Post Therapy Thoughts // The Thing About Expectations

Hi friends, it’s been awhile since my last post therapy thoughts. I missed it terribly. Lately, the motivation to blog comes in waves and I’m honestly just trying to ride them as they come. Not push myself to write if I don’t feel inspired because who wants content that feels forced?

Today, I went into therapy in a whirlwind. In the morning, I woke up early and gathered my thoughts into a journal – which I realized was basically full, so if anyone has any suggestions for a new one that they LOVE, let me know – so I figured I would be good to go, fully prepared for the session. Wrong-o.

Just when life lets you believe things are headed one direction, it yanks you into a completely different place. I got into an argument over a family situation, and got out of the car pissed, walking into therapy shaken up.

I sat down and basically vomited out all my feelings until I had to slow down and drink some water, it’s tough business sharing.

We changed topics and the theme of nitpicking and overly high expectations came up in conversation. Whether it’s a friendship, relationship, work, or anything really, I’ve always created unrealistic expectations. This can lead to symptoms such as disappointment, anxiety, and fear in the future of being let down.

In all seriousness, it’s been a big issue for me and my anxiety. Whenever something new enters my life, I overthink and build up these ridiculous expectations that will usually always end in disappointment. When I get let down, Anxiety Erica has me right where she wants me: afraid. Afraid of change, afraid of repeating my toxic patterns, afraid of anything unknown.

Because if I’m afraid, I won’t do it. I used to not let the scary stuff in. But now, I’ve learned that fear is just false facts and when I found that searching for the truth triumphs–my anxiety was shit out of luck.

However, it still occasionally pops up. That’s the thing about anxiety. With all the therapy and tools you can learn, your brain still thinks the negative thoughts from time to time. They don’t just vanish–it’s just I have new ways to handling them when they’re here.

I have fears, and from that comes expectations that are rigid and unrealistic. When I explained all this to my therapist, she stopped me and nonchalantly said (as she always does):

“Erica, don’t make it ‘good enough.’ It’s already there. Take it for what it is right now.”

Now, I’ve heard high expectations spoken about in many different ways, but this was a first for me. Don’t make it good enough. That really hit me. That’s exactly what I do.

I sit, fester, and obsess over little details until they are deemed “good enough.” Not even for me first, but for the other people in my life. For family, friends, coworkers. When I’m so focused on it feeling “right” and “perfectly fitting”  into my life, I’m missing moments where I could be present.

And that’s the most frustrating thing of all about anxiety. It keeps you caught up in your own little lies, making you miss what could be a truly wonderful moment. One that is good enough all on its own, without anyone’s permission.

This is constantly something I work on, and this new affirmation from my therapist is what I can repeat to myself when I feel the fear and need for expectation creep up into my bones.

No need to find what is good enough, it’s already there. It just is. 

 

Do you have overly high expectations, or a fear that something isn’t good enough? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

What I’ve Learned About Dating

I say this every time, but it really has been awhile since I’ve written anything on this blog. For the past few months, I haven’t felt motivated to write much of anything. There have been so many shifts in my personal life – with my friendships, family – that I’ve been taking the time to process those and honestly, that takes all of the energy out of me.

However, I got a message from a follower on my Instagram asking where my blog posts were, and it made me realize that this is my first love. This is my passion, and it also has always helped me to heal – why not go back to it?

Around five months ago, I was broken up with for the third time. Relationships haven’t ever been easier for me. I’ve always felt like “too much,” and that I’m bothering the person I’m with. I thought this more recent person was much different, more authentic, but it turned out that he wasn’t ready to for a real, adult relationship. So, I am single again and with that comes a lot of self-realization, and dating. 

Since I’ve been around the block three times now, I thought I would share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Here’s a little guide on how I navigate dating with anxiety! 

***Also, I’ll be including GIFs into my post because they are fun and I love them. That is all. 

Alone time is essential 

Alone does not mean lonely. Repeat that as many times as you need to to actually believe it. Just because you are alone, without a partner right now, does not mean you have to feel lonely. 

If you aren’t used to it, is being consistently alone difficult? Of course. It’s not something you will get used to overnight. After one of my exes broke up with me, I remember calling my dad and sobbing, afraid to go to sleep because I knew I would wake up in the morning alone. I still remember what he said to this day: “Erica, morning will come no matter what you are afraid of.” 

And he was right, morning still came. I woke up crying, but I was still okay. There are no set steps to being comfortable with alone time, it’s just something you have to sit down and do. Sit with it, and eventually it will start to feel good. 

Now, I cherish my time alone. I’m beyond grateful that I took the time and learned to love hanging out with myself because guess what? I’m fucking fun. As an added bonus, learning to enjoy your own time does wonders for your self worth, and will make for an even healthier relationship when you do find someone in the future. Give it a try. 

You don’t have to be dating if everyone else is 

I’ve been here, believe me. I was literally just here. Let me tell you, peer pressure is alive and well at 27, it’s kind of crazy. 

I don’t really go out much anymore, but when I do – a lot of the time, my friends are on dating apps. Which is totally fine and I respect my friends for putting themselves out there, they deserve to find someone. However, sometimes it can lead me to think that since they are on it, and talking about it as a group, that I need to be on it as well.

When we see others doing something as a group, the pull to feel included is strong. The harder thing to do is self-evaluate. Do I actually want to be on dating apps, or is this just because everyone else is and I want to be part of the discussion? 

It’s been something I’ve been learning on a case by case basis, but I’ve definitely done it. If the dating apps aren’t working for you, get off of them. Don’t sign onto something that makes you feel less than, or anxious. If you have healthy, supportive friends they will understand. I have incredibly genuine and supportive friends that have told me it’s okay if I’m not ready. I’m thankful to have them around. 

Trust your gut 

Listen when something feels off. That’s your intuition warning you that you’re maybe going down a path not quite right, for right now. My whole dating history, I’ve been very dismissive of my intuition. She senses that something is amiss, trying to prepare me emotionally for what is to come, and I just chalk it up to anxiety or thinking something is always going wrong. But, it’s a different feeling than anxiety. It’s strong, and it’s true.

If you decide to go on Tinder or Bumble, make sure that it feels right. If you get that ping in your gut telling you you need a little more time, that’s okay. If you go on a dating app, talk to other people, and then realize that you don’t want to continue, need more time – that’s okay too. If you don’t get that gut feeling and you’re comfortable with putting yourself out there, that’s okay too. Go get that cake if you’re ready, I say.

There is no perfect time to become self-aware. It might not be convenient, but it’s always worth it to be honest with where you’re at, and to be honest with the other person. Don’t just ghost them, tell them. Explain to them – in whatever comfort level you feel – that you might have thought now was a good time for you to put yourself out there, but turns out it’s not. It’s that simple. I’ve learned both from experience and from the sage advice of my therapist and friends, that people respect authenticity and honesty in dating. It might be awkward, but leave it on a good note. Be true to you. If the other person doesn’t respect that – and I’ve gotten that before too – that is their issue to work out. You’ve spoken your truth, and to be real, it’s a serious red flag if someone can’t respect your decision and ability to say no. Good riddance. 

Take baby steps 

One day at a time. Being alone, or “single” isn’t about finding the one, or the *next* one. The purpose isn’t just a chunk of time meant to search for a soulmate – it’s your life. Take the time to search for who you are, fall in love with each and every part of what makes you, you. The good, bad, confusing, scary parts that no one pays attention to, claps for, understands, or sees on a daily basis. The more you understand you, the more you can show others how to understand – and treat – you. 

Now, I am not a believer in this idea that you have to “love yourself in order to be loved.” That is complete bullshit. Most people with mental illness do not love themselves each and every day. It’s a constant battle to see our worth, but I will say that the more you dig deep down and meet every part of yourself– the more bright your light shines. So bright that the right person – or people – won’t be able to take their eyes off of it. 

You are worthy of being alone and enjoying you, and you are more than deserving of sharing your life with someone who loves, understands, and wants to grow – together. Confront the fear of being on your own, don’t settle for less. Right now, someone you haven’t met is out there wondering what it would be like to meet you. Don’t lose hope, take care of yourself, your time will come. 

Anxiety Art // What’s Your Stigma Saying?

“You just have to stay positive.” 

“You don’t look depressed.” 

“You have anxiety? You’re so social I would never have known.” 

We’ve all heard them. Sayings that may seem simple, but continue to perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s little phrases like “stay positive,” or “just snap out of it” that not only make those suffering from mental illness feel they are a burden, they aren’t even helpful or empathetic.

It’s been awhile, but I was so grateful to have these two wonderful artists share the phrases or sayings they’ve come into contact with throughout their journey.

What’s your stigma saying? 

 

Sydnei

An aspiring art therapist, this sweet soul is advocating mental health and recovery through her beautiful doodles. With bright colors shining off of each print she draws, her words and art are a mixture of her own lessons in therapy and empowering affirmations for those who face their fears on a daily basis. You can buy her art here!

IMG_1998.JPG

****TW: Abuse****

“That’s the phrase I heard over and over from my abuser. And I remember the first person I told said ‘that’s disgusting.’ Now, I am surrounded by people who care about me thankfully. But the word dirty has broke me, though these days I am much stronger. Even if I my room gets to a certain point of messy it’s like I shut down. Sometimes my hands with have paint and stuff and I shut down because it translates to ‘I’m dirty.’ It’s the biggest trigger for my PTSD. I’ve had to unlearn that phrase. I’d look in the mirror and instantly feel shame and disgust.”

 

Eliza

Promoting mental health one illustration at a time, this anxious doodler is here to break the stigma. I’ve only recently come to know Eliza, but judging from the vulnerable, authentic and powerful print she submitted for this series–we’ll be fast friends. 

IMG_1999

“Have you tried meditation? Omm yes… but that’s not the point.

Imagine having killer migraines that everyone you met had recommendations on how to take care of. But, you were allergic to the helpful essential oils and your tolerance levels were too high for pain killers. It would be frustrating to constantly hear solutions that worked for others but–because of your body’s chemistry–failed you.

It’s the same with my anxiety. When I open up about it, I’m not looking for solutions.

I’m looking for friendship and support. You don’t know the journey I’ve made or what solutions I’ve tried. You don’t know what may trigger bad memories or add to my anxiety. Perhaps try asking questions rather posing unsolicited advice. ‘Thank you for sharing. Is there something I can do to help?’ ‘I’ve never heard of that, can you tell me more?’

Solutions is what I pay my psychiatrist for. I need a network of caring friends not a network of well-meaning unlicensed doctors.”

 

With help from their pencil and paintbrush, these two artists communicate essential messages of unlearning phrases we’ve heard over and over and navigating unsolicited advice about our own individual struggle. I cannot stress how crucial breaking these stigmas are for those of us who consistently battle mental illness. I’m glad these two women are here, on the front lines with me. Showing up everyday and confronting society–while they confront each aspect of themselves. 

 

Are you an artist that supports mental health? Share your story and you might be featured on the next Anxiety Art series! 

A Look Inside Anxiety Erica

A few months back, my good friend Grace interviewed me for a project she was doing. She wrote an article surrounding a creative person and I was seriously honored–and maybe a little terrified–that she chose me.

Once I had finished answering her questions, she sent me what she wrote and I’ll admit it, I was in tears. Grace has such a way with words, a way of describing the very spirit of someone’s soul that I felt so grateful to be seen by her. Here’s her article below:

13913727_10153591666261541_9112070472742051527_o

“I threw out my back skiing in ’88. Never been the same since. Going to physical therapy now actually. 1988, that was one hell of a winter.”

“Yeah, just heading to my gyno again. You know, lady stuff going on down there that needs to get taken care of!”

“Can’t wait until these kids are 16 and can drive themselves. I have to pick them up from school, take one to tennis, one to saxophone lessons, get the dog from daycare…You know the routine.”

These are some classic lines you may have told your co-workers as you leave early on Wednesday, like you do every Wednesday, for your weekly therapy session.

Whether its a sense of shame, embarrassment, or denial, many people hesitate to tell others that they are seeing a therapist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist. But not Erica Arvanitis.

Erica, 26, is a proud ginger, a dog-mom, a puzzle maven, and take-no-prisoners, speak-your-truth, writing warrior. Her blog, Anxiety Erica, chronicles her journey with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and shares the stories of others living with mental illness.

I met Erica when I was living in San Diego. She was a recent hire to the company I worked at and, truth be told, she was pretty hyper and an oversharer. Despite her incessant peppiness, we became friends and I soon saw that underneath all the enthusiasm, there was an awkwardness, a desire to connect, and a cocktail of insecurities, emotions, and fear. By all means, this was the ideal recipe for a starving artist but Erica loved avocados too much to ever go that route. So, instead, with a little bit of nudging from moi, she started therapy.

It was in therapy that she was diagnosed with GAD and was encouraged to express herself to others, not in energetic bursts of conversation, but on paper. Erica lived in a studio where the walls were lined with books and she never left home without the latest read in her bag, so turning to paper to help her deal with GAD simply made sense.

A year into therapy, she decided to share what she had written with the rest of the world and Anxiety Erica was created.

Now two years into therapy, Anxiety Erica serves as an platform to help herself heal and reflect on her own setbacks and discoveries. And while therapy is the main impact in her writing, she feels that connecting with her audience is something that both improves her writing and her own journey with GAD.

“I write about mental health because not only is it important to bring up, but because I know what it is like to feel alone. When I was first diagnosed with GAD, I felt like I was the only person in the world suffering through it,” Erica said when I got ahold of her to chat. “From writing for this blog and connecting with the people I have, it’s so clear there is a wonderful community that’s sprouted from such pain. If I can make just one person feel less alone in their journey, it’s all been worth it.”

Becoming a mental health author has also pushed her into becoming an advocate fighting against the stigmas around mental illness. Her “Works in Progress” series gives others the chance to share their own stories, both triumphant and not, of living with mental illness. She believes intertwining their tales with her own will help more people see they don’t suffer alone and will help combat stigmas by showing the diversity and breadth of people who struggle with their mental health.

Both Erica’s writing and advocacy have grown thanks to her readers. Many readers have brought up crucial topics that she might not have thought of and they help give new points of views that she never would have understood without them. But, she admits, her willingness to write honestly about her life has taught her some lessons in boundaries and how to balance sharing and recognizing when it’s okay to keep something only for yourself.

Erica is still pretty hyper, I think that just comes with the package, but she no longer fits the profile of the starving artist. Since starting therapy and writing her truth, her awkwardness has turned into elegance both on and off the page, she no longer strives to connect but does so every day through her words, and she has learned how to turn insecurities into confidence, how to examine her emotions, and how to face fear. Avocado in hand, she is a healthy artist which is a cliche that I’m much more keen to idolize and follow.

Erica knows that people aren’t as open as she about their mental health or even about attending therapy as she is. “I’m not ashamed…Therapy is still seen as something shameful to others, embarrassing, or like you ‘need help,’” she said with a Liz Lemon-style eyeroll. “But what if I do? It’s okay to reach out, it’s perfectly okay to need help. We can’t do it all and therapy is there to support us in our own self discovery.”

Thank you for seeing me as I am and writing such beautiful words. I’m proud to know you and I love you. 

 

If you want to read about climbing, mental health and her adventures in Utah, go follow Grace at @gracexplorations

Anxiety Erica // Self Love Jamz

For the past few weeks, I’ve come to realize how important music is to my healing. To growing, and to emotionally exploring.

Wherever I am, I’m usually listening to music. Whether it’s in the car, in my apartment, or at work, I’m tuning into some sweet jams that speak to my soul.

Life is full of different – albeit unpredictable – chapters and we tend to listen to different music based on what stage of life we are in. For example, post-breakup I tend to listen to a lot of empowering, emotional and inspiring music to build myself up. As a rule, I do tend to listen to that music a lot, but during times like this it’s more frequent.

That doesn’t mean you can’t listen to an incredibly sad song when you’re happy as fuck, or a really angsty song when you have nothing to be angsty about. You do you. 

I’ve always said that you can tell how a person thinks by what they focus on when hearing a song. For me, I focus on the words. Sometimes, I can get addicted to a sick beat – I realize I’m not cool enough to say phrases like that but also I don’t care – but mostly, it’s the lyrics that get me going.

For others, it might be the melody or instruments, but I find that my heart seeks out certain words, lines or refrains in a great, emotional song.

In the past, I created an Anxiety Playlist, which has a healthy combination of lyrics and just music. From time to time, I do go back and listen when my anxiety spikes. More recently, I’ve been creating another playlist.

What’s funny is that it started out as a post-breakup playlist to get me past all of the anger I have, but it’s morphed into more. I entitled it Self-Love Jamz because that’s exactly what they are. They are a wide range – I like all kinds of music, man – and each one has a purpose.

I thought I would share a few of my favorites, and the specific lines that mean the most to me. Here we go.

Free to Fly, Betty Who

I lost my identity, I was wrapped in you, it was absolute
Now I’m finally seeing, yeah
That I’m a brand new queen, I don’t have to ask, I’m the quarterback
Of my own damn team, yeah

When I hear this song, I will forever be brought straight back to discovering it with my best friend. We had just jumped back into my car from being out in the pouring rain, and I randomly tapped on this song. Just so everyone is clear, Betty Who is a goddess. Listen to her everyday, all the time. I do.

That one moment hearing her empowering words of self-discovery was everything. Realizing that I have my own identity outside of a relationship, and it’s time to get back to that was much needed. Plus, jamming in the car with my very best friend while she came to visit was a major plus.

Best Thing I Never Had, Beyoncé

I wanted you bad
I’m so through with that
‘Cause honestly you turned out to be the
Best thing I never had
You turned out to be the
Best thing I never had
And I’m gon’ always be the best thing you never had

Without fail, this song seems to pop up when I’ve had my heart broken. And every time, it changes my perspective. It always reaches into the depths of my soul, and pulls out the confidence I always keep locked up.

I have been through three breakups, and all of them have certainly been the best thing I never had. Every time I get some space from the hurt, I realize just how much I wanted them at the time – and how much I benefited from not having them around anymore.

Dear No One, Tori Kelly

So if you’re out there I swear to be good to you
But I’m done lookin’, for my future someone (oooh)
Cause when the time is right
You’ll be here, but for now
Dear no one, this is your love song

This one took me awhile to understand, but I think I finally get it. Everyone always says, “the right person comes when you aren’t looking for it.” Commence the eyeroll. But, they are right in a sense.

For me, I’ve learned that I’m done searching for someone. It’s time to work on trusting myself, and being the best Erica. That’s more important and like the song says, when the time is right, they will be here. Dear no one, I’ll be ready for you when I’m ready. 

Dancing On My Own, Robyn 

I’m in the corner, watching you kiss her, oh oh oh
I’m right over here, why can’t you see me, oh oh oh
And I’m giving it my all, but I’m not the guy you’re taking home, ooh
I keep dancing on my own

Okay, so the lyrics of this song don’t exactly apply to me, but it’s the feeling that I connect with most. When I hear this song, it feels like being young, 20-something, and lost when it comes to love. I also think of the scene in Girls where Hannah and Marnie just dance in Hannah’s room to this song, no fears. Nothing stopping them. I’m even getting emotional thinking of the scene, because the first time I watched it, I really understood it.

Just the single refrain, I keep dancing on my own, means something. It means that bad days will come. Breakups will happen, but I’ll keep dancing on my own. I’ll keep going. Unafraid of what’s to come.

Body Of My Own, Charli XCX

Lights out
On my own
Got my darkness
I’m into myself
Don’t need you

Not only does this have a catchy as fuck beat, Charli XCX has always pumped out songs that are all about claiming yourself. I just love the line she keeps repeating. I’ve got a body of my own. It’s a melodic, angsty reminder that I’m whole all by myself. I don’t need someone else to create happiness. To feel joy. To grow, learn, succeed.

Life in Pink, Kate Nash

Wish I could let my brain
Decide and stop the pain
I keep heart-shaped glasses close to me
For when it rains (life in pink)
Rip it up and start again

I’m always a sucker for songs that focus on mental health, and Kate Nash really nails it with this one. Not only does she get into the details of how mental illness makes us feel, she even has moments where she talks about not having the energy to clean her room, or take care of herself.

But no matter how bad it can get, she always has those heart-shaped glasses close to her for the good days. It’s a wonderful metaphor for being ready to stay present for those wonderful, magical days where you are so clear and the thoughts aren’t overwhelming.

Have A Nice Life, Murs

Give it time, let it work itself out
Meditate on the better things, never dwell in self-doubt

For the last song I’ll share, I figured it should be a deep one. I was introduced to Murs from an ex-boyfriend, and for so long after we broke up, I didn’t let myself listen to his music because it didn’t feel like it was mine. It felt like it was the dead relationships’ music. But guess what? They don’t own those songs, go ahead and listen to it. 

Sometimes, people tend to stray away from certain shows, music, art or whatever because it has a painful connotation, but there are times when you can push past that and just enjoy it for it is again. I’m so glad I did that with Murs.

He has such a way of speaking to vulnerability that is heartfelt and authentic. I love it. Lately, his new songs have been very mental health focused and it’s wonderful he’s given it a voice. For this song, I love this specific line because his tone feels very introspective, he has been through so much. The line, Give it time let it work itself out, is almost like an affirmation for me.

 

So, there you have it. Those are just a few – okay, maybe a little more than a few – songs that mean something to me. To me, the right lyrics can be transformed into affirmations for me to repeat, practice and act out in daily life. Believe. 

Here’s my full Self-Love Jamz playlist, give it a listen if you’d like:

 

What lyrics really speak to you? Share them in the comments below! 

Post Therapy Thoughts // Time To Trust Myself

Hi, friends. It’s been awhile. Man, I’ve missed you all. It’s been a whirlwind start to 2018, but it certainly hasn’t been what I thought it would be.

I’ve learned – and unlearned – so many important lessons. I got into a new relationship, and recently, things ended with that relationship. I was broken up with again, but this time it was very different.

In the past, when I’ve been broken up with, I react in pure, overwhelming sadness and grief. I’m a sobbing mess. I think it’s all my fault. That I’m the burden causing this surprising end.

This time, I felt anger. Pure, healthy anger. Wanna know why? Because I did absolutely NOTHING wrong. I was blindsided, and it wasn’t anything I could have done. He wasn’t ready to be in a mature, grown up relationship with someone else, so he skipped out. It’s as simple as that.

As I described to my therapist the night of my breakup, she became more and more proud of me. I’m not used to being direct or confronting my anger, so this was a giant step forward for me

I realized, I’m proud of me too. I’m proud that I didn’t automatically think it was my fault, or that I’m such a burden for having my insecurities or anxiety.

We then unpacked my intuition. Normally, I get a sense when things aren’t going how they usually do. Since I’m an empath, I can get effected by the smallest shifts in emotional behavior. Sometimes, these shifts are so tiny, the people themselves might not even know they are doing them.

But, time and time again – I feel them. Loud and clear. So, when I sensed them in my now ex-boyfriend, I asked him if something was wrong. He kissed my hand, and said everything was fine. This is where my anger started. 

Since I was told everything was fine on that front, I took the “this is my anxiety” path. The one where I go to therapy and unpack why I’m picking at my seemingly fine relationship. I told my ex boyfriend this as well, so he listened as I explained to him my anxiety with this, and let me be misguided. Let me stay anxious about something that was to become my reality. I don’t deserve that. From now on, I need to trust those instincts and let them lead my decisions.

I was disrespected by him, and that’s where the next key point comes in. This is now the third time I’ve been broken up with, and it’s never easy. Yes, I’ll freely admit that I’m always the one being broken up with, but it’s because I put up with a lot of bullshit from my partners.

I’ve recently come to the realization that, in my past, I’ve dated people with addictive behaviors. People that consistently prioritize their addictive behavior before me, and as a result, they are emotionally immature.

When this third breakup happened, I was pissed but when I finally called my friend to tell her, I started crying and said, “Why won’t anyone stay?” 

I told my therapist this and her reply was,

“It’s time to stop thinking no one will stay, and start picking the people who are capable of the long haul.”

Because she’s right. I’ve been settling and tolerating a good deal of bullshit because – in the end – I’m afraid they will leave. And honestly, I have that fear because it happens, and it happened in my childhood. All men did was leave.

But, the time for tolerating is over. The time where I thought I didn’t deserve a higher quality in men is cancelled.

Based on this extremely empowering and productive therapy session, here are my new affirmations:

I am worthy of my own trust.

do not have to tolerate disrespect or something I am not comfortable with in any relationship – I deserve better.

I am loving and worthy of unconditional love.

 

No more forgiving because I’m afraid they will leave. Let them leave. If they don’t want to stay, they aren’t meant for me in the first place. I deserve someone authentic, kind and willing to put in the work for the long haul. Nothing less.

 

What lessons have you learned from a breakup? Share your story in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Jocelyn

Suffering from years of abuse by a family member, Jocelyn’s mental health issues began at an early age. Pushing through a period of darkness, she was able to find the light through a combination of nutrition, consistent movement, and self-care.

Meet Jocelyn.

19577312_447761975603932_4997846952845630259_o

Name: Jocelyn Zahn

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?

(TW/CW: Suicidal ideation, self-harm, eating disorders, sexual abuse)

I have been diagnosed with PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder and have also battled orthorexia and anorexia.

My mental health issues arose at a young age. During my childhood, I suffered years of sexual abuse by a family member. At age 12, my life felt as though it was falling apart for the very first time. After going through the Texas public school system and taking “sex education”, which was really only abstinence only education, as an 7th grader, I began to panic. The system failed me entirely and I believed the abuse was my fault. I was scared, alone, and felt as though I couldn’t tell anyone what happened to me because they would view me as a sinner. When you’re young, you don’t always understand the concept of abuse, I certainly didn’t. And the “sex education” I received only left me feeling isolated and hopeless.

This was the first time I can recall staring a hole through my knife drawer in my home in San Antonio. This was the first time I envisioned what it would be like to take my own life…and I wanted to. The suicidal ideations have been a part of me almost every day since.

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

Well, I was truly pushed to my limit before I decided to reach out for help. The first time I received mental health treatment of any kind was when I was hospitalized at 18 for suicidal ideation. This was a result of me coming out and having negative backlash-to say the least. I lost almost everything and everyone I loved (at least for a time) and I wanted to throw in the towel. Though, I definitely wish I had received help earlier.

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

While I am ecstatic to say my life is beautiful and fulfilling now, I still live with my mental illness every day. I have come to learn and accept the fact that it is a part of me, a part I will live with forever. Because of this, I have shifted my focus from trying to “rid myself” of my mental illness to learning how to cope with it daily.

I have learned coping skills that work for me, my mind, and my body. Developing these skills certainly looks different for everyone, but for me, I have found great success in balancing my mood through food, movement, and spirituality.

90% of our serotonin (some people call this the ‘happy’ chemical, or the ‘feel good hormone’) is made in our gut. This has been an incredible thing for me to focus on and experiment with due to the fact that the biggest daily challenge I face in regards to my mental illness, is volatile mood swings. Gut health has saved me a whole lot of random ‘crying for no reason’ tears or ‘lashing out at someone for no reason’ moments. I have found a balance of nutritious and not so nutritious food that works for me to maintain a steady mood throughout the day.

Other than that, incorporating consistent movement has been a life saver for me. Due to years of suppressed trauma, I have a whole lot internalized anger. Moving my body intuitively gives me the outlet I need to release this anger and anxiety. As you can imagine, this helps balance my mood, as well.

A couple years back, I learned that me and almost my entire immediate family has some pretty severe vitamin deficiencies. This was so helpful to learn (KNOWLEDGE IS POWER haha). To combat my almost daily suicidal ideations, I take a Vitamin D supplement, as I am lacking quite severely in that area.

I also practice affirmations, daily self-care, and tarot card readings- as they help me feel more connected to something bigger than myself and my own problems.

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

Wow. This is an excellent question. Contrary to popular belief, living with a mental illness has not been all negative for me. Living with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more has made me a much more empathetic person than most people I know. It has given me the skill of powerful and active listening. It has taught me so much about what it means to be “good enough” as a human being on this earth. It has given me perspective. It has also led me to the career of my dreams. All of which, I wouldn’t trade for the world.

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

If I could tell younger me one thing, it would be that no matter how much the darkness is consuming me at any given moment, it is not me. Darkness lives inside of me because of things that have happened to me, yes. But the light is a part of me.

I would tell myself that as alone as I feel at times, I don’t have to carry my burden alone.

 

Learn more about how Jocelyn has turned her mess into her message at Holistic Self-Love!

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments and you could be featured on the blog!

Post Therapy Thoughts // Focus on the Facts

Settling into a new job, new relationship and searching for a new space can take a toll. Recently, it’s been a challenge to find time to sit down and write. Even when there’s time, I’ve found it tricky putting the words together.

So, I took some time away. With much needed rest and self care, I’m back – and I come ready to talk about a new exercise my therapist and I came up with surrounding fear.

With all the new in my life, my anxiety has trouble keeping up. She normally finds a reason to unleash fear – an irrational, mean and overly criticizing monster. Any positive, new landmark in my life, she discovers an innovative way to suck the excitement out of it.

In therapy, we discussed my fear and while my therapist has told me the age-old acronym for it – false evidence appearing real – it was time to find a new coping tool for fighting fear. Here’s what she said:

“When dealing with fear, it’s essential to focus on the facts. Fear is irrational and will latch onto any negative thought, so fight it with what is real.”

I had never heard of fighting fear in this way. My therapist suggested that when I started to feel the fear, I break out my journal and write down a list of facts. Facts that are 100% real for me right now. Here’s an example:

IMG_0072

What I’ve written in my journal above is a list of the facts as they are right now. What this does is three-fold:

  • Distracts your mind from fear anxiety with the task of writing it down
  • Forces reality into your thoughts when put it to paper and read it aloud 
  • Creates new affirmations for the next time fear anxiety strikes 

It’s taken me awhile to find something that actually helps to ease my fear anxiety. When you can feel fear taking over your mind, think of the facts. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into another round of what ifs, or it won’t work out – take back the control with a healthy dose of reality.

 

Do you feel fear anxiety? Share how you fight it in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Stephany

Diagnosed with anxiety, depression, severe PTSD, traits of borderline personality disorder, GAD, and an eating disorder, Stephany has overcome so much. Fighting her way through an abusive relationship, sexual assault, and even homelessness, this strong soul is the definition of a mental health warrior. 

Meet Stephany.

 

IMG_0889

Name: Stephany

Age: 20

 

**Trigger warning: rape**

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?

When I was a freshman in high school I moved from my La Jolla home to Carlsbad in hopes of escaping the bullies and finding a new sense of belonging. With all the changes of a new home, new school, my mother’s new boyfriend, my best friend moving across the world, and entering high school, I fell into a deep pit of hopelessness.

In the heat of a massive fight with my mother, she threatened to send me to my father and that was the exact moment that sent me spiraling out of control. After 12 weeks of missing person reports, truancy, failing grades, days of hiding behind locked doors, and refusing to eat, I was admitted to a residential treatment facility in Utah where I spent six agonizing months learning how to cope and sharing my deepest fears with strangers. While I was there, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, severe post traumatic stress disorder, traits of borderline personality disorder, generalized mood disorder, and an eating disorder.

With a team of doctors, therapists, and facility staff I was able to work through the wreckage and claw my way out of my first experience with rock bottom.

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

After I was discharged, I returned home and continued my treatment with a team of doctors and therapists and spent three years coping with mild anxiety and the normal stresses of a teenager. Then, in May of my senior year of high school I entered into a depressive episode after becoming homeless and living out my car with only $100 to my name. At the time I was in an abusive relationship with a man who was older than me by four years and I truly believed we were in love. After managing to find a full-time job, graduating high school with honors, and finding a place to live, my relationship began to crumble because I was no longer in need of his help. We broke up in the beginning of July and two weeks later he called to invite me over for drinks. That night is the night that I was raped.

A year and a half later, I came to accept the reality of that night and sought help from a therapist who asked me, “Well did you say no?”

After that session, I was determined to fight my demons on my own and spent endless hours researching the affects of trauma and steps I could take to work through it. I slowly began to share my struggles with my closest friends who helped teach me that the smallest victories are worth celebration and I am worthy of self-love. The most pivotal moment of my recovery though was when I shared the story of the sexual assault with a friend who knew the offender and said to me, “I believe you.” 

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

Today, I still have my struggles with anxiety and disordered eating, but I have learned that I am not alone and by sharing my story I can help others on their journey. I am unashamed of my demons and I often wake up and thank myself for not giving into those low points where I felt like there was no way out of the misery I was experiencing. I am strong and I want to empower others to feel their own strength.

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you might be featured on the blog! 

A Year in Reflection // 2018 Goals

The year is drawing to a close and we all know what that means. The dreaded New Year’s resolution. I’ve never been a fan of calling them resolutions. There is always a pressure to maintain them or you’ve failed, you aren’t good enough if you didn’t keep up with that drive to lose ten pounds.

I would much rather call them goals. I’ve always had much more concrete goals for myself each year. And if I don’t achieve each and every one perfectly, that’s okay. You aren’t a failure if you don’t do exactly what you said you would right off the bat. Practice makes progress.

This time of year always calls for reflection. 2017 has been a year of learning and unlearning valuable lessons. It’s a year of intense positives and negatives in my personal life. It’s a year that I moved onto a new job, got into a relationship and that relationship ended. It’s a year I lost several people, only to gain so many that were right for me.

2017 was the year I started this blog. It was the year I finally decided to take the plunge and start writing more, sharing my story and the stories of others. It was one of the best decisions I could ever have made. It has not only allowed me to overcome so many hurdles in my own mental health, but I have connected with so many wonderful people in this community. I feel so grateful to have them in my life. I’m much better for it. 

2017 was the year I lost a partner, one that was not ready to be in an adult relationship. One that didn’t understand what it was to be with someone with anxiety. I spent months learning from this loss, letting myself truly feel each emotion and it was how I let a new person into my life. The same year I lost a partner, I gained someone so much more.

2017 was the year I got another new job, one that I truly believe is my passion. When I got the call that I had it, I felt a wave of purpose mixed with true happiness wash over me. This is what I’m meant to do. I cannot wait to start 2018 with such a wonderful company!

Whether you’ve had a good, bad, confusing, or life-changing year, do not forget that you are full of possibility. You can make 2018 whatever kind of year you want it to be. I don’t know what this next year will bring, but here are some of my goals:

 

Learn to be smarter with my money

This has been something I’ve struggled with all of 2017. This past year, I had my first studio and I’ll admit – it’s really hard paying studio rent and not being broke all the time. With my new job, I’m making it a goal to learn how to budget better so I can thrive in a bigger space soon. We all have money anxiety and honestly I wish money wasn’t as big of a deal as it is, but I can definitely afford to be smarter with my cents.

Get more creative 

Whether that means getting more creative with things I write on the blog – new series, collaborations, etc – or picking up where I left off with a few of my creative projects on the side, I want to finish what I start. I’ve had an idea for a children’s book in the back of my mind for years, but never have the self-discipline to keep going with it. This is the year I push myself.

Spend time away from my screen

This past year, I’ve had multiple people tell me I spend too much time on my phone. While it can be annoying to hear, they are right. I’m so locked into my phone that I’m not experiencing life going on around me, and that needs to stop.

Whether it’s finding an allotted time where I don’t use my phone or actively practicing leaving my phone in my purse when I’m out, I think it’s time I learn to separate with my screen a little better.

Give this new job my all

It’s really starting to sink in that I have a fresh start with this new job. I have the opportunity to show my talents to the world through this wellness company, and that’s just what I plan on doing.

2018 is the year I give my new position all that I have. I so look forward to practicing more of my passion on a daily basis!

Make time to read

This year, I participated in a wonderful book club that had me reading so many different books! However, life has gotten the best of all of us lately and we are majorly behind. 2018 is the year I make time to read. Netflix tonight? No, I will actively be putting down the remote to pick up a new book. I love reading so much, it’s always been a form of self care for me. I want to find the pleasure in it again.

Practice unlearning

This year, I’ve unlearned more than I ever thought I would. It took a genuine relationship with a man who is able to communicate in a healthy way for me to truly understand that what I thought relationships were isn’t healthy.

Not just specific to relationships, I’ve had to unlearn how to be treated at work, how I deserve to be treated by my own family, and what a healthy friendship looks like. While learning is essential, unlearning is so, so important for growth. It’s not a negative, it’s important for us to realize our worth, what we deserve.

 

I’ve achieved so much for my mental health in 2017 with continuing therapy, this blog, and making new realizations about myself and my own anxiety. While I experienced a lot of loss, I also gained so much more than I thought was possible.

I still stumble and fall some days, but that’s all part of the process. I head into 2018 as a work in progress who knows her worth. I am good enough and so are you. 

 

What are your 2018 goals for your own mental health? Share in the comments below! 

 

 

Content from Anxiety Erica website, blog and any associated social media form is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.  The information provided on this website, blog and any associated social media form is intended for general consumer understanding and entertainment only.  The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  As health and nutrition research evolves, we do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of any information presented on this website, blog and any associated social media form.