It gets better

Life can be painfully hard. I’ve written before about my struggles with mental illness and ADHD, losing people I love, bullying,  sickness, alopecia and autoimmune disorder, obesity and my physical health. I’ve even at times mentioned these concurrently, each overlapping and coinciding with one (or several) others. At my lowest point I was chin-deep in undiagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression, I was morbidly obese and unhealthy, my hair was falling out and I was being bullied at work. But that isn’t what I want to talk about today. I think we can all agree that at some point in their lives everyone will hit rock bottom.

What I want to talk about is how happy I am.

I don’t often go out of my way to discuss how wonderful my life is these days, not least because it’s so easy to get caught up in the stresses of day-to-day living. I also don’t want to brag. Every day people go through struggles I can’t comprehend; talking about how fortunate I am for the things I have seems tacky somehow.

But here’s the real deal: I’m happy. I love my life. It is full of wonderful people and amazing experience. Yes, sometimes stuff sucks. Sometimes stuff is hard. Sometimes I cry. But I am happy. Those two things are not mutually exclusive.

The point I am trying to make is that dejection, loneliness, misery, heartache… These things aren’t permanent. They’re transient. They come and go like waves on the ocean and, like my life now, can co-exist with happiness, prosperity, pride and success. I still have alopecia and ADHD. I still have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I. Still. Get. Sad. But there is light and hope and this is what I allow to define me.

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If you feel like you are in the dark, that there is nowhere to turn, that things will never improve then please speak to someone. A doctor, a friend, a family member, a compassionate stranger on the internet, Lifeline. Please ask for help. Asking for help is so hard it seems impossible but I promise you it is easier than carrying on alone. And it’s worth it. Always.

If you know someone who needs help please send this on. Ask them if they’re okay. Talk to them about Lifeline or seeking help. Listen to them. The suicide statistics in New Zealand are horrifying, especially among young people. If this post, or someone who reads this post, can help even one person then I have achieved everything I could hope for.

It will get better. It won’t always be this way. Kia kaha.



Week 1: Gluten- and sugar free

It’s the end of my first week of gluten- and sugar- free eating and there have been some highs and some lows and some compromises.

HIGHS

  • I do not crave sugar. Not at all. I don’t even miss fizzy drink – the one thing I thought I could never live without.
  • I don’t feel the size of a house anymore. Seriously, I used to feel like Good Year could have paid me to hover in the air over sporting matches.
  • I have more energy. This is the one that has surprised me the most; I was expecting improvements but the speed at which they have come is insane.

 

LOWS

  • I caved and ate naan bread on Friday and it was a Very Bad Decision. Lesson learned.
  • Sometimes, especially when socialising, I have to choose between sugar and gluten. This is hard. Very hard. Sugar.
  • Certain meals are starting to feel a little repetitive and boring. I need to work on variety.

 

COMPROMISES

  • I am drinking a glass of cranberry juice a day in place of fizzy drink. It’s acidic enough that I don’t want too much of it but sweet enough to make me feel I haven’t lost anything. It’s also naturally high in vitamins and minerals and low in fructose. I’m careful to choose a brand that doesn’t have added sugar.
  • Fructose and lactose: I gave up refined/processed sugar and am still happy to have fruit sugars and milk sugars in my diet in moderation.
  • Coffee: I drink more of this now than I used to. Which leads me on to
  • Equal: I put this in my coffee. It’s the only artificial sweetener I am having. I hate the things but hey, they don’t call them compromises for nothing.

 

So how am I feeling overall? Great! My anxiety has been better controlled this week (which may or may not be a coincidence) and I managed to settle to my university work more easily than I did last week. I also don’t feel as bloated and awful as I have been lately. B+!

 

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Healing through food

Let me start with the background: I have both ADHD and Alopecia. ADHD (also known as ADD and yes, there is no difference) is a condition which affects the chemistry in my brain and the way it processes thoughts and external stimuli. ADHD makes me susceptible to chronic distraction, procrastination, impulsive decision making, forgetfulness, anxiety, depression, social isolation and increased instances of shame related to the way my behaviour differs from others. Whilst I have experienced all of these symptoms they are only some of a larger list widely recognised by scientists and doctors. I highly recommend reading the Adult ADHD page of the ADHD Association of NZ’s website for more information on adult ADHD and the broad spectrum its effects can cover.

Alopecia, meanwhile, is an autoimmune condition which causes my body to view my hair follicles as an invading hoard of bandits which must be stopped at all costs. This, in turn, overtaxes my immune system and results in myriad small problems such as fatigue, malaise, muscular aches, increased frequency of colds and viruses, increased difficulties with and time taken healing, and an increased frequency of scarring and bruising. And hair loss. Let’s not forget the hair loss. Sometimes just patches on the head, sometimes the whole head. Or, in my case, the whole body. Essentially, my immune system is so busy trying to deal with fighting itself it doesn’t have the capabilities to do all it does in healthy people. I highly recommend reading this article on the commonalities between most autoimmune disorders for a better understanding of the overarching effects.

So why the life history? No, it’s not just to moan and feel special. It’s because at the age of 26 I have finally decided to do some research and make some serious changes. And all the research I have done points to two common contributing factors which could well be making my life harder: sugar and gluten.

There are blogs and articles and stories all over the internet about people who have gone gluten or sugar free and found improvements in their alopecia and other autoimmune problems. This one about Hashimoto’s Syndrome is particularly persuasive. But despite all this talk there is very little scientific evidence of any link between the two (save for this article). I think part of the reason for this is so little focus is put into cross-conditional research and diagnosis. At present you see a doctor for your symptoms, not your root cause. If you have digestive problems you may see a gastroenterologist. If you have pain problems you may see a neurologist. If you have alopecia you get a wig or you shave your head. There is no other option. There is no alopecia doctor.

Add to the huge array of anecdotal evidence around autoimmune conditions the research that has been done around gluten, sugar and ADHD and the idea becomes quite persuasive. This article suggests ADHD is largely the result of undiagnosed food sensitivities. This study goes further and suggests a possible correlation between Celiac’s Disease and ADHD. This study, even more specifically, suggests a possible link between sugar and Celiac’s.

The evidence is by no means overwhelming but how can I ignore it when such a small change to my life could reap such huge improvements? What harm can it do me? I need to quit sugar, primarily fizzy drink, anyway. There’s no doubt sugar is bad for you: It can cause tooth decay, gut imbalances, energy problems and excessive weight gain; it is also thought to be eight times more addictive than cocaine. The World Health Organisation recommends an adult woman’s diet contain no more than 5% sugar daily. One can of Coke contains almost half that. Half! And that’s for one drink! Remember that most other foods you eat will have some small portion of sugar in them too. The Consumer Institute of NZ has an RDI calculator on their page which takes into account age, gender, weight and lifestyle. I recommend checking your RDIs. I know I was shocked.

So I have decided to cut gluten and processed sugar from my diet. With the exception of fructose and lactose (fruit and milk), I intend 95% of the things I eat for the next 3 months to contain no more than 5% sugar and no wheat-based gluten. I say 95% because no one is perfect and I say wheat-based gluten because oats can contain low levels of gluten through contamination but are not known to affect Celiac’s.

What do you think? Is there a possibility you have foods you’re sensitive to in your diet? Do you think cutting gluten and sugar could be good for you?

 

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Two seconds in my head

Oh! An idea!
Oh, I’m doing something else.
Right, stop that and think about the idea.
That’s a pretty important idea.
Shit, I don’t wanna forget that.
I wanna do that now.
But I can’t stop what I’m doing.
If I don’t do it now I’ll forget it.
Ooh, I could write it down!
Yep, I should write it down.
Where should I write it?
My notepad.
Where’s that?
My handbag?
And a pen?
Same place.
I should get those things.
Where’s my handbag.
Just behind me.
I like this handbag.
I should fold that laundry.
Focus.
Notepad: got it.
I like this notepad.
Mum gave it to me.
Focus. Open the notepad.
Oh, a picture!
Focus. Don’t look at that picture.
Hey, other notes.
Don’t read those now.
Focus.
Get pen.
I like this pen.
A friends gave me this ages ago.
I like the rhythm of clicking it.
Click.
Click.
Click.
Focus!
Right. Skip to a blank page.
Write down that idea.
What was that idea again?
Shit.