I’ve been writing this post for several months.
Hopefully it’ll explain why I’ve been mostly MIA for the last couple months, but more importantly, I hope it really helps you. Yesterday I was having such a horrible day— a fog of depression and distraction, anxiety pelting me at every turn. It was the end of a bad week, really. I’d been slowly pushing my limits, and at some point last week, I went all Mean Girls on my body and acted like the limit does not exist.
But as histamines do (or copper; more on that in a future post), they’ve built up in my body and I’ve hit my breaking point. Everything feels overwhelming, and I have no idea how I got here… unless I look back at what I’ve been eating for the last week.
One word: chocolate.
It’s roughly the peak of one of my histamine-induced (copper-induced, and likely histamine-worsened) anxiety/depression/insecurity attacks, and I’ve had horrible reflux and insomnia for the past few days. Since I’d felt so fine the last few months, I’d nearly forgotten the reason I’m on this (crazy) diet in the first place. It almost felt like some other thing, something inside me, had taken over control. It comes and goes, but as long as I stay on a low-histamine diet, I have more control over my symptoms than anything else I’ve done.
This allows me to do two things, broad in scope & possibilities: process and heal. The processing portion of this refers to the mental side of things for the most part, while the healing side is both mental and physical. It’s important that you mix the ways you mentally process & deal with your illness with those that allow you to heal from and prevent flare-ups.
These ideas won’t work for everyone, but these are the things I’ve been doing for myself to heal from flare-ups, big and small. If one of your symptoms is this horrible up & down anxiety, as I get, it can be very guilt-inducing to take time out of a busy schedule to care for yourself. There’s so much to do!! But you can’t function without YOU. Even if it means prepping one fewer ingredient or eating freezer food or finishing one less task today, take the time to heal.
You are important. You must believe that, above all.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
Also known as “How To Explain Anxiety.” I’ve been having a lot of it over the last two to three years, and I’ve tried so many times to explain it to the people who love me and just want to help. But it’s so hard to talk about something when you’re in it, when you’re mid “flare-up,” if you will. However, at the moment I’m experiencing anxiety after an evening of intense introspection, so I’m in the midst of a self-awareness high. It’s like my brain has separated each aspect of my experience in the world into its own separate space, and I’m trying to observe each while I’m lucid.
I’d compare the emotion to a general feeling like something really incredibly bad is happening to someone you love, and you can’t save them. In fact, if you focus in on the feeling, you’re actually the one who made that bad thing happen, so that horridness you can’t seem to put your finger on? It’s your fault.
But anxiety isn’t always as big or dramatic as on TV.
I’m not sure of the inner mechanics behind my anxiety, but I know that the emotion driving the knot in my chest is a sense of loneliness and empathy misplaced as guilt. It could be over everything and anything on my mind that week, too. Broke up with your boyfriend? You’re inherently flawed. In love? He’s gonna leave you (or become a totally different person in 20 years). That street performer you didn’t give money to? He’s going home to an empty cupboard. The little girl crying on the corner? Nobody helped her, so she slept there that night.
Okay, well, I never said my psyche wasn’t as dramatic as TV.
And these thoughts are flying into your mind at the speed of light all. the. time. You feel so attacked on all sides that some days it’s all you can do to not throw everything against the wall or cry constantly. I know my personal anxieties are different from anyone else’s, but I’m doing my best to pull them apart so that I’m not so ruled by them, anymore, and it’s a technique I’d highly recommend.
Processing It All
- Allow yourself to grieve. Everybody has a different way of grieving, but it’s an important part of dealing with your diagnosis, no matter how long-term its scope is.
- Write in a journal, not just about what you’ve eaten or what your symptoms are, but about what you’ve been doing lately to enjoy yourself and what other things give you happiness. Take that as a place to grieve, to mourn the loss of normalcy (beyond the pandemic). This doesn’t have to be a flare-up-only thing, or a daily or weekly thing. But writing can be a fully immersive activity, and give you space to process your illness and its effects, as well as give your body time to heal on its own, without the aggressors of food and environment. This website is my journal, actually, and often I’m working on posts (some private and some made public, like the recipes) while I listen to some calming jazz or blues music.
- Try some very light yoga or meditation (if you can concentrate). Dance around to your old favorite song for 5 minutes. I do a stretching routine for my back, since I can’t exercise to the extent that I used to, but I don’t want to ruin my physical fitness while working towards better health.
- Take a warm shower with calming essential oils (that don’t irritate your senses). Try an epsom salt bath (test it with a 5-minute hand soak, then a 10-minute foot bath before going all-in on a regular bath with 1 cup of salts). Do something that puts you near warm water where you can focus on yourself and think more clearly.
- Color or draw a picture, like you did when you were a kid. Play. Practice a completely new, fully mind-occupying activity that allows you to clear our mind and center yourself, corny as it may come off, if you’re mid-flare up. Write a quick letter or a postcard. Nostalgia for times when you were, quite frankly, happier, is a tool you can use to put yourself in a more positive mindset, and looking at old pictures can help this.
- If you’re usually into watching television, maybe try some 1080p driving videos; you can watch an assortment of road trips all across the globe. If you get car sick, the Calm app has lots of free calming soundscapes you can meditate or fall asleep to.
- Limited Sensory Play. This is a more unusual approach, actually similar to what toddlers and infants do, but the idea is that you expose yourself to only one sense at a time. For example, sitting in a dark, quiet room with no strong smells, actively feeling the textures in the world around you, down to the clothes you’re wearing and the feeling of fabric on your fingernails. Or even sitting in that same dark, quiet room with cotton pajamas on, carefully opening & closing different bottles of essential oil. The idea is to distract your mind from the anxiety and refocus it on more productive, or even just less destructive behaviors.
You absolutely must find the root cause of your histamine intolerance. If you don’t immediately know or find out, first start by changing your diet and then go down the list of root causes of histamine intolerance, starting with the most common: mold exposure. But while you’re on your direct healing journey, you can also treat any lingering symptoms by supporting your body:
- Cook! It can be meditative to chop veggies, but it’s also a beautiful thing to take control over what goes into your body.
- Add healing supplements into your diet, alongside whole foods that you know you tolerate well. Unfortunately, tolerance is so individual that this will be a process for you to undergo by yourself, but you’ll feel the effects quite quickly. As for supplements, natural anti-inflammatories like turmeric, quercetin, and Chinese skullcap can make a huge difference when added to your meal. Also consider liver-supporting supplements, like milk thistle and N-Acetyl-Cysteine, to speed up your body’s detox. Please don’t add in more than one supplement at a time, and always talk to your doctor first.
- Try some “alternative” healing options, such as a castor oil pack, an epsom salt bath, or even just a good cry. It’s been proven that stress-related hormones are released in your tears, having a cathartic effect on a cellular level.
- Invest in yourself. If you’re like me, and used to basically treat yourself with food and nothing else, it’s time to expand our horizons. I still have to stop myself from shopping for chocolate, but I have managed to find ways to enjoy treating myself to food. For example, I’ve got my daily coffee ritual down, and I’ve been working on a pie recipe my body can tolerate. I have 4 or 5 quick meals I like to make & eat, and every week or two, I experiment with a new low-histamine ingredient I order online. Last week I even made coconut milk ice cream! But some other ways to invest in yourself are with self-care items, books, new clothes, lessons for things you’ve never thought to try, and even just some time off work. Buy your own time back, instead of a cake or a steak.
- Jump into a fun new project that physically engages you as much as you’re comfortable with. This is partly for your mental health, but also your mental fitness, especially if you get bad brain fog. Whether that means baking cookies or building a new deck or making music, know your limits and work within them. Keep yourself in focus here, and take on a project that’s pure enjoyment rather than whatever seems useful. Some other ideas include knitting, reading through a list of classics, and starting a window herb garden. This act of distraction through enjoyment can give your mind a break from worrying about foods you can’t eat or your next attack, and releases “happy hormones” which will better equip you for doing all other acts of healing.
Some Final Words
Other than severe reflux and some slow-developing acne, all of my symptoms are mental. It truly makes me feel like I’m going crazy, and all of this has only developed over the last few years. You are not alone! I’m actually mid-flareup right now, and just realized it a few hours ago. Many months ago I tried the low histamine diet as a last-ditch effort to get rid of the reflux and at the time, severe stomach pain, but it also got rid of my insomnia, severe anxiety, and mild depression. (Well, some of those comes back intermittently.)
For me, the mental symptoms slowly pile on over the course of a few days and then weeks, beginning with mild anxiety. That then gets more severe; I start being unable to sleep, and my thoughts get more scattered and my emotions more severe, with my deepest insecurities flashing into my brain at almost all times, like waking nightmares. It’s worst at night, when I’m just trying to sleep and the flashes come harder.
During the few months before I hit rock bottom and tried the diet as a last-ditch effort, I had this cloud of inexplicable depression over me, like I was feeling sluggish & uninspired despite being happy with what I was doing. It was like I couldn’t dig myself out of a small hole, and while it didn’t get worse over its course, it didn’t go away until I cut out high histamine foods/irritants. Today I had just hit the mild/moderate anxiety phase and realized I’d been pushing my limits too hard the last week, so I’ve been doing some calming activities and ate very clean tonight.
Reactions like these sneak up on you & build up over time, and quite frankly, they really suck. Often they’re also actually harder to manage since they’re so slow-moving. But I just want you to know that I am so sorry you’re going through this. You don’t deserve to bear this burden. I mean, I’m certainly not perfect, and some days I just wanna turn my problems off and get lost in a TV show all evening. That’s okay, and sometimes that exactly what I do. But many of us have families to care for, multiple jobs to juggle, and a pandemic to consider.
So for today, just pick one thing from this list and do. Take the time for yourself and your health, and never ever forget that you are 100% worth the effort.
Note that this is a living document, and I’ll continue to update it with ideas for processing and healing.