On Mental Health

On allergies and anxiety and ways to normalize mental healthcare.

“Do you like guacamole?”
“Yes. But it kills my stomach so I can’t have it.”

I have this weird food sensitivity/allergy that I self-diagnosed years ago. Many forms of raw vegetables DESTROY my stomach. I mean…one stalk of raw broccoli and I might be writhing in painful stomach cramps for HOURS. Now, the severity of the reactions are not consistent but several of the items that do it are: Avocado, broccoli, quinoa, raw nut butters. I’ve decided it has to do with some sort of plant fiber/coating/cellulose because if you cook broccoli or soak the quinoa or oven roast almonds? I’m mostly safe. I think there’s some sort of fibrous coating that needs to be destroyed before my stomach is can digest it properly.

This has been 100% not a big deal in my life for the years since I’ve figured it out. Do you know what? I JUST DO NOT EAT THE STUFF.

Every reaction your body has to ANYTHING requires some sort of chemical and/or neurological communications. My body gets some sort of plant fiber message and then the messages shot across my systems say: INITIATE STOMACH CRAMPING! So…I just don’t eat the foods that deliver those messages.

People who have skin reactions to certain products behave in the same way. My husband used to break out when I switched laundry detergents. Some messaging in his body said: This clothing was washed in Tide…TRIGGER HIVES! We figured it out and stopped using that detergent and went on with our lives.

I have a friend who has chronic hip issues and there are certain motions that can trigger pain. One of those is the dolphin kick required when doing the butterfly stroke so when he does his swim workouts? He stopped doing that kick. His body feels the hips move in that dolphin kick motion and the messages are: PAIN! TRIGGER PAIN RECEPTORS! So, he sticks to the freestyle kick.

In every one of these situations when these limitations come up we all just nod and say, “Oh, I get it. I hate you can’t have this guacamole but I understand that your body reacts poorly to it.” Or, “Oh, you can’t borrow this shirt because I used Tide? I understand.” Or, “Oh! You only do freestyle during your morning laps because of a hip issue? I get it!”

Here’s what I’m wanting to normalize: Recognizing the same triggers in my anxiety and/or depression and putting those limitations out there in the universe as casually as I do my avoidance of raw broccoli. I already do this a lot around driving because my driving anxieties can be so paralyzing there is absolutely no way to hide it. I’ll say, “I have severe driving anxieties so I can’t do the driving for that thing.” Or I’ll say, “I don’t mind driving but I do have severe driving anxieties so brace yourself for the circuitous route I take to avoid left turns and high traffic merges.”

The thing is, I still feel large quantities of shame when I say those things, whereas when I explain why I’m passing on the quinoa I don’t even flinch. That’s the part I’m trying to work on, the feeling of shame that comes with discussion mental health limitations but not dietary limitations. It’s induced by an unfriendly culture around mental health that we all have to take part in dismantling.

There are physical reactions and biological/chemical symptoms that relate to anxiety and depression. Sometimes it’s the low serotonin which is why I have taken SSRIs in the past. Sometimes triggers in some people release cortisol which is the biological switch that turns on those feelings of panic. The messages a body gets with an increase of cortisol is: Something dangerous is happening! Elevate the heart rate! Trigger the sweat glands! Increase the blood pressure!

The thing is, we give power and support to the messages our body gives us for pain or food sensitivity or allergies but GOD FORBID WE LISTEN TO THE MESSAGES AROUND OUR MENTAL HEALTH. Just like it makes sense to avoid the foods that give you diarrhea or to avoid the activities that hurt your old football injury, it would seem logical to want to avoid that things that cause you anxiety or trigger a depressive episode. Just like people with bad knees don’t run and people who are allergic to peanuts don’t eat peanut butter… then it would make sense to do things that A) increase serotonin or B) decrease the release of cortisol. “I need to make time for a walk today so that I can release some serotonin,” or “I need to skip that meeting tonight to avoid my body’s release of cortisol.”

Not only should we try to be more open about the triggers we’re trying to avoid in our own mental health, “After being at work all day I need to unwind with some quiet time at home to keep my anxiety from flaring up,” but we should also not react with pity or sympathy when other people mention their anxiety or depression. If I say, “I suffer from depression and if I don’t get enough sleep it flares up so I can’t do that thing at 6am after all,” then we should react the same way we do when someone says, “I have shoulder issues so I’ll probably avoid that night at Top Golf.”

“Okay. Well next time we’ll keep that in mind when making plans!” Keep it casual in both cases in order to remove the stigma of shame around mental health. There’s not a wave of pity released when you say you can’t eat wheat (unless the person is sad you have to live your life without donuts) so no one feels shame about a gluten intolerance. But pity flows out of our pores when people discuss their depression which is why the shame triggers are all still relevant.

I’ve been receiving treatment for my mental health in various forms for 8 or 9 years now. I’m always trying to work on ways to medicate or different therapies to manage my anxiety and depression so that I don’t simply lock myself up in my house just to avoid that release of cortisol in social situations. But…through the process I come across moments where I know: THIS IS NOT GOING TO BE GOOD FOR ME. Maybe it’s a family function when I’ve been sleep deprived. Maybe it’s missing my daily walk when I’m worried about financial issues. Maybe it’s binging on ice cream and cake when my state is trying to set women’s issues and LGBTQIA+ acceptance back in time.

I’m trying to steer myself to good choices that won’t cause me pain, so to speak. Like the guy who doesn’t run with his bum knee, I’m trying to be more in tune with the triggers of my depression and anxiety and then openly discussing them when it’s relevant like I would if someone was trying to feed me quinoa. I’m trying to be as casual about it as I would if someone expressed avoidance of chocolate because it triggers migraines.

Imagine if we could all be as open and blasé about the triggers to our anxiety or depression as we were how our plantar fasciitis flares up when we run. And then imagine if the people around us responded with interest and concern and not pity. Wouldn’t it be nice if people gave us as much casual assvice about mental health as they do about digestive limitations?

Wait. Maybe there would be some downsides to normalize mental healthcare too much. 🙂

1 thought on “On allergies and anxiety and ways to normalize mental healthcare.”

  1. I did this recently when I decided to try classes at a yoga studio I’d never been to before. I walked over during my lunch break the day before I planned to start so I’d know where I was going (to not be anxious about time from office to studio). Then I decided to go ahead and walk in to look at the place. I told the front desk ladies straight up that I have social anxiety and new experiences are easier if I do a little recon first. They were SO nice about it and gave me a full tour and explained how they do things. It helped so much and they really did take it as easily as if I told them I avoid gluten (which I do, but they didn’t need to know that).

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