The gift of new knowledge

This is a follow up post to my blog post from around 2 years ago. Why now? for two reasons:

  1. I learned that sometimes you may live in a mental / existential “fog” without being fully aware. You become aware of it either if/when the fog lifts, or if/when you manage to recover. I now consider myself mostly recovered and as a result, I now see things from a new perspective. This prompted me to write this follow up post.
  2. I learned that trauma can affect your gut microbiome. It explains a lot of what I’ve experienced shortly after my incident; why I suddenly wasn’t able to tolerate red chilly flakes, coffee, and other drinks/foods that I could easily tolerate before the incident took place.

So I will break this post into 3 parts:

  1. I will try to describe how stress, panic attacks, and anxiety felt. How I didn’t have proper awareness to it, how I gained that awareness, how being in that state impacted my view of my environment, and finally, how I managed to fix the whole thing (mostly, anyway!).
  2. I’ll share about my discovery of the gut-brain connection, and how this is now leading me down to the path of consuming more fermented foods, and even making my own fermented foods as a permanent change in my diet.
  3. I’ll conclude the post with my own theories about balance, human health, diet, and how they all relate.

I’m sure a lot of professionals have studied, and are still studying all of the above as we speak, and they may have significantly more knowledge on the matter than I possess, but that doesn’t mean this knowledge is readily available to me.

PTSD / Anxiety Disorder

I must stress again that it took a while for me to even understand I was suffering from some kind of Anxiety Disorder. This inability to immediately recognize the condition is probably what made it so tricky! If you don’t know you have something, you don’t know that you need to fix anything.

I will attempt to describe how I felt after the incident, from the most obvious to the least obvious.

Tachycardia, Blood Pressure & Sleep

The first side effect was sudden bouts of rapid heart rate (in medical jargon: Tachycardia). During and immediately after the incident, this would suddenly attack me in my sleep, I would wake up at 2am or 3am with sweats and a rapid heart rate of 160bpm. Needless to say, this affected my quality of sleep. Once I got to work, the effects would suddenly vanish and I’d be fine until an hour or two after leaving the office. Tachycardia would then attack me suddenly out of nowhere, while having dinner, or while sitting down with friends just watching a show on TV or talking about something random. I later realized that aside from Tachycardia, my blood pressure was also higher, on average (verified by a few doctor visits).

Anhedonia / Chronic Stress

I remember how much I enjoyed showers before this happened to me. I used to take long showers, washing myself slowly, and I used to enjoy the scents of the various soaps, the warm water, and sometimes the shower would turn into a bath and I’d just lay there soaking in the warm water and relaxing.

When under Chronic Stress, my showers became purely functional and took less than 5 minutes. I would basically wash my hair, body, rinse the soap off and leave the shower. It’s as if the goal was to get in and out of the shower asap, and when I started becoming aware of this change, I once measured how long it took and found out it lasted less than 5 minutes! I remember being amazed.

The weird part as I mentioned before is that while being deeply immersed in “the fog”, I didn’t even notice this change in my approach to showers.

And the shower was just one litmus test; I only just now realize that while in “the fog”, I wasn’t enjoying many other things that I used to enjoy. I almost gave up gaming, book reading. Any other “fun” activities I did partake in, they were almost “robotic” in terms of how I “executed” in those activities (auto-pilot).

High Metanephrines in Blood & Urine

Around 2 years ago, I was still a patient of a preventative care medical service that monitored my vitals, and that’s how I became aware of my blood pressure being elevated. They decided to do some blood tests on me, and that’s when they first found out about elevated Metanephrine levels in my blood. It was a scary diagnosis because it could mean one of two things:

  • Chronic stress is causing the production of excess stress hormones
  • A lump/tumor on my adrenal glands above the kidneys

At the time I was also a patient with Kaiser Permanente. I mentioned this to my doctor who ordered two urine tests, one was the standard urine test, and the second was a special 24 hour urine analysis which I did. The 24 hour urine test requires that you pee in a bottle which you must keep refrigerated, for 24 hours, and then immediately return that bottle to the lab for analysis.

The interesting thing about the above tests is that my metanephrine levels were normal in the standard urine test, but were indeed elevated in the 24 hour urine test. This meant that sometime during a period of 24 hours, I’d experience sudden high stress or a panic attack, and my body would start producing stress hormones. The surprising thing (to me) was that this test was done while I was staying home, a place that I do not consider stressful.

Was it a Catch-22?

I clearly remember the question that kept nagging me was: Which one came first? Did I have a tumor on my adrenal gland which was causing the production of stress hormones? Or was it 100% mental, and it was my brain instructing my body to produce those stress hormones?

Thinking about it now, it is clear to me that it was 100% mental because:

  • I was a healthy individual before the incident; no smoking, no drugs.
  • A tumor would get worse with time; I got better with time.
  • When taking L-Theanine, none of the effects happened.

And to expand on the L-Theanine bullet above: I found it extremely unlikely that just because I took a simple substance such as L-Theanine, that it would prevent an adrenal gland from producing stress hormones. It was more likely that the L-Theanine would help my mind relax, which helped me avoid the panic attack.

So in conclusion, and unfortunately in hindsight: It was not a Catch-22, and I wish I had that wisdom during “the fog”.

Constantly feeling cold

Another side effect was a general physical weakness, to which I attribute feeling constantly cold. Drinking ginger tea helped for a few hours, but in general I could not tolerate cold very well. The slightest temperature drop, and I had to wear my fleece jacket. I had to take extremely hot showers, wear socks at home, etc.

Nowadays I am less sensitive to cold, and learning to embrace the cold (inspired in part by Wim Hof! ❤️). I use lukewarm water in my showers, and when I leave the house for evening walks I don’t have to dress warmly.

Mental/Emotional Sensitivity

This is probably one of the more surprising and unexpected side effects: Being more “scared” than usual when watching TV shows/movies. I was not exactly the horror movie fan before the condition, but I suddenly became sensitive to scenes that would previously not even register as even remotely scary. I of course empathize with characters and situations, but something about my condition made me feel it on a visceral level and I just avoided certain shows.

The Gut-Brain connection

I read about this before my condition, which I consider very lucky because simply being aware of the possibility that a gut-brain connection exists, allowed me to pursue researching further in that direction.

What can destroy our Gut Microbiome

The most common ways our gut microbiome get destroyed is through food poisoning, consuming antibiotics, and severe Stress.

Beans, Tri-butyrate, etc.

Turns out consuming beans regularly will increase the amount of Akkermansia Muciniphilae. Other products rich in fiber, as well as Tri-butyrate, can help replenish or rebuild the gut microbiome.

Fermented foods

Foods such as Kimchi, Sauerkraut, home made fermented foods as well as fermented Milk based products such as Kefir & Labane can help (re)build a healthy microbiome.

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