What I’ve Learned About Dating

I say this every time, but it really has been awhile since I’ve written anything on this blog. For the past few months, I haven’t felt motivated to write much of anything. There have been so many shifts in my personal life – with my friendships, family – that I’ve been taking the time to process those and honestly, that takes all of the energy out of me.

However, I got a message from a follower on my Instagram asking where my blog posts were, and it made me realize that this is my first love. This is my passion, and it also has always helped me to heal – why not go back to it?

Around five months ago, I was broken up with for the third time. Relationships haven’t ever been easier for me. I’ve always felt like “too much,” and that I’m bothering the person I’m with. I thought this more recent person was much different, more authentic, but it turned out that he wasn’t ready to for a real, adult relationship. So, I am single again and with that comes a lot of self-realization, and dating. 

Since I’ve been around the block three times now, I thought I would share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Here’s a little guide on how I navigate dating with anxiety! 

***Also, I’ll be including GIFs into my post because they are fun and I love them. That is all. 

Alone time is essential 

Alone does not mean lonely. Repeat that as many times as you need to to actually believe it. Just because you are alone, without a partner right now, does not mean you have to feel lonely. 

If you aren’t used to it, is being consistently alone difficult? Of course. It’s not something you will get used to overnight. After one of my exes broke up with me, I remember calling my dad and sobbing, afraid to go to sleep because I knew I would wake up in the morning alone. I still remember what he said to this day: “Erica, morning will come no matter what you are afraid of.” 

And he was right, morning still came. I woke up crying, but I was still okay. There are no set steps to being comfortable with alone time, it’s just something you have to sit down and do. Sit with it, and eventually it will start to feel good. 

Now, I cherish my time alone. I’m beyond grateful that I took the time and learned to love hanging out with myself because guess what? I’m fucking fun. As an added bonus, learning to enjoy your own time does wonders for your self worth, and will make for an even healthier relationship when you do find someone in the future. Give it a try. 

You don’t have to be dating if everyone else is 

I’ve been here, believe me. I was literally just here. Let me tell you, peer pressure is alive and well at 27, it’s kind of crazy. 

I don’t really go out much anymore, but when I do – a lot of the time, my friends are on dating apps. Which is totally fine and I respect my friends for putting themselves out there, they deserve to find someone. However, sometimes it can lead me to think that since they are on it, and talking about it as a group, that I need to be on it as well.

When we see others doing something as a group, the pull to feel included is strong. The harder thing to do is self-evaluate. Do I actually want to be on dating apps, or is this just because everyone else is and I want to be part of the discussion? 

It’s been something I’ve been learning on a case by case basis, but I’ve definitely done it. If the dating apps aren’t working for you, get off of them. Don’t sign onto something that makes you feel less than, or anxious. If you have healthy, supportive friends they will understand. I have incredibly genuine and supportive friends that have told me it’s okay if I’m not ready. I’m thankful to have them around. 

Trust your gut 

Listen when something feels off. That’s your intuition warning you that you’re maybe going down a path not quite right, for right now. My whole dating history, I’ve been very dismissive of my intuition. She senses that something is amiss, trying to prepare me emotionally for what is to come, and I just chalk it up to anxiety or thinking something is always going wrong. But, it’s a different feeling than anxiety. It’s strong, and it’s true.

If you decide to go on Tinder or Bumble, make sure that it feels right. If you get that ping in your gut telling you you need a little more time, that’s okay. If you go on a dating app, talk to other people, and then realize that you don’t want to continue, need more time – that’s okay too. If you don’t get that gut feeling and you’re comfortable with putting yourself out there, that’s okay too. Go get that cake if you’re ready, I say.

There is no perfect time to become self-aware. It might not be convenient, but it’s always worth it to be honest with where you’re at, and to be honest with the other person. Don’t just ghost them, tell them. Explain to them – in whatever comfort level you feel – that you might have thought now was a good time for you to put yourself out there, but turns out it’s not. It’s that simple. I’ve learned both from experience and from the sage advice of my therapist and friends, that people respect authenticity and honesty in dating. It might be awkward, but leave it on a good note. Be true to you. If the other person doesn’t respect that – and I’ve gotten that before too – that is their issue to work out. You’ve spoken your truth, and to be real, it’s a serious red flag if someone can’t respect your decision and ability to say no. Good riddance. 

Take baby steps 

One day at a time. Being alone, or “single” isn’t about finding the one, or the *next* one. The purpose isn’t just a chunk of time meant to search for a soulmate – it’s your life. Take the time to search for who you are, fall in love with each and every part of what makes you, you. The good, bad, confusing, scary parts that no one pays attention to, claps for, understands, or sees on a daily basis. The more you understand you, the more you can show others how to understand – and treat – you. 

Now, I am not a believer in this idea that you have to “love yourself in order to be loved.” That is complete bullshit. Most people with mental illness do not love themselves each and every day. It’s a constant battle to see our worth, but I will say that the more you dig deep down and meet every part of yourself– the more bright your light shines. So bright that the right person – or people – won’t be able to take their eyes off of it. 

You are worthy of being alone and enjoying you, and you are more than deserving of sharing your life with someone who loves, understands, and wants to grow – together. Confront the fear of being on your own, don’t settle for less. Right now, someone you haven’t met is out there wondering what it would be like to meet you. Don’t lose hope, take care of yourself, your time will come. 

Post Therapy Thoughts // Time To Trust Myself

Hi, friends. It’s been awhile. Man, I’ve missed you all. It’s been a whirlwind start to 2018, but it certainly hasn’t been what I thought it would be.

I’ve learned – and unlearned – so many important lessons. I got into a new relationship, and recently, things ended with that relationship. I was broken up with again, but this time it was very different.

In the past, when I’ve been broken up with, I react in pure, overwhelming sadness and grief. I’m a sobbing mess. I think it’s all my fault. That I’m the burden causing this surprising end.

This time, I felt anger. Pure, healthy anger. Wanna know why? Because I did absolutely NOTHING wrong. I was blindsided, and it wasn’t anything I could have done. He wasn’t ready to be in a mature, grown up relationship with someone else, so he skipped out. It’s as simple as that.

As I described to my therapist the night of my breakup, she became more and more proud of me. I’m not used to being direct or confronting my anger, so this was a giant step forward for me

I realized, I’m proud of me too. I’m proud that I didn’t automatically think it was my fault, or that I’m such a burden for having my insecurities or anxiety.

We then unpacked my intuition. Normally, I get a sense when things aren’t going how they usually do. Since I’m an empath, I can get effected by the smallest shifts in emotional behavior. Sometimes, these shifts are so tiny, the people themselves might not even know they are doing them.

But, time and time again – I feel them. Loud and clear. So, when I sensed them in my now ex-boyfriend, I asked him if something was wrong. He kissed my hand, and said everything was fine. This is where my anger started. 

Since I was told everything was fine on that front, I took the “this is my anxiety” path. The one where I go to therapy and unpack why I’m picking at my seemingly fine relationship. I told my ex boyfriend this as well, so he listened as I explained to him my anxiety with this, and let me be misguided. Let me stay anxious about something that was to become my reality. I don’t deserve that. From now on, I need to trust those instincts and let them lead my decisions.

I was disrespected by him, and that’s where the next key point comes in. This is now the third time I’ve been broken up with, and it’s never easy. Yes, I’ll freely admit that I’m always the one being broken up with, but it’s because I put up with a lot of bullshit from my partners.

I’ve recently come to the realization that, in my past, I’ve dated people with addictive behaviors. People that consistently prioritize their addictive behavior before me, and as a result, they are emotionally immature.

When this third breakup happened, I was pissed but when I finally called my friend to tell her, I started crying and said, “Why won’t anyone stay?” 

I told my therapist this and her reply was,

“It’s time to stop thinking no one will stay, and start picking the people who are capable of the long haul.”

Because she’s right. I’ve been settling and tolerating a good deal of bullshit because – in the end – I’m afraid they will leave. And honestly, I have that fear because it happens, and it happened in my childhood. All men did was leave.

But, the time for tolerating is over. The time where I thought I didn’t deserve a higher quality in men is cancelled.

Based on this extremely empowering and productive therapy session, here are my new affirmations:

I am worthy of my own trust.

do not have to tolerate disrespect or something I am not comfortable with in any relationship – I deserve better.

I am loving and worthy of unconditional love.

 

No more forgiving because I’m afraid they will leave. Let them leave. If they don’t want to stay, they aren’t meant for me in the first place. I deserve someone authentic, kind and willing to put in the work for the long haul. Nothing less.

 

What lessons have you learned from a breakup? Share your story in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Jocelyn

Suffering from years of abuse by a family member, Jocelyn’s mental health issues began at an early age. Pushing through a period of darkness, she was able to find the light through a combination of nutrition, consistent movement, and self-care.

Meet Jocelyn.

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Name: Jocelyn Zahn

Age: 25

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

(TW/CW: Suicidal ideation, self-harm, eating disorders, sexual abuse)

I have been diagnosed with PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder and have also battled orthorexia and anorexia.

My mental health issues arose at a young age. During my childhood, I suffered years of sexual abuse by a family member. At age 12, my life felt as though it was falling apart for the very first time. After going through the Texas public school system and taking “sex education”, which was really only abstinence only education, as an 7th grader, I began to panic. The system failed me entirely and I believed the abuse was my fault. I was scared, alone, and felt as though I couldn’t tell anyone what happened to me because they would view me as a sinner. When you’re young, you don’t always understand the concept of abuse, I certainly didn’t. And the “sex education” I received only left me feeling isolated and hopeless.

This was the first time I can recall staring a hole through my knife drawer in my home in San Antonio. This was the first time I envisioned what it would be like to take my own life…and I wanted to. The suicidal ideations have been a part of me almost every day since.

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

Well, I was truly pushed to my limit before I decided to reach out for help. The first time I received mental health treatment of any kind was when I was hospitalized at 18 for suicidal ideation. This was a result of me coming out and having negative backlash-to say the least. I lost almost everything and everyone I loved (at least for a time) and I wanted to throw in the towel. Though, I definitely wish I had received help earlier.

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

While I am ecstatic to say my life is beautiful and fulfilling now, I still live with my mental illness every day. I have come to learn and accept the fact that it is a part of me, a part I will live with forever. Because of this, I have shifted my focus from trying to “rid myself” of my mental illness to learning how to cope with it daily.

I have learned coping skills that work for me, my mind, and my body. Developing these skills certainly looks different for everyone, but for me, I have found great success in balancing my mood through food, movement, and spirituality.

90% of our serotonin (some people call this the ‘happy’ chemical, or the ‘feel good hormone’) is made in our gut. This has been an incredible thing for me to focus on and experiment with due to the fact that the biggest daily challenge I face in regards to my mental illness, is volatile mood swings. Gut health has saved me a whole lot of random ‘crying for no reason’ tears or ‘lashing out at someone for no reason’ moments. I have found a balance of nutritious and not so nutritious food that works for me to maintain a steady mood throughout the day.

Other than that, incorporating consistent movement has been a life saver for me. Due to years of suppressed trauma, I have a whole lot internalized anger. Moving my body intuitively gives me the outlet I need to release this anger and anxiety. As you can imagine, this helps balance my mood, as well.

A couple years back, I learned that me and almost my entire immediate family has some pretty severe vitamin deficiencies. This was so helpful to learn (KNOWLEDGE IS POWER haha). To combat my almost daily suicidal ideations, I take a Vitamin D supplement, as I am lacking quite severely in that area.

I also practice affirmations, daily self-care, and tarot card readings- as they help me feel more connected to something bigger than myself and my own problems.

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

Wow. This is an excellent question. Contrary to popular belief, living with a mental illness has not been all negative for me. Living with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more has made me a much more empathetic person than most people I know. It has given me the skill of powerful and active listening. It has taught me so much about what it means to be “good enough” as a human being on this earth. It has given me perspective. It has also led me to the career of my dreams. All of which, I wouldn’t trade for the world.

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

If I could tell younger me one thing, it would be that no matter how much the darkness is consuming me at any given moment, it is not me. Darkness lives inside of me because of things that have happened to me, yes. But the light is a part of me.

I would tell myself that as alone as I feel at times, I don’t have to carry my burden alone.

 

Learn more about how Jocelyn has turned her mess into her message at Holistic Self-Love!

 

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

Works in Progress // Stephany

Diagnosed with anxiety, depression, severe PTSD, traits of borderline personality disorder, GAD, and an eating disorder, Stephany has overcome so much. Fighting her way through an abusive relationship, sexual assault, and even homelessness, this strong soul is the definition of a mental health warrior. 

Meet Stephany.

 

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Name: Stephany

Age: 20

 

**Trigger warning: rape**

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?

When I was a freshman in high school I moved from my La Jolla home to Carlsbad in hopes of escaping the bullies and finding a new sense of belonging. With all the changes of a new home, new school, my mother’s new boyfriend, my best friend moving across the world, and entering high school, I fell into a deep pit of hopelessness.

In the heat of a massive fight with my mother, she threatened to send me to my father and that was the exact moment that sent me spiraling out of control. After 12 weeks of missing person reports, truancy, failing grades, days of hiding behind locked doors, and refusing to eat, I was admitted to a residential treatment facility in Utah where I spent six agonizing months learning how to cope and sharing my deepest fears with strangers. While I was there, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, severe post traumatic stress disorder, traits of borderline personality disorder, generalized mood disorder, and an eating disorder.

With a team of doctors, therapists, and facility staff I was able to work through the wreckage and claw my way out of my first experience with rock bottom.

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

After I was discharged, I returned home and continued my treatment with a team of doctors and therapists and spent three years coping with mild anxiety and the normal stresses of a teenager. Then, in May of my senior year of high school I entered into a depressive episode after becoming homeless and living out my car with only $100 to my name. At the time I was in an abusive relationship with a man who was older than me by four years and I truly believed we were in love. After managing to find a full-time job, graduating high school with honors, and finding a place to live, my relationship began to crumble because I was no longer in need of his help. We broke up in the beginning of July and two weeks later he called to invite me over for drinks. That night is the night that I was raped.

A year and a half later, I came to accept the reality of that night and sought help from a therapist who asked me, “Well did you say no?”

After that session, I was determined to fight my demons on my own and spent endless hours researching the affects of trauma and steps I could take to work through it. I slowly began to share my struggles with my closest friends who helped teach me that the smallest victories are worth celebration and I am worthy of self-love. The most pivotal moment of my recovery though was when I shared the story of the sexual assault with a friend who knew the offender and said to me, “I believe you.” 

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

Today, I still have my struggles with anxiety and disordered eating, but I have learned that I am not alone and by sharing my story I can help others on their journey. I am unashamed of my demons and I often wake up and thank myself for not giving into those low points where I felt like there was no way out of the misery I was experiencing. I am strong and I want to empower others to feel their own strength.

 

 

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

A Year in Reflection // 2018 Goals

The year is drawing to a close and we all know what that means. The dreaded New Year’s resolution. I’ve never been a fan of calling them resolutions. There is always a pressure to maintain them or you’ve failed, you aren’t good enough if you didn’t keep up with that drive to lose ten pounds.

I would much rather call them goals. I’ve always had much more concrete goals for myself each year. And if I don’t achieve each and every one perfectly, that’s okay. You aren’t a failure if you don’t do exactly what you said you would right off the bat. Practice makes progress.

This time of year always calls for reflection. 2017 has been a year of learning and unlearning valuable lessons. It’s a year of intense positives and negatives in my personal life. It’s a year that I moved onto a new job, got into a relationship and that relationship ended. It’s a year I lost several people, only to gain so many that were right for me.

2017 was the year I started this blog. It was the year I finally decided to take the plunge and start writing more, sharing my story and the stories of others. It was one of the best decisions I could ever have made. It has not only allowed me to overcome so many hurdles in my own mental health, but I have connected with so many wonderful people in this community. I feel so grateful to have them in my life. I’m much better for it. 

2017 was the year I lost a partner, one that was not ready to be in an adult relationship. One that didn’t understand what it was to be with someone with anxiety. I spent months learning from this loss, letting myself truly feel each emotion and it was how I let a new person into my life. The same year I lost a partner, I gained someone so much more.

2017 was the year I got another new job, one that I truly believe is my passion. When I got the call that I had it, I felt a wave of purpose mixed with true happiness wash over me. This is what I’m meant to do. I cannot wait to start 2018 with such a wonderful company!

Whether you’ve had a good, bad, confusing, or life-changing year, do not forget that you are full of possibility. You can make 2018 whatever kind of year you want it to be. I don’t know what this next year will bring, but here are some of my goals:

 

Learn to be smarter with my money

This has been something I’ve struggled with all of 2017. This past year, I had my first studio and I’ll admit – it’s really hard paying studio rent and not being broke all the time. With my new job, I’m making it a goal to learn how to budget better so I can thrive in a bigger space soon. We all have money anxiety and honestly I wish money wasn’t as big of a deal as it is, but I can definitely afford to be smarter with my cents.

Get more creative 

Whether that means getting more creative with things I write on the blog – new series, collaborations, etc – or picking up where I left off with a few of my creative projects on the side, I want to finish what I start. I’ve had an idea for a children’s book in the back of my mind for years, but never have the self-discipline to keep going with it. This is the year I push myself.

Spend time away from my screen

This past year, I’ve had multiple people tell me I spend too much time on my phone. While it can be annoying to hear, they are right. I’m so locked into my phone that I’m not experiencing life going on around me, and that needs to stop.

Whether it’s finding an allotted time where I don’t use my phone or actively practicing leaving my phone in my purse when I’m out, I think it’s time I learn to separate with my screen a little better.

Give this new job my all

It’s really starting to sink in that I have a fresh start with this new job. I have the opportunity to show my talents to the world through this wellness company, and that’s just what I plan on doing.

2018 is the year I give my new position all that I have. I so look forward to practicing more of my passion on a daily basis!

Make time to read

This year, I participated in a wonderful book club that had me reading so many different books! However, life has gotten the best of all of us lately and we are majorly behind. 2018 is the year I make time to read. Netflix tonight? No, I will actively be putting down the remote to pick up a new book. I love reading so much, it’s always been a form of self care for me. I want to find the pleasure in it again.

Practice unlearning

This year, I’ve unlearned more than I ever thought I would. It took a genuine relationship with a man who is able to communicate in a healthy way for me to truly understand that what I thought relationships were isn’t healthy.

Not just specific to relationships, I’ve had to unlearn how to be treated at work, how I deserve to be treated by my own family, and what a healthy friendship looks like. While learning is essential, unlearning is so, so important for growth. It’s not a negative, it’s important for us to realize our worth, what we deserve.

 

I’ve achieved so much for my mental health in 2017 with continuing therapy, this blog, and making new realizations about myself and my own anxiety. While I experienced a lot of loss, I also gained so much more than I thought was possible.

I still stumble and fall some days, but that’s all part of the process. I head into 2018 as a work in progress who knows her worth. I am good enough and so are you. 

 

What are your 2018 goals for your own mental health? Share in the comments below! 

 

 

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The Importance Of Animals // ESA’s + Service Dogs

I know, I know. It’s been a little while since my last post. Albeit, I’ve been sick this week and prepping for a new job, but still..it’s about time I get back to it.

While my holiday came and went without a hitch, today was something much different. Since I’ve been sick, I’ve really just been hanging out at home watching TV in bed. I’ve given myself permission to rest.

One of my family members came to visit and bring me a few things for my cold, and while it started out pleasant, it certainly didn’t end that way.

I found myself sitting through the same fight I’ve been in with some of my family lately. I’ve been fighting for my own mental health, my space, and my voice.

I have a very complicated and emotional relationship with specific members of my immediate family. One that has always been surrounded by the fact that I’m now sticking up for myself. I’m speaking up – protecting me. I have never felt safe or protected around them, so with therapy and inner work I’ve learned to raise my voice and fight for me.

I’ve come so far and done so much work in therapy to find my inner voice and authenticity, and sometimes being this self aware really sucks. It pushes people away – people drop like flies when they see growth. It’s unfortunate and hurtful, but it’s life. Weak people will always find a way to make a monster out of self awareness. While it hurts, it means I’m always fighting for my mental health.

When I asked her to leave my space – I could feel myself getting anxious and uncomfortable – she planted her feet firmly, with her hands on my bed frame, and loudly told me no. In one simple action, she disrespected my feelings, my space, and my mental health.

When she eventually left, I sat on the floor of my studio and cried. Noticing how anxious I was, my 11 year old dog Gussie – who is also my ESA – just came up next to me and laid down. With his paw on my leg. He didn’t move it until I stopped crying. In that moment, that was exactly what I needed. A safe, comforting touch from a soul who loves me exactly for me. ESA’s aren’t just for having your animal in your space fee free. They help in a huge way for mental health. He’s there when I need him. He loves me in any state.

I’ve written about Gussie as my ESA – Emotional Support Animal – before (you can check it out here) and it’s still as crucial now how he helps me heal.

Today, he was the little bit of comfort and support I needed, and just six or seven months ago, he was glued to my side during an emotional breakup. Whether you have anxiety getting on a plane and traveling, or suffer from severe panic attacks, ESAs and service dogs are a gift to this world. They unconditionally love you for you. 

ESA’s vs. Service Dogs

You might be asking yourself the question, what’s the difference? Don’t worry, it’s not a stupid question because you would be surprised how many people share that inkling. If I’m being completely honest, years ago I didn’t specifically know the difference until I took the time to research it.

Here’s a helpful definition of each from the American Kennel Club:

The key difference between a service dog and an ESA is whether the animal has been trained to perform a specific task or job directly related to the person’s disability. For example, alerting a hearing-impaired person to an alarm or guiding a visually impaired person around an obstacle are jobs performed by service dogs. Behaviors such as cuddling on cue, although comforting, would not qualify. The tasks need to be specifically trained, not something instinctive the dog would do anyway.

After the emotional fight and having my moment with Gussie, I took to a Facebook group I’m part of called Dogspotting Society. I had seen people post stories of their own ESA’s in the past, so I took the chance and posted about my own experience with my pup.

I didn’t really know what to expect from it, mostly just to help me heal from the day – since sharing and writing is cathartic for me. But man, did I get the most amazing response! Not only did I get words of support and praise, I had endless strong souls commenting to share their stories and photos of their sweet animals that have helped them along the way.

Here are a few of their stories and the animals that have helped them heal!

Rachel & Harley

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***Trigger warning: suicide, suicidal thoughts***

How did she become your ESA?

That is a pretty long story. Our history is a pretty complicated one. Long story short, I fostered her twice since she was a puppy and when she was returned to me a third time I decided to keep her. A week or two after I got her back, my mom (who I was very close to) killed herself in our backyard. My dad found her and I had to help clean up the remains that EMS didn’t take… It was very traumatic for me and I couldn’t move far from bed for weeks. Harley stayed with me the entire time and licked my tears away when I would cry. She would bring me toys and cuddle with me when I wouldn’t move. She never left my side, not even to eat or drink. I brought everything to my room because the only times I would get up was to bring her to go outside. After my mom’s death I thought about suicide myself very often after that. I forget the statistics but once a family member commits suicide, members close to them are more likely. My plan that was always in the back of my head was that I would drive my car into a tree. In order to keep myself from acting on my urges I started driving everywhere with Harley in my passenger seat. When I finally had the motivation to go see a psychiatrist they said that I could bring her with me to my appointment. I brought her with me to my next few sessions and after seeing and hearing how well she took care of me, my psychiatrist wrote me a letter for her to be my ESA.

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How has she helped your mental health?

As you can tell from my story, she pretty much kept me alive. She gave me a reason NOT to kill myself when that urge came, and comforted me the best ways that she knew how. My mental health has improved drastically in the 3 years that I’ve had her, I still see my psychiatrist and they recently mentioned how much I’ve changed. I used to go into their office so defeated and depressed, I wouldn’t even look anyone in the face. My eyes were always glued to the ground and I barely talked. Now I walk in smiling and have so much to say and talk about.

Emily & Wally

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I can’t believe how much my doggo has helped with my mental health. We got Wally as an ESA but it’s not official yet. He’s still a pup, so when I’m upset he’ll either ignore me, try to play with me, or, on one occasion, lick the tears off my face and nudge me with his nose. 

Kelly & Xena 

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Xena isn’t actually an emotional support animal but sometimes I think she should be. Her emotional intelligence is through the roof (though she can’t solve a problem to save her life) and any time any of us is upset she knows and comes over and MAKES you pet her, despite not normally being cuddly. Plus when I got her, she changed my other dog into a whole new dog – he went from being a ball of anxiety who was afraid of EVERYTHING and always upset to an almost normal doggo who still complains about everything but is much calmer and happier. 

Sorry about your rough day! I’m so glad for your ESA, they truly save lives. Xena has saved me from plenty of panic attacks and helps me chill when I’m stressed. I’m super glad to have her.

 

Danielle & Haru

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I’m kind of ashamed to admit it since I try to be cutesy with my posts here but I have a really REALLY terrible violent temper and usually after I act out I’ll get an urge to self harm or spiral into a depressive episode. Haru does typical ESA things like coming to me when I’m crying and tolerating being a hugging pillow when I’m sad, but his presence alone helps the most because not wanting to upset him with an outburst forces me to use healthier coping skills.

 

Victoria & Doomper 

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 My doomper man. He’s always been a mama’s boy. Every time I have an anxiety attack, he will come head butt me until I am using both hands to pet him and hold him close. He’s been a lifesaver for me. My husband said if an apartment complex won’t accept him, we don’t live there. There have been several nights where I’ve disassociating as I wake up and he’ll follow me to the bathroom and if I don’t respond when he meows, he’ll go wake my husband up in any way necessary so he can make sure I’m OK.

Kaleigh & Tootsie

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We’re emotional support for each other. ❤️

Ellen Jean & Harley Quinn

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She helps me when I’m having an anxiety attack by performing deep pressure therapy and basically annoying me until I take medication. She also is learning to retrieve items for me when I’m unable to do so for myself due to a vertigo spell or migraine. I decided to train her to be my service dog after my therapist suggested it being a beneficial part of my treatment along with medication. She has helped my family in many ways. We got her less than a week after our cattle dog passed away unexpectedly. She has helped us heal from his death and gotten back into activities that we used to do with him like going to local state parks and walking trails. She has also shown my husband how much she can actually help me with my mental and physical health. He is now extremely supportive and understands my mental and physical needs a lot more now because of her.

The more we bring up these special animals, the less stigma there is surrounding their gifts to those of us with mental illness. I’m so proud to have these strong, sensitive souls sharing their experiences on my blog – and the unconditional love from all those furry friends!Do you have an ESA or service dog? Share your story in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Lauren

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

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

 

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Name: Lauren

Age: 20

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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!