[I am most appreciative for the chance to post the following interview/essay. It is adapted from an audio interview with Churyl that can be found here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/gapsjourney/2011/05/20/churyl--healing-from-depression-with-gaps-diet.]
Even as a child, I was moody and given to bouts of sadness and holding grudges. My mom says I used to make her cry because I was so mean in the winters. As an adult I was diagnosed with severe Seasonal Affective Disorder. I remember spending winters in my bed, exhausted, depressed, and mad.
When I was 22, I read John Robbins' book, Diet for a New America. I decided to become a vegetarian because I didn't know how to cook meat, and blamed it for my constant issues with constipation and very painful bowel movements my whole life. (I also thought vegetarianism was better for the environment and my general health. Now I have the opposite belief on both counts: I feel like large scale agriculture and cheap carbs are responsible for the human population explosion, which in turn is bad for the rest of the planet.)
Also when I was 22, I became so depressed that it became a physical pain in my chest. I actually thought I might have cancer. I remember seeing a homeless person and wishing I could switch places with him, because, surely, he wasn't in pain every second of every day like I was.
After a year of intense suffering and not wanting to go on, I saw a doctor. He said, We'll put you on anti-depressants. If they work, it will mean you have a Chemical Imbalance and that you need them in order to get back on track.
The drugs worked. But only at a very high dosage. And I ended up staying on them for 11 years. Every time I tried to quit, the depression was so insane, I wanted to die. It was even worse than the original depression. I'll never forget the day I heard on the radio that Paul McCartney's wife died of cancer, and I felt jealous.
Though the medication worked, and getting off was difficult, the side effects were terrible. Particularly terrible was the exhaustion. I mean, I was tired to the bone. I slept 16 hours a day. Had a sleeping bag in my car at all times. Worked part time, and ran to my car every break to sleep. I only bought shoes without laces because I was... Too. Tired. To. Tie. Them. I couldn't keep up friendships. My love relationships suffered. I was very thin because all the sleep and exhaustion messed with my appetite and ability to get food.
Now that I've done more reading on the subject, I've realized that the meds were wiping out my good gut flora, too.
When I got pregnant in 2005, my psychiatrist told me I had to quit. I was terrified. I did not want to experience that darkness ever again. The only thing that could have convinced me to try was the health and life of my unborn baby. I weaned onto wellbutrin first, and was able to make it through my pregnancy.
Also when I was pregnant, I began eating meat again, and a lot more fats because I started working at a college with an all-you-can-eat buffet, and couldn't resist. I wonder if that helped...? (I used to laugh and tell people that I led a torturous life because I was a Vegetarian who despised vegetables and loved meat. I could never eat another vegetable in my life and be perfectly happy.)
After my son was born, I was able to stay off meds. I wasn't depressed. But I would have obsessive thoughts. I would worry about something over and over again. Should I have another child?!? Peak oil...I need to get on a boat and learn how to farm!!! The environment...we're all gonna die!!! My family is too far away!!! My relationship isn't right!!! I would have certain sentences about a certain subject, and they would cycle repetitively. I used to wish there was a STOP button in my brain. I drove myself crazy! I also felt constant guilt. I was overly sensitive. My poor partner. And poor me!
For years after the birth of my son, I was still so tired. I decided to try a raw vegan diet after reading many glowing testimonials about vigor and glowing health from those who had tried it. Besides, Demi Moore and Pierce Brosnan were reported to be raw. And look at them! I also had a feeling that grains were not right for me.
I felt alright for a few weeks on this raw vegan diet, but then my fatigue returned and intensified. I had joined an exercise boot camp and had to drop out despite being in the beginner group. I was light-headed and unhappy. Finally, one day I googled “raw vegan tired” and found a lot of paleolithic sites. I did a raw paleo diet for a while, and read a lot about Weston Price. It was not too long after that I found out about GAPS.
I've always been fascinated by ultimate health...always looking for the next snake oil, so to speak. And then I met a child in my son's preschool. This boy had eczema on his face, strange behaviors and eye contact, food allergies, and brought separate food from home. I saw him again after he'd been on GAPS for a year, and he was transformed! Looked me straight in the eyes. I took him on a 20 minute canoe ride. He was completely appropriate and lovely, sported a ruddy complexion, he was eating food with everyone else, he was full of happiness and energy. It was such a change! So, of course, I had to ask his parents what brought about the change. They said, GAPS. I bought the book a few days later and started intro a few weeks later on June 1st, 2010.
Immediately after starting GAPS, I began feeling better and better. It was so gradual that I didn't notice it except in hindsight. But I can tell you that this GAPS year has been the happiest of my life. In the last few months, my obsessive thoughts have disappeared. My moods are even. I am ridiculously happy. Often beaming! I feel negative emotions sometimes, but not for long. I feel so unbelievably lucky. My heart feels full of love and inexplicable JOY!! I am blessed.
My energy levels have been the latest thing to turn around. After 11 years spent feeling only half alive on meds, then years of exhaustion on veg/ vegan diets and new motherhood with my son waking ten times a night for years, I was desperate for energy. I used to wish I could go on welfare and just sleep. Or get pregnant and go on bed rest. All I wanted was to be left alone to sleep.
Even on GAPS at the beginning, I was tiiiiirrrreeeedddd. I think it was a combo of ill health and a lot of detoxing. But then there was a time, a few months ago, when I felt like I came through the doorway from Tired to the land of ecstatic Energy.
This has been my one wish, above all, for my whole adult life. Please, please...give me energy. I have sooo many interests. I wanted to be social! I wanted to be generous! But I could do none of that in the Land of Tired.
Since being on GAPS for a year, I have a new life. I used to be able to do one or two errands in a day and then fall onto the couch. Now, I can do ten errands! And work! And see a friend! And play with my child! And do the dishes! And snuggle with my partner! And take the time to dress nicely! All in one day!
It is Uh. Mazing.
I feel like I'm gone from existing to THRIVING!
My biggest wish come true.
Other symptoms that are improving on GAPS:
Fatigue - resolved
Estrogen dominance - will get checked
Hypothyroid - will get checked
Severe sugar cravings - better
Weak nails - resolved
Eczema - I've had one patch since age 18, and it's gone now. I have one left.
Bowel movements used to be only every 2 or 3 days – I go everyday now.
Depression/ obsessive thought patterns/ perseverating - resolved.
PMS, cramps - resolved.
I believe I also had candida. I used to get bladder infections regularly, and I haven't had one for a long time now.
I used to brag about how I DID NOT cook. I had better things to do with my time. Growing up, my 3 sisters and I were told to get out of the kitchen. I typically don't like learning new skills, so I was never interested in learning. I survived my 20's and early 30's with frozen vegetarian dinners and restaurant burritos. When I got to the point where my health was deteriorating and I wanted to try GAPS, I was ready to do anything. Even (gasp!)...cook!
It took me a while to wrap my head around even the simplest of tasks. I had never bought meat in a store. I had never made soup. I had never even warmed up hot dogs! It took me hours to chop food. I had to buy knives, pots and pans. All the while, I was exhausted.
At the beginning, I was overwhelmed with cooking. Finding recipes, buying the food, making it, cleaning up, having to plan food for the week - it was all-consuming. Time for play and my partner disappeared into the big black hole called Cooking. I kept thinking I would try to make it until my health turned around, but I started to feel like I couldn't keep up.
One day an idea popped into my head to get help. I e-mailed my local Weston Price group asking for a mother's helper. I said I could pay a small amount per hour for someone to help chop and bottle and wash dishes under my supervision. Much to my amazement, two accomplished cooks answered my e-mail! I now had people who knew all about Weston Price...cooking methods, local sources...to cook with me. I even found someone who doesn't eat grains! I love my cook.
What a difference it made! I can't tell you. Every Sunday we cook together from 11a to 5p. I usually end up cooking and cleaning and finishing till 9p. We make all the food for the week. We have beautiful, gourmet food. And lots of it. I'm learning such a huge amount from her every week. I'm honing my skills. I'm becoming...a cook! A secondary, surprise benefit is that because I know the cook is coming, I make sure to have the recipes ready and groceries bought.
It feels really good to trust that I can make food for my family from scratch. And do it well! As much as I used to brag about not cooking, it wasn't something I preferred. Now I actually read cook books for fun! I'm obsessed with America's Test Kitchen. I love taking their recipes, and making them GAPS legal.
I have developed general cooking guidelines. I always make at least 4 lbs of meat at a time, and 3 to 4 lbs of veggies. Whenever I make chicken stock, we do a minimum of 3 chickens at a time. I try to make stews when I can, so that the meat, broth, and veggies are all in one dish. Easy to freeze and warm up during the week.
Really, the best thing about GAPS is, _I love the food!_ Some people feel deprived when they consider eating this way, but for me it has been the opposite. I can have _meat_! And _butter_! Ahhhhh....I love the food sooo much!
What is really wild is that my desire for grains have gone from a 10 to a 0. It blows my mind. As much as I loved them (bread used to be my absolute favorite food on earth), I realized long ago that these foods knocked me out.
I'd first caught on that grain might drain me of energy when I was in my early twenties and couldn't figure out why I'd wake up feeling okay, and then be dying to go back to sleep at 10am. It dawned on me that it was always after eating breakfast that I would feel this way, and breakfast was always cereal. I stopped eating it in the morning after that. Instead, I began eating it at night because it put me to sleep!
Then I started seeing that pasta had the same effect on me. The worst of it was when my son was a baby. We were vegetarian and often had pasta and bread. Everyday after dinner, my head would be in my plate by the time I finished eating. I would crawl to the bed and fall asleep. I could not stay awake. I felt terrible leaving my partner to deal with a fussy baby, a mountain of dishes, bed time, etc...on his own. It would take an hour and a half for me to recover. I literally could not stand up.
And so, when I decided to try GAPS, I was so excited about possibly getting my energy back that I was willing to temporarily forgo grains. I'll never forget the first time I went food shopping after starting this diet. All the breads, muffins, and pasta were leering at me...taunting me. I couldn't do it! I was freaked out. How could I go through such deprivation? I couldn't go through two years like this! I felt like crying. My beloved brrreeeaaadddd!!
But, honestly, that was the easiest craving to lose of all. I subsequently lost my taste for grains in a heartbeat. They suddenly seemed so bland and boring to me. I saw them as food for the birds! Instead of seeing a loaf of deliciousness, I saw a loaf of exhaustion. And it was something that tastes like air anyway - not worth it. Especially when I was learning I could make all the same things with almonds or coconut or squash instead of wheat.
If you are contemplating the GAPS diet, I would say that nothing is as important as health. Everything is eeeaaasssyyy when you're healthy. It's more fun. More vibrant. More thrilling. You can make your dreams come true with health.
The time and energy I spend on food is worth it. Instead of spending money on vacations, cable, clothing, toys...spend it on food and help. And then, once you get healthy, you'll be able to make all that money back and more. Not to mention, making real food at home will get easier, and cheaper when you take into account less time off being sick and paying for health insurance. I actually just changed my health insurance to catastrophic, because I just don't go to the doctor's office anymore.
I would say: join the many generations before us who cooked real food from scratch. Celebrate local, gorgeous food. Celebrate your body. See you and your family thrive!
The reason we are here is for Joy!
The last thing I want to say is that because of GAPS, I've had to reevaluate everything. Someone asked me recently, when do I want to retire? I used to say 65 or 70 because I thought I'd have to work that long since I could only work part time. Now I feel like I could make a lot more money with my newfound health, and retire earlier. I recently had to make choices about my retirement savings. I used to be so risk averse because it took all my blood, sweat, and tears to make every penny. Now it's different. When I think about having children, following my passions, teaching, travel, love, entertaining, it's a *completely* different picture. The world is now my oyster. I will do anything that makes my heart sing. And my heart is singing!
Post Script: I must confess, I feel the urge to add a disclaimer to my testimonial:
--It's hard...you won't see any progress for a looong time, maybe a year or more.
--You may often take two steps forward followed by one (or more) step back...
--But, in the end, I don't even miss the old foods that I was addicted to.
--And, in the end, it really does work.