Hello, everyone – Dr. J here.
As part of this month’s theme on Living Clean for Life, I’ve invited my friend and team member Jessi Heinze to talk about how stress impacts our wellness journey. In this article, Jessi describes how the pressure to fix herself took over her life and how a shift in perspective allowed her to let it go.
Here’s Jessi on the crazy train:
“Ms. Heinze, here’s what’s wrong with you.”
For most people, the news of a chronic condition isn’t met with enthusiasm. But when my doctor told me I had Hashimoto’s, an auto-immune disease that attacks the thyroid, I was genuinely excited. For about a year I knew something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. My energy levels, attitude and body were changing and I couldn’t figure out why. I was exhausted all the time. My usual sunny disposition was cloudy; I was depressed. At age 26, I developed acne. I’m generally a very outgoing, social person but all I wanted to do was stay home and hide or sleep. I remember actually feeling like an alien, like I couldn’t relate with other people. My relationships suffered, sometimes even fell apart, and I just didn’t understand what was happening to me. So when the doctor said, “Ms. Heinze, it’s Hashimoto’s,” I was so relieved. I was thrilled. Here was my answer! THIS was what’s wrong with me!
Armed with a diagnosis, I had a direction. I felt like the ball was back in my court. With the right tools, now I could ‘do the damn thang’ and get my life back! So I dove into research on auto-immune diseases. I put together an approach that was super anti-inflammatory and gut supporting. I started to feel better and my symptoms diminished. I learned what foods worked well for me and what foods I needed to avoid completely. My skin started clearing up. My energy levels were much better. Things seemed to be going great.
The Problem: Obsessin’ & Stressin’
But something was still off. Even though a lot of my symptoms were resolving, I didn’t feel “fixed.” In fact, I was feeling more and more out of balance. I was thinking so much about getting healthy that I couldn’t think of much else. Somewhere along the line, my enthusiasm for good foods and a healing protocol became more like an obsession. Food occupied most of my thoughts. I would get stressed about every detail of my meals and whether I was getting the right nutrients each day. I couldn’t look at my lunch and see a tasty dish of whole foods; I only saw the vitamins and nutrients that were and weren’t on the plate.
Before the diagnosis, I was holing up at home because I was too tired to go out and see friends. After the diagnosis, I stayed home because going out was too stressful. I felt really self-conscious explaining my restricted diet when ordering at restaurants or eating with friends. Even leaving the house for more than a couple of hours at a time became a point of stress because of my supplement schedule and making sure I had the right snacks.
I was putting so much effort into being healthy, but I felt miserable. Each bite was calculated and ultimately somehow lacking. I felt incredibly stressed and even more desperate to get better. Finally I reached a breaking point.
The Revelation: My A-Ha Moment
I decided to check out a new acupuncture clinic to help me deal with my stress. The appointment didn’t go as expected. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before, and for those of you who do this on the regular, you have my respect. This involved forceful jabbing, blood-letting and really intense cupping (months later, I still have scars). It was seriously painful and I was freaked out by the end of it. I left in tears, literally covered in welts and bleeding.
Afterwards, I met up with a friend and explained what had just gone down. I was looking for a little sympathy as I showed the bruises and scabs, and he asked me gently, “Jessi, if you were that uncomfortable, why didn’t you stop it? Why didn’t you just leave?” I was stumped. I had been totally freaked out, in tears, so anxious for it to be over but then again, I also chose to stay. What was going on here? I mumbled some excuse about not wanting to be rude, and slowly realized I endured the pain because I wanted it to work. I was clinging so tightly to the idea that this therapy might be the answer, that these needles would do the trick, that I made myself stay on the table despite every instinct telling me to get out of there. And then, all of a sudden, I realized I had been acting like a crazy person. All of the stress about food and healing my auto-immune disease wasn’t helpful. It wasn’t healthy! And I was done with it. I was so fed up with thinking about food, so frustrated with trying to fix myself that I just gave up. I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I needed to feel like a human being again, to actually enjoy my food, enjoy my time with people I love and relax.
The Shift: Accepting what is
When I say I gave up, I don’t mean I threw all caution to the wind and started binging on fast food and ice cream sandwiches. As I mentioned before, I had done a lot of work and exploration in my diet so I had a really good idea of what works well for me and what I definitely need to avoid. “Giving up” for me was more emotional. I was giving up the crazy control, the stress, all of the meticulous calculation. To be honest, my diet didn’t change all that much once I “gave up.” I was still eating a plant-based, whole-foods diet. The difference was I enjoyed it. It was like the realization that I was acting like a crazy person was enough in itself to get me to snap out of it. And it wasn’t the routine or the food choices that were crazy, it was the pressure I was putting on myself that was making me nuts. The pressure to fix myself. The pressure to make everything better. I was so excited when I learned about my Hashimoto’s diagnosis. If I knew what was wrong with me, then I could fix it and finally be healthy and happy. If I could get my health in line then I would be an amazing health coach and the rest of my life would be great.
It’s a common story. We do this to ourselves in any number of ways. We tell ourselves that if we could just lose those last 5 pounds, or if our skin would clear up, or if we had this car or that job, that we would finally have the confidence or the money to be happy. But the fact is that if we can’t find joy in the process, it’s not likely to be waiting for us on the other side.
I still have Hashimoto’s. I still get tired, and sometimes my skin breaks out. I’m still working on my health, trying to eat well and going at my own pace. But it’s really the mental shift that has made all the difference. By accepting where I’m at in my process, I’ve let go of the constant pressure to fix myself. It’s something that I work on each day: supporting my body with love and compassion, rather than trying to set things “right.”
This article really spoke to me this morning! I am currently enrolled in Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s Plant Based Nutrition Program, which I was expecting to thoroughly enjoy. Instead, nearly 4 weeks in, I find myself in an unpleasant state, stressed by all the new information, new restrictions, new and possibly conflicting information. Before starting the program I had been following nearly a completely plant based diet for months, was feeling great, skin was clear and I was psyched to learn more about the lifestyle to share it with others, but now that I’m knee deep in the program, I’m not sleeping, I’m irritable, my skin is broken out. I feel like something is off, and this article nailed it for me! The stress I am putting on myself to be ‘perfect’, to get every meal ‘right’, to avoid all the ‘dangerous’ foods is turning me into a crazy-pants, stressed out version of myself, which I believe is far more detrimental to my health than anything I put on my plate. Thank you for this honest look at how changing what we eat can have many facets.
Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your story! Finding a balance can be tough work, but I think the more we can talk openly about this side of health and wellness, the more balanced we can be. I know for me, I felt a lot of pressure to have it all figured out and get better because of my role as a Health Coach, much like what you were experiencing with your Nutrition program. I hope that this has helped you to release some of that stress and enjoy the process a bit more. 🙂