Taking Protein Substitutes:    Is there an Emotional wall?

When you start to learn how to manage your own PKU diet, one of the hardest things that has to be faced is the emotional wall. The emotional wall is an idea understood in both psychology practices and mental health support services. It is the way your brain protects you from something you don’t want to or you are wary of doing by building up negative emotions and resistance every time you face it. Most people in their lives will only have to face this when they try to start a new habit (such as exercising), starting a new relationship or kicking an old habit (such as smoking).

For people with PKU the wall can be an everyday struggle, as our protein supplement can be the main cause for this struggle, as it is not only something that has to be taken every day but also throughout the day and potentially for the rest of our lives.

Supplements are not the enemy…….

As PKU patients we know the supplements themselves are not the enemy, that they are crucial in helping us to thrive and grow both physically and mentally. New supplements are also being released every year with companies always striving to make their products have a better taste, preparation time and ease of use. However, even with this knowledge, I know I still struggled, and I still faced that emotional wall every time I made my supplement.
Whenever I made it all I could think about was the lifelong limits of my diet, the memories of my parents forever going “drink your drink, drink your drink” and that I would never be free to have a day where I don’t have PKU, where I don’t have to make or drink this supplement. Every one of these thoughts is another brick in the wall, which meant it would take me over a hour or sometimes many hours to actually finish one drink, in the meantime it would just sit on my desk at work getting warmer and then when I finally did drink it, it would then be time for the next one, starting the emotional process all over again!

Is there a way round the wall, or underneath or over it?

It was exhausting, everyday I’d have my drink I would be trying to get over this wall and the next day it would still be there. There is just no way to go over, under or around it and I know there must be some people out there that never face it, they just turn around and walk away from the wall because they don’t want to deal with it but If you want to be the best person you can be, as people living with PKU we have to have our supplements. We have to go up to the wall and face up to it. We have to understand the reasons behind the pain and go through the tears to then go through the other side.

It was my dad who found a way to break down this wall. He suggested I give myself a time limit to having my drink, to drink it in 30 seconds with no emotion or pain, just a drink! If it wasn’t finished by the end of the 30 seconds then that’s no problem, you just try again next time and it worked! I think it was a shock and awe tactic with my brain, focusing on the ticking clock made me forget the emotions and pain behind what I was actually doing.

I’ve heard of other people having their supplements while watching their favourite television show, by the time their show is over they make sure they are finished or if they are having tablets they make sure they take them with an enjoyable drink such as juice so it’s a more pleasant experience. You just have to keep going and keep doing it until the wall is finally knocked down.

Feeling and seeing positive effects?

Eventually after all that hard work rather than seeing the negative wall you start to see the positive effects of being on diet and having the supplements. I know on my supplements my head is clearer, I’m less emotionally all over the place and my concentration levels are a lot better. These positive effects start to become your driving force and every day it becomes easier. I’m still not perfect, occasionally the wall gets built back up, especially when I’m tired or I’ve had a tough day, but I know now I have the skills now to get through it again.