Tuesday, June 12, 2018

soul food: brainberry ice cream

i heavily relied on nutrition to support my recovery from panic attacks, insomnia, and severe anxiety.  and while i moderately enjoy tolerate my morning green smoothie with kale and mushroom powder, i wanted to find ways i could boost the mood power of yummy comfort food too.  as serendipity would have it, this daydream coincided with blueberry season.

so i concocted a mental health-boosting ice cream.

we all know that blueberries are the o.g. superfood: high in vitamins, low in calories, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant.  turns out that antioxidant mojo can actually clean our mental pathways, sweeping away debris that would otherwise interfere with healthy brain functioning.  blueberries have also been shown to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain which may help alleviate depression, especially in trauma survivors.  blueberries are also an excellent food to help lower high blood pressure, which for some can co-occur with or be a precursor for anxiety.

three brain-friendly plants provide extra emotional support here.  lemon balm calms the mind and helps relieve stress and anxiety.  holy basil (or tulsi) is an adaptogenic herb that can help regulate cortisol levels (adaptogens act differently in humans, depending on the need).  the scent of lavender is well-known for its ability to help us relax.

raw honey is used in place of sugar in this recipe.  in ayurvedic medicine honey is used to increase feelings of emotional and mental balance.

if you add chopped walnuts (either in the ice cream itself or as a topping), your brain is supported even more by the nuts' magnesium and omega 3 fat.

i'm not a nutritionist so i have no idea if the amount of these foods in the ice cream reach therapeutic levels, and i don't even care because it is just so good. it is sweet and tart and floral and delicious.   

any time i make homemade ice cream i'm reminded of summer cookouts with my family and friends.  it takes me right back to being perched on the edge of the pool, wrapped in a towel, feet dangling in the water, eating the amazing vanilla homemade ice cream my mom and dad used to make.  it makes me feel better.  i am a believer that food can help us heal from all sorts of human maladies.

* * * * * 

brainberry ice cream
makes roughly 6 servings

1 1/3 cups organic whole milk
1 1/3 cups organic heavy cream
3/4 cups local raw honey
2 tbsp. lavender blossoms
1 tbsp. lemon balm leaves
1 tbsp. holy basil (tulsi) leaves
zest of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
small pinch of salt
1 egg, separated
1 cup blueberries (fresh or roasted--fresh will give you an icy bite, roasting for a few minutes will soften the berries and give you a purple-blue ice cream)
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)

1. in a medium saucepan combine the milk, heavy cream, and honey. heat until well combined and warmed through. remove from heat and toss in the lavender, lemon balm, holy basil, and lemon zest to steep. stir in vanilla and the pinch of salt.
2. chill the base for at least 8 hours, or overnight.
3. when you are ready to complete the recipe, strain the cream base.  separate the egg and beat egg white until stiff. gently fold into the egg yolk, then fold this into the (strained) cream base. churn according to your machine's instructions.  add the blueberries (allow to chill if roasted) and the walnuts (if you are mixing them in the ice cream) in the last five minutes of the churn.
4. transfer into a freezer-safe container, and allow to freeze  for 2-4 hours.

* * * * *

i hope you make this ice cream and it makes you feel better.  please don't confuse this post and recipe with good, sound medical advice.  if you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or any other mental or emotional challenge, please consult your doctor, naturopath, therapist, or nutritionist.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

sunday grace: the grace and privilege to heal

yesterday i wrote about my recent experience with severe anxiety and some practical things i did to make it through.  today i want to acknowledge the other side to that healing journey:  the unseen elements of flat out grace and the privilege of this life i am living.

privilege first.

most of the things that worked for me, that allowed me to shake off the debilitating panic and fear, that helped me calm the explosion of rogue chemicals cursing through my body, were things that i was able to access mostly due to my privilege.

i have lived a life with access to healthy food, clean air, safe relationships, health insurance.  i am allowed and know how to question authority without repercussion.  i do not have to think about the possibility of discrimination based on my skin color or sexual identity.  i have friends and loved ones who are doctors and therapists and yoga teachers and natural healers and grace-filled poets and good strong trustworthy people.  i have access to information.  i have financial means to pay for those things my insurance does not cover.  i can take time off work.

these things did not go without notice and gratitude during my experience.  many days i considered how much more difficult, if not impossible, healing would have been without them.

i want to note that during my six emergency room visits, it was wonderful to observe that the doctors and nurses treated everyone with kindness.  we were quite the mishmash of humanity up in there in the middle of the night and each of us was met with tenderness and quality care.

i also want to note that even though i have health insurance, our current system does not recognize the value of alternative care.  i paid $3.00 out of pocket for a one month supply of drugs that almost killed me, but my insurance won't cover the nutritional supplements or the acupuncture and those were the things that seemed to make the most difference for me.

now for the grace.

grace is when you are pacing the house at 2am and the only thing that can soothe your soul is softly singing that song you sang around the campfire at hume lake when you were 11.

grace is when your prayer starts with, "i'm sorry, i can't think of anything to be thankful for right now, but i need help."  and then you immediately recall all the goodness in your life.

grace is a loving husband who can work through his own fear of what the hell is wrong with her? and lovingly drive you around for hours every night so you can get to sleep, as one would do for an infant.

grace is the morning when your eyes open and it has lifted away.  you can breathe again.  you can live again.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

panic at the disco

wild heart, by lisa parks.  acrylic, ink, paper on wood, 2015.

earlier this year i experienced a two-month period of panic, anxiety, depression, and chronic insomnia.  it came on quickly and unexpectedly and completely derailed my life for a time.  i had many nights without sleep, pacing the house and the yard in the dark, attempting to calm my racing heart and fearful mind.  during this time i made six visits to the emergency room even though they assured me i wasn't having a heart attack and/or suffocating.  (because it felt like a two-month-long heart attack/suffocation.)  and i discovered that i could sleep in the emergency room because they were the only ones who could save me should i die. (because i felt like i was about to die for two months.)   i really loved all the doctors and nurses in the emergency room.  they took such great care of me even though they were likely sick of seeing me there again.

i tried seven different medications and, with the exception of two (propranolol, a beta blocker, and hydroxyzine, an antihistamine which can control anxiety for some, both non-addictive), they made it all worse.  i became curious why the doctors started out with major life-altering and addictive psychotropics (benzodiazepines and antidepressants) before trying these more gentle pharmaceutical options.

i discovered that my anxiety likes to surprise me by showing up on any given day as irritability, disorientation, rage, hypervigilence, panic, depression, frozen state, or any random combination of these lovely states.  i learned that my anxiety may recur or it may never happen again.  either way, i changed a lot of things in my life.  i was committed to regaining as much of my health as possible.

here are twenty things i discovered worked for me:
  • reaching out to the people who love me and asking for help or just good company.
  • holy basil (tulsi) tea.  i love this so much, i'm growing holy basil in my garden this year.
  • reishi mushroom, turmeric, and raw cacao drink before bed (i make my own version now but this drink is what got me started).
  • vitamin d (i was very deficient).
  • staying hydrated (the worst panic attack occurred in the middle of the night in a hotel room that was as dry as the sahara desert).
  • being outside more.
  • reducing electronic devise blue light two hours before bed.
  • magnesium cream, a tiny bit rubbed on the bottom of each foot before bed (i use the cream made for children after the adult version oddly triggered jitters on top of my jitters).  most americans are deficient in magnesium and it plays a huge part in the healthy operation of the nervous system.
  • adrenal supplement with rhodiola, holy basil, and ashwaghanda.
  • acupuncture.
  • mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • i watched about sixty episodes of friends reruns while i had insomnia (i too was stuck in second gear) and avoided all news and/or shows with anxiety-producing content (which is like, ALL SHOWS).
  • reducing carbs after lunch; reducing the size of dinner and eating it at least two hours before bedtime.
  • a happy light at least 20 minutes first thing in the morning to regulate cortisol and improve mood.
  • increased movement.
  • grounding (bare feet on the earth for at least 20 minutes, i even laid down on the grass and napped a few times).
  • hands in dirt (things improved significantly once it warmed up and i was able to get in the garden).
  • 4-7-8 breathing (inhale through the nose to a count of 4, hold for 7, exhale through the mouth for 8, repeat four times several times throughout the day).  
  • nightly journaling and gratitude list.
  • changing my relationship with coffee.  i'm now a proud three-quarter decaf drinker supplemented with coconut oil, raw honey, collagen powder, and lion's mane mushroom.
as i write this, i am anxiety-free, sleeping pretty well, and still practicing each of the things on this list.  i am medication-free with the exception of 1/4 of the antihistamine dosage at night to help insure sleep.  i have hope that this recovery is permanent.  and if it's not, i have confidence that these practices can help me through again.

i know this list is long.  some of the things may seem doable for you and others may not.  each of us is blessed with a unique body and brain and life circumstances.  i tried about 120 different holistic practices and these were the things that worked for me this time.  what worked most is that i didn't stop trying.

if you struggle with anxiety and depression, know that there is help and hope.  the heavy this is how my life is going to be from now on feeling is one of the worst things about it.  standing on the other side for now, i know that this is a lie.  

the truth is that your life can be even better than it was before.

* * * * *

more about my experience with anxiety here.
i collected lots of resources on a pinterest board here.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

six senses sunday

the flower garden at spikenard bee sanctuary


  • the beauty and vision of spikenard bee sanctuary in floyd, virginia
  • i've been documenting wildflowers on walks and hikes for the past few weeks.  it's incredible how many more you see when you are tuned in to their existence.


  • rain, rain, and more rain.
  • my luca dog has gone mostly deaf so he barks all the time now to make sure he covers all his bases.  


  • that shot of ozone scent after all the rain.
  • everything smells positively mossy.  
  • lavender leaves crushed between my fingers.
  • gardenia blooms and the last of the honeysuckle, so strong and sweet it makes me swoon a bit.


  • weaving plant material on the garden loom.
  • hands in so much dirt.


  • homemade honeysuckle ice cream 
  • a good old-fashioned moon pie while taking a roadtrip break in fancy gap, virginia


  • a soft sense of moving in the right direction.
  • the grace of easing up.
  • a sense of safety, knowing folks care.

* * * * *

Sunday, April 22, 2018

sunday grace: swarm season

swarm season.  acrylic, ink, paper on wood.  april 2018.

there are specific times of the year when bees and birds and butterflies swarm, drawn together in a seemingly chaotic instinct to find their place.  i read an article that described swarms and on that day i felt all my worries, fears, regrets, and shame had similarly swarmed in my body, frantically congregating in crowded quarters beneath my rib cage.

this year i have experienced an unexplained and sudden onset of panic attacks, chronic high anxiety, and insomnia.  during the past month i have essentially been disabled by this, unable to work, drive, be alone, eat, or sleep.  my life was hijacked.  even though my panic mostly feels like an infestation of hungry invaders, i have reframed the urgent fluttering presence in my body as my swarm.

there is no apparent root cause (no situation or event) that we have landed on yet.  could be cumulative stress or secondary traumatic stress, could be hormones, could be sensitivity to the growing collective anxiety in our world, could be genetic, and on and on...

i want to write more on the ways i managed the worst of days when i was overcome with fear and energy, because i know it can be helpful for others to read (especially for those like me who are sensitive to medication and have a desire to go the most natural route possible).  i'm not in that space yet.  i'm still barely hanging on over here, trying to remain an objective observer to this madness and focus on the day when the swarm moves on.

with all dark days, there are moments of light.  even though it has been hard to see and acknowledge, some goodness has come from this.  this is the grace (and quite possibly the purpose) of swarm season:  attention, vulnerability, deciding to do things differently.  here are a few moments of swarm grace:

  • i cut out caffeine and it was relatively painless.  all the cortisol and adrenaline cursing through my veins cushioned the typical withdrawal symptoms.  after decades of two cups of strong coffee daily, i am now enjoying one cup of swiss water processed decaf every morning.
  • i asked for help.  and not just for help, i asked for exactly what i needed.  and you know what?  people responded in the most loving and supportive ways. 
  • i finally got it that i really do need other people.  
  • i cleaned up my nutrition. 
  • the breath is fucking magic.  magic.
  • i have an entirely new appreciation for the exquisite beauty of an ordinary day, a night of sleep, someone who holds your hand, people who know things, people who are able to hold space.
here's looking forward to the day the swarm has done its thing and lifts in gentle flight.