I have learned that diet can affect anxiety. Anxiety is so uncomfortable in my life, and it is second only to the discomfort and distress caused by psychosis. I would do anything to try and reduce its impact on my body, mind, and life. I rarely have an anxiety-free day. I find it challenging to participate in daily activities like my guided journals (I work through them to try and get at the root of anxiety), my daily writing practice, exercise, or anything else on my to-do list. I lose more days to anxiety than anything else. That's why I'm changing my diet to help my anxiety.
I told my therapist that my primary goal was to learn to handle my anxiety so I could turn my focus to managing my symptoms of schizophrenia. In our second session, my therapist put forth a brilliant strategy worth the cost of this add-on to my psychiatric treatment. She said that when I first start to feel anxious, I should start using all the techniques I have learned to deal with anxiety attacks. By managing my anxiety, I can better manage my schizophrenia.
A lot of worrying comes with my schizoaffective anxiety. I am constantly worrying—ask anyone who knows me. Even someone who doesn’t know me that well knows that I worry all the time. And to top it all off, I blame myself for my worrying, even though it's anxiety-related. Here’s what it’s like.
Which is worse, having really bad arthritis in my knees or hearing voices? I don’t know. They both stink, and I’ve suffered from both. Not that rank needs to be pulled, but maybe I’ll figure out which one is worse--or which one I can cope with better--by writing about hearing voices versus arthritis.
For me, psychosis involves auditory hallucinations (hearing voices and sounds) and is the most dangerous part of my illness. The last time I went to the emergency room for symptoms of psychosis, the doctor asked me if I heard voices, and when I answered that I was, he asked an important question, "Do you do what the voices tell you to do?" And unfortunately, my answer was yes. If you can't immediately see the danger in this scenario, try to think of it this way, imagine taking orders from something that is not real. It's alarming. Schizophrenia, voices, combined with suicidal ideation, is even more alarming.
While doing a few mental health presentations recently, I was surprised that not everyone knew that hallucinations could originate from any of the five senses (taste, touch, sight, sound, smell). There are many different types of hallucinations. I have experienced hallucinations from every one of my senses except maybe taste (gustatory). My most common hallucinations are olfactory (smell). I frequently smell chemicals or something burning when there is no source for either one of those things.
My medications for schizoaffective disorder cause a lot of weight gain, as readers of this blog well know. So, when I developed osteoarthritis in my knees at age 42, I started going to a nutritionist. I wanted to lose weight to take pressure off my knees. After a while, my nutritionist put me on a popular medication to support weight loss. At first, it was working really well. But then terrible side effects set in, including unbearable nausea, so I had to stop taking it.
In my experience, the worst part of schizophrenia is having episodes of psychosis. Losing touch with reality can be terrifying. For me, psychosis always involves hearing voices, delusions, and paranoia. I usually stop eating, which most likely makes the symptoms more severe. Complicating my experience with psychosis is a symptom called anosognosia.
It helps to know the difference between paranoia and anxiety. If I am experiencing paranoia, it involves delusions like someone is out to get me (suspicion and distrust) or has betrayed me. I frequently battle the delusion that someone is poisoning my food. My paranoia can cause anxiety, but the two do not have to be present together. My anxiety attacks often have ties to worry (like health concerns, the health of a loved one, public speaking, etc.), but not always. I can have an anxiety attack where I can't identify a triggering cause.
I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, in 2002 (after a diagnosis of schizophrenia in 1999). But the anxiety that so often accompanies bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder has been with me since early childhood.