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Mental Health Awareness Week 2018; My Story

It was May 2013.  The Boston Bombings had happened a month before.  I was sitting in a restaurant with a friend, a new trendy eatery in Somerville, and we were psyched that we finally got a reservation.  

Talking and catching up like we normally do, I suddenly felt sick to my stomach and unable to eat anymore.  My heart raced, throbbing into my throat, I felt light headed, and tears flowed down my cheeks. The floor was sinking below me and I was having difficulty breathing.  What followed was what I now know to be an anxiety attack. I felt trapped, like I was scratching to get out of a windowless, locked basement.

Although I had been under the care of a psychotherapist since my late teens on and off, this moment in the restaurant was the most pivotal in my mental health journey.  I was 41, married 1.5 years, thriving in my Copley Square Acupuncture practice. From the outside, things appeared great.  But inside, I was scrambling, trying to make sense of what was going on with me. I would be driving home from work at 8:30 at night from Boston, and I would feel helpless, like a dark shadow had enveloped me and robbed me of air.  Or I’d be washing dishes and would start crying ‘for no reason’.

The bombings happened a half of a block from my office.  I wasn’t there that day, because working on Marathon Monday in Copley Square was a menace for my patients and myself.  My husband and I did enjoy a yearly tradition of taking the day off and going to watch the marathon, often meeting up with friends along the way.  That year, we discussed going to the finish line, since we never did it before. I always felt that I got my dose of marathon energy simply by working there everyday, observing the metamorphosis of Copley Square from a bustling business district to an even busier hub of excited runners and tourists in a two week time span.  When a friend asked at the last minute if we wanted to go to Killington that day for some inexpensive spring snowboarding, we quickly hopped on that opportunity, because...snow!

We spent the day in Vermont, blissfully trying to link turns in sticky spring snow and sun, taking pictures of our happy faces with our phones that had no reception.  After the lifts finally closed and we absorbed a little more après-ski sunshine at one of the outdoor pubs, we left the mountain. As we got reception back on our three phones, they started blowing up.  We each had several texts asking, ‘Are you ok?’, ‘Are you safe?’. We learned quickly what had happened in our city, just hours before.

What followed for 3 years after that was me trying to figure out the answers to those questions. Am I ok? Am I safe? Even though I was not physically there, like so many Bostonians, I felt unsafe, and I was not ok.  The Marathon Bombings also triggered a bomb that exploded inside of me that said, ‘Deal with me, now. You cannot ignore me anymore’.

What I know now is that we are packaged into these very smart bodies.  Our body will let us know exactly what we need and what we need to pay attention to.  My body had been giving me clues for a long time, at first in faint whisper, then crescendoing into a loud explosion, inner pain being the shrapnel, scraping my insides until I paid attention.  

I found a new therapist that spring, and worked with her weekly for almost 2 years.  She referred me to a psychopharmacologist, who prescribed me two meds that I didn’t enjoy and stopped taking.  I knew there had to be a better option that worked well for my sensitive system, and ended up finding an Integrative Psychiatry office in Waltham, run by Dr James Greenblatt. Through extensive functional testing and intakes, I was given a diagnosis of Bipolar 2, and received a very comprehensive treatment plan that I felt good about. I was given many supplements based my test results, and I put myself on herbs.  My self care included a very busy schedule of going to many appointments, including chiro, reiki, massage, acupuncture, and craniosacral. You name it, I did it. For the first time in my life, I was committed, to me.

Through the years, I have experimented with diet, eliminating things here and there to figure out what works the best for my body.  I find that I feel best on a paleo(ish) diet, with a little grain here and there for energy, and free of gluten, dairy, caffeine, and processed sugar.  I know it the next day if I have one alcoholic beverage, because it kicks up the depressive symptoms. And if I don’t exercise or practice yoga for a while, I have trouble sleeping, which spirals into other problems. Meditation has become a staple in my routine, the glue that keeps me centered and aware of my reactivities. I’m not perfect, so please don’t assume I’m doing all of these things all the time. I love red wine, margaritas, coffee, and chocolate.  I love to live life and have been known to get a group of women together for the ultimate gastronomic experience in Boston. But I am now aware of what these foods do to my mental emotional health if I consume them, and I plan for it. A green smoothie and a yoga class, for example, work well the day after a glass of wine to get that lymph fluid moving and toxins out of the bloodstream.

In the last two years, I really have been tapping into my spiritual life and exploring new ways to be more present.  I stopped working with my therapist, did EMDR therapy for a while, and then started working with a Shaman, which I love.  I have been more aware of my inner dialogue and how I treat myself. I’ve learned that that voice in my head can be really harsh, often times at a whisper so low, that it took months of getting quiet to really hear it.  Although I don’t doubt that I had Bipolar 2 at one point, I believe that with really good, steadfast self care and mental conditioning, I am cured. I do notice symptoms reappearing sometimes, and now, instead of reacting, I use that as a message from my body and mind that I am out of alignment, or that I need something.  I’m pretty good at keeping up with my chiro, acupuncture, and massage appointments, but sometimes I find that I need to get something off my chest with someone, get outside, laugh, or simply, have a protein-filled meal. Going inward through meditation and asking what is needed has been very helpful.

What I love about being a Wellness Coach and Acupuncturist is that in order to best serve my clients, I need to be in full alignment with myself. I need to practice extreme self care and not waiver in order for my business to be successful.  When my energy is off, my business is off, my clients shift, and they reflect my imbalances. For example, if I am having concerns about money scarcity, a client will show up and try to negotiate my pricing. I used to feel obligated to give discounts to these people, but now I know to say ‘No’, and go within and clear this block.  In order for me to succeed authentically, I need to tune in and find out what needs attention. If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. And often is feels cruddy and is tempting to take the easy route and ignore the signs. But doing the work, and staying consistent, has a much bigger reward, which is extreme growth. Growth!   And, let’s be real--having a mental illness is much more work and expends much more energy, am I right?

I realize that this story may come as a surprise to many of you who know me personally. I have not shared it openly or with too many people. It took me a long time to wrap my head around the diagnosis, and oversharing can become overwhelming when trying to navigate a plan that is going to work for you.  I share this story not because of the label, but because of the process. The process of healing, and growing, and learning. I am grateful for what I’ve been through because of being diagnosed with Bipolar 2. It made me go deep and do the work, and it’s that work that has made my life richer. I now have a life that I don’t take for granted, and the experience has given me the power of discernment when it comes to making decisions, what to say yes to, and who I spend time with.

I share this story because I hope that someone will be able to see the light as a result of my experience.  Please know that my journey is the result of trial and error and learning what worked, for me. The choice to not take medication was not one I took lightly, and as a result it took me longer to find out what supplements, foods, and alternative treatments were going to work for me as an individual.  I also had a family of loving souls surrounding me during this entire process. Even though I wasn’t openly sharing with everyone, I had so much love and support throughout and couldn’t have healed without it. Please find support, please ask for help. People want to help you. People love you. But also, learn what is best for you.  Learn how to listen to your body and follow your intuition, because what works for some may not work for all. But most importantly, learn to surrender and find Grace. Surrendering from my monster mind has made all the difference.

With love,

Angela xo