Works in Progress // Lauren

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

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

 

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Name: Lauren

Age: 20

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Kimberly

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

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

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Name: Kimberly

Age: 50

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

Post Therapy Thoughts // Emotional Reactivity

When I headed into therapy tonight, my heart was feeling different emotions. The state of our country is in complete chaos. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and now a massive shooting in Las Vegas. While I was confused and in pain from all of this death, I had a lot to discuss with my therapist in my own personal life.

The events in Las Vegas stirred some panic and anxiety within me, due to a loved one living in the area. When I found out that she was safe and sound, my fear subsided, but the anxiety did not lessen. I ended up in an argument with another family member over issues somewhat related and regardless of their topic – it was triggering.

I was berated and attacked over the phone, even after I spoke my own truth on the matter. Months ago, my therapist helped me figure out a little trick for when you are unable to handle a conversation over the phone, but don’t want to trigger someone else by just hanging up. She taught me to clearly state – and if you have to speak over the person when they are yelling, do it – that you are done speaking to them about this, and you will give them a call later. For me, it’s usually in less words, but it gets the message across. It’s a win-win – they understand your boundary and you practice enforcing it.

There is normally a level that my arguments with certain family members get to where I know that I’ll have to use this tactic. That happened in this situation. I was direct, spoke my truth on the matter and then I was met with defensiveness and anger. When it reached a level I was no longer able to handle mentally, I clearly stated so and hung up.

In hearing this, my therapist looked at me proudly. She told me how happy she was to hear that I stood in my truth, and didn’t let the words of someone else affect me so deeply. She said that because she remembers how I used to be.

Just about a year ago, this would not have been how I handled a scenario like that. I would have responded with emotional reactivity linked to codependency, which more information can be found on here.

Essentially, it means that instead of speaking my truth and actively letting the thoughts and feelings of others go, I would spiral into them. Spinning endlessly and feeling like my feet would never hit the ground, I would ruminate and let it ruin my entire night. Still allowing myself to feel all of the anxiety and emotion within someone else entirely.

Here’s a better definition of reactivity: 

“If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.”

Instead of protecting my own mental health, I would let myself be consumed by the need to help people understand. To just get them to see my point of view. It didn’t matter how much of my time it took, how deeply it pierced my heart, or how it skyrocketed my anxiety – I keep getting caught in the cycle.

Nowadays, I can proudly say I get a gold star in positive, direct emotional reactivity. Well, at least that’s what my therapist tells me. Achieving massive growth in that category, it’s incredibly empowering to know that a lack of understanding in others no longer has the same affect on me.

When I’m confronted by these type of people – loved ones or not – I go through this neat little four step plan my therapist and I created:

Listen + engage – When starting off any conversation, it’s important to hear the person out and allow them to state their truth, so they can – hopefully – let you do the same. Engage if and when you feel comfortable and it is necessary.

Speak my truth – When allowed in the conversation, clearly state your own truth. There is no outline for how this is supposed to sound – speak from the heart, be direct and vulnerable. If they don’t react well, that is not on you.

Assess the emotional reaction of the conversation – Once you’ve spoken your truth, there are several different ways a person can react. Listen and assess how they have responded, whether it’s from a place of understanding, empathy and respect or anger, blame and defensiveness. 

React accordingly – If they react in the first way stated above, then you’re golden. They are clearly healthy in their boundaries and respect your truth. If not, and you are being bombarded by anger and projection – establish your boundary and display healthy emotional reactivity. This can look different too. While my way is stating I cannot talk anymore and hanging up, yours might be redirecting the conversation to another subject or clearly stating you don’t want to talk about this any longer. Do what is right for you in the moment, but don’t be afraid to create boundaries. 

 

I’m so proud of how far I’ve come in this specific area of codependency and establishing clear, healthy boundaries. I cannot state how important it is to protect our mental health and our hearts. Do not allow the thoughts and feelings of others consume you – speak your truth and move on. It’s not our responsibility to show everyone exactly how we feel. Most aren’t listening. Cut it off and let it go.

 

 

 

Do you have trouble with healthy emotional reactivity? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

 

 

Post Therapy Thoughts // Understanding Codependency

Heading into my session, I had something weighing on me, and it wasn’t until I sat down and blurted it out that I realized it was affecting me so much. Over the weekend, I had found out some disturbing updates on a former boyfriend and while he hasn’t been in my life in years, I was worried about him.

Discussing it in more detail, I explained to my therapist just how concerned I was and how I felt compelled to reach out and help. With this blog and writing about mental health on a daily basis, I truly believe that I’ve started to lead with my heart more. I care unconditionally.

In the middle of my story, my therapist suddenly said, “that’s codependency.” And it hit me. That’s what it is.

Let me be clear, codependency is not equivalent to kindness. It is in my personality to be caring and kind, but what my therapist explained was that codependency feeds off of this quality.

It pulls you in, weighs you down. A whirlwind, hurricane swirl of that intense desire to be needed by another human. To make an impact in someone’s life. Their choices, their self worth.

Most people have this notion that codependency means you’re “addicted” to each other in a relationship, but it can mean that you’re addicted to helping. Always the cheerleader, encourager, or even mother in any relationship, you are the healer. They come to you for solace, comfort, and contentment.

My overwhelming desire to help others has always led me down a difficult path when it comes to relationships and men. Picking slightly broken people with addictive personalities, I believe I subconsciously had the desire to be needed, to help others heal. It was in this session that I learned I need to let that feeling fade.

My therapist truly understood my emotions, because with her own profession, she wants to help everyone heal – but she can’t. I can’t help everyone, she says. People like her and I, who fully understand how rewarding and fulfilling the other side of pain can be, just want others to see it too but sometimes, they don’t. She went on to describe how frustrating and emotional it can be to see someone’s self worth and have them be so blind to it, and that struck a cord with me.

I just want him to see his worth. That’s what I immediately thought. My previous boyfriend wasn’t the best boyfriend I’ve ever had, but he’s a good person. He has worth, more than he knows. More than anything in the world, my codependency wanted to help him realize his meaning, his purpose but in reality, I have no control over whether he sees it.

Realizing my hurt and confusion over this new notion, my therapist told me how she handles it.

“Once we get to a level where we can no longer affect change with another person, we must learn to trust in something bigger than ourselves. I pray, but it can be anything you feel comfortable doing – meditation, sending out positive vibes, etc. Let go and let the universe take over.”

These words not only gave me comfort, they made me feel like I was doing something for him, anything. While it might be small, I truly believe that sending out positive energy of love, self worth, and kindness can have an affect on that person.

I’m still struggling with the realization, but it’s crucial that we embrace this concept that we cannot help everyone. Even my close friend, who is also a healer in her personality, told me that it’s important to know when to step back and heal ourselves. Learning to protect our hearts rather than pour them out to others can be more beneficial than sharing it with someone who is deaf to the impact. My therapist gave me a list of books with topics surrounding codependency, and I plan on researching them and reading a few. I’ll be sure to give you all updates on those!

Let’s save our strength and compassion for the right people, and for ourselves. We can’t help everyone, but we can control how we use our kindness towards others. 

 

 

 

Do you have issues with codependency? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby // 4 Ways To Be More Sex Positive

For the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling like I want to start having sex again. That’s right, I said it. 

It’s been about four months now since my breakup, and I haven’t had any partners in the meantime. I needed this time to focus on my own growth, get past the pain. But since I’ve moved out of the acceptance phase, I no longer feel an attachment, or guilt at the notion of being intimate with another person.

Recently, I’ve had the option to engage in sex again, but haven’t taken it. I wanted to speak with my therapist about it, and honestly – that’s something I have trouble with. I consider myself a pretty open person in general, but when it comes to sex, I tend to get uncomfortable. I’ve bought into the idea that sex is something you don’t talk about. While in therapy, I’ve made a conscious effort to venture past my comfort zones and that includes talking about sex. Awkward, bumbling and instantly embarrassed, I finally got the words out:

“I think I want to have sex again, but the idea of another man in my space makes me a little uncomfortable.” 

To which my therapist replied, “If you have hesitation, wait. Write about it, think on it. Sex is okay – it feels good.”

This was exactly what I needed to hear, and what prompted me to write this post. My therapist was so sex positive in that statement, and it inspired me to become more positive about my own pleasure.

Before I ever had sex, I always thought it would be with the love of my life. It would be this amazing, fantastic, super special event. In reality, it was with my first boyfriend and it wasn’t anything to write home about. I had held sex on such a pedestal my entire life (or as long as I had been aware sex existed) that my expectations were shattered. Eventually it got better, but the first boyfriend and I broke up down the line. It would be two more years until I ventured out again.

Honestly, the reason I waited so long was because of shame. As women, we get such a negative label attached to being sex positive, we are called names: 

Whore

Trashy

Slut

Naughty

Attention-seeking 

 

While men get names like fuck boy, women really have the brunt of the shaming. These puritanical ideas about sex, that having a lot of it is bad, nasty, and shameful, causes us to feel guilty for liking it.

But why? For years, I gave into what society whispered in my ear that I was shameful or “slutty,” for sleeping around, but no more.

I am a woman that knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to get it. 

I protect my body and practice safe sex, regardless of what men in the past have tried to “talk me into.” I know how to say no. Just because we enjoy sex, doesn’t mean we don’t have standards. Embrace your sexuality, don’t allow other projected ideas to hinder your experiences.

I wasn’t always this way, and I still struggle. Getting back into having sex two years ago was a challenge. I slept around, but I had literally never done that before. It started off very empowering – I was exploring my sexuality. But, after it stopped with one particular person, I sought it out in anyone, and that’s where the growth and empowerment ended.

I was seeking it out in random men, when I wasn’t in the mind frame to be engaging in that form of sexual activity anymore. Sleeping with random people is okay, if you are okay with it. I would leave feeling empty, unfulfilled and anxious. It wasn’t until a friend gave me some guidance, and my therapist told me that I was seeking validation in the wrong places, that I made a conscious effort to stop. Months later, my second boyfriend and I smacked into each other and 9 months later, here we are. Single and ready to mingle.

Being sex positive means engaging in open and honest communication. It means being accepting of all people’s consensual sexual lifestyles. It means breaking down the concept that one kind of sex practice is better than the other and building a community of people who respect each other and are thoughtful, rather than judgmental. Here are a few ways I’ve learned to become more sex positive:

 

Make room for the asexuals 

Having sex is healthy, but so is not having sex. Some people are asexual, which means they do not experience any sexual attraction. Close to 1% of the population identifies as asexual and while that may seem like a low statistic, it’s still human beings. People with hearts, souls and bodies who have a right to be respected. Others might be gray-sexual, which is a more fluid orientation between asexual and sexual. Not everyone is a completely sexual being, and sex isn’t always essential.

 

Consent is crucial

When there are two consenting adults, anything is possible. Respecting consent is an essential part of being sex positive. Everyone has the right to have sex – or not – on their own terms.

 

Say no to slut shaming

I’m sure you’ve heard someone call women who take birth control pills a slut before. While it’s unfortunate, slut shaming is still alive and well. I’ll admit it, I’ve participated in it as a young woman in my early 20’s. The word was very popular and people threw it around a lot. You were a slut for sleeping around, taking birth control, or even engaging in sexual behavior that wasn’t “the norm.”

Since close to 80% of American women take birth control, including myself, I guess we are all sluts. Whether it’s “feeling bad” for the women who work in pornography or saying that girl was “asking for it,” we must check ourselves before we shame people for voluntarily showing their sexuality.

Take the right and wrong out of being turned on 

So many of us are taught that sexuality is supposed to look a certain way. Instead of relying on porn, the media or what your friends like to do in the bedroom, focus on what you like. Write it down, delve deeper into your own mind, you might like what you find.

BDSM, fetishes, role-playing – all completely acceptable and okay when it’s among two consenting adults. Just because more unknown or unexplored sexual practices could turn you off, doesn’t mean they are wrong. This form of knee jerk reaction is what keeps people discriminated against and marginalized. Let’s respect and acknowledge everyone!

 

Having – or not having – sex is a healthy part of life. Sex can be a form of intimacy, linked to relationships and complex experiences, but there can also be many other forms of intimacy without the act of sex. Whether you do everything, or nothing at all, it’s important to keep ourselves in check when it comes to sex.

While you should never police others for their sexual activity, keeping track of what does or doesn’t make you comfortable is key. Questions like: What is this doing for me? How do I feel afterward? How is my sexual activity affecting other areas of my life like my anxiety/depression/ other mental illnesses?

When we ask these questions of ourselves, we are not only engaging in sex positive behavior, we are closer to being happy healthy sexual beings. So get out there and seek pleasure, but be respectful of others and aware of your actions.

 

 

 

Do you struggle with shame when it comes to sex? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

 

 

3 Tips On Coping With Conflict

The idea of confrontation has always made me sick to my stomach. Up until very recently, I got incredibly anxious even considering someone didn’t like me or that I might have to engage in conflict – whether it was at work or in my personal life.

That was, until therapy came into the picture. Each day, I’m learning that anger is a healthy emotion when valid, and that it’s completely acceptable to stick up for yourself when you know the situation is wrong. Learning to argue in a healthy way is one of the main ingredients to this whole “adulting” thing, and everything from little fights with your partner to standing your ground at work fall into that category.

Doing anything to avoid confrontation is not only counterproductive, it can stunt your emotional growth. We’ve been conditioned to think that fighting is harmful, dangerous or exposes us as vulnerable to the negative emotions of others but in the endit’s really about owning our truth and standing our ground when someone enters to shift it.

In the past few months, I’ve dealt with a lot of conflict. While it can be emotionally draining, we must learn to stick up for ourselves. If you’re having trouble fighting the fear of confrontation, here are a few tips:

Respond, Don’t React 

I’ve had a lot of trouble with this. Whenever I feel attacked or cornered, the first instinct with my own anxiety is to get angry. That usually isn’t the best response, although anger can be a valid feeling.

Then there is a completely different knee-jerk reaction some people with anxiety experience. Fear. The intense feeling or need to hide, panic or even please them to make the conflict end. Fight the feeling – you are allowed to disagree with others. 

Deep breath. In and out. Focus on expressing a rational, direct and clear response – do not just react in fear. 

Getting to this place takes both practice and the right tools, so don’t beat yourself up if future conflict brings on an emotional reaction – even if you’re doing your best to avoid it.

 

Practice Saying No 

Oh boy, have I learned this. Perpetually a people pleaser, the word no wasn’t really in my vocabulary. With my own anxiety, I would avoid conflict and just agree or say yes because I was afraid of the other person leaving – abandonment. Particularly in a romantic relationship, I would appease the partner to stay away from bigger fights or getting emotional on my end, because then they would definitely leave, or so Anxiety Erica led me to believe. 

In my most recent relationship, I continued to grow and break the boundaries of conflict avoidance. Even though the relationship didn’t last, I am thankful that that specific partner respected and allowed me to get mad, to start a fight. I’ve never been comfortable with it due to my fear of abandonment, so I consider that to be growth – no matter the end result.

If saying no is something that’s on the more difficult side, start small. Whether you’re at the grocery store, a cafe, or movie theater, practice refusing. Take the baby steps and like repetition therapy, you will quickly learn that the world doesn’t end when you stand your ground. No one will yell at you, there won’t be any negative consequences – you’re allowed to say no. 

 

Know Your Value 

One of the main reasons conflict anxiety exists is from undervaluing ourselves. Especially at work, it can be hard to know we are in the right when a manager, coworker or any employee is directly engaging with you. With the normal instinct being to shrink and hide, we must firmly plant our feet on the ground and speak our truth.

Panic and fear have no place in conflict when we are clear and direct. It takes confidence, self worth, and a helluva lot of growth to reach the place where truth matters more than the negative consequences our anxiety creates, but once you get there, stay there – stay empowered. 

We are only our truth, it will set us free and keep us from any harm. If you know you are in the right, fight for that feeling.

 

Believe me, I know this takes time. This isn’t some snap of the fingers shit – practice makes perfect. In fact, the whole reason I wrote this post was because in my last therapy session, I spoke with my therapist on how I handled a confrontation in my life, and halfway through my story I noticed she had a look of approval on her face.

When I finished, she told me that she was proud of me. She said, just a little over a year ago, I would have handled a conflict exactly like that very differently. It would have been a series of hurt, anxiety, fear, and intense crying. And eventually appeasement. This time, I responded with a healthy combination of anger, authenticity, and owning my truth. I didn’t have any concern for the consequences that came after the confrontation, or a crippling fear of abandonment – I just looked to my truth. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, it’s a long journey to unlearn behaviors like these.

 

 

 

Do you have a fear of conflict or confrontation? Share how you handle it in the comments below! 

 

Works in Progress // Sarah

Growing up in a family with mental illness, Sarah was no stranger to suffering. Living with anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia since she was just four years old, she didn’t reach out and get help until the intense hypomania of her undiagnosed bipolar disorder took a dark turn. 

Trading in her straight-A student role for an out of control musician, this creative soul eventually realized that medication would save her life. Not just surviving, Sarah is thriving through bipolar disorder. Writing music around mental health, performing at high schools to educate teens, and even practicing aerial yoga, these fantastic forms of self care have kept her going, while helping others heal as well.

 

Meet Sarah. 

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Name: Sarah Jickling

Age: 26

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’ve had anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia for as long as I can remember. I come from a family with mental illness on both sides, and I grew up watching grown ups struggle, panic, and lose control, so I thought my experiences were just par for the course. When I was four, I slept with a fisher price knife under my pillow because I was scared someone would crawl through my window. When I was eight, my parents gave up trying to find a way to help me sleep after exhausting all their resources. When I was fourteen, I had one of my panic attacks, the one where suddenly everything is in slow motion and I forget basic motor skills, during a french class and failed a test for the first time. No one seemed to think any of this was out of the ordinary, and I never went to the school counsellor because none of the teachers even knew my name. I was too quiet.

But the quiet was about to end. In my late teens and early twenties, I went from a shy straight A student with an artistic side to a university-drop out musician who drank wine on the bus and had screaming matches in the streets. I felt completely out of control. One day I would feel excited, and feel sure that I was in the right place at the right time and it was only a matter of time before I would be opening for Feist on the big stage at a festival, and then I would wake up a few days later feeling heavy, feeling empty, and for the first time, suicidal. I would go to band practice and lie on the floor in tears. Everyone realized something was happening before I did. My behaviour pushed away my best friend, every boyfriend I had, my bandmates, and my roommates. People begged me to get help. People told me that I was broken and I needed to be fixed or no one would ever want anything to do with me. This was bipolar disorder, a new beast that was harder to ignore than anxiety and panic attacks. 

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

The thing about bipolar disorder is that it can seem like so many different illnesses depending on when you go to the doctor. The first time I decided to get help was when my best friend told me she wouldn’t be my friend unless I went on medication. I went to my family doctor who promptly diagnosed me with depression and put me on a waitlist to see a psychiatrist. But of course, soon I felt better, I felt like I didn’t need a doctor and I couldn’t imagine why I thought I ever did, and I would cancel the appointment. The second time I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2. I rejected this diagnosis because I knew I was “crazy,” and I really didn’t want my ex-boyfriend to be right. Bipolar was something people had been teasing me about for quite some time.

The third time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I found myself at the hospital on boxing day, a week after my soulmate told me he couldn’t watch me suffer anymore. The doctor spent some time tracking my moods and finally asked me if I had ever “heard of bipolar disorder before,” worried she would scare me away with that big word. By that time, I had done enough research and read enough books to know that I had bipolar disorder. I accepted the diagnosis without a second thought. The doctor said that treating the bipolar might take away my ability to write songs, and that a lot of people miss the creativity of hypomania when they go on medication. I didn’t care about being a musician anymore. I didn’t care about anything but getting better.

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

It’s true that medication changes the creative process for people with bipolar disorder. Before my recovery, I would black out and wake up with a song. It was the only easy thing in my life. But bipolar doesn’t provide me with my creativity. Hypomania provides artists with a chance to write without our inner critic. I’m now learning to write songs thoughtfully, with extreme focus. It’s harder, but not impossible. 

My medication has completely stabilized me, but it does have it’s unfortunate side effects. I sleep a lot. I am constantly dehydrated. I can’t drink alcohol anymore. And of course, the unexplained ecstasy of hypomania is gone from my life forever.  But I can have a steady job, a real relationship and a working memory, so I think it’s worth it. My life is still all about coping with bipolar, anxiety and panic attacks though. I exercise every single day, I take mindfulness classes, I go to DBT groups, I see my therapist and my psychiatrist often. I put my mental health before any job or other responsibility. I think back to a time not so long ago when I was overdosing, praying I would never wake up, and I remember that vigilant self care is the only thing that has kept me from returning to those life or death situations. 

I also write music about my mental illness and share them with others. I’m lucky to have an outlet, and I’ve found a community of artists also dealing with mental illness who help inspire me to keep going.

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

Living with anxiety has forced me to learn how to rationally face my fears. When your fears are every where, you can’t help but bump into them at every turn. Now I feel as though I can do almost anything, whether that be travel to a different country or play on a stage to thousands of people. Learning to treat my anxiety has introduced me to all sorts of fantastic coping mechanisms… from mindfulness to aerial yoga to pole dancing! 

Living with bipolar disorder, on the other hand, has given me an ability to help other people. I have learned to live with a severe mental illness and now I get to help others, whether that’s through releasing my new album “When I Get Better,” or performing at high schools with the BC Schizophrenia Society’s musical/educational show “Reach Out Psychosis.” It’s also a great way to weed out fickle friends. If you have friends who will stick with you through bipolar treatment, you have very good friends.

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

You are worth loving, even with your mental illnesses. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be forgotten immediately. 

 

 

 

 

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

Post Therapy Thoughts // Drive Versus Fire

Therapy this week was seriously enlightening. We discussed several topics – from handling parent/child relationships as an adult to the characteristics of a healthy relationship in general – but the subject I really learned from in my hour session was the difference between having drive and fire. 

In the discussion on healthy relationships, my therapist and I got to talking about my past romantic relationships and reasons why they may have ended. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this exact topic, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my fire is too strong for some people. And that’s not my burden to bear. 

In the past, I’ve always gone straight to the idea that the ending of a relationship – or friendship, hookup, what have you – was something I had done. It was in this therapy session, and the past few weeks, that a lightbulb switched on and I realized: it’s not me, it’s who I’m attracting. 

Here are a few things I learned this week on drive versus fire and how to have healthy relationships in the future:

 

Reflect on the vibes you send out 

For years, I’ve been attracted to a certain kind of partner. Confident, humble, quiet. Until now, I thought that was really what I wanted. But why? If anyone meets me for more than a few minutes, they will see the fire I have inside. I’m pure passion from my head to my heart – what you see is what you get. I’m loud, laughing, and I feel what I feel.

So, why am I dating more reserved people? Well, my therapist’s answer was that opposites attract, but sometimes it’s more than that. She went on to explain that I kept picking these people because that’s what I thought I should be more like. Quiet, reserved, not “too much.” In a way, my attraction to these kind of men was really just how I saw myself – I didn’t think I was good enough being authentic, so I thought dating different qualities than my own would change that deep insecurity. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

It’s taken some distance from my last breakup and a hell of a lot of self reflection, therapy and growth to realize this. I finally love who I am and I want someone who not only loves that fire in me, but also shares the same passion. I deserve someone authentic, romantic, and emotionally mature.

 

Drive vs. Fire 

Now, you’re probably wondering: what’s the difference between drive and fire? While they may sound similar, they aren’t. To me – and my therapist – drive is pure motivation. While it can be a genuine attribute to have in your personality, it’s more technical. In the past, I’ve dated people with a lot of drive. At first, I mistook it for fire, but really it’s something that can take over every aspect of life. If you’re not careful, having too much drive can cause you to forget the little things along the way.

The difference is too much fire can only fuel the soul. Fire is passion. It’s part of my character, personality, and within my heart. Fire means that I don’t just feel a feeling and move on. Fire means I jump into every event of my life with two feet, one giant heart, and an overwhelming rush of love, hope, and courage. It’s how I know my worth, it’s why I’m here today – writing this blog. Motivation and drive are positive qualities to have, but fire is the reason they are even there to begin with.

I also thought being “too much” was a negative, and that I had to tone my personality down for men, but the more I love myself and nurture my worth – the more I realize that I’ll find that fire in other person if I don’t hold back.

It was from defining those two qualities that I feel so free. I feel like I can shed this insecure, toned down form of myself and step back into the world truly authentic. Is there anxiety about eventually getting back into the dating world? Absolutely. From here on out, I know that this pattern I’ve created will stay exactly where it belongs – in the past. Here’s to a future of fire. 

 

Do you feel like you have “too much” fire versus drive? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Post Therapy Thoughts // Recognizing A Narcissist

When I got into therapy on Tuesday, it was a regular session. We discussed smaller triggers I had experienced throughout the two weeks, such as the fight about money with my father and even former hook-ups of mine starting to message me again, and not really being ready for that kind of male attention.

However, it wasn’t until I began to discuss a certain person in my life (who I am choosing not to name due to sensitivity) that the real discussion started. We’ll call her Sally. I had been in several fights with this person over the last month, and for me – it’s always difficult to handle.

I needed space, and Sally just hasn’t been able to respect that. Calling and texting me every single day, I would grow more and more anxious and angry at even the thought of picking up the phone. Writing a new blog post on money anxiety, Sally texted me with her opinion of what she read, and it was borderline emotionally abusive – according to my therapist. I was shamed for even having money troubles to begin with. Rather than seeing how much vulnerability it took to write the post, she focused on tearing me down. The relationship can be described as my therapist states,

“They pull you in with charm, only to slap you then kiss you.”

This is a narcissist.

Whether it’s a friend, partner, or even family member, narcissists can have a serious, negative impact on everyday life and relationships. We tend not to see narcissists in our lives until confronted with the cold, hard facts about their personalities. Sometimes, we are just too close to see, but once you do – it all becomes very clear. You stop feeling the shame and guilt, and start seeing that this is their problem, not yours.

After the session, my therapist emailed me a handout that helped me to better understand narcissistic behavior, and validated my experience all these years. The information below is loosely based off that handout by Elisabeth Caetano.

 

They’re likable, at first glance. 

Narcissists tend to be well versed in first impressions, coming across as personable and charismatic. In the beginning, all you see is the positive, but over the long term more and more negativity seeps through.

They always manage to make it about themselves.

While they engage initially, they always eventually turn the conversation around to talk about themselves, their accomplishments and achievements and typically don’t ask about you and your life or interests.

Not all stories are victorious ones. 

Narcissists often tell stories about themselves – sometimes even repeating the same story over and over again – and many times, the story will be surrounding an instance of personal heroism or an exploit. But, even when the story is something negative, it will never be the narcissist’s fault. There’s an air of entitlement in the victory story and victimization in the failure.

The key is seeing through the facade, as they never take responsibility for anything negative.

Appearance is everything. 

While they aren’t necessarily more attractive than other people, they do take care of their appearance and place an importance on looking good. This doesn’t just apply to physical, the emotional has to seem perfect all the time as well.

Making sure everyone knows how hard they work, how much they make money-wise, how much they have, and how deserving they are of it is essential.

They are hyper sensitive to criticism.

Fragility of the ego is paramount in narcissistic behavior. They simply cannot be wrong, or responsible, therefore – you cannot give them even constructive criticism without it turning into an argument.

With no ability to see themselves as less than, or flawed, they are almost delusional in their “truth” of who they are. It’s not your fault if you can’t help them see.

They love to make excuses. 

Tending to externalize blame, pinning the blame on everyone but themselves, narcissists are skilled at making excuses and not taking credit for mistakes.

They even tend to get extremely defensive and then go on the attack – sometimes in an aggressive manner – to prove it’s not their fault. This usually involves tearing others down to make their “point.”

They do not honor boundaries. 

This one I have experienced all too well. While this is more of an informational post helping others to understand when a narcissist might be in their lives – I still think back to my own situation. I have someone very close to me who fits the bill in most of these traits. While I love her, it’s incredibly hard to handle. She has always been problematic with this specific behavior.

Narcissists do not honor boundaries because they simply don’t believe it applies to them. That’s where the sense of entitlement comes back into play. Healthy emotional boundaries are essential for any relationship – especially for people suffering with mental illness. To disrespect that is toxic, inconsiderate, and potentially dangerous for another person.

It’s likely they have no clue they are a narcissist. 

With no real insight or ability to see themselves at that level, it’s likely they will never understand how their behavior effects the people around them.

Because they feel so superior and may even have some success, they’re unlikely to seek treatment. In itself, this issue is a double whammy because the things they see in themselves prevent them from seeing they have real problems that need to be dealt with.

Flattery maintains the peace.

Have you found yourself resorting to flattery to maintain the peace in a relationship? You’re dealing with a narcissist. While it’s the best way to avoid conflict, it can cause you to doubt yourself – your feelings, perceptions.

 

Did any of these situations above feel all too real? If so, it might be time to make some changes. If you don’t feel emotionally safe with someone, cut the cord.

While it can feel like being in a relationship with a narcissist is necessary for survival, your mental health is worth more.

It’s a long process to recover yourself after being in any type of relationship, but it can be done. You can rebuild your life, emotional health, and come back from being lost in the toxic world of a narcissist.

 

Have you dealt with a narcissist in your life? Share your story in the comments below. 

4 Tips on Removing Toxic People From Your Life

One of the first things my therapist taught me was this:

Erica, you’re an adult. You do not have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable or anxious, regardless of the circumstances. 

While this has been a harder one to learn, this lesson has stuck with me over the year and a half I’ve been seeing my therapist. Whether it’s a relationship or a friendship, toxic people are like a thorn in the side of our already challenging mental health.

Toxic people force you to get stuck in the past and focus on the negative. They are selfish, and normally not able to fully see our mental illnesses, the issues that you suffer from every day. For years, I put up with friends like this, friends who only focused on themselves and played the victim when called out on their behavior. Blame placing, projection, passive aggressiveness. Then, after a really triggering argument with someone I thought was a close friend, I paused and asked myself:

Why am I giving so much of my time and energy to fix a relationship that is broken to begin with?

Why am I sitting here doing 90% of the compromising? Bending over backwards to please, and for what? So I don’t have to have a confrontation? My anxiety fears these forms of arguments with friends because it digs into my own self worth, and the need to be liked. I found it was when I pushed past that fear that I came to this realization – I don’t need these people in my life. 

I don’t need people in my life who refuse to understand my anxiety. I don’t need people around who attack and project their own anxieties onto me, and aren’t able to own up to it. I don’t need inauthentic friends who shy away from being real with me. What’s the point? It took a few emotional breakups to teach myself that saying goodbye to one thing can sometimes open the door to self preservation, growth, and a deeper understanding of our worth.

Here are a few tips on cutting toxic people out of your life, once and for all:

Establish & maintain boundaries 

The more you try to please them, the more you drain your mind, energy, and spirit. Compromise after compromise will just leave you exhausted – it’s time to set some healthy boundaries.

Now, there are circumstances where you can’t completely remove a person from your life, or with the help of boundaries, the person can remain.

Give some serious thought to what you will tolerate and what you won’t, whether it’s from partners, family members, coworkers, or friends. When your instinct tells you something’s not right in your interactions with someone, refer back to your already established mental boundary checklist and enforce it.

Reduce their power over you

Part of removing toxic people is understanding projection – recognizing that they’re not actually seeing you when they hurt you.

As an extremely sensitive person who has a great deal of emotion, I used to let most of my toxic friends control my entire mood. The truth is, it’s likely they are projecting onto you the parts of themselves they aren’t so stoked on accepting. See their immature behavior for what it is – weak. 

Once you start to see this, it won’t be so difficult to move on.

Pick your battles

This is a big one. I’m still learning this one every day. In the past, I would charge into every argument guns blazing – big or small. More recently, I’ve learned when to stick up for myself and when to let it go. Sometimes, saying no is a positive thing. It’s okay to protect your emotions and walk away. 

Know it’s not your job to save them

As a people pleaser, I’ve had trouble accepting this. Toxic people are really great at showing up in times of need, or in a crisis. For example, I had a friend who would come to me for anything and everything from advice to a shoulder to cry on, but when I called her out on her toxic behavior, I suddenly did nothing for her and only talked about myself, which just wasn’t true.

Not only is this blame placing, it’s problematic. Solving their problems is not our responsibility, it’s their own. Even in my own breakup recently, I’ve come to this realization. It’s not my job to save him from the issues he is facing, it’s his.

A wonderful quote that I actually heard on my drive to work recently, listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Last Podcast on the Left, said:

“Mental health is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.”

While I never judge or blame someone for having mental health issues – I clearly have my own – I do consider them responsible with managing it. If they’re not able to do that, or at least trying, I have to remove myself. 

 

Distancing yourself from toxic people seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really not. It’s taken years for me to come to this conclusion, but I’m so glad I’ve seen the light because once you cut off these friends or partners who do nothing but trigger you, you make room for all the people who deserve to be in your life. The people who respect you and take joy in watching your growth, and vice versa. The people you can be completely raw around – mental illness and all.

Surround yourself with healthy, like minded people – you deserve it. 

 

 

 

Have you had to remove toxic people from your life? Share your story in the comments below.