When I became mysteriously ill in 2016, I learned a crucial lesson: pills were not going to be enough.
Formerly a college student of average health, comfortably floating along on Prozac, Adderall, and birth control, I was shocked when I took a lab job and started experiencing nothing short of bodily retaliation soon after. I developed extreme fatigue, had three heavy periods within two months, and suffered panic and anxiety attacks for the first time.
Desperate to find a quick solution, I visited several different medical professionals. The general practitioner took me off Adderall, switched my antidepressant, and told me to take vitamin D. The gynecologist switched my birth control. The BioTE clinic shoved a testosterone pellet into my hip. The others, well, they gave me advice but couldn’t really help me beyond that.
Despite all the pills and the pellet, my health continued to plummet. Eventually, I had an anxiety attack so bad that I was practically bedridden for a couple of days, and during that time, I made the heartbreaking decision to quit my job. My father agreed to financially support me while I rehabilitated myself, and boy did I have my work cut out for me. After all, I’d just spent months trying to do exactly that, but at that point, it became clear to me that pills were not going to be enough.
I was very weak. My body needed fourteen hours of sleep each day, I was extremely depressed, and my confidence and self-esteem had been shattered. I could hardly do any housework, and I mostly laid on the couch for at least the first month. So I had to start very small.
The first treatment I could tolerate was Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with a licensed counselor, which I had started a couple months before I quit the lab job. I decided to continue meeting my counselor once per week, uncovering the roots of my mental stigmas, venting to get some of my burden off my heart, and most importantly, rewiring my brain by teaching me to view my problems in a different light. That latter component serves as the key behind CBT. Once I learned to reframe my thoughts, I began to see my life much more positively and regain some of my confidence.
The second treatment I added to my regimen was aromatherapy, an Eastern medicine practice in which one inhales purified essential oils as a means of boosting health. While many oils can soothe physical problems like headaches or allergies, I used them for their emotional properties. I quickly discovered two favorites: clary sage and lime oil. Clary sage oil helped me calm down and find mental clarity, and occasionally, it inspired me to be creative. Lime oil gave me a little energy and sharpened my focus. Aromatherapy became a critical component to my recovery by encouraging me to get off the couch and search for my next job.
The next thing I worked on (and continue to improve in my life to this day) was cooking healthier. I finally had enough time to cook meals at home instead of ordering takeout, so immediately the quality of my meals leapt upward. After tracking my meals for at least a week on a few different occasions, I learned where I had deficiencies or excesses in certain nutrients, and I would then adjust my weekly meal plan to accommodate for them. This had the biggest impact on my energy levels and overall wellbeing.
(For healthy meal ideas, check out our Recipes page.)
Lastly, once the first three additions to my life inspired me enough, I tried yoga. I practiced short YouTube routines only lasting about 15-20 minutes, but that small start in regular exercise created a lasting impact on me that developed into me doing weekly cardio, strength training, and stretching. Most immediately, learning to control my breathing and balance reduced my anxiety and depression, making me feel calmer and happier. Later on as I added a variety of exercises to my regimen, I regained my confidence.
All of this is not meant to discredit prescription medications, but rather to emphasize that health is multidimensional, requiring a balance among a wide variety of elements. In my case, I found medications that made me feel somewhat better, but I still needed to improve my diet, exercise regularly, learn healthy coping mechanisms and stress outlets, and reevaluate my career ambitions. Without all of those other things in check, I was weak and unfit to work. Now, I have more confidence and strength than I ever had before.
Pills only make up about half of the health equation, at best. I hope that my experience will encourage you to adopt a more holistic approach with your own health, not just within your body, but with the wide range of treatments and practices available, too!