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!

Post Therapy Thoughts // Focus on the Facts

Settling into a new job, new relationship and searching for a new space can take a toll. Recently, it’s been a challenge to find time to sit down and write. Even when there’s time, I’ve found it tricky putting the words together.

So, I took some time away. With much needed rest and self care, I’m back – and I come ready to talk about a new exercise my therapist and I came up with surrounding fear.

With all the new in my life, my anxiety has trouble keeping up. She normally finds a reason to unleash fear – an irrational, mean and overly criticizing monster. Any positive, new landmark in my life, she discovers an innovative way to suck the excitement out of it.

In therapy, we discussed my fear and while my therapist has told me the age-old acronym for it – false evidence appearing real – it was time to find a new coping tool for fighting fear. Here’s what she said:

“When dealing with fear, it’s essential to focus on the facts. Fear is irrational and will latch onto any negative thought, so fight it with what is real.”

I had never heard of fighting fear in this way. My therapist suggested that when I started to feel the fear, I break out my journal and write down a list of facts. Facts that are 100% real for me right now. Here’s an example:

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What I’ve written in my journal above is a list of the facts as they are right now. What this does is three-fold:

  • Distracts your mind from fear anxiety with the task of writing it down
  • Forces reality into your thoughts when put it to paper and read it aloud 
  • Creates new affirmations for the next time fear anxiety strikes 

It’s taken me awhile to find something that actually helps to ease my fear anxiety. When you can feel fear taking over your mind, think of the facts. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into another round of what ifs, or it won’t work out – take back the control with a healthy dose of reality.

 

Do you feel fear anxiety? Share how you fight it in the comments below! 

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 // Maddi

Diagnosed with GAD, depression and OCD, Maddi has endured her share of struggles. Taking three years of her life, a couple of jobs, and even her education, her multiple mental illnesses have not been kind.

Despite these obstacles, this beautiful soul is determined to find understanding, patience and peace with help from her family, friends and emotional support animals. Hoping to be a resource for others struggling and to help her own healing, she has also started an insightful, authentic mental health blog – My Bitter Insanity. Meet Maddi and read her courageous story below!

 

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Name: Maddi

Age: 21

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 depression, general anxiety, and OCD, and I feel like they were sort of always around, just manageable. Starting in high school, I remember noticing the undercurrent of depression, and the thoughts that came along with it. There’s a strong history of depression on both sides of my family, and I’ve always expected that I would also have depression. I kept my depression to myself all through high school (except for one instance where I trusted the wrong person), but I didn’t think it was that bad because I could still function well.

After graduating high school, I moved away to university at my dream school and in my dream program. I hated living in residence, but other than that, everything was fine – until my second semester.  Second semester hit and I was really struggling to get out of bed and attend my classes – I ended up failing three courses that semester. For a student who’d mostly gotten A’s through school, it was really weird, and I took it really hard. I moved into my own apartment after that semester and adopted my cat (and then another) and stayed in town to work until my second year started up again. During the summer, I was getting worse. I was struggling to get out of bed, clean the apartment, or go to work. My second year started, and it didn’t get better. I was missing all my classes and my apartment was a mess. I mostly only got up to feed my cats or go to the washroom. Eventually, I ended up calling my mom and telling her I really needed help, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I was officially diagnosed with anxiety and depression a few months later, and OCD a year later.

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

I’ve had a few moments like that, actually. It’s been about three years since my first very serious depressive episode hit, and I’ve consistently pushed myself too hard and crashed, over and over again. The first time I decided to get help, I called my mom and moved home for a few months. The other four times, I was severely suicidal and really scared for myself. I want to get help and get better for my family and my (fur-)babies. I love my family and pets more than it’s even possible to explain, and they’ve all been so helpful and supportive of me my whole life, but especially the last few years. Even when I’m feeling suicidal, the thought of potentially never seeing my family again is terrifying. My cats have been with me through it all, they need and love me, and they’ve been able to get me out of bed to help them before I could ever help myself. Though my dog is a more recent addition, it’s almost impossible not to feel loved by him; he is a ball of pure energy and will always let you know how excited he is to see you.

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

Well, I had another depressive ‘crash’ a couple months ago, so I resigned from my job and I am striving to do everything I can so that I can get healthy and go back to school in a few years. I’m not working at the moment, and I’m working towards getting on disability support. I’m on the waiting list for a few outpatient programs, but I am mostly just waiting for something to happen.

I struggle to leave the house or be in public, even the grocery store is a great effort that takes two to four attempts. I’m trying to help keep up the house and cook, but some days getting off the couch seems impossible. I go through cycles of not being able to sleep or sleeping too much, all feeling fatigued no matter what. (Yesterday I woke up at 3 pm after falling asleep after 8 am.) I also struggle with emotional eating, and I binge eat when I’ve had a particularly anxiety- or depression-ridden day or week.

I’m still working on learning to cope. For now, I mostly rely on family and friends to help get me out of the house a few times per week, but often the day calls for a cuddle or long drive with my dog. I’m grateful that when I’m struggling to find the motivation to get ready or get out, I can call my mom and go over to her house for a few hours, we spent a lot of time playing board games on her deck this summer!

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

This is a tough and weird question because mostly I feel like my illnesses have taken things from me. They’ve taken three years of my life, a few jobs, and my schooling. But, after I think about it a little more and make an effort to look at the positives, I hope that it’s taught me to be more compassionate, patient, and understanding. I also hope that I’ve been able to reach out and help or be a resource to some friends of mine who have struggled. Of course, I’m hoping that starting up my blog will also help me reach out and help or be a resource to others who are struggling; one of the things that helped me the most was being able to be around people who were also struggling.

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

That it’s worth it. It might not necessarily get better quickly or right away, but there will be moments when you forget about all the bad things – even if just for a moment.

Don’t be ashamed. Your mental health isn’t a personal flaw, you’re just sick and now you have to get better.

Finally, try your *hardest* to be patient. Your life was never going to go according to your year-by-year plan, and a year of your life is only one of over eighty to come.

 

 

 

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

Rad Reads // The Sun And Her Flowers

Typing out this intro, I’m realizing it’s been a minute since I’ve posted on the blog. Life has been busy – in the best ways.

Life can get into a monotonous funk sometimes, I dread it. Sensing that, I truly feel like the universe has called a few new things into my life, to show me that there are new adventures waiting for me – I just have to have the courage to pursue that path without fear, without listening to my anxiety.

On the brink of all this positive change, I decided to treat myself to Rupi Kaur’s latest body of work, The Sun And Her Flowers. Having read Milk And Honey with an emotional connection so deep that I felt compelled to give it to every single woman I knew at their birthday, I knew I had to pick it up at the bookstore.

Excited to dive into her work, I started a bath, turned on my Anxiety Relief playlist and cracked open the first chapter.

Like turning the pages of my own heartbreak and emotion, Kaur is so authentic in her words that I felt myself intensely moved by her pain. By her ache, by her love for everyone and everything.

Beginning at Wilting and ending in Blooming, her symbolic meaning behind flowers is geared towards all the growth she has done.

Compelled to finish out her story, I stayed soaking in the tub until I read her last words. Pruning and wet in a now cold bath, my soul was on fire. I could feel her passion reaching out in every page – grabbing hold of my heart.

Milk And Honey was another collection I connected with, but this time around it was different. I had grown, and she had grown. It was like I knew her heart, and could understand the ways in which she had bloomed.

As I made waves with my body and soul in the bath, here are a few of the short poems I resonated with in The Sun And Her Flowers:

Wilting

Truly touching, this specific chapter was all about heartbreak. The gut wrenching pain that comes with the grief or loss. Of losing that someone, that connection. A few months back, I had my own heartbreak and while I am in a very different place emotionally, the words from this chapter still call to me.

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This particular poem really resonated with me. When I read the line, “love is figuring out all the kind sweetness we deserve,” I felt tears well up in my eyes. So eloquently strung together into a brief poem, Kaur perfectly explains that love doesn’t look like a certain person – it’s what we do.

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Damn, this one hurt. I won’t lie – this is exactly what I went through with my ex. When the breakup initially happened, I was so overwhelmed with grief that I found myself missing him each day. But, as time went on I asked myself – what exactly do I miss? The constant anxiety, insecurity and lack of communication or any emotion on his end? The foundation and connection I always thought was there was just a mirage. Only growth can open our eyes to these realizations.

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Again, this very short poem packs quite a punch. Speaking to my intuition, I’ve found – from both therapy and in life – that my body always somewhat knew my previous relationship would end. I experienced what my therapist called intuitional anxiety, which was where I thought the feelings were my anxiety going worse case scenario, but really it was my intuition warning me of events to come. After that, I’ve made a promise with myself to listen to that voice whenever she pops up – it’s time to start trusting my body.

Falling

Chalk full of little lessons in letting go and listening to anger, Kaur spends time speaking about the process of growth in this section. Most don’t quite realize just how long and grueling it can be to grow authentically. It’s lonely, scary and all consuming to change our minds completely. To unlearn. I appreciated the bursts of emotion throughout this chapter – good and bad.

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This was such an enlightening chapter for me. I haven’t ever felt part of a community before starting this blog and when reading this poem, I knew what coming home was. I’ve gotten much better at knowing when to let others help pick up the pieces, and when to trust and rely on myself for navigating the pain.

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Rooting 

An extremely personal, poetic chapter for Kaur, Rooting spoke directly to being a child of immigrants. While I do not know these feelings and emotions in my own life, I felt it was completely necessary to shed awareness and just to understand this life – to have empathy. I truly felt her pain and the sadness in wanting more for her mother while also loving the love her parents felt for each other.

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Rising 

Lifting herself with love, it’s clear this chapter centers around finding a new partner after heartbreak. In this stage of my own life, I really understood the lines from each of these poems. Having found a new sense of what she deserved, Kaur struggles with settling into a new person, and learning to let go of the old. Truer words have never been spoken. 

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Our fear anxiety tells us time and time again that it’s not only scary to start something new, but it’s too soon. Screw all those voices in your head – or toxic people – telling you that it’s too early for a new person, or a new experience. Only you know what works for you and in the end, don’t feel guilty for starting again, especially if it makes you whole.

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It’s as the person I’m currently seeing always tells me – never backward, always forward, always. While it’s a quote from Luke Cage, it still rings very true. I hadn’t prepared to fall into someone new right now, but it feels right and it’s my choice. It’s time for me to start making moments – not hiding from them.

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Learning all about someone new is exciting. Always so sure that the last one is “the one,” we find ourselves falling over and over again into different people. Each has a valuable life lesson. I truly believe that people come and go in life for important reasons. The people who are here right now are here not only because I want them to be, they are teaching me patience, understanding and how to cultivate my growth.

Blooming

Showing us women that it’s okay to heal and speak up at the same time, Kaur ends her second installment of poetry with a clear message of strength. The closer I got to the end, the more I felt a sense of closure. Empowered and fostering an enriched connection to all that I love about myself, Kaur’s words in this chapter – and all of the sections – brought about such an awakening for my soul.

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I’ve lost a good deal of people this year, but in all honesty – is it really a loss? When I find myself saddened by no longer having certain people in my life, I remember why I removed them to begin with. Give yourself to a few and to those few give heavily. Invest in the right people. This poem is currently on my fridge and I read it each morning when I wake up.

Do yourself a favor and get a copy of The Sun And Her Flowers. While I really believe that this collection benefits women, I wouldn’t say men can’t resonate with her words as well – or learn more about women from turning the pages. There are plenty of poems throughout the novel that apply to everyone – speaking to emotion, heartbreak, confusion, growth, and family.

It’s incredibly validating to pick up a work of art and know you’re not alone in your struggle. That all this painful growth has beauty. Beauty in the form of art and poetry. Thank you Rupi Kaur for reaching into your heart and showing us what love looks like on each page of The Sun And Her Flowers. I look forward to the next installment and seeing all your growth and success!

Have you read The Sun And Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur? Share what you thought of the poetry collection in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Maria Elena

With anorexia controlling every curve of her body, Maria would feel suicidal if she didn’t have the perfect weight. Fueled by the constant validation she received from being “skinny,” she eventually discovered that something was wrong.

Reaching out to counselors, family and close friends, she was met with comments that downplayed her pain and even congratulated her figure. Taking matters into her own hands, she decided to save herself with help from her boyfriend and close friends.

On a mission to love her body just the way it is, meet Maria Elena and read her story below.

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Name: Maria Elena

Age: 21

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?

Once I hit high school, I noticed I started to gain some weight. Anytime I would sit down, my stomach rolls would sit down at the top of my thighs, making me feel oddly uncomfortable. I felt worthless. I started to analyze the women around me, fawning after the skinny ones and fat shaming the not-so-skinny ones. If I wasn’t the skinniest girl in the room, I would feel suicidal. I kept pushing myself further and further until I could feel each and every bone in my body. 

My fuel wasn’t food, it was comments like, “How is your waist so small? Your figure is perfect! Omg, body goals. How did you lose so much weight? Ahhh you’re so tiny and cute!” That’s how my eating disorder developed. It wasn’t even affecting my every daily life…that’s an understatement. It WAS my everyday life. All I thought about was counting calories and my thinspos. It was my obsession.

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

Sadly, I never got professional help despite my desperate need for it. I talked to two school counselors, two doctors, several online chats / hotlines, quite a few friends, and even my family, but everyone downplayed my issues and sometimes even congratulated my figure. I had to take matters into my own hands. I’m not blaming anyone specifically for what happened; I’m blaming the diet-obsessed society that sees my past behavior as normal and even inspiring. I knew I had to save myself. Obviously, I did have some help along the way. Art, documentaries,  inspiring articles, and the support from my boyfriend and close friends.

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

Every now and then I’ll fall into anorexia nostalgia. It’s like, I’ll miss the attention or validation I got when I had an eating disorder. Or I’ll miss fitting into smaller clothes. I miss being seen as small, fragile, cute. I’ll miss the feeling of having complete control over my life. Honestly, it gets hard sometimes and I don’t think I’d be able to cope if society hasn’t changed as much as it did since I had an eating disorder. I live in a diverse city now and society has become more accepting of all body types. That’s what keeps me sane.

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

Empathy. Sooo much empathy. I can feel energies the moment I walk into a room. I can look at someone’s social media feed or talk to them for a few minutes and my heart will FEEL them. I have a hard time hating even my worst enemies because I know they might be dealing with some sort of pain and I don’t want to make them feel even half of what I once felt. People with mental illness are often portrayed as bullies, but I think it’s made me more considerate towards peoples’ feelings.

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

I know you think the world will end if you gain weight, but that is nothing but a lie. In the future, you won’t be skinny, but guess what? You will love yourself, so much. You will inspire thousands of people with your words. You will live in a huge city and still thrive. You will have someone that loves all of your rolls and curves more than you could even imagine. You will eat the best foods the world has to offer and you’ll enjoy every second of it. And you’ll still be beautiful. 

 

 

 

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

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! 

My Path To Purpose // Anxiety Erica Classroom Visit

Last week, I did something I didn’t think possible when I started this blog. I got the opportunity to speak with a group of eighth graders about my journey in finding my passion for writing and mental health.

When the wonderful teacher – who I believe these kids are beyond lucky to have mentoring them on a daily basis – contacted me through my blog, I’ll be honest: I was excited, but also very nervous. I was being asked to impart knowledge on young minds. Minds still being shaped by society, by everything around them.

Immediately, my anxiety started to feed off of this fear. The fear of being good enough. I had several different thoughts running through my mind:

What would I say?

Would I get my message across in the right way?

Would any of them even care?

 

Sitting with this feeling, I began to prepare for the presentation. I met with the teacher beforehand and it was such a privilege to see how she runs her classroom and all that she does to educate these students. She put me at ease for the entire process. Something that normally really helps to calm my anxiety is feeling ready, prepared. The mantra I can handle this, only tends to work for me when I have a plan.

This inspirational teacher lent a hand to that. Giving me an outline of how long I was going to be up front and center speaking, what I should touch on, and what aspects of my passion combined with anxiety I should focus on seriously helped me to center and get the creative juices flowing.

When the time came to type it all up, I found myself procrastinating. I waited a couple more days than I should have to get started. I talk about myself all the time, but actually putting it down knowing I would be telling my story to around 20 people was hard. I have some struggles that are difficult to talk about, and some that I really had to learn from. While they were awkward to bring up in front of a classroom, I’m glad I did. I was able to relate to them and show them that no one is perfect – it’s okay to be flawed. 

When the day came to speak in the classroom, I made the trip to the local middle school with my close friend in tow (shoutout to her for coming along and taking the awesome photos below!)

With my heart racing as we walked up to the classroom door, I knew this would be important. Young minds, I kept telling myself. They are impressionable, it’s crucial what we say to them. The teacher brought us inside the classroom and had us sit in the back until class started. Taking my notecards for the speech out, I fumbled with them. Twisting, folding, bending, I could feel the anxiety spreading.

To get focused and ready for the day, the teacher did an awesome little group circle with the kids where we all stood and said a great affirmation for the day, and then she would call out something like, “This week, I cried,” and if you actually cried, you would take one step into the circle. With others doing the same, it was a wonderful way to show young kids that it’s okay to share. It’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to do something positive.

After that activity ended, the teacher wasted no time in introducing me. As I made the short walk up to the front of the classroom, my palms were sweaty and I was red in the face, but I still survived. I stood up there and showed those kids my soul. My whole being. Good and bad, difficult and easy. 

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Taking them through the unknown of applying to colleges, the pressures of college, and then the unpredictable life after school, I made sure to stick with the message that no matter what they end up pursuing, they are good enough. There is a certain magic in finding your passion, and I’m lucky enough to have found my purpose already.

After I talked their ear off about my own life, we delved deeper into what anxiety is. I did an interactive exercise with them where I wrote “What Is Anxiety?” up on the board, and asked them to come up with a few situations that gives them anxious thoughts, or would make them feel overwhelmed.

This was the part I was extra anxious about. Middle schoolers aren’t exactly famous for their love of sharing, so I had this nightmare that I would be standing up there with the loudest crickets chirping in my ears. Boy, was I wrong. I got an overwhelming amount of kids wanting to share, so we had them come up and stick the post-it note of their situation on the board!

For the next exercise, they wrote down “How Do We Handle Anxiety?” This time, I gave them an example of how I handle my own anxiety, and then had them write down how they would maintain it. I got some fantastic answers – with some young girls even bringing up Mindful Minute – and so many of them willing to get up and stick their post-it on the whiteboard.

At the very end, I left them all with three positive affirmations I always tell myself:

 

 

Whether I’m waking up in the morning, driving to work, or laying down to go to bed, I never miss a moment of saying these mantras. I ended the presentation asking them to say the affirmations with me, and I was so, so touched at the energy that came from it. I felt like they truly believed it.

They wrote down different prompts and even created their own affirmations on what they learned and we had a little Q&A where they got to ask me any questions they wanted. Most were pretty straightforward, but a few had depth. I had one young girl ask me if I remembered the moment I knew I had to start therapy. Damn, kid. 

Once everything had wrapped up, the kids broke their focus. Gathering up their notebooks, cell phones, and backpacks, they made their way to the next class. I hoped that I made an impression on just one of them – that would be enough for me. It wasn’t until the teacher let me read some of their reflections that I realized I made more than one impact.

Check out a few of my personal favorites:

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Turning each page of these reflections solidified my love for all that I’m doing on this blog. While I may have days where I feel like no one is listening, or not enough people care – this day took that all away. It is beyond important how we speak to the younger generation about mental health. I feel very confident that this amazing group of young minds not only got my message – they are living it.

 

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Thank you to this inspirational teacher who everyday chooses to lead her students with empathy, kindness and awareness. I was honored to be part of your classroom.

 

 

Do you want me to speak at your local middle or high school about mental health or finding my passion? Email my blog or share in the comments for more!