Like most compassionate people-pleasing nurse types, I generally keep my thoughts and emotions to myself, hidden, safe in isolation. It’s easier to focus and distract myself by taking care of others – patients, kids, pets, family and friends. However, I have come to a place where I believe sharing my experiences might provide hope and insight for the increasing number of women and men struggling with the same challenges I did.
For years I experienced brain fog and anxiety. My spouse often told me I needed “help”, and I believed him. So, I went to counseling, for as many years as he told me I needed to. I went to four different counselors in total, over several years. At one point I was diagnosed with adult ADHD, and prescribed drugs not only for ADHD but for anxiety, eating disorders, and depression as well. Nothing worked for long.
At the same time my previous struggles with anorexia and bulimia seemed to be resurfacing, so I was referred to an eating disorders specialist, the fourth counselor. For months I continued the conversations surrounding various childhood issues, but one day she suggested these issues might not be the only thing affecting my problems with food. She said that although she could not diagnose a person she has not personally evaluated, she wondered if my relationship with my spouse was having a major affect as well. She wondered if he was a “narcissist”. “A what?” I asked. She suggested it was possible the increase in the stress eating, the brain fog, and anxiety might be related more to the verbal, mental, and emotional abuse that generally accompanies a relationship with a narcissist. “Do some research” she suggested. So I did. That suggestion was the wake up call I needed to begin my self-healing journey.
Of course we tried marital counseling first, but couples therapy doesn’t really work with someone who has the traits of a narcissist, especially one as smart and covert as mine was. They also never believe they are at fault or have done anything wrong, ever. He said he would go to counseling to “help” me though. After a handful of sessions, when the counselor started asking him specific questions about his role in our difficulties, he promptly stormed out, angry, pointing and shaking his finger at our “incompetent” counselor.
I believe optimal mental clarity is critical to surviving the turmoil, chaos, and confusion that comes when living with, and especially when trying to divorce, a covert narcissist. The only way to find this clarity is to take care of ourselves, both physically and mentally. I felt old, tired, drained, and most important, I felt I wasn’t being the best I could be with my sons or at work. Since I am an ER nurse, there is little room for error. If I was going to survive and thrive the unbelievably confusing and difficult process of leaving a “narcissist”, and be there for my sons, I would need to optimize my health, asap.
I found great success in focusing on nutrition first and foremost, specifically, an “anti-aging, anti-inflammatory diet”. Essentially this meant no sugar or processed carbohydrates. This was not easy. I love sugar. I would constantly graze on the red licorice bin all day long. Bread and chocolate were my friends. But I was very motivated, especially after noticing improvements in only a few days. I noticed my ability to focus was better at work, and surprisingly, my joint pain improved as well. I was calmer day to day and more attentive to my sons. It didn’t take long to start coming out of the fog, to start realizing the reality of the situation I was in, my reality, not what my spouse was telling me. It’s an amazing feeling to stop doubting yourself and your memories.
I realized I didn’t need to try harder to be a good wife, change what I said or how I said it, change how I looked or acted, find a different counselor, or take more medications. The problem was not me, my ADHD, or anxiety, it was not that I worried too much, that I was forgetful, too sensitive, or needed help. The problem was the mental and emotional confusion caused by common methods of narcissistic abuse, tactics like gaslighting, projection, distraction, blame-shifting, changing the subject, nonsensical communication, and the silent treatment. After a time, it becomes impossible to determine your reality from his lies. But it was also the food that was fueling these thoughts. The key to awareness and healing was first to change what I was putting in my mouth, to stop using food to calm and distract my already confused brain. I needed to fuel my brain properly.
Of course, brains function best when nobody is verbally, emotionally, or mentally abusing you. But brains also function best on foods that do not cause inflammation in the brain or the body – a low carbohydrate, healthy fat way of eating. Brains function best when using ketones for fuel, not with the ups and downs of sugar and processed food.
Did the years and years of talk therapy help? Did separation from an abusive relationship help? Sure. But I didn’t start truly feeling better, physically and mentally, until I changed what I ate. This is what I’d like to share with others – it really isn’t just about the childhood traumas, the teenage struggles, the lack of self-esteem, the challenges that come with marriage and raising a family, or the social pressures to be thin and perfect. The problem starts with the food we are fueling our brains with. It’s literally what feeds our thoughts, our reactions, our feelings.
Learn how to implement a LOW CARB Lifestyle and find a way out of the chaos & confusion.