How I wrecked my health last year and how I walked it back this year
A little over a year ago I was going through hell and taking it out on my body. My anxiety was some of the worst it’s been and I was so angry at God, the world, and the pandemic that was stealing some of my best years. Everyday that I woke up I hated my life and the direction it was going. I felt like crap all the time but couldn’t figure out why.
After a complete year of lifestyle changes, it scares me looking back at the life I was living at 21 and 20. I genuinely think I was walking towards an autoimmune disorder. And here’s the catch- a part of me actually thought I was living healthy! And that’s because I 100% believe most Americans have the wrong idea about what health is. But that’s a blog post for another time my friends!
In the midst of the pandemic when most people were deep in the helpless “things are never going back to normal” phase, I was anxious more than I wasn’t. And I didn’t realize how much of my physical health got eroded by bad mental health. I bet if I got my cortisol levels for stress checked, it would have been a scary high number. I was incapable of relaxing for even a minute because I had so many responsibilities to so many people. It makes me physically sick to remember how much I had on my plate and I genuinely can’t comprehend how I managed to do it all.
The major caveat that I should have watched out for, is I was starting at a screen for most hours of the day. I was juggling my hardest year of classes that were all online because of COVID, and was interning remotely, AND was the main newspaper reporter for a local paper. Oh! And I started a blog that year, because of course I did haha. I was starting at a computer screen more than I wasn’t and it actually killed a part of my soul. Human beings aren’t meant to sit in front of a computer all day. But I stupidly did for 8 months straight.
Since I was working online all day, I wasn’t getting enough exercise or vitamin D which wasn’t very smart.
And on top of that, my eating habits were terrible but I didn’t realize it because of false advertising. At the grocery stores, I only read the front of the packages that boasted the healthy things and I never turned those packages around to read the ingredient list to see what was ACTUALLY in them. I tried to get enough vitamins and minerals in through my diet, but was failing- and on top of that, my levels were pretty depleted anyways because I was crazy stressed all the time. I just recently learned that stress depletes your vitamin levels, so I think I was just about running on empty all last year.
I was crazy stressed during the day, so I often couldn’t fall asleep at night because my brain would just replay over allllll the things I needed to do as soon as I woke up. My to-do lists only got longer the more responsibility I took on at my internship and newspaper reporting job, and I felt like I never saw my friends or family enough even though I lived with 5 friends and was a half hour away from my folks.
The no-sleep thing caught up to me and eventually I started falling asleep in the middle of the day without meaning to, and there were entire weeks where I couldn’t get through the day without falling asleep after lunch. I constantly felt fatigued no matter how much I napped, because you can’t undo months and months and months of crappy sleep with a 30 minute nap. But trust me, I tried.
To offset some of my fatigue, I’d drink coffee even though the caffeine spiked my anxiety levels through the roof. I’d stay away from the coffee from time to time, but I always came back to it because I couldn’t get all my work done without it. So I traded productivity for the sake of my mental health and just added more fuel to the fire.
As if my health wasn’t a dumpster fire already, I got myself addicted to sugar that year. I started drinking Coca-Cola again during the pandemic, because well, we all took up bad habits and this was mine. Except calling this a bad habit is an understatement because I’d drink a large McDonald’s Coke every other day (with light ice to get even more sips from it). That’s 80 grams of sugar. Yup. I was drinking over 6 tablespoons of sugar like it was nothing basically everyday for a year. No wonder I never felt great!
My body was screaming at me to slow down but I didn’t know how and didn’t have the time for that, I told myself. So I kept pushing and pulling myself in so many directions I just about split open. There were always bills to pay, and homework to do, and articles to write, and people to get back to. On top of that, I was navigating a boatload of research since I got diagnosed with endometriosis in March. Thankfully, that shattering diagnosis helped me realize that my health mattered more than anything, and I pretty quickly began reading ingredient labels and changing my diet top down.
I was still stressed and getting terrible sleep, exercise, and vitamin D but I the diet was a start. Everything else I made time for fixing once I took a gap year after I finished that school year that felt like like the longest year ever.
My gap year has given me my life back, because for the first time in the past six years I’ve been able to slow down and learn how to make peace with my body instead of fighting it.
I’ve restored my vitamin levels to health numbers by eating 99% whole foods and eating the rainbow at every meal. I’ve made getting good sleep a top priority each day, and I don’t need to take naps anymore. Coffee rarely gives me anxiety anymore, but I don’t need it anyway because I have double the energy I used to have. I kicked my cocoa-cola addiction by going cold turkey and I’ll still have some every now and then but I get a small with extra ice instead of a large with light ice. I’m still a busy bee, but instead of running around all day pouring from my cup, I now run around all day doing little things that fill my cup. Like writing, and gardening, and reading, and going on walks just because.
I’ve seen more of my friends and family this year than I did last year, and I’ve learned how to balance my introvert-extrovert levels so it’s not a constant seesaw ride anymore. I don’t spend all day hunched over a computer and I’ve learned to love exercising as a celebration of what my body can do instead of as a punishment. I’m happier and healthier than I’ve ever been and I’m so thankful for the the gift of health. We’re truly nothing without good health, and I’m never going to take mine for granted again.