

Contrast that with the belief that God alone is God; which is the cornerstone of Biblical Christianity. The Bible teaches that Jesus is the stone that does not break. There are but two choices in Biblical Christianity: be willingly broken, (aka born again), take up your cross and follow Jesus, and live eternally. Or, resist being broken, only to be utterly broken against your will, and die eternally.

Meanwhile the therapized meaning of be still is compelling in our fast paced world: quiet your mind. Focus on your breath. Calm down and submit. Contain your fear and thereby retrain your neural networks to stop firing off stress hormones…the visual might look like this: (I love her sunglasses, btw)

photo of woman riding swing in front of waterfalls

But when reading Psalm 46 in context (reading at least a chapter before and after a single verse can give the context), it talks of devastation.

A visual from this psalm would look a bit like the aftermath of a hurricane or earthquake that was followed up by a world-wide civil war, which God then stepped in and stopped.

abandoned aged architecture black and whiteSome words used are: earth melting, mountains quaking and falling into the heart of the sea, as well as the failing of entire kingdoms/nations. All of that is countered with the steadfast goodness of God, and with God’s permanence on His throne.

Psalm 46:8-10 reads:

Come and see what the Lord has done,
    the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

In other words, God is allowing the earth to natural-disaster-its-self up to the very end of the end. To those nations still clashing and resisting, He offers the following rebuke: “Be still and know that I am God… I will be exalted.”

Jesus used similar language when He told a raging sky and sea: Be Still! (it then became still). His disciples were in the boat with Him. Witnessing His power over creation likely caused them to tremble in new ways as they wondered who He was. Throughout the gospel accounts, Jesus soothed His disciples fears of Him as they become more assured of their salvation through Him alone. The source of greatest fear also became its reliever. As John Newton famously wrote in Amazing Grace, ‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear; and grace my fears relieved.’ Similarly, scripture tells us that fear is the beginning of wisdom.

Knowing that I am in the boat with Jesus and that He can, by a single word, quiet the storm; it is that which quiets my earthly fears and reworks them into a proper and pure fear of God, and thereby God’s grace can allay those fears very well. Basically: self-absorbed fears are made small and inconsequential in the face of my fear and love of an awesome God. Taking that powerful fear to the very source is then the only thing which can bring true peace and trust in Him.

In summation: I do not believe the phrase Be Still is telling us that we are God. Nor is it urging us to be quiet or to check out of our reality in order that we can have fewer fears, more inner peace, or grow closer to God through silence or immobility. Oh, it is very good to carve out quiet time; Jesus did that often. I’m not saying it is not. And we are to take every thought captive to Christ; so capturing our fear-based thoughts and retraining our damaged neural networks can be a worthy pursuit as well. (I’ve been doing it for several years now).

Rather, I am pointing out that Psalm 46 is far more worshipful than a mere entreaty to take some ‘down time’ for ourselves.

It is a rebuke that God alone is God; and we are not. It is a call to TRUST Him, to worship Him, to quit being afraid of the storm which He can stop with one word. Faith put not in Christ Consciousness or inner divinity**; but in the actual, living, resurrected, ruler of the universe: God/Man = Jesus.

To me entering into worship of Creator God is much more powerful at retraining my self-absorbed brain than simply being still for a few moments so my neural networks can re-fire properly. Which is another reason why I think Psalm 46:10 isn’t actually about me, or my need for quiet time. It’s about Him. Amazing, Powerful, Worthy-of-Worship, Almighty–HIM.

So I hope ‘they’ (whoever they are) keep right on slapping Be Still on interstate signs and t-shirts. Because I like all the reminders that God is God (and I am not).

(Disclaimer: these are my personal opinions and beliefs as of this writing. I reserve the right to change my opinions based upon new information and study.)

**If you seek a deeper Christian perspective, I love the testimony and teachings of Warren B. Smith, a social worker and former New Age follower. To paraphrase him, he was once ‘dressed all in orange telling everyone he was divine’ yet somehow even in that; he became a born-again Christian.

 

 

 

Inner Vows (and why I am renouncing them in my recovery).

close up of padlocks on railing against sky

Here are some examples of what an inner vow might look/sound like:

I will not let myself get hurt again.

I will not let someone catch me with my guard down again.

I will protect myself better next time.

I won’t find myself in that compromising position again.

You really can’t trust anybody!

When I first heard about breaking inner vows in therapy, I was confused. I also questioned if such a thing made any real difference. I mean even scripture says to guard your own heart, right??? I thought that’s what I was doing when telling myself to be on better guard next time…

Then I randomly came across the subject of vows and pledges on a Jewish blog. Once a year on Yom Kippur (Jewish New Year), ceremonies include renouncing all the vows and pledges which were made the prior year, including both intentional, and unintentional ones. Indeed, not making hasty vows, not swearing by God or anything in heaven or on earth, letting your yes be a yes and your no be a no — is clearly affirmed by Jesus Christ Himself! Without getting into a huge theology discussion here (feel free to do your own study–it’s a fascinating subject!), there is very real power in words. Particularly if we phrase them as promises, declarations, and/or oaths.

Therefore I began to see what my therapist was getting at. I noticed just how many intentional, and also unintentional, inner vows I had made over my lifetime. I was shocked. And I still ‘go there’ quickly as a defensive response.

In short: I couldn’t control what had happened to me in childhood and I still have very little real control over other’s actions toward me. In an effort to regain a sense of control I made oaths to protect myself. In so doing I also cursed and bound up my ability to receive and give love in relationship with others. Like putting a lock on my heart and tossing the key. The curse needed to be reversed by the one who made it (me), if I was to experience a fullness of heart and come out from the ‘numbing’ effects of abuse and anxiety disorder. I think I’ve been doing that, now. Plus I’m learning, and trying to put into practice, passively accepting hard things — without numbing out again, or, to use scriptural terms: hardening my heart in response.

I thought all of the above examples of inner vows, and more too numerous to write down. I even said many of these aloud in conversations with others. The issue being that even the quiet unspoken pledges I had made held very real power in my mind and heart. They shaped my relational behaviors. I know better now. But actually living life without making such statements and declarations is an ongoing process. Which is why I was so intrigued by the Jewish practice of erasing all the intentional and unintentional vows each new year!

Part of renouncing is sitting down and doing just that–admitting and renouncing the oath you once made to yourself. The other part is not relying on a simple statement you repeat once a year but actually working out a vow-free life; in real life–for me that means making myself vulnerable (easing into it–starting slow and letting trust build naturally), finding friends and loved ones who have already proven themselves to be ‘safe’ with a small amount and opening up more and more. It also means recognizing those who are not safe spaces and guarding my self around them; without needing to make an actual vow because I am fully trusting myself and God in that process.

It is a practice and a process to give and receive trust. To know who is trustworthy and to not feel guilty about moving around those who have proven they are not.

Inner vows were binding me in so many ways. I’d give trust away too easily to all the wrong people and places (Social Media is generally not a safe place to share the depths of one’s heart, for instance) and then knee-jerk hole up all over again with a fresh litany of pledges and oaths to do avoid this or that in the future.

Anyone else pondered this subject of making declarations and inner vows?

Please feel free to share any other examples of inner vows and ways to break them.

 

Magnesium, Fish oil, Vitamin B&D (MyAnxietyDiet#2)

bunch of white oval medication tablets and white medication capsules

The theory in nutritional therapy is that you need to remove offenders from your diet and/or add in the nutrients which you are missing.

Therefore I avoid and I add.

A few years ago I saw blue bottles of ‘Natural Calm’ (magnesium citrate) popping up at all my health food haunts. Magnesium deficiency can contribute to feelings of anxiousness and muscle pain and tension and constipation. If you are magnesium deficient you might also have strong cravings for chocolate. But there is not a medical test available to see if actually are magnesium deficient. I had many of the usual symptoms so I bought a bottle of Natural Calm.

It didn’t do much. A few times I think it actually made me more anxious. (welcome to the life of a highly sensitive individual). It also made me very bloated. Every. Single. Time. The label said to work up your tolerance to the point where it causes you loose stools and then back off a bit and maintain that level. All it did was bloat me. Loose stools never came.

Later on in my journey I learned that magnesium comes in different forms. Sensitive people like me don’t do the best with magnesium citrate as it is harder to digest. I bought a canister of powdered magnesium malate by the company Seeking Health and that gave me some relief to tense muscles. It did not cause any bloating or other negative digestion effects. The effect on my anxiety was marginal; mainly I was less anxious because my muscles weren’t as painful.

Some foods that are naturally high in magnesium include cacao powder (I switched to that instead of cocoa in baking, and also use it now and then in a smoothie), pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, almonds and cashews, lentils, beans, bananas, leafy greens, and avocados. I do not regularly use a magnesium supplement anymore but I do regularly eat many of the above foods.

Cod liver oil supplements can restore fatty acid balance as they are high in Omega 3 fats. The average American diet is high in Omega 6 fats, which cause inflammation. Soybean, cottonseed, corn oils, margarine and shortening (Crisco), and grain fed meats are the usual offenders. Cheap oils, like soy or cottonseed, are also found in many processed foods: cookies, cereals, salad dressings, mayonnaise, the cheaper the food the more likely it is to have a high omega 6 content. I switched to natural mayonnaise, palm oil shortening, and searched (and am still searching!) for healthier salad dressings; or I make homemade dressing with good olive oil.

It was fish oil supplements which helped our son heal from the rash he’d developed from gluten, as avoiding gluten wasn’t enough. We used straight up cod liver oil, lemon flavored, (but disgusting nonetheless). The exact kind we used so effectively at first has now morphed into something else with krill and shrimp etc. instead of actual cod livers… We used the brand: Nordic Naturals. It had a very high content of Omega 3’s in it (I read all the labels on what was available and chose one which was the purist and also had a solid level of Omega 3’s.). The omega 3 level in fish oil ‘pills’ that I could find at the time were so negligible I knew we’d be better off choking down a daily teaspoon of oil. I still occasionally take a teaspoon of it. But mostly, I just try to eat more fatty ocean fish and am mindful of the oils I use in cooking.

Vitamin B12 deficiency is common in people who are gluten intolerant. It is also well known to cause neurological, heart/circulation, and mental health issues. For a long while I took sublingual B12 tablets to manage tingling in my hands as well as feelings of nervousness, which sometimes included a racing heart. It helped. You just need to look for B12 which comes in the form of Methyl Cobalamin. When my PTSD hit, though, it no longer helped. In fact, there were times that taking a tablet seemed to make it worse.

Same with Vitamin D, people who are gluten intolerant are likely to be deficient in Vitamin D. Thankfully this is one deficiency which is very easy to test for at a Doctor’s office. (It does include a blood draw though-not fun). I have mine tested yearly now and have cleared up a deficiency by using a 2,000IU D3 supplement by Garden of Life brand. I do not take it year round. In the winter if I am unable to be outside at all, I take one pill a day, when I remember (which isn’t every day).

I know a lot of people who take double that amount. For me, I do best with conservative approaches to most everything. As far as Vitamin D regulation: after the PTSD flared I started to intentionally sit in the sun for at least twenty minutes a day, just to heal. It was one thing which helped me more than any other thing–just getting outdoors. Birdwatching. Reading books. Actually smelling the roses instead of frantically trimming them to perfection. In the winter we leave our porch furniture put. Even if I have to scrape snow off the chairs and don a coat, hat AND blanket I try to sit there and get sunshine whenever possible.

nature animals pig alp rona

There are many foods high in Vitamin D: free-range eggs, fatty ocean fish, fortified cereals and milks, mushrooms, and I once read that free-range pork rinds have the highest levels of Vitamin D of any food available–more than ocean fish even. The pigs need to have spent a lot of time outdoors under the sun though, wherein is the rub.

Sadly, I haven’t been able to find any pork rinds that are labeled as ‘free range’. A shame, really.

Like pigs, I don’t do well with confinement indoors. Diet isn’t enough–I also need to be outside; and I need to live in the light!!

Gluten Makes Me Angry (MyAnxietyDiet#1)

wheat bread slices

Gluten makes me angry and irritable, tired but wired, achy, moody (up one minute and down the next) and prone to headaches and stomachaches. When consuming gluten I alternate between constipation and diarrhea, have painful and irregular menstruation, and feel a lack of appetite after eating bread or pizza, followed with an insatiable need to eat and eat without feeling full.

Eating gluten also affects my temperature tolerance. I was always cold yet I could not tolerate much heat and humidity. My spouse and children are the same but one son also gets skin rashes.

As a family we gained back our summers, doing more outdoor activities. Walking around county and state fairs without someone falling to the side with a bad headache and discomfort. Boating and swimming on hot days without the usual flares of anger at one another. We could do yard work without complaint. Now when someone tells me they can’t tolerate heat and humidity, I have to wonder if they are intolerant to gluten.

Some people can go gluten free for a while and then be fine eating it again. I have realized that’s not me, though. When I lapse, the above symptoms come back.

It is beneficial to me but it wasn’t and isn’t easy. Going gluten free in the beginning was very hard and there were negligible changes. Real improvements came after about a year of avoidance. This was a decade ago, before stores had gluten free labels all over the place. Every label had to be read (which doubled my time grocery shopping). Gluten free bread cost seven dollars a loaf and tasted like compressed paper. Now you can find it for five bucks a loaf (still insane, I know) but (so long as it is toasted) the quality is much improved.

We mostly avoided gluten free products in the beginning due to cost, our disgust with the taste, and unavailability. We ate food which was naturally gluten free. Rice, rice and beans, potatoes, meat and vegetables. I tried lentils and chickpeas, sorghum and millet, for the first time. We grew a bigger garden and built a root cellar to store homegrown potatoes.

We wasted less food. Leftovers from meals were often fought over, or labeled with names, in the fridge. I remember the days of throwing out leftovers or the heels of cheap wheat bread without a second thought. When a small loaf of bread is five bucks you end up saving every crumb and heel in the freezer and using it for stuffing or breading! I spent far more time in the kitchen than I had prior. I love cooking and being in the kitchen so that was good. Rearranging my busy mom/business owner life so that I could spend more time there was complicated. Looking back, though, I’m glad to have spent more time at home and less at the office; when my children were still growing.

It took a long time to figure out that things like licorice, certain kinds of beef jerky, soy sauce, and the fries at McDonalds are not gluten free (whoops).

I am convinced my body pain would have led me to therapy a few years sooner than it did, had I not gone gluten free when I did. (Though, maybe entering therapy sooner would have been a good thing!?). For several years my digestion was ‘regular’ and easy and my body pain nearly disappeared.

But, the mind still has a huge role in our physical health and well being; and vice versa. In the end, my buried trauma did not disappear with the gluten…my digestion acted up again, hence over the years I kept tweaking my diet further. Body pain kept surfacing in my upper back and neck, so I sought out physical therapy and then eventually cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy.

When I began CBT we looked at my diet and my therapist told me that being gluten free would give me a leg up in the recovery process. Research shows a strong link between gluten intolerance, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

You may be skeptically wondering: why have people been eating wheat for thousands of years and now nearly everyone claims to be intolerant to it?

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

I wondered the same. And I still don’t know. In all the reading I’ve done, though, the simplest theory I found is that in the 1930’s and 40’s strains of wheat, mostly untouched from Bible times, was hybridized for higher yields. Thereby the natural gluten content of wheat was increased (Norman Borlaug won a Nobel Peace Prize for this work, because he ended famine around the world). A dietary staple that once yielded ten bushels an acre was now capable of yielding forty to fifty. This was, overall, a good thing. It ended famines around the world!

Most advancements (cell phones and computers, for instance), are the same. While they bring a host of good to the world, there are always, always, many downsides too.

Either way, I just want to clarify that I don’t ‘hate’ gluten. I think it’s a lovely thing! I miss it dearly!

However, gluten seems to hate me.

Gluten makes bread chewy and that’s what I miss the most. So on days when I just want some chewy bread, I make my own yeast-free flatbread, and it only takes about twenty minutes (with cooking time)! You may need to wait longer than that just for the oven to heat up…Chewy bread is really hard to find in a processed gluten free product, so I cheat the process and add some psyllium husk (psyllium husk is the main ingredient in Metamucil), you should be able to find it at a health food store. Otherwise, here is the brand I like.

This is also the bread recipe we use when we want to have a home-based communion, or for our family Passover meals in the spring. So when you score it with a knife and fork, if you are so inclined, you can make the sign of the cross on the round, and the fork marks are reminders of Jesus stripes and wounds bringing us healing and salvation.

On days when I am feeling particularly repentant and/or thankful, making this flat bread, and going through the process of scoring it with a knife and watching it bake up in that hot oven is also very healing for my spirit.

Easy Gluten Free Flat Bread

Preheat oven to 450 degrees (or 475 if your oven tends to run on the colder side). Prepare a baking sheet or a pizza pan with a piece of parchment paper. It is best if the baking sheet or pizza pan has ‘holes’ in it, but it should work with any pan. Just be sure to use a sheet of parchment paper.

In a small mixing bowl put the following in the exact order shown

  • 1 T psyllium husk mixed with 3 T very warm water until it forms a thick gel
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t oil (sesame or canola oil is best)
  • 1 t honey
  • 1 Cup GF flour of choice (Namaste GF flour is the ‘stickiest’ brand I’ve found so if you are looking for a chewier bread you can try that brand. Otherwise you can use 1/2 cup brown rice flour, 1/4 cup tapioca starch and 1/4 cup potato starch)

Mix all the above with a fork until it is well mixed and forms a ball in the bowl. Spread, with moistened fingers, in a circle onto the parchment covered cookie sheet or pizza pan until it is about a half inch thick and fairly uniform. If the dough is sticky, keep wetting your fingers with fresh water and press it into a circle. Score the circle with a knife, up and down and left to right. Prick all over with a fork (optional).

Bake for five-seven minutes in 450 degree oven and then flip over to the other side and continue baking for another five-seven minutes.

This is best eaten fresh and still warm. But it will keep for about a day on the counter.

 

 

 

 

 

My Anxiety Diet–the foods (and fads) which helped. (Introductory Post)

food on tableA niggling voice is urging me to share some of the dietary changes that helped me deal with anxiety, stress, and various physical ailments. I don’t enjoy technical writing,  so I have resisted doing it. To lessen the discomfort–I am hoping to break it down into a series of shorter posts over the next few days/weeks.

I have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder (and later diagnosed with PTSD). Even prior to that diagnoses, I had health ailments and a ‘nervous disposition.’ Therefore I tried a LOT of diets and supplements to try to mitigate the effects. There were specific times I believe I was led, by God, to make changes in our cupboards. Other changes were made for our entire household and for the benefit of my spouse and children. (My BHH’s family has celiac disease in its genes and we have all been gluten-free for about a decade).

As part of the cognitive behavioral therapy method that I chose: eliminating sugar, caffeine, and alcohol was a requirement in the beginning phase of recovery (cigarettes and recreational drugs were also included–but I was not using those). I must confess that even at my sickest I did not entirely eliminate sugar, and I used natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. I didn’t always share those ‘slips’ with my therapist who asked probing questions about my food intake each week. I had known, from prior dietary experience, that my body did well (and didn’t ‘spike’) when using natural sweeteners in exchange for sugar; particularly when using real maple syrup–that was one sweetener that just ‘agreed’ with me and my system.

I did, however, eliminate caffeine and alcohol entirely for a while. They are now relegated to special occasions. A ‘healing’ vacation to the Carribean is not the same without indulging in the best coffee ever! Saturday mornings on the back porch also deserve a ‘real’ cup of coffee. My son’s college graduation and entry into the real world of job/career was christened with a bottle of bubbly on ice. So, even at that I made/make exceptions.

And I still eat junk food. I can tell you where all the gluten-free french fries and taco trucks can be found; in three towns around my own. I can also rate them for crispiness and quality…Clearly I’m not a purist about diet. I’m more of a ‘foodie’ at heart. But I do believe dietary changes have improved the quality of my life and helped me heal. I do not, however, believe that what worked for me will carte-blanche work for everyone. I think it is about listening to your own body, and praying, and trusting where God might be leading you.

In my ongoing recovery from anxiety disorder and PTSD, I worked with a nutritionist specializing in PTSD and anxiety recovery. Furthermore, I have been guided by various healthcare professionals who have stressed dietary changes along with lifestyle changes.

I have found, in sharing with others, that it is unusual to find modern healthcare professionals who address dietary changes with their patients. Niche naturalists, healers, chiropractors and yogis (et al) will stress dietary changes. But I haven’t actually been to any of those. Much of my dietary-change-advice was coming from men and women in white coats! Strange because M.D.’s don’t always get along the best with the gurus in the strip malls selling diets and herbs and supplements. As a friend recently shared, her doctor rolled her eyes when she mentioned a supplement she was taking– after seeing it on Dr. Oz.

Yet the medical professionals who helped me in my efforts to improve my quality of (an anxious) life have suggested dietary changes time and again. One woman literally dropped her mouth when I shared that after a colonoscopy/endoscopy, the surgeon who did the procedure sat me down and told me I don’t have celiac or IBS or any issues with reflux in my esophagus but my stomach looks redder than it ought and he thinks I ought to try the FODMAP diet and see if that calms down my digestion…the astonished woman had simply never heard of a negative colonoscopy/endoscopy ending with obscure dietary advice...let alone advice coming from the specialist doing the colonoscopy. Meanwhile, I had grown used to hearing such off-the-wall things at doctor visits. And I began to research FODMAPS while chalking it all up to another ‘God’ thing.

Therefore I think I am (somewhat) qualified to write ‘technically’ about this subject, based on all of my real world experiences. However, I’m not entirely convinced I actually want to write about it (again, because I dislike tehcnical writing!).

But, here I am now, writing about it

I will try to keep it as pain-free as possible.