Finding a Path Through Darkness Into Light
My oldest sister is 71 years old and she is experiencing mental health and addiction problems, causing me great concern. My sisters and I grew up with parents who experienced tragedy with the loss of a child. The grief led the two in different directions, my mother through all the stages of grief, and my father into alcohol abuse. Without going into detail, the situated escalated into one where our lives were lived on the emotional edge and forever changed. As adults, we had many things to resolve intellectually and emotionally.
We humans all do this differently, I have discovered. As the youngest of the four sisters, I am the only one who chose an entirely unconventional path, including one to wellness in life. My oldest sister did not. In fact, she seemed to be hell bent on all of the following conventional options suggested such as: attending self help group therapy sessions, pharmaceuticals, and obsessively believing that continually talking about the harms done in her life would help (Think of “scream therapy”).
As for my oldest sister, I do not see an interest in trying any unconventional suggested ideas, which makes me somewhat frustrated with her. She relives her pain and I do not. She holds grudges and I do not. She is not happy and I am happy. While I would NEVER say any one person should follow MY path, I would love to see how my path, my choices and ideas, could possibly help someone out there reading about it.
Before you read on, please know I fully believe that some people really must speak with mental health and substance abuse professionals. Also, some people really should be using medications for problems like schizophrenia and other health problems. I have done an extensive amount of research on my own methods before and after using them. I want to share this with you.
There is power in communication. Talking helps you to articulate the things that bother you. It also helps to just get feelings to the surface. It does matter who you speak with and speaking with friends who are angry and unstable is NOT a good idea. Basically, the old “misery loves company” … that situation where two people commiserate over their troubles with each other … is probably a bad idea, at least when done too much. All that does is make you more angry and full of woe. That may be the first thing you do, but it definitely should not be the last thing.
Consider talking to YOURSELF a while. Yes, it’s ok to talk to yourself. Consider what is upsetting you and allow yourself to verbally, or even in writing, articulate every little thing. You may find that what comes out in your anger and tears are emotions such as an immense sadness, feelings of abandonment, or the thought of being violated in some way, disempowerment, or maybe even a desire for vengeance.
Communicating with yourself in the quiet of your own space allows you to be free to “speak freely” and that can do more than you can imagine.
After coming to your own terms with your thoughts and feelings, maybe seeking a mental health therapist to just talk in a clear and open manner is necessary. One thing is for sure, continuing to feel badly won’t be resolved by obsessive talking and being negative, not as long as there isn’t a proactive and sound process to move forward towards healing.
There is “Talk Therapy” (aka “psychodynamic psychotherapy”)  , which is now in common usage and is an effective alternative to traditional psychotherapy (imagine the weekly sessions talking to the psychologist as he/she listens and then analyzes you). When you have an epiphany, consider jotting that down on paper and talking it out. Speaking to a professional like this may help guide you to the place you need to be to enable greater mental health.[i]
Whatever your choice is, DO get in touch with your thoughts and feelings, then if you choose to, reach out and talk to someone who can help you to resolve and shape a path forward. Then consider what other things you can do to help yourself to achieve wellness.
Consider Environment, Food, and Health Issues
If you are experiencing depression, please consider that your environment and health may be triggering bouts of mental illness. There is an entirely new field of psychology that focuses on environmental impact on mental health. If your environment creates so much tension that you are unable to cope, maybe you need to move. Consider your environmental conditions at work, home, and places you visit regularly.
When it comes to actual physical impact on brain chemistry and mental wellness, there is a wealth of information. For example, it has been shown that when a person is experiencing inflammation in their body, the presence of something called “cytokines” (molecules present in immune responses) rises. Evidently, cytokines are present in humans with immune responses to health problems and also when someone is suffering from depression. The connection is worth learning about and perhaps looking in to if you are otherwise healthy but suffering from mental health problems. It is possible your body is sending you a message.
Like me, my sister suffers from childhood trauma and also physical health problems (spine issues) that cause inflammation. I have cervical stenosis (degenerative disc disease), which causes inflammation. One method towards good mental health for me has been to deal with the pain and inflammation. There are “anti-inflammatory diets” that help and these include a lot of cruciferous vegetables, a reduction (or elimination of) in alcohol and other substances like tobacco, a meatless or low meat diet, less caffeine and the addition of more water, and more freshly made foods (as opposed to processed foods). There is an abundance of resources online for learning more about these foods.
The worse I feel physically, the more I feel “low”. Exercise and a proper amount of food through the day helps me in the most remarkable way sometimes. For instance, sometimes I feel extreme achiness in my neck and back. When I feel this, I do one of three things:
1. Eat a warm, nutritious meal and often, and I feel the aches melt away
2. Drink a hot cup of herbal tea, which also relaxes me, helping my muscles to “un-knot” (There is no need to sweeten it but if I do, I use honey.)
3. Stretch. Stretching is a great way for me to relax and when done correctly, controlled breathing puts both my mind and body into a calmer state, which naturally, helps reduce or relieve anxiety
Gluten and food allergies or intolerances may be a culprit in your mental health. This also happens to be one of the most difficult things to diagnose. Such intolerances like gluten intolerance, may cause all sorts of problems including inflammation and health problems you may not be connecting to foods. When I became aware that my diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome could be a misdiagnosis for Celiac Disease, I got tested for it.
As it turns out, my body is low in an antibody (immunoglobulin A or IgA), which has symptoms that vary and may lead to Celiac Disease. My deficiency in IgA caused me to have migraines, excessive thirst, bowel problems (constipation then diarrhea), and depression. Serotonin, our mood chemical, is produced in the small intestine. These digestive problems interfere with its production.
Gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, or food allergies, can interfere with the gut and its microbiome, and the production and uptake of serotonin to the brain may eventually cause brain chemistry disorders. Some people with Celiac disease experience terrible brain problems including schizophrenia, “brain fog”, deep depression, and I have even met who people developed mineral deposits in their brain. [ii]
When testing foods for potential problems eliminate them one by one in this manner: with gluten, eliminate it for two months, then go back to eating foods with it. Dairy, grains, and caffeine drinks are all things to consider removing but carefully. Get tested for food allergies as well, if you can. Each time you remove one, be mindful of how you feel. When I removed gluten for two months then went back on gluten diet, I immediately felt like I had the flu.
My sister and I have generally taken different approaches to life. When her mind endlessly goes in circles over some slight or some troubling issue, she goes on and on without mentally saying “STOP!!!” Somewhere along the line, I realized that when I could not stop my own mental obsessing, I simply had to tell myself to stop, breathe, eat, walk, breathe some more, and know that things would work out, and tell myself, “it is what it is”. There is no simple way to do that and I should mention the fact that some form of meditation is in order.
I am by no means perfect at this whole “achieving peace and joy” thing, just so you know. I work on it all the time.
As a swimmer, I do what I refer to as “swimming meditation”. There are Buddhist monks who do “walking meditation”. So if you can’t sit still comfortably, move. Move!! That is, the act of swimming for me is the manifestation of the metaphor “allowing thoughts flow through you”…it becomes real for me. I notice water moving along my skin, and the flow of my thoughts seems to be moving with the water behind me. The actual glide of my stroke becomes a physical act of emotional expression and release, much like dancing can be for some people.
Walking is a way to notice the beauty of the world around me. Fresh air and the breeze flow through me as I breathe and around me as I stroll along. Find a quiet, more natural and beautiful place to walk. A place with trees, water, and flowers, maybe animals too, are all conducive to peaceful feelings. You can look down, but always look all around you in a carefully observant way.
All images captured and used with permission by Molly LaCombe
Gratitude is the right attitude, and as much as it may sound like a cliché … it is not. In 2009, when I lost my career in the recession, then my home in 2010, my life became dark, a place filled with loss, sadness, and anger. It was a confusing time. I began using my camera, learning photography as I visited different places. Again, metaphors become real…my camera became, quite literally, the tool helping me to focus on all I love and value.
After years of depression from my losses, learning about all these things I have described above, on a path clearly towards wellness, I looked at my portfolio of images. What I saw was thousands of images of everything that makes life beautiful, not for me alone, but certainly what I love personally. I saw interesting people, oceans, birds in flight, cats sitting peacefully outside, wild horses roaming, food I love, people I love, blue skies, misty forests, old buildings, and so much more.
I realized I had created a visual journal that documented absolutely everything I love in life…all these things that make life worth living. I also saw that all those things were always there, with or without money. This was how I learned that always finding something to be grateful for is a path to good mental health and an act of humility that leads to forgiveness.
Finding a path from a mentally and emotionally dark place may be different from person to person but implementing these elements cannot possibly hurt you. The frustration I currently feel with my older sister is that I see someone who wants to NOT do anything to even start on the path to wellness, and when she does, it’s only drugs. Please know that there are appropriate moments for drugs but using the ideas I am presenting to you here, perhaps not exactly the same way, almost certainly can help you.
Many of us experience health problems so we must adjust our idea of what “good health” means, of course. That said, good health begins when you are ready to manifest it to the best of your abilities. It requires a combination of good foods, strategies to calm our minds and bodies, adjusting our thoughts to become positive, calm, and less attached to problems and outcomes, and always being thankful for the simplest of offerings from our world.
So take an inventory of what your current condition is, what your needs and wants are, then consider all I have offered to move forward (and not moving in an endless circle of want), always striving to achieve your hopes and goals.
 “Does Talk Therapy Really Work?” Psychology Today. November 6, 2010. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-couch/201011/does-talk-therapy-really-work
 “What are Cytokines?” News Medical Life Science. https://www.news-medical.net/health/What-are-Cytokines.aspx
 “Inflammatory Cytokines in Depression: Neurobiological Mechanisms and Therapeutic Implications”. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. May 2013. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3741070/
 “Fix Your Brain by Going Gluten-Free”, by Kelly Brogan, MD. https://kellybroganmd.com/go-gluten-free-fix-your-brain/
[i] I have learned one of my sisters has used a talk therapist and it has helped her.
[ii] Please read “Jennifer's Way: My Journey with Celiac Disease--What Doctors Don't Tell You and How You Can Learn to Live Again” by Jennifer Esposito
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Molly LaCombe is a former educator who taught young children and later in her career, worked in higher education engineering programs. She began her college studies in Science and Education but later earned a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Fine Arts, and a Master’s of Science degree in Education (Curriculum Development & Instructional Technology). Now retired from her education career, she does Photography and has a new Etsy shop, travels, and spends her life as a dog and cat mom. She resides in the West with her husband and animals.