You know, for years, I thought that my “mental health” issues were all about what went on in my head and my heart. I thought that the depressions I experienced, and the wild mood swings, and the general discontent with my life had to do with some sort of character defect or somesuch.
I got a lot of reinforcement from others for this, too. According to them, if I wasn’t feeling well in my head and my heart, it must be some psychospiritual malady. (I guess it comes with the territory of having lots of therapists for friends.)
Then I had a bad health scare, when someone close to me was hospitalized — out of the blue — with a pretty serious health issue. The crazy thing was, their health issue was totally preventable and it had developed largely as a result of plain old crappy lifestyle choices. Sitting up till 3 a.m. eating chips and cookies and drinking soda, and then sleeping in till 3 p.m., when they would starve themself all day and then eat a huge meal before sitting down in front of the t.v., seemed like a great thing to them… and to be honest, I didn’t think much of it — I just figured that’s how they were — until they ended up lying in a hospital bed in one of those gowns that doesn’t close in the back, with lots of tubes sticking out of them.
We both made some drastic changes. And I credit that crisis with having clued me in to my TBI issues.
How? Because I quit eating all that crap. Granted, I wasn’t up till 3 a.m. every night, chowing down on non-foods, but I took in more than my fair share of candy and cakes and cookies and chips and junk and soda and all those different sorts of “food products” that really gunk up your system. I also drank milk and had anywhere from 4-6 cups of coffee a day. I was constantly going, fueled by processed sugar and cheap carbs and caffeine, and when I crashed, I crashed hard — wiped out and still wired and not sleeping very well.
A lot of my craziest eating really took off after my most recent fall. I had trouble getting going in the morning, so I fell back on sugar and carbs and caffeine to pick me up. And I had trouble relaxing, so I just pushed myself till I dropped. I really depended on the sugar highs, the cheap carb highs, the jolt of coffee and coffee drinks (no Red Bull for me, thanks – I could never stand the taste). And it totally wreaked havoc with my system.
I just kept putting on pounds. Not a ton of weight, but a pound here, a pound there, till about 1/5 of my weight was nothing but fat. To some people that might not seem like a lot, and since I have a tall frame, it didn’t show on me that much, when I was fully clothed. But appearances aside, I just felt like crap.
And I couldn’t figure out why. I knew, in the back of my head, that I should be eating better, but I wasn’t sick all the time, so I must be okay, right?
Well, judging your health by whether or not you’re mortally ill is a lousy way to judge. It wasn’t until I stopped all the junk, started eating regular meals that made good nutritional sense, that I realized just how lousy I’d felt before. Lousy and foggy. What’s more, in the past, when my blood sugar was on a wild see-saw from all that junk food, and my adrenaline was really pumping with all that caffeine, I’d literally been blinded to how bad I actually felt and now much of a negative impact that bad eating had on my thinking and my behavior.
Once I quit chowing down on the junk, a couple of things started to happen:
I started to notice that something was not quite right in my life, and I was having trouble with things that I shouldn’t have been having trouble with (like money and reading and managing my day-to-day).
I realized that if I could notice something was wrong, I could do something about it. I started taking steps to identify and remedy the situations I was in — and in the process of noticing more and more of my issues, I put 2 and 2 together and realized that my fall in 2004 had totally screwed me up…. and that this wasn’t the first time I’d fallen or had my head injured in a way that messed me up for some time after.
While I was still pumped and primed with all that junk, I just raced through life, careening here and there, making a mess of things, but never stopping long enough to really examine what was going on.
Once I stopped the junk and started eating in ways that supported my body and my mind, I was able to commence the very difficult work of piecing my fractured life back together.
If I hadn’t stopped the crappy eating, I’m not sure where I’d be.
Good food was literally — in more ways than one — a lifesaver.