I’m Ashley Rothstein, and I’m still not entirely sure what happened to me. Despite years of complicated suffering, I don’t have something on paper that I recovered from. Instead, I have a mosh pit of horrific symptoms that don’t have a name.
Back in early 2015, life took a turn into dark territory that became borderline unlivable. I experienced three major traumas back-to-back, quit the birth control pills I had been on for 8 years cold turkey, rarely drank water, and was 25 years deep into living on bean and cheese burritos, Fruity Pebbles, sugary fruit juices, and chocolate ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. I suppose it was the perfect storm.
Western medicine spun me around and spit me out. I was left with bandaids, no answers, and a core desire to know why my body and mind were attacking me. Spooked by the medical system, I stopped seeking professional help. Instead, I climbed out of the hole by learning the language of my own body and psyche.
Here is a visual of me during my worst:
I spent around 97% of each day either hunched over squinting at a computer screen, or laying in bed. The other 3% of my day was spent walking my dog around a local park wearing clothing that did not make sense with the weather outside, but ensured my neglected, pale, sun-deprived, ashy, hairy body was covered. This was usually 3-day old pajamas with no bra, sometimes covered by an old and stained UC Berkeley sweatshirt, and Ugg’s, on a day when it was 80 degrees outside. I would walk briskly with my eyes glued to the concrete, hoping that no one would initiate eye contact with me, sweating profusely while wondering why I had zero motivation or energy to present myself better to the world. My oily, unwashed hair would begin in a messy top bun, but near the end of the walk, would fall to a loose low bun, to which my husband named “alien head.”
After my walk, it was back to my swamp creature posture in my dimly lit living room to finish out the day glued to a screen with minimal human interaction. Brushing my teeth and showering were reserved only for situations when I was around other people. I went days without looking in the mirror. Once I did, I was typically shocked with my grown out facial hair, and even more shocked that it had been so long since I looked at myself. When I ran my fingers through my hair, I found thick scales of seborrheic dermatitis that were glued to my snowing scalp. Dark brown circles and eczema lined my eyes. My lips were dry, crusted, cracked, peeling, and often bleeding.
I ate mainly carbohydrates, sugars, and binged on pleasure foods like chips, chocolate, and ice cream regularly, usually late at night, alone, and in large amounts. I would gulp down sizeable amounts of water to ‘bring me current’ when I felt consciously behind on water consumption or parched to actual dehydration. My feet and lower legs would swell and turn purple or red without warning. When I attempted to walk or exercise, my heart would race, and I would become paranoid, nauseous, and could focus only on speeding back home to ‘safety’ as quickly as possible. This feeling would also sometimes oddly arise when I was sedentary and switching bodily positions, such as going from laying down to sitting up or turning over in bed. I would get lightheaded upon standing. I would wake up in the morning and dry heave. Brain fog was so thick that I was convinced I was developing some sort of mental disability. The fatigue was overwhelming and turned my muscles, joints, blood, and bones into what felt like thick sludge while my mind remained revved up and wired. It took a tremendous amount of energy to just exist.
I had erratic bowel movements with days of seemingly endless diarrhea preceded by cramps that left me in the fetal position on the ground, and days of constipation where I was so bloated and inflamed that I looked 4-months pregnant. I would crawl on my hands and knees to and from the bathroom. My body was weak and my mind was hot. I was unable to shower for more than a few seconds because my heart would race and pound. I would randomly freeze. I got internally cold and nothing could warm me up. Not even a piping hot bath. (It’s a bizarre feeling when you’re internally freezing while sitting in a steaming body of water and can’t warm up.) In the days leading up to my period, I would get a fever, body aches, chills, night sweats, tender breasts, and lots of nausea. When I got my period, my cramps stopped me in my tracks.
I was hypervigilant at night. I would feel pins and needles throughout my arms and torso while trying to sleep. They became so uncomfortable that I was unable to lay down or sit still. I had horrific trapezius pain that would shoot up through my skull and eyes that made my entire head feel like it was on fire and being crushed at the same time. I experienced hypnagogic jerks, false awakening loops, and night sweats which disturbed my sleep. I had nightmares where I would jolt awake to a racing heart and break out in a sweat. I had chicken skin on my arms and acne covering my butt (yes, my butt!). My breath smelled like fermenting garbage no matter how many times I flossed or brushed my teeth. Leaving the house for any reason brought extreme fear, nausea, and dread. I would get demonic (and at one time, they occurred daily) panic attacks where crippling symptoms (sensation of a melting chest and limbs, pounding heart, breathlessness, unable to mentally orient to reality) would swallow my body and make me feel like it was near death.
I tried it all. I drowned my body with every natural supplement I could find on Google. I experimented with LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, cannabis, and CBD. I practiced yoga, meditation, went on runs, and hiked. I journaled, set goals, and worked on time-management. I read books, blogs, and research from experts on nutrition, psychology, philosophy, adrenal fatigue, and dozens of self help genres. I took salt baths, practiced affirmations and intentions, bought crystals, diffused essential oils, burned herbs, followed moon cycles, and learned about feng shui and other ancient rituals.
It all helped in its own way – but two things transformed me more than anything else. Food was one of them. Ripping apart my own psychology and reshaping it was the second. I was plagued by unconscious physiological and psychological possessions. I continue to climb out of the dark hole I was in by bringing these unconscious things into conscious light through reading, learning, experimenting, writing, and paying attention.
I floated in chaos and uncertainty for years. I lived untethered. This gave me a unique pair of goggles. I was forced to listen – to the whispers, the voices, the aches, the pains, the terrors, the flashbacks, the “you should do this” or “do less of this” or “why aren’t you doing this?” – and figure out what to do with it all. I was forced to learn the abstract language of my own body. I don’t know how I would have survived otherwise. I began to hear my body talk and gave it what it needed. My symptoms dropped off one by one and now, most are entirely gone – as long as I’m making good decisions. I view my sick self as a tangible thing. When I listen to the language of my mind and body and make good decisions, I get farther away from my sick self. If I make poor decisions, I regress back toward my sick self. It’s a dance that I’ll be learning and tailoring forever. The most important thing is staying in the fight, always.
When I was in the depths of suffering, I felt stuck. I didn’t know if I would make it out. Now that I’ve been granted some air, doing something with the information I learned feels like the right thing to do. If you’re lost with your health – whether it’s physiological, psychological, or both – I may be able to help. Maybe you already have a name to your condition and you’re looking for additional support or a different perspective. Or maybe you’re like me. Floating, trying to make sense of what you’re going through, and doing everything you can to feel better. Learning the language of your mind and body is complicated. It’s hard work. But it pays. I would love to work with you on your health goals. Let’s talk!