According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), major depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. Although the data is a bit outdated, the NIHM estimated that over 16 million people, which is roughly 6.9 percent of the population, had a depressive episode in 2012, and as always, we can expect that number to be higher since not everyone reports having a mental illness.
I am part of that 6.9 percent, and I recently went through a difficult depressive episode following a healing crisis brought on by a liver and gallbladder flush (that's quite a mouthful, huh?). And unfortunately, as I've gotten older my depression is sometimes more severe because the ups and downs of adulthood can have more serious implications than what I went through as a teenager.
After over a decade of going through the same rigmarole of being depressed, wallowing in self pity, wanting to disappear off the face of the planet, and then feeling extreme embarrassment and remorse once I bounced back, I thought I'd do it up a bit different this time. I took a little break from social media to collect my thoughts. I decided to be more patient with myself and give myself permission to be sad. I didn't push myself to achieve everything on my checklist if it wasn't necessary.
And now, I'd like to address my depression through letter format as a way to personalize and humanize it, which I know will be therapeutic for me, and I hope it will be helpful for you.
A Letter to My Depression
We have known each other a long time now - going on 16 years - and this is the first time I've addressed you directly, and publicly, no less. For years, you have told me that I'm not enough of this (e.g., smart, pretty, talented) or I'm too much of that (e.g., emotional, loud, opinionated), and for as long as I can remember, I've believed you.
I've taken your words (or thoughts, really), internalized them, and held them to be true. I've spent days, weeks, and months feeling apathetic and like a loser, stifling my voice and stomping out my inner light. In turn, I've looked to others as being the enemy or the ones who want to put me down, causing me to take out my frustrations on the ones I love and negatively affecting my relationships.
I recognize now that it's been me, and you, all along getting in the way of my happiness and ability to move through life without feeling like a failure. As a result, I've struggled to figure out who my authentic self is, let alone present that version of me to the outside world, which is no way to live.
But I'm hoping that we can have a less harmful relationship moving forward.
I understand why you show up on my doorstep and make your way into my body, soul, and mind, albeit it's taken me nearly two decades to get to this place. I get that I'm genetically predisposed to being depressed. As an empath and a highly sensitive person, I am pretty reactive to what directly affects me and the energy other people put out into the Universe. I struggle with sensory overload and over stimulation and sometimes have to shut down and hide. I've fully come to accept that as a person with chronic illnesses that the symptoms of said illnesses and major inflammation going on in my body and brain will lead to depression.
But what I can't accept any longer is letting you drag me down to the darkest and hopeless of depths where my apathy becomes terrifying. I won't accept negative self-talk that's so ridiculous to the point that if I ever said the same thing about others I would feel ashamed and horrible for the rest of my days. I won't accept being my own worst enemy because of what you bring out in me.
Yet, I do want to thank you for being a presence in my life. Sometimes, you help me realize that I need to take things slow and that I'm putting myself in harms way by going full-throttle toward every goal and health aspiration I have. Sometimes it takes me awhile to pick up on the cues, but they're there, and they're essential to my survival.
You've also provided me with the ability to be compassionate toward others who are also dealing with depression. Someday, I hope to work in a capacity where I can help people live more harmoniously with their depression, if not overcome it. I wouldn't trade having empathy for others for the world, so again, I thank you.
Through my battles with you, even though you have kicked my ass in every direction imaginable for years on end, I have been forced to learn and do a lot in order to survive: mindfulness, gratitude, patience, self-love, meditation, yoga... the list goes on. I can't picture myself seeking out these beneficial practices and techniques without your presence in my life, so thank you for forcing me to arm myself with tools that will serve me well for the rest of my life.
And moving forward, I want to switch things up:
I hope you'll hear me out. I know I've said I'm going to change before, but that was coming from a place of anger and shame. Now, I'm coming to you with open arms from a place of curiosity and self-love. So what say you, depression? I know, I know. As always, the ball is in my court.
My journey with cystic acne first began in 2009 when I switched from one birth control pill to another. At the time, I had no idea what was going on with my face, as I always had clear skin. When I came home from college that summer, my dermatologist put me on antibiotics to try to clear it up, but after responding very poorly to that drug, I switched to the birth control pill called Yaz, and my skin cleared up within weeks. I was over the moon, as my skin was super clear and no scars were left behind.
Flash forward to 2012, where I was now leaving Yaz behind for a copper intrauterine device (IUD) because Yaz made my hair fall out in droves. Yet, little did I know that coming off Yaz, and polluting my body with copper, would cause my skin to erupt in painful, huge cysts and nodules.
I had white heads, red bumps, black heads, jawline cysts so big they felt like tumors, nodules that stayed for weeks and months, hyper pigmentation, hives... you name it, I probably had it on my face. Unfortunately, I don't really have pictures that accurately show how bad it was because I avoided cameras like the plague and would literally get nauseous at the thought of taking a selfie, so you'll just have to trust me ;)
But, here I am, five years later, and I haven't had a single cyst in months *runs to woods behind my house and knocks on every tree just in case :)*. And since I know how debilitating, frustrating, infuriating, etc., it can be to struggle with acne, no matter your age, I thought it would be helpful to share what worked for me.
Before I get to what worked for me, I want to say that no matter what your skin looks like today, it is okay. You are beautiful, you are loved, you are deserving of love, and f#$% beauty standards that say that acne/not having clear skin = ugly. I'm still working on fully accepting my post-battle with acne and its scars, but I'll get there, and so will you <3
1. Cleaned Up My Diet
A lot of physicians will claim that diet doesn't have anything to do with acne, but for *me* that couldn't have been farther from the truth. I was struggling with MAJOR leaky gut and candida, and if I ate anything to aggravate either/both of those conditions, you could expect a spot to show up on my face (read: sugary foods, gluten, dairy, eggs, and high histamine foods).
As such, I have diligently employed a scientific experiment with food over the past five years. I removed food from my diet one after one and journaled what happened. I first went gluten free, then dairy, then processed foods, until where I am at now (full vegan as of last week!). What finally fully cleared things up for me was finally removing meat from my diet. Since removing meat, I have not had *any* cysts on my face, but as you will see I did a handful of other things to help as well.
But before I move on, please understand just because I can't eat something doesn't mean you should remove it from your diet. Unfortunately (just in this case hehe), we are all so uniquely different that you will have to experiment. You may also decide that you can't/don't want to have a restrictive diet. That is your choice. I am vain, and I would much rather eat less food than have cysts on my face.
Regardless, you should assess your diet if you are having major skin problems and do some research to see which foods can cause inflammation and trigger cystic acne.
2. Employed Detox Methods
This step has been the ultimate game changer, and it made complete sense to me once I stopped overcomplicating acne by trying to find some "magical" cure/product/supplement. Think of it this way, your skin is the *biggest* detox pathway your body has. For *me* (yes, I'm going to draw attention to the individuality of what has worked for me every time lol), I have *very* sluggish detox pathways (read: liver, gallbladder, kidneys, etc.) due to gene mutations being turned on thanks to this toxic world we live in, my run-in with copper toxicity, Lyme disease, and years of living with very high stress.
As such, once my body was in a state of the biggest traffic jam of toxins, bacteria, heavy metals, undigested food particles, sluggish lymph, etc., and couldn't vacate through regular channels (again, liver, kidneys, gallbladder, etc.), they decided to hit the "eject" button and throw a party on my face. And since my diet was still crappy, I was still drinking alcohol, and swallowing supplements at an alarming rate, my detox pathways were getting more and more clogged by the minute.
Recently, I have worked to incorporate a multitude of detox methods into my life and the change to my skin has been astronomical. I hesitate to share some of these methods since some people may find them "controversial," but they have helped ***me***, and I *thoroughly* research everything I do. Also, please understand that I *am not* a medical practitioner and make sure to do your own research before incorporating any of these methods.
Here's a quick list of what I've been doing to help detox:
For *me* the enemas, major-organ cleanses, and fasting have made the most difference in my skin. Should you want any more information, leave me a comment or contact me via email :) I am more than happy to assist!
Note: I do not plan on doing all of these things regularly for the rest of my days on this planet. These methods will continue to be used until symptoms that surface as a result of toxic overload subside.
3. Balancing Hormones
In addition to regular cystic/nodular acne, I also suffered from hormonal acne. How do I know this? Mostly due to the location of my acne (read: jawline and chin). I also had hormone tests done, and my estrogen, testosterone, and DHEA were through the roof. As such, my doctor had me go on natural supplements to eradicate these imbalances: saw palmetto and DIM (I use Estroblock triple strength).
Where did the imbalances come from, you ask? My long, long history with birth control pills jacked up my hormones beyond belief, and then that was all compounded from the major stress my body was under from copper toxicity and not having my period for over half a year from the IUD. In addition, many of my regulatory organs were messed up as well (yes, very scientific, but I'm trying not to get too wordy here so y'all make it to the bottom haha :)).
4. Drinking Habits
So, I've already touched on detox pathways getting clogged and toxins, so it makes sense that for *me* drinking caused an issue. Regardless of what kind of alcoholic drink you consume, your liver is going to have to get to work to break down the toxins and get them out of your body. Any guesses what exit route my body chose for this act? That's right, my lovely faccia (face in Italian ^_^).
I took three years off from drinking (which was a huge deal for this former beer-drinking rugby playing Jameson slinging binge-drinker), which certainly helped, but it wasn't a cure-all for me. I do have some tequila every now and again, and while I don't get cysts, there are times where I get a pimple or two after drinking. While I never plan on drinking the way I used to, sometimes a girl has gotta throw back her tequila and get to dancing.
Before I start this section, I will say that supplements WILL NOT CURE your acne if the underlying cause has to do with an internal organ issue, a dietary problem, or anything else that is chronic. Supplements can certainly help keep your acne at bay, but do you really want to be taking them for the rest of your life when you could get to the root of the problem? Of course, that's up for you to decide, and your root problem may be different from mine, so that's where you put on your detective hat.
But, supplements that aid your imbalances or sluggish organs can certainly help. For instance, I mentioned up above that I take supplements for my hormonal issues while my body works to recorrect itself. I also take supplements to aid my immune system (e.g., vitamin C and zinc), which in turn should help flush out toxins quicker. I take a probiotic daily to aid in my leaky gut and candida issues, and I also take an herbal supplement that helps my liver detox.
So, it's up to you to figure out what will work for you and what won't. What I will say is that antibiotics never worked for me, nor did any of the mainstream prescription creams thrown my way from the dermatologist. But, I'm that gal that western medicine truly never works for in terms of chronic issues, so that's not too surprising.
Okay, so admittedly, I was always one of those people who rolled her eyes at people saying that you have to remove stress to get rid of acne, but I do feel it helps, as a tertiary solution. For me, when I'm stressed I eat poorly or forget to eat (which means I can't take my supplements), and don't get enough sleep, forget to wash off my makeup/am not good with my face care routine (another post on that soon, I promise!). All of these things can contribute to throwing off what's going on internally, which can in turn cause inflammation or a disrupted detox pathway, if you're a sensitive person like me.
In my life, I have come to accept that I will most likely ALWAYS have stress in my life, but it doesn't have to be paralyzing. I am a go-getter, Type A, hard worker who loves to push herself and have tasks to complete. I am working on finding a middle-ground there, but I am not someone who is going to be happy living a care-free life - it's just not how I'm wired.
Instead, I have employed the following methods to help me destress after a challenging day:
So What Do I Do With All This Information?
I completely understand that everything presented here may be overwhelming, and that's because it is, at least on the surface. It took me five years to figure this out, and each day with a big ol' cyst on my face felt like a month.
If you need advice on where to go from here, please feel free to message me - I am truly, truly more than happy to help, and I am in the process of becoming an acne-focused health coach.
If you'd rather not do that, I would focus on *one* of the five things I suggested and figure out baby steps to incorporate the change or alteration. Regardless, I wish you the best of luck on your journey to clear skin, and I am always here to help!
In case you weren't already aware, March is Women's History Month, which was first instated in 1987. As such, I thought it would be relevant to discuss how I believe that my sex and gender have affected my interactions with doctors and the types of treatments I've been prescribed over the years.
Before that though, I would like to offer up the following disclaimer: I am aware that men can be mistreated in appointments too, especially when it comes to mental health and any matters that aren't physical. I hear your struggles and your pain and I empathize, truly. Yet, this post is meant to focus on women, as it's women's history month and I'm a woman. Therefore, this critique will focus on the intersection of my *individual and unique* experiences in the health care system.
Historically speaking, women have been mistreated when it comes to medical appointments. Whether it's through body shaming, disbelieving claims about chronic pain, or the outdated practice of diagnosing women with hysteria from back in the day, being taken seriously as a female patient wasn't - and still isn't - always a guarantee. Thankfully, much of the discrimination and mistreatment of women has fallen by the wayside, but we have a lot of room to improve as a health care system.
While I have done a lot of work to educate myself before entering appointments, to do research when it comes to finding a doctor, and to refuse to be mistreated by anyone in the medical community, there was a time where I didn't know any better and I truly believe that my being female allowed certain doctors to take advantage of my time and be dismissive of the major health crisis I was going through.
Breakdowns In Doctor-Patient Communication
In May of 2012 I had a copper intrauterine device put in called the Paragard. A month or so later, I was suffering from a very severe case of copper toxicity, unbeknownst to me at the time. My mental and physical health completely deteriorated in that short span of time to the point where every bodily function was compromised and I felt like my life was over at the young age of 22. It was so bad that I had to give up my dream of pursuing my master's degree in California because I couldn't function.
Naturally, I decided to go back to the doctor's office who recommended and performed the insertion of the Paragard. I had been seeing this OBGYN for years and I thought that we had a good working relationship, but like most conventional doctors, they were clueless about how to really help me.
I recall sitting on the examination table and talking about all of the symptoms that I was experiencing, including the loss of my monthly period (that couldn't be good, right?). The suggestion that I received in return still shocks me to this day. She said it was probably because I was "depressed" because I had just graduated from college and was "sad" that that chapter of my life was over. I couldn't believe my ears. All of my other complaints were chalked up to me getting used to the device or simply dismissed.
Now, I have struggled with depression since my pre-teen years and I knew deep down in my heart and soul that whatever I was going through was far worse than a run-of-the-mill depressive episode. Moreover, to suggest that my health was completely falling apart because I was "sad" seems very negligent to me, especially considering how horrible my mental state was at the time.
Over the past few years, I wondered if a male patient would have been treated this way. I wondered why women have to go through so many side effects and symptoms just to practice safe sex by way of birth control (yes, I am aware that abstinence is an option, but it's not a realistic option for me). I wondered why I wasn't being listened to and was being called emotional (read: sad). I was especially baffled about how it was hard for the doctors to believe that a device made from copper could cause me to have copper toxicity, especially because I was displaying nearly every symptom.
The Struggle To Be Heard Continues
Thankfully, a former professor of mine suggested I seek out treatment from another doctor. After one appointment, he said that I needed to get the IUD out in order to feel better. I called my OBGYN's office and asked if I could have the device removed, as I was experiencing a number of adverse effects and didn't feel comfortable having it in anymore.
Unfortunately, I was met with pushback and almost deference, as I had only got the device in five or six months ago and it could be left in for 5-10 years. They did not want to remove the device and continued to not listen to my complaints. Again, I wondered if this would happen to a male patient - would his claims and his assertions be taken seriously?
But being the determined lady I am, and knowing that I had to get this thing out in order to feel better, I decided to check myself into the ER. I asked to have the device removed, and again, I was met with hesitation. In order to be taken seriously, I had to embellish how much pain I was in and that *only* the pain was disrupting my daily life. I didn't even bother to bring up the mental anguish I was in for fear of being sent to a different doctor or being dismissed as "sad," like at my OBGYN's office. Ultimately, the device was taken out and that day in October 2012 began my healing journey.
Since that day in October I have learned a lot when it comes to being a patient: I take responsibility for my health and if I don't like how I'm being treated I find a different doctor/practice. Yet, no matter how much responsibility I claim or how empowered I feel, you can't control what others say.
For instance, one doctor recently said to me that it must be difficult for a man to take me out on a date because I can't eat out at restaurants or drink and about difficulties surrounding child birth (which by the way, I never plan on having children anyway). While I'm sure the doctor was trying to show some form of sympathy and had his heart in the right place, the comments didn't sit well with me because I'm already well aware of how my illnesses and restrictions cause dating issues, not to mention him assuming my sexuality and that I must want to have kids.
All in all, both men and women have negative experiences within the healthcare system - some stem from gender/sex and others are just from the nature of health care or the individual practitioner's inability to communicate and listen. But I'd like to hear your thoughts - do you think gender/sex affects how patients are treated (feel free to get intersectional with this - IMO, it's the only way to address issues properly)? Have you been mistreated based on your sex/gender in a medical setting?
Hopefully, continuing the dialogue on this subject can lead to improvements in the health care exchange for all people involved :)
When most people think of Lady Gaga, images of outlandish and fashion forward outfits (remember the meat dress? Of course you do...), flashy performances, and high heel shoes that could kill a man probably come to mind. But when I think of Lady Gaga I view her as much more. To me, she is my Italian goddess role model, an empath with a bleeding heart, and as revealed in her 2017 documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, a sufferer of chronic pain and fibromyalgia.
Over the past few years, Lady Gaga has adopted a no-holds-barred attitude toward being her most authentic self in all realms of life. In my opinion, Five Foot Two is a perfect example of letting people in to see what her life is truly like, which includes the struggles of living with and managing chronic pain.
Naturally, I anxiously anticipated the release of Gaga's documentary - I have loved and listened to her music over the years and connect with her love for family and Italian heritage. As I watched the documentary, I found myself resonating with nearly everything that was in it, but I was especially glued to the screen when chronic pain was the subject. I found these moments raw, honest, moving, and sometimes painful, as I unfortunately know life with chronic pain all too well.
What Life Looks Like With Chronic Pain
Earlier on in 5 Foot 2, Gaga is laying down on a couch as a flare up starts. She asks for a washcloth and says the following:
"It's the whole right side of my body. It's in a... I don't know, a spasm. It feels like there's a rope pulling from my, like, first toe all up my leg into my... and then... around my first rib... into my shoulder. And then, my neck. And head, jaw. My fucking face hurts."
This describes exactly what it feels like when I am going through a flare up: it's on my entire right side, I can't necessarily put the feeling to words, and everything hurts. It hurts to move any part of my body, it hurts to sit still, and ultimately, it hurts to exist in those moments.
As the scene progresses, Gaga talks about how her privilege and wealth plays a role (that's my empath queen for you though <3), something that's far too often ignored by the able-bodied community when thinking about effective and consistent treatment for chronic pain:
"I just think about other people that, like, have maybe something like this, that are struggling to figure out what it is, and they don't have the quick money to have somebody help them. Like I don't know what I'd fucking do if I didn't have everybody here to help me. What the hell would I do?"
And while I'm certainly nowhere near as wealthy as Lady Gaga, I am able to work full time, I do have great health insurance, and I am able to afford treatment for some of my conditions. Yet, I wonder how much better I would feel if I could afford to do all the things I know will help, such as acupuncture, going to the chiropractor, getting regular massages, and seeking out other holistic treatments.
The Effects Of Chronic Pain Go Far Beyond Physical Symptoms
What typically happens with many of us spoonies during or after a flare subsides is the feeling of embarrassment, remorse, or shame for looking and feeling weak. Lady Gaga ends up vocalizing this mindset during the aforementioned scene:
"Do I look pathetic? I'm so embarrassed. And I don't even know, like, what a childbirth will be like. Or if I can. I know I think I can get pregnant. I just don't know, like, what are my hips going to do? I don't fucking know."
The last part of her statement also highlights how debilitating chronic pain can be as she questions whether her body will betray her during childbirth. For me, I question whether my body is going to let me go for a long bike ride without "punishing" me for a few days afterward or if I'll be able to bust all the moves on the dance floor during a night out and feel okay the next day.
I've had to abandon a lot of my former hobbies (e.g., boxing, weight lifting, MMA classes) due to my chronic pain, and while I've found different ways to move my body and exercise, the void is still there and I too sometimes feel pathetic and embarrassed for not being able to use my body like I used to.
Later on, we see Lady Gaga in a doctor's appointment, which for many of us are some of our most private and vulnerable moments. The doctor goes over her medical history and Lady Gaga shares that she's been "chasing this pain for five years" and it plagues her every day. She even talks about what mental strength it takes to overcome the physical pain to be herself and do her job, "And the fury in all of this is that I'm fucking strong and I can still be me... But it doesn't mean I'm not in pain."
Her doctor notes that in order to perform, Gaga has had to shut down physically and emotionally and let adrenaline take over, which can only sustain a person for so long. For many of us with chronic pain, this might sound all too familiar - I know it rings true for me.
I started experiencing compartment syndrome-esque symptoms during my sophomore year of college and could barely run a couple of laps around the rugby field without feeling like my throbbing legs were going to explode. I was in excruciating pain, but being the sports-crazy gal I was, I continued to push through. I also had chronic injuries all the time that never seemed to heal. But it wasn't until physical activity was basically fully stripped from me following a horrible Lyme herx that the mental effects of fear and anxiety took place surrounding my body.
Empowering, Inspiring, Painful - All At Once
If Lady Gaga had never come out and shared her experience with fibromyalgia, I never would have thought she struggled with chronic pain (I mean, have you seen her performances? She is kickass and a warrior.). But watching someone I admire with all of my heart cry and writhe from chronic pain and feel pathetic shows that chronic pain doesn't discriminate. Sometimes it doesn't matter if you ate all the right things, took the right supplements, or threw thousands of dollars into treatment to try to keep it at bay - chronic pain will barge through your doors uninvited.
Yet, hearing about and seeing Lady Gaga's experience with chronic pain helps me feel less alone, embarrassed, and pathetic inside of my body, which I resented for so long. Knowing that one of my role models is also going through these trials and tribulations gives me the motivation to strengthen my relationship with my body and not give up on it during those difficult times.
All in all, this documentary provided much more than a window into one of my favorite artist's life: it helped me realize that despite living with chronic pain, I can still live an empowering and successful life no matter what obstacles are thrown my way.
Although I do not have children, nor do I ever plan on having any (more on that in a later post), I know plenty of my readers are parents, work with children in some capacity, or plan on having children some day. Also, while I may have a myriad of symptoms from my chronic illnesses, thankfully, I've been spared of migraines thus far. As such, this means I'm not the most informed about living with migraines or treating them, but I know how debilitating and horrible they can be for those who get them.
As such, I present to you a guest post from a medical practitioner who specializes in headaches and migraines in children. Please read on for more information and for a helpful presentation included at the end of the post.
Note: I was not paid or compensated for sharing this information - I just want to help as many people as I can with my platform/this website and arm my readers with information. I'll also note that no matter what medical advice you come across, regardless of who it's from, it's up to you to use a critical eye when reading to determine if the information resonates with you (e.g., I don't tolerate pharmaceuticals, so whenever someone suggests them to me I know to kindly decline and search for other options).
Parents are always on the lookout for any signs that their children might be suffering, and for good reason. A strong component of the parenting instinct is to want to protect our kids from anything that might be hurting them. Unfortunately, there are some ailments that don’t come with obvious signs parents can see. In the case of migraine headaches, for example, identifying whether or not your child suffers from them is more difficult than using a thermometer to diagnose a fever.
What makes it more difficult is the fact that young children often don’t have the language to explain their symptoms. That means a child may be experiencing intense migraine pain without parents being able to do anything about it or know when to seek treatment. When it comes to migraine headaches, it’s up to parents to be detectives, looking for clues to their kids’ symptoms and understanding when to schedule a doctor’s appointment. Getting treatment for potential migraine headaches as soon as possible can help alleviate the pain for kids and make life that much easier for them.
For example, parents should be on the lookout for signs of nasal congestion, swollen foreheads, or if one eye looks puffy or swollen. When seen in conjunction with a severe headache, these may be signs of cluster headaches — intense episodes of pain that recur over the course of weeks or even months. Severe abdominal pain accompanied by vomiting or nausea may be indicators of abdominal migraine, which can be a warning sign that the child may be likely to develop migraine headaches later in life.
These and other signs of various types of migraine headaches should spur parents to visit their children’s pediatrician or a headache specialist as soon as possible. Children are 50 percent more likely to develop migraine headaches if their parents have them, so you may already know your kids’ risk of developing migraines. The following guide details many of the most common types of migraine headaches and how they affect children. Parents never want to see their children suffer, but this guide can help you understand what you’re seeing and get your kids the care they need.
Presentation courtesy of Diamond Headache Clinic
Author bio: Dr. Merle Diamond graduated with honors from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and received her medical education from Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. She has been a part of Diamond Headache Clinic since 1989 and has contributed numerous articles to the medical literature, and has lectured extensively on various headache subjects.