It was hot and dry, like only a September afternoon in Arizona can be, and I was stuffing Wetzel Pretzel bites into my mouth and loving every disgusting minute of it.
The outlet mall outside of Phoenix, adjacent to I-10 is depressing in a remote, fabricated, middle America type of way, but that didn’t matter.
I was emotionally numb and I could’ve been eating every last one of those Wetzel bites while sitting in a landfill and I wouldn’t have been stunned.
It was the type of numb that slowly creeps in and there isn’t shit you can do about it.
It’s coming for you and you can’t hide.
You can try to fight it. You can drink. You can smoke. You can zone out by watching hours of cat videos and Netflix. You can shove an entire bag of fucking Wetzel Pretzels in your mouth. You can even play the delusional card and pretend that everything is fine.
But it’s not. And at the end of the day, all of the things that we do to try to escape the harsh reality that this beautiful life sometimes throws at us is all done in vain, because it doesn’t help. It only makes things worse.
It makes us grouchy, tired, irritable, unmotivated, bloated, gassy, and lethargic. And we know it. We know it when we’re in the middle of engaging in these not so helpful activities, but for some reason we try to escape anyway.
Because we want to feel good. And sometimes the only thing that can make us feel good comes in the form of instant gratification and we need a god damn minute of escape before we stand the fuck up, open up our big vulnerable stinging hearts and proceed to let go, accept and finally, oh yes…FEEL. (ouch)
Two months ago one of my best friends was airlifted by helicopter to the Arizona Burn Unit in Phoenix, AZ. She had third degree burns covering the top third of her body and face and she was in critical condition.
The details were sketchy and no one knew what exactly happened, but the consensus of friends, family and the paramedics who first arrived on the scene was that she had lit herself on fire. Whether she was trying to kill herself or she was in the middle of a psychotic episode is still unknown.
When I heard the news, my stomach dropped and my appetite vanished.
My friend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 12 years ago and her mental health has been on the decline ever since.
When she was admitted into the ICU burn unit, her chances of survival looked bleak, but as the hours and days went by she started showing signs of strength and her chances of death from her burns were on the decrease.
As of today she has been in the burn unit for 66 days. There is still no word on when she might get out.
I’ve driven to Phoenix twice and have visited her numerous times. Each time has left me utterly and completely numb from the inside out.
I consider myself a decent writer, but I honestly don’t have words to describe the sight of my dear friend. Nor do I want to make an attempt because you don’t need that visual hanging out in your brain. I will say that it has been heart and gut wrenchingly painful beyond belief to witness any human in as much physical and mental pain as my friend has endured over the past three months.
It’s safe to say that it has changed my life and it impacted me in ways that I didn’t see coming and that I wasn’t prepared for. I don’t think anyone can ever prepare for something like this. One of the most surprising ways it effected me was that I developed a new feeling about my body that I’ve never experienced before.
I felt almost protective of my body and skin like I would feel about a child. I have also become extremely grateful for my healthy body. I no longer care about my little love handles and my round little tummy that hasn’t been flat since I was 18. In fact, I have a deep appreciation, love and respect for every part of my body that I’ve never quite experienced before. I don’t think this feeling will ever go away.
So yes, I was numb. I drank a lot. I smoked cigarettes. I ate Wetzels Pretzels. I zoned out on cat videos and Netflix and I gave exactly zero shits about it because I needed my moment before I bucked up and embraced the tragic fucking reality of her situation. It’s a miracle that I was able to get my Saturday emails and my Tuesday blog posts out during during my trips to Phoenix. My Fats 101 article almost didn’t happen.
When I was finally ready to crawl out of my hole, I was reminded just how hard it is to get back on track. I was fully committed, but going back to daily meditation practice, nourishing my body with super clean food, getting to the gym regularly, and everything else that I do to live a healthy lifestyle that ultimately provides stability and balance, absolutely sucked ass to get back into.
It was like climbing up a steep mountain with concrete blocks for shoes.
Part of it was physically feeling the pain and embracing the mental shock and trauma that I had seen (and not just from my friend. Spending any amount of time in the ICU burn unit is hell on earth. I have a whole new respect for burn nurses.) and part of it was the fact that fat, sugar, salt, processed crappy food and alcohol are damn addictive.
As I was going through the process of getting out of my funk, I took notes because I knew that eventually I would be sharing this with you and I’m finally ready to open up and share this story and my tips with you.
I hope that you don’t need them, but if you do, here they are.
Here are my nine steps to dig yourself out of a hot mess.
They’re not complicated. In fact, they’re surprisingly simple.
Depending on the hotness of your mess, you probably won’t feel like doing this stuff.
But do it anyway. When you first start pulling yourself together, you’ll just be going through the motions without feeling any motivation behind them.
Push through, be steadfast and determined and accept the fact that life clearly isn’t always comfortable. But also remember that impermanence is inevitable and no feeling lasts forever. Good or bad.
Do these things for a week or two and you’ll feel the fog lift.
Doing these things won’t fix your problems or magically erase the pain. Reality is reality.
They’ll help keep you from getting sick and from slipping into an even worse mental state. They’ll also help you find strength that you forgot you had.
Even if you’re not going through hell at the moment, do this stuff anyway and you will be better equipped to deal with bullshit and heartbreak should it come your way in the future.
1. Plan a menu and make your shopping list.
First things first.
Cleansing your body from the Wetzels and wine is the fastest way to start feeling better.
As usual, the first couple days will be crappy because you will be detoxing from gunk, but it does get better and you’ll feel much different in a really good way with clean food running through your system.
Sit down at your computer or with your favorite cookbook and start looking over recipes. Plan out seven days worth of meals, snacks and green smoothies / juices.
When we’re smack dab in the middle of funk town, inspiration to cook healthy meals won’t always be available to us. If this is the case, join my Plant Fueled Meal Plans and all you have to do is follow along.
2. Go to the grocery store and buy your ingredients.
Going to the grocery store after putting together your menu and your shopping list is a therapeutic step in getting your shit together. And it’s a necessary part of the process.
Here are a few tips to make the grocery store a happy place and not a place of stress.
Make sure you don’t go to the grocery store while hungry. It’ll only prompt you to eat chocolate covered almonds directly from the bulk bin and you’ll invariably buy twice as much food as you normally would. Go while full and stick to your list.
- Don’t forget your shopping list.
- Don’t forget your reusable grocery bags. I even go a little further and wash all my plastic produce bags, hang them on the line to dry and reuse them. Stewardship reminds us of the bigger picture and that never hurts.
- If you can go to the grocery store without your kids this will help. This might be impossible, but if you can, do it. It makes for a much more relaxing grocery shopping experience.
3. Do all of the necessary prep for your meal plan and prepare to batch cook.
When you get home from the grocery store, put all of your groceries away, toss out any old food in the fridge and prep whatever needs prepping for the next day.
The grocery store trip is usually a production in itself and I don’t want you to cram too much into one day.
So only do the necessary things for the next day of cooking. Soak your beans, clean your greens, make your red sauce if you’re doing a lasagna or spaghetti, etc. Follow my meal plans – this will make it super easy.
The goal is to come to the kitchen the next day refreshed and excited to get cooking. Food tastes way better when you’re not exhausted or stressed out while making it.
The next day, get to work and make all the items on your list. Put labels on everything with the date it was made and what it is. This way you know exactly what you’re reaching for throughout the week.
Also, if you don’t live alone, this will keep other folks in the loop so they don’t open the fridge to a bunch of delicious looking mystery food.
4. Drink a green smoothie or green juice (or both) everyday.
Even if you’re not feelin’ it, do it anyway.
This is the fastest way to get a huge nutrient boost, rev your immune system up, give you lots of energy and hopefully start repairing some of the Wetzel damage.
Be sure to add your juice / smoothie ingredients to your grocery list and make sure your smoothies and / or juices have lots of greens in them.
5. Get good sleep.
A good nights’ sleep is some of the best medicine there is.
Sleep recharges our brain and helps us feel refreshed and prepared for our day. Aim for 7-8 hours each night.
And make sure it’s not a whiskey induced type of sleep. When we drink before we go to sleep, we go directly into deep sleep and miss out on the important first cycle of REM sleep, short for rapid eye movement.
We usually have 6 – 7 cycles of REM sleep per night. This leaves us feeling refreshed and alert the next morning. When we drink before sleep, we only have 1 – 2 REM cycles. This leaves us feeling groggy and exhausted the next morning.
If you have trouble sleeping, try these tricks:
- Drink a cup of chamomile tea an hour before bed.
- Mediate for 10 minutes before you crawl into your nest.
- Do a body scan if you’re feeling nervous or anxious. This will ground you and keep you in the present moment. Start with your toes and slowly visualize your way up. Put your attention on each body part and just feel it. Toes, ankles, calves, knee caps, etc. My experience is that I rarely reach the top of my head before I’m off in dreamland.
- Don’t look at any screens before you go to bed. Keep your phone in another room and don’t bring your iPad or computer to bed.
6. Get your heart rate up.
When we’re all funky and sad and basket case like, exercising is the last thing we want to do. But hear me out.
Once we’re in the act, everything starts to feel better and by the time it’s over, we have a new outlook on things. Even if you have to DRAG yourself to lace up those sneaks and get out that door. DO IT!
You don’t have to go to a gym either. Go find a mountain, a trail, a pool, a yoga class. Even a 30 minute walk will help. Do anything you can to get your body moving.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mood and you’ll feel a noticeable shift in your attitude and outlook after exercising for even 30 minutes, especially if you’re out in nature while doing it.
If it’s hard for you to get motivated, find an exercise buddy and jump on board together. This helps with accountability and it’ll also make it more fun. Sharing is caring.
7. Go see a movie.
A good movie is a perfectly healthy distraction.
Sneak in some homemade popcorn and enjoy. Even if you go alone. There’s nothing like treating yourself to a date night and enjoying your own light.
8. Sit in silence for just 10 minutes each day.
Even 10 minutes has been shown to help our mental and emotional state. If you can fit more in, then great, if not, 10 minutes will do. Meditate to music or in silence. Do it laying down, sitting in a chair or cross legged on the floor. Whatever feels right for you.
Keep in mind that the point of meditation is not to think about nothing. We’re human and even the most Buddha-like of monks have monk thoughts come up while meditating. The goal is to allow our thoughts to move on without getting attached to them or judging them. When a thought comes, treat it as you would a cloud in the sky and allow it gently move through your head.
Concentrate on your breath to help keep your mind at rest. When a thought comes up and you allow it to move on, that is meditation.
Try not to over-think it and just go for it.
9. Write down or take mental note of all the things you are grateful for in your life.
This is one of the quickest way to get out of victim mode and turn your attitude around.
Focusing on all of the good things in your life instead of getting stuck on all the bad shit is the fastest way to have more good stuff show up and to gain perspective.
Even if you’re in a super low place, write out five things that you’re thankful for and really feel that gratitude in your body. It works, trust me.
Bonus: Join our private Facebook group.
This is the most amazing group of people on the internet. Not only can they relate to the pain of life, they also aren’t afraid to talk about it and support you through it. Join us here ASAP.
I hope that you try some of these things out and let me know what you think. My love goes out to you, whatever it is that you are going through.
These things didn’t make my sadness go away, but they did help lift the darkness and gently nudge me back into the light.
Today’s recipe is really damn good and comforting.
Whole Food Plant Based Marinara Sauce (no oil and no sugar and yet somehow still awesome)
Whole Food Plant Based Marinara Sauce (No oil and no sugar and yet somehow still awesome)
- 1/2 onion diced
- 6 garlic cloves minced
- 1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes 340g, diced
- one 28 ounce can diced tomatoes in their juice Muir Glen uses BPA free cans so I stick to that brand
- 1/2 cup tomato paste 120g
- 1 cup tightly packed fresh basil 35g, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon sea salt 6g
Heat a large pan and add the onions.
Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring intermittently.
After 5 minutes add 2 tablespoons of water and stir.
Add the garlic, fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, oregano and sea salt and stir until all ingredients are combined.
Turn the heat down to low and cover with a lid at an angle so the lid isn’t tight.
Simmer for one hour, stirring every 10-15 minutes.
I wish I could give you a happy update about my friend, but this story is not shaping up to have a very happy ending. Her burns are healing, but her mental health has declined drastically since she’s been in the burn unit.
Part of it is the drugs and sedatives that she’s on to try to control her mania and keep her still so her body can heal, and part of it is the fact that she’s been in the hospital for over three months and she misses her six year old daughter more than words can explain. Part of it is her mental illness itself.
UPDATE AS OF FEB. 11th 2016
Two weeks before the hospital that was treating my friend gave her the boot for lack of insurance, her mom died. They never got to say goodbye to each other. That was brutal and and almost unbearable to witness.
Because my friend was kicked out of the hospital before her treatments were finished, her body hasn’t been able to heal as it should. This means there is tightness, pain and scarring that will never go away. She has attempted suicide twice since she has been released from the hospital. I talked with her on the phone recently and she said, “Molly, all I want to do is die and my body won’t let me.” What the fuck do you say to that?
I am going to visit her this weekend.
I hope you have a wonderful week. Know that we all go through it and you are NEVER alone.