My taper took 5 years to get off a cocktail. My tools were nutrition and acupuncture, therapy and a functional medicine endocrinologist. While tapering I became disabled from withdrawal symptoms, although I didn’t figure out that’s what was making me so sick until later on. While recovering I realized I dreaded returning to my old job and would rather be dead than go back to it. I found a vocational program for people recovering from disabilities in the field of decorative arts. I was an artist with a degree in fine art and this would mean returning to doing something I loved. I had been isolated while sick, so I hoped going to school would mean making new friends, as well. It didn’t turn out that way. Although I liked the other students and they seemed to like me, they were all adults with busy lives, partners, etc. But I loved school. By the time the program was winding up I was off all psych meds. I still had symptoms, I was generally very weak and tired and just going to school three days a week took everything out of me—everything! If I ever had energy at the end of a school day it was a triumph. But what to do with that energy? As we were cleaning up and getting ready to go home at school one day, I was in a festive mood and asked if anyone would like to go for a drink or get a bite to eat.
Everyone said no.
So I went to Whole Foods to do some shopping on my way home.
I had made many diet changes while recovering from psychiatric drugs. At first I saw naturopathic doctors who put me on supplements and pushed me toward a paleo diet. I gave up gluten, diary and honey for six months, then added them back into my diet without noticing any change. I started having bone broth and learning about clean eating and eliminating processed foods. I started having grass-fed beef and pasture-raised eggs. Then I switched to seeing a functional medicine endocrinologist who made lots of diet tweaks and changed my supplements and, without my realizing it, had me following a Ray Peat diet meant to heal the thyroid and balance hormones. I was eating bone broth, collagen powder, and raw diary. My gut was healing. As a consequence, food allergies I’d had for 20 years started to disappear. It turns out food allergies can be caused by leaky gut; the medical term is intestinal permeability. I was trying to heal my thyroid but it turns out, if you heal the gut, everything gets better.
But I was still tired and having what I call energy “crashes.” My doctor said my thyroid levels were fine and she wouldn’t prescribe any more thyroid meds. I had enough thyroid hormone available in my blood but something else was interfering with its absorption and that’s when she said I needed to give up canola oil. Maybe she had told me this before and I had been too foggy to understand, but this seemed like a new suggestion and actually it seemed like an ultimatum. It seemed like she was saying nothing would work and I wouldn’t get better unless I gave up canola oil.
Giving up canola oil was harder than giving up gluten and dairy combined. It’s in almost all processed foods, but it’s also in most restaurant and take-out foods, in other words, the stuff I had been living on. So, great. Now I was going to have to learn to cook–something I didn’t learn as a child; something I had been avoiding my whole life and thought I hated.
But within two weeks of avoiding canola oil, something curious happened. My thyroid started functioning much better. I was able to drastically reduce the dose of my thyroid supplement. I was healing!
If you can remember back to the beginning of this post, I was in Whole Foods. I had finished a five-year taper and had nearly finished a vocational program I loved, but I was suffering from isolation. My life seemed empty, and I often wondered: Why? I was doing everything right, as far as I could understand.
I had not learned to cook growing up (other than grilled cheese and pasta) and cooking and grocery shopping were things that irritated me and seemed to waste my time and energy. Yet that day I floated around Whole Foods moving from product to product reading labels. It takes forever to read labels. There is no “canola-free” section. You really have to read every ingredient. Normally this would put me in a bad mood and frustrate me. But that day I moved about Whole Foods in a trance of label reading. I had all the time in the world, and I was actually enjoying myself.
And then it hit me. That’s why my life was so “empty.” I needed that emptiness. I needed to have all the time in the world, in order to have the patience to read labels and learn how to cook. I needed that emptiness to learn how to enjoy those things, no matter how much time it took. And enjoy those things I now do. Buying wholesome ingredients and cooking healing meals for myself is a great form of self love that has become a fun and interesting ritual.