Self Care Club // Therapy Threads

Guys, life has been seriously chaotic lately. With new opportunities and adventures around each corner, I’ve been almost on standby – waiting to embrace the unknown of certain areas of my life.

I had reached out to Therapy Threads – a fantastic, meaningful company that combines aromatherapy and wellness with fashion – to be part of their Self Care Club a few months back because I truly believe in their mission, and the inspiring founder, Dani Singer.

Self care is something constantly discussed in the mental health community and what is so beautiful about it is how different it looks to everyone. While it can be marketed over social media as taking a bath, using bath bombs or a facial – it’s so much more than that.

Whether it’s reading your favorite book, going for a drive without a destination, exercising, or taking a nap – the focus isn’t really on the activity itself. It’s the meaning and purpose behind it.

Whatever it may be, self care is an active way that those with mental illness nurture the practice of putting ourselves first.

While I swear by my own forms of self care now, I didn’t always practice it actively. I still find myself having trouble truly focusing on myself. More recently, while learning about a new flyer my therapist gave me, my first thought was, I would love to share this on the blog – people would learn so much from it! But, what about me? I had to process it and learn too. I was completely skipping myself and my therapist didn’t hesitate to remind me.

It is companies like Therapy Threads that also help to remind me of the real mission. I’m so glad I get to partner with this wonderful brand that has come from such an authentic place.

Delivering hope and healing one thread at a time, Therapy Threads is the product of passion for using fashion as a foundation for wellness. Combating mental illness, their patent-pending aromatherapy scarves aren’t just super cute – you are literally wrapped up in the benefiting power of essential oils when wearing one of these bad boys. Cool, right? 

Dedicated to fighting the stigma against mental illness, Therapy Threads even gives a portion of the proceeds from each purchase to health and wellness organizations near and dear to their hearts.

An impressive woman, entrepreneur, designer, mental health advocate, and psychotherapist, Dani Singer created Therapy Threads to combine “scents of style and purpose.” Making it her life’s mission to introduce alternative therapies that empower healing, Singer is a survivor of sexual abuse, bullying and domestic violence. Spending years struggling with PTSD, depression and anxiety – she was determined not to let her past define her future. Now, she has decided to use her experiences to help others heal.

What is the Self Care Club? 

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Friends, I’m so stoked to talk about this. Not only are the shirts way cute from this brand – these brand ambassadors are kicking ass. A mental health advocacy club curated by Singer herself, the powerful people that make up this group help to build awareness and end the stigma associated with mental illness and sexual assault.

Promoting strength through the struggle, Self Care Club shows everyone that stigma isn’t cool and most importantly – we aren’t alone in this fight.

I’m so proud to have found my way to all of these courageous brands fighting the same cause as what drives this blog each and every day. I could never have dreamed that in starting this blog back in May I would be repping for such an empowering company, but pinch me – here we are.

 

 

Want to be part of the Self Care Club? Click here to share your story! 

Works in Progress // Maddi

Diagnosed with GAD, depression and OCD, Maddi has endured her share of struggles. Taking three years of her life, a couple of jobs, and even her education, her multiple mental illnesses have not been kind.

Despite these obstacles, this beautiful soul is determined to find understanding, patience and peace with help from her family, friends and emotional support animals. Hoping to be a resource for others struggling and to help her own healing, she has also started an insightful, authentic mental health blog – My Bitter Insanity. Meet Maddi and read her courageous story below!

 

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Name: Maddi

Age: 21

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 depression, general anxiety, and OCD, and I feel like they were sort of always around, just manageable. Starting in high school, I remember noticing the undercurrent of depression, and the thoughts that came along with it. There’s a strong history of depression on both sides of my family, and I’ve always expected that I would also have depression. I kept my depression to myself all through high school (except for one instance where I trusted the wrong person), but I didn’t think it was that bad because I could still function well.

After graduating high school, I moved away to university at my dream school and in my dream program. I hated living in residence, but other than that, everything was fine – until my second semester.  Second semester hit and I was really struggling to get out of bed and attend my classes – I ended up failing three courses that semester. For a student who’d mostly gotten A’s through school, it was really weird, and I took it really hard. I moved into my own apartment after that semester and adopted my cat (and then another) and stayed in town to work until my second year started up again. During the summer, I was getting worse. I was struggling to get out of bed, clean the apartment, or go to work. My second year started, and it didn’t get better. I was missing all my classes and my apartment was a mess. I mostly only got up to feed my cats or go to the washroom. Eventually, I ended up calling my mom and telling her I really needed help, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression a few months later, and OCD a year later.

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

I’ve had a few moments like that, actually. It’s been about three years since my first very serious depressive episode hit, and I’ve consistently pushed myself too hard and crashed, over and over again. The first time I decided to get help, I called my mom and moved home for a few months. The other four times, I was severely suicidal and really scared for myself. I want to get help and get better for my family and my (fur-)babies. I love my family and pets more than it’s even possible to explain, and they’ve all been so helpful and supportive of me my whole life, but especially the last few years. Even when I’m feeling suicidal, the thought of potentially never seeing my family again is terrifying. My cats have been with me through it all, they need and love me, and they’ve been able to get me out of bed to help them before I could ever help myself. Though my dog is a more recent addition, it’s almost impossible not to feel loved by him; he is a ball of pure energy and will always let you know how excited he is to see you.

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

Well, I had another depressive ‘crash’ a couple months ago, so I resigned from my job and I am striving to do everything I can so that I can get healthy and go back to school in a few years. I’m not working at the moment, and I’m working towards getting on disability support. I’m on the waiting list for a few outpatient programs, but I am mostly just waiting for something to happen.

I struggle to leave the house or be in public, even the grocery store is a great effort that takes two to four attempts. I’m trying to help keep up the house and cook, but some days getting off the couch seems impossible. I go through cycles of not being able to sleep or sleeping too much, all feeling fatigued no matter what. (Yesterday I woke up at 3 pm after falling asleep after 8 am.) I also struggle with emotional eating, and I binge eat when I’ve had a particularly anxiety- or depression-ridden day or week.

I’m still working on learning to cope. For now, I mostly rely on family and friends to help get me out of the house a few times per week, but often the day calls for a cuddle or long drive with my dog. I’m grateful that when I’m struggling to find the motivation to get ready or get out, I can call my mom and go over to her house for a few hours, we spent a lot of time playing board games on her deck this summer!

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

This is a tough and weird question because mostly I feel like my illnesses have taken things from me. They’ve taken three years of my life, a few jobs, and my schooling. But, after I think about it a little more and make an effort to look at the positives, I hope that it’s taught me to be more compassionate, patient, and understanding. I also hope that I’ve been able to reach out and help or be a resource to some friends of mine who have struggled. Of course, I’m hoping that starting up my blog will also help me reach out and help or be a resource to others who are struggling; one of the things that helped me the most was being able to be around people who were also struggling.

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

That it’s worth it. It might not necessarily get better quickly or right away, but there will be moments when you forget about all the bad things – even if just for a moment.

Don’t be ashamed. Your mental health isn’t a personal flaw, you’re just sick and now you have to get better.

Finally, try your *hardest* to be patient. Your life was never going to go according to your year-by-year plan, and a year of your life is only one of over eighty to come.

 

 

 

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

Rad Reads // The Sun And Her Flowers

Typing out this intro, I’m realizing it’s been a minute since I’ve posted on the blog. Life has been busy – in the best ways.

Life can get into a monotonous funk sometimes, I dread it. Sensing that, I truly feel like the universe has called a few new things into my life, to show me that there are new adventures waiting for me – I just have to have the courage to pursue that path without fear, without listening to my anxiety.

On the brink of all this positive change, I decided to treat myself to Rupi Kaur’s latest body of work, The Sun And Her Flowers. Having read Milk And Honey with an emotional connection so deep that I felt compelled to give it to every single woman I knew at their birthday, I knew I had to pick it up at the bookstore.

Excited to dive into her work, I started a bath, turned on my Anxiety Relief playlist and cracked open the first chapter.

Like turning the pages of my own heartbreak and emotion, Kaur is so authentic in her words that I felt myself intensely moved by her pain. By her ache, by her love for everyone and everything.

Beginning at Wilting and ending in Blooming, her symbolic meaning behind flowers is geared towards all the growth she has done.

Compelled to finish out her story, I stayed soaking in the tub until I read her last words. Pruning and wet in a now cold bath, my soul was on fire. I could feel her passion reaching out in every page – grabbing hold of my heart.

Milk And Honey was another collection I connected with, but this time around it was different. I had grown, and she had grown. It was like I knew her heart, and could understand the ways in which she had bloomed.

As I made waves with my body and soul in the bath, here are a few of the short poems I resonated with in The Sun And Her Flowers:

Wilting

Truly touching, this specific chapter was all about heartbreak. The gut wrenching pain that comes with the grief or loss. Of losing that someone, that connection. A few months back, I had my own heartbreak and while I am in a very different place emotionally, the words from this chapter still call to me.

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This particular poem really resonated with me. When I read the line, “love is figuring out all the kind sweetness we deserve,” I felt tears well up in my eyes. So eloquently strung together into a brief poem, Kaur perfectly explains that love doesn’t look like a certain person – it’s what we do.

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Damn, this one hurt. I won’t lie – this is exactly what I went through with my ex. When the breakup initially happened, I was so overwhelmed with grief that I found myself missing him each day. But, as time went on I asked myself – what exactly do I miss? The constant anxiety, insecurity and lack of communication or any emotion on his end? The foundation and connection I always thought was there was just a mirage. Only growth can open our eyes to these realizations.

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Again, this very short poem packs quite a punch. Speaking to my intuition, I’ve found – from both therapy and in life – that my body always somewhat knew my previous relationship would end. I experienced what my therapist called intuitional anxiety, which was where I thought the feelings were my anxiety going worse case scenario, but really it was my intuition warning me of events to come. After that, I’ve made a promise with myself to listen to that voice whenever she pops up – it’s time to start trusting my body.

Falling

Chalk full of little lessons in letting go and listening to anger, Kaur spends time speaking about the process of growth in this section. Most don’t quite realize just how long and grueling it can be to grow authentically. It’s lonely, scary and all consuming to change our minds completely. To unlearn. I appreciated the bursts of emotion throughout this chapter – good and bad.

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This was such an enlightening chapter for me. I haven’t ever felt part of a community before starting this blog and when reading this poem, I knew what coming home was. I’ve gotten much better at knowing when to let others help pick up the pieces, and when to trust and rely on myself for navigating the pain.

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Rooting 

An extremely personal, poetic chapter for Kaur, Rooting spoke directly to being a child of immigrants. While I do not know these feelings and emotions in my own life, I felt it was completely necessary to shed awareness and just to understand this life – to have empathy. I truly felt her pain and the sadness in wanting more for her mother while also loving the love her parents felt for each other.

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Rising 

Lifting herself with love, it’s clear this chapter centers around finding a new partner after heartbreak. In this stage of my own life, I really understood the lines from each of these poems. Having found a new sense of what she deserved, Kaur struggles with settling into a new person, and learning to let go of the old. Truer words have never been spoken. 

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Our fear anxiety tells us time and time again that it’s not only scary to start something new, but it’s too soon. Screw all those voices in your head – or toxic people – telling you that it’s too early for a new person, or a new experience. Only you know what works for you and in the end, don’t feel guilty for starting again, especially if it makes you whole.

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It’s as the person I’m currently seeing always tells me – never backward, always forward, always. While it’s a quote from Luke Cage, it still rings very true. I hadn’t prepared to fall into someone new right now, but it feels right and it’s my choice. It’s time for me to start making moments – not hiding from them.

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Learning all about someone new is exciting. Always so sure that the last one is “the one,” we find ourselves falling over and over again into different people. Each has a valuable life lesson. I truly believe that people come and go in life for important reasons. The people who are here right now are here not only because I want them to be, they are teaching me patience, understanding and how to cultivate my growth.

Blooming

Showing us women that it’s okay to heal and speak up at the same time, Kaur ends her second installment of poetry with a clear message of strength. The closer I got to the end, the more I felt a sense of closure. Empowered and fostering an enriched connection to all that I love about myself, Kaur’s words in this chapter – and all of the sections – brought about such an awakening for my soul.

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I’ve lost a good deal of people this year, but in all honesty – is it really a loss? When I find myself saddened by no longer having certain people in my life, I remember why I removed them to begin with. Give yourself to a few and to those few give heavily. Invest in the right people. This poem is currently on my fridge and I read it each morning when I wake up.

Do yourself a favor and get a copy of The Sun And Her Flowers. While I really believe that this collection benefits women, I wouldn’t say men can’t resonate with her words as well – or learn more about women from turning the pages. There are plenty of poems throughout the novel that apply to everyone – speaking to emotion, heartbreak, confusion, growth, and family.

It’s incredibly validating to pick up a work of art and know you’re not alone in your struggle. That all this painful growth has beauty. Beauty in the form of art and poetry. Thank you Rupi Kaur for reaching into your heart and showing us what love looks like on each page of The Sun And Her Flowers. I look forward to the next installment and seeing all your growth and success!

Have you read The Sun And Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur? Share what you thought of the poetry collection in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Maria Elena

With anorexia controlling every curve of her body, Maria would feel suicidal if she didn’t have the perfect weight. Fueled by the constant validation she received from being “skinny,” she eventually discovered that something was wrong.

Reaching out to counselors, family and close friends, she was met with comments that downplayed her pain and even congratulated her figure. Taking matters into her own hands, she decided to save herself with help from her boyfriend and close friends.

On a mission to love her body just the way it is, meet Maria Elena and read her story below.

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Name: Maria Elena

Age: 21

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?

Once I hit high school, I noticed I started to gain some weight. Anytime I would sit down, my stomach rolls would sit down at the top of my thighs, making me feel oddly uncomfortable. I felt worthless. I started to analyze the women around me, fawning after the skinny ones and fat shaming the not-so-skinny ones. If I wasn’t the skinniest girl in the room, I would feel suicidal. I kept pushing myself further and further until I could feel each and every bone in my body. 

My fuel wasn’t food, it was comments like, “How is your waist so small? Your figure is perfect! Omg, body goals. How did you lose so much weight? Ahhh you’re so tiny and cute!” That’s how my eating disorder developed. It wasn’t even affecting my every daily life…that’s an understatement. It WAS my everyday life. All I thought about was counting calories and my thinspos. It was my obsession.

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

Sadly, I never got professional help despite my desperate need for it. I talked to two school counselors, two doctors, several online chats / hotlines, quite a few friends, and even my family, but everyone downplayed my issues and sometimes even congratulated my figure. I had to take matters into my own hands. I’m not blaming anyone specifically for what happened; I’m blaming the diet-obsessed society that sees my past behavior as normal and even inspiring. I knew I had to save myself. Obviously, I did have some help along the way. Art, documentaries,  inspiring articles, and the support from my boyfriend and close friends.

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

Every now and then I’ll fall into anorexia nostalgia. It’s like, I’ll miss the attention or validation I got when I had an eating disorder. Or I’ll miss fitting into smaller clothes. I miss being seen as small, fragile, cute. I’ll miss the feeling of having complete control over my life. Honestly, it gets hard sometimes and I don’t think I’d be able to cope if society hasn’t changed as much as it did since I had an eating disorder. I live in a diverse city now and society has become more accepting of all body types. That’s what keeps me sane.

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

Empathy. Sooo much empathy. I can feel energies the moment I walk into a room. I can look at someone’s social media feed or talk to them for a few minutes and my heart will FEEL them. I have a hard time hating even my worst enemies because I know they might be dealing with some sort of pain and I don’t want to make them feel even half of what I once felt. People with mental illness are often portrayed as bullies, but I think it’s made me more considerate towards peoples’ feelings.

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

I know you think the world will end if you gain weight, but that is nothing but a lie. In the future, you won’t be skinny, but guess what? You will love yourself, so much. You will inspire thousands of people with your words. You will live in a huge city and still thrive. You will have someone that loves all of your rolls and curves more than you could even imagine. You will eat the best foods the world has to offer and you’ll enjoy every second of it. And you’ll still be beautiful. 

 

 

 

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

Post Therapy Thoughts // Fighting Fear

The thing about fear is that it consumes you. Wrapping it’s claws into your mind, it doesn’t let go until you’ve cut off the things you can’t control.

Last week, I had some pretty intense fear anxiety. With new situations popping up in my life, it can be easy to resort to the old way of dealing with anxiety. When I reached the middle of last week, I was so anxious that I broke down crying to a coworker, and quickly realized I needed to ask for help.

Texting my therapist for guidance, it was like the universe aligned. She had an opening that afternoon, so I took it and went into an unexpected session. It was hands down one of the most helpful sessions I’ve ever been in.

Heavy with fear, I sat down on the couch I’m so familiar with by now. Just making eye contact with my therapist at the start, I broke down into tears. She is my safe space, and I knew I could let it all out here.

I poured out all the feelings of anxiety that had been clinging to me all week, and when I was finished my therapist replied: That’s fear. 

She went on to tell me an acronym for fear. Heard of it? Well, you’re about to:

F – alse

E – vidence 

A – ppearing 

R – eal 

 

Fear is false evidence appearing real. It’s exactly what anxiety does to our minds when we are scared of uncertainty. We cannot control the outcome, so we create irrational scenarios that look and feel so, so real to us.

My therapist went on to say that fear is used to controlling us. She said the perfect description of how my own fear anxiety works:

“If fear can’t use anything new, it’ll grab the old ideas.”

Instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for something to go wrong – what if we threw our hands up and embraced what was new? 

My anxiety hated this idea. She’s a selfish, immature, controlling bitch with a serious attitude on breaking out of my old patterns. She reacts with defensiveness, fear, and doubt when challenged, but she is not Erica. And this is how my therapist showed me just that.

In a sort of therapy exercise, she had me speak as Anxiety Erica. In that time, she noticed that I was wavering in my voice – from crying – and my body language was very severe. Making rapid movements with my hands, and shifting in my seat uncomfortably, touching my neck and shoulders. That’s what my anxiety looks like. 

She then asked me to speak as what she called “my authentic self.” She said, speak as Erica. This wonderful hearted soul who you have spent so much time cultivating. And I did. Immediately, she told me she noticed a difference in my body language. My voice was calm, I sank into my seat and seemed very sure of myself. It was something very interesting and motivational to experience. I’ve come a long way, and it’s amazing to see how much of a difference there really is between my anxiety and who I’ve grown into as a person.

Lastly, she asked me where I felt my anxiety when I spoke during it and I immediately replied with my neck and shoulders. She said that we often carry our anxieties on our shoulders, and it’s a common place to feel in the body. It had been so tense that day because I was actively fighting my anxiety, my self critic.

She also asked where I felt it in my body when I spoke as my authentic self, and I couldn’t give her an answer, so she asked me to say a certain phrase again and pay attention this time to where I felt it. To be honest, I’ve never truly believed in things like this, and didn’t think I would feel anything anywhere. But, the moment I started to speak, I could feel a warm, emotional light right smack dab in the middle of my chest. Experiencing the moment together, she saw me realize this and it was magical. That was my authenticity. My soul, my fire. I’ve been kindling it for so long and now I can feel it.

For so long, the house that is my mind belonged to fear and my self critic. It’s time to give my authentic self a couple rooms to breathe. She needs to stretch her legs, watch some TV and claim that space. It’s been long enough. 

When we ended out the session, my therapist left me with a new way to maintain these fearful thoughts. She told me to let that critic self have her time with all the what ifs, and not controlling the outcome, but always end with my authentic self. What is she telling me? 

Right now, she is saying this crucial phrase:

I may not know what will happen, but I’m going to find out by letting myself be in the moment. 

 

While that may not be your specific phrase for your own personal life, take the time to make up a mantra for yourself to say after you’ve had your time to ruminate. The thing about fear is that it fades, if we no longer allow it to control our minds. 

Greet that fear anxiety with your authentic self and cast it away with courage, confidence and the ability to embrace the new.

 

Are you feeling the fear anxiety? Share your story in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Lauren

Suffering from GAD at a young age, Lauren went through the tough experience of having to self diagnose at only 14. With doctors who weren’t fully listening to her pain, her anxiety worsened.

Not being able to work for the past two years due to her anxiety, this strong soul refuses to let her mental illness win. Realizing a new love for photography and even starting to create a book, meet Lauren and read her story below.

 

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Name: Lauren

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 have been suffering with GAD from a very young age, however it started to get a lot worse when I turned 14. Depression has grown from this over the past two years. The first day of school in 2011 was when I realised something was very wrong, I felt extremely nauseous and had to be sent home. I then became too afraid to even leave the house, because the thought of going back to the place that made me so uncomfortable just wasn’t something I wanted to experience ever again. This continued for two more weeks until the teachers noticed a pattern in my absence, e.g leaving at the same time every week and not returning for the rest of the week. Eating became impossible because I felt so poorly and my whole routine was jumbled.

 

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

After self-diagnosing myself at 14 because none of the doctors I went to would listen, these anxiety flare ups would occur at least once a year but in a very intense way. This meant that I would spend 2-3 months each year fearing to leave the house, avoid experiencing fun events, my appetite would drop again and I’d lose weight, I even missed prom because I couldn’t imagine going when I felt so scared. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. It was only until I turned 18 and left college that I realised I desperately needed help.

I’d recently started a new job, which I was so excited for as I was finally starting a new life. However, shortly after I started, catching the train for 7 minutes became a chore for my brain and body. I would sit in the locker room before a shift trying to calm myself down with deep breathing and sips of water, yes I’d get through it but I would already be winding myself up for the next shift. Eventually, it got so bad that I wouldn’t even leave to go to a shift – I was too scared. Whenever I thought about work, I would have an anxiety attack. I couldn’t even go ten minutes down the road to see my best friend without panicking. This meant I had to leave my new job and seek medical help because I couldn’t physically function anymore. I was then put onto Citalopram and have been on it ever since, as well as FINALLY finding a doctor who listened to me and has helped me for two years now. I’m so thankful.

 

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

I still struggle a lot with my anxiety, especially when it comes to traveling or going to events such as concerts, etc. I look forward to when it’s over, instead of looking forward to it starting and experiencing it. I’ve not worked for two years, because my mental health is too unsteady for me to work comfortably at the moment. Going to town with a close friend, or going out for a meal with family can be a huge task for me as nausea and vomiting is a huge part of my anxiety attacks, so understandably I want to avoid that issue in public!

My weight has taken a huge hit, because I find eating difficult when I experience anxiety so I am now underweight. I struggle to maintain friendships and relationships with guys specifically because of a bad past experience, but I’m working on it! I use meditation as a way to cope, calm myself down and bring myself back to the present. Herbal remedies and essential oils are also something I use occasionally when I need a quick fix before going out. Breathing techniques are an obvious tool, but a good one at that! Another tool I use is a hard one, but an important one and that is making myself go to things, even when I really don’t want to.

 

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

It has benefited my life because I’ve experienced things and done things I never thought I would. For example, I’ve started doing photography again and created a project based on my mental health, which is now going to be a book! If someone told me I would have my own book at the age of 20, I would’ve laughed. I’ve met some incredible people who have inspired me immensely with their stories and have also become very good friends! It’s helped me learn what I do and don’t want in life, what friends to keep and who to move on from.

It’s given me the knowledge and strength it takes to get through life, as well as being able to help others which is something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s given me so much I can’t even list it all!

 

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

Just keep going. Simple, but powerful. It’s so easy to just give up and believe that things will never get better, but if we choose to believe this then that will be our biggest downfall! We won’t ever get better if we give up and give in to these illnesses. Even when you’re at your lowest, just remember what you’ve done and what you’re working towards. Who you’re doing this for and why. You can do this, because you’ve gotten this far and that hasn’t been easy. 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below (or send me an email!) and you might be featured on the blog! 

My Path To Purpose // Anxiety Erica Classroom Visit

Last week, I did something I didn’t think possible when I started this blog. I got the opportunity to speak with a group of eighth graders about my journey in finding my passion for writing and mental health.

When the wonderful teacher – who I believe these kids are beyond lucky to have mentoring them on a daily basis – contacted me through my blog, I’ll be honest: I was excited, but also very nervous. I was being asked to impart knowledge on young minds. Minds still being shaped by society, by everything around them.

Immediately, my anxiety started to feed off of this fear. The fear of being good enough. I had several different thoughts running through my mind:

What would I say?

Would I get my message across in the right way?

Would any of them even care?

 

Sitting with this feeling, I began to prepare for the presentation. I met with the teacher beforehand and it was such a privilege to see how she runs her classroom and all that she does to educate these students. She put me at ease for the entire process. Something that normally really helps to calm my anxiety is feeling ready, prepared. The mantra I can handle this, only tends to work for me when I have a plan.

This inspirational teacher lent a hand to that. Giving me an outline of how long I was going to be up front and center speaking, what I should touch on, and what aspects of my passion combined with anxiety I should focus on seriously helped me to center and get the creative juices flowing.

When the time came to type it all up, I found myself procrastinating. I waited a couple more days than I should have to get started. I talk about myself all the time, but actually putting it down knowing I would be telling my story to around 20 people was hard. I have some struggles that are difficult to talk about, and some that I really had to learn from. While they were awkward to bring up in front of a classroom, I’m glad I did. I was able to relate to them and show them that no one is perfect – it’s okay to be flawed. 

When the day came to speak in the classroom, I made the trip to the local middle school with my close friend in tow (shoutout to her for coming along and taking the awesome photos below!)

With my heart racing as we walked up to the classroom door, I knew this would be important. Young minds, I kept telling myself. They are impressionable, it’s crucial what we say to them. The teacher brought us inside the classroom and had us sit in the back until class started. Taking my notecards for the speech out, I fumbled with them. Twisting, folding, bending, I could feel the anxiety spreading.

To get focused and ready for the day, the teacher did an awesome little group circle with the kids where we all stood and said a great affirmation for the day, and then she would call out something like, “This week, I cried,” and if you actually cried, you would take one step into the circle. With others doing the same, it was a wonderful way to show young kids that it’s okay to share. It’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to do something positive.

After that activity ended, the teacher wasted no time in introducing me. As I made the short walk up to the front of the classroom, my palms were sweaty and I was red in the face, but I still survived. I stood up there and showed those kids my soul. My whole being. Good and bad, difficult and easy. 

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Taking them through the unknown of applying to colleges, the pressures of college, and then the unpredictable life after school, I made sure to stick with the message that no matter what they end up pursuing, they are good enough. There is a certain magic in finding your passion, and I’m lucky enough to have found my purpose already.

After I talked their ear off about my own life, we delved deeper into what anxiety is. I did an interactive exercise with them where I wrote “What Is Anxiety?” up on the board, and asked them to come up with a few situations that gives them anxious thoughts, or would make them feel overwhelmed.

This was the part I was extra anxious about. Middle schoolers aren’t exactly famous for their love of sharing, so I had this nightmare that I would be standing up there with the loudest crickets chirping in my ears. Boy, was I wrong. I got an overwhelming amount of kids wanting to share, so we had them come up and stick the post-it note of their situation on the board!

For the next exercise, they wrote down “How Do We Handle Anxiety?” This time, I gave them an example of how I handle my own anxiety, and then had them write down how they would maintain it. I got some fantastic answers – with some young girls even bringing up Mindful Minute – and so many of them willing to get up and stick their post-it on the whiteboard.

At the very end, I left them all with three positive affirmations I always tell myself:

 

 

Whether I’m waking up in the morning, driving to work, or laying down to go to bed, I never miss a moment of saying these mantras. I ended the presentation asking them to say the affirmations with me, and I was so, so touched at the energy that came from it. I felt like they truly believed it.

They wrote down different prompts and even created their own affirmations on what they learned and we had a little Q&A where they got to ask me any questions they wanted. Most were pretty straightforward, but a few had depth. I had one young girl ask me if I remembered the moment I knew I had to start therapy. Damn, kid. 

Once everything had wrapped up, the kids broke their focus. Gathering up their notebooks, cell phones, and backpacks, they made their way to the next class. I hoped that I made an impression on just one of them – that would be enough for me. It wasn’t until the teacher let me read some of their reflections that I realized I made more than one impact.

Check out a few of my personal favorites:

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Turning each page of these reflections solidified my love for all that I’m doing on this blog. While I may have days where I feel like no one is listening, or not enough people care – this day took that all away. It is beyond important how we speak to the younger generation about mental health. I feel very confident that this amazing group of young minds not only got my message – they are living it.

 

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Thank you to this inspirational teacher who everyday chooses to lead her students with empathy, kindness and awareness. I was honored to be part of your classroom.

 

 

Do you want me to speak at your local middle or high school about mental health or finding my passion? Email my blog or share in the comments for more! 

Anxiety Art // What’s The Title Of Your Anxiety Novel?

Words mean the world. Wanting to incorporate my love of literature into my next Anxiety Art series, I asked two incredibly talented souls this question:

If your anxiety was a book, what would be the title? 

 

A question near and dear to my heart, I had so much fun brainstorming and working with these wonderful women on beautifully authentic results. Whether you’re a fan of sci-fi, romance, YA or fantasy, check out these books that break the stigma:

 

Morgan Stinson 

Thankful she’s made her way back into my life, Morgan has always been the creative type. When she’s not kicking ass at roller derby or playing with her pup Blue, she bravely fights anxiety and depression. Rekindling her love of drawing, I asked her to draw the title of her anxiety novel, and here’s the horror genre she created!

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“When I get anxious or have an anxiety episode, I become paranoid. I overthink and irrationally react to every little thing, often pushing those closest to me away. My fears eat away at me like some unseen parasite inside my body, hoping to make an escape and wreak havoc upon my world. I become a whole other entity, and often wonder what had gotten into me after I’ve relaxed and have calmed down.

One of my favorite films is John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and I believe that if my anxiety were a book, it’d have a similar premise. A young woman is terrorized by an entity inside her that changes her into a hideous, grotesque, terrifying monster. The twist? Well I don’t want to spoil it for you, but she manages to develop a cure and overcomes the creature within! No matter how many times “The Thing” tries to take over, I always manage to wrangle it in before it’s done too much damage. I’m also getting better at preventing it from even appearing, and am proud to say that I am no longer afraid of the monster. I am at peace with it.”

 

Sanna

A truly talented Finland-based artist, Sanna expresses her creativity through pins, keychains and other adorable, yet stigma breaking, accessories. Before I asked her to be part of this series, I stumbled across her profile due to my growing obsession with pins. With the ability to customize her pins, she did me the immense honor of creating a few unique pieces for Anxiety Erica (here they are first because I will be showing these off any chance I get):

 

Aware of her serious skill, I then asked her to be part of Anxiety Art. Unsure on what she had created, she sent her piece over to me with signs of self doubt, but boy was she wrong – it’s so beautiful. Although some things aren’t always what we picture them to be, the end result can surprise us in ways we never expected. Sharing her story with mental illness publicly for the first time, here is Sanna’s art.

 

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“I’m Sanna, an almost 30-year-old who’s been battling mental illness for a good two thirds of my life. I had my first anxiety attack at the age of eleven. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed in my room and being consumed by an unnamed terror no child should ever have to experience. Cue almost twenty years later, I’m still battling the same demons, but now I can put names on most of them. 

I’ve learned that I’m highly sensitive, an empath, and how despite having two loving parents, certain things in my childhood (like my father’s illness and untimely death and being bullied in school) forced me to develop coping mechanisms that are hurtful now as an adult. Most of all, I’ve learned that recovery and getting to know who you really are isn’t linear, it’s a ~spiral~.

Hence the name I chose if I ever were to turn my life into a book. Even when I feel like it’s one step forward, two steps back, I know that I always learn something whenever I make even the slightest bit of progress. These days, I have a day job as a registered nurse (not something I wish to keep doing for the rest of my life, but it’ll do for now), but in my free time I make jewelry, pins and other knick-knacks for mental health awareness.

During my years fighting my own fight I’ve noticed the stigma of mental illness isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it’s still there, and I want to be a part of making it less so.”

 

 

Every time I do this series, I’m amazed at the raw, powerful beauty that artists can bring into the world with just a pen. Thank you so much to these awesome women for sharing their stories and creating work that will help others heal.

 

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

Beautiful As Ever // Love What’s There

Since starting this blog, I’ve discovered so many amazingly creative brands with a focus on mental health. It’s refreshing to see more and more people start to take it seriously, and talk about it. 

When I stumbled across Love What’s There on their Instagram, I loved their shirts, but really it was their name itself that caused me to pause. Love what’s there. It’s such a simple concept, yet so hard to actually achieve when it comes to mental illness.

Founded to encourage self love among the mentally ill, flaws and all, Love What’s There believes that sharing our stories – while crucial – can be emotionally draining and fraught with stigma. As a result, the brand decided to create shirts that spoke boldly for those with mental illness about the joy and pain that surrounds life.

Who’s behind Love What’s There? 

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This is such a wonderful story. George and Kitty – the husband and wife team behind Love What’s There – started their journey back in 2012. When they met and swapped stories with each other, they discovered they had something crucial in common: depression and mental illness.

Beginning a friendship that formed into a lasting relationship built on love, empathy and understanding, they made the leap to start a business together. After late night research and brainstorming, they developed powerful, authentic designs that warriors with mental illness would be proud to wear.

On a mission to encourage every soul struggling with mental illness to embrace who they are and practice acceptance, Love What’s There has a simple message: drop all those heavy expectations and just love yourself – and others – for what’s there.

The magical duo behind this bold brand was wonderful enough to send me one of their shirts, and I decided to go with the BAE: Beautiful As Ever message. While I don’t normally use the term bae – I’ve always thought it was kind of silly – I really loved this play on words with it.

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Mixed with the main message to just love what is there, I’m so excited to proudly wear this shirt as a reminder to every single soul that choosing ourselves and taking the time to love who we truly are is just that – beautiful as ever.

Committed to giving back, Love What’s There donates 10% of their profits to To Write Love On Her Arms. 

 

Loving this mental health inspired brand? Learn more about them at https://lovewhatsthere.com/

Works in Progress // Kimberly

Struggling with depression since she was just 12 years old, Kimberly quit her job of 13 years in a major episode of mania. It wasn’t until she spent time both in jail and a mental institution that the time had come to get help.

Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I, Kimberly has learned that sometimes family can be the company of close friends. Refusing to let the lack of family support stop her recovery, this brave woman inspires others through her work. Writing a novel entitled It’s My Life and I’ll Cry If I Want Too: The Diary of a Bipolar Woman. read Kimberly’s journey below. 

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Name: Kimberly

Age: 50

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?

My life was pretty up and down before I experienced mental health symptoms. I had a lot of mood swings and what I now know of manic behavior. However, I did manage to graduate from high school and I obtained a good job with the federal government as a civil service employee. I am a 50 year old African American woman and I have lived in San Diego, California most of my life. I experienced a lot of depression from the time I was 12 years old. I experienced mania that made me impulsive and sometimes reckless with my behavior. I quit my job of 13 years in a bout of mania and tried to take my life or self-harm on several occasions. I divorced twice and my life was in a state of chaos. When I finally went to the doctor, I was 28 years old. Initially, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and two years later, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I. 

 

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

I was quite happy to get the diagnoses, but I was confused and didn’t know what to expect in my life going forward. I took my medication as prescribed and managed to live for a few years symptom free. It took me many years to find my acceptance. It wasn’t until I spent five months in jail and one month in a state mental institution did I begin to accept my illness. However, in an intensive outpatient behavioral health program, I learned that I could find peace and a sense of normalcy in my life.

 

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

Recovery today is beautiful. I live a lifestyle that embraces recovery. I practice coping skills everyday through lots of things. I like to read and write and I use a lot of pet therapy with my two year old puppy Emma. I practice good eating and sleeping habits and I am an author today. Initially, my family was afraid of me and did not want anything to do with me because of my challenges. Fortunately, I had some good friends that only wanted to know how they could help. I embraced them and found a good support group.

 

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

One piece of advice that I’d give myself today would be not to allow a lack of family support to stop me. I learned the hard way that help and support is available in many forms. There are helplines, Outpatient Programs, support groups, doctors and nurses who have all helped me in my journey in one way or another.

It’s hard still for my community to accept a mental health diagnoses. Some of them don’t believe that it is legitimate. Most believe that I just need more of God and that he can heal me if I wanted him to. Despite this, I have worked diligently to educate my peers though community work. I currently speak for NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program and I am a recent author. The name of my book is It’s My Life and I’ll Cry If I Want Too: The Diary of a Bipolar Woman. I hope to inspire others to tell their stories and not to be ashamed of some of the things that come along with mental illness.

 

 

 

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