Works in Progress // Soraya

Pushed to the point of complete breakdown, it was an emotional conversation with her father and best friend that led Soraya to make the decision to start her journey with therapy.

Centered and motivated by the power of humanity, this wonderful, gracious soul teaches us a lesson in meeting our fears.

Read Soraya’s bold, beautiful story below.

unnamed

Name: Soraya

Age: 30

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 worrying a lot! Anything and everything was a disaster. I remember not being able to feel my fingers and thinking there’s this annoying bass beat in my head and I wish it would just shut up so I could think! I was driving down the freeway and was so flustered I had to pullover. I rang my dad and started telling him my problems and he was patiently offering solutions and I was pushing them all back going round and round in circles. I was the prophet of doom. By the end of it, I was in a fit of tears and he simply asked if I was in a rut. I think him saying that finally gave me the ability to admit to myself that I needed help. I have since been diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Looking back, the signs were always there – progressively getting louder until I was forced to listen. In the weeks leading up to that event I was having severe lapses in concentration, my heart would race so much that I would wake up in the middle of the night and most mornings I could barely get out the door without crying. I could recognize beauty and good, but I couldn’t feel it. I would burst into tears if I saw a rainbow because I wished something so beautiful would stop causing me so much pain. It was ridiculous!

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

It was that conversation with my father. That finally gave me the courage to firstly admit to myself that this was not normal. Being able to say out loud that I was NOT okay. At that point, I really did not care about myself but I thought about the pain I would cause if I were to do something stupid. So, I went home and I told my best friend. God sent me an angel because she listened without judgement and booked me an appointment with the doctor the very next day. If that hadn’t happened, I probably would never have gotten help. Mind you, I still thought – I don’t need to do this. This is silly. But, she took me to that appointment and waited to make sure I went in.

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

Anyone who has a mental illness knows that it is hard. It probably never goes away, but you do become better at managing it. I feel like I’m standing on a cliff, overlooking the ocean. You always have the cliff’s edge at the back of your mind. Some days you stand there and you can appreciate the view and how beautiful it is. Other days, the wind is howling and you are afraid you will fall. Some days, you feel completely alone. But most days, you realize you aren’t the only one. There are others with you. Some just as scared as you are and others holding your hand enjoying the view, willing you along.

The greatest challenge for me was acceptance. Once I accepted I will have good and bad days, I no longer wished rainbows didn’t exist. This is why I love your blog. I think we are all Works in Progress. And that’s ok.

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

I have so much more patience, empathy and capacity for love (both for myself and others). It has taught me gratitude and not to be so cynical. It has made me realize how very fortunate I am. I’ve been given so much support and kindness from my friends and family. Something I took for granted before. And I have made a lot of new friends along the way. I have been more open and I’m constantly surprised at the power of humanity. I am constantly blown away by the strength that others find within themselves and the greatness that can be achieved out of so much sadness and despair.

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

Practice guilt-free self care. Cut yourself a little slack! It’s ok to slow down. I find that meditation helps. Also just let it out. Talk. I write to myself, I talk to God, I talk to others. Put it out there to the universe. The moment you feel “off,” put it out there to the universe. Tell it your fears. Ask for help. Ask for whatever you want. I promise you will feel different.

 

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

Post Therapy Thoughts // Setting Healthy Boundaries

Going into today’s therapy session, I was really excited. Because of the long holiday weekend of 4th of July, it’s been roughly three weeks since I’ve had a session. While I handled my anger well during that time, I was itching to sit down and discuss all the different situations that had occurred since the last time we met.

I’ll be honest – I was a like a middle schooler handing in my well thought out essay in therapy. I was so proud of myself for the way I’ve set clear boundaries and removed triggers the past few weeks that I deserved a little praise.

When I told my therapist of all the things I experienced over the past few weeks and how I handled them on my own, she was more than proud – she was moved by my newfound ability to see a potential trigger and remove it before it became an issue for me.

Here’s a few examples:

A week or so ago, I found out that my ex-boyfriend has posted on social media for the first time since we broke up. I wrote about this in a previous blog post, but I’ll explain it again. My close friend called me to give me a heads up that he had posted, so I was very grateful I didn’t scroll through my feed on Instagram and have it pop up – instant trigger.

Turns out it was a photo of him settled into his new apartment. This triggered my anger – I was hurt. Hurt that he was “moving on” and doing exciting, fun things without me when in reality, that’s life. It moves on. He will have endless experiences in that new apartment that I will never be part of, because we aren’t in each others lives anymore. And that’s where I needed to rework my focus – shift the focus from him, and onto myself. What new experiences will I have? How do I feel? 

Because honestly, he doesn’t matter anymore. It’s not about him – it’s about me and how I react, how I handle my anxiety.

So, from this event I made the decision to unfollow him on all social media. I set a very clear boundary for myself. No more temptation to go “keep tabs” on what he’s doing, no more potential triggers when he posts something and I randomly see it. No more.

This is how I will move on, and stay there.

Another example of setting a healthy boundary for myself was about a week or so after my breakup. It was a random Saturday night and I was spending it alone at home. I got a text message from an old hookup – I say that because we never actually dated, just had fun – just saying hi. I hadn’t spoken to him in over a year, so I knew what his intentions were. I was so not in that place to have sex with no strings attached, and honestly I felt uncomfortable even talking to him about it, so I spoke up. I was upfront and direct with him – I appreciated the gesture but I’m not ready to be in that place. Being the very nice guy that he is, he was completely understanding and civil, but it’s so important to set these boundaries when we feel overwhelmed or that uncomfortableness sets in.

I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Just a year ago, I would never have had the ability to send a text like that, it would have sent me into a spiral of anxiety. I’m proud to know what I deserve and know my emotional boundaries. Could I have accepted his invitation that night? Absolutely. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I wasn’t ready – and that’s okay. 

In response to all this, my therapist said something that truly resonated with me:

“It’s okay to make mistakes, but we need not repeat negative patterns.”

Creating healthy boundaries is the key to managing my mental health, and keeping up with my triggers.

In addition to discussing my emotional boundaries, I also read my therapist a second letter that I wrote to my ex. This time, it was based in anger. While I have no intention to sending it to him, it’s important to put pen to paper for me when I’m overwhelmed with an emotion. It helps me to process that feeling, and move on from it in a healthy manner.

While I read the letter to my therapist, she noticed that I was starting to cry. She told me I could get angry and yell while reading it, but my knee jerk reaction was to be hurt. I still have trouble expressing anger publicly, but I’m proud of myself for getting through the entire letter. My therapist told me that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed because for me, this is new. It’s a new emotion to be expressing and it’s not always going to go my way. She also said:

“Don’t be afraid of your anger – it’s appropriate.”

She’s 100% right. I’m afraid since I haven’t been in this place of anger for as long as I have, that it will never fade. That’s my anxiety speaking – I will move on from this emotion. As long as I sit with it and acknowledge the lessons that come from the pain and the anger, I will move to the next stage.

 

 

Have you set some great emotional boundaries for yourself lately? Share them in the comments below! 

Learning To Be Alone // Tips on Battling Loneliness

Recently, I’ve had a few friends and followers ask me to share some tips or advice on battling loneliness and how to be alone. I’ve had coworkers and friends commend me on my healthy ability to spend multiple nights completely alone in my studio and while I appreciate the kind words, I truly believe that being alone should be second nature to us all – but sadly, it’s not. Not even for me.

It was only until recently that I’ve come to terms with being alone. I still struggle with it sometimes. It’s not a perfect science by any means. Growing up, I was raised to believe that if you were alone on a weekend, or a night where you could be out “having fun” with friends, you were sad. A loser. So, I’ve always had a hard time spending time with myself. I made excuses and avoided it by calling a friend to hang out instead, or going out and being miserable because I wasn’t listening to myself – I needed to be at home, alone.

Sitting with yourself – flaws and all – is incredibly difficult. But we must. We have to do this for ourselves, because in time, I’ve realized I prefer it. Once you cross the scary, oh my god, I’m so pathetic for being home alone on a Saturday night mindset, it becomes apparent that you enjoy being alone. I love hanging out with myself – I’m actually pretty fun. We all need to come to this realization that we need ourselves – not anyone else.

Here are a few tips that I’ve learned on being alone and battling loneliness:

 

Be Productive

I’ve learned that when I’m completely alone in my studio, being somewhat busy helps my mind to distract from any negative, anxious thoughts. Come up with a small checklist with tasks like: clean your room/space, wash the dishes, clean the bathroom, make my bed, go for a walk, make myself dinner, etc. These are very simple tasks, but once you hunker down and get them done, you’ll feel majorly accomplished and productive – plus, you’ll have a nice, clean space all to yourself, that’s always exciting!

 

Go Easy on Yourself

The act of being alone is really difficult for people who aren’t used to it. For myself, it took awhile for me to adjust and I actually didn’t even do it at first. In the very beginning, if you find yourself getting too anxious or even having a panic attack at the thought – call a friend to come over and be with you, or go to their house. Things like this don’t happen overnight, take it a day at a time. You’re not a failure for it, you’re just listening to yourself. The next time, you might be more able to accomplish being alone.

 

Alone vs. Lonely

Know the difference between these two crucial words. The act of being alone can be extremely freeing, and I’m even coming to learn, necessary for growth and self discovery. Being lonely can happen anywhere. You can be surrounded by all your “friends” or even a partner and feel utterly lonely. It’s like Rupi Kaur’s poem always says,

View this post on Instagram

🌞

A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

 

When we get these intense feelings of being lonely, it’s usually always a sign we are in serious need of looking within. Of giving ourselves the right amount of attention. Sometimes, it takes a certain amount of pain and heartbreak to become self aware. To know when you need to be alone and when you want to go out with close friends and feel their company. There’s nothing wrong with wanting company and loved ones around – we are human that’s instinct. But, knowing the difference between healthy want and a need that calls for a closer look at your emotions and mental health is key.

 

Don’t Date 

Now, this may seem like a harsh statement, but there’s a reason for it. When you’re in the realm of feeling such intense loneliness, it’s a mistake to jump into the dating world. Most people use dating as an excuse not to sit with their feelings. It’s like the poet Kiana Azizian says,

View this post on Instagram

us.: collection of poetry is on amazon now🌹

A post shared by kiana azizian (@kianaazizian) on

 

I’m incredibly guilty of this. A little over a year ago, I was this person that jumped from Tinder to OkCupid to Bumble, scrolling and swiping for the next guy who could fill the lonely void I had. Did it work? Absolutely not.

It takes a certain amount of strength to reject the idea of dating and staying alone – by yourself. Making a choice to be single goes against every ideal that we as women are taught. Find a good man, fall in love, get married, raise a family. Well, what if all that isn’t what will make you happy right now? What if you need time alone? What if you need to fall in love with yourself instead?

It’s a difficult decision to make, but it’s one worth trying. Learning to be alone with yourself and going through the trials of online dating just doesn’t add up. In order to battle loneliness and successfully being alone – you need to actually be alone. This way, when the time does come – and it will come – for the right match to enter your life, you’ll be ready. You’ll know what you deserve because you’ve been giving it to yourself all this time.

I have a close friend who tells me that it’s essential to know the difference between wanting and needing someone in your life. When you’ve spent time on your own, getting to know and loving yourself – you will never need a person. You have you. You’ll want someone to share your life with, someone worthy of entering the wonderful world you’ve created and built for yourself, but you won’t need it for your own self worth.

 

 

Spend a night in with yourself – you might actually like it. 

 

Do you struggle with being alone? Share how you battle loneliness in the comments below. 

Self Care Sunday // Wisteria Fox

I’ve always been a believer in the beauty of a great bath. Soothing and relaxing, it can help to heal the stresses and anxiety of a bad day. That being said, I also don’t believe that throwing a bath bomb in the tub solves all your issues associated with mental illness. Self care – however you practice it – is just one part of the picture. Therapy, journaling, cognitive behavioral tools. All of these things together is how I battle my anxiety.

Suffering from anxiety and depression, Alyssa Vicari –  the woman behind Wisteria Fox – truly understands the importance of self care. Baths always had the ability to calm, relax, and escape Vicari away from the stressers in life, so she created beautiful bath products that could help distract and benefit her skin. Eventually, she began selling her products so others could have this escape as well.

Researching different brands that spread the important message of self care, I stumbled upon Vicari’s shop and got to speak with the woman herself. A kind, gentle soul with a passion for healing others, I was all too happy to purchase a box.

Not only does Vicari sell these wonderfully scented products – she hand makes them. Vegan and cruelty-free, all the products are completely natural, using SLSA, an alternative to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. But don’t worry, the bath bombs still foam and fizz to your heart’s desire. Derived from coconut and palm oils, they smell heavenly.

This month, Vicari unleashed a new idea: Self-care boxes. For June, the theme was, “Goodbye Negative Mind, Hello Positive Life.” Loaded with a potential mix of bath bombs, bubble bars, bath soaks, body scrubs/shimmer scrubs, the box also comes with tips and tricks for coping and dealing with mental health issues/anxiety/stress, handmade stickers, drawings, and quotes.

While my box was a little bit different than the others, here is what was inside!

Amber Sunset // Mind Over Matter Bath Bomb

IMG_2373

A soothing, salmon colored bath bomb, Mind Over Matter is scented with base notes of raspberry, cantaloupe, and watermelon, middle notes of jasmine and violet, and fresh top notes of grapefruit and kumquat.

To say the least, it’s a serious plethora of scent. Last night, I used this bath bomb and it made for an extremely calming, content experience. I finished up watching GLOW on Netflix, and just soaked in the tub, smelling like an array of wonderful scents, it was great.

As an added bonus, once your bath bomb is all fizzled out, there’s a Carnelian stone inside of it! While I’m not super informed about the healing benefits nor do I practice, I’m always up for learning new information!

Providing protection from negative emotions from others and within yourself, the Carnelian stone is a great guide to a renewed love of life, increases inner strength, and grounds energies to the present. I even received a little note in the box on tips and best practices for using the stone!

IMG_2397.JPG.jpeg

 

Wild Spirit // Essential Oil Bath Bomb 

IMG_2375.JPG

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.

On top of the beautiful bath products, I also received two adorable tips and reminders for my mental health:

The first was this super cute ornament saying, Without rain, nothing grows. I just love it! I ended up hanging it on my cork board next to my bed, so I can see it when waking up and falling asleep at night.

IMG_2374.JPG

And lastly, there was a really creative activity in the box! I received a bunch of cut out, white paper butterflies with a note that told me to write a negative thought on the butterflies, place it under a thin layer of soil, water, and watch as that negative statement or word turns into something beautiful. What a wonderful message, I absolutely loved the idea and will be trying it out soon.

IMG_2377.JPG

 

I absolutely loved all the different products and activities in my Wisteria Fox Self Care box! It was so beautifully packaged – I would definitely consider ordering another one. It brought some excitement and healing to my day in a simple way. It’s so essential to practice self care and when a company – and its founder – are part of this wonderful mental health community, it seems like a no brainer.

IMG_2366

If you want to treat yourself and learn to practice more self care, order a Wisteria Fox Self Care box to help heal your heart and soul.

Visit https://wisteriafoxshop.com/ to shop the many soothing smells.

 

Do you have a specific routine for self care? Share your practices in the comments below. 

The Beauty of Loving Your Body // Izzi Marie

I don’t think there’s one person out there who doesn’t struggle with how they see their own body. We all see something we could change or alter, but in reality – imperfections are what make us unique, powerful, and beautiful.

Add on mental illness and the struggle gets even harder to manage. In another first for the blog, body positive blogger Izzi Marie discusses her own journey with self love and how she found the strength to fight the constant stigma associated with fat women.

Read Izzi’s powerful story of breaking through insecurity and self doubt below.

 

11228136_10205714287669857_6403606842822657300_o

Growing up I can’t tell you how many times I looked at another human and admired something about them; secretly wishing I carried those traits within myself. I would take beautiful elements of other people’s lives and somehow make them the darkest parts of mine. Why wasn’t I this? Why couldn’t I be that?

I allowed myself to hide behind black tinted windows, while supplying light for the sanity of everyone else. I’m not even sure that I meant to and it wasn’t until later I realized how toxic I had let my own mind become. Throughout my life I harbored thoughts of insecurity and self-doubt, tangled between knots of strength and sunshine.

I wish I could tell you the exact instant I stopped being that way. Unfortunately I can’t. Partially because some days I’m still that person and because one moment doesn’t make my story. What I can tell you is that every moment of self-love is a conscious choice.

When I was in third grade a girl (who shall not be named, even though I remember it vividly) called me fat on the playground. She was a year younger than me, but it was the first time I felt shamed for my body. I went home and cried to my mom, but she’s mom and did what most moms do. She told me I was beautiful, but for the first time in my life I didn’t believe it anymore. I always knew I was fat, but I never thought it was ugly. That little girl’s harsh words changed my life. If it hadn’t been her, I’m sure it would have been another. The point is I always saw my body differently after that. I saw myself in the eyes of others instead of my own.

The hatred you may have for yourself is something I believe we create at a very young age. It’s a bad habit that becomes engrained into little ticks that we turn a blind eye to. It exists in simple moments where you look in the mirror and turn away quickly. It lives in a snap instant when you compliment another while degrading yourself. It festers in small memories that aren’t cherished, because you were too busy worrying about the judgments of others.

Self-love is an active process. It is a choice, simply because it has to be. Bad habits are hard to break. So today and everyday forward I choose to love myself. I choose to love myself in the small victories, because you can’t reach four without two plus two. I choose to love myself in moments when it seems impossible, but I imagine my ten-year-old self standing next to me.  I choose to love myself, when the rest of the world chooses not to.

I now find beauty in the strength of fat women who show off their bodies in a time when visible belly outlines still disgust people.  I admire that a woman can be both fat and sexy, because she is a dynamic fearless leader, and not just because she wears a corset with her chest out. I continue to be constantly inspired and astonished that my insecurities are highlighted and made beautiful by women who have bodies just like mine.

You see it’s funny… I used to be consumed by this idea that I wasn’t or I couldn’t be. However, I already was. I quite literally had to start seeing my life from a different point of view. Once I saw my body archetype as attractive, it didn’t make sense that I could see that within myself. I spent a lifetime hating aspects of my fat body, using my hair as a security blanket and wearing hoodies in 100-degree heat. In that same space I saw fat girls owning their bodies. I saw fat women fighting in the distance to be loved and to love themselves. It was within that space that I discovered I wanted to fight too. I wanted to be for someone what these women were for me. It was within that space that I learned this very important lesson…

19398721_10211946655595160_980641007_n

Let another’s fight be your very own anchor. If you allow it, the thing you cherish in another, people will learn to treasure in you. Sometimes to win the fight you have to find strength in others and then discover how to see that strength within yourself. So from one insecure human to another, I beg you to stop turning light into darkness. Let light be light, no matter who flips the switch first.

XXX

Izzi Marie

 

Do you struggle with body image issues? Share your story in the comments below. 

Works in Progress // Alicia

In a very first for the blog, we discuss mental health surrounding addiction. Clean and sober for 11 years, Alicia went to rock bottom and back on her journey towards finding purpose, hope, and self love.

Abundant in light and compassion, she carries the mantra, “This too shall pass,” to get her through the worse bouts of emotion and anxiety. A truly genuine and beautiful soul, I’m proud to know Alicia – both through this blog and in my personal life.

Meet Alicia.

 

Alicia_Greenberg_045

Name: Alicia

Age: 43

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?

After 11 years of being clean and sober, I am comfortable admitting that I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. Scientific studies have concluded that addiction is a form of mental illness and sometimes is precipitated by self-medicating for another form of mental illness. I drank and used drugs to get a break from depression and from feeling out of control. I needed to feel more confident around others and more at ease when anxiety was high. I came to learn after I opened up about my struggles that members of my family have been diagnosed and painfully lived through various forms of mental illness. So, it is in my DNA. 

When I look back at my childhood I see the same dysfunctional mental patterns that I came to recognize as an adult. Through the years, I’ve heard several times that addiction and substance abuse can stunt emotional growth. This is very true for me. It’s only in my 30’s that I learned to actually feel my feelings without a mask no matter how painful or joyous they may be. From the age of 10 I snuck alcohol at family parties, and by 13 I was drinking alone. As many high school and college kids do, friends and I had our share of experimenting with different drugs. In my 20’s I started using when my friends weren’t around, which eventually brought me to my rock bottom. 

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

I was born and raised on Long Island where my family and closest friends have remained. In 2006, I was living in Colorado far from those who knew me best. They got glimpses of how my life was crumbling apart by my 2 am phone calls fueled by drug-induced paranoia and fear while in desperate need for love. If my call went unanswered during sleeping hours I would get a concerned call back the next day. Whether I was feeling fine at that moment or coming down from a drug binge, I ignored those calls. I was selfish, only accepting love on my time and not giving any in return. As I look back, it’s apparent that I had no idea what love was, considering I had zero love for myself. I put myself in plenty of unsafe situations without any concern about detrimental consequences.  Life was meaningless. Without actually my saying the words, my two closest friends and parents read between the lines and knew I was subconsciously, desperately calling out for help. 

Because I couldn’t help myself, they made the first step. Without my knowledge, my parents and two closest friends back in New York contacted my Colorado-based psychiatrist and together researched various treatment facilities that could best heal my struggling mind. After they agreed on the best setting for me, I was presented with the opportunity to get the help I needed. Resistant to the idea at first because I was concerned about leaving my dog, my job and my comfort zone, I gave in when my dear friend Niki said, “I can’t support your unhappiness any more, I can only support your love and healing.”

In the days following, April 30, 2006, I flew from Colorado to a renowned in-patient addiction and trauma center in Arizona. I dedicated a month sequestered to 8-hour days of group and one-on-one therapy with others who walked many different paths of mental illness. A week was dedicated to inviting family members to attend in the healing process. I of course invited my Mom and Dad who flew in from New York. As the 30-days came to a close at this rehab center, it was apparent to the staff that this was just a stepping- stone to my recovery. Although I abstained from drinking and using during this time, I had not admitted that I had a problem with drugs and alcohol.

Again, I gave in to going to another treatment center. Still selfish, I said I would go with one condition — if I could bring my dog Bailey. Low and behold, the doctors found an all-women residential addiction treatment center in Costa Mesa, California, where my fur baby was welcomed. I was discouraged from flying back to Colorado so took a one-way flight from Arizona to California for my next attempt at self-love. My dog Bailey was delivered directly to the doorstep of my treatment home by none other than my parents. They flew from New York to Colorado to pick her up and collect my summer wardrobe, and then drove my car to California.

I spent the next four months living in a house with women from the ages of 18-20-something with the exception of myself  — age 31 at the time –and another woman who was 62.  Each had also come from various treatment centers from around the country, but we all shared a similar story. Together in the house we had group and one-on-one therapy with addiction specialists, and under close supervision, we also attended 12-step meetings in the neighborhood. By listening to women who shared their experience, strength and hope of recovery from alcoholism and addiction, I too came to believe that I was an alcoholic and addict, and there was hope for happiness.

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

Thankfully, I have not picked up a drink or drug since that flight to Arizona on April 30, 2006. I’ve learned that all emotions — sad, scared, happy and everything in between — are necessary to live a healthy and productive life. The thing about feelings that keeps me in check is that they all pass, that’s the beauty of being human. I am empowered knowing that I am completely dependent on myself for the way I perceive the world around me. I have control over how to handle people and situations by simply accepting the way I feel. Sometimes when it’s a crappy emotion I simply say  “I’m depressed and I love that!” Owning the emotion makes it less intimidating and reminds me that it won’t last forever. And when I’m struggling with any one feeling that may trigger irrational or overwhelming thoughts, I reach out to those few that I trust most to bring me back to reality and, better yet, share a laugh about it. The beauty of today is that I’m able to be present with friends and family who need the same love and understanding in return.

Another form of self-awareness that has helped quiet my mind and keeps me in the moment is exercising. I never listen to music when I run, hike or lift weights. I simply pay attention to my breath and focus on one motion at a time. The more I push myself to my physical limits, the more grounded I feel. The sense of accomplishment by the end of a workout boosts my mood. That’s what keeps me coming back for more. 

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

Self-love. I have a visual reminder of this, a vanity license plate that reads SELF(heart)19. Nineteen is a lucky number that I share with the two friends that started me on this journey of self-love. Seeing this everyday reminds me that having courage, strength and hope will get me through anything, and in turn I’ll be able to give abundantly to my friends, family and community.  It also keeps me accountable considering it’s often been a topic of conversation in parking lots. I’ve spent my sober years living in southern California and when I open up to those I’ve met along the way, the response is usually the same, “I can’t imagine you unhappy,” which is humbling. 

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

“This too shall pass,” is something I tell myself when I feel overwhelmed or out of control with any emotion. I’ll never be “recovered” from alcohol and drugs but I will always be “in recovery” because it’s a life-long practice and discipline. Therefore what may have helped me in the past may have evolved to something different today. My self-love is constantly evolving whether it’s in the form of meeting new friends, doing a different form of exercise, immersing myself in the community or picking up a new hobby. Life certainly never gets boring but rather more fulfilling because of where I came from and where I’m at now. I love that mental illness is part of my story because I’m constantly learning how to pick myself up and enjoy a life that I never thought possible.

 

 

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

The Magic of Mindfulness // Get Outta Your Head

I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t always convinced on mindfulness. Before starting therapy, I didn’t think much of it and had judgements of people who practiced it, merely because it was different and I had no understanding of it. Things are much different now.

I was first introduced to the idea of meditation and mindfulness when I started attending therapy over a year ago. In my therapy, my therapist focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy to help with my anxiety. This means treating mental illnesses or anxieties with solutions, encouraging patients to challenge distorted realities and actively change destructive patterns of behavior. One of the solutions I was given was to practice more mindfulness.

I went searching for new ways to calm my mind and landed on Simple Habit – an app that gives you endless meditations for literally any possible life situation. There are several mindfulness apps on the big wide web, and it’s about finding the one that works best for you. This particular app just clicked with me and I started listening to the different meditations. It wasn’t until I was using it for a few months that I discovered one specific session that spoke to me most: Dealing With Failure. In that session, there was a meditation called “Shame” that had me repeat several mantras to myself, the very last being: I am good enough. Being good enough is a huge insecurity for me – and many others who suffer from mental illness – so being forced to say that to myself over and over was essential.

From that point on, this meditation became a lifesaver for my anxiety. The very first time I noticed that it saved me was when I had an anxiety attack at work. It was a particularly bad day, and I ended up having a terrible argument with a coworker where intense things were said, and that brought me right over the edge. I found myself in a fit of tears that I didn’t think I would recover from. It was then that I stopped, got up, and took a walk around the building. I took out my phone and started playing “Shame.” I repeated the words, brought myself back to reality, and went back inside.

Another example was more recently. I had a triggering conversation with a close friend where she called me out on my angry behavior since my breakup. I was defensive and hurt, so I escalated and personalized the situation. Once I got back to my car, I ended up having a full fledged anxiety attack in the parking lot. What did I do? Turned on Simple Habit. Just me and my mindfulness, blasting from the speakers of my car. To me, these aren’t just a few sentences strung together – it’s a form of magic.

With my newfound passion for mindfulness and all that it can bring, I’m honored to officially announce that I’m a brand ambassador for Outta! A Canadian based company with a message to get out of our heads and into our hearts, I just knew this brand was part of the sensitive, strong community that I’ve been so excited to know these past few months.

DSC_7174DSC_7180

Using their passion for fashion to show everyone that finding your purpose is possible, they are bringing mindfulness to the masses. I’m proud to be part of it. 

Even better? The products are all mindfully made too. Eco-friendly and they give back 10% of the proceeds to the mental health community.

If you need a daily reminder to get out of your head, use my code MINDFULERICA to get 10% of your purchase!

DSC_7177

What has mindfulness taught me?  Not just that I’m good enough, but that your thinking can be changed. Mental illness blurs my thoughts, making it hard to see reality  – meditation is just one way I arm my mind against anxiety.

A regular part of my self care routine now, mindfulness is not something you practice occasionally. You work at it every moment of every day. I have to play that “Shame” meditation over and over and over again until it becomes second nature to think:

I AM GOOD ENOUGH. 

 

 

 

How do you practice mindfulness with your mental illness? 

A Journey Through My July Goals

July is here and it’s hot. Like seriously humid, guys. While I can barely stand this warm weather, I’m very excited to guide you through my July goals! While scrolling on my Instagram feed earlier today, I was tagged in a new month challenge from a follower. It was about creating a set of goals for the month and honestly, I just love a good list.

So, I sat down with my notebook and really thought about what I want to work on. Here’s what I came up with:

Keep my anger in check

Whether that means removing small triggers or reflecting on my feelings before I fully react to any situation, I will do better in caging my rage. I’m learning – now more then ever – that it’s essential to cut something off if it’s triggering you. Doesn’t matter if it’s an old friend from college, a former co-worker or an ex boyfriend. If they trigger you, remove them. It’s a waste of your energy to spend any time on someone who isn’t bothering with you.

Pursue more poetry

With starting this blog and my Instagram account, I’ve discovered so many inspiring poets who bravely discuss mental health in their poems. From R.M Drake to Becca Lee and Alison Malee –  I’m falling hard. Starting this month, I’ve made the decision to start supporting their writing more than just reposting on my account. I want to buy their volumes and review them on the blog. There’s a wisdom in words, and sometimes it’s so very healing to read someone baring their soul in order to connect within a community.

Master the art of networking

This month, San Diego will be overrun by the magic that is Comic Con. I’ve gone every year for about six years and I must say – it’s fantastic. This year, I *hopefully* will be attending for a day and my goal is to try and network while I’m walking the floor.

I’m on a mission to meet other folks who are just as passionate about mental health as I am! There are limitless opportunities, I just have to get out there and find them. Whether it’s researching community groups, events or conferences that are going on in my area or just handing a potential person my business card – I will master the art of networking.

Learn to let go

Throughout my breakup, I’ve tried to control when I’ll feel a certain emotion or the exact moment I’ll move onto the next stage. While I’m currently in the anger phase, it’s pretty unknown as to when I’ll transition into a more accepting space – and that’s okay. 

With my anxiety, I always have to control. Triggers pop up when I don’t know the outcome or when the path ahead is blurred, but the more I maintain that grasp, the less I actually experience life. It’s time to cut off the control – this world isn’t about knowing every step.

 

Those are my goals for this month. Your turn – what do you want to accomplish for July? Share a few of your goals in the comments below!

 

Works in Progress // Mei

Escaping an abusive home and domestic violence, Mei had several mental illnesses brewing before she made the decision to attend therapy.

With her eloquence and passion for the mental health community, this beautiful soul truly believes that vulnerability is the key to unlocking stories and reaching perspectives we would never have known.

Read Mei’s empowering story of resilience and empathy below.

 

IMG_7849

Name: Meiyi Kiyoko Angel Wong, a.k.a. “Mei”

Age: 22

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

While my mental illnesses had been brewing for years, they made their grand entrance during an extremely stressful, traumatic period in my life—spring 2015. I was nineteen and finally escaping my abusive home, just a year after escaping domestic violence. Living on my own for the first time, attending my second semester of college, working long hours at three jobs, having my sister in psychiatric hospitalization, and trying to separate myself from toxic, dysfunctional relatives pushed me to a breaking point. 

I consider myself a fairly eloquent writer, but I don’t have the words to describe how terrifying and overwhelming the onset of mental illness felt for me. I didn’t know much about mental illness then. I just knew that I was different from before, in a bad way. I felt like there was something—everything—wrong with me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I had been plunged into boiling rapids without knowing how to swim. I was alternately flailing and gasping for air, and sinking beneath the surface. All the while, the noise in my head was the only thing I heard. 

I began to suffer from nightmares, so many that I woke up four to five times a night sweating and screaming. I could not bear to be alone. I felt desperately alone, abandoned, and it was like this emptiness within me was suddenly awakened and raging. I felt that the inside of my bones had been eaten away, that I needed to be tethered to something or I would float away. At the same time, I felt immensely heavy. I was having breakdowns almost daily; I don’t remember how I got through that time. 

My dad eventually recognized that I was in the midst of a genuine crisis and moved in with me. His support and steady presence helped stabilize me to some extent, but my symptoms were still untreated. I started restricting my food as a coping skill, which would soon take on a life on its own. I would eventually be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and anorexia.

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

I don’t know if there was a single resounding moment that changed my mind about getting help, or maybe I don’t remember. It was more the accumulation of everything going on at the time, and realizing that whatever I was doing or not doing, it wasn’t working. I knew that I had to try something different, because I wasn’t living.

Sometime that summer, I told my dad that I wanted to attend therapy. I’d resisted the idea for a long time because of the stigma. I thought that seeking professional help would paint me as the “crazy” person of my family, negating everything that had happened to me. What would it look like if everyone found out that the girl who had claimed to be severely abused was now attending therapy, while the rest of her family (who had denied these claims over and over) were happy, sane, and living their lives? I also didn’t really believe in therapy—the way I saw it at the time, it was paying a stranger to listen to your problems. I told myself that I could just vent to my friends for free if I needed to so badly. In addition, I was and still am fairly reluctant to try new things, and this would be a big change in my routine. But I was out of options, and I figured I should at least give this a shot. 

I had absolutely no idea how to start. I found a therapist on the Internet whose office was near my house, dialed the number on the website, and set up an appointment. I saw her for a few months before deciding that she wasn’t a good fit for me. In October, my dad referred me to his work colleague, a licensed clinical social worker who specializes in treating trauma. We “clicked” almost instantly, and she’s been my therapist ever since. (I don’t even know how to express how much I love her, even after/because of all we’ve been through…) In December of that year, she arranged for me to be evaluated by a psychiatrist so that I could receive medication. I was also intensely researching trauma and mental health around that time, partially for school and partially for myself. For this reason, I agreed. I already knew that I had multiple illnesses, but I wanted confirmation. I received it, along with a completely unexpected diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. 

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

My mental illnesses continue to affect every aspect of my life, but they no longer rule it. They’re more like pesky children I have to deal with, draining me of energy, causing my mood to fluctuate, popping in with intrusive thoughts. Unlike children, they do not bring me any joy or fulfillment, and I am working my hardest to eventually eradicate them. 

I must battle constantly to function as a “normal” person; I’m aware that there’s no such thing, but I know that life should not be this difficult. Take school, for instance. I’ve fought like hell to earn my Associate’s Degree, and I know that my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees will be even tougher. It’s hard to be a full-time or even part-time student when getting out of bed before noon is a feat of brute mental, emotional, and physical strength. Don’t even mention showering, getting dressed, and transporting myself to class. Taking online classes has helped a lot with that aspect, because I can complete assignments and take tests while lying unwashed in bed at 11 PM in my underwear. However, I still have to study whether the classroom I’m attending is physical or virtual, and that’s another huge challenge. Most of the time, I just want to sleep, and it takes enormous effort to motivate myself to do anything. 

My go-to coping skill for studying is to bring my homework to work. I work on it when I have down time on the job or between clients, and due to the stimulating environment I usually get a lot more done than I would at home. Another skill I use, for both school and daily life activities (housekeeping, personal hygiene) is taking advantage of my “bright spots”. Every now and then, I experience a tiny burst of motivated energy amid the days or weeks of MI fog. During these precious few hours, I strive to get as much done as possible that I couldn’t before due to being bogged down by mental illness, or I work ahead to make up for when I’ll be unable to. The time of day can also make a difference for some of us. I’ve found that it’s easiest for me to be productive at night—for some reason, I feel “safer”. While I don’t understand my mind’s reasoning behind this, you bet that come sundown I’ll be sitting at my desk or on the couch furiously typing away on my laptop, taking lecture notes  

I’ve also found it helpful to speak to my professors about my mental health issues. Many professors are willing to extend deadlines or provide more flexible coursework options to help struggling students. Because my professors are also social workers, they’ve been especially understanding. But no matter your major, your professors should want to help you succeed and adapt to a way of life that’s stressful and demanding enough for neurotypical students, let alone those facing the added obstacle of mental health issues. It can be hard to be open and honest with professors and other authority figures (bosses, supervisors, etc) about such topics, but I remind myself that they’re human too, and chances are mental illness has touched their lives as well in some form or another.

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

Living with mental illness has benefited my life by helping me to connect with so many others who are suffering from similar, or even dissimilar disorders. I’ve met so many amazing people in the online recovery community, and I’ve grown tremendously not only in matters of mental health but all-around. I am not the same person I was before mental illness. I’ve gained a new layer of depth, of strength, of resilience. I’ve become more empathetic, more human. 

Obviously, I wouldn’t ever want or choose to be mentally ill—that would make my life so much easier! But I also wouldn’t want to give up the beautiful friendships and innumerable fleeting heart-bonds I’ve fostered through sharing the experience of mental illness. Having mental illnesses has taught me that vulnerability is the key to unlocking stories, to softening exteriors, to not only seeing but reaching worlds beyond myself and allowing them to reach me. And with that key in hand, I’ve made more meaningful connections in two years than I have in all my previous ones. I anticipate making many more. 

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

Reach out. Reach out, even though everything in you wants to withdraw. Reach out, despite believing you don’t deserve support and love. Reach out, because there are others. Not everyone will “get” you, not everyone will make it a priority to be there for you. But once you find those who do, you’ve struck pure gold. 

Mental illness is a compulsive, serial liar. It tells each one of its victims that they’re alone, that they’re “freaks”, that no one could possibly grasp what they’re going through, how they think, who they are, and still want to associate with them. Reaching out to the right people, in a safe, accepting, recovery-oriented community (and there are so many out there who wait to welcome you) will free you. Don’t shrink from that light. Run toward it. Or walk. Or whatever you can do to get there and stay there. You don’t have to go this alone. Please, do not go this alone. 

 

 

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

The Thing About Setbacks // A Lesson In Making Mistakes

This weekend has been a long one. Yes, it technically is a long weekend, but I’ve had a really hard time keeping my anger in check.

Every day this weekend, all I’ve done is snap at people, get defensive, and let any little thing trigger me. I ragged on my friends and had a quick temper at others – that’s not something I’m about and it’s not part of what I do on this blog. I’m letting my anger phase of my breakup overtake my emotions and it needs to stop. In order to confront your mistakes, someone usually has to call you out on your behavior. I’m thankful to have people like that in my life where – no matter what – they will tell me the reality and not sugar coat my anxiety. I was wrong and that’s okay. 

It takes a lot of strength to own up to your mistakes but that’s part of how we grow past them. Was I really defensive at first? You bet I was. It’s all part of anxiety – she’ll hold on as long as she can, whatever she has to do to stay #1 priority in my mind. But, once I paused, meditated with my Simple Habit app, and had myself a good cry, I realized that I made a mistake. Guess what? I’m still good enough. Making mistakes is all part of life and it’s part of living with mental illness. We don’t always get it right the first time around – come to think of it, I usually never get it right the first time – but that’s how we learn to adapt and practice new coping skills in the future. Sometimes you have to experience a setback in order to be better.

Now, I know this is incredibly hard to do, believe me. I didn’t always used to be this person that could have an argument or be called out on my attitude and be open to it. But since therapy, I’ve changed. Even my therapist has told me that one of the things she loves about me is that I’m able to look at a comment I’ve been told about myself and be open to changing it. I’ll admit, you’re right, I do need to work on that. There are plenty of people who cannot utter those words, but there are also many that can. We are capable of seeing our weaknesses and learning from them – we are strong enough.

I have a lot of anger inside of me from my breakup and while anger is an emotion I’m not used to, it’s not an excuse for the behavior I’ve had all weekend. If I use my own anxiety as a crutch for my attitude, how will I grow? I won’t, that’s what. This journey with anxiety is going to be paved with several obstacles and setbacks, it’s all in how I pick myself up and learn from them.

Reflect, don’t react. 

That’s a new mantra I’ve come up with for handling this anger that’s arrived in my life. Instead of completely reacting – whether it’s through defensiveness or anger – I need to learn to stop and ask myself why I’m so upset. Is my anger directed at the right situation or person? If it’s not, that means it’s time to do a deeper dive into this emotion and why I’m feeling it to begin with.

When we do what is right, it’s never easy. This path is not easy. It’s confusing, sad, happy, overwhelming, scary, content, and all other range of feelings. I’m a person and I’m hurting, but that doesn’t mean I have a free pass to vomit my attitude and anger all over everyone else. I see this setback and I raise it with reflection, resilience, and a response of: I will do better. 

 

 

Have you made a setback or mistake in your mental health? Share your story in the comments below!