Turning 30 was something I never expected to do. I assumed, as did most people who knew me, I would have killed myself or done something reckless that would have gotten me killed; considering I spent my late teens and 20’s spiraling out of control.
Living with misdiagnosed and mistreated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) nearly destroyed me and destroyed most of the relationships in my life. It took a decade to repair the damage to my mind, body and soul caused from the copious amounts of psychiatric drugs that I’d been prescribed over the years for treatment.
It took nearly 10 years to realize that the multiple medications my psychiatrist had prescribed, which included high doses of anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills, were doing more harm than good. I decided to try getting off of them. At that point in my life, it couldn’t get any worse, or so I thought. I was just existing and doing a terrible job of that. I was a shell of the person that I had once been and no longer recognized myself.
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have quit the anti-psychotics and benzos at the same time, cold-turkey, but I’d had enough of life like that and was ready for a drastic change. And that is exactly what I got. Although, it wasn’t good. It didn’t take long for me to go into full-blown withdrawals, which included extreme irritability, anger, sadness, insomnia, no appetite and even gran mal seizures. It was a terrifying process, physically, mentally and emotionally, but there was no going back.
Fortunately, about a month after I initiated the process I attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meeting for the first and only time, which is where I met the therapist who helped save my life. I mentioned to her that I was looking for someone who was trained in a cognitive behavioral therapy technique called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), because it had shown great promise in the research I had done. To my surprise, she was trained in EMDR and gave me her contact information so that we could set up a consultation.
It didn’t take long before we were meeting at least twice a week to get acquainted and establish a safe environment/relationship to begin what turned out to be a 3-year journey of identifying, working through and reprocessing the bulk of the trauma that was interfering with my daily life. As Charles Dickens said, “it was the best of time and it was the worst of times.” The process was physically and emotionally painful and exhausting, yet incredibly rewarding and liberating. I had finally found a viable treatment to minimize the debilitating symptoms of PTSD that had crippled me since my teens.
Unfortunately, I experienced a very bad setback in the 2nd year when I was assaulted and nearly raped by a stranger, but with the help of my therapist I was able to work through that as well, which included prosecuting my attacker.
After 3 years, I started seeing my therapist about once a week and started trying to integrate back into normal life, which was incredibly challenging. This took several years and lots of awkward and uncomfortable trial and error.
In the meantime, I began to slowly withdraw from multiple antidepressants and then eventually made it to the very last medication, which was Adderall. Out of all of the other meds, it was the hardest. Besides having to no longer have the ability to constantly isolate myself like I had in the beginning of my recovery, after 15 years of continuous use, I was so physically addicted that I couldn’t even perform minimal daily tasks without taking the maximum dose of 80 mg per day. It took 2 years to wean myself off of the Adderall and still be able to halfway function.
By the summer of 2014, 2 months after my 39th birthday, I was finally off of all psychiatric medications for the 1st time in 18 years. That summer I slept a lot and ate a lot. After 3 months I started coming out of the mental and physical fog. Started to feel like myself again, although just a fragment of who I used to be. It was still something. I was no longer completely numb and dumb from the meds.
I felt alive.
However, I had put on 20 lbs in the course of 3 months. I felt awkward and heavy. There just happened to be a promotion for a local fitness bootcamp, called Camp Gladiator that my sister worked out at. She tagged me in a Facebook post for it and at the last minute, I decided to try it out. I was so nervous and scared. My mind and body were so out of shape. There were parts of my body and brain that were still waking up. I felt random nerve tinglings in my body on a regular basis. I had no idea what I was going to be capable of.
On that first day, I brought my pink 3 lb weights, yoga mat and made sure that my sister would be there. I didn’t even get out of my SUV until she arrived. It was ugly and embarrassing. I couldn’t even run 100 yards during the warm-up lap. I felt like I was going to throw up at least 3 times and I took countless breaks during that 1-hour session.
Nevertheless, I pushed through the pain, discomfort, awkwardness and downright embarrassment and signed for a 12-month contract. It was the best, most life-changing decision I had made in a long time. Especially with winter approaching, I was concerned that I would do as I had always done: withdraw, isolate and battle depression, except it would be worse since I was no longer on meds that I had been told I would never be able to live without. But it turned out to be the first winter since my teens in which that didn’t happen.
After 2 months of bootcamp I decided to take up long distance running. I started walking/running 1 mile and then progressed to running more. I had never ran been a long distance runner even as a high school athlete. By February 14, 2015, I ran my first 5K and by the end of March, I completed my first half-marathon.
About the time I started running is when I started making nutritional changes. I ate a lot of grilled chicken breast, quinoa/rice and steamed vegetables. I gave up sodas completely and drank nothing but water , unsweet tea and coffee. After giving up soda, it seemed so much easier to give up the junk food that I still craved on a daily basis.
Looking back, for several years I had hit a plateau in my recovery. I wasn’t a complete mess anymore, but I still wasn’t fully functional and integrated into a normal life. It wasn’t until I really took control of my health through fitness and nutrition that I finally started to live and make real progress toward building and creating a new life.
This was never how I expected my life to turnout. I never thought I’d survive this long.
Recovery isn’t what I thought it was going to be. I didn’t just do the work to fix the parts of me that were broken and pick back up on some path that I was supposed to have been on. A new and improved path was forged while I was doing the work.