Researching Mental Health Keeps Me Grounded

When we don’t have the vocabulary, it feels like trying to explain an airplane to someone who has never seen a wheel.

In my life, especially in the past 6 or so years, I’ve struggled immensely with mental health. I’ve had consistent nightmares, which are thankfully just starting to ease up. I’ve battled panic and anxiety attacks. I’ve spent months where I ignored deadlines and instead laid in the dark, unable to find the willpower to do anything productive…even struggling to feed myself. And while my coping mechanisms have evolved throughout the years, one grounding technique that has remained constant is diving into research.

I’ve always loved school and loved learning outside of the classroom. As someone who learns best from reading and writing, books have often been my solace during times of personal upheaval. Although, I’ve certainly listened to my fair share of podcasts and Youtube videos. Two summers ago when I found my eyes leaking more often than they were dry, my only reprieve was mental health podcasts on my drive to work and books laid out in my bedroom.

In so many ways, research has been a salvation for me. But it also helped me feel less lonely and illuminated the why to so many of my questions (and sometimes questions I didn’t even think to ask). Here are some things I found:

I’ve always been a very jumpy person, anytime someone walks unexpectedly into a room I startle and my heart starts racing. Sometimes I’ll even drop what’s in my hand out of fear. For people with general anxiety disorder or PTSD, this is incredibly common

A little TMI but it matters still: My bowel movements are always a mess when I’m going through periods of heightened anxiety. Sometimes something as simple as a text from the wrong person will result in me immediately needing to go to the bathroom. In fact, your gut and your brain communicate a lot to each other, so anxiety and other variables can result in diarrhea and/or constipation.

For years, some of the people who I’ve been most able to relate to are children of addicts. Despite their family of origin story looking drastically different from my upbringing, I’ve found their own experiences and manifestations of c-PTSD more relatable than anyone else’s. Like me, for years psychologists were baffled by patients who had all the signs of “adult children of alcoholism” but there was no alcoholic insight. As it turns out, the link was narcissistic parent(s). The psychologists found out that children from narcissistic families had almost identical symptoms and before more resources were available, they actually recommended patients to read books about other types of abuse and simply substitute the word “dysfunctional” for “alcoholic” or “abusive”. Really insightful stuff!

In school, we’re taught about fight-or-flight stress responses, but there are actually other stress responses. Whenever I was having conflict with my partner, I would often find myself inexplicitly shutting down (even if the “conflict” was negligible, sometimes it wasn’t even conflict it was the fear of potential conflict). My body would get heavy, words I wanted to say would repeat on a loop in my head unable to escape my lips. I would find myself half in the conversation, struggling to be present, and often forgetting entire sentences. The paralyzing feeling I was experiencing is called a freeze response. When I finally discovered the word for my reaction, I cried. Finally, I thought.

“When a child is subjected to emotional or physical abuse by someone or something it cannot defend itself from, they are left feeling helpless, unable to tap into the biological systems designed to assist them in either fighting or fleeing. In other words, a child that suffered from constant anxiety and fear due to trauma may develop a tendency to freeze as a response to triggers as an adult. Those who froze as a response often as children may develop a tendency towards disassociation, anxiety or panic disorders, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.”

I have countless other examples of research I stumbled upon or sought out that helped ground me on my continuous path of healing. Hopefully one day, I’ll write articles detailing all the different research because it really can help. Mental health battles can feel so isolating because it is. When we don’t have the vocabulary to explain what is happening to us, it feels like trying to explain an airplane to someone who has never seen a wheel.

Grounding ourselves in research lets us know we aren’t alone and gives us the vocabulary to speak with other people about our struggles. Research has often been my first step on all my little healing journeys, it’s been a beacon of light in a dark room. Now while this isn’t everyone’s salvation…it is worth trying to find out if research does help you.

Some resources and books I want to share that have been immeasurably helpful to me

For when you can (kind of) calm your brain down but your body doesn’t want to listen:

The Body Keeps The Score — Bessel A. van der Kolk, M.D.

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma — Peter A. Levine and Ann Frederick

Trauma and Memory: The Brain and Body When Searching For the Living Past — Peter A. Levine

If you have struggled with narcissistic abuse (also can substitute for other forms of abuse):

The Narcissistic Family: Diagnosis and Treatment — Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman (fair warning, this is geared towards therapists and although it is incredibly insightful, it’s a hard read if you’re a “patient”)

Malignant Self — Love — Sam Vaknin

Other stories of healing if you’re feeling lonely:

Buy Yourself The Fucking Lilies — Tara Schuster

Eat, Pray, Love — Elizabeth Gilbert

Small Doses — Amanda Seales

I Would Leave Me If I Could — Halsey

Relationship attachment and how to better balance your relationships:

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find- And Keep- Love — Amir Levine and Rachel Heller

Mindful Relationship Habits: 26 Practices for Couples To Enhance Intimacy, Nurture Closeness and Grow a Deeper Connection — SJ Scott and Barrie Davenport

Podcasts I Love:

Your Unconscious Is Showing — Dr. Courtney Tracy

Small Doses With Amanda Seals

Youtube Channels I Love:

Doctor Ramini

Lisa Nichols

Earth Mama Medicine

Hannah Witton

The Trauma-Conscious Yoga Method

Medium pages I love:

E.B. Johnson, NLP-MP

Shannon Ashley

Yael Wolfe

Invisible Illness

And lastly, if TikTok is your jam, some TikTok therapists with awesome videos:

@doctorshepard_md

@the.truth.doctor

@mashmushe

@kreftscouch

This was originally published on my Substack and is my second article for my newsletter mini-series where I’m sharing my mental health tips and my journey towards a healthier emotional state of being. If you missed my first one about why I write about my trauma, here is the link:

Escapades of a 20-something-year old! Writing about relationships, culture, and whatever else pops into my messy mind! https://faithann.substack.com/

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