“You want to quit your full-time corporate job, with 5 weeks paid vacation to go back to school at the age of 30?” “Are you crazy?” said my parents.
I had worked at the head office of a major bank for 7 years. It was a fantastic job, with many perks. Yet I knew I had to leave. I had too much energy to sit behind a desk. I wanted to do more, see more and use my gifts to help others. I knew if I stayed, I would regret it. I applied to the naturopathic doctorate program. To get in I needed to do at least 2 years of night school on top of the university courses I had already completed. I worked full time 8-4pm, then from 5-9pm I would study at the UofT library. Those were the good old days.
I soon realized that this was no ordinary grad program. To get in I needed university core sciences such as anatomy, physiology, organic chemistry, biology, biochemistry etc. If you did not have them out of university you were stuck doing night school, as I did.
While other people my age were buying a home, settling down and having babies, I was signing up for a serious 4-year sacrificial commitment. A commitment with no guarantees. It was scary. I was oblivious to the pain (challenge) that would soon follow.
This 4-year graduate program included; 50 hours a week, in class learning, 3 study hours for every hour in class, and approximately 1000 clinical practice hours. It was INSANITY.
For years, prior to working at the bank, and part-time while at the bank, I was actively working in the fitness industry. I was an instructor and trainer. I loved being lean and fit. I loved cooking, eating healthy and being active. Within the first three months in the naturopathic program all of that changed.
My healthy clean diet became non existent. I barely had any time to cook or make any delicious nutritious meals. I was living off of shakes and rice cakes. Packaged foods, like cereal bars became my best friends. I found myself eating late at night too. All things my body did not enjoy. Less then 3 months into the program I had gone from 127lbs (size 5-6) to 154lbs (9-10). Yes, that is a big difference.
As we continue with the story, I must introduce you to my partner. I lived with him for 4 years. We were best friends. We had a blast together. The first three years together was pure joy. We travelled, we hosted dinner parties, we took road trips etc. Every day with him was an adventure. He spoiled me, with romance, surprises and gifts. I was so blessed to have him as my partner. Three months into the program it all changed. I sadly turned into a robot doing what I had to do to survive. I barely saw him. At one point he even said to me, “Drei, its like we are roommates.” We didn’t see each other during the week, but even less on the weekend. I had to take a bartending job to pay for school. I would work each weekend until 5 am. I had too. This did not help our situation.
I know it was hard on him. He missed me. I missed him. He desperately craved my attention, yet I had none to give. I had no energy. I was adrenally exhausted. Depleted mentally, physically and emotionally. The sad thing is instead of helping me, and supporting me through the madness, he would avoid being home. The distance and the stress ended us.
I don’t blame him. In fact, I send him blessings of love daily. Neither him nor I had any idea of how to maturely handle an INSANE pressure situation. He avoided to protect himself, while I kept my head down to survive. He was the love of my life. He was the man I was suppose to marry. I guess the universe had another plan. Regardless, I am grateful for all of it.
I remember a Sunday morning after an intense week at school, and a long night at the bar, he dropped me off at the library. As soon as he parked the car I started to cry. I cried helplessly. I couldn’t even take a breath. He had his arm on my shoulder asking me, what is going on? Why are you doing this to yourself? Are you really going to finish this program? It was 3 months into a 4-year doctorate. What was I doing?
I was so deep in overwhelm I could not see a way out. I was not going to give up, yet I was 100% experiencing severe anxiety. Anxiety was my new darkest friend that was with me 24/7. It was there first thing in the morning and it never left.
To add to this picture my voracious appetite got worse. It was this insatiable feeling that I could eat, eat, eat and seemingly never get full. It was awful. When we experience high levels of stress, cortisol the stress hormone can induce a process called Hyperphagia. This means to voraciously eat without control. The stress and weight gain finally got to me. I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided to do something I knew would stop the eating, smoking. What? Yup.
I had never been a smoker, nor do I smoke now, but at that time it was the only relief I had. I am not proud of it. It was the best I could do. Have you ever found yourself in a position like this? Where you are doing something you know is not good for you? Yet it feels like the only possible solution.
My anxiety was deep and dark. It was anything but normal. What’s normal you ask? A little anxiety is good. It can make you cautious and alert. Especially necessary when things are actually scary, ex. anticipating a speeding vehicle approaching your car. A not normal anxiety response is one that is persistent, relentless and begins to affect other parts of your life. When was it ever going to stop?
Things only got worse when we got to exams. We had 13 exams in 7 days. Yes. You read that right. It was practically 2 exams a day, every day. This too was not normal.
We barely got through it. It was the definition of insanity. I remember vividly walking into the library on exam week. There was a tense and creepy feeling in the air. Everyone was uber focused getting their assignments done. All heads down in the books. I walk into the computer room and all I hear is “tap, tap, tap, tap, tap.” They were fiercely typing into their computer keys at full force. It felt like they were typing to save their lives. The feeling of their intense energy overcame me. I began having trouble breathing. I could not take a deep breath for the life of me. I got out of the room, looked for a corner table to rest and catch my breath. None to be found. I went to another far corner hoping a couch would be free. Nothing open. Instead I found two girls sitting crouched over, one girl crying and the other consoling her.
Oh my god! I did not need to see that?! It made my anxiety ten times worse. My temperature shot up. I started to feel my heart pounding through my shirt. Suddenly an awful nausea feeling came up and I had an urge to projectile vomit. I felt like I was having a heart attack!
Anxiety and heart attacks are similar. You feel ill, your heart races, you start to sweat, you feel dizzy, you become tense all over and you may even experience nausea. It is awful. Have any of you felt this before?
I was losing track of where I was and needed to get out of there. I needed to breathe. I needed to puke. I needed HELP. I ran to the first available washroom. There I experienced my first official PANIC ATTACK.
I don’t even think I was attached to my body. I felt disoriented.
I collapsed on the cold washroom floor, sobbing relentlessly.
I couldn’t stop shaking. The hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, both rushing through body.
It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before in my life. It felt like hours, but it lasted 7 minutes.
When I finally got up, I was confused. How did I ever let things get to this?
How was I on the washroom floor dying?
How did I lose myself?
How did I lose my peaceful loving and joyful spirit?
The recovery was long. I was committed to getting better. The fear of experiencing another panic attack was enough motivation to keep me on track.
I jumped in with a full holistic plan. The protocol was simple: healthy brain food, stop eating sugar, stop smoking, supplementation, adaptogens & nervine herbs, acupuncture weekly, CBT weekly, daily belly breathing, and daily exercise. It took 8 months before my body and mind relaxed.
I believe you can dissolve your anxiety, as I did, with a commitment to heal.
We must remember we are not our conditions. They are what we experience. But we do not need to become them. With a little courage and support, you too can dissolve your anxiety and create a magnificent life.
Lastly, I am grateful for all of it, the good the bad. I am grateful for anxiety. For it has become one of my biggest teachers.
Sending blessings to all mentioned in my blog such as my ex, the bank and my school for being such a beautiful and essential part of my journey.
Sending blessings to all of you too.
Andreia Horta, ND
Ps. Remember you are worthy of all things good. You are worthy of love. We all are.