Mental Health Recovery: A Reason for Hope

I have somewhat secretly been on a long, dark and winding journey through mental illness’s highs and lows for the past six years.  Only recently have I found an incredible reason for hope for recovery: food.  Below is my story.

Early Signs of Illness:

At the age of twenty-four, I had to move out of my apartment and back in with my parents for my first ever mental health symptom: mania.  Living with my parents again, I kept telling my mom “it feels like my brain is on fire… it feels like my brain is on fire.”  There were countless trips to the psych ward of the local hospital, in which I spent many sleepless nights as a guinea pig being tried on countless medications, 95% of which did absolutely nothing for me.  After over a full year of suffering, my symptoms finally improved, and my parents and the doctors simply attributed the change to the medication I was then taking.  

Truth be told, I improved to the point where I was able to hold a job in the field I studied in college, information technology, but the improvement only lasted a year, and soon my health again started to deteriorate.  I began having panic attacks, and the racing thoughts and mania returned for more sleepless nights, to the point where after a year and a half with the employer, I had to quit the job because things were so bad.

The doctor I was seeing at the time had me on the medication that “healed” me from the first time I was suffering, but now it had almost no effect.  He kept telling me “We can keep going up on the meds!  We can keep going up on the meds!”, and we did, to literally no improvement in my condition.  We found another doctor, who put me on two different meds that, again, seemed to “heal” me.  But it was only about two months after this that things again got worse.

At the age of twenty-seven, I heard the first ever voice in my head, and it had a lot to say.  Soon enough, I was hospitalized yet again, this time for over a year of my life.  The voices were yelling at me for months and months, and once again I was tried on a battery of medications.  We eventually tried something that seemed to reduce the symptoms, and finally I was released from the hospital.

Life in a Mental Hospital:

I will not allow myself to be bitter for all the time spent in a hospital.  Truthfully, I’ve had some good times in a hospital, and made friends with staff and patients alike.  Patients, I feel I especially need to mention, are not the scum of the universe, despite popular opinion in this country.  They are regular people you would be happy to have as neighbors and friends.

Fellow patients and I have played cards, cracked jokes, taken potshots at terrible TV shows, and shared stories about our interests and the things we love in life.  For all I know, there could again be future trips to the hospital, and again, I will not allow myself to be bitter.  A life of regrets is a life wasted.

Hope Outside of a Pill:

After hearing voices and being hospitalized for over a year, my parents thought it would be best to send me to a farm somewhere along the East Coast to get acclimated to life outside of a hospital again.  A so called “Healing Community”, it was actually a wonderful place with wonderful people, and more importantly, an extremely healthy menu.  I have experimented with vegetarian eating in my life (before I first got sick), and this farm just so happened to have healthy vegan foods as an option for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I decided to give it a try, not long after my arrival.

Somehow, all the horrible symptoms I was experiencing in my year-long stay at the hospital magically cleared up.  I didn’t hear a single voice in my head in the entire five months that I was there.  Little did I know, I was on something called the 80/10/10 diet, but more on that later.  And I regret to say it took me until very recently to make the connection that there might be a dietary connection to one’s mental health.  Perhaps we really “are what we eat”.  At the farm, I worked with the doctor there to gradually go lower and lower on the medication I was taking, to the lowest level I have ever been on since first getting sick at age twenty-four.

Enter Sean Miller’s Story:

After serving my time at the farm — five months — I came back home to my parents.  Eating the way I once did at my parents house, it didn’t take long before I had the symptoms I once did.  Two hospitalizations later, I was back on the pill that was first prescribed for hearing voices.  Symptoms improved, but it wasn’t foolproof.  I was still hearing voices every so often.

Looking for whatever hope I could, I found a YouTube video which served as a promotion for the movie “When the Voices Fell Silent”. The movie is the story of a young man named Sean Miller who completely recovered from schizophrenia partially through changes to his diet.  After seeing this, I finally pieced together the dots of what was happening on the farm: my mental health improved — in an incredibly short amount of time, because of how I was eating.

I implore you to watch “When the Voices Fell Silent” if you are currently suffering.

Enter Victoria Everett’s Story (or, how to accelerate the rate at which you heal to “overnight”):

I went back to eating vegan after watching Sean Miller’s movie, and improvements were slow but steady.  Unlike the farm, the vegan diet I was eating now included a lot of bread, popcorn, seeds and nuts. After two months, I was still hearing voices.  Again looking for hope, I found a post by a woman named Victoria Everett about changing one’s diet to be almost entirely fruits and vegetables to have schizophrenia symptoms virtually disappear overnight.

Figuring there was not much left to lose, I tried it.  I woke up the next day a changed man, with a literal 99.99% reduction in symptoms.  More than just that, it was as though a cloud, or maybe a mental fog, had been completely lifted from me.  My thinking was clear and the voices were gone.

This takes us to the present.  I have now been eating mostly low-fat, raw vegan, on the 80/10/10 diet for two weeks to phenomenal results.  The voices, the visual hallucinations, and the clouded thinking haven’t returned since.

Below I will document my findings, and the vegan foods that I found help mental health the most and the least.

Dietary Observations:

Fruits and vegetables:  If you have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder and go on the 80/10/10 diet (80% carbohydrates, 10% fat, and 10% protein), with at least 90 percent of the carbohydrates you eat coming from fruits and vegetables, you will wake up the next day a changed person.  The amount of time you will hear voices will go down 99.99%, and if you continue this way on the 80/10/10 diet, the frequency with which they occur will be less and less on top of that, to the point where you can reduce and most likely eliminate medication.  Fruits seem to improve mood more than vegetables, but both are extremely good for you.  Raw is much more preferable to cooked.

Grains:  Grains can be tolerated but only in small quantities.  A little bit of a grain seems to have a stabilizing effect on mood, and also reduces the likelihood that you will hear a voice.  If you go off of grains for about a week and reintroduce them into your diet slowly after that, a small amount can feel like a cup of coffee it provides so much energy.  It’s a double-edged sword though.  Too many grains is among the surest ways I know to hear voices the next day.  I eat about one-fifth of a thick slice of toast made from homemade bread every other, to every third day.  This is all the grains I need.  Whole grains are much better than refined ones for their lower glycemic index and for containing a lot of fiber.

Nuts and seeds:  Like grains, these can be tolerated in small quantities.  I really don’t see even half as many benefits from nuts and seeds as I see from grains though.  If nothing else, they are a tasty snack.  Too much will bring voices back.

Legumes:  Depending on what it is, it shouldn’t cause too many problems, and is probably very good for you in ways I don’t yet know.  Things like chickpeas, beans and soy are fine.  But peanuts are legumes, and they have a lot of fat, so be careful.

Other factors:

Exercise:  Said to stabilize neurotransmitter levels in the brain, including dopamine, too much of which is widely believed to be the reason for auditory and visual hallucinations in people with with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, as well as distorted thinking.  For me personally, exercise has a day-long lasting impact on improving my mood.  There are many good reasons to exercise, including something called “neurogenesis”, in which new brain cells are created.  I recommend the book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey to learn more.  I exercise at least an hour every day, and sometimes go for as long as two hours.

Calorie Restriction / Overeating:  I used to think that because I was burning over 1,000 calories on the treadmill on a daily basis, I could eat as much as I want without repercussions.  Not so!  Overeating is one of the surest ways that voices will show up the following day, and sometimes the same day.  Calorie restriction is smart for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it will make you live longer.  Experiments on calorie restriction in lab mice can increase life expectancy by 30%.  Also, some of the healthiest, longest-lived people in the world live on only ~1,900 calories a day and get frequent exercise on top of that.  I recommend the book Healthy at 100 by John Robbins if you want to learn more about living longer.  

Oh yeah, and calorie restrictions greatly reduces the likelihood of hearing a voice.

Some More Thoughts:

I have been living with a quiet and clear mind for a two weeks despite the “you’ll-be-damned-for-the-rest-of-your-life” diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder.  This is entirely because of changes I made to diet and lifestyle.  Two weeks might not sound like much, but to someone who’d previously wake up to taunting voices in his head, it can feel like an eternity.  Medication has never been this powerful.  

Also, lest we forget, I was living with a quiet and clear mind for five months on the farm because of the same changes, on increasingly less and less medication, without any symptoms to speak of.

I want to spread the word to the best of my ability that this disorder seems entirely controllable through completely non-medical intervention.  “Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.”  

I stand on the shoulders of giants, as I am the third living example that I know of who found this is a legitimate way to end mental health problems, with Sean Miller from the movie “When the Voices Fell Silent”, and Victoria Everett from the blog Crazy Banana Lady being the previous two examples.  Additionally, these two people have been living medication-free for six years and eight-and-a-half years respectively, proving that this level of health is completely sustainable.  I don’t doubt there will be more and more examples in the coming years.  Hope finds a way.

If you are saying to yourself, “I’d rather suffer than give up steaks, cheeseburgers, french fries, alcohol, etc”, I really can’t help you, other than to say give delayed gratification a chance.  Sure those cheese fries are great on your tongue and the way down your throat, but in my mind, it’s not at all worth compromising your sanity for.

Is it Any Wonder?:

I am still young, a man of thirty, and I have hope that there’s still time to do the things I want to do in life.  Even if I don’t, again, “a life of regrets is a life wasted”.

But we are at the dawn of a new era, with people like T. Colin Campbell, John Robbins, Neal Barnard, and John McDougall toting the incredible benefits of plant-based eating.  Plant-based eating can save you from cancer, heart-disease, diabetes, stroke, high-blood pressure… even patients with M.S. are showing promising results.  And now it seems mental health could be added to the list.

Is it any wonder that United States has some of the worst health outcomes of hospital patients in the developed world, where they feed you a diet of dead cow, pig, chicken, cheese, whole milk, mayonnaise, and eggs?

 

I wish you all the best.