It’s Monday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Monday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!
Folks, I have been grateful for every story that has come my way over the years. It’s an incredible privilege being on the receiving end of your reflections and evolutions, and they are why I’ve kept at it all these years—knowing the message and information have made a difference in people’s lives. I appreciate every single one. I’ll add that today’s has inspired me on a new level. It’s a powerful narrative and huge testament to the impact of diet and lifestyle on our mental well-being. Thank you to reader, Megan, for sharing her strength, tenacity and hope with others today.
Hi everyone. Mark recently requested success stories and work-in-progress stories. I’ve been meaning to write for a while, and took that to be my personal kick in the butt. I am a work-in-progress story. I was waiting until I was a success story, but as you will see even though my journey isn’t complete, I already am a success story. I have found inspiration from other stories, even the work-in-progress and failure stories; it is good to see that imperfections exist, and it is ok to fail. I can only hope to inspire others. Because, my story is one of hope—hope for myself and hope for others like me.
I had a difficult upbringing with a mother who had an undiagnosed and unmedicated mental illness. She tried the best she could to be a mother, but she was overly critical toward me and even competitive with me. I would hide in the outdoors, books and food. Secretly eating a bag of cookies by myself or hiding Halloween candy that I would binge off of when she wasn’t looking. I lived solely off macaroni and cheese for dinner (yes, every night) for about a year and a half in fourth and fifth grade until I suddenly couldn’t stomach the smell anymore (At 40, I still can’t to this day). Friends in middle school and high school thought it was amusing how hyper I would get from sugar and would feed me pixie sticks and other candies on purpose. You would think that I was extremely overweight with these eating habits, but I was active as a child through high school (marching band, track, hiking, cycling) and looked every bit the “normal kid,” albeit an emotionally scarred one; I was happy and bubbly on the exterior but falling apart inside. I was regularly sick with sinus infections or bronchitis. When I hit puberty, my mother’s criticism’s turned to fat shaming me even though I was actually technically underweight. I refused to eat healthy foods as a way to rebel against my mom. I excelled in school and read more books than ever as a way to escape.
I started to exhibit signs of a mood disorder when I was in high school with extreme bouts of depression and some episodes of rage, typically around “that time of the month.” The beginnings of grandiose ideas also manifested, on occasion. The depression was severe enough for me to have suicidal ideations, but no actual attempts. The depressive lows continued into college, but then the highs started to come. I would not be able to sleep until 3 or 4 in the morning and then wake up ready to go at 6 am for days on end. Then I would crash and swing back to extreme lows and want to sleep for hours. I didn’t realize anything was wrong until I went to the health fair at school. On a whim I filled out a “how are you feeling questionnaire.” I checked off a few boxes, handed it over and thought nothing of it. I was so used to feeling the mood swings; including extreme depression that I thought that feeling that way was “normal.” The staff at the tent looked over the results and was so concerned that they would not let me leave. They walked me right over to the mental health clinic to get checked out. That fall (2000), I was diagnosed with Bipolar I. Around the same time I also was diagnosed with an underactive thyroid and began thyroid hormone support.
Enter a series of different cocktails of psychiatric medications. My weight yo-yo’d along with all the side effects of the various medications (mood stabilizers, anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, benzodiazepines). I continued to have all the classic symptoms of Bipolar I, grandiose ideas, paranoia, severe depression, anxiety. I wouldn’t allow myself to have a credit card because I couldn’t trust that I wouldn’t spend the whole thing in a matter of a couple of months. I made one major attempt to take my life by intentionally overdosing on about 40 slow-release lithium tablets (please do not try this; after dialysis I am lucky to be alive and not a vegetable). I was also hospitalized on several occasions for short inpatient psychiatric treatment stays. I didn’t have many friends because I wasn’t stable enough to be a reliable friend. People didn’t know how to behave around me and treated me differently, like someone who needed extra care instead of just like anyone else. I went through various cocktails of medications and found I responded better to the older, but that I was never truly “stable.” I tell this part of my life story not to shock, but to say that there is hope for healing. I want to show how far I have come and how far it is possible for others to go by adopting the Primal Blueprint. Photo: me in 2007 after several years of medication.
I went back and forth with running over the years as a way to lose the weight that the medications put on. Running also became an addiction and a meditation for me; a different way to escape reality. Add in my rescue border collie to run with, and I was in heaven. Running with her was my happy place. It saw me through broken friendships, a divorce and meeting the incredibly supportive and loving husband I have been with for the past 10 years. On the first date I told him my diagnosis, and he said “ok, let’s do this.” My friends told me I was crazy to tell him. I guess they didn’t know my diagnosis…. Photo: happy wedding day. (Me in 2013.)
Without realizing it, running made me sick with more inflammation. I ran six half marathons and one full marathon before quitting due to severe tendonitis in one ankle. At this point I was frustrated. I had been heavily medicated for over 15 years and never really felt well; I felt like I was hiding behind a veil and not letting people see my true self. I started doing research on scholarly articles for how gluten and casein could play a role in exacerbating mood disorders. I decided to eliminate gluten from my diet. Within a week my husband asked where my stomach had gone. I had been so bloated for as long as I could remember that I thought it was normal.
Nursing my ankle back to health and still feeling frustrated, I continued with my research and somehow stumbled on Mark’s Daily Apple in early 2016. AND IT ALL CLICKED. The pieces of the puzzle finally came together. The health and environmental impacts of following the PB made complete sense and I was all in. I was already GF, but I started adopting more of the PB principles. We bought organic grass-fed meats from the local farm, ate organic veggies. I ditched process foods and sugar. I stopped drinking caffeine. I identified that gluten, caffeine and sugar gave me anxiety, and that dairy gave me depression. I eventually also ditched alcohol, which I realized also caused depression and sleep disturbances. I went from brittle nails to being irritated with how often I had to trim them. The extra 25 pounds slowly fell off over the next year and a half. I was on the lowest maintenance doses of my medications ever. My period was normal for the first time in my life ever, regular and with no PMS.
This is me on vacation in St. Croix in 2017 – I’m at my healthiest ever but still medicated.
I was doing kundalini yoga at the time and without realizing the power of the practice, I put myself into a manic state. Despite my pleas not to, I finally agreed with the psychiatrist to go back on Zyprexa. This medication destroyed my gut microbiome I had worked so hard to repair, and I gained 20 pounds back in a matter of two months. Once I was off the Zyprexa, I continued to eat Primally, but not as well as I had been. My psychiatrist is thankfully one who is a bit more progressive than most. He listened to me tell him that I felt like I was pinging back and forth on low doses of mood stabilizers to anti-depressants. He decided to take me off medication and see what happens. After 17 years of psychiatric medications, I took my last dose Thanksgiving of 2017. If that isn’t a success story, then I don’t know what is.
A year and a half later, I am still struggling to lose the weight, and have my periods back to normal. I struggle with sleep on a regular basis. I am working with a naturopath to identify supplements that support the methylation pathway issues we identified, and sleep is slowly normalizing. But I am still off psychiatric medication and my thyroid hormone medication dose has slowly been lowered by a third of what it was two years ago. I have had no paranoia, and no mania. I have not been hospitalized in almost three years. I have had only minor bouts of depression, mostly associated with hormones.
I can’t do the 80/20 rule like most folks can and am much closer to a 100% rule. That works for me, but doesn’t work for everyone. I do not eat gluten, except for maybe one special “treat” while on vacation once or twice a year. I do not eat dairy. I meditate and practice mindfulness and compassion. I do yoga, hike, walk, play with my dogs, and do body weight exercises when I am up for them. I use a kettlebell for my sprints once every week or two. I run a 5k once a month to get my running in but won’t allow myself to do more than that. I have embraced minimalist shoes 100% of the time, if I am not allowed to be barefoot (happy ankles and feet again). I have slowly been reducing my need for glasses for myopia. I began removing environmental toxins from my life years before I discovered the PB. Allergies are less severe and I have much less frequent sinus infections, and, when I get them I recover much quicker. So, while I feel like I am struggling to get back to where I was and feeling really frustrated, I have to remind myself that I already am a success story. My psychiatrist now jokes that I am a boring person for him and has discussed discharging me. He asked what I think precipitated the illness. I really don’t know the answer, but my guess is an unchecked thyroid condition (my antibodies were negative the one time I checked, so I don’t know if I have an autoimmune condition), a really bad diet, emotional trauma as a child and extreme stress. I don’t know the answer, but I guess it doesn’t really matter because I have a way to manage my symptoms.
This is me in the early morning after hiking to the top of Moro Rock in Sequoia NP in 2018. Feeling healthy and happy being medication free! Mark, my husband, my dogs, my family, my friends and I thank you for saving my life. My psychiatrist told me several years ago that of all the people he treats with Bipolar I, only about 25% are able to function in society (complete college and hold a successful and functional place in the career world/society). Statistics indicate that I would have eventually either taken my life or the psychiatric medications would have done it for me. Thank you again for saving my life and giving hope to others. I’ve often been told that I am strong to have been through so much and made it this far. My husband tells me how much he admires that I get up and face the world every day even though all I want to do is curl up with the dogs and a book in bed. He asked if I was scared what people might say if they found my story. It doesn’t matter. I’ve found that people are too quick to dismiss me because of a label. I’m sick of being a label and an outcast. If my story is out there and can help one person, then I feel fulfilled. Because maybe someone else is out there looking for another way, but they can’t find it because someone didn’t speak up to tell them that there might be. I really appreciate you giving me a way to take back control of my life. Thank you for giving me the means to help myself. Hopefully my story can provide help and hope for others.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.