When I was first diagnosed with mental illness I thought it was traditional western medicine’s job to fix it for me. It seemed as though the answer was pretty straight forward: take my meds, see my therapist, go to classes and everything will get better eventually, right? Not necessarily. What I’d been unknowingly handed in that moment in time was a call to action that went light years beyond the aforementioned docket . It was a call to get a real grip on the who, what, why, when, and how of my illness.
It hit me about 4 or 5 years into my journey when I realized that as much effort as I was putting into the assigned duties of managing my illness, that I’d hit a wall with my progress and wasn’t getting any better. As per usual whenever I got hit by something major, I got desperate. Except this time the desperation led me to want to understand where all of this was coming from because, maybe, if I could start untangle this web that had been weaved over 20+ years of my life that continued to run and ruin my life, I could get to the root of my issues and remedy them on a level that doctors and prescription medicine couldn’t touch.
I started with research. I figured if I wasn’t going to get out of bed or leave the house in the first place, I may as well spend the time educating myself. I began by just googling my illnesses and learning about them, what’s behind them, and other people’s experiences with them. I knew there had to be another way out.
Mental illness for me wasn’t just a chemical imbalance that decided to show itself as soon as I no longer had ‘teen’ following my age. It wasn’t just the stress of adult life becoming insurmountable. It wasn’t just a congenital disorder that I’d inherited. Turned out it was all those things, and more. What I’d learned is that it had always been there in the form of PTSD from the trials I’d endured in my life thus far, genetic predisposition, and likely my history of operating purely on survival skills, lying in wait for me to drop my guard and be able to succumb. Waiting for the point in my life where I was no longer forced to just cope and slog on. Waiting for me to open up just enough to start to feel feelings, and through this process, allow myself to heal.
I had no idea what the healing process was made up of at the time. I thought I’d been broken down to this bottom-of-the-barrel level of existence. I thought all this weight I knew I’d been carrying but never had the chance to acknowledge was culminating in this explosive, all-consuming shit storm that was actively destroying my life as I knew it. I thought I had no solution as to how to bootstrap myself out of this on my own. I was right on all counts, but somewhere deep inside myself I knew the healing had to go deeper than just talking it out weekly, and chemically balancing neurotransmitters daily with my doctorate cohorts, and hoping for the best. What I’d unknowingly come upon by my own accord, was a functional medicine approach to my illness.
While traditional medicine aims at solving the problem chemically, functional medicine works toward the actual root and cause of the problem itself. It digs so much deeper than the band-aid that comes in the form of a prescription pill, and aims to treat the whole person, not just their symptoms. Bingo. This was my call to work to find another solution to breaking down my recovery wall. I went deeper into myself to try and find out what it was inside me that wasn’t being conventionally healed, and how I could work on it more unconventionally. I knew it was going to get worse before it got better but I was in for the ride because I felt like I had few options left, and I refused to give up on myself.
No matter how painful the things I was feeling at the time were, once I began actually paying attention to them instead of trying to mute them and make them go away, I started realizing I had something in me. I could almost feel it in my core as though something was stuck there, not necessarily in just my brain. It no longer felt like an illness of my mind, it was in my being. My mind and emotions were working against me in tandem with this thing; a pain, or trauma, or demon, or scar or whatever seems most appropriate to call it, that kind of didn’t want to let go. It wasn’t ready to heal, but it kept rearing its ugly head every time something would trigger it. I didn’t know my triggers well enough at the time to be able to tame it on my own, but I knew I had to do something about it to get me over this last, albeit massive hurdle, and onto the other side of illness.
With a new understanding of my illness, I went the complete opposite direction of western medicine and began researching every alternative therapy I could find. How else could I bring healing into my mind, body, and emotion, and what was the right way for me to go about it? Not unlike induction into western medicine, it’s a lot of trial and error. I just tried my best to be as deliberate and instinctively guided as I could about the decisions I made. I’d also found that once I began paying attention to my feelings that my personal intuition as to what was right for me, and what was going to bring me the right kind of healing at the time I needed it, got a lot stronger. I already felt better relying on my inner guidance rather than the doctor’s.*
It’s like working from the inside out rather than the outside in. I started with a lot of self-reflection, and attempting to uncover and face whatever that thing was inside me that was so volatile and needed so much healing. I knew meditation would be a key factor for me, I did a 10-day silent Vipassana course, as well as making a habit of frequently practicing at home. I started realizing what I was putting in my body with my convenience food diet, I cleaned up and went vegetarian. I learned about the gut-brain connection, and how I had completely disrupted it by constantly being in fight or flight mode because of my illness, so I began seeing a naturopath to detox my system and get it back on track without prescription drugs. We all know exercise is a big deal when it comes to wellness, I began running a few miles a few times a week. I kept going to therapy because I’d finally found a great psychologist who gave me one of the best tools ever, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I realized the energetic force or being within me and how important harmony is within it, and I began going to acupuncture. Once I became more energetically sensitive I began also seeing a Shamanic healer to get a deeper regular energetic cleanse and re-balance. Most importantly I never stopped educating myself on how to quell the different facets of my illness as I continue on my path to wellness.
I now feel free of the thing that had its grip on me, and I was eventually able to slowly quit medication all together. This has been a process over the last 4-5 years though, and nothing ever happened overnight. If anything, holistic healing takes longer to see results because you’re specifically aiming for the root of the cause instead of band-aiding it. Sometimes it almost felt true to the adage “if it doesn’t burn, it’s not working”. Over time my tools and implements have become dynamic, I don’t do all of them all the time. I do what I need to, as I see fit. I prescribe my own regimen to myself and I’m really grateful to be in a place where I can successfully do that. My hope with this project is to be able to help others do the same for themselves, however they see fit based on what they feel is right for them.
Peace, love, and wellness.
*I want to make a disclaimer that I do not disregard or dismiss traditional western medicine on the whole in any way. It served its purpose in my life and does so for many people. I felt as thought I had personally exhausted the modality by the time I began seeking out alternative therapies.