Testimonial written by: Dave
From Introvert to Extrovert: My story of paleo and personality change
Is it heretical in a sense to dare say that one’s personality could change to such an extent that one can shift from introvert to extrovert? Did I simply fall prey to the American ideal of extroversion which judges and belittles introverts? Am I simply an introvert who learned to put on a strong extroverted front for the world? These doubts run through my mind all the time when I experience myself these days as discontinuous from the person I was before finding paleo. My story is different than the majority of, still inspiring, people who have lost weight and made great progress towards many physical ailments. My story is physical too, but much more psychological. It begs the inquiry of how much the personality can change once the body and nervous system are functioning optimally.
As I grew into late childhood and early adolescence, I became extremely socially anxious and introverted. I remember simply not feeling right much of the time on top of this growing social anxiety. I remember some amorphous gut problems improved when I ceased drinking milk in second grade because my father had done the same at the time. But this did little to curb an extreme introversion and anxiety that grew and grew until I felt completely enfolded inside myself, as if there was a wall between myself and others in conversation. I talked in a very monotone fashion, giving people one word answers or grunts. I made my teachers insane by seeming a brilliant thinker but doing as little as possible to pass each class and never studying. I seriously did not care about grades. School didn’t seem to address the fact that I didn’t feel right. To sum up my adolescence, it was difficult and unrewarding.
When I hit young adulthood I began to open out of the shell I felt I was in and attempted everything I could to counter my personality. I went far away to college, partied and had a brief period of heavy drinking and other things. All of which only made things worse. Then I worked for the emergency services as an EMT and then a Paramedic. This was extremely difficult, as I had to learn to pry myself with force outside of my inner world to be of service to the outer world but I persevered and little by little began to become that “external person” that I always wished I could be.
Now I have heard of many introverted types who seemed to be more at peace with themselves and eventually find their niche in life that fits their personality. This was never me. I never felt like myself. There was always this sense that I had this dormant vitality that I was after but could never get at. It tormented me throughout my 20’s that I could not find the energy and vitality for life that I felt was my birthright.
Two other developments occurred in my young adulthood. First, I became interested in weightlifting and fitness nutrition. It’s much to get into but I towed the line of lower fat, especially super low saturated and anything animal fats since I was about 18 to 28. I have always been skinny with a lean and pretty ripped body of which I was never happy with because I wanted more mass. In quick summation, I am forever grateful for the ancestral health fitness paradigm for changing the way a truly fit and healthy male is seen, as opposed to the unrealistically large bodybuilder ideal. I have been cured of a poisonous body image brought on by the mainstream gym culture.
The second thing I found was an interest in self-help and psychology. I ate up everything I could on way of changing oneself. In 2007 I had an interesting peak experience which led me toward the meditative and contemplative world as well as the psychological. I researched and practiced everything I could on eastern and western approaches to change. I had many shifts and changes but to my dismay, my health began to take a downward turn in my early to mid 20’s.
I began experiencing these debilitating “fatigue spells” as I would describe them. It was like being hit by a tsunami of a brain fog and feeling like I was drowning underwater for up to 1/3 of my day at times. It truly felt like being poisoned. My mind couldn’t function. Even when I was working with patients in emergency situations. I felt severely anxious and it felt like my personality would contract inwards and I had no resources to deal with anyone or anything. Everything felt like an irritation. I played with health a little bit but not enough. I was eating nothing but lean meats, veggies, whole grains and the like. My fats consisted of peanut butter, mayonnaise, and canola oil. I felt bloated and fatigued after just about every meal.
By the end of this, I went to see a gastroenterologist who said that I may have had intestinal overgrowth and wanted to scope me. PPI’s did absolutely nothing.
Just before this, I had a partner on the ambulance who put on Fatheads at random on Netflix. Like so many others I was floored by the lipid hypothesis and went on a saturated fats binge, before ever beginning paleo at all.
Many people have noted feeling more energy and a sense of well being on whole foods diets but it hit me like a sledge hammer. I felt this heat go through my entire body. I became what would be called in psyche jargon: “subclinically hypomanic.” I was up for several days without feeling tired. It felt like every nerve in my body was firing at maximum. Every excitatory neurotransmitter seemed to be potentiated: serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and so on. This occurred just before a trip to Maui. On my flight back I bought Robb’s book and later Sisson’s and slowly became fully paleo. I didn’t do a 30 day. I slowly worked into it over a summer. The more I cut out wheat, dairy (I’ve never liked dairy anyways), and legumes the more I felt this immense sense of energy and vitality. I also need to note that I worked on fixing my sleep and I shifted my exercise routine to be more along the lines of Mark Sisson’s recommendations.
This was 2.5 years ago and all I can say is that I feel that my nervous system has been reborn since that time. The first thing I noticed was a need to move all the time. I have always been fidgety but it became difficult to sit in one place. I was in grad school at the time and used to imagine hunting with a spear while sitting in lectures. I think that this level of energy was so new that I did not know what to do with it or how to express it.
I wanted to engage and socialize with everyone. Although extremely independent, something I have mistaken for introversion, I truly began to become more and more energized by engagement and challenge. My mind was sharpened and I became outspoken and had to learn how to temper myself to be more likeable.
THIS WAS MY MISSING VITALITY!! This was what I was always looking for! I recall these days that before this change, I simply did not have the resources to develop and deal with the stresses of adolescent life. There were many emotional and psychological issues I had on top of this, but I’m very curious to know how I could have handled other issues if I had developed with a functioning gut and nervous system.
I can now explore what made me think I was fundamentally an introvert, or in adulthood: an ambivert. When I have gone too far off paleo, such as when having much sugar, wheat, or dairy, I feel this inner sense of contracting inwards. I feel depressed and don’t want to deal with others or the world. I just want to sit at home and watch Netflix. It’s like a state of dysphoria that comes over me, and it is accompanied 100% of the time by my gut being bloated and that familiar and dreaded brain fog.
When I’m fully functioning I’m like a big ADHD kid. The average person cannot keep up with me. My mind is quick but scattered but can focus when I need to. I’m now generally fun loving and optimistic.
The last part of my story involves how I had to shift away from my older self to this new version of me in process. I had built up many self-images of myself over the years which had to come down completely. Some things have been a struggle, as I chose a new career path several years before this change based on my old self and now I have to scramble to find something that truly works for this version of me. There were limiting ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that I had to see through. There were things I was doing and not doing that I have had to take a long look at. It is as if I am slowly learning who I truly am and have never truly been myself. How can be truly be the person our genetics and existential situation predispose us to be if our entire system is poisoned, limited? I’ve been driving a car with the parking brake on for 28 years and suddenly it has been taken off. Part of me feels only 2.5 years old and is thus a seed that is slowly germinating as I realize who I am truly meant to be.