To get the most out of what I have to offer, trust is paramount. I recognize that our relationship is still new. I, too, would have a tough time following through with suggestions made by someone I’d never met. We’ll get to know each other better in time. For now, know this— I don’t just say shit to make you feel better in the moment or to make the situation seem a little brighter when it’s not. That’s not my style. To me, inspirational jibber-jabber and looking at life through a rose-colored lens is not only annoying, but it’s patronizing and dangerous. My goal is to state facts, tell you what I’ve learned and relay the science behind your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In my experience, knowledge truly is power. When we learn about our symptoms and diagnoses, we’re empowered with objectivity . Objectivity is the key to putting our symptoms in their place so we can emerge from them, rather than getting swallowed up by them.
In my first couple of weeks responding to your emails, I’ve noticed many of you have similar struggles. While what you’re experiencing often times looks different, how you’re interpreting the experiences looks stunningly similar and is, therefore, worth addressing here.
The common denominators:
You are not the problem.
Your pain and symptoms have become part of your identity. I’ve noticed that many of you internalize your diagnosis ( even self-diagnoses of “Fucked up”), and think that Depression, Anxiety, or Bipolar is a trait like height, extroversion, and the like. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Please know— I’m not just saying so to help you feel better about yourself. I’m stating facts. And hey! It’s totally understandable how you’ve fallen into this trap— been there, done that. Warped societal messaging with regards to women and mental health dates back centuries. We’ve been pathologized to the Nth degree from the beginning of time. And so, your ability to see the difference between you and your symptoms is not only NOT taught, but much of what you’re experiencing as symptoms is secondary to what you have been taught. To make a long story short— seeing yourself clearly and not internalizing all of this stuff is not only necessary for you as an individual, but it’s critical for each of us to do for all of us.
A diagnosis does not mean you’re “crazy”.
The only reason diagnoses exist is to give behavioral patterns a name, so that we can best prescribe solutions. Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, etc. simply means that you have the necessary number of symptoms to fit the pattern called this or that in the diagnostic manual, DSM V. The criteria for each diagnosis vary. However, the most common diagnoses share several criteria: changes in sleep patterns, marked change in appetite, significant weight loss or gain, fatigue, difficulty concentrating. It’s important to note— one less symptom takes you from meeting criteria to not meeting criteria. For example, if you meet four out of the nine criteria vs. five out of the nine criteria for a specified diagnosis, your behavioral pattern gets no name—no diagnosis. So, you’ve gotta stop pathologizing yourself and thinking you’re “crazy” when diagnosed. Think about it—getting a proper night’s rest cannot be the difference between a “crazy” person and a “normal” person, which means both concepts are bullshit. We’re all just human.
You are the solution.
The first action toward emerging—regardless of symptoms and/or diagnosis—is lifestyle changes ( eat, sleep, exercise). You have to remember that our bodies and our brains require daily maintenance. Without a proper maintenance regimen, our systems get out of whack and we feel like shit. That doesn’t mean we are “disordered”. It means we need to mix-up our maintenance regimen.
As much as it sucks, it’s critical. Getting your body working for you rather than against you levels the playing field— both wiping out several symptoms and creating an opportunity for us to get a good baseline— so we can see what remains for us to tackle on the emotional front.
Important note: Lifestyle patterns are tough to change, especially when you feel like shit, have no energy, can’t motivate yourself, and can’t get comfortable. I know it’s hard. Remember—I don’t suggest anything that I don’t practice. I run everyday. Thirty minutes of cardio balances my mood and decreases my nervous energy. I hate it— every, single minute of it, but I hated anxiety, mood dysregulation, and low self-esteem a hell of a lot more. My run is part of the regimen I have to follow in order to stay on track and feel good. I’ve learned that the hard way! And, that’s the key. To feel better long-term, you’re going to have to do things that aren’t comfortable. You’re super-uncomfortable anyway. At least, this discomfort is a means to a better end.
1) Eat nutritionally: Eat three meals and two snacks per day. Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with grains, and a quarter with protein—red meat two or more times a week; fish two or fewer times per week; fill in the rest with poultry or vegetarian protein sources like tofu and eggs.
2) Sleep consistently: Our body likes a schedule. Is it fun? Maybe not, but you’re fighting for your life here. Go to sleep every night with no exceptions at 10:30 pm, and get up and at ‘em at 7:30. Get your circadian rhythm working for you, rather than against you.
3) Exercise regularly: Exercise is important for everyone, but for those of us with mood concerns and/or anxiety, it is critical. Research suggests that a 30-minute run gives us the same boost in serotonin levels (the brain chemical that makes you feel good) that we could expect from a low dose of an Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor ( SSRI) like Zoloft or Prozac.
Get started with lifestyle. The above suggestions are relevant for all of you, other than those who struggle with eating disordered behavior. For GURLS with ED stuff going on—do all of the above sans the exercise piece!
I have no expectations here—you’re likely not going to follow through with all of it. I’ve been at this for years, and I never execute this stuff seamlessly. No biggie, seriously. The only goal this week is to start. Keep notes. What parts of changing lifestyle are harder than others? What gets in your way? There are going to be a bunch of things—both internal and external— that come in between you and implementing change. Fill me in. I guarantee that I’ve been there before and have a process to share for working through.
Email me at HeyLauren@GurlsTalk.com when you hit a roadblock. You’re not alone. I can help you troubleshoot and get over the humps that keep you from follow through. Once we get this lifestyle piece down, we can move forward to regulating emotion.The good news: a healthier lifestyle is sure to do some of the work for us.
Talk soon xo, Lauren
Dr. Lauren Hazzouri