[This is Sarah's story, in her own words, compiled by me (Sarabeth) from
the following articles and posts on her website. I am most appreciative
for the permission to post her work here.]
Manic depression (Bipolar) and the GAPS diet
by Sarah Schatz
I’ve had signs of digestive distress ever since I was a baby. I had several different skin rashes as a child and was sick very often with strep. I took antibiotics frequently for these infections and later for urinary tract infections. I also had hay fever.
As a teenager, my digestive problems worsened into terrible stomach aches. I also remember being fairly depressed in high school and was extremely anti-social, having only a few close friends. The only thing I was really interested in was art and looking forward to college and traveling. After high school I discovered, by doing an elimination diet, that I was sensitive/allergic to wheat, dairy and sugar. I later was tested and rye also came up as a problem food.
Despite this knowledge, I wasn’t able to stick to a diet free of these allergens. I was essentially addicted to them and I couldn’t break free. I gained and lost weight several times, and a few times I was at least thirty pounds overweight. Then there were times I was too thin and malnourished. I also continued to have skin rashes and digestive problems for years.
Much of this time, I felt like I never really fit into life and I was often depressed without realizing it. It was almost like I had been dropped on this planet but it really wasn’t my home and I didn’t know how to cope here. In essence, I was extremely unhappy on the inside and looking for all kinds of “things” on the outside to make me happy.
I was mostly interested in spirituality, art, creativity, and children, but had a hard time finding work to support these interests. I was also very much interested in alternative healing modalities, mostly because I was seeking help for myself. I studied/tried out acupuncture, acupressure, essential oils, chiropractic, breath work, art therapy, meditation, and others. Everything helped a little bit. But I continued to have emotional highs and lows, never feeling stable or grounded in life.
Another key factor during my early twenties was my inability to stick with anything. I never finished college, then became a nun at an ashram for a year, then studied massage, then acupuncture and then art, each for a year’s time. Every time I tried to commit to something, I couldn’t finish it.
Meanwhile, I met my first husband and married, but this ended in a separation after only six months. My heart was broken, but when it broke, it showed me all the places I already felt so lost in myself. I really didn’t feel like life was worth living. I had several periods when I just wanted to die. I was very depressed even before my husband asked for a separation, so it wasn’t necessarily the separation I was depressed about. But everything that I thought was stable in my life was taken away, which deepened my despair.
Deep in my heart I always knew that life was about being happy. And I may have appeared happy on the outside, because I became quite good at putting on a show. But inside, I felt like I was always on an infinite search for peace and happiness. At times I felt like I found it through certain things like creating artwork, dancing and other things I enjoyed.
But it never lasted. Life seemed like an endless mountain to be climbed. I would finally reach one peak, find some joy, only to be crushed by another plummet into depression.
...And yet, what seemed hard back then, now seems like a walk in the park. It's not to say that all those years of feeling hopeless and depressed weren’t difficult--but my experiences after the birth of my son were some of the hardest I have ever been through in my life.
Because it was so difficult, I didn’t share it with many people. Many of my family members don’t know the extent of the difficulties we faced as a family the first year or so of Elijah’s life. And the doctors who I visited never got the full run down because I felt so bad about the situation – namely, I blamed myself.
Within a week after giving birth, I had signs of postpartum depression; the “normal” feelings of being sad and not having a good reason for it. I remember looking around our extremely messy house and starting to cry. During the next several months the sadness came and went but I don’t ever remember feeling really happy during this time like I would have expected to feel with a new baby.
Within eight weeks, my depression and mood swings progressed into periods when I felt out of control with frustration and anger. The first few times were somewhat mild. One time I got frustrated about something (probably breastfeeding) and kicked over the rocking stool in front of the rocking chair with my computer on it. It kind of came out of the blue and I was confused why I did this.
Mostly I would just kick things uncontrollably, every once in a while when I was frustrated. And it was quick and transient. Brief enough that it just seemed strange. I wrote an email to my midwife and told her I was kicking things, was unhappy and didn’t know what to do. But when she came and visited me, the “happy and bright me” was out and everything seemed fine so she never really got the full story. She thought I was “fine” because that is what I led her to believe.
When I started back to work cooking as a personal chef, this added to my stress. I was still waking several times a night to breastfeed. I was also not getting enough to eat because of my limited diet. (At about 9 or 10 weeks, I cut out dairy, eggs, soy, spicy foods, gassy veggies and other foods out of my diet because Elijah was colicky. This helped with the colic but I wasn’t getting enough to eat because I didn’t know what to eat.)
I don’t remember exactly when the first major “rage spell” happened, but it was sometime within the first three months of Elijah’s life. I don’t even remember what precipitated it. But suddenly, I was completely frustrated and felt very uncoordinated when I was trying to get some food out of the fridge. I had Elijah in my arms but part of me wasn’t even aware he was there.
I started to “lose it”, and I took my frustration out on the vegetable crisper drawer. I started kicking it and didn’t stop until it was in pieces. Then I ran upstairs (I think I handed Elijah off to my husband) and into the bedroom, in tears.
Part of me was in shock that I could do something like that; another part of me was still steaming with rage; and another part of me wanted to bawl. I usually ended up in tears after one of my “freak out” episodes, from the sheer frustration of not knowing why this was happening and feeling so out of control in my life. I would also go back to being very depressed.
These episodes would usually come out of the blue or sometimes in the middle of the night when Elijah kept waking me up. I would be feeling pretty okay, and then something would set me off and I would find myself punching the daylights out of something close at hand. Luckily they were all inanimate objects like the microwave, a wicker bathroom basket, a wooden dish drainer, tea boxes, and other odd items. Although I didn’t count them, it seemed as though they happened a few times a month for most
of the first year of Elijah’s life. They got worse when Elijah was teething and waking more frequently, or if I was working more than I could really handle.
During these “freak outs,” I always felt like I was completely out of control. I also felt completely uncoordinated, like I had a new pair of hands that really didn’t belong to me that were doing all sorts of things that I really didn’t want to do, but couldn’t stop doing. The episodes would usually end with me screaming at my husband to help me, to do something, anything. He would be holding Elijah to keep him safe from the things I was throwing around the house.
I felt like another person watching a complete lunatic. Yet it was me, yelling, screaming and throwing stuff, and I was at a great loss as to what to do because I felt such shame about the whole thing.
When Elijah was about 6 months, I started doing research about depression and food allergies. I was still eating wheat (even though I knew I was allergic to it), and one day when I went overboard on eating some home made bread, I felt utterly hopeless and depressed the next day. I finally made the connection and felt I had found a big piece to the puzzle. I stopped eating wheat and also started testing other grains like oatmeal and rye. I seemed to also react to those as well so I went gluten free.
I thought that going gluten free would be the answer. But sleep deprivation and other issues continued, and during the fall of 2008 when Elijah was almost a year old, I thought I was going to completely lose my mind if I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. I couldn’t go back to sleep after Elijah woke me in the middle of the night anymore. It seemed as though the chemicals in my brain that helped with this had been shorted out and I just couldn’t sleep normally any longer.
Then during September of 2009, I was contacted by someone who asked me if I could do menu planning for a diet called GAPS, which stands for Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I checked out the diet and told her it was similar to the limited diet menu planner I had been planning to create. (At the time I was eating gluten-free myself, but I was also still eating some sugar and plenty of starchy veggies like potatoes and sweet potatoes.)
The GAPS lady told me that the diet was starting to help her. She was able to eat foods that she had previously been unable to tolerate. Symptoms had started clearing up, and she said she could actually think straight. Before, she had difficulty even carrying on a conversation with people, and now she could actually focus. All of this intrigued me and I looked at the GAPS site again more closely.
I realized that this diet was also largely based on traditional foods like nourishing meat stocks, fermented vegetables and dairy, and whole, unadulterated real foods. These are all things I love so I became more and more interested in the diet. What intrigued me the most was that the diet aims to heal the gut lining, which in turn helps to heal the mind.
I read the testimonials and was astounded at the changes that people have experienced through implementing this diet. I ordered the books and didn’t jump in right away, but within a few weeks, I was grain, sugar and starch free. Because my son had colic, food allergies, slow weight gain, prolonged night-wakings, and at times aggressive behavior, I decided to put him on the diet as well. I thought it would be easier if we were eating the same things anyway. It took a while to find replacements for the things that Elijah and I love to eat but we eventually adapted.
It wasn’t overnight that I started feeling better. I started having “die-off” reactions after eliminating starches and grains from my diet. I was also taking coconut oil, which can create die-off. There were days I felt awful, like I had been hit by a truck or like I was getting the flu. Then it would clear up in a day or so and I would feel better. One time it lasted 3-4 days, where I felt like I had every possible symptom I’ve ever had. After it cleared, I remember feeling like an onion whose skins had been pulled away.
I slowly started feeling better more often, and eating the GAPS way got easier. I started having more energy; I started feeling happy for no reason. I was becoming even-tempered and was able to focus on my work in a way that had previously been impossible. I was excited about life again. I was inspired! I was no longer anxious for no reason. My digestion was slower to respond, but is now better than it’s been for a long time.
My life with Elijah became much easier. Keep in mind we started the diet a few months before his 2 year old birthday. When I told my doctor that things were easier now that he was two, this spoke volumes to both her and to me about how the diet had started to help us. Oh, and he started sleeping through the night when he began GAPS, which was a godsend. And I simply felt a lot more patient and Elijah was more relaxed too. Instead of struggling every day, we started actually having peaceful days without any major events.
Even now that Elijah is 2 ½, and having temper tantrums about things he wants but can’t have, it is much easier for me to handle than a year ago. Because I feel even-minded so frequently, I am much stronger and able to deal with him. Before I would fly off the handle because of something very small and my frustrations wouldn’t be very appropriate. Now, instead of just feeling sad or frustrated for no good reason, I feel these things when it’s actually appropriate to feel them. I also don’t get lost in the emotion like I used to, and it doesn’t stick around as long.
Oh, and no more crazy rageful manic episodes where I feel out of control. The last one to date was actually after I started GAPS, but when I accidentally drank some unfermented milk. I was going to make yogurt, and didn’t think a little bit of milk would affect me. Within a couple hours I started feeling like my head wasn’t on straight and I started getting anal about everything. I also felt wired like I had drank coffee and couldn’t calm myself down. At the end of the day, Elijah dumped a dozen eggs onto the floor. I looked at it and my eyes just bugged out and I thought I was going to lose it. At least I had the ability to call my husband inside to help clean it up. I tried to help but those crazy, uncoordinated hands returned. I couldn’t do anything without making a mess or throwing stuff around the house so I stormed upstairs. Lesson learned: lactose makes Sarah nuts. (The yogurt I make on the GAPS diet is fermented 24 hours so that the lactose is eaten up by the good bacteria.)
In general now, I am just happy. I realize that this is how we are meant to feel, and it isn’t about having lots of money, having the right job, or anything else external. It’s just about being happy in this life, and then from that happiness, creating a life that reflects your heart’s desires.
But I tried getting happy in so many ways throughout my teenage years and my twenties. There is a part of me that wonders what life would have been like for me if I had gone on this diet a long time ago. Of course I can’t dwell on the past. But it does motivate me to share and help people who may be going through similar situations.
If there is one thing I now believe, it is that food affects us on many levels. It reaches into the realms of the emotional, mental, as well as spiritual. I feel as though this life is a gift that God has given me, even though for so long, it felt like a curse I was living.
Many people can’t imagine eliminating all grains, sugars, starchy vegetables, hydrogenated oils and all canned and processed foods from their diet. But if you can’t imagine not eating these foods, maybe you can imagine what life would be like if you were even-minded, happy, energetic, and healthy every day?
Believe me. It’s worth it. Life is worth it. And above all, our children are worth it.
Partial List of Symptoms that GAPS has Addressed For Me
--Anxiety attacks, Mental breakdowns, Rageful episodes, Lack of control over my body
Gone, except for the one time when I accidentally ate a spoonful of goat milk after being on GAPS for a month or so.
--Inappropriate anger and frustration
This is pretty much gone. It still comes up if I am detoxing or reacting to something I ate. We have been testing some GAPS cheeses and they haven’t all worked for us so I know I am reacting when I start to get edgy.
I DO still get frustrated and angry but it is within normal range and for a reason, like when Elijah breaks something. But it doesn’t last and doesn’t push me into a mental roller coaster.
--Emotional ups and downs
I am happily “driving a car” instead of being “on a roller coaster ride.” Before, life was constantly up and down; I can’t believe how even I am most of the time now.
--Inability to focus and concentrate
Things are awesome in this department unless I have been sick or detoxing.
--Lack of self-confidence/doubting myself and life
Again, this has changed so much. I didn’t realize how much I struggled with this until it went away. I had no idea that how I felt about myself was related to my gut.
Gone. The only times I have been depressed are when I have eaten something I shouldn’t have or when I am actually sad about something for a real reason (but it doesn’t last, like depression.)
I have actually come to realize that the sinking feeling in my chest is a sign that I ate something that didn’t agree with me. I lived my whole life trying to get happy. Now I just am happy!
--Blaming and nagging my husband
Gone – a byproduct of being happy and content and no longer obsessive about messes around the house. This has obviously helped our relationship and we are closer than we ever have been.
Gone - Instead, general happiness, contentment, hope, joy and feeling of peace on a daily basis. I used to think I had to work for this.
--“Life sucks” and “I hate my life”
Definitely don’t feel this anymore. Quite the opposite – I am so grateful for everything, even the hard stuff.
My memory is so much better. I still sometimes can’t remember the word I am trying to say or I forget the shopping list. But overall it feels more normal now.
It's quite the opposite now. I feel more productive than ever, while I also give myself time to rest too.
--Unexplained nervousness and anxiety
Gone. I had no idea why I felt this at times when there was nothing to be nervous about.
--Lack of inspiration
Now I'm inspired!
Never got “diagnosed” for this, but when I would be in a full-on reaction, my brain would start going crazy if there was stuff all over the house or there were a lot of dishes. I would start cleaning obsessively and couldn't stop. This is gone too now that I’ve been on GAPS for a while.
--Sensitive to sounds, sights, and too much commotion. I have always been a sensitive person – so much so that going to the mall was usually an exhausting experience for me.
I now find that things are getting better in this department. I don’t get as overwhelmed but still do sometimes, especially when Elijah is going a mile a minute.
--General digestive problems throughout my life
Overall, much better but I feel I still have healing to do.
This has improved a lot but I am still prone to constipation when I am under a lot of stress – like the week we moved, etc. I also find that eating plenty of veggies keeps things regular.
These are very infrequent but still do have some stomach aches now and then. Not like when I was a teen though, when I often had stomach aches that lasted a long time.
--Eczema and mystery rashes on several different places on my body
Went away after being on GAPS a few months and taking coconut oil.
My skin is very clear now but do have a pimple every now and then.
--Sick with colds and flu very often
Elijah and I were hardly sick the winter after starting GAPS. (We had been _constantly_ sick the previous year.) After we moved, I had a sinus infection and Elijah was sick twice. My feeling was that it was due to the stress of the move and the extra toxins floating around with new paint, carpeting, concrete dust from remodeling, and mold in the air conditioning (have since had our ducts cleaned). Needless to say, we’re still sensitive.
--Weight fluctuations throughout my life – 30 lbs over weight at some points and at least 5 lbs underweight while nursing my son.
I have gained 5 pounds since being on GAPS and feel I am actually at a good weight now. I was super skinny when Elijah was about 10 months old and had a hard time gaining any weight until we went on GAPS.
--Tiredness and general low energy.
I have so much more energy now. I think part of this is mental because my mood would slow me down and make me feel tired, or like I wanted to go to bed when it was the middle of the day because I felt so lousy.
--Sleep issues and night-wakings
Once we went on GAPS, Elijah started sleeping through the night consistently for the first time since he was born.
--Slow weight-gain for Elijah on breastmilk
He started gaining weight normally once I started feeding him solids when he was 5 ½ months old.
--Colic as an infant
This went away after I eliminated dairy, eggs, soy and other foods from my diet when I was nursing. He is still allergic to most dairy foods except homemade yogurt and butter.
--Wound up like a rubber band, hitting, biting, yelling, crying spells, etc.
I think part of this is being two. The other part is definitely influenced by what he eats. I have noticed these kinds of issues get more pronounced when he eats something he is reacting to. For the most part, these issues have improved dramatically since being on GAPS.