Growing up and being asked questions of what I wanted to be, what my interests and hobbies were and what I imagined myself doing in the future and not being able to answer any one of these with any certainty or enthusiasm was always very unsettling for me. I felt as though I was continually searching for purpose and meaning - looking for that something that was going to excite me and drive me forward. It wasn't until my time at university through a journey of self-discovery and growth that it really resonated with me how I wanted to live my life, where my passions lay and what it was that truly sparked my curiosity.
I went to university in 2016 driven partly by an urge to step away from the familiarity of home - wanting to discover new and bigger cities, seek out and meet new people - and partly by the idea that having made my way through school and six-form college the next logical and assumed step for me was to further my studies and go to university, not really knowing what else I would do if I didn’t take this path. When moving from home, something I hadn't anticipated was how unsettling and overwhelming a process it would be to adjust to the demands of my new environment. My excitement soon turned into nervousness and worry; being faced with new social pressures, studying at a higher level of education and having to embrace the responsibilities that came with this new level of independence following the transition of moving away from home, without the familiar support network of my family.
During my first year, amidst changing accommodation mid-term, not knowing whether I had chosen the right course and questioning what I was achieving by being at university, I began to feel very anxious, causing a heightened stress response to my day to day activities and surroundings, which led me to experiencing my first panic attack. A sensation that was unknown and very frightening to me. Not knowing how to deal with my emotional responses at the time and not truly recognising the core of what was going on these panic attacks became more frequent as I went into my second year. I felt a growing lack of control over my bodily responses along with waves of unexplained sadness and countless sleepless nights. I was constantly tired, becoming increasingly disinterested in my studies and felt a growing disconnection with life’s experiences around me. Being someone who was very reserved I wasn't very open with how I was struggling and was aware of not wanting to burden anyone knowing that I myself couldn't explain what it was that I was battling with.
Having always enjoyed being active when growing up at home I took to running and going to the gym in search of a distraction or break from the suffocating cycle I felt I was in. Doing exercise and keeping physically fit enabled me to feel a sense of relief and escape from the stressors triggering my unhealthy thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The time I spent exercising provided me with a comforting sense of freedom and stress-relief. To begin with this provided me with a boost in energy and a stronger sense of control over my body's physiological and psychological responses. My thoughts no longer taking over my every minute of the day. I started going to the gym more often and soon fell into the habit of going every day, often twice a day. I paid more attention to what I ate and how much I ate, becoming a lot more conscious of minimising my intake of processed foods and refined sugars. I felt stronger and healthier for a short time. However outside of my time at the gym I still suffered from anxiety and stress. The bubble I was creating for myself whilst exercising was simply that; a bubble where my focus could be elsewhere for that period of time, disconnected from the rest of my day. What I didn’t realise was despite the momentarily short-lived relief I was getting from exercising, I was in fact placing my body under an incredible amount of stress through over-exercising and not fueling myself sufficiently. I had tipped the balance; my body couldn’t cope, and I started to lose weight. Alongside these changes in my lifestyle, I had begun to experience stomach aches which had become a lot more frequent and intense around meal times. Noticing my weight-loss I started going to the gym less and soon wasn’t going at all. However, I continued to lose weight and my stomach aches worsened. I felt uncomfortably full all the time, was in pain during and after everything I ate until soon I could only manage a few mouthfuls of my meals. My body was undernourished and was fighting everything I tried to digest. My energy stores became depleted, my periods stopped, I was always cold, my hair had become thinner, I was in constant pain and I was both mentally and physically tired.
This brought me up to the summer of my second year. I spent my summer at home, worked in a restaurant in the evenings and managed little else during the day. I began experimenting with avoiding different foods in my diet, gluten in particular, but was lost without the guidance or knowledge of what was causing my stomach aches. However, the turning point for me was when I returned to complete my final year at university and went to see a Naturopathic nutritionist in Cardiff. Taking a multidimensional approach to my health I began on my journey of restoring balance to my body, bringing peace to my mind and reconnecting with the natural cycles and my own innate wisdom. I was provided with support and guidance, empowered to learn what I needed to heal and develop a deeper understanding of myself and how I had become unwell through addressing all aspects of my life; lifestyle, environment, physical health, as well as mental, emotional and spiritual balance. The focus was on using food as medicine, particularly live foods, herbs, plants and super-foods, to support my health and healing. Following a hair analysis, I was able to clearly identify any food sensitivities, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, digestive imbalances, toxicity in the body and energetic disruption of organs I was experiencing. I cut out gluten and cow’s milk entirely from my diet, avoided sugary foods, caffeine, alcohol, processed foods and minimised my intake of several other food groups, took natural probiotics, increased my vitamin b and iron intake considerably, started taking food supplements, ensured I drank water at regular intervals and ate smaller but more frequent meals during the day. This change in diet allowed my body to begin the process of detoxification and hydrate. I immediately began experiencing less discomfort and inflammation along with a noticeable change in energy levels and mood. My stomach aches soon disappeared entirely. I began to regain mental and physical strength, I was making time to sit and enjoy my food and slowly started doing light exercises again. I was sleeping better, no longer having panic attacks, slowly putting on weight again and started talking more openly to my friends about my thoughts and feelings. These positive changes allowed me to become aligned with my purpose, have more energy and spend time exploring the wonderful ways in which I was able to listen to my body and help it along in the healing process.
Two summers on from then, at 22 years old, I am still enjoying the buzz and excitement of living in Cardiff during term time whilst also being able to appreciate the calmness and beauty of my home on the Llyn Peninsula during the holidays. I graduated with a Psychology BSc degree and am now studying a Sport Psychology MSc. I completed a mindfulness course this spring which has allowed me to become familiar with practices and methods I use daily to find inner peace and happiness in my thoughts, surroundings and daily activities. I have reached a healthy weight and exercise whenever I want and for however long I want. I practice yoga daily with the hope of working toward becoming a yoga teacher. I run in and around the parks of Cardiff, enjoying the freedom of movement and energising feeling it gives me. I regularly attend parkrun, have joined GoodGym running group and am always signing up to different runs as a way of sharing the experience with others and motivating and challenging myself. I have developed a healthy relationship with food, recognising when and how to fuel myself correctly. I have started up a food blog and hope to study to become a holistic nutritional therapist. My food intolerance's have not in any way restricted me but in fact opened my eyes to the wonderful, nutritious and delicious options available to me which have radically strengthened both my physical and mental well-being. Ultimately, I hope to share my passion and enthusiasm for caring for our minds and bodies through a combination of movement, nutrition and mindfulness, and to inspire and drive you to make proactive and positive changes to live happy, healthy, meaningful and fulfilling lives.