5 Tips on Tackling Your Period With Anxiety

Mother Nature is a real bitch. Ladies, this post is just for us. Battling the PMS demons can be hard enough, add on a mental illness and it can seem like you’re going through a week of pure, unadulterated hell.

Nearly all women suffer from the sudden mood swings and amplified emotions that come with the Lady in Red (whatever you may call the broad), but paired with the beast that is anxiety, it’s almost unbearable. But, it doesn’t have to be.

When anxiety starts to creep in, here are a few tips on caring for yourself while you ride the crimson wave.

 

Say It With Me: Self Care!

This is a big one – especially when it feels like your uterus is being punched over and over. Kidding aside, self care can help to combat the heightened sensations in the days leading up to your period. Exercise can benefit the body and does wonders for diminishing PMS symptoms. If you’re not really a fan of the treadmill, you can take a little walk outside, go to a yoga class, or even work out from the comfort of home while you binge Orange is the New Black.

Self care comes in many, many forms. There is no right way to do it. Just do something – anything – that makes you feel good. For me, it can be different for different emotions or days. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly emotional during my period, mixed with my own anxiety, I like to go to a bookstore. For me, it’s calming and it’s a safe space. I feel happy surrounded by books. Sometimes I blog while watching Netflix and destroying a California burrito. Other times, I like to lay down in my dog’s bed and cuddle with him. Do what you need to do to feel better and remember that this is cyclical – it will pass.

 

It’s Okay to Struggle

You’re not going crazy, or losing it. You’re actually going through a tough cycle, and that’s okay. Don’t ever let yourself feel undermined or less than because you’re having a hard time with your emotions or thoughts. It’s the journey of living with an anxiety disorder – self-sabotaging thoughts will pop up and you will struggle with them.

Remember that you’re not alone. Not only is there a large community that tackles mental health each and every day – almost all women battle their period each month. You’re not alone in your suffering. 

 

Embrace Your Emotions

While these symptoms can be temporary – your anxiety isn’t. Like I’ve always said, it’s crucial to feel the emotions you are feeling and meet them head on. Whether that’s anger or sadness, allow yourself to experience it. If you don’t, you’ll just bottle it up and it will explode. You could also project your own emotions and issues onto other people, which is never a fun situation.

 

Write It Down

It’s important to feel your emotions, but it can also help to write them down. Fully feel your feelings first, with no narrative or story. Once you’ve processed, you can start to see the real reason you’re upset. Rather than writing yourself off as “hormonal” or “crazy,” realize there’s an intuition and potential wisdom with these fluctuations. Jot it down during your period and take the time to think about them after your cycle is over.

 

Give Your Period Props

When you really think about it, we are pretty amazing as women. Take a second and pat yourself on the back simply for being badass enough to function at all when you’re bleeding, hormone levels are constantly shifting, and battling daily anxiety. I mean damn, we are some strong, sensitive bitches.

 

If you feel those intense mood swings and emotions coming on, remember this: you are not weak for struggling. You are not weak for getting emotional. It’s something we all – as women – go through. It’s our ability to navigate those fluctuations – along with bouts of anxiety – month after month that’s a huge part of what makes women so empathetic, compassionate, and resilient.

Embrace the power of the period. And go ahead, have a Netflix marathon all weekend, you deserve it. 

 

How do you handle getting your period with anxiety? Share your tips! 

Handling Heartbreak With Anxiety

Recently, I wrote an article for Inpathy Bulletin about dealing with a breakup with anxiety, and it made me realize that I haven’t dedicated a post to handling heartbreak. Now that I’ve had a few weeks to distance myself from the more intense emotion and pain that comes directly after a breakup, I feel comfortable talking about it in depth.

Although it’s become clear by now, a few weeks ago my ex boyfriend broke up with me. The reasons were scattered, but in the end it came down to this: he just couldn’t come with me. By this, I mean he wasn’t the right match to go down the same road I’m on in my own mental health journey. While that’s hard to accept, it’s something I must. Like myself, he has issues and they just became too much to handle, so it was time to part ways.

Most people think breakups are the stuff of sad songs and romantic comedies, but in reality it’s a visceral and sometimes even suffocating pain to end a relationship in which you’ve most likely invested all of your emotional energy. Cue anxiety, depression, and other mental illness and it can be almost impossible to breathe.

Healing a broken heart is difficult for anyone, but for those of us who are constantly battling mental illness, it can cause us to question our self worth or even trigger. While this is not my first breakup, each one comes with its very own set of memories, which in the beginning, can be painful to relive. Even though I did not feel like anything was my fault during the breakup, it can be easy for anxiety to latch onto such a traumatic event and start to poke at your self worth with thoughts of whether this is your fault or you could have done something differently: maybe he/she would have stayed if….

Stop that thought process before it turns into a spiral. As someone who is hyper sensitive, I see you and feel that pain wholeheartedly. Fear the stress of this breakup could lead to a breakdown? Here are some tips I’ve learned while navigating my heartbreak.

Take Care of Yourself

Healing always starts with self care. No matter the form of loss, you must nurture your emotions and heart. Whether that means going to bed early, taking a day off to lounge on the couch, of reading your favorite book for the 20th time, do what you need to do to soothe your mind, body, and soul.

While you used to have someone to take care of you all the time, now you don’t. That person is gone but it doesn’t mean you stop the care. You are always first priority, relationship or not.

Feel It Out

If you want to cry, cry. If you feel like screaming, whip out a pillow and do the damage. Feeling relieved, or even happy? Don’t bottle those emotions up. Meet them, don’t feel guilty for having happy moments – it doesn’t diminish the time you had together. 

It’s okay to not be okay, which is something we hear a lot in this community. More recently, I’ve learned that it’s also okay to be angry. Anger is an emotion I’ve always had trouble with, so it’s important to feel all the range of emotions. It will help you move on in a healthy way.

Learn to Let Go

Change is a bitch. No matter how hard you try, you won’t be able to shake her. Grieving is random, it comes in waves but you have to learn to let it go. We struggle to accept loss. We constantly fight reality and avoid the truth of the situation: they aren’t a part of our lives anymore. Try not to dwell on what could have been, or if you should have done something differently because in the end, it happened how it happened. You can’t control it. If you find yourself spiraling and ruminating, write it down. Battle with reality.

Protect Your Emotions

While we have to let our emotions, I truly believe that it’s important to protect those hyper sensitive souls from trivial things that will only cause suffering. A good example is social media. In the aftermath of a breakup, social media is toxic. It’s a space where – in a way – you can still be in each other’s lives without actually speaking. If it’s too triggering to see your ex over social media, unfollow. Unfriend. Block. Whatever you need to do, do it so you can be in a safe space and move forward.

Little things will hurt the most. Although I’ve been in a much better place lately, something small crept up on me and brought me to tears. I was lugging something gigantic up the stairs to my studio and while my neighbor was coming down, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “you dropped this.” I looked down and the keychain my ex boyfriend got me had broken off my keyring. While it’s trivial, it still really hurts. It’s a memory. Even though it’s a sweet one, it’s painful right now. I let myself feel the sadness, and afterwards I realized it was a sign. It needed to go. Time to shed that memory in order to create new ones.

Lean On Your People

Although you must deal with grief and loss at your own pace – there is no set timeline for moving on – there are plenty of people who understand what you’re going through. Let them help. Yes, you must deal with this emotionally on your own, but support is healthy too. In the first few days after my breakup, I had an outpouring of support from close friends and family. Sometimes it can be unexpected, but it can help ease anxiety to know you have a support system who is on your side – no matter what you’re feeling.

 

I will leave you with this quote from Becca Lee, an inspiring poet who beautifully states the true purpose of pain:

“So often we associate pain with darkness because that is how it tends to feel – all-encompassing, overwhelming and never-ending. But pain is not sent into our lives to drown us; pain illuminates the parts of us that need our attention and it makes us acutely aware of the parts that are broken, hurt and sore. Not so that we may suffer, but so we may heal and grow. So that we may give our wounds the love, care and treatment they so desperately need and deserve. Pain shows us where we do not want to be. It holds up the parts of our lives that are not aligned with our spirit and soul and creates discomfort so as to bring about the desire to change. Our pain moves us towards the light, towards who we truly are – but only if we are brave enough to look beyond the darkness and allow it to do so.”

The aftermath of heartbreak is intense. That pain is real. The sorrow is real. Your anxiety invading your mind, telling you you aren’t good enough or how you could have done better, is not. Breathe, and remember these feelings won’t break you – they can only make you stronger. Move towards the light, towards who you truly are. 

Everyday, I get closer and closer to my true self. If you’re suffering from a broken heart, I hope you realize it’s not your fault, and that real change can come from this. Be patient with yourself – grow from the pain. 

 

 

How do you handle heartbreak with anxiety? Share your tips or stories! 

Works in Progress // Sarah

Diagnosed with depression at just 16 years old, Sarah has been battling her mental health on and off for ten years. When her depression took a turn for the worst, she chose her health over the financial freedom of a job. With a strong belief that recovery is not a race, her story reminds us that with every bump in the road – we are stronger.

Meet Sarah.

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Name: Sarah 

Age: 27

 Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time? 

I was diagnosed with depression when I was 16 years old, I had been a bit sad and flat and at my mother’s suggestion, went to see a counsellor. From the age of 16 until 25, I struggled with my mental health on and off. I took medication, saw the occasional psychologist but never really took it seriously. These feelings were all that I knew and because I was high-functioning most of the time, I didn’t feel I needed to do anything about it.

Just weeks after my 26th birthday, my mental health took a turn for the worst. Triggered by the rejection of an important relationship to me, all the emotions and trauma I had been bottling up for years finally decided to release themselves and I broke down. For the first time in my life, I found myself unable to get out of bed and go to work. I was physically and mentally unable to complete my uni assignments.

 Thankfully, I was able to recover from this episode quite quickly but continued to struggle with my mental illness over the past two years. The most recent episode has changed my life considerably. It has left me so low-functioning that I couldn’t continue to work full-time and had to leave my job. There were days that I couldn’t get out of bed, couldn’t find the strength to cook dinner or do the dishes, feed the cats and even shower myself. My confidence was at an all-time low, I was so anxious. I started to experience physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches.

 

 What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

The moment for me was when I broke down in tears during class one day. I so desperately tried to keep it together but the feelings were too strong. I was scared and for the first time, felt sick and knew I needed help. I rushed over to the campus medical centre in hopes of being able to see a counsellor, as there was no way I was going to be able to drive myself home in the state I was in. They told me there were no appointments available and I panicked. I needed to see someone because I was worried about my wellbeing. I saw the triage nurse and told her I was scared and I didn’t know what to do. She booked me into see the next available doctor who managed to squeeze me in to see the counsellor immediately. I started to calm down after speaking to the nurse, doctor and counsellor, who were all very lovely and decided that the next course of action was to see a psychologist.

During my latest episode, I was fortunate enough to already be attending regular psychologist appointments, however, felt I needed additional help. She suggested seeing a psychiatrist alongside her therapy to discuss my diagnosis and review my medication.

  

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

My most recent episode has left me very low-functioning, to the point I decided to leave my full-time job to focus on my health. I’m still a work in progress, trying to build up to be the high-functioning person I once was. I’d love to get back to work sometime but for now, I’m just focusing on regaining some energy, both mentally and physically.

I’ve been off work for 3 months now and there have been some challenges associated with that. At times, I often feel guilty that I am unable to work and contribute financially within my relationship and I get frustrated that I’m not better yet.

Setting small goals for the day and week ahead is helping me get back into a routine. I try and get to yoga twice a week as I find focusing on my breathing helps me with my anxiety. There’s something really magical about yoga, it’s my kind of exercise. Everyone is focusing on themselves and their practice in a non-judgmental environment. I feel like I can fully accept myself during yoga, it’s a nice feeling! Being mindful is another really important skill I have learnt to help me cope when things are a bit tough. Being present and in ‘the moment’ was totally life changing for me. For so long I didn’t even realize I wasn’t being present and now I make a conscious effort to try and incorporate it into my daily routine.

 

 How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

Although the decision to leave my job was hard, especially financially, it has given me a new outlook on life. There’s this idea that in order to have a successful life we need work hard, keep up appearances and have it all together but I’ve decided I don’t want to live like that anymore. Before my latest episode, I was working full-time, studying part-time at uni and trying to maintain my blog. I’ve accepted I that I probably won’t be able to continue that way of living anymore and that’s okay. I’m going to have to make some financial sacrifices but the most important thing is my health and having time to do the things that help my recovery and enrich my life.  

I also feel like I’ve been given a new purpose in life, which is to share my story and hopefully help others. I’ve started blogging about my personal experience with mental illness to encourage others to speak up and to reach out for help if needed. By sharing my story, I hope to help, inspire and encourage others – I want to make a difference. I have also started volunteering for mental health organizations in my area, I really want to get involved and show others that it is okay to experience mental illness and that it is nothing to be ashamed about.

  

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness?  

When I’m struggling the most important thing I do is make peace with my feelings. I give myself permission to feel the way I do. If I’m having a bad day, I tell myself it’s okay and I can try again tomorrow. If I can’t muster up the strength to get out and exercise, that’s okay. If I put too much pressure on myself, I just feel worse when I don’t achieve what I have set out to accomplish and it becomes a vicious cycle. It pays to be kind to yourself, it really does help. Stop and think about the negative thoughts you tell yourself, would you say that to a friend or a stranger in the street? Probably not! I am my own worst enemy sometimes but I am slowly learning to show myself the same compassion I would give to others. 

Recovery is not a race, nor is it linear. I often feel that when I finally take a step forward, it’s followed by two steps back. It’s hard, but I just have to remind myself of the progress I have made and will continue to make. Recovery is different for everyone, it’s ongoing but with every bump in the road, I become a stronger person. 

 

 

Are you a Work in Progress? Share your story in the comments below and you could be featured on the blog!

Post Therapy Thoughts

Settling onto the couch, I felt myself breath a sigh of relief. Every two weeks, I get roughly an hour of this safe space. A net to fall into, a shoulder to cry on, and a sanctuary to study my every mental health movement.

This week, I went in with newly found motivation and happiness that I didn’t think I would have this early on from a breakup. From our talk, my therapist discussed two different, equally crucial, topics: finding your anger and recognizing your worth, purpose. 

Finding My Anger

We came upon this subject when I told my therapist a story about a bad day I had last week. More like the worst day. I had some issues at work where I felt disrespected, and that triggered me. Once the work day was over, I did the exact thing I need to learn to break. Instead of listening to myself, I sought validation and advice from others.

This can be a toxic activity, especially for anxiety. Already pissed off, my anxiety would be more triggered by whatever the person said. Normally, people have differing opinions and life views, so they don’t ever really say what you want them to. I knew the answer, yet I didn’t consult myself.

I got into fight after fight with my mom, then dad and it resulted in a full fledged anxiety attack – which I caused. To this event, my therapist gave me a new solution: write it down. Before I pick up the phone and call anyone, write the reality down. After that, I may not need anyone’s advice because I have my own.

Although it may not seem like a quick fix because I’m not used to knowing what to say to myself, this is how I practice.

Along with this, I learned that my anger is triggered by feeling disrespected. I found that it was more intense because of feelings associated with my breakup. I felt disrespected. With some distance from the emotion of the actual breakup, I realized that I saw more of the reality of the relationship and guess what? I’m kinda pissed. And that’s okay. 

Growing up, and even before I started therapy, I never had much of a voice. I let others speak for me and didn’t stand my ground. Little by little, I’ve become more connected with my voice and with that comes anger. It’s a learning experience, but I’m on my way to expressing anger in a healthy way.

Recognizing My Worth, Purpose 

The second part of my session was me explaining to my therapist how overwhelming it has been to have such amazing people reach out to me – whether through this blog or my Instagram account – and tell me that my words have had a serious positive, emotional affect on them. I heal myself, while healing others. 

It was then that I started to cry and my therapist said the most touching thing:

“Breathe it in.”

Almost like a yoga chant it was so calming, she taught me right then and there that while this is emotional, it’s all part of my path. She continued to say:

“We’re all here for reasons. Sometimes the darkest pain is felt so we can be encouragers.”

We feel so deeply in order to encourage others to confront that same emotion. I’ve come so far, and I’m beginning to realize that I’m finding my new purpose and passion in this blog. I love doing it and I appreciate everyone that reads, supports, or reaches out.

My therapist ended with a new mantra that I will be repeating to myself:

I deserve to be loved and respected. 

Whenever you’re feeling unworthy, or that you aren’t good enough, say that to yourself. You are worthy – always.

 

 

Has therapy helped you? Share your story in the comments below! 

 

 

Works in Progress // Nay Clarke

For Men’s Health Month, I’m beyond stoked – and proud – to bring you the first male Works in Progress story! Truly a silent crisis, men face just as much stigma – if not more – when battling mental illness. More than four times as many men as women die by suicide in the U.S. and due to social norms, are less likely to seek help for their struggle. Men are taught that showing emotion is weakness.

You are not less of a man for having a mental illness. 

Fighting against the stigma surrounding mental health in males, Nay Clarke is on a mission to show each and every person just how unique and necessary they are. Healing thousands through the power of his words, Clarke takes to his Instagram as a form of therapy, expression, and empowerment.

Meet Nay Clarke.

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Photo by @oliverpayne_

 

Name: Nay Clarke

Age: 20

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I was diagnosed with depression and bipolar tendencies, but I always knew there was more to it. I continued to seek help until recently being diagnosed with schizophrenia. It used to affect me day to day, meeting up with friends was always a problem because I could, and still can, easily change mood so I didn’t want it to affect them too. It then seeped into my work life, speaking to co-workers was difficult because I always thought they didn’t understand me at the time…a month passed and I finally left the workplace which is one of the best things I’ve ever done!

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I think the moment I decided to get help was not long after leaving my job. I would hear voices in the workplace that weren’t there. It was a horrible experience I’d face far too often. After trying to stay “strong” as a male figure should – as society says – I decided to go to my doctor and it was a terrible experience!! To anyone reading this, do NOT get put off if you are dismissed as “fine” at your doctor. I had to move surgeries and finally got referred to the right place – never stop pushing for the correct help. 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

I face challenges daily, some days I don’t even want to leave my bed, let alone my room. I don’t like going to busy places where there are loads of different voices like restaurants or shopping centers because it sparks further voices in my head to start (draining I know). I still try to go now and again, as I don’t want my mental health issues to control my life. What helps me personally is expressing my thoughts on a daily basis. Once the thoughts are out and gone, I can move on – that’s why I post most of it on Instagram. It was just a huge bonus that a lot of people feel the same as me and we can all help each other.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

It’s benefited my life in many different ways. First off, I’d say it’s made me learn and understand more about my self, which I think everyone should do. I’ve spoken to many amazing people from social media who have helped me along this journey and I’d like to think I have helped them too. Knowing I play a part in ending the stigma around mental health issues is what puts a smile on my face. I will never ever get bored of hundreds of people messaging me saying thank you for being so open. What they don’t realize is that I should be the one thanking them because that’s what keeps me somewhat stable.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

I would simply say, “chill bro, you don’t realize how much this test is going to change your life in the most amazing way.”

I strongly believe “what’s meant to be will always be.” Cliché I know, but so, so true. To anyone that is reading this and facing issues of their own, I just want to say: you are strong! 

You are one-of-a-kind and most of all you are AMAZING! No matter how hard life seems at the moment…everything will fall into place.

 

Do you want to share your mental health story? Leave a comment about your journey and you could be featured! 

The Deal With Dads // Father’s Day Post

Today is Father’s Day, so let’s talk about it: what’s the deal with dads? To start, I know that for some, this day of celebration is triggering and painful. Some may have lost their dads, while others never had a father figure in their life to begin with. That being said, here is my story with my dad and how far we’ve come.

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Growing up, my dad wasn’t exactly around. Being a second generation Greek, he was taught to be the man of the family. He hustled, overworked, and came home to his family exhausted for dinner each night. Working at several different law firms while I was little, he left a lot of the parenting to my mom – which she gladly took on. Don’t get me wrong, I had a very happy childhood, but I didn’t always get to see my father as much as I would like.

It wasn’t until I was 19 years old that my entire worldview came crashing down. It isn’t until something traumatic happens with your family that you start to see your parents in a new light. The summer going into my sophomore year of college, my parents sat my sister – who was 23 at the time – and I down to tell us that my dad would be moving out. My parents were getting divorced. 

I had listened to my parents fight for the last year before I got this news, but I was still shocked. I had been naive for so long and it took an event like this for me to realize my parents aren’t perfect – they’re flawed.

Young, immature, and unable to handle my anxiety properly, I hit a wall. For over a year, I couldn’t even be in the same room as my father. Assuming that all the fault was on him, my intense feelings could not be contained. Whenever he entered the room, I could feel my anger boiling over. He ripped apart my family. 

It took some time, but my father and I found each other again. I don’t remember a specific day, or month that we started our relationship again but this time it was different. We both grew up. We had gone through so much as people and it has brought us together. Whether it was a road trip picking me up from my college in San Francisco and driving back home to San Diego together, or our now ritual breakfast and a movie, he’s my best friend.

It took struggling through some of the worst, life-altering events to bring us closer than we really ever have been. Since my parents split, my dad realized his own anger issues, and it made him not only a more understanding person, but an emotional one. I had never seen that side of him before. My father and I have the same brain, as he says, and I think that might be why it’s so easy to talk to him and tell him any negative thought or high anxiety issue I may be struggling with: he’s gone through it too. 

More recently, I’ve gone through a breakup and one of the only things getting me through it – other than therapy – is the support of loved ones. When I’m not spending time with myself, or friends, I do the usual breakfast with dad. The first corned beef hash and eggs of that weekend ended in me sobbing in the middle of the deli. When I looked up and apologized, feeling the slight shame of crying in public so intensely, my dad just took my hand and said, “It’s okay. You’re okay – let it out.” I don’t think I’ve ever loved him more than in that moment. While all I had was fear about my ex-boyfriend leaving me because of my anxiety or mental health, I feel incredibly grateful that those thoughts have never once entered my mind with my dad. He will never leave, he will never give up or think I’m a burden. 

We don’t always get it right, fights happen but in the end we never say goodnight without an I love you. While I hope for the right match in a man in the future, I don’t know that I’ll ever find someone like my father. Like a bull in a China shop, he storms through life but it’s in the quiet moments I’ve realized that loud exterior is masked by a human with depths of patience, understanding, humor, and unconditional love for someone who doesn’t always feel good enough. Thank you for making me feel enough, Dad. You don’t know how much you do.

 

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Do you have an inspiring story with your father? Share it in the comments! 

Works in Progress // Taylor

Living in the darkness, Taylor didn’t think she could make her way back to the light. It was through the courage of reaching out and asking for help that this beautiful soul was able to find the tools to cope with her anxiety and depression.

With a new sense of empowerment, Taylor heals not only through her future career as a counselor, but by sharing her story on her blog – The Lotus Project – and providing in-depth information on resources available to anyone struggling with their mental illness. Meet Taylor.

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Name: Taylor Harvey

Age: 22

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I have a psychology degree and am currently attending graduate school to become a mental health counselor.  I am very familiar with symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses, but that didn’t make it any easier. 

After starting grad school in my hometown, where I had no friends, I realized that I was not myself. I realized that I was crying all the time, slacking in my school work, and calling off of work. My low self-esteem started to prevent me from leaving my apartment, which caused me to further isolate myself.  My relationship with my boyfriend was crumbling. We were fighting constantly and I was irritable, clingy, and jealous. All of these behaviors were very abnormal for me.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

When I first noticed that something was off, I tried to see a psychologist. She never returned my phone call to finalize my appointment, so I pretty much gave up after that.  I was slipping further and further down. I was fantasizing about death.  Eventually, my boyfriend was hiding my Benadryl from me, counting them before he left the apartment, and would stand outside the bathroom door any time I entered. 

I knew I was depressed, but I didn’t think I was that bad. I thought I could get over the hump. But my boyfriend thought otherwise.  He threatened to move out if I did not get help.  He said he couldn’t watch me feel like this anymore. It was hard for both of us. I was terrified of losing him, so we went to the ER that very day. The experience itself was horrible, but it led me to my current psychiatry office, which I am grateful for. I may have never gotten help if it was not for my boyfriend pushing me. If I never got help, I believe that I would not be here today.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

My depression did cause my boyfriend and I to break up for a period of time. Neither of us knew how to handle it. We eventually got back together, but while we were apart I started dating someone new.  I was terrified that he would find out that I was depressed, but at the same time I felt that he deserved to know that there was something wrong with me (now I know that there is NOTHING wrong with me). I told him that I was “sick” because the stigma surrounding mental illness is so devastating. I did end up telling him the truth, but it is sad that I felt that I had to initially hide a part of myself.

Now, especially since I have started a blog about it, I am much more willing to open up about my struggle. I still have days where I hate myself so much that I don’t want to leave the house, but I continue taking my antidepressants, going to therapy, going to the gym, and living a healthy lifestyle.

I have a terrible fear that I will have another severe depressive episode and that my boyfriend will leave me again. I cope with that by being open about it with my boyfriend, family, and counselor.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

While I was living in the darkness, I felt like I was so terribly weak. But now that I have come out on the other side, I feel like I am strong. I feel like I have a new perspective that I can use to help people through my blog and through my future career as a counselor. I feel like I can do anything. I feel like my depression makes me unique, and I now love opening up about it. I feel empowered. I won’t let depression win.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

“You won’t feel like this forever.”

I felt empty. I felt alone. I felt worthless, hopeless, anxious, and sad. I truly could see no light in my life and didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I couldn’t see the end. I tried to end my own life, and then woke up devastated that it had failed.

Now I am doing better, and I honestly didn’t think it was possible.

 

Do you want to share your mental health story? Leave a comment about your journey and you could be featured! 

4 Tips On Finding The Right Therapist

One year ago today, I made a leap that would alter my life. Before I began therapy, I was miserable. I didn’t always know it, but I had crippling anxiety and constant fear of pretty much everything. The day to day was debilitating, and I was clinging to the same, reused solutions that hadn’t been working for years, but – to be honest – I didn’t know any other way.

I made every excuse in the book: I don’t have the time. It’s too much money. I’ll wait a few more months. But after awhile, I ran out of reasons and realized it was time to make a decision for my mental health. I worked with my Mom’s medical insurance (I was still under 25, so I was able to use her insurance) and I got eight free sessions with a therapist. Thanks to a wonderful health plan, I had a way to save a little money while I shopped for the right therapist.

Finding that connection to a therapist is essential. While my current therapist is the first one I saw, that just means I was lucky in finding the right vibe. For some, it can take shopping around and picking a therapist you feel most comfortable with. Without therapy, I wouldn’t have the new tools to manage and control my anxiety. I wouldn’t be as self aware as I am. I wouldn’t have created this blog. I would still be that girl. Huddled in the corners of her own mind; afraid.

If you’re still in the searching phase, here are a few tips I’ve learned from my own journey.

 

Ask Friends And Family

Stuck in a rut with your search? Ask friends – or family – who are in therapy if they like their therapist. If they do, continue to ask questions. Find out what it is they like about them and maybe ask their therapists for referral lists. It never hurts to ask. 

If none of your friends are in therapy or if they tell you that they don’t like their therapist, it’s time to look for a different referral. While it’s a good idea to potentially call institutes for therapists in your area, you don’t want a therapist who is convenient – you want one who is good for you. Personally, I drive up to a half hour from my house to see my therapist, but it’s worth it. Plus, the drive home is an important time to process the emotions from a potentially heavy session.

 

Shop Online

There are many different ways to get help. You can search on Therapy Finder, or maybe you would prefer to reach out purely online. If you aren’t feeling the one-on-one thing, there are plenty of great websites and apps like Talkspace, Breakthrough, and BetterHelp. Those are just a few – do your research and find the right fit.

 

Experience Counts

The reason you made the decision to see a therapist, rather than confiding in a close friend, is experience. Look for a therapist who has the credentials in treating the issues you’re facing. Often, therapists have special areas of focus, such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety, etc. Skilled therapists have dealt with the problems you’re struggling with again and again, which broadens their view and gives them more insight.

 

Trust Your Gut

Even if your therapist looks amazing on paper, if the connection doesn’t feel right – if you don’t trust the person or feel like you can share with them – keep looking. Feeling guilty? A good therapist will respect your choice and should never pressure you to stay. This is part of their job, most of the time they are used to it.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when choosing the right therapist:

  • Does it seem like the therapist truly cares about you and your problems?
  • Do you feel as if the therapist understands you?
  • Does he/she accept you for who you are?
  • Would you feel comfortable revealing personal information to this person?
  • Do you feel as if you can be honest and open with this therapist? That you don’t have to hide or pretend you’re someone that you’re not?
  • Is the therapist a good listener? Does he or she listen without interrupting, criticizing, or judging? Pick up on your feelings and what you’re really saying? Make you feel heard?

If the answers to any of these questions are no – trust your gut and walk away.

 

Making the choice to seek help for any mental health issue is a huge step. It takes courage to admit we can’t face our struggles alone. Although it can seem scary in the beginning, therapy should be a safe place – your sanctuary. With the necessary time and research put into the process, you can fight the daily struggle with one more person batting on your team. Stay open, honest, and vulnerable and the right match will come.

 

Have you found the right therapist for you? Share your journey to find your therapist in the comments! 

 

 

5 Mindful Apps For Mental Health

While I wrote a blog post on unplugging from social media a little bit ago and the benefits that can come from disconnecting from your device, technology can also be a wonderful tool for mental health.

What if we had a way to harness the power of our screens when we were feeling anxious, depressed, and every range of emotion? Close to 19% of adults in the U.S. are affected by some kind of mental illness, so using apps as a supplement to in-person therapy is a welcome idea. While these apps don’t replace professional therapy, they can boost your mental health and overall well-being.

Swipe out of Candy Crush and Angry Birds and learn more about technology that’s a little more mindful in these apps below.

 

Simple Habit 

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My love for this mindful meditation app is probably biased – check out my blog post on it here – but that’s because it really works.

Great for busy bees that don’t always have time to pause, Simple Habit is an app that gives you mindfulness on the go. Donned the “Netflix of meditation,” this helpful app offers guided audio meditations anywhere from fifteen to five minutes long so that you can squeeze some serenity into your daily routine.

Personally, I’ve been using this app for close to a year and I can safely say that it’s my lifeline. Whenever I’m feeling high anxiety – or in the middle of an anxiety attack – I have a “Dealing With Failure” meditation I listen to. I get those headphones, press play and go for a walk to let the words really soak in.

 

Talkspace

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If you’re feeling really overwhelmed or need some help controlling your anxiety, waiting the days – or weeks – until you see your therapist can be difficult. With this important technology, anyone can get therapy without traveling to an office – and for significantly less money than traditional therapy.

While I personally need to have therapy in-person in order to benefit from it, this is a great – and cheaper – option. Allowing users to connect with licensed therapists anonymously in order to chat about what’s on their minds, the program has a bunch of different payment plan options, from unlimited message therapy for $25 per week, to 30 minutes of live video therapy for $29. Not being able to afford therapy is no longer an excuse – take the time to do what works for your lifestyle and mental health. 

 

Lantern

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Created by a team of researchers, technologists and clinicians, Lantern transforms cognitive behavioral therapy techniques into simple exercises. When I looked into this app, I was so excited because my own therapist focuses on cognitive therapy for my sessions. It’s a wonderful technique and has been really working for my anxiety.

All about removing the stigma and barriers that prevent people from strengthening their emotional selves, this app delivers a holistic approach to making each day a better one.

 

Pacifica 

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An app that lets you rate and track mood over time, provides guided deep breathing and muscle relaxation exercises, health goals and it’s free? Sounds too good to be true. Think again.

Also based in cognitive therapy, Pacifica attempts to break the cycle of anxiety using tools that target each of its components. Day by day, you’ll learn to manage your feelings at your own pace. Users can record their own thoughts to help analyze and understand their thinking patterns, as well as discover and track possible triggers.

 

Headspace

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Treat your head right with Headspace, a “personal trainer” for the mind. With 10-minute meditation lessons catering to different areas of life ranging from health and performance to relationships, this mindful app is on a mission to get people everywhere to look after their mental health with the simple activity of meditation.

While it’s the more pricey of these apps requiring a subscription, it’s also the most popular. Used in over 190 countries since 2010, Headspace is on its way to improving the health and happiness of the world – one meditation at a time.

 

It’s time to look to technology for helpful tools on improving mental health. While they aren’t substitutes for professional treatment, it’s nice to know there are options to get help and relaxation at your fingertips.

 

What apps do you use to boost your mental health? Share what tech works for you in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

Works in Progress // Naomi

*** Trigger warning: There are mentions of rape and sexual assault in this post. Due to these topics, the author has changed her name and will not be posting a photo. 

Developing anxiety and depression by the young age of 18, Naomi has been bravely battling her own mental health for over a decade. A true story of how far one can climb when knowing their worth, she took some of the worst experiences of her life and made them inspiration for a future as a mental health professional.

With a mantra of standing up for yourself and creating a healthy inner environment, this mental heath warrior has turned struggle into her success. Meet Naomi.

Name: Naomi

Age: 25

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I developed anxiety around age 12-13.  It began in 7th grade, when I dreamt I drowned in a giant wave.  I was so paralyzed by the dream I didn’t leave my house for days.  Three days later, the December 2003 tsunami hit Thailand and Indonesia.  I didn’t go to a beach for 3 years out of terror.  I was convinced the tsunami dream (which has become recurrent for me) was a sign that I could see the future – and the future was death.

My mother attributed my nervousness to a major car accident she had while she was in her second trimester of pregnancy with me.  She was forced over a 100ft cliff by a drunk driver in Hawaii.  She climbed up the cliff to safety, carrying my brother (age 3) and cousin.

Now that I understand stress hormones during pregnancy and their contributions to later development of mental health issues, I believe my mother’s intuition was spot on.  I believe epigenetics – the interaction of environmental stressors and my genetic predisposition toward anxiety and depression – shaped my future while I was a fetus.  Science is amazing, isn’t it?

I developed depression around age 17-18.  My family and primary care physician hypothesized the birth control I used for acne made me moody.  Many of my feelings – worthlessness, social withdrawal, self-loathing – are so often associated with ‘normal’ teenage issues that no one gave my symptoms a second thought.  It was something everyone assumed I’d grow out of.

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

In college, I channeled my Type A, anxious and depressed self and became an academic beast.  I held a 4.0 for the first half of college, and subdued the crippling feelings of worthlessness by attaining absolute perfection.  You can imagine how well I handled my first A-!

Everything changed when I transferred home for my last year of college.  At age 21, I was raped by an 18-year-old.  The very next evening, my best friend attempted to sexually assault me.  I unknowingly developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  My anxiety and depression crippled me.  I stopped going to class and got (gasp) B-’s, which forced me to face my ingrained belief that if I wasn’t perfect, I was worth nothing.  I became suicidal under the combined weight of my traumas, my ignored mental health issues, and the extreme stress of college.  Undergrad is a breeding ground for mental illness.

I decided to get help when my suicidal ideations landed me in a psychiatric ward.  I checked myself in for 18 hours.  I accepted the anti-depressants they offered out of desperation.  I was a high functioning woman in a hospital full of low functioning individuals.  The thought of repeated visits to places like this scared me enough to do something about problems I’d ignored for so long.

The hospital is where I began my journey into therapy for anxiety and depression, through 2 rounds of Prolonged Exposure therapy for PTSD, and ultimately how I was inspired to become a mental health professional.

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

My PTSD is essentially gone, but occasionally I have what I call a PTSD ‘flare ups.’  I flare up in the months before the anniversaries of my assaults in April.  I do a lot of personal reflection and cry a lot that time of year, sometimes out of sadness and other times out of pride for what I’ve survived.  When the anniversaries pass, my symptoms disappear and I’m generally without flare-ups until the next January, when another anniversary looms.

Sans PTSD, I’m back to managing the anxiety and depression that was always there.  After a serious injury last summer, I had to give up my primary coping mechanism: exercise.  I know there’s a correlation between my lack of exercise and my poor sleep, concentration, and energy levels.  Now that I’m healed, I’m making a workout schedule and know I’ll see improvement by the end of the summer. 

I wish I could say I found a new coping skill while I wasn’t exercising, but the reality is I’ve floundered for almost a year.  I’m incredibly thankful to be able to take my yoga and yoga sculpt classes again, and regain control over my mental health.

Psychotropic medications – like the 40mg of fluoxetine I take daily – are lovely but in the end, changing my behavior is what radically improves my symptoms.  Since I’ve reduced the amount of Netflix I watch, I can see my concentration difficulties waning.  Less Netflix and more exercise is my new recipe for success this summer.

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

I feel I’ve learned life lessons that many of my peers won’t learn for another decade or two.  I’m halfway through my twenties and I’ve already survived the supposed worst thing a woman can experience.  I’ve questioned my mortality through suicidal ideations and decided that life is worth living.  I had my mid-life crisis at 23.  Overcoming PTSD required a veracity that many are never required to hone and as such I have a self-confidence and respect for myself that never existed before.

I would not be the woman I am today if it weren’t for my traumas and my struggles with mental illness.  Managing my psychological health has taught me how much my daily choices effect the quality of my life.  I’m more mindful about what I eat, how I talk to myself, how I take care of myself… and so many other things.

I am so thankful to be a writer.  I feel it’s my duty to write about this issue, normalize people’s psychological struggles and attack stigma.  I’m writing a book about my story and hope to publish it.  Apologies for my twisted sense of humor, but I think it’s a blessing when bad things happen to writers – they can communicate the realities, struggles, and joys of situations to the world at large in a way no one else can.  A good book can change how society sees an issue and it is my deepest hope that you see my face on the back cover of a book someday.

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

My most effective tool when struggling is to talk to myself as if I’m my own mother.  I coo myself to sleep with thoughts of, “You did your best.  Tomorrow you’ll do the same.”  When I see myself through the loving eyes of my mother, suddenly my successes and failures are put into perspective.  I’m filled with nothing but pride at what I’ve accomplished and faith in my ability to make it out of this latest struggle.  It’s amazing what happens when you give yourself unconditional love.

Stand up for yourself.  I can be inconsistent when depression and anxiety take control of my life, and as such have been told I’m a flake.  Don’t let people who don’t understand your struggles step on you, label you, and dismiss you.  Put people in their fucking place, politely.  Understanding how your mental health effects your behavior is not the same as using it as an excuse not to change.  Grow your confidence to the point where people’s judgments roll off your shoulder.  Their ignorance doesn’t change your reality or diminish the indomitable will you use daily to function.  Educate people on your struggles, and if they still don’t get it: they don’t belong in your life. 

You don’t control the external world, but you do control your internal one.  You can create an inner environment where you try your best to combat your mental illness yet forgive yourself on days when it’s stamina outlasts your own.

 

Do you want to share your mental health story? Leave a comment about your journey and you could be featured!