Glenda Sparrow shares her experience with anxiety and depression.
After 20 years in supply chain management, she left the corporate world to create a life she could truly be passionate about. She's a certified Primal Health Coach and a Certified Holistic Coach. Through her company, Glenda Sparrow Coaching and Consulting, she combines food choices, movement, sleep, mindset and stress management to help her clients live healthier, happier and optimized lives while never putting them on a dreadful diet.
Glenda shares how she went from zero awareness to self-awareness by making incremental lifestyle and food choices changes that improved her life. Acknowledging her depression was her first stepping stone, and while there may not be an end to it, she was able to drastically improve her life through the choices she made.
This episode begins with Glenda sharing that she’s most proud of being able to identify the issues she had with anxiety, depression, insecurities and the fear of judgment. As she thought it was normal and that everyone felt the same, it’s been quite a journey for her from what she describes as zero awareness to self-awareness. Alternate lifestyle choices have also helped her regain control of her emotions. Now, she can live a better life and help others do the same. This is why she is proud of her life today.
It wasn't until 2016 when she was in her 40s that her depression was diagnosed. Prior to this, she always had a way of normalizing it away. Dealing with the end of her marriage and loss of both her dogs in a three week period, led her to believe it was normal to feel down all the time. For five months – after her separation – she struggled with extreme depression, and nothing worked to make her condition improve. Doing routine tasks became difficult. Going to the gym was no longer satisfying. Working around people became hard. Since then, Identifying anxiety allowed her to look at her life as a whole and start to see how many times these things came up in her life before. It also allowed her to take steps to live her life differently.
Delving deep into her depression, Glenda reveals she had been insecure throughout her life. In middle and high school, she had a powerful fear of judgment. At that time, she thought it was just normal middle school & high school emotions. Now she knows better.
Her process of massive awareness and healing has allowed her to reflect back about how her anxiety and depression began. She has started writing a book about her journey.
She remembers how, once in a leadership workshop many years ago, she was asked to participate in a recorded role-play. She altogether refused to participate out of fear of judgment from others. Today she can identify when her insecurities are affecting her. And that OCD intrudes into her behavior as well. While she thought it was just a harmless desire to organize and control her life, in fact, it was her OCD making things worse for her and everyone around her. She reveals how she couldn’t even have skittles without first organizing them by color.
She also had social anxiety until last year. Today, she describes no longer being controlled by outside approval anymore and does not seek it anymore. Glenda’s ability to use self-talk has allowed her to identify the situations when anxiety can creep in, so now she can prepare in advance for many circumstances that can trigger her.
Her depression had deep roots in perfectionism. She believed the only way to be valued was to be perfect. Externally, perfectionism appeared like commitment and hard-work, so no one who knew her recognized this as compromising for her.
Looking back, she can see that most of her insecurities and defense mechanisms stemmed from the shame. This led her to build up a tough persona, not letting anyone know how she was feeling or the kind of person she actually was. When out with friends or at parties, she used to drink a lot as a defense against her social anxiety. It allowed her to become more fun around others, let her guard down and just enjoy the experience just a bit more.
She had no awareness of what other people were thinking about her or being affected by her. However, she just believed whatever she was doing wasn’t enough. She believed she was always lacking in some way. It wasn't until she started counseling that she realized a truth - that "people are rarely concerned about others. They have their own insecurities and rather focused on themselves”.
Glenda describes being from a family of four children. Her parents divorced when she was just two, and she has no memory of them being together. As a child, there was a lot of going back and forth between her parents’ homes, which were very different. Today, she feels closer to her father. Her mother has refused to acknowledge her own limitations and unhealthy behaviors, which is one reason that has led Glenda unwilling to continue a relationship with her. She continues to choose what is healthy for her.
For most people, undiagnosed depression becomes quite prominent and obvious only when a drastic event in life sends their emotions spiraling out of control. It's when most will seek help and realize that there are other ways to live and learn to live a better life without angst, fear or anxiety.
Glenda describes her revelation of having Depression as "terrifying." It was not something her therapist said to her. She saw the word on a form at her psychiatrist’s office and realized it was treated Wellbutrin, and this is what she was being prescribed. Glenda states that Wellbutrin helped to stabilize her depression, control her temper and other intense emotions. At first, even though she was taking a low dose, the impact on her life was quite profound. It was the first time she actually experienced feeling balance and ease in her mind and body. She really recognized how different it was from her norm.
Glenda had been in counseling before when she had four miscarriages and did not get pregnant via IVF treatment when she was married. Not being able to become a mother threw her for a loop because she was a perfectionist and her body was not performing perfectly. She also sought counseling when she was divorced. In 2014, a moment came when the vice president of her company knocked the foundation out from under her when he told her that who she was being at work was looked upon unfavorably by her coworkers. While she didn’t really consider it seriously, she commented to someone that she should get a noose and hang herself. Nevertheless, this experience gave her the impetus to seek therapy and discovered cognitive behavioral therapy.
However, that fateful conversation with her company’s vice president wasn’t the lowest point of her life. Glenda remembers waking up in the morning and wanting to just melt into the mattress. She felt “like a dead body underwater was grabbing her ankles, trying to drag her below with them”. The same thoughts still creep into her daily life if she's not cautious about exercising, eating healthy, and sleeping well, which are her healthy life pillars on which she relies to nurture stability in her life.
She remembers how cutting down on alcohol lessens the depression the next day, but it wasn't until she started the primal healthcare certification that she really understood why.
In 2016 when she got the appointment with her therapist, she had no idea who she would be assigned. Glenda never felt that the process or the therapists were really helping her. But her new therapist, Julie, “helped me more than I can say. She had a sense of understanding. Not just a professional, she had felt the same in her life too. She didn't tell me to just think differently.” Julie suggested a lot of books that really helped her heal on her own. Also, at this point in her life, Glenda was able to see more of her behavioral patterns, but she wasn't ready to step out of them yet.
For instance, when Julie asked Glenda about dating again, Glenda knew she'd end up with the same kind of person, and the relationship would fail. Her sessions with the therapist helped her step out of these patterns. It took a lot of work. She read several codependency books as well as books about narcissist mothers that helped her understand herself and childhood caregivers better.
However, her journey after acknowledging depression wasn't a smooth one. She remembers feeling "all of the emotions." There was certainly some excitement about the journey and learning new ways, but there was also a fear of letting go of what she had known for 40 years. Her condition can be likened to ‘imposter syndrome’ to some extent. When you become a different person, there's a fear about how society, friends, family and co-workers perceive you.
Glenda says she was afraid to engage with her family again. They had not witnessed her healing progression. So, to them, she had just become a different person. The journey made her realize, however, that she got to be more open with people in her life and acknowledge her depression. It provided her a way to separate true friends from superficial friends. And the need to be more authentic was interesting because it enabled her to know who was there to listen to and who wasn't.
Although anxiety was terrifying, taking the ‘small steps approach’ helped her overcome her fears. It did take a lot of research into the topic and deciding about the person she wanted to be afterward. The freedom she feels now, Glenda says, was absolutely worth the effort.
By knowing the kind of person she is and focusing on what works best for her, she has been able to feel more and more at ease in her life. Her journey has required a lot of preparation for the unknown, known triggers and use of self-talk. She has had to deliberately choose positive thoughts; sometimes even force a smile. Even if no one sees it, Glenda knows that smiling causes positive chemical changes in your body. Glenda has now been off the meds for over a year and also stopped going to the psychologist and counselor for therapy.
Covid-19 threw her for a loop though.
Initially, during Covid19, she didn't let the pandemic ruin her spirits. Working from home, she bought everything needed to stay happy indoors. She was sleeping well. But with gyms closed this seemed to open the door for depression, as exercising is a primary coping method. The following weeks were challenging. The uncertainty of the pandemic and fears of external circumstances drained all her strength. She considered counseling again. Fortunately, gyms reopened in Florida fairly quickly. Glenda says although going to the gym during the pandemic is worrisome for some people, it's totally opposite for her. It kept her depression at bay. The fact that her gym is not frequented by many people and followed all the known precautions helped to alleviate her concerns as well.
In the second half of the podcast, Glenda shares the effect of food on her depression and anxiety. As mentioned previously, drinking alcohol has been widely known to increase depression; it is a depressant. Even though she has known it, for a long time, she was unable to put two and two together for a while.
As she continued to study wellbeing she began to really appreciate how sugar levels in food also impact the brain. She grew up during the no-fat craze of the 90s, so reading that the brain needs healthy fat blew her away. Also, as a self-defined ‘sugar addict’ all her life, it took some effort to break down old narratives about health. Growing up, she loved chocolate, ice-cream, candy and anything gummy and consumed processed food several times a day. She learned, through her Primal Health certification to eat better, she learned that the human body needs to have good protein, healthy fats and lots of fresh vegetables & fruits. Preparation, she realized for herself, was the key. She had to choose what items to shop and keep in her fridge. She began to choose the ‘frig foods’ over ‘cabinet foods’.
The impact of food on mental health is surprising for most people. This is because the standard American diet is based high consumption of grains that the body doesn't need. Glenda stated that grains are hard to digest, and our ancestors did not have them. They ate meat, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits. Grains were “agriculturized” when settlers learned to farm. As grains could be stored for an extended duration of time, farming grains became attractive.
Glenda reveals she never tells her clients not to include grains in their diet but asks them to choose the best choices possible as often as possible. Consuming bread and pasta occasionally is acceptable, just don't have include them every night because frequent bad food choices may lead to inflammatory response, depression, diabetes, poor insulin response, premature aging and the list goes on. All of these health responses can also, and usually do, affect mental health.
Finally, Glenda shares what anxiety has taught her about herself. She described that it has taught her that she is stronger than she had ever given herself credit for. And that she absolutely has the power to choose her thoughts, pursue a healthy way to live, how to make better decisions – and not be a victim to thoughts that creep in and tell herself compromising stories. She says that each day offers new choices. Acknowledging depression and anxiety has allowed her to have better control. She now knows how to thank depression for stopping by when it appears and politely say, "Not today."
Glenda’s official website
OCD – Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
You're Not Crazy - It's Your Mother