Skin Deep // Linn

A secret shame for most people with mental illness, skin picking isn’t a disorder regularly talked about – until now. Picking her skin for as long as she can remember, Linn’s habit began innocently. Growing into a full forced act that seemed to calm her anxiety, it felt like something she needed to do.

Sharing her story of recovery piece by piece, Linn is constantly conquering dermatillomania. Opening up about her journey through Instagram, meet Linn and learn some tips on how she battles the body image challenges that come with skin picking. 

 

 

 

Wounds. Scabs. Loose skin. Spots. Blemishes. Imperfections. We all get them, and I’m willing to bet we’ve all picked them at some point. In itself, this isn’t a problem. However, if you – like me – feel the need to pick to ease uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, intrusive thoughts, stress etc, it becomes one. When you – like me – often don’t realize you’re picking until the damage is done, it’s a problem. When this leads to a vicious cycle of thoughts and an urge to pick even more, it’s definitely a problem. So why don’t I just stop? That, my friends, is where it becomes an issue.

I have been a picker for longer than I can remember. I guess it started as an innocent habit of picking at loose skin around my fingernails to smooth it out. Seems harmless enough, and it is – until it turns into a compulsive act – something you feel like you need to do. And why stop with loose skin when there are so many other imperfections to “sort out”?

I often catch myself picking, and often I don’t even realize I’m picking until someone snaps me out of it by telling me to stop. I zone out. I get into a trance-like state where my fingers wander over my skin on autopilot as if they’re searching for something to pick at. Despite the resulting damage, the picking does help ease the discomfort in my mind that triggered it in the first place.

It was only a few years ago that I found out there is a name for what I thought was just an anxious habit. Dermatillomania, skin picking disorder, excoriation disorder, compulsive skin picking – call it what you will, it’s not pretty. This is closely linked with anxiety and OCD, and for me, anxiety is definitely a big trigger. The truth is, there are a number of reasons why I do it. A perceived need for smooth, flawless skin, which is ironic considering the damage it causes. A need for control, which I don’t possess when I’m searching my skin for spots to pick. Relief from anxiety, which it does give me most times, but only until the regret kicks in. And on the cycle goes. With time however, I’ve gotten better at dealing with the aftermath of my picking. Most times I can forgive myself and move on but other times, I get extremely self-conscious and feel like everyone can see how broken my skin is, when in reality it might not even look that bad.

Thankfully, there is help for this condition, and there are things you can do if you struggle with skin picking. It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am now, but I would like to share some tips that help me.

I try to be mindful of where I put my hands when I’m bored or anxious. I sometimes use a fidget toy to keep my hands occupied instead of tracing my fingers over my skin. I also try to keep my nails short, but what I think helps me the most, is taking care of my skin. In all honesty, I was never that big on skincare and skincare routines until I was shown the benefits it can have. Cleansers, moisturizers, facial scrubs, masks – you name it, I’ve probably tried it. What this does for me is it makes me associate touching my skin (mainly my face) with something positive – something I do out of love rather than discontentment. It doesn’t always stop me picking but it does reduce it, and sometimes, that’s enough. After all, a small step forward is still a step forward.

 

 

 

Do you struggle with a skin picking disorder? Share your story in the comments below. 

Why Words Hurt // Philip’s Story

Stories of being bullied are never easy, but this one is important to tell. I was approached by the wonderful, sweet Philip to share his story on the power of words.

With this blog, I’ve always preached the power of words in a positive way, but there is always another side to every story. Sometimes they can hurt. More recently, I’ve realized just how easily words can pierce not only the heart, but the mind, soul, and entire being. From reading Philip’s story, I can safely say I know more about the effects of bullying and that I’m not at all shocked by his newfound strength – he’s a force to be reckoned with.

As soon as Philip stepped on his college campus, he was judged – and eventually bullied – for being different. Living with autism, he suffered for years at the hands of others who put him down for something beyond his control. It was the support and love of a best friend that got him through it all, and now he’s taken to his blog to tell everyone just how much words can hurt.

Read Philip’s story below.

 

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Imagine being picked on for no other reason than someone doesn’t like you. For victims of bullying, this is exactly how it is. I know because I was bullied for being different.

The bullying started in middle school. I was picked on because I was apparently “too smart,” and I did not have a lot of friends. I thought that by going to a different high school, I could start over. I was wrong.

I was bullied again in high school. Instead of verbal bullying, people pushed me down stairs and threw water bottles at me. I did not know what I had done to deserve this. It was taking a toll on me, but I pushed through.

When I started college at Valparaiso University in August 2008, I thought that the bullying was finally over. I was wrong again. It started out with kids drawing stuff on my whiteboard outside my dorm room. Instead of nice drawings, it was vulgar images. I honestly did not think that much of it since it didn’t really bother me. As time went on, the bullying got worse and affected my academic performance.

By May 2010, my grade point average was below a 2.0 and I was put on academic probation. I also took more credit hours than I could effectively handle. By September 2010 and the beginning of my third year, the bullying became hell. I had people prank-calling me, calling me just about every name you can think of, spreading false rumors about me, and leaving anonymous voice messages telling me how I was just a freak and deserved to be bullied. It got so bad that by October, I contemplated taking my life. The reason I didn’t was because of a girl who not only became my best friend but was an angel in disguise. She stuck with me throughout the entire ordeal and never once left my side.

As the semester dragged on, my grades suffered heavily and I was even afraid to show my face around campus. I stayed in my dorm room and only showed my face when it was absolutely necessary. There were times that I skipped class because I was afraid of being bullied and harassed by my classmates. Things only got worse. At the end of the semester, my grades were so bad that I was suspended. Now I got to spend all of 2011 at the local community college. I felt like I had let everyone, including my best friend, down. That was about the lowest I had ever felt in my life. I suffered through severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and bouts of feeling like no one cared about me.

I had to take it upon myself to stay strong and push through the relentless torment and harassment. I felt completely alone and worthless. The more I tried to get help from the administration at Valparaiso University, the more I was pushed away. It was like nobody cared that I was being relentlessly bullied.

If it wasn’t for my best friend that I met over lunch one day, I never would have pushed through and gotten my degree from Valparaiso University. As soon as I told her my story, she was appalled that anyone would bully me. She saw me not as an outcast, but someone who was trying to fit in.

When I found out I was suspended, she stuck with me and helped me to regain my self-confidence. When I came back in January 2012 and continued to be cyber-bullied, I knew I could go to my best friend and tell her what was going on. Not once did she treat me like an outcast or creep.

When it came time for me to graduate in December 2014, I knew that she was going to be invited. What I was not expecting was a card telling me how I proved her wrong and how our friendship would never die. My favorite part of the hand-written note was a quote that said “I have never been more excited to have been proven wrong. You are the epitome of hard work and success and I am so proud to call you a friend. Continue to dream and you will always be successful.” She was so proud of me for not giving up and working toward getting my degree. To this day, we are still good friends.

Bullying can affect anyone. The saying that sticks and stones can break bones, but words will never hurt is not true at all. Words hurt. They hurt me. The names I was called have left emotional scars that will never fully heal. If you can’t say something nice, do not say it at all. Is it really that difficult to treat someone with respect and kindness? It must be since those who are different will be forced to know how they can’t be normal.

Cyber-bullying is far too common today. Victims are made to feel so worthless that taking their own life is the only way to end the pain and suffering. How many more lives will be lost to bullying before something is done? How many more victims will have to suffer in silence?

I still suffer from nightmares and flashbacks because of the bullying I endured during college. There were days that I actually avoided going to class in college because I felt like such a freak. I felt no one cared or even wanted to help me recover. The only person I had at the time to confide in was my best friend. I can tell you from personal experience that it is not funny at all to bully someone. Some states even have laws that state if a person makes a victim commit suicide by bullying, the consequences can be harsh.

What’s worse is that many schools claim to have an anti-bullying policy in place, yet don’t do anything when victims speak out. This is not right. Victims should not have to suffer and feel nobody is there for them. It’s no wonder suicide rates are so high when it comes to victims of bullying.

It’s time that we take a stand and put an end to bullying for good.

 

To read more about Philip and his journey, head to his blog at http://philipfeldwisch.blogspot.com/.  

Do you have a topic you’re passionate about surrounding mental health? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

The Beauty of Loving Your Body // Izzi Marie

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XXX

Izzi Marie

 

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

A Lesson in Loss // Christy

Loss of a loved one – no matter how they are lost – can be the most debilitating pain. For Christy, loss came all at once. When she lost her father in 2011, it wasn’t something she saw coming.

Recovering from two surgeries with the doctors happy with his progress, he passed from a genetic blood cotting disease no one knew he had. Surgery had made the risk even higher.

“He was here and then he wasn’t. None of us got to say goodbye. I think that was the most difficult thing to deal with. I had so much more to say and it didn’t help to say it to him in my head.

I was angry. I was bone-numbing sad. I cried. A lot. Then, just when I thought I was getting a handle on it, something would trigger another bout of grief. Sometimes it was nostalgia, but sometimes it was more like depression. I needed to write my feelings down so I could let the deepest part of my sadness go.”

First drafting a poem about how she wanted just one more day with her father and what specific day or memory she would return to, Christy went through several different versions before she found her voice.

Wanting to express her own interpretation of the stages of grief and how it changes, grows, her poem resonates with any kind of loss we may suffer.

 

 

Loss

 

At first it steals your breath –

your very reason to live. 

It feels like you’re trapped in a box. 

Your heartbreak closing in and making you feel claustrophobic. 

You can never seem to catch your breath 

and you gasp between sobs. 

Your heart hurts like someone reached inside your ribs 

and easily sliced a section of your soul off while you were sleeping. 

 

One day, you wake up and awkwardly say hi to your loss,

like a new neighbor who’s just moved in next door. 

You wave and begrudgingly acknowledge 

the ever-present nature 

of the new guy next door who wants desperately to be your friend. 

“Let’s chat! How’s life? Pretty sucky, right?” 

he seems to say every time he gets a chance. 

You hate him and his friendly smile. 

 

Then the loss seems to come in waves. 

You’re fine one minute and then crying the next. 

Who knows what sets you off:

the movie you wish you could talk about together,

the memory of a debate about a book character,

the intense need to hear a voice because you can’t quite remember the timbre of it,

the ache of needing one more hug.

 

Eventually, with time, love surrounds you

like a soft, warm blanket. 

You don’t hurt as much;

you think more about the good times. 

You smile as memories dance before your eyes. 

Loss doesn’t feel so lonely anymore

because love keeps you company.

You don’t sit in the dark

because now you can walk out into the light and feel alive again.

 

 

How do you handle loss? Share your story in the comments below. 

Cassiopeia // Thriving In The Face of Motherhood & Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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