Works in Progress // Elly

Trigger warning: There is mention of suicide in this post. 

Battling severe anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder, Elly started out living the life she thought was normal. It was only after several self harm episodes and near death experiences that she looked within and made the decision to attend therapy.

With the introduction of DBT therapy, self care, and saying no to things that didn’t benefit her life, this beautiful soul has come home to herself. Preaching a strong message that each person should fight for themselves, meet Elly.

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Name: Elly Melo

Age: 29

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 was diagnosed in 2015 with Borderline Personality Disorder. To be honest, I noticed that something was different with me when I was 14/15; I felt like the odd one out. At the age of 16, a teacher suggested I go to a counsellor in order to get help for my anxiety around exam time. However, I struggled to keep up with my sessions and stopped going after only a couple of sessions. But I managed to force myself to keep doing the things that everyone else was doing; I finished college, I went to uni, I went into a job related to my degree. 

Unfortunately, I was living a life that others wanted; thus one I really didn’t want or value. At the age of 24, I broke down and was diagnosed with severe Depression and severe Anxiety. It wasn’t until many more breakdowns, near death experiences and self harm episodes that I was finally sent to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder.

 

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

I came too close to succeeding with a suicide attempt. I had been in the NHS mental health system for years by this point, and found my NHS experience was very invalidating and the “professionals” I was seeing, were actually making me feel worse. 

After one particularly bad episode, I agreed with my mum that I would seek private therapy. My mum then helped me apply for ESA and PIP, and with that money I am now paying for private DBT. I have been seeing my current therapist for just over a year now; since May 2016, and she has changed my life. I would recommend this type of therapy to anyone with Borderline Personality Disorder. However, please do go through the hard work of finding a therapist you like and feel comfortable with, finding a therapist for you is extremely important. Without that connection, I’m not sure I’d be where I am now; I’m improving slowly, but I am in a very different place to a year ago. In a good way!

 

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

My moods change a lot throughout the day, and they are very intense! I wake up feeling like one person, and by night time I have been at least six different people. I hear voices; good ones and mean ones. I have hallucinations and delusions. I can become very paranoid. My anxiety is still quite bad, and it stops me from doing a lot. My depression really affects me too. I also get manic episodes, and sometimes can experience mania and depression at the same time – it’s a special kind of torture. But, my therapist and psychiatrist (also private now, as the NHS let me down too many times) have really helped me, and continue to do so; I have found a good combination of medications and my therapist has taught me many tools and techniques (such as new/different ways of thinking, setting boundaries, identifying my values, talking about how I’m feeling and asking for help when I need it, and taking care of myself in general – self care has been key!) which I use every day, and they actually work. 

For now, I’m focusing on recovery. I’m not working on anything other than myself, I live with my mum, and use my disability allowance for specialist treatments, such a DBT and other psychiatric support. I am hoping that in a couple of years, I’ll be in a better place and managing a more independent life. I have hope now, which really has been key to keeping me alive and working hard on my recovery.

 

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

I have learned more now, than ever before. It’s been kind of a rude awakening; it’s painful and so hard, but it’s woken me up to life; MY life. Now I try to live for me, and I am more open and honest about how I feel and what I need. I try to live in the moment and be mindful, I have learned to breathe and say “no” to anything that doesn’t contribute to my healing, and “yes” to the things that do help me.

I’m coming home to myself, and it is difficult but it is so amazing. I’m looking forward to my future now. Don’t get me wrong, I still go through relapses and suicidal thoughts are a daily thing. The struggle is real. But I believe in myself now. 

Most important of all, I have met the most amazing people, thanks to my illness. It really seems that your vibe really does attract your tribe! And I’m so grateful for the co-warriors in my life. 

My illness has taught me that I don’t want to be another zombie on the capitalism race, I want to help others and live a more meaningful life, a life that’s more me. I finally have my own values and have set boundaries, things that I wasn’t aware of prior to my breakdowns. 

 

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

ASK FOR HELP! Fight for it, tell those you love and trust that you are struggling; be thorough and do your best to get them to understand you. It’s not easy, but eventually it helps a lot. And you’ll be surprised how many “me too” moments you have, with new friends and with old ones. 

Fight for you, it is the hardest and most amazing thing you will ever do. Identify your values and set boundaries, you’re the only one walking in your shoes and following your path. Nobody else understands who you are and what you want, only you. You can have people who help, love and support you, but it is your journey. You decide what works and how you want to do this thing called life.

 

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Kelsey

Diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when she was just five or six years old, Kelsey also lives with OCD and GAD. Surrounded by constant triggers and fears, this beautiful, brave soul made the leap into therapy – it was the best decision she ever made. 

Inspired by her Instagram account and her own therapist, Kim, she realized her true calling lies in helping others heal. Now a psychology major, she plans on getting her masters and becoming a licensed therapist.

Paving her own path through multiple mental illnesses, read about Kelsey’s journey below.

 

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Name: Kelsey

Age: 24

 

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 suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’ve had OCD for as long as I can remember. I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome when I was around five or six. It’s a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary movements. What it feels like is similar to OCD, I would have an urge to make a certain movement and the anxiety would just build and build until I did it, and then the relief came instantly. I still struggle with this but it much more minor now. I believe I developed OCD from the TS. It is very common for people who have TS to also develop OCD. I remember having problems with numbers, specifically the number 6. I had a counting compulsion and if I ever thought that the number I stopped on related to the number 6, I would have to start over. I had a huge problem with germs, it’s better now but I still have a contamination issue. I also had an intense fear of seeing other peoples vomit, which is a quite common phobia of OCD sufferers. I remember constantly saying the word “no” every so often in my head just in case there was some evil force listening to my thoughts and in case they were going to ask me to do something terrible without me knowing, I knew that I was always saying “no” to whatever voice that I believed was in my head.

I was, and still am, afraid that something bad will happen to someone if I just simply say that something bad is going to happen to them. I have also always had a tapping compulsion. Also intrusive, obsessive thoughts that I cannot turn off is a huge struggle for me still to this day. Disturbing thoughts and imaginations pop up in my head sometimes without control. I am continuing to get my OCD under control, I have had much improvement with therapy. The GAD I believe stemmed from the OCD. I am medicated for that, but along with the OCD, it is something that I will have for the rest of my life which is fine by me. As long as I stay medicated and continue with therapy, my condition can always be much worse, so I am thankful that I have learned how to cope so that I can no longer let it control me or interfere with my everyday life.

  

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

I was in one of the darkest periods of my life. It started fall of 2013 and finally ended summer of 2014. I was in my third year of community college with no direction. In my last semester there, I dropped each class one by one and finally decided to drop out in January 2014. I was no longer in school, had no job, and looking for a job gave me intense anxiety so I was unsuccessful in keeping one. I had started and quit three different jobs within the time span of three months due to anxiety attacks. Once my mom witnessed one for the first time, she took me in to see my PCP. He prescribed me Lexapro to take daily, and Xanax as needed.

Within the next month or two, my head felt like it was screwed on straight and I decided to go back to school. It was a tech school, so I only took the needed classes for the subject and it only took me a year. A whole year after that, I was done working at the horrible office I was in and got a new job, the one I have currently been at for exactly one year now. The process of getting a new job put a huge dent in my mental health. I was anxious 24/7, I had to take Xanax more often, I was a complete mess. I carried on and finally, after still suffering with the worsening GAD decided to see a therapist. I have now been seeing her since October of 2016. Not long after I started seeing her, we decided that the Lexapro was no longer having an effect on me and I went to my PCP to see if she had any opinions. She switched me to Effexor, which is a SSNRI as opposed to a SSRI. This switched worked a little but a few panic attacks later we upped my dose and ever since I finally feel like for the first time in my life my brain has the right amount of Serotonin and Norepinephrine to keep me at a reasonably calm level on a daily basis, and with the help of my therapist, I am at the best place in my mental health that I’ve ever been.

  

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

As I said, I have improved a tremendous amount at this point in my life. The medication simply fixed a chemical imbalance that I was born with. It runs in my family, (the women on my mom’s side struggle with depression, my mom is also on Effexor, my sister struggles with OCD and GAD as well and is also medicated and in therapy), so I am very grateful for the simple fix that is anti-depressants. As for therapy, it has completely transformed my life. My lovely therapist, Kim, tells me at every session just how much she has seen me improve and she, along with myself, is very proud of me and the amount of work I have done.

We have learned many DBT tricks, and also have done quite a bit of CBT.  At the moment, my GAD is under control with the help of the meds, DBT, and CBT I have done. We are primarily working on OCD at the moment. We have done a lot of exposure therapy which is very difficult but once you get through the tough parts, it gets easier and easier. I have so far gotten rid of three compulsions! I still have quite a way to go, but I have come such a long way.

  

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

It has helped me see the world in a way that I never would have if I never had mental illness. As horrible as it has been for me, I am grateful for it. Not only has it shaped me as the strong, brave woman that I am today, but it has also led me to the new career path that I have recently started on. I have decided to become a therapist myself. Kim and I came to the conclusion early on in meeting with each other that I am not fulfilled enough in my life with the career I am in. I do like medical assisting, but it is not something that I would be happy doing for the rest of my life. In one of our first couple of sessions we got to the root of what I truly want in my life: to help people like me.

 I will be finishing my first two classes next week. I am now a psychology major and my long term goal is to get my masters and become a licensed therapist myself. It is currently fueling my life and I am so freaking excited about my future! Which that alone excites me because I have never been able to say that before. It has also lead me to this wonderful community that I have found on Instagram. I’ve been on it for a year and a half now and it has been so healing for me. I get inspired every time I go on and see so many strong people in recovery and all of the people spreading positivity and love to one another.

 

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

Stay strong. Be brave. Focus on taking care of yourself first. As bad as it may seem right now, it will get better. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be impossible to see right now, it may take a long time, but you will get there eventually.

 Hold on and never give up. Your mental health comes first, don’t worry about where you’re headed, the universe will put you exactly where you need to be at exactly the time you are supposed to be there. Trust the process!

 

 

 

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Elliott

Suffering from multiple, severe mental illnesses since the age of 16, Elliott’s life has been a constant cycle of instability, chaos, and breakdowns. Locked up in a ward four times, it was only when he hit rock bottom that he made the decision to start attending DBT therapy.

Applying the skills he’s learned from DBT therapy to his everyday life, Elliott fights to have a fulfilling life – despite his mental illness.

 

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Name: Elliott Smith

Age: 47


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?

July 17th of this year is my 47th birthday. The first time I remember being diagnosed was 1986 – I was 16. I was suffering from depression with suicidal ideology. I came home from school one day and decided life was to painful to live. So, I wrote my mom a note, got some rope and went in search of a farm grain silo to hang myself in. A woman from my step dad’s church (he was the pastor) saw me and called my mother who came and found me and talked me into getting help. I then spent two and a half months in a locked ward where I was diagnosed with depression.

That was the first diagnosis of many. My time of service in The US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division left me with PTSD. Then the anxiety, bipolar diagnosis and Borderline Personality Disorder. Because I have so many – I feel – accurate diagnoses, I refer to the group as just mental illness. I don’t know where one illness ends and the other begins. This mix of diagnosis have so many symptoms. The depression, anxiety, mania, aggression, anger, horror and fear in the form of flashbacks. I have always, as long as I remember, felt like something wasn’t right. My life was a cycle. Stability. Then instability. Chaos, then breakdown. Then the cycle would start again.



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

I have attempted or planned suicide four times – all four times I have been institutionalized. But still, my life didn’t change. My illness and my symptoms pulled me around like a dog on a leash. I had little pockets of happiness in an ocean of fear, pain, darkness, and agony. For this period, I didn’t really have uninterrupted medical or mental health care coverage. So, I would try to get help but for years could not afford to stay in therapy. In 2010, after finding out about the VA compensation process I put in for PTSD competition. I received disability status from the VA. This allowed me uninterrupted medical and mental health covered for the last seven years. This was the point my mental illness turned a corner.

Around this time, I had a very horrible episode where I ended up hurting someone then I tried to hang myself. I was again at rock bottom. Somewhere in the process of getting back on my feet again, I decided to figure out how to change the life I was leading. I decided to work to learn how to live a quality life. It was not a bolt out of the blue or “ah-ha” moment – it was a slow realization. I was finally aware that I needed to help myself before I was going to be able to get proper help. I was going to have to work my fucking ass off to ever have a quality life.



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


Well for me it is everyday life. It’s been 30 years (diagnosed) of mental illness. I don’t remember anything else – it is apart of everything. This very reason is why the skills I have learned are so important.


In 2011, I attended Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT. The skills I learned there became the life-changing foundation of not just how I’ve learned to cope, but I learned to really thrive and found a way to maintain and live a quality life. The skills I learned from DBT were practical actions and strategies I could apply in specific or general ways to my everyday life.

  • Mindfulness. Focusing on what it is I am doing and saying. Focusing on my thoughts without letting them run away with my actions.
  • Wise mind. Because I lived in my emotional mind or my rational mind I would go back and forth between chaos and shame. Trying to maintain wise mind (both emotion mind and rational mind at the same time in balance) keeps me able to make decisions that help me maintain a quality life.
  • Distress tolerance. Knowing that life is probably going to get a little dicey and having the skills to tolerate the distress that is going to be apart of my life is crucial.
  • Checking the facts. This skill I learned allows me to challenge my symptoms and thoughts and hold them up to the light to see if they are real or the lies my symptoms tell me.
  • Radical acceptance. This allows me to accept the big unpleasant truths without giving up or giving in.
  • Acceptance. Accepting my reality was a life-changing experience. When I accepted that I have multiple mental illnesses and I will continue to have these issues  – I was set free. This acceptance for me also mentioned being completely transparent with my self and others in my life that mental illness was part of who I am. I would no longer try to hide how my life was to anyone ever again. My mental illnesses are always something you get to know as you learn more about me.

The list of skills go on and on and I talk about them a lot in both my @myrhoughtsracing Instagram and my blog.



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


Mental illness literally has only given me symptoms. I get what you’re asking, but I don’t see it as a gift or a benefit. With that said, I have learned by living through my symptoms that people – all of us – are amazing! That life is hard but worth it. That life is precious and fragile. I learned these gifts not because of my mental illness but in spite of it.



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

My thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to indulge them. They are not in charge of my life.

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Amanda Rose

Losing her father at the young age of eight, Amanda Rose was used to protecting herself from pain. Feeling worthless and like a burden to everyone, she was in a dark place.

It was after two suicide attempts, time spent in mental health clinics, and leaving her job to focus on her mental illness that she realized there are valuable lessons to learn from being at rock bottom.

With a powerful message to reach out and talk about how you feel, meet Amanda Rose.

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Name: Amanda Rose

Age: 31

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 was officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder when I was 23, however I was living with it for many years prior to this.

I don’t have many memories from when I was young and I think that is my body’s way of protecting itself from the pain. I lost my father to cancer when I was eight years old and I don’t think that is something you ever really recover from. I just remember crying all the time. I was always sad and never experienced true joy. Even though I was smiling on the outside – I felt dead inside.

Before I was diagnosed with depression, I was working full time in payroll and I was always exhausted. At night, the only way I could sleep was by self-medicating with alcohol and other substances. I got to a point where I felt completely worthless. I felt like a burden to everyone in my life. Nothing made me happy and I felt like life wasn’t worth living anymore.

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

Looking back, I wish that I had reached out for help earlier but unfortunately, I didn’t. After a suicide attempt I ended up in the emergency room in hospital and they admitted me to a mental health clinic. Before learning about depression in the clinic, I didn’t even know what it was. And even after learning about it I didn’t want to believe that I had it. I left the clinic after two weeks. I took the anti-depressants they gave me but I didn’t change anything else in my life.

A year later, after another suicide attempt, I spent a month in the mental health clinic. I admitted to myself that I had depression and I actively participated in the activities to assist in my recovery. I learned valuable lessons there that saved my life and I am grateful that these places exist.

After I left the clinic, I was taking my medication and going to therapy but I still hated living. However, I persevered for my friends and family because I will never forget how upset they were when I was hospitalized. I know a lot of people think that suicide is selfish, but when you are that ill you truly believe you are doing the world a favor, and that your friends and family will be better off without you. Obviously, now I know that isn’t true at all. I encourage anyone who is feeling this way to reach out and talk to someone, because you do matter.

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

For the last couple of years, I’ve also suffered from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). I think this affects my life more now than depression. I stopped working seven months ago, because I was working in accounts and the deadlines were causing me too much stress. I was not coping with life and everything was overwhelming. I was very anxious all the time and kept having panic attacks. I live with my boyfriend – we have been together for three years – and he offered to support me while I take some time out to look after myself. I am currently studying Human Resources part time and even though it does cause some anxiety, I am managing to keep up with it. 

Not being able to work at the moment is stressful. I often feel frustrated that I can’t support myself financially, and feel guilty that I am placing pressure on my boyfriend. But, I always remind myself that this is temporary and that I will feel capable of working again soon. I am growing stronger and I am proud that I am allowing myself time to focus on healing.

Since I have stopped working I have made so many changes to my life; I feel like a brand-new person. And even though I still have a way to go, I am proud of my progress. I no longer smoke, I don’t drink as much, I exercise, I have completely changed my diet, I take lots of supplements, I journal, I practice gratitude and I meditate. Exercise has helped me the most. Nothing too intense just walking in nature or dancing at home. Being in nature and appreciating everything you see is a great way to calm down when you are feeling anxious; it works wonders for me. I prioritize self-care in my daily routine because I cannot support others or contribute to the world if I am exhausted and empty inside.

Positive quotes have helped me in my mental health journey. They give me hope which helps me through tough days. My two favorites are: tomorrow is a new day and brighter days are on their way. Our thoughts really do create our reality so if you can try and change your thoughts you can survive any bad day.

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

It has definitely made me stronger. I now know that no matter how low I feel, that I can and will survive.  It has also made me appreciate life more. Every day I write down something I am grateful for; it is a great way to help you appreciate your life.

Living with a mental illness requires a lot of self-reflection. It has helped me to realize what my strengths, weaknesses and values are. You need to know these things about yourself to establish healthy boundaries in all areas of your life.

It has also given me a purpose. I want to help others that are experiencing mental illness or going through anything difficult. I want to encourage them to reach out and ask for help, and I don’t want anyone to feel alone like I once did. That is why I started my Instagram account and Facebook page earlier this year, both are called lovelifedear, and I am starting a blog soon. I believe that together we can end the stigma that still surrounds mental health.

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

It is important to know that it is totally okay to not be okay. You need to feel your emotions to be able to work through them and to grow. If you want help working through them then reach out. Talk about how you are feeling with a therapist or someone close to you. You are not alone and you should not suffer alone.

And please remember that you are loved, you are enough and you deserve to live a full and happy life.

Amanda xx

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Veronica

Silently suffering with OCD, depression, and anxiety since she was nine years old, Veronica didn’t think getting help happened until you were really at rock bottom.

Exposure and Response Prevention therapy on a weekly basis combined with her website, Story of the Mind, where she shares her own story, as well as others, has taught her a newfound perspective that she’s not a bad person, she just has OCD.

 

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Name: Veronica

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 Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety and depression. To be honest, my OCD started when I was about nine, however it quieted down until I was about 15. My anxiety levels also really started to rise during this time. At first, I didn’t realize what I was experiencing was OCD, as it doesn’t comprise of the stereotypical handwashing or repetitive behaviors. It seems to be heavily obsession based with mental rituals. It all centers around me being bad and doing bad things. I didn’t realize that what I had was OCD until I was 19 – I just thought that I was a bad, horrible person. In addition to the OCD, I struggle with panic attacks, being anxious in social situations and also general anxiety about pretty much whatever my brain can freak out about.

With the OCD, I believed that I was truly the worst person in existence. I believed I deserved to be dead for the horrible intrusive thoughts and obsessions that I was having. The more I reacted, the more I became distressed over what was happening in my head the worse it got. My OCD compulsions are a series of mental rituals and phrases – on the outside no one would even know (despite my often distressed appearance) that I have OCD. I used this as justification that proved I was a monster, I didn’t have OCD – I really was the most terrible person in existence.  I really wish I knew that my parents thought I had OCD when I was younger, I think that really would have helped.

The thing is my OCD obsessions are the worst things I can imagine a person doing. They are so ego-dystonic ie. not in line with my beliefs and morals that they have had such an impact on my self worth and value as a human being. Anyone who knows me would say that I try to always be kind to everyone – no matter who they are – and would never want to even be mean, let alone commit an awful crime, or do something bad. This is what gave them so much power over me. 

In 2015, I moved overseas by myself and my OCD sky rocketed. Every waking moment was filled with obsessions. I would be lucky to have 20 minutes cumulatively in a day when they weren’t screaming in my head for a whole year. I still hadn’t figured out that it was OCD at this stage. I was depressed and suicidal. I was having more panic attacks than one can count, but that worked in a funny way. I would keep incredibly busy and purposely do things that made me anxious, like flying and traveling alone. I would be so anxious about the situation I was in, I wasn’t quite so focused on the obsessions. But even still, I look back on my photos from that year and could tell you exactly what my brain was saying at that point in time, it was graphic and terrifying.

Then began the obsessive exercise and eating minute amounts of food. I wreaked havoc on my body to try and quiet my mind. I lost my period for over a year, my heart became slow, I lost my hair and I was dizzy and sick. I set all these rules for myself and was constantly thinking about how many calories I had eaten or burnt or when I could allow myself to eat next. I swapped one obsession with another (I know it’s slightly different – I mean that it occupied so much brain space fixated on food I was focusing so much on the intrusive thoughts). When I started to eat again and cut back on the exercise, then another harmful tool of self punishment took its place. I would hurt myself in almost a compulsive way, trying to prove to myself that I didn’t like these thoughts, that if I hurt myself then I wasn’t a monster. 

Right now, my OCD is not as bad as it has ever been but it’s still quite severe, there’s now just other things going on as well. Some days my brain won’t shut up but occasionally I can get a bit of quiet from them. It still has quite a hold on me, but at least now I’m starting to get proper help. It’s been a slow road and probably something that will never fully go away, but a bit less would be quite nice. This year I’ve been hospitalized, tried my third lot of medication and had to reduce much of my course load at university (something that my high achieving type A personality is still trying to accept). I’m now doing Exposure and Response Prevention therapy – the leading psychological treatment for OCD weekly and trying all of the things to get better. I’m not going to lie, ERP is hard. You have to expose yourself to your biggest fears and face them without resorting to anxiety reducing compulsive behaviors or mental acts. But it will work, I’m sure of that. I am learning that I am not a bad person, I just have OCD. 

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

It took me a few years from thinking about speaking to someone to finally doing it. I am writing this because I wish that I had done it sooner and not let myself get to the point I have been recently. Maybe this was inevitable, but I really just want to let you know that even if you think it’s not that bad, or that others have it worse, or that you don’t deserve help until you reach crisis point, please understand that you do, and the sooner you are supported, the better. 

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

To be honest, things are starting to improve only the last month or so and quite slowly. Getting on the right medication has been instrumental in this as well as seeing a Psychologist and Psychiatrist weekly. One thing which has definitely had a positive effect on my ability to cope is actually just talking to people about it and not bottling it all up inside. It is so important to reach out and talk to someone when you need help – whether that is in person or through a helpline. It has actually saved my life a few times for sure.

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

I think that it has probably made me more aware of what is happening to other people around me and helping me to empathize with others having a hard time. To be honest, it is just a little part of me, which has significantly affected me and I don’t know what I would be like without it. It has given me the opportunity to speak to others on my website who are doing amazing things and to be able to connect with others.

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

Just go and talk to a professional. It took me years of thinking about it to actually get it done. I want people to know that it is quite ok to ask for help and it doesn’t need to be a big secret. I think it’s important that young people know that you don’t need to wait until it gets really bad and completely unbearable to get help, if there is something that is bothering you then it’s worth talking to someone about it.

I know that a lot of people, I used to include myself in this, often think getting help means that you aren’t excelling at life. But honestly it means the opposite. It means that you are committed to helping yourself get better and that requires some serious dedication and bravery. You don’t have to do this all alone.

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Hannah

Battling depression, anxiety and chronic illness, Hannah didn’t reach out for help until she was in her darkest place. Realizing the big impact of little things like a simple text from a close friend or focusing on a craft, this bold, brave soul has found the right tools for her own healing.

With a combination of faith, kindness, and a realization that we aren’t actually alone in our suffering, read Hannah’s full story below.

 

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Name: Hannah Kassebaum  

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 battled a difficult and strenuous battle with depression. Anxiety now depletes me most days because of a chronic illness, but depression has been a constant since age 12.  Nine years of my life. I think I always knew I had a disposition to be more of the depressed type. I am just more of a melancholy, pessimistic, glass-half-empty person. Just as I was more of a stressed out, anxious person. But, I think I realized I struggled with depression when I was 16 or 17.

I knew I was sad frequently when I was younger, but I didn’t have a term to accurately describe it. Besides being an overly emotional pre-pubescent preteen. It got bad when I was 16 or 17. I was suicidal. I contemplated in great detail killing myself. I would “punish” myself by writing horrible things about myself all over my body, beating my body on objects (mostly my head), and trying to pass out by holding my breath. I never cut so I think I brushed off my depression because it didn’t come out in that specific way like many people my age. I was depressed in the most high functioning way, it didn’t deter me from taking care of myself or cause me to be unmotivated. It just wrecked my mind. It was paired with self-hatred and was a dangerous cocktail of mental distress. It affected me then in how I allowed myself to be treated. In how I treated myself. I felt worthless and disregarded myself as trash, I collected abusive boyfriends like it was a hobby as a means to punish myself for merely existing. I did this for years.

 

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

 I didn’t ask for help for years. Actually, until this year. I figured living in a state of mental illness, self-hatred, depression and contemplating suicide was going to be my normal and I would live life that way. It wasn’t until it got bad this year to where I couldn’t function. To where I didn’t want to function. To the point where I wasn’t eating or showering or doing anything besides getting up twice out of bed once to use the bathroom and grab a snack just in case and the other time to turn on the TV.

It was the first time I was entirely knocked flat on my face by depression. It was coupled with guilt and self-hatred and this suffocating feeling of worthlessness. Like my existence was a burden. I sought help because I had this moment where I knew “I could have something else. I could have something better.” But I also sought help because I became a part of the body positivity community, where I saw strong women who would talk about their mental illness along with eating disorders and body dysmorphia and a million other things. It gave me hope. Like maybe I could talk about it and try to move forward, too.

  

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

Depression is still something I battle. I think I will always battle it, but the difference is it won’t win. It’s not that I am happy constantly. In fact, most days I am anxious and overwhelmed, but what I gained was this ability. This ability to sense when an episode was coming on. Just before I lost my ability to feel human and function and go about life, I could sense it. And I have learned to take that brief moment to remove myself from the situation and seek peace from what could happen. I learned that going outside and forcing myself to be around my best friends sometimes saved my mind. That sometimes sending a text with a small phrase “I am falling apart, help” to a close trusted friend could ease my mind. Sometimes it was calling my mom and vocalizing my struggle. Sometimes it was doing a craft, something to put my mind at ease and focus on. But mostly, it’s been my religious beliefs that I’ve turned to in times where I feel as though I am on the brink of falling apart.

 

 

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

Mental illness has taught me to be compassionate. To be selfless. Which seems odd, but my own depression and mental illness struggles have taught me that there is more than just me who has to coexist with depression, OCD, PTSD, anxiety, on and on. I am not the only one. This is both a comfort that in times where I feel most alone, there are thousands of people feeling the same exact way. But it is also a reality check to step outside of myself. To know that on the days where I am close to an episode and forcing myself out of the house or my mind, those are the days where a stranger smiling at me with my disheveled appearance or the kind words of a friend are life changing.

It taught me how to be kind. How to smile at strangers and speak lovingly to my friends at all times. Because that’s the thing about mental illness: most often it’s not apparent. The longer I am alive, the more I have discovered how so many people I know walk through everyday with depression, but also a smile on their face. And it has taught me that just because someone seems put together or happy or whatever doesn’t mean that it’s true or that they don’t need kindness just as I do. 

 

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

This is a toughie. I don’t know if it’s advice per se, but I would’ve told myself this:

This feeling that you feel so deep, it’s depression. It’s not your enemy. It’s not what defines you. You are not broken because of mental illness. You are not changed because of it either. It exists. As do you. And learning to understand this, that your depression doesn’t equal brokenness and that falling apart is fine will be something that could very well save you.

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Connor

Suffering silently through his depression, it was when a teacher noticed his pain that he decided it was time to ask for help. 

With a firm belief in making your mess your message, Connor is on a mission to show others the hidden blessings in a life with mental illness. 

Meet Connor. 

 

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Name: Connor

Age: 22

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 first realized my mental health was more than just a teenage phase after experiencing two grueling years of a severely deflated state. I initially thought it was all down to the transition period of school to college because it made me feel like a small fish in a big pond and I lost contact with many school friends. The people I did still talk to didn’t share the same thoughts and feelings as me, so I resorted to Google and discovered countless articles about depression, anxiety etc, but I was in disbelief.

I didn’t want to accept that this was what was wrong with me because I’d seen depressed people in TV shows and films, but I wasn’t like them. I brushed it all off but over time my situation got worse. I began skipping lessons to avoid being around people and this quickly turned into skipping entire days of college so I could stay at home where it was safe, easy and comfortable. I could play games and escape the world and even myself. My social life was non-existent, horrendous diet, no motivation for anything and a constant feeling of self loathing and sorrow.

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

The first person to actually notice something wasn’t quite right with me was my product design teacher. She had obviously noticed my lack of attendance in the lessons and my coursework was barely scrapping the barrels. I was asked to stay behind one lesson to have a quick chat, which instantly sent me into a state of panic. After a while of listening to me explain and justify myself she said, “Have you ever thought that you were depressed?”

In an instant, it dawned on me that maybe I actually was depressed. I was recommended to see a counsellor on site at college and I did because I was starting to worry about my exam results and how they would affect my future. After a couple of weeks of this counsellor I got a sudden urge to help myself further and receive help from my local doctor too.

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

Currently, I am in a far better place than I have been for the six years of my battle. My journey has made me realize how strong I actually am and despite mental health knocking me down, I’m always able to get back up; even if it takes me weeks or months to recover from a set-back. My OCD in particular is still as persistent as before, but I’m now able to keep on top of the emotional aftermath and not let things spiral out of control as often. I now think of my problems as challenges that are there to test me and make me grow, which really makes the whole situation less daunting because the only outcomes from these challenges is that I either win or I learn.

Whenever I get these negative thoughts or emotions, I try and use them to my advantage by using the energy as fuel and converting it into something positive which then often times allows me to push further, due to the added incentive/reason. The main skills I’ve been able to learn from all this is being mindful, which in my opinion really has been a game changer and has given me moments of clarity which is hard to come by with all the usual mental fog. Ultimately the best thing I do to cope is give myself plenty of TLC and treat myself as my own best friend – rather than my worst enemy.

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

I believe in making your mess your message and I’m constantly trying to make the most out of the bad situations. I think of my mental health conditions as a blessing disguised as a curse – on the surface it creates pain and suffering, but there’s always a deeper meaning and learning opportunity to grow from. I always tell myself that I’ve been given this life because I’m strong enough to live it and with this attitude it gives me a positive approach to any obstacle that life throws at me. Although I’m not necessarily proud of my problems, I am proud of the person I have become from all this. I’ve gained a stronger level of compassion and empathy as well as a genuine desire to help support and love others who are in need. Overall, I would say mental health has given me an opportunity to express myself fully and create something beautiful out of what others would see as a tragic end.

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

The advice I would give myself would be; ‘You’ve come too far to give up now.’ Life has thrown some tough situations your way but you’re still here, you survived it all and you’ll continue to overcome anything else in your path.

Instead of questioning ‘why me?’ you should be saying ‘try me’ because you are stronger than you think and capable of whatever you put your mind to. When you finally beat your mental health, you’ll become an incredible person that could only have been sculpted by the life you’ve lived. You still have a lot to learn, but keep thinking long term because it will all be worth it. You’ve got this.

 

 

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

 

 

Works in Progress // Danika

With a diagnosis of BPD, depression, anxiety and complex trauma, Danika has been through her darkest time.

It was with medication and cognitive behavioral therapy that she started to see the light – however, she wasn’t fully healed. A conversation with a friend mentioning BPD brought answers and led her on the right path to healing.

Preaching a message that it’s okay to struggle, read how Danika’s journey taught her to search for kindness and patience within.

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Name: Danika Alice Ransome 

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?

My diagnosis’ are borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety and complex trauma. 

I realized in my teenage years that the feelings and moods I was experiencing – and had been experiencing from such a young age – had to be more than just teenage hormones. I just knew that I felt differently from the people I was surrounded by and I felt incredibly lonely. It affected my relationships with just about everyone so as a result of that I became even more lonely. 

It was affecting my desires for life, I pretty much took no pleasure in the things that I used to enjoy and I felt incredibly numb, empty and angry.

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

I started having seizures when I was 16 years old, so I went to the doctors and whilst investigating the seizures, my doctor began to ask me about my mental health. That’s when I opened up about how I had been feeling and at that time, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and my seizures were diagnosed as non epileptic attack disorder, also known as psychogenic seizures. 

I was prescribed medication and put on a waiting list for cognitive behavioral therapy. I had regular check ups with GP in relation to my mental health along side the CBT, my GP was lovely and I couldn’t fault her, but I still continued to feel exactly how I had in the beginning. At this point, I still didn’t know how to even begin to describe it or explain it fully. 

Years passed and I was talking to a friend about mental illness. She brought up Borderline Personality Disorder – something I had actually never heard of! It was like she was describing exactly how I had felt my entire life. 

I didn’t want to just assume that’s what I had, so I went to a doctor, which was really hard. I was finally able to describe my moods and behaviors properly and not too long after, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

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

My day to day is unpredictable along with my moods. I am in recovery, but it’s not linear and I still face bad days and the challenges that come with it. 

Recovery is a full time job. It’s a massive challenge to put everything I learn in therapy into practice for my every day life and sometimes it’s just too much. I don’t feel like I can do it, but one skill I have learned is to be kind and patient with myself, as I would be with another human being. 

I’ve found that allowing that kindness and patience is taking away a lot of the pressures I put on myself, along with the feelings of guilt and shame.

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

Living with mental illness is not glamorous, it’s debilitating, it’s hard work, it’s full time. 

I will say that it’s definitely given me insight into other people, I’m very intuitive and understanding. I’ve gained knowledge and a kindness and compassion within me that I think is very rare.  

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

It’s okay to struggle. Not every day will be a good day and while I’ve encountered bad days – I am super proud of myself for holding on. 

 

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Soraya

Pushed to the point of complete breakdown, it was an emotional conversation with her father and best friend that led Soraya to make the decision to start her journey with therapy.

Centered and motivated by the power of humanity, this wonderful, gracious soul teaches us a lesson in meeting our fears.

Read Soraya’s bold, beautiful story below.

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Name: Soraya

Age: 30

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 was worrying a lot! Anything and everything was a disaster. I remember not being able to feel my fingers and thinking there’s this annoying bass beat in my head and I wish it would just shut up so I could think! I was driving down the freeway and was so flustered I had to pullover. I rang my dad and started telling him my problems and he was patiently offering solutions and I was pushing them all back going round and round in circles. I was the prophet of doom. By the end of it, I was in a fit of tears and he simply asked if I was in a rut. I think him saying that finally gave me the ability to admit to myself that I needed help. I have since been diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Looking back, the signs were always there – progressively getting louder until I was forced to listen. In the weeks leading up to that event I was having severe lapses in concentration, my heart would race so much that I would wake up in the middle of the night and most mornings I could barely get out the door without crying. I could recognize beauty and good, but I couldn’t feel it. I would burst into tears if I saw a rainbow because I wished something so beautiful would stop causing me so much pain. It was ridiculous!

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

It was that conversation with my father. That finally gave me the courage to firstly admit to myself that this was not normal. Being able to say out loud that I was NOT okay. At that point, I really did not care about myself but I thought about the pain I would cause if I were to do something stupid. So, I went home and I told my best friend. God sent me an angel because she listened without judgement and booked me an appointment with the doctor the very next day. If that hadn’t happened, I probably would never have gotten help. Mind you, I still thought – I don’t need to do this. This is silly. But, she took me to that appointment and waited to make sure I went in.

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

Anyone who has a mental illness knows that it is hard. It probably never goes away, but you do become better at managing it. I feel like I’m standing on a cliff, overlooking the ocean. You always have the cliff’s edge at the back of your mind. Some days you stand there and you can appreciate the view and how beautiful it is. Other days, the wind is howling and you are afraid you will fall. Some days, you feel completely alone. But most days, you realize you aren’t the only one. There are others with you. Some just as scared as you are and others holding your hand enjoying the view, willing you along.

The greatest challenge for me was acceptance. Once I accepted I will have good and bad days, I no longer wished rainbows didn’t exist. This is why I love your blog. I think we are all Works in Progress. And that’s ok.

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

I have so much more patience, empathy and capacity for love (both for myself and others). It has taught me gratitude and not to be so cynical. It has made me realize how very fortunate I am. I’ve been given so much support and kindness from my friends and family. Something I took for granted before. And I have made a lot of new friends along the way. I have been more open and I’m constantly surprised at the power of humanity. I am constantly blown away by the strength that others find within themselves and the greatness that can be achieved out of so much sadness and despair.

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

Practice guilt-free self care. Cut yourself a little slack! It’s ok to slow down. I find that meditation helps. Also just let it out. Talk. I write to myself, I talk to God, I talk to others. Put it out there to the universe. The moment you feel “off,” put it out there to the universe. Tell it your fears. Ask for help. Ask for whatever you want. I promise you will feel different.

 

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

Works in Progress // Alicia

In a very first for the blog, we discuss mental health surrounding addiction. Clean and sober for 11 years, Alicia went to rock bottom and back on her journey towards finding purpose, hope, and self love.

Abundant in light and compassion, she carries the mantra, “This too shall pass,” to get her through the worse bouts of emotion and anxiety. A truly genuine and beautiful soul, I’m proud to know Alicia – both through this blog and in my personal life.

Meet Alicia.

 

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Name: Alicia

Age: 43

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?

After 11 years of being clean and sober, I am comfortable admitting that I am a recovering alcoholic and addict. Scientific studies have concluded that addiction is a form of mental illness and sometimes is precipitated by self-medicating for another form of mental illness. I drank and used drugs to get a break from depression and from feeling out of control. I needed to feel more confident around others and more at ease when anxiety was high. I came to learn after I opened up about my struggles that members of my family have been diagnosed and painfully lived through various forms of mental illness. So, it is in my DNA. 

When I look back at my childhood I see the same dysfunctional mental patterns that I came to recognize as an adult. Through the years, I’ve heard several times that addiction and substance abuse can stunt emotional growth. This is very true for me. It’s only in my 30’s that I learned to actually feel my feelings without a mask no matter how painful or joyous they may be. From the age of 10 I snuck alcohol at family parties, and by 13 I was drinking alone. As many high school and college kids do, friends and I had our share of experimenting with different drugs. In my 20’s I started using when my friends weren’t around, which eventually brought me to my rock bottom. 

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

I was born and raised on Long Island where my family and closest friends have remained. In 2006, I was living in Colorado far from those who knew me best. They got glimpses of how my life was crumbling apart by my 2 am phone calls fueled by drug-induced paranoia and fear while in desperate need for love. If my call went unanswered during sleeping hours I would get a concerned call back the next day. Whether I was feeling fine at that moment or coming down from a drug binge, I ignored those calls. I was selfish, only accepting love on my time and not giving any in return. As I look back, it’s apparent that I had no idea what love was, considering I had zero love for myself. I put myself in plenty of unsafe situations without any concern about detrimental consequences.  Life was meaningless. Without actually my saying the words, my two closest friends and parents read between the lines and knew I was subconsciously, desperately calling out for help. 

Because I couldn’t help myself, they made the first step. Without my knowledge, my parents and two closest friends back in New York contacted my Colorado-based psychiatrist and together researched various treatment facilities that could best heal my struggling mind. After they agreed on the best setting for me, I was presented with the opportunity to get the help I needed. Resistant to the idea at first because I was concerned about leaving my dog, my job and my comfort zone, I gave in when my dear friend Niki said, “I can’t support your unhappiness any more, I can only support your love and healing.”

In the days following, April 30, 2006, I flew from Colorado to a renowned in-patient addiction and trauma center in Arizona. I dedicated a month sequestered to 8-hour days of group and one-on-one therapy with others who walked many different paths of mental illness. A week was dedicated to inviting family members to attend in the healing process. I of course invited my Mom and Dad who flew in from New York. As the 30-days came to a close at this rehab center, it was apparent to the staff that this was just a stepping- stone to my recovery. Although I abstained from drinking and using during this time, I had not admitted that I had a problem with drugs and alcohol.

Again, I gave in to going to another treatment center. Still selfish, I said I would go with one condition — if I could bring my dog Bailey. Low and behold, the doctors found an all-women residential addiction treatment center in Costa Mesa, California, where my fur baby was welcomed. I was discouraged from flying back to Colorado so took a one-way flight from Arizona to California for my next attempt at self-love. My dog Bailey was delivered directly to the doorstep of my treatment home by none other than my parents. They flew from New York to Colorado to pick her up and collect my summer wardrobe, and then drove my car to California.

I spent the next four months living in a house with women from the ages of 18-20-something with the exception of myself  — age 31 at the time –and another woman who was 62.  Each had also come from various treatment centers from around the country, but we all shared a similar story. Together in the house we had group and one-on-one therapy with addiction specialists, and under close supervision, we also attended 12-step meetings in the neighborhood. By listening to women who shared their experience, strength and hope of recovery from alcoholism and addiction, I too came to believe that I was an alcoholic and addict, and there was hope for happiness.

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

Thankfully, I have not picked up a drink or drug since that flight to Arizona on April 30, 2006. I’ve learned that all emotions — sad, scared, happy and everything in between — are necessary to live a healthy and productive life. The thing about feelings that keeps me in check is that they all pass, that’s the beauty of being human. I am empowered knowing that I am completely dependent on myself for the way I perceive the world around me. I have control over how to handle people and situations by simply accepting the way I feel. Sometimes when it’s a crappy emotion I simply say  “I’m depressed and I love that!” Owning the emotion makes it less intimidating and reminds me that it won’t last forever. And when I’m struggling with any one feeling that may trigger irrational or overwhelming thoughts, I reach out to those few that I trust most to bring me back to reality and, better yet, share a laugh about it. The beauty of today is that I’m able to be present with friends and family who need the same love and understanding in return.

Another form of self-awareness that has helped quiet my mind and keeps me in the moment is exercising. I never listen to music when I run, hike or lift weights. I simply pay attention to my breath and focus on one motion at a time. The more I push myself to my physical limits, the more grounded I feel. The sense of accomplishment by the end of a workout boosts my mood. That’s what keeps me coming back for more. 

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

Self-love. I have a visual reminder of this, a vanity license plate that reads SELF(heart)19. Nineteen is a lucky number that I share with the two friends that started me on this journey of self-love. Seeing this everyday reminds me that having courage, strength and hope will get me through anything, and in turn I’ll be able to give abundantly to my friends, family and community.  It also keeps me accountable considering it’s often been a topic of conversation in parking lots. I’ve spent my sober years living in southern California and when I open up to those I’ve met along the way, the response is usually the same, “I can’t imagine you unhappy,” which is humbling. 

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

“This too shall pass,” is something I tell myself when I feel overwhelmed or out of control with any emotion. I’ll never be “recovered” from alcohol and drugs but I will always be “in recovery” because it’s a life-long practice and discipline. Therefore what may have helped me in the past may have evolved to something different today. My self-love is constantly evolving whether it’s in the form of meeting new friends, doing a different form of exercise, immersing myself in the community or picking up a new hobby. Life certainly never gets boring but rather more fulfilling because of where I came from and where I’m at now. I love that mental illness is part of my story because I’m constantly learning how to pick myself up and enjoy a life that I never thought possible.

 

 

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