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31 Comments

  1. I sure love a happy ending when it comes to psych meds! Thanks for sharing this story. I know it’s hard to write publicly about the most vulnerable parts of ourselves. I have been to hell and back with meds and people NEED to be informed before they decide to put that pill in their mouth. While I advocate personal responsibility, it is blatant malpractice the way I, and many others (I was young and scared), are given these drugs. Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Cari,

      Thanks for your comment! I’m so sorry you’ve had such a tough personal experience. I can relate. I do agree that when it comes to psych meds, true “informed consent” is rare, and that is tragic.

  2. Wow. Yes. Thank you so much for sharing this story.

    While I’m not anti-medication (it can quite literally be lifesaving for people, and a lot of us get too depressed to eat better or exercise), I’m always encouraging people to try going gluten-free and sugar-free for a couple weeks to see if they feel any different.

    This was also my experience, and I’ve spent the past few years repairing the damage in my body from years of anorexia, veganism, and SSRIs through different variations on the paleo theme.

    I wanted to mention a cutting-edge technology for treatment-resistant depression that I just finished that’s non-invasive and not medicine called TMS, or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. 30-40 × 1 hour sessions over 6-9 weeks of a magnetic tapping on the side of my frontal lobe has nearly eliminated my severe depression and significantly improved my anxiety. (I thought it was like shock therapy when I first heard about it, but it’s not at all.) It was a bit expensive but my insurance covered it. I imagine it’ll be a lot more common in the next few years.

    • Hi Alek,

      Congrats on taking charge of your health! I have never heard of TMS, but it sounds fascinating. I know a lot of people have good results with Fisher Wallace Devices, which provide a type of neurostimulation. I’ll keep my eye on TMS and am happy to hear about your success.

    • That TMS sounds really cool! I’m actually a college student in psychology and we just learned about TMS in class last week. My professor mentioned that it hasn’t been studied extensively, but there are many promising results that can come from that type of therapy. It’s really amazing to actually hear from someone who got this therapy and benefited from it!

  3. Lauren, thank you for sharing Holly’s story! Holly, you are a ‘holly warrior of humanity’, thank you! It seems to me that even if you are not on a path of depression, we can all experience negative thoughts that disrupts our lives in varying levels. Your story, Holly, (and Lauren’s) is such an inspiration in finding ways to understand our body and what it’s trying to say rather than just trying to ‘fix’ it (suppress the symptoms)!

    • Christiana, you are too sweet! I have to say that reading other peoples’ health stories (including Lauren’s) was an extremely important part of my healing journey. Seeing THEIR victories made me believe in MYSELF. I don’t know where I would be without blogs like this one. Thanks again for the kind words!

  4. Holly – thanks so much for sharing your story. Depression is so stigmatized and people sort of hide away and try to privately deal with it and I think it makes it even harder to heal – because the only answer that anyone around you is pointing you toward is medication. Medication that doesn’t really work in the long term. It’s so important to keep this conversation going. So happy for your progression and that you’re spreading your message 🙂 Food, exercise, all components of staying well have been so pivotal for my mental health. You can read more about my philosophies at http://www.kaleandtequila.com.

    • Angela, thanks for your kind words! Yes, unfortunately most mental health conditions come with deep stigma and shame, which is one of the main reasons I am compelled to share my story. I’m glad that you’ve also found healing through diet and lifestyle. It’s truly powerful!

  5. If you truly have a chemical imbalance, don’t drop the meds! Nutrition can help, but I take my meds any day over feeling suicidal on a monthly basis due to hormone fluctuations!

  6. Holly thank you for sharing your experience. All I can say is wow…. You are a warrior. Does your faith in God attribute to your success? I know people are reluctant to share that piece of it. Anyway I am glad you are healthy l, vibrant and alive! To God be the glory!

  7. Hi, everyone! Holly here.

    I would like to offer some clarification to my post, because I have received several emails and messages from people asking similar questions, such as:

    “Do you think nutrition is the ONLY way people can heal mood disorders?”
    “Is medication ever appropriate? Isn’t that the only choice for some people?”
    “What about people who have tried to heal mood disorders nutritionally and it doesn’t work for them?”

    These are all great questions! Here are my thoughts:

    I want to emphasize that I do NOT think nutrition is the only component in healing mental illness. It happened to be the missing puzzle piece for me, and it is for so many people. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many people talking about nutritional healing for mood issues, especially in the conventional space.

    I share my story for two reasons: to break down the stigma around mental illness, and to shine a light on the fact that there can be nutritional and body-based components to mood disorders. For many people, this is a huge lightbulb idea, and they have never considered it. The only thing they have been told is that they have a chemical imbalance and it’s “all in their head” (which often isn’t the case).

    I do not think nutrition is a panacea or cure-all for mood disorders. There are also spiritual, emotional, and psychological components. Often, it becomes MUCH easier to deal with these issues when nutrition is supported. It certainly was in my case. Beyond traditional talk therapy, I can recommend several different modalities for spiritual, psychological, and emotional healing. (But talk therapy can be great, too!)

    For more about my stance on psychiatric medication, check out the FAQs on my site, or this post: http://www.pillstopaleo.com/my-stance-on-mental-health-meds/

    I never encourage anyone to “jump” off their meds — tapering has to be a very slow, careful process that is supervised by a medical professional. It is an extremely personal choice.

    I suppressed my story and didn’t share it for a long time because I was afraid of being seen as a medication shamer and afraid of making people feel bad. But that weighed heavy on my soul, because if I had this information when I was struggling, I could have saved myself so much pain. I could have saved my health.

    This approach is not for everyone, and I am totally aware of that. But I have seen it help many, and I am on a mission to make sure that people *know* it’s an option. Many don’t.

    I hope that clarifies things and you understand where I am coming from a little better.

    Wishing the best to all of you,

    Holly Higgins, NTP

    • Well said, Holly, I appreciate you taking the time to address the comments and questions that arose here. I recognize and appreciate how you speak your wisdom from your experience, but you also hold the space for people to have a wide variety of experiences due to additional factors.

  8. Wow, Holly. This was really inspiring and encouraging. While I’ve never had to go through what you struggled with, I know people with similar struggles, and it is so encouraging to have someone like you spreading the word and helping people through good nutrition. Thank you!

  9. Holly and Lauren, thank you for sharing this important story! And so wonderful to hear that the Whole30 was the start of your success. While diet isn’t the whole story, it’s amazing how easy it is to make other changes when our bodies are getting the right nutrition. My story is not as dramatic as Holly’s, but I can still relate. I suffered from severe cystic acne most of my life. Digestive disturbances were a part of my daily life, and eventually I developed severe anxiety. My biggest concern was the acne. I was on every drug imaginable, up to and including accutane. I ate what I thought was a clean vegetarian diet but it contained many items that were inflammatory for me. Finally, in my mid 40’s, I cut out the grains, sugar and dairy, and increased my intake of high quality protein and fat. I even cut down on my fruit intake. The inflammation started to go down overnight! My skin cleared up quickly, and after a few months I realized the digestive issues and anxiety were just gone. It was like a miracle. I’m 50 now and have never felt better. Like Holly, I share my story whenever possible, in the hope that it will help someone else.

  10. Thanks for sharing. I am weaning off Effexor, an SSRI and it is horrible! I have been on it along with various other medications to counter the side affects for 12 years. Beginning in January of this year I began weaning and am only half way through the process. It is brutal! I, like you, have found that my diet makes a huge difference in how I feel. I am currently gluten free. Eliminating gluten helped me lose 15 pounds.

    • Hi Sandra,

      Way to go! I understand that Effexor is one of the most difficult antidepressants to taper off of, so my heart goes out to you. Congrats on your victories without the gluten. Eliminating it can make such a huge difference, as you’ve experienced.

  11. Hi Holly,

    Thank you for bravely sharing your story with us; while I never took medication for depression and anxiety, I have certainly had both, and pretty severely. At that time, (and this continues now, although to a lesser degree) I was not in a financial position to access much help in the way of therapy, doctor visits, or prescriptions, but was nonetheless going through severe physical, emotional, and mental health challenges.

    I “researched” and experimented on my own, reading (much like you did) anything I could find online about what was working for people. Eventually, I discovered that without knowing it was its own actual plan or protocol, I ended up following the autoimmune paleo protocol, and things were getting better all around.

    I have been strictly following this way of eating and its lifestyle (lifestyle is harder, but worth every effort!) for about 18 months at this point, and when I look back, it is clear to me that I have made tremendous progress. There is still much healing to be done, and I recognize now that while the needs I have often make me feel different and “high maintainance” when compared to others, that trying to deny myself the things I need to be healthy and feel good only exacerbates any challenge I face and makes things harder still. (And makes me even more high maintainance!)

    Like Lauren, I prepare and cook all my own food; it has been over two years since I have eaten in a restaurant, and only a handful of times have I eaten at the home of either a friend or family member. (The rules of AIP can be daunting for those who are unfamiliar!) It is absolutely worth it to me to know where my food is coming from, how it is prepared, and how it will make me feel!

    I think one of the toughest things for many people is letting go of the notion of food as “entertainment” or reward; so much of our social interactions involve food, and much of that food is not conducive to maintaining our health. I am sure I am only repeating what many already know, but it feels worth mentioning. It can be hard to still feel a part of things if there is no “safe” food at a gathering. I would encourage people to do what they feel they need to in order to avoid the foods they know are not nourishing to them; bring safe foods with you anytime you can, and know that you can probably do this more often than you would think! The people that love us just want us to be happy and feel good, and the people who don’t, well, it hardly matters what they think! 😉

    I am grateful to people like you, Lauren, and many others who continue to share your storied and knowledge so publicly gracefully. Continue to shine so that we all may do so!

    • Hi Melanie,

      Thanks for your comment! I too have been made to feel “high maintenance” or “fussy” for the way I eat in social situations. Over time, I have learned not to take it personally — it’s usually coming from other peoples’ insecurity, or the fact that they just don’t understand how food impacts you.

      I have had this exact same conversation with friends … it’s unfortunate how much socializing revolves around food, because it can make it difficult for people with sensitivities. The best thing you can do is prepare and bring your own food, if need be. (I’m usually the girl with hardboiled eggs in my purse!) Over time, I came to OWN my so-called “pickiness,” because it is the ultimate act of standing up for myself and my body. If other people want to bully me and make nasty comments (and they still do!), well, their loss … they probably don’t feel good in their bodies.

      Best of luck to you. It gets better, easier, and more rewarding with each passing day!

  12. Hi Holly. I, myself, only have mild depression, but that comes from dealing with a family with physical and mental health issues.
    I do, however, have an 18 yr old daughter suffering with anxiety and depression. She hasn’t been officially diagnosed, but suffers terribly. She has seen 3 therapists and a psychiatrist. and gotten no where. (The first told her that other people had worse problems so she should be glad hers weren’t that bad! And to “not let the emotional vampires drain her”. The second, unbeknownst to us was only there temporarily while they found a replacement. Ditto for the third. The psychiatrist told her what she already knew so was a waste of time.) The only suggestion she got was antidepressants. Then he suggested SAMe, which is a supplement, when she turned down the drugs, that was supposed to help. It didn’t.

    After reading your article some time ago, Holly, I remembered it when my daughter had been having back to back severe panic attacks a week or so ago. I’m thankful I did as I eliminated wheat from her diet and saw a huge improvement!! So thank you from the bottom of my heart for posting this and thank you for reposting it as I couldn’t remember where I saw it:*) (that’s part of my issues; memory is poor)

    She has had anxiety for years due to bullying at school; to the point of being homeschooled from second semester of grade 10 through grade 12. But it got really bad about 2 weeks ago when her one and only friend moved an hour away. She suffers from catastrophic thinking, black and white thinking as well as absolute thinking, which means her thoughts automatically turn to her friend moving away and never returning; that she has betrayed her because she never intended to return even though she said she would; and, this ALWAYS happens with everyone she is friends with. Her mind tends to look for every bad thing that has ever happened to her to try to prove itself right. The panic attacks started, then she felt like there was a lump in her throat which makes her think it’s something life threatening, which brings on more panic. I actually took her to emerg at one point which was pointless, as the dr had no clue and could only suggest a scope down her throat if it persisted! She can still feel the lump and has difficulties eating so is limited to jello, pudding, salmon, cheese, etc, ANYthing soft. Everything else makes the lump feel worse and makes her feel like the food is getting stuck. She has also had difficulties with food for some time; doesn’t feel motivated to eat and feels like she is going to throw up when she tries. She literally has to forage herself to eat some days! Other days she has a healthy appetite. She says it started after she got braces, so thought maybe she should get tested for heavy metal toxicity.

    Since I took her off wheat and her friend dropped in unexpectedly for a brief visit, she has been much happier and her panic attacks have all but stopped! The other thing I have given her that helps is an L-theanine supplement. The one I used says it’s “sunthanine” which seems to work better than the l-theanine one. I used SISU brand and Natural Factor brand.

    The other options I am investigating for her are: Lauren’s brand new company MEO Energetics. The Anxiey Release and Brain Deflame for sure and possibly the Vagal Tone. I think these could really help her.

    Also, I go to a Nutritional Therapist for my health issues and she has done WONDERS for my digestive health. (I suffered from gluten issues and got to the point of bloating from ANYthing! I also had years of fatigue and brain fog and being told by the dr that I was tired because I was a women and we are always tired!) She does dried and live blood analysis. She can tell organ health, hormone levels, yeast, parasites, toxicity, heavy metals, etc! She immediately told me I had too much yeast in my digestive tract that was causing a lot of my problems! Also, poor digestion, heavy metals, and kidneys/liver not working properly, adrenal fatigue. I am on homeopathic supplements and have to cut out wheat, corn, soy, dairy, sugar and processed foods. I really feel that this lady could do wonders for my daughter! She could pinpoint the foods she is sensitive to and would know the correct supplements to take. She is thinking of going to her.

    Another technique I would love her to try is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or Tapping. It is a combination of psychology and tapping on Chinese pressure points to give the amygdaloid the message to calm down, that there is no emergency. Unfortunately, my daughter says the tapping is very irritating to her. Maybe one day…

    Thanks again for the article Holly and thank you Lauren for posting Holly’s article and for your other posts and starting MEO Energetics! I hope some of what helped my daughter and my other ideas can help someone else.

    • Hi Deidre,

      It sounds like you are making great progress with your daughter! Yes, I would advocate having her see a Nutritional Therapist. I’m also a huge advocate of any kind of energy work, including EFT. Energy work was a huge part of my healing, and I haven’t talked about it much, but I plan to in the near future. I personally just became a Reiki Master Practitioner and hope to use this in my work with clients. And yes, definitely check out the oils from MEO! They are phenomenal.

      Wishing you all the best,

      Holly

    • Hi Deidre,

      When my granddaughter was about 18 months old (she’s now six), she not only wasn’t starting to talk, she wasn’t even babbling. I asked my daughter about it, and she said she’d been thinking about it too; she subsequently took her to a speech therapist, who diagnosed her with apraxia, a neurological speech disorder, where the neurons don’t connect with the vocal apparatus. The prognosis is bleak; most children only learn very few words in a lifetime, and can’t organize either the letters/sound of words themselves, or the order in which they go. They are, in effect, virtually mute, unable to communicate the simplest of concepts.

      My daughter and I weren’t willing to accept this prognosis; we commenced almost constant research. I remembered an article I had read years ago, about autistic children whose illness was reversed with a combination of EFAs, or essential fatty acids, and a medication. I wondered if there were a connection between autism and apraxia, and discovered that there was; although some autistic children have apraxia, not every child with apraxia is also autistic. Thankfully, my granddaughter wasn’t autistic; she could understand and respond to speech, but couldn’t produce it. Sometimes she would say a word, and the next day it was just gone into the ether, not to be repeated.

      I found the article I had read all those years ago, and there were some amazing stories, like that of a young boy who didn’t speak. However, his parents had reason to think that he could actually read, but couldn’t communicate what he understood. Within two weeks on this protocol, he was sitting on the doctor’s table, spotted a jar on a shelf across the room, and said very clearly, “Could I have a Jolly Rancher, please?” This proved that his parents had been right; he could not only speak, he could read–and this was after about seven years without speaking! I sent an article about a university research study on the effect of EFAs on autistic children to my daughter, who was reading similar articles on her own. She took her daughter, along with article(s) on the subject, to a nutritionist at a children’s hospital, who agreed to give her very high doses of EFAs, along with tests to ensure that they weren’t having a negative impact on her liver. I also wondered if perhaps she was suffering with food sensitivities, so even if she was getting a good diet, she wasn’t absorbing what she ate. I knew of a therapy called NAET, or Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique, which actually eliminates allergies and sensitivities. I recommended that to my daughter too, so she also started her on NAET treatments also. It turned out she had myriad food sensitivities, so these were treated along with the nutritional therapy and speech therapy.

      These three therapies were started around late autumn. She very quickly started to say and remember words, and on the very first week of high-dose Vitamin E, which was started later, she started to put these words together into sentences. Long story a little shorter, by the following spring she was re-tested, and scored in the high 80th percentile for expressive speech, and in 90-something percentile for receptive speech. So she was in around the top 10-15% of all children in speech ability! I asked my daughter if she thought there was any way she could have been misdiagnosed, and she said absolutely not; of the many markers for apraxia, my granddaughter had almost all of them. Her speech therapist said she had never seen a recovery like that in all the time she had been practicing. My daughter has since become a nutritional therapist herself, and plans to go on to get a Master’s degree in nutrition. Meanwhile, my granddaughter is a delightful child, often talking like a babbling brook; she also has a wonderful sense of humor. Recently my daughter saw her talking to her reflection in the mirror, and asking herself, “Am I sassy and silly and nice?” and immediately answered herself, “I am!” Then she added, “Also I’m cute–and tall for my age.”

      So, with your daughter, don’t give up. Although the particular problems are not the same, often nutritional therapy can be remarkably effective for all types of neurological, behavioral, and mood disorders, as can NAET. The development of this modality is an amazing story in itself, which you can read about in the book, Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique. It’s an amazing story, replete with non-stop determination and serendipity, as Dr. Nambudripad herself suffered from practically every allergy/sensitivity under the sun. It has also often had an amazing effect on problems that are thought to be purely mental or emotional, like bi-polar disorder, in which even seemingly intractable cases have been completely resolved. In fact, Dr. Nambudripad has written that often the only symptom of an allergy or a sensitivity is mental or emotional. I highly recommend the book; also, you can go to her website to help locate a practitioner. Since we have experienced the effectiveness of the two therapies together, I highly recommend the combination.

      Good luck and best wishes!

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Lauren Geertsen, NTP

I’m an author, entrepreneur, and nutritional therapy practitioner (NTP). I began this website at 19, to share the steps that freed my life of chronic disease and medication. Now, Empowered Sustenance has reached 30 million readers with healthy recipes and holistic resources.

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