Post Production burn out is well known, Zack Arnold wrote about his experiences recently in this article. Reading that felt almost like I was reading my own story.
Back in 2011 I had a massive nervous breakdown. It was awful and something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemies. I’ve got a bunch of half written posts about that part of my life which I’ll post eventually but this is more about something that has helped me to cope, which I wanted to get out to potentially help others.
Post-breakdown I suffered from depression. It’s something I had felt tittering along most of my life but the breakdown really brought it forward and I suffered from a lot of the more serious effects you hear about, mostly hopelessness and lethargy. Eventually I got medicated with 20mg Citalopram which is a good dose and kept me pretty balanced for a few years, actually almost four years, I didn’t realise it was that long! I sort of accepted that I’d just say on that for life as I was one of the lucky ones that didn’t have any major side affects from the medication, it was pretty easy to deal with, but you always sort of wonder if you can get off it. I’d think about having children and if the medication would have an effect on them. You hear about diet and if that could help, I actually tried a bunch of other options like fitness and diet prior to medication, then went on meds, then went off for a bit, tried some other options, went back on, repeat… Luckily I have an ultra understanding partner who has helped me through it all.
Recently I decided to try going off again. My friend Genna recommended this book Potatoes Not Prozac which I thought was going to be all about eating potatoes. It wasn’t, it’s actually about sugar sensitivity. Sugar sensitivity is a strange thing, something I’ve always shrugged off, how could a little tea spoon of sugar really mess my brain up so much, it sounded ridiculous. As you could imagine from all the previous attempts I’d made to correct my brain chemistry I was very dubious.
The book covers so many things from addiction to depression and anxiety and gives a bunch of really interesting background on the history and chemistry behind it all. I was sold pretty quickly which was a surprise as I’m super sceptical but decided to give sugar reduction a go. I wanted to reduce slowly and not be too tough on myself, the best place to start for me was coffee, I have what is known in my family as the ‘boat shed special’, it’s coffee, white with 1 sugar, pretty standard.
I’ll say the first two weeks weren’t easy, I adjusted really easy to the different flavour and I love having good coffee (I’m a bit of a coffee nerd) so it was actually something I really wanted to do for a long time out of respect for the beans. I quickly realised the buzz I got from the coffee I drunk each day wasn’t from the coffee, it was the sugar all along! I was very tired for the first few weeks and had massive cravings for sugar, I actually came home and smashed a bunch of fruit every day. Fruit is still bad but if you get the fibre with it it’s ok, still not great in large quantities but better than a bowl of ice cream or something.
A couple of weeks in I noticed massive changes, my energy levels balanced out, I had better mental flow, I was staying awake longer, getting up earlier, waking up with energy and loads of new ideas and that was just from dropping sugar from my coffee. It became very easy to recognise the effects of a good sugar day and a bad sugar day.
I continued to eliminate or reduce sugar from everything I consumed which is obviously quite hard, it’s in F’n everything but I’d still have good and bad days. Beers are a pain! I love to go for a few pints every now and again and you get between 1 and 2 teaspoons of sugar in each pint so three or four of them and you have had a pretty serious dose of sugar. I’m more aware of it now. If I have a a bad day like the weekend of my birthday – lots to drink, lots of cake, lots and lots of sugar as I just ate whatever I wanted, you know that may result in some low mood and irritability and it does. Interestingly my hangovers are less of an issue now, so if I used to go out and drink a few pints I’d feel shit for three or four days, if I go out and have a few glasses of whiskey I wake up the next day feeling fine. I think this in part is the lower levels of sugar from whisky over beer but also I think the reduction of sugar over the week lets me get away with a bit more on occasion.
I’m on holiday in Greece at the moment and Greeks are big on their sweets so I’m having a bit of a battle avoiding all the yummy stuff. I had one day where I had a bunch of these amazing almond biscuits followed by a few wines and a bunch of fruit and spend the two thirds of the following day feeling awful. It’s really interesting when you are aware of the sensitivity and riding the waves, I feel less like I’m on an emotional roller coaster and more like if I want to eat something sweet I need to be prepared to write off a bit of time. It’s a much better place to be, I feel in control rather than having no control.
I’d recommend everyone read Potatoes Not Prozac, it’s got a load of very interesting information in there and I have found what I learned to be incredibly helpful. I have been off my medication for two and a half months at the time of writing this and feeling amazing (when I don’t have a lapse). I still keep expecting to take a dive and I may, but so far so good so I really wanted to put my experience out there to potentially help others.