I am proud to bring you our second female contributor. Amanda's story is full of highs and lows but is more importantly a story of success. I suggest highly suggest taking the time to read her story, her website and Facebook page. She may be able to help you as well. Private Amanda Diamond in Afghanistan from November 2006 - August 2007 as part of Task Force Force Afghanistan and Task Force Kandahar.
Army Life, Chronic Stress and Autoimmunity. My Journey Toward Wellness.
By Amanda Diamond
After graduating high school in a small town in rural Ontario, I struggled with the age old question..."What am I going to do with my life?" I had always been an over-achiever and was looking for a new challenge and a way to see the world and expand my horizons. Naturally, I decided the join the Army. After about a year of training, I was posted to Edmonton as a Signal Operator at the Brigade Headquarters.
In November of 2006 I deployed with the 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group Headquarters to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Though most of my deployment was spent in a comfy, air-conditioned headquarters building, I struggled with depression and anxiety throughout my 9 months abroad. My sleep was non existent at times and my body seemed to be rebelling against me. My digestive issues were manageable at that time, but bothersome to say the least. I was irritable, on edge and began isolating myself from my friends and fellow soldiers. I never expressed how I was feeling to anyone else. I felt that I had no reason to complain, and that I was lucky that my job was relatively easy and safe.
By the end of my tour, I knew that this lifestyle was not for me. Though I valued everything the military had taught me, I knew I was ready to move on. My release was processed 6 months after returning home. The following year I became a mother, and not long after the birth of my daughter I began experiencing a decline in my health. After months of doctor’s appointments and numerous tests I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis, an auto-immune disease that effects the lower digestive system.
I have lived with this disease for over 4 years now. I've experienced many ups and downs and constant changes in my body. Sudden weight loss, bloating, hair loss, bleeding, and gut wrenching stomach cramps became my normal day to day life. I've tried numerous treatments, from pharmaceuticals to herbal remedies, dietary restrictions to nicotine therapy and the biggest realization I've come to is this:
Mental stress wreaks havoc on our physical health.
Noticing this link between long term stress and my own illness led me to begin researching the topic. Many studies have been done on the topic recently, supporting the idea that stress relief techniques are vital pieces of the wellness puzzle. Multiple studies have shown that chronic psychological stress is associated with the body losing its ability to regulate the inflammatory response. Specifically, prolonged stress alters the effectiveness of cortisol to regulate the inflammatory response because it decreases tissue sensitivity to the hormone. In turn, runaway inflammation is thought to promote the development and progression of many diseases. Mental health professionals dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have also noticed this link, stating that PTSD sufferers have an increased risk of developing heart disease and auto-immune disorders.
So how do you put an end to the stress response in the body when it seems to be so deeply engrained... especially in veterans, police officers and other first responders?
My personal experience with chronic illness has taught me that stress relief techniques are vital to both mental and physical health and wellness. Practicing meditation, yoga and breathing exercises calm the fight or flight reaction by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, the body's natural relaxation response.
For me, these techniques were the missing link on my healing journey. Since integrating them into my daily life I have noticed a marked improvement in my mood, digestion and inflammatory response. Along with proper diet and exercise, meditation and mindfulness play an important role in my balanced lifestyle. I am no longer taking any medications to manage my illness and can enjoy the quality of life I was accustomed to before getting sick.
I now pour my energy into helping others regain their health and overcome illness through coaching support and wellness education. If you are a veteran, and are struggling with chronic health problems I want you to know that it can get better. But I assure you, the cure won't be found at the bottom of a pill bottle. Real healing starts with changing your thought processes, practicing mindfulness and learning to love yourself, flaws and all.
About the Author - Amanda Diamond
Amanda is a Health Coach, Wellness Educator and Mother of two. She draws from her personal experience with chronic disease to inspire others to take control of their health and find balance in their lives. You can connect with Amanda on FaceBook and Twitter or by visiting her website.