Let me preface this by saying: if I COULD eat vegan or vegetarian and still be the best version of myself, I would in a heartbeat. ALSO this isn’t to scare vegans / vegetarians into stopping their diet, I just hope to maybe shed some light on a subject that not many people know about (I certainly didn’t). I’ve been eating some form of vegetarianism for the past five years, and vegan for the last seven months of that time. I thought that what I was doing was good for my body and overall health. But if you look at a timeline over the past six years, my mental health was circling the drain.
At the pinnacle of my mental health maelstrom, I was on FIVE different medications. This bears repeating…I was 20-21 years old and on FIVE medications I took DAILY. That’s a story for another time; I will make a full blog post regarding my experience with medication at a later date. For now let’s focus on diet, which in my opinion is the main reason as to why I was feeling so awful. I decided to try vegetarianism with my best friend Isaac Wolfe (heeyy Ike). We watched a documentary together called ‘Meet Your Meat’ (if my memory serves me), and as an impressionable teen, that’s all Isaac and I needed to stop eating meat FOREVER. Perhaps a bit dramatic, but that’s actually what I thought. Now let’s take a snapshot of my mental health at this point in time, picture this: I’m a relatively timid, very confused, athletic, six foot four inch, 190 pounds, medication-less nineteen-year-old.
Let’s fast-forward two years for a quick, and fucking traumatizing story. It was a few months before my 21st birthday and things were going south faster than osprey for the winter (don’t fact-check this, I may have made it up). About two weeks after I had come out to my parents as a gay man (a story for another time), my body started to rebel against me. One morning I was dropping the kids off at the pool…uhh had a meeting with Charlie Brown…okay, I was taking a shit…
As a rule for this blog from this point forward, I would like to implement a safe word. This is a concept that I came across in Mamrie Hart’s book “You Deserve A Drink”, so that she could tell her stories in good conscience knowing full well she was WARNING her friends, family, loved ones that it was about to get gross, indecent, or both. Mamrie uses the word “Rutabaga” in her book, but I will be using “Rhubarb”, don’t get it twisted though, I know that’s an awfully close word choice to Mamrie’s but I SWEAR that rhubarb is an inside joke between me and several friends and has turned into a word that my roommate and I will work into conversation when we’re trying to get laid and want the other person to kindly fuck off. Hmm…maybe I should have rhubarb-ed that anecdote, anywho back to the actual topic!
So I stood up after taking my morning BM (bowel movement) and was horrified to discover an alarming (and I mean ALARMING) amount of blood in the bowl. So, naturally, I was panicked. I called Mama Wolfe, and she suggested that I check myself into the hospital just to make sure that I didn’t just shit out a lung. After being checked into a room for about an hour or so, my mother and father burst into the communal room, and my father nearly shouts “IS THIS BECAUSE YOU’VE BEEN HAVING ANAL SEX?!” Oh, my dear lord. Granted, I had just come out to my parents, so I guess it was a valid question, but no father, I have not even kissed a boy yet. And now the other four patients in the room know that I’m bleeding out of my ass, potentially from anal sex.
This continued to happen. And would get worse depending on my stress levels. Anyways, I had a colonoscopy done but everything checked out totally healthy and fine. So color me confused.
Let’s jump forward another two years. At this point, I had been vegan for about six months. The bleeding thing was only happening every few months, so I did what every rational, god-fearing, youth would do and ignored it completely. I visited with a nutritionist by recommendation of a family friend, who said that it had saved her life. At the time I thought she was being dramatic, but she wasn’t kidding. She had me do a MASSIVE blood panel, where the phlebotomist took 15 vials of blood. And she found a few interesting things…
- This is going to sound gross but I promise it’s not. I was told I had Leaky Gut Syndrome. I heard the word “syndrome” and was filling out my will as she was explaining it to me. Basically, my body was using and overusing my Adrenaline and Cortisol because of how frequently I was getting panic attacks. This in combination with the medication I was taking and my diet was wreaking havoc on my mental and physical health. So because of the excess of adrenaline and cortisol, and lack of proper nutrition, there was now permeability in my intestinal track. So this meant that with EVERYTHING that I ingested, whether if it was food or medication, some of it would be digested normally, but some of it would be permeated directly into my bloodstream. This was bad for a number of reasons. Firstly, my body wasn’t getting the proper nutrients OR full benefits of the medication I was taking. And second, my white blood cells saw the permeated food / chemicals as a foreign substance and attacked it like it was a virus, successfully depleting my immunity. Around this time I got sick at least every month and when I did I would be bed-ridden for multiple days.
- I was aromatizing. I weighed 243 pounds, 53 pounds heavier than I was when I first arrived at university. Yes, a big part of it was that I was overeating, but you try taking a medication that makes you INSATIABLY HUNGRY ALL OF THE TIME and you try to not gain weight. But another big part was that my diet caused my metabolism to go to shit. My metabolism has never been something to brag about, but at this point it felt almost nonexistent. But, I was also aromatizing, such a romantic word for such a shitty, yet admittedly, funny thing. This diagnosis meant that my body was trying to overcompensate for the severe overuse of adrenaline and cortisol in my body and was converting my testosterone into estrogen. Yes, I went through mood swings. Yes, my fat was being distributed in more “feminine places” like my hips and the sides of my chest. YES, my nipples were more sensitive. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? This was the worst body dysmorphia I had ever experienced.
- I had adrenal fatigue. This is pretty self-explanatory. Because of my diet my anxiety and panic were off the charts, and as a result what I was eating wasn’t helping to replenish those chemicals in my body. As a result, I was sleeping for 9-10 hours a night and had to take a nap at some point during the day.
I was experiencing such intense panic attacks that it became difficult to leave my house. I was afraid to drive, use public restrooms, eat in front of other people, speak to other people, go to class, and even hanging out with friends became difficult. I was miserable.
Let’s check in and see how I’m doing now, after three months of eating a specialized (very meat inclusive) diet. I now weigh 197 pounds, which I haven’t been below 200 since senior year of high school. I am on ONE medication, that I take as needed (and that is becoming less and less). I have been on dates, gone out with friends, traveled to six different cities, and three countries in Europe began pursuing my dream of photography, and made memories that I will remember forever. See it’s that last part that actually chokes me up. For so long, TOO LONG, I was afraid of everything, so much so that it left this sort of ink spill all over my memories. I became jaded towards my past. Thinking things like “yeah that could have been fun if I wasn’t close to vomiting”. But now, everything has become new, and bright, and I feel like the child that I never was. This is what life is supposed to feel like.
I don’t want to advertise the types of food my diet consists of because everybody is different and needs different things. But if you can, go and visit a certified nutritionist. The old adage “you are what you eat” is so unbelievably true, you owe it to yourself to feel the best you possibly can.
Much love & many adventures,