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! 

Anxiety Art // What’s The Title Of Your Anxiety Novel?

Words mean the world. Wanting to incorporate my love of literature into my next Anxiety Art series, I asked two incredibly talented souls this question:

If your anxiety was a book, what would be the title? 

 

A question near and dear to my heart, I had so much fun brainstorming and working with these wonderful women on beautifully authentic results. Whether you’re a fan of sci-fi, romance, YA or fantasy, check out these books that break the stigma:

 

Morgan Stinson 

Thankful she’s made her way back into my life, Morgan has always been the creative type. When she’s not kicking ass at roller derby or playing with her pup Blue, she bravely fights anxiety and depression. Rekindling her love of drawing, I asked her to draw the title of her anxiety novel, and here’s the horror genre she created!

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“When I get anxious or have an anxiety episode, I become paranoid. I overthink and irrationally react to every little thing, often pushing those closest to me away. My fears eat away at me like some unseen parasite inside my body, hoping to make an escape and wreak havoc upon my world. I become a whole other entity, and often wonder what had gotten into me after I’ve relaxed and have calmed down.

One of my favorite films is John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” and I believe that if my anxiety were a book, it’d have a similar premise. A young woman is terrorized by an entity inside her that changes her into a hideous, grotesque, terrifying monster. The twist? Well I don’t want to spoil it for you, but she manages to develop a cure and overcomes the creature within! No matter how many times “The Thing” tries to take over, I always manage to wrangle it in before it’s done too much damage. I’m also getting better at preventing it from even appearing, and am proud to say that I am no longer afraid of the monster. I am at peace with it.”

 

Sanna

A truly talented Finland-based artist, Sanna expresses her creativity through pins, keychains and other adorable, yet stigma breaking, accessories. Before I asked her to be part of this series, I stumbled across her profile due to my growing obsession with pins. With the ability to customize her pins, she did me the immense honor of creating a few unique pieces for Anxiety Erica (here they are first because I will be showing these off any chance I get):

 

Aware of her serious skill, I then asked her to be part of Anxiety Art. Unsure on what she had created, she sent her piece over to me with signs of self doubt, but boy was she wrong – it’s so beautiful. Although some things aren’t always what we picture them to be, the end result can surprise us in ways we never expected. Sharing her story with mental illness publicly for the first time, here is Sanna’s art.

 

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“I’m Sanna, an almost 30-year-old who’s been battling mental illness for a good two thirds of my life. I had my first anxiety attack at the age of eleven. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed in my room and being consumed by an unnamed terror no child should ever have to experience. Cue almost twenty years later, I’m still battling the same demons, but now I can put names on most of them. 

I’ve learned that I’m highly sensitive, an empath, and how despite having two loving parents, certain things in my childhood (like my father’s illness and untimely death and being bullied in school) forced me to develop coping mechanisms that are hurtful now as an adult. Most of all, I’ve learned that recovery and getting to know who you really are isn’t linear, it’s a ~spiral~.

Hence the name I chose if I ever were to turn my life into a book. Even when I feel like it’s one step forward, two steps back, I know that I always learn something whenever I make even the slightest bit of progress. These days, I have a day job as a registered nurse (not something I wish to keep doing for the rest of my life, but it’ll do for now), but in my free time I make jewelry, pins and other knick-knacks for mental health awareness.

During my years fighting my own fight I’ve noticed the stigma of mental illness isn’t as bad as it used to be, but it’s still there, and I want to be a part of making it less so.”

 

 

Every time I do this series, I’m amazed at the raw, powerful beauty that artists can bring into the world with just a pen. Thank you so much to these awesome women for sharing their stories and creating work that will help others heal.

 

Are you an artist that supports mental health? Share your story and you might be featured on the next Anxiety Art series! 

Beautiful As Ever // Love What’s There

Since starting this blog, I’ve discovered so many amazingly creative brands with a focus on mental health. It’s refreshing to see more and more people start to take it seriously, and talk about it. 

When I stumbled across Love What’s There on their Instagram, I loved their shirts, but really it was their name itself that caused me to pause. Love what’s there. It’s such a simple concept, yet so hard to actually achieve when it comes to mental illness.

Founded to encourage self love among the mentally ill, flaws and all, Love What’s There believes that sharing our stories – while crucial – can be emotionally draining and fraught with stigma. As a result, the brand decided to create shirts that spoke boldly for those with mental illness about the joy and pain that surrounds life.

Who’s behind Love What’s There? 

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This is such a wonderful story. George and Kitty – the husband and wife team behind Love What’s There – started their journey back in 2012. When they met and swapped stories with each other, they discovered they had something crucial in common: depression and mental illness.

Beginning a friendship that formed into a lasting relationship built on love, empathy and understanding, they made the leap to start a business together. After late night research and brainstorming, they developed powerful, authentic designs that warriors with mental illness would be proud to wear.

On a mission to encourage every soul struggling with mental illness to embrace who they are and practice acceptance, Love What’s There has a simple message: drop all those heavy expectations and just love yourself – and others – for what’s there.

The magical duo behind this bold brand was wonderful enough to send me one of their shirts, and I decided to go with the BAE: Beautiful As Ever message. While I don’t normally use the term bae – I’ve always thought it was kind of silly – I really loved this play on words with it.

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Mixed with the main message to just love what is there, I’m so excited to proudly wear this shirt as a reminder to every single soul that choosing ourselves and taking the time to love who we truly are is just that – beautiful as ever.

Committed to giving back, Love What’s There donates 10% of their profits to To Write Love On Her Arms. 

 

Loving this mental health inspired brand? Learn more about them at https://lovewhatsthere.com/

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! 

 

 

Works in Progress // Michael

Experiencing a panic attack for the first time back in 2007, Michael didn’t make the decision to get help until 2012. Living alone with his anxiety for five years, he welcomed this new chapter of life.

Recovering from anxiety, depression and agoraphobia, Michael has come out on the other side a kinder, more understanding, and stronger human being. Read Michael’s full story below.

 

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Name: Michael

Age: 26

 

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

In 2007, I experienced a panic attack for the first time. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided I needed professional help. My decision to leave it for five years and to live alone with it, was one of my biggest mistakes during my battle. The first few years, I would have panic attacks and be able to get on with my day as normal, it wasn’t stopping me from traveling, working, having a social life. It was always with me but didn’t have a hold over me. In 2012, I went through a bad break up – this is when my anxiety went from 60% to 110%. This was the stage I first started to experience depression, even though the relationship was very negative and a big cause of most of my anxiety.

It was the first time I felt alone with my anxiety, even though I never told the person I was in a relationship with. I always just felt safe having her by my side. So now, I am alone, anxious, and depressed. I decided this was the time I really need to sort my life out and number one on my list was professional help for my mental illnesses.

 

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

Anxiety is now apart of my day to day life. From the moment I wake up, it’s on my mind until the moment I go to sleep. On bad days it keeps me up. My anxiety over took everything at one point – I moved back home with my parents, left my job, slowly distanced myself from all my friends and I went through a stage of about six months where I didn’t even leave my home. My anxiety and depression now had agoraphobia to add to my mental illnesses.

My life felt like it was done. I was very suicidal. So many suicidal thoughts, but I never really had the intention to follow through. I was at the point where I was so afraid of dying I stopped living. Help wasn’t coming to find me, so I found out you could have therapy session via Skype. My therapist was the first person that made me believe there was a way out. After an hour session I actually had hope. The first thing we worked on was my anxiety – how to cope with a panic attack. I was told to accept the panic attack, reassure myself I will be fine, like the other times and let it pass. Such a simple coping method, but for me so effective. Taking my phone out and playing a game is a coping method I still use now. Distracting my mind during an attack is the most effective way to stop me sitting and overthinking and making it a full blown attack.

I have social anxiety and healthy anxiety. The health anxiety always becomes effective during an attack. I always fear a heart attack, so I use a app called Calm and do some breathing techniques to bring my heart rate back down. My agoraphobia is something I’m still working on, but I have a few methods. I used to drink alcohol just to get me out the house, but this was helping my anxiety for that afternoon. The next day, my anxiety was 100x worse, so I stopped that.

My agoraphobia recovery is simple – I have to face it. It started out with a three minute walk to the end of my street – small steps nothing crazy. Some days I would turn back after 20 seconds. Walking with someone makes it easier for me, walking my dog or having my headphones in. All of these mental illnesses are still in my life, but I don’t fight them anymore. I accept them and let them pass. I face them, the more I meet them, the weaker they are become.

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

It has made me kinder, more understanding, and more grateful for my life. It has helped me become closer with my family and I have made some new amazing friends that understand and support me.

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

Talk about it. Get help as soon as possible. Don’t be ashamed that you have a mental illness and don’t be so hard on yourself – you didn’t choose this.

The dark hole you are in now is possible to get out of. I have seen and heard many people doing it and I am half way out myself. 

 

 

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