Category Archives: Diet

Cutting Out Caffeine: One Week to Less Anxiety

It’s been a weird week.

I cut out caffeine.

Why did I do it? Well, I’m an addict you see. An addict, hooked on one of the last remaining socially acceptable chemicals.

I was so bad that I used to get coffee every morning before work, from fancy coffee places. My coffee was sweet, but my bank account was bitter! I was drinking 3-4 cups while I was at work. I was relying on it for focus, for energy and just to keep me moving.

And I was suffering from a whole range of anxiety related problems. Palpitations, chest tightness, muscle tightness, somatic paint, the list goes on and on.

Now, if you’ve been following my blog, I’ve been trying to tackle my mental health difficulties in a whole host of different ways. I’ve been eating vegan, meditating a lot, trying to follow my bliss, and lately, embarking on acupuncture treatments and chiropractic manipulations. I’m really making a concerted effort to become healthy again.

Caffeine is my substance. It’s my vice. I’m naturally a bit slow, a little bit spacey, like an astronaut on the moon, but this jet fuel helps me stay in tow with a fast moving world.

But at what cost?

Health problems? Anxiety? Over stimulation?

I wanted to see what it would be like to take it all away, just for a week and see how it felt. I’ve spent so many years buzzing about like a hyperactive bumblebee that I had forgotten what it feels like to not have that dynamo drink powering me up as I go.

So what happened?

Well, at first, as you can imagine with any kind of caffeine withdrawal, I felt a bit off for a few days. Headaches, lethargy etc. You know, the usual stuff.

But then, I really began to acclimatise and I noticed a couple of things.

I was eating more.

Something about caffeine suppressed my appetite enough that it was extremely noticeable when I took it away. I was eating more food and also food which was less good for me. So, in theory, that’s 1 for coffee and 0 for me.

I was spaced out all the time.

I was in a bubble. I felt like Kanye in Katy Perry’s E.T. video. And the strangest thing was that this never really wore off. I am naturally away with the fairies. I shouldn’t be so surprised, but I was surprised. I hadn’t felt like that in an age. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it put some things into perspective for me.

I work in an office. I don’t absolutely love my job, but I get by. But without caffeine, and me in my natural state, floating around like a bubble princess, I really began to realise how poorly suited I am for this kind of work. So many distractions, so many noises. So much shifting gears between activities and getting sidetracked. For me, bubble boy, this was a nightmare. I felt like I was the light silver ball in 3D Pinball, waiting for anything to space bar me into the stratosphere. Remember that game on Windows 98? What a time to be alive.

The most unpleasant side effect was anhedonia. If you don’t know what this is, it’s a total lack of interest in doing anything, even things you used to love or enjoy. It kind of fed into my realisation that my work was so unsuitable for my type of brain wiring. I was so tired with my job, tired with the same old cycle of Monday to Friday. Stopping the stimulant made this much more apparent. It was kind of amazing the extent to which I had been relying on coffee to hold my depression at bay.

In hindsight, I’m really trying not to beat myself up over this vice. My body craved it because my brain just isn’t making enough good-feeling chemicals on its own. It’s not my fault. That was a really liberating realisation to come out of the process. I have dependencies because I’m just trying to cope with a biological imbalance made worse by the demands of a modern 9-5 administrative job, not suited to my brain.

It also made me realise how much I needed quiet and solitude. I like to read, but it’s impossible for me to do it in noisy places. I need a quiet and calm atmosphere to do that. I could manage slightly better with coffee, but without, it’s just really good to know that I should be managing my environment so that I can be more productive. Maybe in the future, freelancing will be best for someone like me, where I’m in control of my space and can make the most of quiet time.

On the flip side though, my anxiety was down massively. I didn’t realise how much it was having an effect on me throughout the day. To feel genuinely calm and relaxed was a blessing. Tranquillity I had not been able to access for many years. And in a way, since my anxiety cleared up, I was able to think more clearly about everything. To really stew over my thoughts, rather than bouncing between them and losing track. It’s been really positive to slow down the pace and sit with ideas for just a bit longer.

All in all, it’s been a mixed bag. Some things have become better and other worse. I got rid of a lot of anxiety, but I also became more spacey and depressed. But that state of mind allowed me to ruminate on what it is that I’m doing wrong in my life. How my job isn’t good for my type of mind. How I should find something I love to do, at a pace that suits me. How I’m trying to be someone I am not in a society where the norms don’t benefit me.

And I guess you’re wondering whether I’ll stay away from the stuff going forward. Well, as with most things in life, balance is key. I’m going to drink less of it, absolutely. I don’t want the reverberating, painful anxiety. But for the time being, I need to be able to focus a little in a job I am not suited for. Maybe a coffee in the morning and a cup of tea in the afternoon? No more caffeine after 4pm so I can sleep well? I think that sounds like balance to me.

J

Chronic Illness and Vital Acceptance

If you’ve developed an illness that is now invading your every day life in a way you can no longer ignore, it can begin to gnaw away at our sense of justice.

You’re a good person, you work hard and try to get by in a difficult world. People can treat you badly and not bat an eye, but you’re not like that, and if you are, your awareness ignites you to apologise or make peace with your victim.

And yet, even so, you’ve been stricken with bad karmic juju. You’re suffering, but you feel that suffering is unjustified.

Our health is so important to our quality of life that we often get wrapped up in the ‘why?’. ‘Why is this happening to me?’ ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ ‘Why couldn’t I be someone else?’.

The ‘why’ is fine when we are dealing with the things that we can change. There are so many good ‘why’ questions that can really change the world. To some extent, a little ‘why’ can be good even in exploring chronic health problems. After all, a better understanding of our ailments can mean we can better address them and find some balance.

I’ve even written on the ‘why’ myself, exploring how a largely vegan or plant based diet can reduce inflammation in the body and improve overall health and wellness for those with chronic illness.

But, the ‘why?’ only goes so far. At some point, it yields less and less, becoming an exhausting obsession of diminishing returns. When we personalise our why’s and make them existential, we lose more and more energy, time, and happiness, to an unanswerable set of questions. When we reach this stage, we need to consider how we will accept the things which we cannot change and work on making our realities manageable, even joyful.

Acceptance is vital to living with chronic illness. We cannot continuously snarl at our illness, hoping that eventually it will subside or diminish. We cannot keep it in a box away from visitors, a morbid little secret out of the public eye. Our illness will live with us and we must accept that it continues, as do we.

Illness is unpleasant. It makes our lives hard, sometimes unbearably painful, both mentally and physically. It can be isolating, desperate and cold when so few understand how painful it is. But acceptance is part of changing that story. Don’t try to push it under the rug or pummel it into submission, but try to accept it as a part of you, aim to no longer fight with yourself.

In some respects, accepting chronic illness can make it easier to live with and tolerate. It can even contribute to recovery or partial recovery. The stress we cause ourselves when we are fighting our illness can inevitably strengthen it. The more you fight a thought, idea or perception of reality, the more power it gains over you and the more fear, panic and despair it generates.

Your reality needn’t be one of fear or aggression directed at disturbance and chaos. When you choose to allow or accept chronic illness to exist with you, rather than against you, you can begin to change your relationship to it. You can begin to be happier and lead a more fulfilling life.

We all want that, right?

J

5 Signs Your Life has Become Overwhelming and How to Begin Restoring Balance

You wake up, having not slept restfully for a week now. Your thoughts are dim and dreadful. They simmer at first, then a slow-boil turns to froth and foam and flying spit in your mind’s pot.

How will I get everything done today? There is nobody to help me. What is happening? How do I stop it? The world is out to get me. I am struggling. What can I do?

Splish, splash, schloop, go the thoughts inside your head as you watch from above. There is no saving this soup now, spoiled for good. Let it all burn.

Many can relate to that boiling pressure underneath the surface. It can lead to outbursts, uncharacterful behaviour and alienation, both for the person experiencing the feeling of being overwhelmed, and for the people close to them. Here are five signs that you’re not coping well, and some suggestions to fix it.

1. You’re Acting ‘Out of Character’

We are all creatures of particular habits. Some of us are quite reserved and don’t go out very much, others are very much the opposite, seeking social events everywhere they can and many opportunities to be the centre of attention. When you notice your typical behaviours are reversing and flying to the polar opposite of your ‘normal’, you know there’s something up. As in the examples above, someone who is quiet and calm, with a smaller social circle, might decide to get drunk every night and meet strangers. This can sometimes be hard to spot from the perspective of the person who is feeling overwhelmed, but family and friends should make every effort to monitor this behaviour and offer support where possible.

2. You Don’t Care Anymore

Generally, you’re empathetic, kind, a listener and someone who is compassionate to the needs of those around you. Lately though, you’ve been feeling kind of ‘meh’. You see people in strife and it’s just not twanging on that cardio banjo in there. You know you should be feeling something, but you’re struggling to get that emotion to translate. No, you’re not a sociopath, you’re just going through a rough patch and sometimes this can make you appear distant, callous or unfeeling. It’s the people who care the most who tend to lose this ability most drastically under pressure.

3. You’re Getting Irritated by the Smallest Things

Did your housemate eat your last banana? Did someone take your usual seat on the bus? Are you about to burn to ash over the news that petrol prices are going up? Do these questions make you feel like wielding a sledgehammer of destruction, like a malevolent Thor, brimming with spite and rage? Thinking about how proportionate our responses are to the perceived inconvenience, of course, at a time when we have calmed down, can sometimes give us the opportunity to reflect on how overwhelmed we feel.

4. Australian Animal Syndrome

Like the black widow, who hides in people’s toilets to bite their buttocks, and the koalas climbing from the bush below, we begin to do one of two things, bury ourselves, or attempt to escape out of our situation. Are you hiding from your problems, getting poisonous when people enter your personal space? Or, are you fleeing up into the canopies? Hiding or running can be a surefire way of knowing you’re overwhelmed and in need of intervention.

5. Your Opinion Of People Begins to Change

People you have held dear for years can begin to become ugly in your mind’s eye. You begin to create gargoyles where angels once stood, and by the end, you are surrounded by warped caricatures of the people you once loved. This is a very disturbing and unsettling mechanism related to being in a state of overwhelm, that can begin to unravel your sense of identity, purpose and happiness. If the people you cared about are no longer friends, loneliness can set in and begin to eat away at your joy.

So, now you have a few ideas about what being overwhelmed looks like, here are some important interventions to think about, so that we don’t continue feeling this way.

Be Honest

Speak to the people around you that you feel you can trust. Tell them that you do not feel that you can cope and ask for any guidance, support or assistance they can give you. If they cannot, try not to take this personally, it may be that they have a lot on their plate too. Try to approach people who you feel will be compassionate and understanding to your plight, as some people can make their problems seem more important, which will only make you feel worse.

Seek Support Networks

At school, work or university, make sure to access any available resources. For work, it might be some time off sick, or booking a few days holiday. At school, seeing the school counsellor or speaking to a teacher you trust might help you on the path to improvement. At university, try to utilise the university counselling services and student support networks. If you’re not sure, bring it up with your personal tutor. Speak to a GP about how you are feeling and see if they can refer you for assistance. And, seek the local charity networks to see if they can help you with additional funded support.

Meditate

Meditation can be a great way to relax and calm down, but it is also an excellent tool to make breakthroughs with seemingly insurmountable life problems. One of the best techniques I find with this, is to visualise a pool, dropping in a question at the height of relaxation and inner calm, without the expectation that it will return an answer. You are trying to submerge the question into your subconscious, so that it can naturally provide you with an answer in a more intuitive way. I find the headspace app is really incredibly useful for this, so go ahead and try it out.

Are You Looking After Your Health?

One thing I begin to notice immediately when I am overwhelmed, is how it so often correlates with slipping into old dietary habits which are not good for my sense of wellbeing. If you are lucky enough to know what kind of diet works for you, then make sure to reflect on this when you feel overwhelmed. Am I cutting some corners? Can I try and cook a proper meal this week instead of dropping into a convenience store for a cheap ready meal. Often our bodies just need that little bit of extra support so that we can deal with what life throws at us.

Give it Time – Like, A ‘You’ll Still Be Here When The Sun Explodes’ Amount of Time

So, now you’ve heard me whittle on about this, that and the other, and it’s either helped you, or left you more enraged than you began (absolutely not the intention, but a hypothetically plausible outcome). Start asking yourself some questions, without demanding desperate answers. Try to give yourself time and the love and support from those around you, even if you feel that they do not always understand. Look after your body and meditate without expectation, as if answers can come between now and the squashification of the universe, which scientists are referring to as ‘the big crunch’.

I wish you happiness, fulfilment and the ability to overcome anything that life throws at you.

J

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The Commercialisation of Veganism

As I said in my last vegan related post, veganism has had such a warped presence in the media lately. It’s become a sign of political deviancy (definitely not always a bad thing), it’s become a trend or social statement amongst certain subcultures, but probably the most disturbing aspect of it’s image, and what has the most potential to destroy its benefits, are its aggressive commercialisation.

I believe the commercialisation of veganism is a slippery slope that takes the diet away from its root values.

Sure, it’s great that we have so many options now a days. For instance, we can get alternative milk products nearly anywhere – great for someone like me who has eliminated dairy. I can make sure I have something other than water to add to my porridge, and it means I don’t have to drink my hot drinks black all the time (though I don’t mind black coffee at all). There are so many types of tofu and other alternative meat products, and they’re getting cheaper. Even the dreaded vegan cheese is improving and I am seriously impressed with some of these options, no doubt attained through well meaning and dedicated research. All wonderful stuff.

However, I am falling into the convenience trap. I can go to any local store these days and pick up a vegan sandwich. It’s probably still healthier than the meat filled alternative, but the list of additives and preservatives in these meal deal sandwiches is, or can be, astonishing.

I am primarily a vegan for my health and secondarily for the planet and its animals. When I eat these easy-to-grab meals, I’m making a sacrifice in this aspect. These chemicals are not good for our bodies, and I now have to fend off the ever growing number of unhealthy vegan options available. This is fine if you’re not in it for the health reasons, but for me, it’s a shame to see more and more of this ‘technically vegan but not very nutritious’ commercial food being brought into our near view and within arm’s reach.

Macdonalds, the kings of convenience food, even launched a vegan meal just the other day. Again, it’s technically vegan, but it’s also deep fried. Is the market now going to become saturated with unhealthy vegan foods at the expense of one of its core tenets, health? As with most things that become popular, they tend to lose their roots, their original purpose and human benefits.

So, how do we combat this change? Campaigning is one thing, but we aren’t all into that, and many of us are using veganism as a way to recover from mental and physical illness.¬† We don’t have the time or energy yet to face the political and business side of commercialisation.

On the ground level, the individual only has two choices. To join groups where knowledge of healthy, free from additives foods can be found. We deserve to gain information from our like-minded peers on places that do nutritious vegan food that can still be enjoyed without cooking from scratch. Convenience doesn’t actually have to cut corners on health, but often it does and we must scan our local towns and cities intently to find those hidden gems, restaurants, diners and sandwich stores, that make the effort to produce good, nutritious food.

The other branch of focus is pretty straight forward and we attempt to do it all the time. We must try to organise our time so that we can cook healthy vegan food that we know will give us energy and help us recover from our ailments. We need to try hard to bring our enjoyment of cooking and preparation to life and to find ways to make food at home which is nutritious, simple and easy. It can be done, and like anything worth doing in life, persistence and practice makes it possible.

Well-being for the planet and the individual should remain the core focus of veganism going forward, and we can achieve this by drawing on our collective knowledge through local groups and working on our relationship with cooking and food preparation. Remember why eating vegan is important to you, perhaps even meditate and reflect on it a bit every day, so that you can focus on your goals and prepare yourself for daily success.

Good eating, cooking and learning friends,

J

Veganism Helped Treat My Depression

Veganism has garnered a reputation as something for radical political youths, hippies and edgy people with colourful hair (which I love, don’t get me wrong). But what is the merit and practicality inherent in a diet that has often been labelled the bad banana in the bunch?

I reached a critical point in my life only months ago. I was suffering with chronic back pain from a slipped disk, mood swings, something I imagine close to hypomania, joint pain in my knees and asthmatic symptoms like severe tightness in the chest. When I was energetic and ‘up’, a lot of these symptoms went away. Every couple of weeks, I would be sure to plunge into ever greater depths of dark depression, which no longer remained contained in my mind, spreading now deep into my bones and my heart and my lungs. My plummeting abyssal thoughts began to twist my body as well as my mind.

I reached a breaking point. I could not bear to go lower. To live in endless cycles of physical and emotional pain, followed by the barest respite of a fickle and uncanny happiness, like there were threads sewn into my lips, pulled up in a wild grin by an evil puppeteer, destined to cut them away and lead me back into doom with a shadowy, hollow cackle.

I started to move towards fixing myself. I did research. I read books and articles. What I discovered was that there appeared to be several links between food allergies (I was food intolerant to dairy as a child and this issue may still persist), chronic pain and mental health. One diet promised to eliminate or drastically reduce the impact of all three.

To the average individual, going vegan may seem drastic. Sadly, I have been to some very dark places in my head. I would eat or drink anything, a laughing periwinkle, ground unicorn patties, the algae on a whale’s back. Anything, to reduce the pain and suffering I was experiencing. When your depression starts to make you feel paper thin, until you start to feel the cracking of your soul, parched, barren and dry, I cannot express the lengths you would go to to avoid that feeling again. It is indescribable.

For me, this was an easy choice.

I feel better.

I am by no means happy every day. That would be impossible. I still have many bad days, but the bad days aren’t as bad anymore. I have more energy. I do not spend so many of my evenings in pain.

I am writing again! I work full time and I STILL spend some of my evening writing and looking after myself. This is an incredible milestone for me. I never expected to feel well enough ever again to write three blog posts in a week. Yet, here I am!

Part of this change will surely be down to my resolution to look after myself, to tackle my fears and insecurities, to grow as a person and to never take life for granted, yet part of that transformation is absolutely about radically overhauling what I choose to put into my body.

My last few blog posts have also been about the impact of meditation and meditation has so far proved extremely helpful in the fight against mental illness. I am tackling this problem from as many different angle as I can. I will not settle and give into my pain and suffering. I will use it to transform myself.

So, there we have it. Veganism is part of my commitment to look after myself. It’s not political, though I am happy to be choosing a more sustainable and animal friendly lifestyle in the process. It’s not to be trendy. I don’t and have never run in trendy social circles. I’m doing this because my research has led me here and I refuse to give into pain and stop fighting for my happiness in this life. Veganism is a commitment to my individual well-being and that is where my stance on the diet ends.

Nevertheless, I do believe that many people could improve their depressive symptoms by trying a vegan diet. It’s naturally low-inflammatory food staples do help to reduce allergic stress responses in the body which absolutely can adversely effect mental health. I won’t stress this too much as I am not a doctor and my research is purely personal, but I do want to share my story so that others may find some respite from their pain in depression.

We are all different. What is helping for me is not necessarily for you, but unless we research and persevere, how will we know what is?

I wish you happiness and good health, and a diet that helps you maintain the best possible head space.

Greenly,

J

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