Last week I mentioned that I now think that stress is more of an underlying issue than my diet is when it comes to my chronic illness and issues like ADHD and that focusing on reducing that stress would probably be a more effective lifestyle change than following a restrictive diet. In this post, I’d like to elaborate a little more on why stress is a big factor in chronic illness (and mental health) and some of my sources of stress that I’m trying to reduce and/or cope with better.
One of the things I read that first made me reconsider focusing so much on my diet as way to manage my endometriosis was one about the Autoimmune Protocol (a very restrictive diet I was considering) by Jessica Flanigan called, “When AIP Becomes a Crutch, Not a Cure.” The point of the article was that only changing your diet without taking other, bigger considerations into account might make you feel a little better, but it won’t really get into the core issues. The biggest of these issues is “what you believe about your life,” which is, as she goes on to explain in another article, is profoundly influenced by trauma. Apparently trauma can have an impact on your DNA, along with impacting your emotional/mental/physical health in all the other ways you would expect, so healing and resolving your trauma is critical. Even though there’s no guarantee that healing your traumas will “cure” your illnesses, Flanigan writes, it often changes how much they affect you, whether it means you’re just mentally more able to accept them or sometimes even that your body can handle different kinds of food better. As she says, “Less reactive on the inside = less reactive on the outside.”
This resonated with me, as I personally have experienced trauma. I was sexually abused as a child, and while I thought I had resolved that trauma, a few years ago I realized that I really hadn’t, at all. The more I’ve learned about it and received counseling and EMDR therapy for it, the more I see how much it has colored how I see myself, life, and God. I’m definitely in a better place now than where I was, but I still have a long way to go. But, reading those articles started opening the doors to realizing that dealing with major stressors in my life, like my trauma, are a better place for my focus than changing my diet. As another website about healing endometriosis says, “Stress is the most potent toxin you can remove from your life, yet it often seems like the last thing many of us want to focus on.”
It’s also well-established that depression and anxiety can stem from or are responses to stress, and particularly chronic stress, and obviously, being depressed and anxious affects how you view your life! Unresolved trauma is a particularly intense chronic stressor. I also realized that I’ve had a few other sources of chronic stress that have probably been major factors in my anxiety and depression that have not helped my endometriosis or ADHD.
- Undiagnosed codependency. A codependent person is, according to Melody Beattie in Codependent No More, is "...One who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” I’ve mentioned that I have codependent tendencies in the past, but recently my counselor has helped me see that this is a very big issue for me (it’s linked to perfectionism, for one thing, and goodness knows I struggle with that), and I now attend Codependents Anonymous. I’m sure I’ll write more about this in the future, but for now, it’s pertinent to know that codependency can lead to not only anxiety and depression but a whole host of other issues, from addiction to ulcers.
- Years of drinking lots of caffeinated beverages and/or not prioritizing sleep/exercise. This is one that I’m a lot better about now, especially since I don’t really drink much caffeine anymore, but coffee was a big part of my life for the past ten years, and I’ve always been a night-owl who’s struggled to consistently exercise. While the caffeine probably did help me manage my ADHD, too much of it still isn’t great for your overall health (and I know it's particularly bad for endometriosis and anxiety). I think my college years in particular threw my body and brain for a loop. I know now that drinking too many fluids in general can be bad for your metabolism, and low metabolism profoundly affects your health. Drinking a bunch of stimulants, no less, is even more stressful to the body, as is not sleeping enough or getting a decent amount of exercise.
So it seems to me that things like trauma, codependency, and years of little sleep + lots of caffeine had a deeper impact on my health than not eating enough salad, and it’s where I’ll place my focus with counseling, support groups, and trying to get more sleep and being more active. I’ll still make sure I’m eating enough food and find out if I actually do have celiac, but otherwise, eating the right food doesn’t seem to be the main issue. I know that dealing with stressors won’t “cure” me of my endometriosis or ADHD (or at least I have to remind myself of that!), but they certainly won’t make it worse, and may even make it a little better.