I’m thankful to bloggers who wrote about their experience with diet and depression. I’ve learned through the blogs and then my own observation that I was making my mental health worse by eating gluten in all possible forms – pasta, sandwiches, Subway, wraps, tempura, soy sauce. I have also established that casein in cow’s milk makes me more psychotic, so I had to give up a lot of delicious habits – taro bubble tea, cheesecake, easily ordering a coffee with milk at Denny’s – I now usually carry goat milk in a cooler with me everywhere, in case I want to add it to tea. This post won’t be about diet though, I have posted on diet previously:
Autoimmune Encephalitis and Diet
This post is about the fact that changing your diet may improve your mental health but it won’t necessarily cure you. I think it’s important to remember that in order to not constantly blame yourself. I used to do that when I was on strict AIP diet – I used to blame myself for feeling depressed. After I noticed that the AIP diet was actually helping, I became convinced that I would soon be cured, as long as I stay on the diet. Probably I’ve read too many blogs claiming that grains contain lectins that cause brain inflammation and therefore depression. There are a lot of success stories online with bloggers stating that their depression vanished after going on AIP diet or paleo or keto or vegan, you name it. It’s easy then to start blaming yourself each time you feel depressed again – if all those people were cured, maybe then I am slacking, not avoiding enough foods, not being strict enough. I think we may go into the blaming state because we want to believe that we can have full control of our mood and it would be nice if as long as we didn’t eat certain ingredients, we would never be depressed or psychotic.
Blaming yourself only makes you feel worse though and it doesn’t let you accept the reality that mental health problems are caused by many factors. I think yes – you should definitely strive for a healthy diet – avoid fried foods, high glycemic foods, red meat, etc., but should you feel guilty about the brown rice bowl that you ate yesterday because AIP and paleo bloggers claim that all grains cause inflammation? No, I am not sure if there is any evidence that grains are an issue, some research actually suggests that the healthiest diets are ones that include whole grains – such as the Mediterranean and MIND diets. I think we have to accept that there are other factors affecting our mental health and some we cannot control. Periods are definitely one of them and they suck. I find that my paranoia and obsessive thoughts are definitely exacerbated during the first three days of my period. Can I cure this issue with diet? I don’t think so. Being female, my hormones will always fluctuate with the menstrual cycle, there is nothing I can do about that. I can remind myself that it’s only worse for three days and it will get better, I am not always psychotic, I can try exercising more, going for a walk. But cure? I don’t know of one.
Menstrual Psychosis: A Forgotten Disorder?
I have recently realized that heat increases my intrusive thoughts. I had observed for a while that hot weather makes me lethargic and quick-tempered, but now I have also correlated hot weather with psychosis. It had occurred several times during the past month when I experienced exacerbated negative commentary in my head. I noticed that each time this happened on a weekend when I was away, camping. Supposedly camping is better than work – I was not alone, I was with friends, eating meals together – just as I like. Also I was moving – swimming, kayaking. Getting enough vitamin D. Definitely sniffing a lot of soil (reference to the antidepressant bacteria Soil Bacteria Work In Similar Way To Antidepressants), always bringing my own food in a cooler – tempeh, mung beans, buckwheat, freeze-dried vegetables, oatmeal. Stuff that I usually eat, so that was a constant factor. When analyzing what caused an event, we have to look into the differences, and the only factor that I could think of is heat. This summer has been very hot in Ontario, multiple days above 30 degrees. Every weekday though I am in an extremely air conditioned air building where I often wear my shawl. At home I have two functioning ACs. It was only during the camping that I was exposed to extreme heat for many hours in a row. I think I have to accept this fact – I love camping, but hot weather increases my aggression and psychotic symptoms.
There is also research supporting the idea that heat exacerbates mental health problems. “Above a threshold of 26.7°C, we observed a positive association between ambient temperature and hospital admissions for mental and behavioral disorders. Compared with non–heat-wave periods, hospital admissions increased by 7.3% during heat waves.“
The Effect of Heat Waves on Mental Health in a Temperate Australian City
“Heat exposure associated with mental illness – A mental hospital-based study in Hanoi, Vietnam looked at if there is a relationship between heat exposure and mental health problems. The results showed significant increase in hospital admissions for mental illnesses during periods of heatwaves, especially during longer periods of heat exposure.“
Heat exposure associated with mental illness
Exposure to sun can also exacerbate autoimmune disease symptoms, and for me this directly means worsening of mental problems. ”
“‘Photosensitivity can trigger the whole darn disease, including full systemic flare and joint pain and kidney failure,’ Dr. Connolly said. ‘The younger patients sometimes say, ‘The heck with this, I’m tired of carrying sun block,’ and they’ll stay out there, and it’s not just that they are going to give themselves a bad rash. This is something to take seriously.’
The link between the sun and lupus flare-ups is thought to be a set of inflammatory protein molecules called cytokines, which are activated when ultraviolet light hits the skin. The skin inflammation that results can create a chain reaction of other symptoms.“
A Sunny Day Can Mean All Sorts of Distress
This is all sad news, but I still want to go outside. I want to go hiking, kayaking down whitewater rivers, canoeing through uninhabited islands. I still have to accept that sometimes camping might make me feel worse. Probably I need to give up on t-shirts and always wear long sleeves when it’s hot. I do always wear a hat and sunscreen. Also going outside is important for vitamin D and we do need UV light to set our circadian rhythm. Therefore no, you shouldn’t lock yourself up in the house, but it’s better to not be out in the sun in the swim suit for too long. I’m going to stick with pants, shirts, running shoes, and caps. On the other hand I’m also not going to blame myself if I do feel worse. I did not create this disease, it’s not my fault that I react to weather, I can’t control the weather and I can’t avoid the weather. Let’s not feel worse by blaming, let’s learn from the available information and also remember that even if you are doing everything right, sometimes psychosis may still occur and we won’t know why. Maybe we will in the future and you will have this device that will tell you in real time ‘your dopamine levels are going higher than the suggested threshold, eat this scientifically advanced cookie and it will fix the problem’. I do hope for such a future, but for now it’s just science fiction. Research has shown that one way to reduce suffering during a psychotic episode is to accept the experience but not act on it. Accept also that there will be a peak of the symptoms but then they will diminish, it will pass.