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! 

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!