Cassiopeia // Thriving In The Face of Motherhood & Anxiety

When I set out to create this blog, I really wanted to cover topics that I might not fully have knowledge in. While I have an understanding of anxiety and mental health when it comes to my own journey and therapy, there are certain aspects I cannot speak to. This is where guest authors come in.

I am beyond grateful to my coworker and friend, Cassiopeia Guthrie (aka the creative blogger behind Free Hands Full Heart) for sharing her story on becoming a mother while navigating her own mental health. Filled with eloquence in each word she types, Cassiopeia has a magical way of making everyone feel warm, welcome and that they are enough.

Read Cassiopeia’s journey on finding her way as a new mom while teaching herself patience in her guest blog post below.

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I see it in your eyes and your posture. The moment you come up to me, I can see that you are struggling. I see it in the way you react as your baby gently calls to you. He might just be dreaming, might be readjusting his body in the cradle of your arms, might just be mewling softly to let you know that he’s almost ready to eat, but it’s like you’ve been burned. Your breath speeds up, your eyes dart from side to side, your shoulders tense. Your thoughts are racing; I can tell you’re worried. “Am I doing this right?” you wonder. Or you think, with certainty, that you are not. Maybe sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, you wander the halls, babe in arms, pondering things that make no sense, like banging your exhausted head into a wall or a door to help to stay awake. But then, in others, you sit staring at her wondering: “Will she wake up?” I have been in your shoes.

When my oldest son was just 4 days old, an earthquake rocked our world. Coming in at 7.2, it was the largest earthquake to have hit the region in 18 years. As my little guy slept in his rocking seat that Easter Sunday, I recall the ceiling fan beginning to shake violently above us all. Without thinking, I grabbed him and ran outside to the driveway and sobbed as the world continued to roll and shake around us for over a minute. It was the first moment I realized that I was not fully in control and that I had a small person who needed me, completely and utterly. I was terrified of failing him.

Six days later, we found ourselves in Children’s Hospital to have his little heart looked at. A couple of days after that, I cried at a La Leche League meeting, completely overwhelmed, wondering if I’d ever be able to take a shower or do dishes again. When we struggled with breastfeeding, I drove all over the county seeking support groups. But when we left our house, I wondered if I’d turned off the oven or locked the door. I stressed about other drivers on the road, certain that our lives were in danger all of the time. I was inexplicably exhausted, and yet struggled with sleep. I wore a smile, but it was false; insecurity echoed in empty chambers of my mind.

I want you to know that I understand. I know that you may internally be questioning your decision to become a mother while, with every breath, you claim that you are overjoyed by it. You may feel unable to focus and concentrate, disconnected, overwhelmed. You may sit listlessly, or be unable to find the drive to eat. You may look at your baby like a stranger or an obligation. You may not be able to find the words you used to have at your very eloquent disposal. You may not care about brushing your hair, washing your face, or going outside. I just want you to know that you are not alone. You are worthy of love. And there are resources for you.

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I found my way into motherhood intentionally, and yet those first months were an incredible challenge. I felt isolated, helpless, and at times incapable of being the strong mother I’d always imagined. I attended workshops, classes, doctors appointments, and therapy. I worked hard to find my sense of self and to bond with my child. Although I returned to work full time when my son was only 4 months old, being the mother I wanted to be took constant attention and sacrifice, but it also took something more: it took community. That’s why I was honored when Erica asked me to guest blog on my experiences as a mother and postpartum care provider; I know exactly what made the difference when I was in those dark early days. It was human connection.

What made the difference for me was connecting with support groups… connecting with other mothers. It was gathering tools for my toolbox like babywearing, nursing lying down, and not being afraid to ask for help. It was creating experiences that my baby and I could enjoy together, whether taking classes or simply getting some fresh air. It was learning patience: not with others, or with my baby, or with my circumstances, but with myself. It was in finding the bits of sunshine in every day, the love for spending time in fresh air at the park with other mothers, the cups of tea in the evenings that soothed my soul, the quiet moments tucked in hot showers that helped me find the deeply buried pieces of shiny me that were hidden under the layers of motherhood. It was a reintroduction: the woman that I once was coming to terms with the experience that I had now. And it was a catalyst for growth, change, and support as I would eventually embark on a new adventure: providing love and care to other new families as a babywearing educator.

And this is why we are here now, you and I.  You, with your tired, anxious eyes. Me, with a soul that aches to take you in and mother you, anxiety level at a 10 and all.

And, at the end of the day, I just want you to know that it’s okay to reach out. We are here as a resource for you. It’s going to be alright.

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A special note: you are not alone. If you feel that you are struggling with challenges related to postpartum emotional health, know that this happens to 1 in 7 of us, and it can even happen to dads, too. Please do not hesitate to call the Postpartum Health Alliance Warmline (619-254-0023), visit the website to learn about where you can go for help, or email me directly. I am happy to help anytime.

 

Want to read more from Cassiopeia? Head to this original blog post on Free Hands Full Hearts for mental health musings from this momma!

Works in Progress // Taylor

Living a life filled with depression and anxiety since she was just ten years old, Taylor is a strong pillar radiating self-love and healing that comes from taking mental health seriously.

Graced with elegance and empathy, I’m proud to know this shining star. Meet Taylor.

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Name: Taylor Gornish  

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?

 

It started around 10 years old. In general, that’s all I can remember is 10 years old and on. Childhood amnesia? Perhaps. However, I think it just escalated so quickly it was a defining moment in my life from then on. I started suffering from depression. My mother had displayed the same symptoms throughout her life, but never treated herself so I feel as though it was entirely genetic.   

Looking back, it was quite sad. It took 11 years to get help. I got home from school, fell asleep for hours and did my homework in the late hours of the night. All I would do was isolate myself in my room and read or write. I had friends I would hang out with at school or on the weekends but none of them really knew what was happening on an everyday basis. My parents intervened and sent me to a psychiatrist who thought I had ADD and prescribed me Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, etc – nothing made a difference. All that happened was I would get a dull never-ending anxiety, which made my depression worse.  

My depression has been constant for about 14 years now, going through waves of bad to a plateau.

  

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

 

I didn’t choose to get help at a young age and at times I went through gaps between visits that lasted years at a time. I did not like how medication made me feel and the side effects that came with it. My parents didn’t fully believe in medication or knew how hard I was struggling, as I wasn’t very open about it, and tried to help me cope in other ways such as meditation and therapy. These were temporary fixes and I truly think they help others but they did not work for me. My brain chemistry is just off.

When I fully chose to get help on my own, I was in college around 21 years old. There were several incidents when I tried to commit suicide, which is easier for me to talk about now in recovery but at the time no one knew. Most often I abused my anxiety prescription to make myself feel numb, which seemed better than negative or self harming thoughts. I had a particularly traumatic experience when I overdosed on said prescription in an attempt to take my life. It was a cry for help. My amazing, supportive roommate who I also traumatized, called an ambulance that rushed me to the hospital. I was alone and woke up groggy not knowing where I was, in a hospital gown, with an IV in my arm. I will never know what happened that night because no one can attest to if they made me throw up, pumped my stomach, anything. Part of me doesn’t want to know so I have never tried to find out. I didn’t see any nurses in sight so I pulled the IV out of my arm and walked outside barefoot to have my friend pick me up. Everything from there on was blurry and when I got back to my apartment my friends and roommates were hugging me and we all cried. They were so afraid for me and realized the extent of what was happening.

This moment was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The effect this had on my loved ones was so atrocious that it makes me cringe to this day. My dad flew me home to San Diego the next day. I spent a few days recovering and then when asked how I would get my stuff home, I refused. I wanted to go back because I knew I would regret not finishing off my senior year. It was the best decision I ever made. I finally got comfortable about getting better. I got a job my second semester working at a local boutique that I loved, got the best grades I had ever earned in college, and most of all I took care of myself more than ever. I’m not going to lie, I still suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts and that has not gone away and never will. However, I changed my lifestyle and got serious with myself. I never thought I would live past 21 years old, so to have made it this far at 24, I am prideful that I have realized this needed to be dealt with everyday step by step.

 

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

I feel much better these days. Lexapro and my lifestyle changes saved my life. I finally found a medication that works for me and I feel like an upgraded version of myself. I still have challenges daily. I still have trouble getting out of bed and beating fatigue. I still am my harshest critic and have low self-esteem. With that being said, I have learned to deal with it and fit into normal society. I still write occasionally and have recently launched a website with a best friend of mine that combines my love of beauty, wellness and travel with writing. It’s a hobby but I hope in the future I can get a little more deep with people who are suffering from depression and anxiety with wellness tips.

 

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

Even though I wish I could feel normal or be like everyone else at times, I think what depression has given me is empathy. I see others who might come off in a certain way and know they must be going through something. I feel for them. I also see the world in a bigger picture. I complain and vent but when it comes down to it there are people out there that have it much worse and I try to tell myself that everyday, that I am blessed with this life. I also think those experiences I have gone through have made me an entirely stronger person.

I am also a hundred percent more positive and my thought process has changed. It takes a lot of work to get to that point cognitively where you can reverse your negative or self harming thoughts when they arise.

 

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

 

I would let myself know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I can not even count the times I have laid in bed wishing I would never wake up or have just wanted some sort of peace, but there are ways to gain inner peace in the real world.

Check out Taylor’s new website at http://www.thesiennarising.com/ and follow her at @siennarising

Follow the blog to see the latest Works in Progress stories! Do you want to share your story with anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue? Leave a message in the comments of your journey!

4 Ways Reading Helps Me Cope With My Anxiety

I’ve always thought that books are the answer to all life’s problems. Turns out, they are the actual answer to some after all.

As a writer, reading has always been a part of my life. I was reading chapter books in kindergarten – I know, I’m a genius. I’ve cultivated that passion for reading into my adult life and with anxiety, it can seriously help me to cope. While you would think some of the reasons below are slightly obvious when dealing with anxiety, there are a few that popped up along the way that I wasn’t expecting.

Reading relaxes me physically.

While anxiety is mental disorder, it can have physical symptoms and triggers like high blood pressure and increased heart rate.

Studies have shown that reading can lower your heart rate and ease muscle tension quickly and effectively. Even better – it doesn’t matter what you read. Whether you’re a fan of fiction, poetry or even my own obsession of graphic novels, you can enjoy any genre and self care at the same time.

It’s an escape from reality.

While my own anxiety tends to take me far away from reality – reading removes me from it in a positive way.

Taking a break from reality can work wonders for your mental health. Anxiety is constant – overwhelming, enveloping your every thought and action. It taints every experience you have with a shadow of self-doubt and fear. If you could hit the pause button on that, wouldn’t you? 

Jumping into the story of a book allows me to escape my own mind and live in someone else’s. Getting lost in a story helps me to let go – somewhat – of my anxieties, insecurities, and fears, if only for an hour or so.

It shifts my daily perspective.

Reading about other people’s experiences, whether they are relatable or not, is a great way to shift my own perspective, which is constantly riddled by my anxiety. Living with anxiety can wrap your mind in me, me, me and everything I’m suffering through – reading breaks that school of thought.

By looking through someone else’s eyes in stories, I gain a perspective I wouldn’t otherwise find, which in turn forces me to realize that my own isn’t as bad as I make it, or not even reality.

Book club can be a form of therapy for me.

A little over a year ago, I decided to create my own book club. I’ve founded book clubs in the past, but they would always fade out. People get too busy and everyone bails on meeting up. But luckily, I’ve been able to get this one to stick.

When I first started it, I went in just wanting to read new genres and discuss them with some friends. It has morphed into so much more. While I go to actual therapy, I find that meeting up with my regular group of girls can be extremely cathartic. It is very helpful that most of the ladies in the group also have their own forms of anxiety, so I feel comfortable talking about my daily struggles with them. It’s a good reminder that while anxiety is a very lonely disorder – I’m not alone. 

Last but not least, I truly believe that having your own bookshelf is a form of self care. There is nothing I enjoy more than collecting beautiful books and being able to adorn them on my bookshelf. Here’s a quick photo of my pride and joy:

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I hope all my fellow bookworms enjoyed this post! Now, I must get back to reading The Roanoke Girls –book club is this week and I’m SO close to finishing.

 

Do you love to read – share your favorite book in the comments! How does it help with your anxiety? 

Works in Progress // Cara

With severe depression and anxiety, Cara bravely shares her story of how she came to find therapy, the right medication, and the new mindset for a renewed life of self love and mindfulness.

Showing everyone that it’s okay to put your own mental health needs first, I’m proud to share this beautiful soul’s journey. Meet Cara.

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Name: Cara

Age: 25

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

My name is Cara and I have severe depression and anxiety. I honestly don’t believe there was any single factor that triggered or started my depression. I remember having strange thoughts from a very, very young age about not liking my body or myself.  It’s only been the last few years that I’ve learned about certain family members that deal with similar mental health issues like myself. My downward spiral started in high school, and became much worse in college. I became obsessive over schoolwork, hoping it would keep my mind busy. If I didn’t get that high score, it was a failure. I was a failure. That’s also when the negative self-talk got worse and my mindset abut my life became bleak. I barely slept, grew an aversion to going to new places (especially by myself), and would cry a lot. (All the time.)

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

The moment I realized I needed help took place last year. I was losing control of my job, a close friend really took advantage of me emotionally, it was scary because he took off this mask and the person beneath was dangerous. I was already depressed, but wave after wave kept coming and I just couldn’t manage it anymore. I got home from work on a Friday night and had a meltdown, which included anger towards myself and I really considered hurting myself. That idea had loomed in my mind for a long time, but at that moment it was standing in front of me, and I felt hopeless. I called my mom and I told her that, I needed to come home (to SoCal), and I finally told her a bit of what was going on in my head: how much I hated myself, which was everything about myself. It was like a dam burst and I could no longer control my emotions, like I had been doing for the past 24 years. The depression had control over me, and this time I couldn’t get loose.

I think that’s when my mom and I realized how bad my situation was, the desperation, the fear, they enveloped me, and I was no longer in control of myself. I drove through the night to get to my mom’s; it was an 8-hour drive from San Francisco to Corona. I left my house in San Francisco at 7:30 p.m. and arrived at my mom’s at 3 a.m. When I got out of my car, she was waiting for me. I lost it. Uncontrollable sobbing and shaking. And she held me and said, “We’re going to fix this. We’re going to find help together.” I believed her.

We discussed options with our insurance company, like going to an outpatient clinic for a while. But ultimately, we decided that I would see a therapist and psychiatrist immediately, and if I still wasn’t feeling better, then I would go to a clinic.

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

I currently have a psychiatrist whom I meet with every six weeks, and a therapist I meet once every week. I have been on this routine since last May/June. I take medication daily, (we found the right antidepressant that doesn’t make me sleepy) and I have meds for certain instances, like when I become overwhelmed and have a panic attack.

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

My quality of life has definitely improved since I sought help, and I have a very caring mother and therapist to thank for that, as well as support from dear friends, and some family members. (I say some, because even as I continue on my journey, certain members are aggressively against “those people who take happy pills”).

First of all, if somebody is talking like that to you, and belittling your health, tell them to FUCK OFF. Seriously, do it. It will save you so much time, frustration, and tears. There is absolutely no shame at all in asking for/seeking help. There is nothing wrong with feeing the way you do. You are not broken, and you are not an object that can simply “fixed”, like a broken mug glued back together. You are human. You get wounds. Then you eventually scar, but that scar takes time to grow.

Over the past year my therapist and I have focused on mindfulness, identifying negative self-talk, working through past experiences that made me devalue myself, and really helped me understand the importance of self-care, that is, putting myself first, identifying what I need, what I want, and how I can achieve those needs. Sometimes that means stepping away from toxic people, places, or situations. And that’s entirely OK!

I’m still on my journey, and I feel myself moving forward everyday, even if it’s a baby step. It’s still a step.

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

If I could give any sort of advice to my former self, who struggled for so long, so hard, and cried so much, I would tell her:

“Do not let other peoples ideas dictate how you should live your life or how you should feel, or whether or not you want to try medication. Feelings are okay. Get the help you always wanted: talk with your doctor, call that phone line, because it will get so much better.”

It has gotten better, and it took me 25 years to realize that my needs are important. I’m currently a copywriter for a publishing company (the job I’ve always wanted!), I’m relearning Spanish for travels next year, and writing creatively again, and shooting and developing black &white photography. Life’s actually pretty okay.

Check back on the blog for more Works in Progress stories! Do you want to share your story with anxiety, depression, or another mental health issue? Leave a message in the comments of your journey!

Unplugged: What I Discovered From A Day Without Social Media

Last night, I was scrolling through Facebook and came upon an article from The Mighty titled, “Researchers Say Instagram Is the ‘Worst App’ for Your Mental Health.” Ironic that I found this article while aimlessly wandering around social media, but it struck a nerve with me.

In the article, it states that Instagram has “the highest negative affect on well-being – increasing anxiety, depression, and self-identity and body image issues for young people ages 14 to 24.” Regardless of these stats, Instagram is an app with more than 700 million users and can be used with both good and bad intentions.

With all this information, I decided to challenge myself. I would go an entire day without using any social media and see what it did for my anxiety and mental health. Starting from the moment I woke up at 6:40 this morning, to currently writing this blog post at 6:00 this evening – I haven’t opened an app, scrolled through any feed or put a heart on any photo.

Here’s what I discovered from avoiding social media:

I’m much more present. 

Without the ability to escape into some form of social media during the day, I was forced to be. Just be in the moment more. For the first few hours of my workday, I found myself reaching for my phone randomly when there was a lull, because I normally scroll through Instagram as a tiny break. When I resisted that, I discovered that I was able to sit and just be where I was right then. Content.

I stopped comparing. 

This was a big one. Honestly, this was the biggest part of why I think Instagram is terrible for mental health. Part of anxiety that’s toxic is comparing yourself to others. This is an app that breeds comparison. Because I wasn’t constantly checking Instagram, seeing how others were potentially doing “more interesting” things, I found I could feel more confident about my day. When it’s not being compared to anything else – that is likely not reality to begin with – you feel secure.

When I got bored or started to overthink, I found a more healthy way of distraction. 

Let’s face it – sometimes your mind gets bored. When I had downtime or started to ruminate, I listened to a podcast I’m currently obsessed with, talked to one of my coworkers, or took a short walk outside. While some social media is very open and helpful when overthinking, it felt so much more effective and tangible to use these different ways of distraction.

 

By the end of the day, I realized that I put entirely too much emotion into my phone. From texting to Instagram, I’ve always read too much into each post or text and placed my own value into whether I heard back or got enough likes or comments. It’s a toxic game to play and removing myself from it – even just for a day – gave me a lot of introspection and mindfulness. I am enough – I don’t need 10, 100, or even 1,000 likes to validate that. Also, it doesn’t matter what others are doing, it matters what I’m doing right now. The less you focus on how others are living their lives, the more you gain for your mental health.

It went so well, I may actually ween myself from the amount I use my social media for the future.

Does social media have an affect on your anxiety? What are your thoughts? 

Post Therapy Thoughts

Every two weeks, I go to therapy for about an hour. Whenever that Tuesday or Wednesday comes along, I find myself with a sense of calm and security. Whatever happens that day, I know I have a safe space to talk about it by the end of the day. Making the decision to go to therapy is never an easy one, but once you are there, it becomes something you never knew you could live without. A welcome presence of knowledge and self-awareness.

I’ve wanted to do this series for awhile now. Post therapy thoughts. My therapist is incredibly real and chalk full of advice that really goes a long way for me, so I thought I would routinely share my thoughts and what I’ve learned after each therapy session I attend.

For today’s session, the main topic of discussion was learning how to have more fluidity in my life. With my anxiety, I tend to make everything very black and white. Relationships, work, family, etc. But all of those things are not so concrete. Because I grew up in a family system that operated in such black and white, closed ways, I’ve lost out on the ability to let go.

Due to the fact that I was so held to my word and life was so planned out growing up, I’ve always had anxiety with plans changing or being cancelled. In reality, it’s okay when people run late. It’s okay if I say no to plans. As my therapist says,

As people, our thoughts and emotions are constantly changing – we should be able to change our plans as well.

Another thing we talked about was a new journaling exercise for when I get hypersensitive or into one of my ruminating spirals caused by my anxiety. We found that a lot of my high anxiety is caused by my fear of the unknown. My therapist focused on this phrase she heard me say,

“I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Since this a trigger for my high anxiety, she suggested an activity where I try to pause and write down potential solutions. This way, I can have active solutions in my head to minimize the fear, and to bring reality into the constant irrational cloud that is my anxiety. She then told me after I’ve written these solutions down, to search for the reality based ones. The closer I can get to reality, the better.

Anxiety is a challenging thing to live with. Not only do you have to deal with your current state, sometimes there’s a residual effect. What you’ve experienced in the past can dictate your future actions. This is something we have to continuously fight. My therapist also reminded me that I am separate from my anxiety disorder. She said,

Your anxiety disorder has issues with plans being changed, not Erica.

Your anxiety disorder is confused and insecure, not Erica.

It’s a much-needed reminder to be directly told that you are not your anxiety.

 

I am secure in my relationships.

I am capable of being more fluid. 

I am worthy of happiness.

I am enough. 

 

 

 

What do you think of Post Therapy Thoughts? How has your latest therapy session helped you manage your anxiety? 

4 Negative Thoughts I’ve Had When Dealing With Sickness & Anxiety

When we’re feeling well, it’s difficult to devote time to ourselves, but when we get sick – it’s necessary. Every year in the United States alone we get billions of colds, flues, and other common ailments. For most people, these sicknesses cause a lot of aggravation, but not much else. For those of us with mental health issues, something as basic as the common cold can increase anxiety.

As I lay in bed sick today, I felt compelled to write this because as crappy as I feel, I’m still hard on myself and not able to let go of control. I have several negative thoughts, like others with anxiety probably have as well.

Take a break from blowing your nose to learn some of the negative thoughts I’ve had, and how I battle them while feeling under the weather:

If I’m not constantly being productive, I’m wasting time – and I’m not good enough for the outside world. 

Feeling like there’s too much to do? Don’t get trapped in the cycle of thought that tells you you’re not worthy of putting your feet up and doing nothing, especially when it’s necessary to your health.

I get myself stuck in this cycle of ruminating, but it helps to remember that we are all worthy of rest and relaxation, taking a load off doesn’t make you any less productive. It makes you smart for listening to your body. Let go of having to control and rest.

Is this more than just the flu? Maybe it’s something more serious? 

As you lay there with the sniffles, runny nose, cough, body aches, and fever your mind can wander. Because you’re actually sick, you start to see the sickness as something more threatening than it is. With anxiety, trivial things can be inflamed by obsessive thought, causing me – or any of you – to entertain the notion that your simple flu is at the level of cancer or another deathly disorder.

I don’t have time for self care. 

I can find myself ignoring self care because I think I have too much to get done. Laundry, cleaning, taking care of my dog, working, the list goes on. None of those things (sans making sure my pooch is happy) are as important as you and your mental – and physical – health.

Take the time that your body needs to recover. Whether that means taking a sick day, not going out on a weekend, or spending the entire day Netflix bingeing in your yoga pants – do it, guilt-free.

I’m not good enough to be taken care of. 

With my anxiety and insecurity, everything always comes back to not feeling good enough. It seeps into every facet of my life from family and work to relationships and friendships, so it’s no surprise it presents itself when I’m feeling sick.

It is not reality that I’m not good enough to be taken care of. Whether that means a family member or loved one bringing you soup or laying with you for a little while, they are making the decision to take that time for you. Trust it.

 

 

And, on that note, it’s back to bed I go. If any of you are feeling under the weather, I hope you remind yourself that you are worthy of rest and your health is important.

 

What anxious thoughts do you have while sick? How do you cope with them? 

Works in Progress // Grace

Hi friends! I’m beyond moved and excited to share the first in my new series, Works in Progress. While this blog is about my journey with anxiety, I wanted to share other stories. The stories of everyday people who are bright, shining stars constantly battling their own versions of mental health.

Today, I bring you Grace. She is not only a friend, but a raw, radiant soul who has been through quite the journey of severe anxiety and depression which ended in a realization that through therapy and nature, self-love can be achieved. I’ve had the privilege of working with her and becoming a close friend when she lived in San Diego and fun fact, she is a huge reason why I am currently in therapy. This bomb lady climber and world traveler has a passion and eloquence that cannot be denied. Meet Grace.

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Name: Grace Olscamp

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?

Although I think I always had some form of it, which I think is partially hereditary, I began fully experiencing anxiety in 2013. Looking back at the spring and summer of that year, it’s obvious that my anxiety was triggered by a set of significant events that happened within a three-month period (being present for the Boston Marathon bombings, my first heartbreak, and whisking off to New Zealand to study abroad).

My first panic attack happened out of the blue in New Zealand. While a very unhelpful counselor there explained that I was merely homesick, the panic attacks, depression, and debilitating fear over things I loved (i.e., camping, rock climbing, going on impulsive adventures with no plan, meeting new people) travelled back to Boston with me.

My life was drowning in loneliness, I was cutting myself off from friends, feeling unwanted, having regular panic attacks in the dark, and was suffocating from a sense of hopelessness. I sported the daily fake smile, even in front of my closest friends, so I wouldn’t draw attention to my suffering.

I was having stomach problems too which, at the time I didn’t connect to my mental health. I had constipation (TMI!) and there were times where I could barely eat more than five bites of a meal and would go for days on that alone. I saw a string of gastrointestinal doctors who could never diagnose what I had but still prescribed me plenty of medicines.

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

I didn’t get help by choice.

I was finally climbing again my senior year of college when a climbing partner had a gnarly climbing accident. I now know that my anxiety is linked to feeling safe, so when this happened I spiraled out of control. Thank God/the Universe/the Great Spirit in the Sky/whatever you subscribe to, I broke down in front of my old boss. He took me for a walk and by the end, he had the school’s counseling service on the phone and was holding it up to my ear.

While I went to counseling at school, which involved switching counselors, never feeling comfortable enough to be honest with them, and a psychiatrist who was thinking about putting me on medication, I never felt better. Eventually I stopped going.

Soon after, I once again went through a string of sudden changes (graduating college, divorce, and moving to San Diego) and everything got worse. I don’t remember what led me to therapy in California, but I found a therapist in San Diego who I was finally comfortable with. Although I only saw her for a short amount of time, she kick-started my real process of dealing with my anxiety.

The biggest thing that helped, however, was traveling for four months with my boyfriend. At the beginning of the trip abroad, I was having daily panic attacks. But by slowly putting myself into sometimes extreme situations that took me far outside of my comfort zone, I learned how to manage my anxiety.

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

My anxiety is still an obstacle in many facets of life. It pops up when I am in new situations, when I start to get overwhelmed with little tasks, in doing things I’m used to, and in the random, unprovoked moments that it decides to be present. The biggest challenge is remembering that facing anxiety isn’t about “getting better” or making it disappear, but is about learning how to healthily handle it.

The biggest skill I’ve learned is talk to people. Isolating myself only makes things worse and isn’t being strong, it’s a fear-based action. Talking to others is not some big admission or outpouring of feelings. It’s simple statements like “I feel anxious,” “I am overwhelmed,” “I feel sad,” “I am uncomfortable,” or (mainly when I am overwhelmed by others) “I need alone time.” Saying it out loud sets me free because I am not trying to deny my anxiety nor am I trying to proudly suffer alone. Talking to others also reminds me that my feelings are valid.

Having a few basic mantras that I can fall back on has also served me well. Whether I repeat them to myself or someone says them to me, they ground me in moments of high anxiety. Other little things help me like writing, going for a walk, yoga, reading, art, music, being outside, meditation. Anything that can help me step back from a situation and breathe.

I am constantly working on coping with anxiety. It’s a never-ending process that changes each time I feel anxious. And that’s okay!  

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

Without anxiety, I wouldn’t know myself. If I didn’t have anxiety, and more importantly if I didn’t seek help it, I might have been a stagnant human. Learning about my anxiety has forced me to grow, to learn about my past and present, and to question my thoughts, feelings, ideals, spirit, and the world around me. Meeting my anxiety has made me meet myself.

Not only has dealing with my anxiety let me flourish into a more self-aware being, but it has also been teaching me about self-love. I never even knew that loving yourself was even a thing until I started working on my anxiety. But as my journey with anxiety has continued, my eyes have been opened to what self-love is. There’s a lot of work to be done here but without my anxiety I would have ever considered loving myself. And as my idol RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love anybody else?!”

My anxiety can manifest itself in my intestines, stomach, back, and in general injuries. When I am getting anxious and don’t realize it, I get injured much easier (which is why in college I was constantly on crutches, in a brace, or otherwise hurt but now I rarely tweak things) and recurring problems will flare up. Learning about my anxiety has made me listen to my body and be mindful of its needs as well, ranging from eating better and being more active to eating more ice cream and being a bum, letting myself cry out anxiety and stress, or just having days where it does nothing but rest and decompress.

To the chagrin of a few, the exploration of myself has made me meticulously examine others close to me. I question other’s past and beliefs so that they too can start their own exploration of themselves (if they are willing).

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

You need to ardently and sincerely believe the following:

You aren’t alone.

TALK TO PEOPLE. Stop cutting yourself off because people love you and want to help you. You are not a burden. Friends want you to be there and family always love you no matter what.

Suffering alone is never beautiful or noble.

Every tear you have is valid and important.

You are a strong magnificent goddess who can do anything.

This will pass.

Want to learn more about Grace and her adventures? Go check out her personal instagram, @gracexplorationsand her travels with her boyfriend at @wandering_wonderers

9 Things You May Not Know About Me

Sometimes, it can be hard to talk about yourself. Personally, I’ve never found that to be the case. I love to share and tell people stories – whether it’s about my life or feelings or whatever. I’m more than just my anxiety, I’m so many other fantastic things.

Since I’m just starting with this blog, let’s get to know each other. Here are a few fun facts about me that you may not know:

1. I’m Erica. I’m a 26 year old copywriter working at a PR firm and I have GAD or generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve been in therapy for a little over a year now and it’s changed my entire life. I’m grateful to have the safe space twice a month and to learn and grow with such a supportive therapist.

2. Some of the main issues I have with my anxiety are personalizing, extreme ruminating, and being constantly afraid of conflict or becoming a burden. I work on them every day.

3. For those who know me, I love avocados more than most people. Okay, more than all people.

4. I have an ESA (emotional support animal) in the form of an 11-year-old floof man. He’s a Chow mix named Gussie and he’s my entire life. Blog post to come on the benefits of ESA’s for anxiety and mental health. 

5. I cry when I watch acceptance speeches. The Oscar’s are a rough time for me.

6. I’m pretty much a huge nerd. When I’m not obsessing over graphic novels, my boyfriend and I live at the game store near my house and constantly play Hero Realms.

7. More recently, I made the decision to get my own studio. It was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Self care goes a much longer way when you can do it in the comfort of your own home. I’ve been learning to be more comfortable with being alone with my thoughts, and having my own studio is great practice for that.

8. Books are my passion and solace. The bookshelf in my studio was the very first thing I set up. Reading will forever be my home.

9. I love to collage! Ever since college, I’ve always had a cork board up on my wall. I love to collect mementos and proudly display them as reminders of certain memories or events. I’m crazy proud of the little decorations I’ve put up in my studio, it’s like an extension of myself. Check it out:

 

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Welp, that’s some trivia about Anxiety Erica. Hope you enjoyed learning about me! We aren’t just our anxiety, we are so much more. Let’s get to know each other – tell me something about yourself! 

 

6 Perfect Pins for Mental Health

Let’s face it – pins are in. More recently, I’ve been taken down the beautiful rabbit hole that is pin love on Instagram and it’s a wild, wonderful journey. I’ve come to fall madly in love with so many talented independent artists who share my passion for expressing emotion and breaking the stigma surrounding mental health.

When I realized that I needed to start a pin collection, I also came to the conclusion that I needed a jean jacket to proudly display them on a daily basis. So, with a brand new jacket, I went on a hunt for the most gorgeous, genuine pins that resonated with me.

Here are some of my favorites:

Sarah Day Arts 

Weird girls really do have more fun. Personally, Sarah might be my favorite of all time, but that’s just me being biased. With grace and the utmost of skill, Sarah expresses her creativity and vulnerability through art. A fighter through and through, her vibrant art resonates with anyone struggling to find meaning – whether that be with mental health or just life in general.

THREE LEFT 🙊 DM to purchase! (Edit: SOLD OUT)

A post shared by sarah day (@sarahdayarts) on

Fun fact: My very first pins were from Sarah. It was a day where I decided, for the first time in quite awhile, to have a day completely for myself. I went to this adorable store – Little Dame Shop – and came upon her pin that stood out to me. It read: It will work out. It’s like the pin was speaking directly to me. It will work out, Erica. When you have that strong of a connection with art, you don’t have a choice but to wear it everyday.

 

The Crybaby Club 

We may cry, but we can still get things done. I love this gang, guys. Teaching others that it’s okay to express your feelings and emotion, The Crybaby Club believes that sensitive people are the ones who hold true strength inside of them. As souls who aren’t afraid to let ourselves feel, we deserve to have flair that represents our outlook.

What a cute little collection. 🖤🖤🖤 Repost from @colortheoryshop

A post shared by The Crybaby Club™ (@thecrybabyclub_) on

With a band of beautiful souls and artists behind the artwork, mental health is at the forefront of each and every piece of flair. While I don’t personally have one of their pins, (don’t worry, I will eventually) I’ve proudly displayed Kayley Mills’ art on my walls. One of the artists behind The Crybaby Club, she is a talented designer with a passion for the most amazing affirmations. Check out her prints here! 

 

Art by Anto 

Need a reminder that you’re good enough? Explore T. Jay Santa Ana’s Make A Mark series – it’s good for the soul. A friend and truly talented human, Santa Ana creates his pins to bring a sense of harmony back into the world. I absolutely love his message and vision, and have even modeled for his pins! By far, my favorite pin is “I’m Good Enough.” Not only is it a wonderful mantra to repeat to yourself, wearing it everyday on my jacket forces me to remember that I’m enough.

Fun Fact: If you’re officially obsessed and want to know more about this sensitive series, I wrote an article on it for The Mighty! Check it out. 

 

Tuesday Bassen

For those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeve, you can literally do that with the awesome pins and patches from Tuesday’s shop. A mega-fan of this girl’s fantastic flair, I actually got the opportunity to meet her with a friend at Comic Con last year and she’s a beautiful soul. Her mental health message – and nails – are on point.

#mixedemotionsclub ❤️ ShopTuesday.com

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More of a patch person? Check out this patch that’s perfect for those prone to overthinking.

 

Motivational Tattoos 

Made with love to brighten your day, these adorable anxiety aids were created to stop self-harm. With the founder battling the challenge of mental health on a daily basis, Motivational Tattoos is an ally to people with anxiety, depression, PTSD and other illnesses. Improve your mental health with the “Calm,” “Breathe,” “Believe, Achieve,” and “I Am Enough” badges!

ADAMJK

Love this dude. With several of his pins dedicated to mental health, anxiety, and just overall sensitivity, ADAMJK is doing his part to break the stigma. Plus, his instagram is fantastic and full of feelings – I live for it.

 

Are you pin obsessed? Share your favorite mental health focused pins with me – I wanna see ’em!