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The Daily Beet: Tips, Advice and Stories

More Than The Blues

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*Just a note before I start. Before you make any changes to medication or treatment, talk to your doctor or a healthcare professional.

“There is nothing wrong with needing help” that was what was said to me in college, sitting in a counselors office. I knew something was wrong, I felt down, all the time. Not just that, I had been sitting in class one day and all of a sudden the room felt like it was collapsing in on itself. I couldn’t breathe, my heart was racing, I thought I was going to pass out. I finally went to the school clinic, there was “nothing wrong” with me, so they sent me to a counselor.

I really didn’t know what to tell the counselor. I was sad, pretty much all the time. I put a good face on it, but I just couldn’t shake being sad. And this new feeling of impending doom was not helping the situation.

From as early as I can remember I would feel sad, more often than I’d feel happy. I just thought it was some fault of my own. Depression was a part of my family as well, I’ve had family members commit suicide, and I’ve seen family members go through a lot of pain and anguish due to depression. For myself, I always assumed it had something to do with my weight. Life as an obese teen was not easy, so of course it seemed natural that I was sad.

So in college, they gave me some meds to ‘help’ the sadness and panic. Except, it just seemed to make things worse. I can’t explain it, or what it was doing to me, but it just didn’t help.

From my college years till a few years ago the depression was pretty severe. As most of you know, in the worst of my T2 diabetes and being sick, I contemplated taking my life (a few times), it was just a normal thought for me. Worse yet, so many people would tell me that I just needed to “snap out of it” or “focus on the positive”. I think these people were all well meaning, many people do not understand depression or panic, and I think most of our loved ones just want to see us be ok. But, no matter how hard I tried to snap out of it, or focus on the positive, it didn’t seem to work.

When I became plant-strong things started to shift, slightly. I started feeling better. It didn’t go away, but it was definitely a noticeable difference. Part of it was just having controlled blood sugar. Out of control blood sugar really makes depression and panic a lot worse, so just controlling my blood sugar was very important.

But I was still struggling, and I still was having panic attacks. Like I said, it was not as bad as they had been , but  panic and depression were still very much a part of my daily life.

Back in March I was at an Engine 2 Immersion in Austin. I was on the schedule to talk, normally I get nervous, but this time? It was more than nerves. The night before my talk I started to panic. My heart was racing, I was having a hard time breathing, I thought I’d pass out. Fifteen minutes before my talk, I checked my blood pressure with the Immersion Doctor, I was fine. She assured me I was fine, that I would not pass out and I was not having a heart attack. My brain however, still thought I might die.

Ten minutes before my talk, Doug Lisle, PhD who happened to be there, sat down with me and gave me some good advice, and reassured me again that I was not having a heart attack and I was not going to pass out. The room was spinning. I thought I should probably tell Rip I wasn’t going on, he’d have to do something else. Then, Doug stood up and said – “ok kid, let’s get moving”. We were outside the lecture hall, and he started jogging in place, doing wall push-ups and told me to do what he was doing. I thought he was nuts. I already felt like I was going to die, now he wanted me to workout? 10 minutes before my talk no less. But I did like he said, and started to move as much as I could. Doug explained that panic is an adrenaline response. It used to help us out a lot, if we heard something in the woods, we would have a surge of adrenaline, and that would help us run from danger. Basically, I needed to convince myself that I was running from danger, and I’d be safe.

After running in place, doing wall push-ups and moving around, Doug told me to punch him. Now, let me just state that Doug happens to be a world Judo champion, I don’t know if this is a good idea in general, to go punch someone. So Doug puts up his hands and told me to punch him as hard as I could, as many times as I could. (I’d like to state for the record, when your psychologist tells you to hit them, do it, it’s very therapeutic) :)

I was still feeling panicked, but I was able to give me talk.

After that talk, I was able to talk to Doug a bit more about depression and panic. He gave me advice that I had never been given before in regards to dealing with both of these issues. I needed to get moving. With depression, he told me that just moving a little every day (intentionally) tells my brain that things are going to turn out ok, that I’m “moving on”. When I got depressed in the past, I’d have a hard time just getting out of bed, or getting dressed for the day. The thought going to the gym seemed pretty silly to me, because that is the last thing I wanted to do when I was feeling depressed. But I started to do just that. When I’d start feeling down, I’d stop what I was doing and I’d get my workout clothes on, and I tell myself that I just need to go to the gym for 10 minutes. That was it. If I could just get there for 10 minutes, I knew that would be good enough.

Of course, I always stay longer than 10 minutes.

Since March, I’ve been very diligent about making sure that when I start to feel down or panicked, I start moving.

Recently, I’ve had a few things happen in my life that have been really hard to deal with, I won’t get into that, but I will say that normally these events would have caused me to become more depressed than I normally am, and I knew I was at risk for spiraling into some pretty severe depression. There was a night, a couple of months ago and I was really down, I couldn’t stop crying, and it was around 12:30 in the morning. I wasn’t sure what to do exactly, so I got up, put my workout clothes, went down to the gym, and got on a treadmill. I walked for about an hour, and started to feel better.

This has been my go-to ‘medication’ for the past few months now, and I’m starting to see a major difference. My panic attacks are all but gone, I don’t except they are 100% gone, but where they used to be a common experience, now they are few and far between. I’m getting a solid night sleep, every night.  (I should note, it wasn’t just feeling down, I’ve had a really hard time sleeping for as long as I could remember. Slowly, even my tendency not to fall asleep has gone away, and I started to fall asleep, in a good amount of time.) It takes me about 15-20 minutes to fall asleep, and I sleep through the night, and wake up and feel well rested. The feelings of sadness are also much less than they used to be, despite some current circumstances that I mentioned earlier.

I recently spoke at our “Plant-Stock” weekend. I drove up to the farmhouse, and had a little bit of panic. And then I decided to make sure that I was active during the weekend. It was a great environment for that, there was plenty to do, and plenty of physical activity. I started to feel more and more calm, and I kept expecting panic to strike, especially before my talk. I had pre-talk jitters, but I can say that for the first time, I didn’t have any bit of a panic attack. During my talk, while nervous, I didn’t have the same panic feelings that I have had in the past. I was kind of shocked.

While it might seem hard to imagine moving when you feel down, I have found for me it has been making the biggest difference. When I feel a panic attack coming on, I start moving, climbing stairs, wall push-ups, moving major muscle groups. When I start to feel down, I head to the gym, or outside for a walk (the sun helps a lot as well). Depression and panic can feel like an impossible battle, however I think that with a healthy plant-strong diet, reasonable activity we can start to see some improvement.For me, I also have sought out support from a professional which has been tremendously helpful.

I don’t know if this is the answer for everyone, but I can say for myself, personally, the combination of what I eat and getting active has really made all the difference, and I hope that as I continue I’ll keep seeing things improve, I don’t expect it to magically disappear, I except that through a lot of diligence I will keep seeing small improvements. If you suffer from depression or panic attacks, know that you are not alone, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, I think that a lot more people face it than we’ll eve know.  I believe there is hope when it comes to depression and panic. I don’t know that it will ever be an overnight fix, but I do believe with seeking help and lifestyle changes that things can be a lot better for many people.

For a long time I felt guilty over taking breaks, or going to workout, or putting myself first, but I’ve learned that taking care of myself is vital to how I live. Not everyday will be perfect, and I know that there will be bumps along the road, but I will continue to learn and grow along the way. I hope that you will do the same, you are worth it.

About the author

NatalaE2
Natala is the director of communications for Engine 2 Diet, she is also one of our coaches on our support site, Engine 2 Extra. A few years ago, Natala was at the end of her rope. She was on almost 15 medications daily, had out of control Type 2 Diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, issues with nerve damage, and was morbidly obese. She was just over 30 years old. She decided to take her life back by becoming plant-strong. She has lost over 200 pounds, got off of all of her medications and now has great health numbers. Natala plays the violin and studied music therapy. She became passionate about plant-strong nutrition, received her Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition through Cornell University, a certificate in Health Promotion and Disease Prevention and is currently pursuing a degree in nutritional sciences. Natala is also a featured speaker at our Engine 2 Retreats she talks about the reality of our nations obesity epidemic as well as providing practical steps to becoming a healthier person.

22 Responses to “More Than The Blues”

  1. VeganMomNY says:

    You are the bravest, most beautiful woman I have ever met. I heard you at plant-stock, you were the highlight of the weekend for me, more than any other speaker. Thank you for speaking out, and thank you for being brave and giving your talk. Everyone around me loved you as well, and said that you were the best talk, and that is among many plant-strong giants. Love and admiration.

  2. Sarah says:

    I know it took a lot to write this, I have suffered from depression for 12 years, I am now medicine free, going plant-strong, seeing a therapist and running helped me a lot. Like you, I don’t think it ever goes completely away, but it is so much better now.

    • John says:

      I really liked this article. I have anxiety and it really helps me to go out and push mow the lawn. I also felt like I was having a heart attack and the mowing was the only thing that seemed to help. I now have a heavy bag that I work out with and that is great. This article really helped me to understand why I feel the way I do and that there are others out there that feel the same way.

  3. Jenn says:

    YES!!! THIS!!!!! I Love you Natala. You are so strong. I had very severe panic for a long time, and was on meds that made things a lot worse, when I got off the meds, I didn’t know what I’d do. It was about that time I watched Forks Over Knives, changed my diet to be a very clean, plant-strong diet, and I also started moving. My panic attacks are much less now, I used to get one about 2 times per day, and now I get one about once a week, so I’m not “cured” but I’m living a lot better now. I can do things like drive in my car and go to the grocery store, without being afraid. Thank you for writing about your struggles, many of us relate.

  4. Jane says:

    How lucky for you to have Doug Lisle right there when you needed him! This is great advice Natala. I have never had a panic attack, but I have gone through depression. I found that when I started a daily yoga practice things got a lot better for me, so what you say makes a lot of sense. My grandmother also had Type 2 diabetes, and she got very depressed the higher her sugar became, the doctors all told us that depression was a major warning sign of diabetes. Sadly, she lost her battle.

  5. Belum says:

    Wow. I have been on antidepressant medication since I was twelve years old. (I’m 45 now.) While they keep me from being suicidal, they also make me fat, tired, lethargic, and destroy my libido. I have wanted to come off of them for years, but was terrified of the side effects. Reading your story has made me think about my eating habits even more than I already do! If going completely meat-free will help not only my body but my mind, I am even more determined to try. I would hug you right now if I could. You are brave beyond words! (I wonder if people will think it is strange if I start doing jumping jacks in their presence the next time I have a panic attack?!?) Sending you may blessings!

    • Natala says:

      I sneak away to a restroom when I’m having a panic attack :) I’ll also find a flight of stairs and just start walking up and down them.

  6. Beverly Perry says:

    Thank you so much for your encourgement. I’m very much alone in what I am trying to do.

  7. Mike says:

    I’ve said it before, but you are the most important voice in this movement. You are real, honest and you have a compassion that knows no bounds. I know this is weird, we’ve never met, but I really do love you Natala, you are on my bucket list of people to meet, I’m saving my pennies to go to a farms 2 forks weekend so I can meet you. I promise I’m not a stalker, you’ve just really changed my life.

  8. Diane LeBeau says:

    Nice job , Natala. Others benefit from your shared experience. Thanks.

  9. Jennika Ella Wasilewsky says:

    I like this! I tend to get panic attacks too. Sometimes when I’m driving I get nervous, so I can’t obviously work out, but what I do is chew gum! It does help! FYI!

    • Natala says:

      When I’m driving, I tense up my muscles in my upper legs and arms, that seems to help me a bunch.

  10. Sherry says:

    I really hope that Rip knows how lucky he is that you are on his team. You are the voice of the (real) people. This is what most of us are going through, and I don’t feel like anyone else in the plant-based movement understands.

    • natala says:

      I consider myself the lucky one :) Rip has been so supportive and encouraging to me – he’s the real deal!

  11. Susan from Orlando says:

    I would buy 100 of your books.

  12. OnePennyJumblePacket says:

    What an awesome post! I’ve been following you for awhile, and I always appreciate your honesty and candor. When I read your posts, I always get the wonderful sense connecting to a real person at the other end. You are an amazing, brave woman. Kudos to you.

  13. Barbara Whitney says:

    Thank you for sharing this important information! I also find that I get down when I’m not active. that happened after my recent driving trip, when I was inactive for a week and then hurt my back and was inactive some more. I got more and more down. Once I started getting more active, I got happier. pretty amazing.

  14. Darlene says:

    You my beautiful woman are a shining example of what all people in this movement should be about. I’m so tired of the bickering and the body image wars. Please keep speaking up, and please write a book for all of us. You have a huge fan base!

  15. Jean Hayes says:

    Thank you so much for this blog! I have been feeling very nervous this week, work related pressures and I think these tools you used could really help! You are a treasure!!

  16. mommyof4ms says:

    I really enjoyed reading your insight into dealing with depression and anxiety. I, too, have had my share of dealing with depression since my late 20s. Have done the meds, counseling, support groups, etc. I have been able to periodically go off the meds, but life events happen and haven’t been able to stay off. I started switching to plant based/strong eating in May. I had already switched to vegetarian before that for about 3 months, but after my oldest daughter shared with me the Forks and Knives video, I decided to go the rest of the way. That being said, I have, in the last year, lost 40 pounds by watching what I’m eating and walking/exercising. I have cut my cholesterol in half, so off two meds for that. With time, consistency in eating plant strong, and staying activie, I look forward to perhaps getting off more meds, too. Thanks for sharing your story.

  17. The Vegan Gypsy says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, for continuing to be such an inspiration! I have suffered from anxiety & depression for years, in various degrees, and know that exercise is the best medicine for me as well. I appreciate the reminder and motivation to get moving!

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