Works in Progress // Beata

Misdiagnosed with depression, Beata heard the words “bipolar disorder” for the first time in 2008. Finally given a name to her struggle in her thirties, she’s thrived on a detailed plan for mental strength and wellness.

Building a blog, Tickle My Mind, that shares her own journey – as well as the stories of others – Beata preaches a message of self care, support, and sustaining your goals.

 

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Name: Beata English (pronounced Bee-ah-ta)

Age: 44

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

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2008 and recently diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).  My first symptoms reared up in my teens. I spent a lot of time in my teens and early 20’s living the party life and living life on an emotional roller coaster. 

In 2008, I heard the word “bipolar disorder” for the very first time. I never felt more alone than I did in that moment sitting in my car outside my doctor’s surgery, looking down at my prescriptions with names I couldn’t pronounce, to treat an illness I had only ever heard bad things about. When the word bipolar was first mentioned to me as an illness, I immediately froze. I did not know anyone who had bipolar and my only experiences with the term had come from overly exaggerated and stigmatizing representations. In that moment I immediately rejected my diagnosis. I didn’t feel comfortable with it. 

I didn’t get properly diagnosed until I was in my thirties. I think I was late in getting diagnosed for a number of different reasons. My psychiatrist and doctor always refer to me being ‘high functioning’. Throughout my journey from undiagnosed teenager to diagnosed in my thirties, my mental health affected almost every area of my life. Education, career, my self-image. 

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

I was first misdiagnosed with depression only. I was prescribed anti-depressants to treat it and ended up suffering a severe manic episode. In most cases, prescribing anti-depressants only to a person who has bipolar disorder can trigger a manic episode. That was the moment the doctor realized it was more than only depression. Honestly, I did not know what it meant – but I learned pretty quickly. It meant I was very sick, that I was self-medicating an illness I had no idea I had, and that unless I sought and accepted treatment, my life would not be as happy and productive as I had planned or dreamed it would be.

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

Yes I still experience episodes, but these full-blown episodes are now very rare.  

I have created a mental wellness plan that helps keeps me stable and well. I’m constantly learning more about myself and my illness, and any new research – my plan is a living document that can be improved and refined when needed. 

My wellness plan did not get created overnight. It was a process of trial and error over a period of time. To be honest, it’s still a work in progress. Some of the things my plan includes is taking my medication as prescribed every day, visits to the GP, healthy eating, exercise, meditation, tracking and monitoring my triggers and mood, no alcohol or illegal drugs, a strict sleep routine, practicing self-care, gratitude and journaling. 

Positive psychology has also played a big part in my wellness strategy. Scientific research has shown that there are strategies and skills that allow you to navigate the challenges of life more effectively and enjoy life despite the upsets.  It may seem like a lot of hard work, and it is – but it does get easier. I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness and like any chronic illness, there are a number of lifestyle changes that need to be incorporated into your daily life. 

Another important thing that I need to mention – you can’t do this on your own. You need to reach out for help. Your friends, family, GP, mental health organizations – they are all there to support you. With the right combination of lifestyle changes, and medication, I have been able to manage my illness successfully. 

Preventing a relapse requires motivation, a commitment to your own health, discipline, structure, courage, and more importantly a belief that you can get better. Make yourself a priority.  Every battle with a mental illness is different, my message is, be patient. There will be setbacks, sometimes big ones, and possible relapses, but there will also be moments that take your breath away for all the right reasons. My motto is to hold on. It took me a while to learn this and that’s okay. Everyone is on their own journey moving at their own pace. Everyone will have their own ways of coping and their own ways of dealing with their illness – but please don’t be afraid to seek help, or to talk about how you feel.

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

I created Tickle My Mind, which is a place for me to write about my journey with mental illness and a place to empower as many people who have been touched by mental illness to live a healthy, happy, rewarding and balanced life. I am currently writing my first book, part memoir, part mental wellness guide and I’m studying a Diploma of Positive Psychology. I am also a Community Ambassador for RUOK? Day. 

I now find happiness in writing, a pastime I never thought I would be doing. I love spending time writing and promoting mental health awareness. Tickle My Mind is a place I share stories, lessons and tools that helped me to succeed, become well and to continue to stay well. Now, I advocate mental health wellness and I hope the things that I have to share will help someone else – somewhere along their journey. One thing I know for sure – it truly is possible to live a happy, meaningful and productive life despite what it throws in our path.

Without my mental illness, I doubt I would have become the strong, determined person I am today. I have learned to be non-judgmental and I have developed a strong burning desire to help others. I met my husband and soulmate, who is the single most joyful and important thing in my life.

Would I feel so deeply? Would I make the most of every happy day and squeeze as much into them as possible, the way I do now? Would I have created Tickle My Mind and studied Positive Psychology, which means the world to me without the experiences I have had to inspire me?  Would I have learned who my true friends and family are, those who have stood by me no matter what and who make my life so blessed and fulfilled? Would I be the person I am today, who I am so proud to be, without all of those experiences and without my bipolar disorder? I don’t believe any of those things would have happened without my illness. I don’t believe that I would be the person I am today, without what I have been through.  

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

I want to be honest, and say that managing bipolar disorder isn’t easy.  At times you may feel defeated, find yourself discouraged, and want to stop treatment. Every time I feel that way, I need to remind my that my brain isn’t functioning properly. I don’t resent having bipolar disorder, it’s part of the person I have become. I made sure that I continued to reach out to my friends and loved ones for support. 

Looking after myself or self-care, is important in helping me stay at the top of my physical, emotional and mental well-being. When things are getting a bit tough, it becomes so important for me to take good care of myself.  Whether it’s a stressful period at work or home, taking time to focus on self-care is essential to my well-being. Self-care helps me function at a higher level, and feeling good enables me to take on life’s challenges.

 

 

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

3 Ways To Embrace Uncertainty

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase – the only certainty is that nothing is certain. In life, we come face to face with uncertainty on a daily basis. Whether it’s not knowing the outcome of a romantic relationship when it’s hit rocky terrain or feeling unsure about the stability of your job, the “not knowing” makes us uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. 

But you know what comes from being uncomfortable? You guessed it – growth. Before I started my own journey with therapy, I had a very hard time with this. Uncertainty and change were swear words to me, I didn’t embrace the idea – I either ran from it or ruminated to the point of exhaustion.

Anything from not knowing the outcome of a job interview, test, paper, or even not hearing back from a person about plans made would send me into a toxic cycle of obsessive thoughts and crippling anxiety. It was only through speaking with my therapist that I’ve come to this realization: Uncertainty is a natural part of life…and it can be a positive. 

It’s all in how you think about it. Then again, that’s usually the case with most situations. Like I always say, how you think moment to moment matters. This is no different.

I think the hardest part about dealing with uncertainty is the attachment we give to any specific outcome. When an event or situation has a genuine significance to us, it’s almost a knee jerk reaction to get comfortable with one way things could turn out.

While many attempt to control or avoid it, let’s talk about some ways we can embrace uncertainty and learn to tolerate it.

Cut off the control

When things don’t go our way, or have the potential not to, what’s the first thing anxiety holds onto? Control.

Through uncertainty, we learn that control is tricky. While we cannot control the situation or others – how they react or feel to certain situations – we can control ourselves.

Take control of your language and the words, thoughts you use. Negative talk is not going to help you grow through an uncomfortable situation. Thinking thoughts like, “I’m just going to fail,” “This is killing me,” or “Worst day ever,” are just fueling your negative automatic thought spiral. Instead, get in the driver’s seat of your own mind. Control the questions you ask yourself:

“Why is this happening?” 

“How can this be a good thing?”

“What can I do – or think – to help my situation?”

 

This is known as cognitive restructuring – a very powerful way to get more comfortable with uncertainty. When we no longer blindly accept the automatic negative thoughts that have come so easily in the past, we are developing the skills to battle them.

Another example would be if the thought, “I can’t handle this uncertainty” goes through your mind, challenge it with “Uncertainty is less than ideal, but I accept it and I can handle whatever comes my way.”

Your inner monologue is really the only thing you can truly control in an event of uncertainty.

See the future as open, not empty 

When the unknowns in life are looming like a dark cloud, it can be so easy for our minds to go straight to the negative. Whether you are just graduating college and starting out in the “real” world, experiencing a breakup, or any other form of change you don’t have a handle on, do not allow yourself to see the future as a wasteland.

Interpret the future as open, not empty. While we may think worse case scenario, there are endless possibilities waiting in the unknown, and that is kind of exciting. From one door closing, or an event ending a chapter of your life, something bigger might be just around the corner – it’s all how you perceive it.

Get some extra support

Dealing with uncertainty is tough and while our normal support system can be comforting – sometimes you need a little extra help.

My own therapist has some great tools and mantras for me when uncertainty crowds my thoughts. She suggested repeating the Serenity Prayer to myself in times of high anxiety during change, or uncertainty. While I am not religious, when taken in an empowering way, this prayer can be helpful (this is a section of the prayer, not the entire thing):

“Grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.”

You can even write it down. Create a list of what you believe is in your control and take action with those activities, if you need to do something to ease your anxiety. Also, make a list of what you cannot control, and visualize yourself handing it off to whatever you deem a higher power – or just releasing it. It doesn’t have to be handing off. For me, I visualize writing the list and then just actively letting it go. Allowing it to float away, into the sky. It’s calming and empowering to let go. 

That extra support doesn’t always have to be a therapist though. While I lean on my therapist in trying times, I also have researched and found other, smaller ways to ease my anxiety. One of those is Simple Habit. A guided meditation app with exercises tailored for any kind of situation, I have a specific session I always find myself going back to when I’m high anxiety. It’s called Dealing With Failure and one of the mantras that they have you repeat goes like this:

“I do not have to be perfect and I learn from situations that have outcomes other than what I anticipated.” 

Whenever I find myself anxious from an outcome I didn’t envision, I repeat this to myself over and over again, until the reality of the statement overpowers my irrational thoughts. We can learn from uncertainty and change, if we chose to.

 

Uncertainty is inevitable. No matter how hard we may try, controlling it doesn’t work – and can even make our anxiety even worse. Change or “not knowing” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or something to wish away. It’s merely calling on us to practice acceptance, learn healthy control, and let go of created expectations.

 

 

Do you struggle with uncertainty? Share your story in the comments below! 

 

Why Words Hurt // Philip’s Story

Stories of being bullied are never easy, but this one is important to tell. I was approached by the wonderful, sweet Philip to share his story on the power of words.

With this blog, I’ve always preached the power of words in a positive way, but there is always another side to every story. Sometimes they can hurt. More recently, I’ve realized just how easily words can pierce not only the heart, but the mind, soul, and entire being. From reading Philip’s story, I can safely say I know more about the effects of bullying and that I’m not at all shocked by his newfound strength – he’s a force to be reckoned with.

As soon as Philip stepped on his college campus, he was judged – and eventually bullied – for being different. Living with autism, he suffered for years at the hands of others who put him down for something beyond his control. It was the support and love of a best friend that got him through it all, and now he’s taken to his blog to tell everyone just how much words can hurt.

Read Philip’s story below.

 

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Imagine being picked on for no other reason than someone doesn’t like you. For victims of bullying, this is exactly how it is. I know because I was bullied for being different.

The bullying started in middle school. I was picked on because I was apparently “too smart,” and I did not have a lot of friends. I thought that by going to a different high school, I could start over. I was wrong.

I was bullied again in high school. Instead of verbal bullying, people pushed me down stairs and threw water bottles at me. I did not know what I had done to deserve this. It was taking a toll on me, but I pushed through.

When I started college at Valparaiso University in August 2008, I thought that the bullying was finally over. I was wrong again. It started out with kids drawing stuff on my whiteboard outside my dorm room. Instead of nice drawings, it was vulgar images. I honestly did not think that much of it since it didn’t really bother me. As time went on, the bullying got worse and affected my academic performance.

By May 2010, my grade point average was below a 2.0 and I was put on academic probation. I also took more credit hours than I could effectively handle. By September 2010 and the beginning of my third year, the bullying became hell. I had people prank-calling me, calling me just about every name you can think of, spreading false rumors about me, and leaving anonymous voice messages telling me how I was just a freak and deserved to be bullied. It got so bad that by October, I contemplated taking my life. The reason I didn’t was because of a girl who not only became my best friend but was an angel in disguise. She stuck with me throughout the entire ordeal and never once left my side.

As the semester dragged on, my grades suffered heavily and I was even afraid to show my face around campus. I stayed in my dorm room and only showed my face when it was absolutely necessary. There were times that I skipped class because I was afraid of being bullied and harassed by my classmates. Things only got worse. At the end of the semester, my grades were so bad that I was suspended. Now I got to spend all of 2011 at the local community college. I felt like I had let everyone, including my best friend, down. That was about the lowest I had ever felt in my life. I suffered through severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and bouts of feeling like no one cared about me.

I had to take it upon myself to stay strong and push through the relentless torment and harassment. I felt completely alone and worthless. The more I tried to get help from the administration at Valparaiso University, the more I was pushed away. It was like nobody cared that I was being relentlessly bullied.

If it wasn’t for my best friend that I met over lunch one day, I never would have pushed through and gotten my degree from Valparaiso University. As soon as I told her my story, she was appalled that anyone would bully me. She saw me not as an outcast, but someone who was trying to fit in.

When I found out I was suspended, she stuck with me and helped me to regain my self-confidence. When I came back in January 2012 and continued to be cyber-bullied, I knew I could go to my best friend and tell her what was going on. Not once did she treat me like an outcast or creep.

When it came time for me to graduate in December 2014, I knew that she was going to be invited. What I was not expecting was a card telling me how I proved her wrong and how our friendship would never die. My favorite part of the hand-written note was a quote that said “I have never been more excited to have been proven wrong. You are the epitome of hard work and success and I am so proud to call you a friend. Continue to dream and you will always be successful.” She was so proud of me for not giving up and working toward getting my degree. To this day, we are still good friends.

Bullying can affect anyone. The saying that sticks and stones can break bones, but words will never hurt is not true at all. Words hurt. They hurt me. The names I was called have left emotional scars that will never fully heal. If you can’t say something nice, do not say it at all. Is it really that difficult to treat someone with respect and kindness? It must be since those who are different will be forced to know how they can’t be normal.

Cyber-bullying is far too common today. Victims are made to feel so worthless that taking their own life is the only way to end the pain and suffering. How many more lives will be lost to bullying before something is done? How many more victims will have to suffer in silence?

I still suffer from nightmares and flashbacks because of the bullying I endured during college. There were days that I actually avoided going to class in college because I felt like such a freak. I felt no one cared or even wanted to help me recover. The only person I had at the time to confide in was my best friend. I can tell you from personal experience that it is not funny at all to bully someone. Some states even have laws that state if a person makes a victim commit suicide by bullying, the consequences can be harsh.

What’s worse is that many schools claim to have an anti-bullying policy in place, yet don’t do anything when victims speak out. This is not right. Victims should not have to suffer and feel nobody is there for them. It’s no wonder suicide rates are so high when it comes to victims of bullying.

It’s time that we take a stand and put an end to bullying for good.

 

To read more about Philip and his journey, head to his blog at http://philipfeldwisch.blogspot.com/.  

Do you have a topic you’re passionate about surrounding mental health? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Elly

Trigger warning: There is mention of suicide in this post. 

Battling severe anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder, Elly started out living the life she thought was normal. It was only after several self harm episodes and near death experiences that she looked within and made the decision to attend therapy.

With the introduction of DBT therapy, self care, and saying no to things that didn’t benefit her life, this beautiful soul has come home to herself. Preaching a strong message that each person should fight for themselves, meet Elly.

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Name: Elly Melo

Age: 29

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

I was diagnosed in 2015 with Borderline Personality Disorder. To be honest, I noticed that something was different with me when I was 14/15; I felt like the odd one out. At the age of 16, a teacher suggested I go to a counsellor in order to get help for my anxiety around exam time. However, I struggled to keep up with my sessions and stopped going after only a couple of sessions. But I managed to force myself to keep doing the things that everyone else was doing; I finished college, I went to uni, I went into a job related to my degree. 

Unfortunately, I was living a life that others wanted; thus one I really didn’t want or value. At the age of 24, I broke down and was diagnosed with severe Depression and severe Anxiety. It wasn’t until many more breakdowns, near death experiences and self harm episodes that I was finally sent to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder.

 

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

I came too close to succeeding with a suicide attempt. I had been in the NHS mental health system for years by this point, and found my NHS experience was very invalidating and the “professionals” I was seeing, were actually making me feel worse. 

After one particularly bad episode, I agreed with my mum that I would seek private therapy. My mum then helped me apply for ESA and PIP, and with that money I am now paying for private DBT. I have been seeing my current therapist for just over a year now; since May 2016, and she has changed my life. I would recommend this type of therapy to anyone with Borderline Personality Disorder. However, please do go through the hard work of finding a therapist you like and feel comfortable with, finding a therapist for you is extremely important. Without that connection, I’m not sure I’d be where I am now; I’m improving slowly, but I am in a very different place to a year ago. In a good way!

 

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

My moods change a lot throughout the day, and they are very intense! I wake up feeling like one person, and by night time I have been at least six different people. I hear voices; good ones and mean ones. I have hallucinations and delusions. I can become very paranoid. My anxiety is still quite bad, and it stops me from doing a lot. My depression really affects me too. I also get manic episodes, and sometimes can experience mania and depression at the same time – it’s a special kind of torture. But, my therapist and psychiatrist (also private now, as the NHS let me down too many times) have really helped me, and continue to do so; I have found a good combination of medications and my therapist has taught me many tools and techniques (such as new/different ways of thinking, setting boundaries, identifying my values, talking about how I’m feeling and asking for help when I need it, and taking care of myself in general – self care has been key!) which I use every day, and they actually work. 

For now, I’m focusing on recovery. I’m not working on anything other than myself, I live with my mum, and use my disability allowance for specialist treatments, such a DBT and other psychiatric support. I am hoping that in a couple of years, I’ll be in a better place and managing a more independent life. I have hope now, which really has been key to keeping me alive and working hard on my recovery.

 

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

I have learned more now, than ever before. It’s been kind of a rude awakening; it’s painful and so hard, but it’s woken me up to life; MY life. Now I try to live for me, and I am more open and honest about how I feel and what I need. I try to live in the moment and be mindful, I have learned to breathe and say “no” to anything that doesn’t contribute to my healing, and “yes” to the things that do help me.

I’m coming home to myself, and it is difficult but it is so amazing. I’m looking forward to my future now. Don’t get me wrong, I still go through relapses and suicidal thoughts are a daily thing. The struggle is real. But I believe in myself now. 

Most important of all, I have met the most amazing people, thanks to my illness. It really seems that your vibe really does attract your tribe! And I’m so grateful for the co-warriors in my life. 

My illness has taught me that I don’t want to be another zombie on the capitalism race, I want to help others and live a more meaningful life, a life that’s more me. I finally have my own values and have set boundaries, things that I wasn’t aware of prior to my breakdowns. 

 

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

ASK FOR HELP! Fight for it, tell those you love and trust that you are struggling; be thorough and do your best to get them to understand you. It’s not easy, but eventually it helps a lot. And you’ll be surprised how many “me too” moments you have, with new friends and with old ones. 

Fight for you, it is the hardest and most amazing thing you will ever do. Identify your values and set boundaries, you’re the only one walking in your shoes and following your path. Nobody else understands who you are and what you want, only you. You can have people who help, love and support you, but it is your journey. You decide what works and how you want to do this thing called life.

 

 

 

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

Anxiety Erica // 1K Giveaway!

When I published my first post on this blog, I really didn’t think it would get much attention. I started this blog to heal myself through the power of words, and if others related, awesome. Watching this blog grow from four to five followers (who were technically family, friends and amazingly supportive coworkers) to the popularity it’s receiving now is more than rewarding.

It’s scary, exciting, thrilling, and motivating. Some days I want to write for hours and hours, while others I feel nauseous at the thought of it. What I do know is that I truly love this community. I knew of it when I began, but I didn’t fully understand the love that surrounded it. Unconditional love, support, and safety. A safe space where I can share my heart and feelings without judgement. Therapy is my sanctuary, but this mental health community is where I thrive. It’s where I turn to on my worst days for support – you are my home. In the last few weeks, I’ve had some rough family issues and more than anything else, you all have felt more like family than my own. Thank you for listening, for encouraging, and for just being there. 

While a “thank you” in words has power, I wanted to do more than that. Since I recently hit over 1,000 followers on my Instagram – you can’t see but I’m doing a happy dance while typing that – I thought I would host a giveaway! I so appreciate all that you do, so here are the details on what you can get, and how to get it:

What are the rules? 

While you can head to my Instagram to see all the details, here are the rules for entering this super cool giveaway:

  • Like the post 
  • Subscribe to my blog (tap the link in my profile + and click the “Follow” button) 
  • Follow @anxietyerica, as well as the Instagram accounts of the brands and artists included in the giveaway (@the_eudaimonic, @moodboosterjournal, @wisteriafoxshop
  • Lastly, comment on the post with one reason you decided to follow my blog or Instagram page! 

That’s it! If you do all those things, you’ll be entered to win – but what are you winning? I won’t lie, these brands and products aren’t just close to my heart, they are so, so cool. Check it out:

What will you win? 

 

Wisteria Fox  // “Wild Spirit” Bath Bomb

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I wrote about this awesome essential in my previous post on Wisteria Fox, but seriously – these bath bombs are…well, the bomb: 

“Scented with lemongrass essential oil and topped with dried lavender buds, this bath bomb is the perfect recipe for a Saturday night in. Notes of eucalyptus and spearmint are included for the utmost of relaxation.”

 

The Eudaimonic // Stickers + Pins 

 

A truly talented artist and supporter in the mental health community, I adore Jessica from The Eudaimonic! I have both her pins and stickers and can honestly say, when I wear them, I feel empowered. Give her page a follow, and even buy her art – it’s a $1 off right now with the discount code SUMMERSASSLet’s all be sassy and sensitive together! 

 

Mood Booster Journal 

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I came across this wonderful, insightful journal on my Instagram feed and boy am I glad I found it. Run by a boss babe, this mental health resource is filled with inspirational, positive writing exercises and prompts to help you stay on track with your thoughts. As an added bonus, there is a section for notes as well as a full planner at the back!

 

Well, there you have it. Head over to my Instagram page and enter my 1K giveaway for your chance to get these mental health goodies! Hurry though, I will stop accepting comments and submissions on Friday, August 18th.

 

Do you want to win these mental health goodies? Check out my Instagram for more details! 

Works in Progress // Kelsey

Diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when she was just five or six years old, Kelsey also lives with OCD and GAD. Surrounded by constant triggers and fears, this beautiful, brave soul made the leap into therapy – it was the best decision she ever made. 

Inspired by her Instagram account and her own therapist, Kim, she realized her true calling lies in helping others heal. Now a psychology major, she plans on getting her masters and becoming a licensed therapist.

Paving her own path through multiple mental illnesses, read about Kelsey’s journey below.

 

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Name: Kelsey

Age: 24

 

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 suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’ve had OCD for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when I was around five or six. It’s a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements. What it feels like is similar to OCD, I would have an urge to make a certain movement and the anxiety would just build and build until I did it, and then the relief came instantly. I still struggle with this but it much more minor now. I believe I developed OCD from the TS. It is very common for people who have TS to also develop OCD. I remember having problems with numbers, specifically the number 6. I had a counting compulsion and if I ever thought that the number I stopped on related to the number 6, I would have to start over. I had a huge problem with germs, it’s better now but I still have a contamination issue. I also had an intense fear of seeing other peoples vomit, which is a quite common phobia of OCD sufferers. I remember constantly saying the word “no” every so often in my head just in case there was some evil force listening to my thoughts and in case they were going to ask me to do something terrible without me knowing, I knew that I was always saying “no” to whatever voice that I believed was in my head.

I was, and still am, afraid that something bad will happen to someone if I just simply say that something bad is going to happen to them. I have also always had a tapping compulsion. Also intrusive, obsessive thoughts that I cannot turn off is a huge struggle for me still to this day. Disturbing thoughts and imaginations pop up in my head sometimes without control. I am continuing to get my OCD under control, I have had much improvement with therapy. The GAD I believe stemmed from the OCD. I am medicated for that, but along with the OCD, it is something that I will have for the rest of my life which is fine by me. As long as I stay medicated and continue with therapy, my condition can always be much worse, so I am thankful that I have learned how to cope so that I can no longer let it control me or interfere with my everyday life.

  

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

I was in one of the darkest periods of my life. It started fall of 2013 and finally ended summer of 2014. I was in my third year of community college with no direction. In my last semester there, I dropped each class one by one and finally decided to drop out in January 2014. I was no longer in school, had no job, and looking for a job gave me intense anxiety so I was unsuccessful in keeping one. I had started and quit three different jobs within the time span of three months due to anxiety attacks. Once my mom witnessed one for the first time, she took me in to see my PCP. He prescribed me Lexapro to take daily, and Xanax as needed.

Within the next month or two, my head felt like it was screwed on straight and I decided to go back to school. It was a tech school, so I only took the needed classes for the subject and it only took me a year. A whole year after that, I was done working at the horrible office I was in and got a new job, the one I have currently been at for exactly one year now. The process of getting a new job put a huge dent in my mental health. I was anxious 24/7, I had to take Xanax more often, I was a complete mess. I carried on and finally, after still suffering with the worsening GAD decided to see a therapist. I have now been seeing her since October of 2016. Not long after I started seeing her, we decided that the Lexapro was no longer having an effect on me and I went to my PCP to see if she had any opinions. She switched me to Effexor, which is a SSNRI as opposed to a SSRI. This switched worked a little but a few panic attacks later we upped my dose and ever since I finally feel like for the first time in my life my brain has the right amount of Serotonin and Norepinephrine to keep me at a reasonably calm level on a daily basis, and with the help of my therapist, I am at the best place in my mental health that I’ve ever been.

  

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

As I said, I have improved a tremendous amount at this point in my life. The medication simply fixed a chemical imbalance that I was born with. It runs in my family, (the women on my mom’s side struggle with depression, my mom is also on Effexor, my sister struggles with OCD and GAD as well and is also medicated and in therapy), so I am very grateful for the simple fix that is anti-depressants. As for therapy, it has completely transformed my life. My lovely therapist, Kim, tells me at every session just how much she has seen me improve and she, along with myself, is very proud of me and the amount of work I have done.

We have learned many DBT tricks, and also have done quite a bit of CBT.  At the moment, my GAD is under control with the help of the meds, DBT, and CBT I have done. We are primarily working on OCD at the moment. We have done a lot of exposure therapy which is very difficult but once you get through the tough parts, it gets easier and easier. I have so far gotten rid of three compulsions! I still have quite a way to go, but I have come such a long way.

  

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

It has helped me see the world in a way that I never would have if I never had mental illness. As horrible as it has been for me, I am grateful for it. Not only has it shaped me as the strong, brave woman that I am today, but it has also led me to the new career path that I have recently started on. I have decided to become a therapist myself. Kim and I came to the conclusion early on in meeting with each other that I am not fulfilled enough in my life with the career I am in. I do like medical assisting, but it is not something that I would be happy doing for the rest of my life. In one of our first couple of sessions we got to the root of what I truly want in my life: to help people like me.

 I will be finishing my first two classes next week. I am now a psychology major and my long term goal is to get my masters and become a licensed therapist myself. It is currently fueling my life and I am so freaking excited about my future! Which that alone excites me because I have never been able to say that before. It has also lead me to this wonderful community that I have found on Instagram. I’ve been on it for a year and a half now and it has been so healing for me. I get inspired every time I go on and see so many strong people in recovery and all of the people spreading positivity and love to one another.

 

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

Stay strong. Be brave. Focus on taking care of yourself first. As bad as it may seem right now, it will get better. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be impossible to see right now, it may take a long time, but you will get there eventually.

 Hold on and never give up. Your mental health comes first, don’t worry about where you’re headed, the universe will put you exactly where you need to be at exactly the time you are supposed to be there. Trust the process!

 

 

 

 

 

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

Anxiety Art // What’s Your Superpower?

With my blog, it’s become so clear what the power of words can accomplish. While I view myself as a skilled writer, I’m not much of an artist. I can draw a mean stick figure, though.

I’ve been falling in love with the different artists that have taken to Instagram and social media to express their versions of mental illness through art. I really wanted to share these unique, specific stories on the blog so I reached out to two beautiful, bold souls to kick off the beginning of a new project.

Vulnerable, vibrant and brimming with creativity, Alexia and Jessica are two women who understand the power of sharing their journey.

In the first ever installment of my new series – Anxiety Art – I decided to ask these two artists one important question:

What’s your anxiety superpower? 

 

The first piece is from someone I’m proud to call a friend. Attending the same college, I was always stunned by Alexia’s brazen, yet beautiful personality. A truly unique soul with scary fantastic talent, here is her submission:

Alexia Markopoulos

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“Fart Woman has a new super power: honing her own anxieties and shooting them at her enemies. Tripping out about the future and racing thoughts melt their brains – I am Fart Woman. Not only does Fart Woman have electric shock hair, plutonium heels, and poisonous farts, she has the ability to embrace her anxiety and use it to save the world.” 

 

The second submission is from a sassy and sensitive soul – Jessica Ferhadson. Using art therapy for her own mental health, Jessica is a Psychology BA Studio Art Minor. Selling handcrafted stickers and pins on her Etsy store, she isn’t just surviving through her mental illness – she’s thriving. Check out her beautiful submission:

Jessica Ferhadson

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“My superpower is the ability to combat my mind. Whether it be through calming my mind, talking down my paranoia, or not taking things to personally – this is a superpower that helps me get through each day. Getting sudden waves of stress or overthinking certain issues is rough, but with the power of my mind, I am able to recognize when I am overreacting and when to just take a deep breath.

Your mind is powerful, sometimes that can be negative. It’s how we counteract the negative with the positive that is important to focus on. Focusing on the negative and ruminating is much easier than focusing on the positive. So having the ability to fight the negative and visa versa is hard, but strong. Being in a constant battle with your mind is difficult, but sometimes can be productive and lead to self-awareness. It is a superpower I wish I didn’t have to have, but proud to carry with me.”

 

I’m so honored to have these powerful pieces of art living on my blog and to be able to show all of you just how extraordinary these women are – and how their art helps to fight the stigma of mental illness.

 

 

Are you an artist who would like to be part of my Anxiety Art series? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

 

Post Therapy Thoughts // How To Handle Bullies

It’s been a rough two weeks for me, but therapy always manages to make me feel validated and stronger than ever. Today was triggering for a number of reasons and the minute I sat down on that couch, I let it all out.

Several situations occurred today and over the weekend that led to a deeper discussion with my therapist on bullying. Emotional bullies are toxic – they want to hurt. 

When I got into more detail on the situation, my therapist began to describe the defining characteristics of what a bully normally looks like. Realizing that we can never actually win with a bully, she validated my hurt feelings and told me this:

“A bully has this blaring dynamic that whatever they do, they project onto others.”

Simply meaning, their own issues are unleashed onto others in the form of shame, anger, and guilt. Remember – hurt people hurt people. Here are a few other qualities to spot in a bully:

They insult character, not behavior 

This took a little explaining, but my therapist gave me an example. If someone insults your behavior, they would say something along the lines of, “You leave your clothes everywhere, it’s so annoying.” When someone insults your character, they would say, “You’re such a slob.” Spot the difference. 

They live for a reaction 

I’m sure you’ve been told this before, but bullies are fueled by a reaction. No matter the emotion – guilt, shame, fear, anger. They live for something, anything that results from the constant poking and engaging others.

My therapist went on to tell me that a bully is a lot like spaghetti – hang in there, it’ll make sense. They are messy – not unlike the pasta dish – and with each noodle they feed you, you must pick it up, see it, and simply put it back down. This can be equated to darts as well. They throw darts at you, but you must stop, see it, and not let it pierce you. Do not engage. 

Before we went into the tools on healthy ways to handle a bully, my therapist – once again – perfectly worded my own situation, and exactly the definition of someone with bullying tendencies:

“They try to get as many people as angry as they are so they can release that volatile anger in a justifiable way.”

Ding, ding ding! These words were like an alarm ringing so loudly in my mind. Not only did it validate my own feelings, I began to see things as they really were. I was a target. 

I happened to be a target, and when I no longer engaged, the bully found others to latch onto. Bullies don’t just invade your space. They invade your thoughts, your self worth, and your energy. We must not allow this. 

Stressing this section of the session as the highest importance, my therapist taught me a few tips on how to stick up to a bully, and keep your mental health a priority.

Disengage 

Disengaging is a healthy boundary for a bully. Like I previously stated, they live for a reaction, it fuels their fire. While most people might say it’s better to stick up for yourself or confront the bully, that’s not always the healthy decision.

It’s not cowardly to disengage or meant to be seen as shrinking – you are choosing not to give into the poking and there is a power in that. 

Establish boundaries

Having healthy boundaries is an essential part of so many relationships. Disengaging is a healthy boundary, as well as standing in your own truth. My therapist made up a mantra for me when I’m feeling the guilt and shame that can come with creating these boundaries:

I’m choosing not to be around you because you’re mean. 

While it might seem a little simple, that is my personal mantra based on my own experience. Modified, it can be helpful for any kind of situation you may find yourself in with a bully. Don’t beat yourself up for building boundaries – protect your heart.

Clarify your truth 

Bullies like to create stories. Big, grand stories that sometimes can be triggering for the person who actually experienced the truth. When we are confronted with exaggeration in a bully, it’s crucial to clarify our intentions and move on. Because in the end, we can only control our own reactions, not anyone else’s. Stand tall in your truth and you won’t need to react. 

Don’t believe the bully 

Wanna know how bullies thrive? By picking away at your self esteem. Something that you already view as a negative, or a flaw in yourself – they will find it and use that. Those unhealthy triggers linked to self worth, guilt, and confidence are waiting to be chipped and chipped until all that’s left is I’m not good enough. And when you reach that thought, they’ve won.

Please, please. Don’t give into that thought process and let a bully beat you down. Know your worth, and realize they are not living in reality. 

 

My therapist ended our session today by telling me that I deserve a trophy for effectively handling all the triggers that have come my way in the past few weeks. I won’t lie, I almost want to have that trophy made for myself. Jokes aside, I truly am proud of myself for how I’ve been handling these situations. Triggers are never easy, but with therapy and finding the right tools to navigate through them, I’ve been able to sit with my emotions and tell my anxiety to take a backseat.

I feel empowered. Right now, at this stage in my life I’m truly beginning to make decisions for me. My mental health. My heart. My emotions. My life. 

If you find yourself having to handle a bully – battle them with your truth. You are worth more than the words of someone weaker. 

 

 

Have you dealt with a bully before? Share your story in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Elliott

Suffering from multiple, severe mental illnesses since the age of 16, Elliott’s life has been a constant cycle of instability, chaos, and breakdowns. Locked up in a ward four times, it was only when he hit rock bottom that he made the decision to start attending DBT therapy.

Applying the skills he’s learned from DBT therapy to his everyday life, Elliott fights to have a fulfilling life – despite his mental illness.

 

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Name: Elliott Smith

Age: 47


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?

July 17th of this year is my 47th birthday. The first time I remember being diagnosed was 1986 – I was 16. I was suffering from depression with suicidal ideology. I came home from school one day and decided life was to painful to live. So, I wrote my mom a note, got some rope and went in search of a farm grain silo to hang myself in. A woman from my step dad’s church (he was the pastor) saw me and called my mother who came and found me and talked me into getting help. I then spent two and a half months in a locked ward where I was diagnosed with depression.

That was the first diagnosis of many. My time of service in The US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division left me with PTSD. Then the anxiety, bipolar diagnosis and Borderline Personality Disorder. Because I have so many – I feel – accurate diagnoses, I refer to the group as just mental illness. I don’t know where one illness ends and the other begins. This mix of diagnosis have so many symptoms. The depression, anxiety, mania, aggression, anger, horror and fear in the form of flashbacks. I have always, as long as I remember, felt like something wasn’t right. My life was a cycle. Stability. Then instability. Chaos, then breakdown. Then the cycle would start again.



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

I have attempted or planned suicide four times – all four times I have been institutionalized. But still, my life didn’t change. My illness and my symptoms pulled me around like a dog on a leash. I had little pockets of happiness in an ocean of fear, pain, darkness, and agony. For this period, I didn’t really have uninterrupted medical or mental health care coverage. So, I would try to get help but for years could not afford to stay in therapy. In 2010, after finding out about the VA compensation process I put in for PTSD competition. I received disability status from the VA. This allowed me uninterrupted medical and mental health covered for the last seven years. This was the point my mental illness turned a corner.

Around this time, I had a very horrible episode where I ended up hurting someone then I tried to hang myself. I was again at rock bottom. Somewhere in the process of getting back on my feet again, I decided to figure out how to change the life I was leading. I decided to work to learn how to live a quality life. It was not a bolt out of the blue or “ah-ha” moment – it was a slow realization. I was finally aware that I needed to help myself before I was going to be able to get proper help. I was going to have to work my fucking ass off to ever have a quality life.



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


Well for me it is everyday life. It’s been 30 years (diagnosed) of mental illness. I don’t remember anything else – it is apart of everything. This very reason is why the skills I have learned are so important.


In 2011, I attended Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT. The skills I learned there became the life-changing foundation of not just how I’ve learned to cope, but I learned to really thrive and found a way to maintain and live a quality life. The skills I learned from DBT were practical actions and strategies I could apply in specific or general ways to my everyday life.

  • Mindfulness. Focusing on what it is I am doing and saying. Focusing on my thoughts without letting them run away with my actions.
  • Wise mind. Because I lived in my emotional mind or my rational mind I would go back and forth between chaos and shame. Trying to maintain wise mind (both emotion mind and rational mind at the same time in balance) keeps me able to make decisions that help me maintain a quality life.
  • Distress tolerance. Knowing that life is probably going to get a little dicey and having the skills to tolerate the distress that is going to be apart of my life is crucial.
  • Checking the facts. This skill I learned allows me to challenge my symptoms and thoughts and hold them up to the light to see if they are real or the lies my symptoms tell me.
  • Radical acceptance. This allows me to accept the big unpleasant truths without giving up or giving in.
  • Acceptance. Accepting my reality was a life-changing experience. When I accepted that I have multiple mental illnesses and I will continue to have these issues  – I was set free. This acceptance for me also mentioned being completely transparent with my self and others in my life that mental illness was part of who I am. I would no longer try to hide how my life was to anyone ever again. My mental illnesses are always something you get to know as you learn more about me.

The list of skills go on and on and I talk about them a lot in both my @myrhoughtsracing Instagram and my blog.



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


Mental illness literally has only given me symptoms. I get what you’re asking, but I don’t see it as a gift or a benefit. With that said, I have learned by living through my symptoms that people – all of us – are amazing! That life is hard but worth it. That life is precious and fragile. I learned these gifts not because of my mental illness but in spite of it.



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

My thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to indulge them. They are not in charge of my life.

 

 

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

New Month, New Goals // Hello August

I almost didn’t write this post. Today, I had quite possibly one of the worst days in awhile. I was strong – I survived through it, but it took \a lot out of me both emotionally and physically. A day filled with crying, anxious breakdowns and stress.

Through all of that chaos, I realized that it might be therapeutic to write up some goals. Think of the future, and how I can control me. My actions, my thoughts, and my life.

Old and new, I have a lot of things I want to do this month. Whether it’s revisiting old tools of my anxiety or learning new lessons, here are my goals for August:

 

Keep up with mindfulness 

In the past month or so, mindfulness has taken a backseat. I so miss my go-to meditations on Simple Habit. They truly eased my thoughts, and helped to build my self worth, confidence, and positive self talk.

Whether it’s listening to a daily meditation on my drive to work in the morning, or getting back into yoga each week, I want to make moves in my mindfulness. I’m much stronger than I used to be with my own thoughts, but that doesn’t mean it should be neglected. I’m only as strong as my good habits. 

 

Take more chances on myself 

Lately, I’m beginning to realize that I’m capable of so much. I’ve gone from a dorm room, to having my very own studio and being able to afford that rent. I’ve started as an intern at a company and now I’m currently a copywriter at a PR firm. I can do great things. I need to be taking chances on my skills, my talent, and my worth.

It’s time to bet on bigger things.

 

Speak up 

More recently, I’ve been learning this lesson firsthand. With situations at work, I am learning that it’s crucial for me to raise my voice when something is not right. My voice matters. Yes, we must all learn to pick our battles but when we find something to speak up against – follow through. Own your words. 

 

Learn something new 

I have a desire, a passion to learn something new. To explore uncharted territory – educate myself on things I don’t understand. I have a goal to research different slam poetry sessions going on around my area and attend at least one this month. Or be part of an open mic night at a cafe – I need to share my words. 

I used to share my writing all the time in college. As a Creative Writing major, you learn with experience and time to build up a tolerance for sharing your work. At first, it’s terrifying. Stepping up to the plate, ripping out your heart and showing it to a crowd just to hear the expected snaps or claps. But once you do it a few times, it’s addicting. It’s intoxicating to connect with others. To feel them resonate with your words. While I love and appreciate how much my words on this blog resonate with others, I want more. I want to get up in front of people and bare my heart. I want to show everyone how much I love, feel, and care. 

 

Well, those are my goals for August. I truly think that I can accomplish these. While I tend to over reach with my goals, I always have a way of teaching myself new things through them. I have a feeling that a lot of new, exciting things are headed my way. I’m stoked for what’s in store. 

 

Do you have any August goals? Share them in the comments below!