Mental Health Awareness Month: Special Podcast Episodes

This month, I’m taking a break from the regular podcast content to bring episodes focused on bringing awareness to all the tools that support our mental health. Contrary to what the media may tell you, you can change your brain. You can heal from mental illness. You can access resources beyond medication and more sleep, and many of those resources are free, like these episodes.

In Episode 135, I share my story of overcoming PTSD, depression, and bipolar disorder in a way I haven’t shared before.

Key Topics:

  • The growing epidemic of mental health issues in teens
  • The root causes to my own mental health issues and how I struggled to find treatment that supported my mental well-being
  • The medication weaning process and how I was able to get off medication I had been on for 18 years
  • The tools I used to support healing and how I continue to prioritize my mental health to prevent recurring issues

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Mental Health Awareness Month: What it Means to Be a Survivor

Someone recently asked me, “What do you mean when you say you are a survivor of bipolar disorder?” I paused for a second. What does it mean?

I ended up responding with this, “I no longer exhibit the symptoms of bipolar disorder.“

I’ve been thinking about this conversation ever since. 

Does not exhibiting symptoms of bipolar disorder mean that I no longer suffer from this illness?

Did my diagnosis match my symptomology in the first place?

This caused me to reflect back on the symptoms of bipolar disorder, which consists of fluctuation between a depressed state and a manic state.

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Yes, You Are Swimsuit Ready!

A few days ago, as I was getting ready for the day, my youngest child, who’s five, squeezed my belly and asked me why my skin is different than his. He compared by attempting to squeeze skin from his belly, which obviously didn’t happen.

So I told him how my skin is more stretchy and elastic, and it has been stretched out quite a few times from getting bigger and smaller, and back again, because our bodies protect us and keep us safe by always changing. And how amazing is that???

I love warm weather and being in the sun, by the pool, or at the beach. I don’t love bathing suit season. Never have. But every year, I’m reminded of what my body went through in the last year to keep me safe. Whether that’s mood instability, weight gain or weight loss, autoimmune flares, gut issues, skin problems… our bodies do what they can to create balance in a continuously imbalanced world. 

So when that same five year old catches me in action like this (while I am trying to prepare my skin for an upcoming beach vacation) and tells me, “lift your arms up” for the picture…. I let him.

This pose represents one more year that has passed with me in a vessel that has worked so hard for me for a very long time. One more year that I’m still swimming, maybe doggy-paddling my way through life… but keeping my head above water.

My body is amazing. So is yours. Don’t let your current disappointment in your symptoms keep you from being present for the sunshine.

How Your Brain Responds to Processed Food

Can your brain become addicted to processed food? According to recent podcast guest Dr. Joan Ifland, who recently published the textbook on processed food addiction, our brains are extremely susceptible to processed food addiction. In this recent episode, she explains why we get addicted to processed food, how the food companies encourage it, and how the healthcare system gaslights patients who can’t get out of the addiction cycle.

Download and listen to the episode here, or find wherever you get podcasts.

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Artificial Sweeteners and Cancer: What’s the Connection?

Breaking news: A HUGE study, published in March 2022, showed that people who consumed high amounts of aspartame were associated with a 22% higher risk of developing breast cancer and 15% higher risk of developing obesity-related cancers. Other sweeteners that were included in the study were sucralose (Splenda) and acesulfame potassium, though 58% of the participants consumed aspartame.

The cohort study was initiated in France in 2009, and looked at the diet of 102,685 people. It’s important to note that almost all of the participants consumed less than the government-recommended allowable daily intake… so it’s not like they were consuming it all day long, all the time. Even a small amount seemed to make a difference in health outcomes.

Artificial sweeteners can be found in:

  • Gum
  • Diet drinks
  • Light yogurt
  • Pedialyte
  • Microwave popcorn
  • Whole wheat bread and English muffins
  • “Carb balance” tortillas
  • Some protein powders and health bars (including Pure Protein and Quest)
  • Sugar free candy
  • Sugar free coffee syrups
  • Energy drinks
  • Sugar free ice cream and other desserts

Aspartame has long been linked to tumors in mice, but other artificial sweeteners (including Splenda/sucralose) are also linked to depression, anxiety, ADHD, cognitive decline, insulin resistance, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, and microbial imbalances (which affect everything else).

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Favorite Foods for Brain Health

I love supporting my mental health through nutrients from food. When I stopped dieting and started focusing on ADDING colorful variety and nutrient density, it was a much needed mindset change.

This helped me to learn to listen to my body’s needs, instead of viewing my body as a project I needed to perfect and relying on diet and food companies’ marketing instead of my own intuition.

I spent many years choosing food items with the marketing phrases “diet,” “reduced fat,” “low fat,” “low calorie,” and “sugar free,” never knowing that those things were harming my mental health.

It has been so freeing to find what nourishes my unique body and not being enslaved to anyone else’s rules. These three categories (protein, veggies, and fiber) are things I have learned make me feel great when I include them every day!

What are your must haves? My guess is yours might look different than mine, which is a beautiful, bioindividual thing!

It’s Not Either/Or; It’s Both/And

I started my website four years ago because I wanted to share my story of surviving mental illness, and I wanted to give hope for healing for those that are continuing to struggle with errors. I wanted to share how it isn’t just chemicals in the brain, how it isn’t just in your head, and how there are very real physical deficiencies and imbalances at play, just as much – if not more than – imbalances at the brain level.

I have never been anti-medication, and I have never recommended anyone go off their medication without consulting their health practitioner. But I have always wanted to be realistic about the risks that come with taking medication. While medication may have served its purpose for me in the short term, there were plenty of unpleasant side effects I experienced when I took the wrong medication, or medication at too high of a dose, or because the medication I was given didn’t fit the disorder that I was experiencing. I never hallucinated or heard voices or saw strange things… until I started taking an antipsychotic.

With that being said, there are plenty of people in the world that do benefit from medication and will need to be on that medication long-term. For other people, there may be different solutions that improve their quality of life more than medication does. There is no one-size-fits-all to mental health.

I started my podcast because I wanted to seek out experts in the field who are doing things differently, who are looking for new solutions to an age-old problem that isn’t being solved with medication and talk therapy alone.

Because of what we know of the gut-brain connection, the HPATG axis, the vagus nerve, and even mitochondrial function, we know that there is so much going on under the surface when it comes to mental and physical health. We know that our body works as a network, one huge spiderweb, and nothing occurs on its own.

We are living in a time when everything is being polarized and divided into either/or categories. If you look at alternatives to medication or vaccines, you must be anti-med or anti-vaccine. If you take medication, you must be anti-natural health. If you are promoting any kind of nutritional support, you must be promoting dieting. These things aren’t true. It isn’t either/or. We can live in a both/and world.

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Identifying Root Causes of Bipolar Disorder

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (what they then called “manic depressive illness”) in 1999. While the diagnosis matched the symptoms I was experiencing, the treatment I received never seemed to make things better… and they never treated the root of why I was struggling.

While I have shared about my personal experience with bipolar disorder, PTSD, and depression and I have interviewed many different experts who share ways to treat the root of chronic disease, I have never devoted the majority of an episode to bipolar disorder and its root causes.

Ellen Vora, MD received her B.A. from Yale University and attended Columbia University medical school. She’s a board-certified psychiatrist, medical acupuncturist, and yoga teacher. Dr. Vora takes a functional medicine approach to mental health—considering the whole person and addressing imbalance at the root, rather than reflexively prescribing medication. Dr. Vora’s book, The Anatomy of Anxiety, comes out in March 2022.

Recording this episode was personal for me. It helped me put together the puzzle pieces of my health even further. Download here or listen wherever you get podcasts.

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How to Survive Stress Without Burning Out

It is well-known that chronic stress contributes to chronic disease. Research shows that as much as 90% of illness is attributed to the impact of stress. Finding a way to manage stress in our very busy world of constant notifications is a challenge. So I was excited to connect with Erica Cuni for this recent podcast episode. Spoiler: multiple listeners have written in to tell me that this is their favorite one!

Erica Cuni, known as “The Burnout Professor,” is a stress and burnout expert. She teaches high-achievers how to consciously thrive through an integrative approach. Erica is the founder of “The C.U.N.I. Method” – which stands for Create Undeniable Natural Impact. She is a former Trauma Psychotherapist, Clinical Director, and Adjunct Lecturer and Clinical Professor at Central Connecticut State University. Her mission is to help make the mental health field more effective, accessible, decolonized, and non-stigmatizing.

Download this episode here or listen wherever you get podcasts.

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Five Things I Do For My Mental Health Every Day

While I was officially given a mental illness diagnosis over 22 years ago, I struggled long before that.

That means I’ve spent most of my life battling my brain.

These five things help me manage my symptoms and keep me checking in with myself. When I’m feeling off, I check in and ask myself how I’m doing in each category.

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