3 Tips On Coping With Conflict

The idea of confrontation has always made me sick to my stomach. Up until very recently, I got incredibly anxious even considering someone didn’t like me or that I might have to engage in conflict – whether it was at work or in my personal life.

That was, until therapy came into the picture. Each day, I’m learning that anger is a healthy emotion when valid, and that it’s completely acceptable to stick up for yourself when you know the situation is wrong. Learning to argue in a healthy way is one of the main ingredients to this whole “adulting” thing, and everything from little fights with your partner to standing your ground at work fall into that category.

Doing anything to avoid confrontation is not only counterproductive, it can stunt your emotional growth. We’ve been conditioned to think that fighting is harmful, dangerous or exposes us as vulnerable to the negative emotions of others but in the endit’s really about owning our truth and standing our ground when someone enters to shift it.

In the past few months, I’ve dealt with a lot of conflict. While it can be emotionally draining, we must learn to stick up for ourselves. If you’re having trouble fighting the fear of confrontation, here are a few tips:

Respond, Don’t React 

I’ve had a lot of trouble with this. Whenever I feel attacked or cornered, the first instinct with my own anxiety is to get angry. That usually isn’t the best response, although anger can be a valid feeling.

Then there is a completely different knee-jerk reaction some people with anxiety experience. Fear. The intense feeling or need to hide, panic or even please them to make the conflict end. Fight the feeling – you are allowed to disagree with others. 

Deep breath. In and out. Focus on expressing a rational, direct and clear response – do not just react in fear. 

Getting to this place takes both practice and the right tools, so don’t beat yourself up if future conflict brings on an emotional reaction – even if you’re doing your best to avoid it.

 

Practice Saying No 

Oh boy, have I learned this. Perpetually a people pleaser, the word no wasn’t really in my vocabulary. With my own anxiety, I would avoid conflict and just agree or say yes because I was afraid of the other person leaving – abandonment. Particularly in a romantic relationship, I would appease the partner to stay away from bigger fights or getting emotional on my end, because then they would definitely leave, or so Anxiety Erica led me to believe. 

In my most recent relationship, I continued to grow and break the boundaries of conflict avoidance. Even though the relationship didn’t last, I am thankful that that specific partner respected and allowed me to get mad, to start a fight. I’ve never been comfortable with it due to my fear of abandonment, so I consider that to be growth – no matter the end result.

If saying no is something that’s on the more difficult side, start small. Whether you’re at the grocery store, a cafe, or movie theater, practice refusing. Take the baby steps and like repetition therapy, you will quickly learn that the world doesn’t end when you stand your ground. No one will yell at you, there won’t be any negative consequences – you’re allowed to say no. 

 

Know Your Value 

One of the main reasons conflict anxiety exists is from undervaluing ourselves. Especially at work, it can be hard to know we are in the right when a manager, coworker or any employee is directly engaging with you. With the normal instinct being to shrink and hide, we must firmly plant our feet on the ground and speak our truth.

Panic and fear have no place in conflict when we are clear and direct. It takes confidence, self worth, and a helluva lot of growth to reach the place where truth matters more than the negative consequences our anxiety creates, but once you get there, stay there – stay empowered. 

We are only our truth, it will set us free and keep us from any harm. If you know you are in the right, fight for that feeling.

 

Believe me, I know this takes time. This isn’t some snap of the fingers shit – practice makes perfect. In fact, the whole reason I wrote this post was because in my last therapy session, I spoke with my therapist on how I handled a confrontation in my life, and halfway through my story I noticed she had a look of approval on her face.

When I finished, she told me that she was proud of me. She said, just a little over a year ago, I would have handled a conflict exactly like that very differently. It would have been a series of hurt, anxiety, fear, and intense crying. And eventually appeasement. This time, I responded with a healthy combination of anger, authenticity, and owning my truth. I didn’t have any concern for the consequences that came after the confrontation, or a crippling fear of abandonment – I just looked to my truth. I’m proud of how far I’ve come, it’s a long journey to unlearn behaviors like these.

 

 

 

Do you have a fear of conflict or confrontation? Share how you handle it in the comments below! 

 

Anxiety Art // What’s Your Animal?

Art has power. Through the second installment of my series, I’ve learned just how crucial visual expression can be in healing. After the amazing reception of the first post – you can check it out here – I was itching to reach out to more Instagram artists. Searching far and wide, I found two bright stars: Stephanie and Alisa. 

Keeping this project going strong, these whimsical, yet powerful women took full command of the next question in my series:

What’s your anxiety animal?

 

I was so stoked when Stephanie said she wanted to be part of this series. I’ll be honest – you can sense her talent from miles away. Making “high quality art things,” as she calls them on her Instagram, this darling soul is an artist and illustrator based out of Toronto, Canada. Her raw emotion, passion, and genuine silliness truly shine throughout each piece she creates. This submission is no different:

Stephanie Kenzie 

Anxiety Spirit animal Steph Kenzie

“I decided my anxiety animal must be a hedgehog– anxiety always feels sharp and prickly to me, like I have a ball of pins stuck in my throat. Also hedgehogs always deal with things by curling up into balls, and when my anxiety is bad, so do I!”

This is seriously the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen guys. I want it framed in my studio. 

 

The second submission comes from Alisa, a creative and expressive artist with a heart of gold. With a message to free yourself and find your happy, Alisa is a jack of all trades. Whether she’s singing on her YouTube channel, writing poetry, practicing yoga, cooking up delicious healthy meals, or even creating a beautiful, authentic drawing like this one – she puts her heart and soul into each and every expression.

Alisa Briski 

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“The Mexican Cantil Snake. This is a mocking predator and the end of its tail looks like a worm. It will lure in prey by hiding and waiting until the last second to make its move. My anxiety works in much the same way. It sits, patiently waiting, luring me in with thoughts that “really matter.” It mocks “real problems” and then before I know it, I’m in too deep and it has wrapped itself around my whole life and mind.”

 

I feel so proud to have yet another successful installment of this series on the blog. Helping to fight the stigma against mental illness, these powerful pieces of art not only bring unknown aspects of anxiety to life – they help others heal and feel less alone in their own journey.

 

Are you an artist who would like to be part of my Anxiety Art series? Share your story in the comments below and you may be featured on the blog! 

 

Works in Progress // Sanya

***** Trigger warning: sexual assault*****

Since she was just 11 years old, Sanya has been combatting suicidal thoughts. Moving from the U.S. to India at a young age, she was forced to adapt to countless changes. Suffering through anxiety with school, depression and sexual assault, Sanya eventually made the decision to focus on her mental health.

Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, she still has her low days. The difference is, she now has the tools to save herself when slipping. Raising her voice and sharing an important story of strength within the mental health community online, meet Sanya.

 

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Name: Sanya Singh

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? 

The first time I thought of committing suicide was when I was 11 years old. My parents had moved us from the US to India and the cultural shock was too much for me to handle. I was bullied in school, I didn’t know the local language and basically everything sucked. While going through puberty I had a lot of angst, I started self-harming and even attempted taking my life multiple times. I thought all this was normal teenage angst. I didn’t realize that this was not the norm. I struggled with body image issues throughout high school, more bullying, erratic relationships and a mess of other things.

I thought going away to college would solve all my problems. I enrolled myself into Boston University. The first semester there, I tried drinking away my sadness. I felt isolated, misunderstood and like my soul was being sucked out of me. Second semester I tried taking several pills, I tell everyone that I stopped because my mom called me but in reality I called her. I didn’t want to die, but I also did? The summer after my second semester I went to a psychiatrist – he diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. I didn’t like him at all, I was defiant and found him to be callous and kind of smug, but I went. They wanted me to start medications but I was resistant, I would skip doses and eventually stopped taking it completely. I went back for a third semester, thinking maybe things would be okay. But they were not.

I started smoking pot everyday. My grades were slipping and I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. Winter 2011 I went back home and had a major breakdown when it was time to head back to Boston. I think that was finally when my parents realized I needed more help. So I withdrew from college, started going for therapy and Reiki healing. I started feeling better, but I still had a lot of emotions I couldn’t deal with. Therapy helped, but when I started college in Delhi, I stopped therapy. I convinced everyone I was okay, I didn’t feel like my soul was being sucked out, so I must be better. I still had intense mood swings and anxiety attacks but I thought those were just normal now.

Three years of college, with a lot of ups and downs, more self-harm, but all this was kept a secret – to everyone else I was better. I didn’t need medication or therapy anymore, I was over my depression. After I graduated, I took a gap year and was working at an organization and out of nowhere all those thoughts came back.

“I hate this job, maybe I should hurt myself so I can quit. Maybe I should die so I don’t have to deal with this? I am worthless, I am useless.”

I spent hours crying on the bathroom floor wondering “Why am I like this?” I told my parents and they kinda freaked out, but were far more supportive. So I met a new psychiatrist who I loved, and he referred me to a therapist who changed my life. She did a bunch of tests and diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. I loved working with her, she didn’t put up with any of my bullshit. I worked through a lot of issues with her, including some trauma I had faced as a child. I had been sexually abused by my grandfather on visits to India when I was younger. And when my family moved back to India, I had to see him and pretend nothing happened. That was one of the major issues I always struggled with, and even then I didn’t come to peace with it. I spoke to her about my past relationships, one of which was emotionally abusive. I told her about all the issues I had with my body and self-worth.

For a few months I worked on therapy, I was doing well in general. So I decided, “Hey let me apply to grad school!” I did, and got into University of Chicago, which was so unexpected. I was ecstatic, I thought “YAY! I am gonna go to Chicago, it’s gonna be awesome cause I am well now.” I got here, and I thought things would be good. But two months in, I started feeling isolated again. I stopped taking medication, again. I stopped therapy, again. I met this guy, and we were in a “non-relationship,” but I would spend all my time with him. And he would drink and smoke pot a lot, so I would drink and smoke pot a lot. By a lot, I mean five to six times a week. Sometimes, even every single day. I wasn’t eating well; I wasn’t sleeping well.

I went to visit my parents in Malta for Spring break and I had to spend the week sober. I also got news that I had failed a class that week. When I got back to Chicago after that week, I broke down. I spent hours crying and called my uncle and told him I need help. I got to Naperville on Wednesday night and Thursday morning I admitted myself into an In-Patient program. During program, I told myself, listen to what they say, do what they say, tell them what they want to hear. I started medication again and went back to campus. Two weeks in, I still hadn’t made any appointments for therapy, I was taking my medication but wasn’t eating. I was sleeping 14 hours a day. I wasn’t bathing or taking care of myself. I had a presentation in class which I broke down during and I knew I was not ready. I went back to Naperville, and then admitted myself into a Partial-Hospitalization Program. I took a leave of absence and decided that I had to focus only on my mental health.  

 

 

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

I was in class, trying to give a presentation on material I knew, but I was so tongue-tied and anxious that the professor told me to stop talking. That day I knew I had to do something. I didn’t want to suffer my whole life. I wanted to do so much to help so many people, my goal is to become a teacher and I can’t do that if I am not well. I decided I needed to get my shit together.

 

 

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

The last few months after getting discharged from the program have been relatively easy because I have been spending time with my family. I still have days when I get extremely anxious. I still have days when I worry I won’t be okay or that I am not good enough. There are days when my thoughts overwhelm me and I lay in bed wondering if everything I am doing is wrong. I have my sob-fests. But now, I know what to tell myself, I know that I have to use positive self-talk, that I have to be self-compassionate. I know that I should just ride the wave and let the emotions flow. I’ve been reading a lot about DBT and I have been practicing my skills and they actually help! I never thought they would but they do! I am going back to school in a few weeks, and I know a lot of stressors are going to come my way. But I feel like I have an arsenal ready for all the stuff that life can throw at me. And I know what I have to do if I feel myself slipping. I am also getting a cat, so yay! 

 

  

 

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

I think that it has given me the ability to empathize with people. I feel like when you struggle so much in life, you have a little bit of an understanding of other’s struggles. I also know that it has given me strength, if I can survive all the shit I have done to myself, I can survive anything. It has also helped me figure out what I want to do with my life, I feel like I could really use my experiences to help adolescents with their struggles and plan to pursue a career in guidance counseling.

I also think that it has given me a new voice. For a long time, I was silent about my struggles, but recently I have started speaking out through Instagram. The mental health community on Instagram has been so supportive and kind. We all cheer each other on and it is so beautiful to see. Mental illnesses can be so isolating, it is important to see that you are not alone. 

 

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

Do not give up. Things actually can get better.

 

 

 

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

Post Therapy Thoughts // Finding My Fire

I won’t lie to you guys, it’s been a rough going for me lately. With life and my anxiety reaching an all-time high last week, I decided to take the long Labor Day weekend for some much-needed self care and rest. Boy, did I need it. 

I’ve always had a problem with stopping. Taking the time to reflect and knowing everything will be alright in the “in between.” Over the entire holiday, my anxiety was triggered with fearful thoughts.

 

What if your writing isn’t as good when you come back? 

What if no one cares anymore? 

What if you stop relating to others? 

 

Swirling around my mind like a toxic milkshake, these thoughts overwhelmed me – but only for a little while. Therapy has taught me to be mentally stronger, so I know how to combat these irrational thoughts. Speaking of my fantastic therapist, I was beyond ready to have my bi-weekly session today. Getting emotional even on the drive there, I knew I needed to pour out my feelings.

Starting off the session explaining my day to day triggers and stressors, the discussion eventually turned to the topic that has been giving me the most anxiety: writer’s block. 

One of the reasons I decided to take this pause from the blog was because I was completely drained. Barely making out the words, I was sobbing even at the thought of saying I couldn’t write for Anxiety Erica – it’s everything. Why I come home excited, how I heal through my words, a safe space.

With an almost saint-like grace and wisdom, it was like my therapist knew that was the root of my issues. Her immediate response was to make the most of “me” time.

Embrace the pause 

 

“We must learn to be okay with, and embrace, pause time.”

Learning to completely stop is something I’m not good at. I will go and go until I can’t anymore – and I found out exactly what that feels like this week. It’s essential to spend time within ourselves and nurture the passion we have, rekindle the fire.

Whether that means staying in bed most days powering through a Netflix marathon, being around family and close friends, or even getting outside on a hike – do what you need to feed your soul. Reclaim your motivation.

 

Master the art of compartmentalization 

 

Writing has always been something I live and breathe. Not only a passion, but a purpose. It has been a goal in the past few years to make it a career, and with my current position being a Copywriter – I would say I can check off that to-do on my list.

Unfortunately, once writing became a daily part of my position, it turned from a passion to a chore. Where I once wrote about things that gave me fire, connection to others and authenticity, I was becoming completely drained from the “work” aspect of an entirely different form of the written word.

While I cried on the couch, feeling hopeless and like nothing would help me find my fire again, my therapist said these words:

“Just like we have different types of friends, we have several forms of writing too.”

Then, it clicked. Through the art of compartmentalizing, I could cultivate my fire again. When obligation and timeframe wanders its way into writing, the passion can immediately be sucked out. In order to find my fire, I needed to categorize my creativity, like so:

Work writing 

The creativity surrounding the writing I do during the day, i.e. Copywriting duties, any writing involving my work or company.

Passion writing 

Authentic, vulnerable and emotional words that I write whenever I feel inspired or motivated in life. It is where my connection to others starts, and ultimately – it’s for pleasure. 

 

The motivation to get up each and every day and slice out a piece of your soul for the world to read is fucking hard. Most people don’t realize the extent to which writers will go for authenticity and sometimes, a break is needed.

I’m proud of myself for taking this time to pause and reflect because now that I’ve rested, I’m quickly gaining back the energy and inspiration to hold my heart in front of you all again – finding my fire and coming home with my own words. 

 

 

Do you have trouble with writer’s block? Share your own tips on combating it in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Sarah

Growing up in a family with mental illness, Sarah was no stranger to suffering. Living with anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia since she was just four years old, she didn’t reach out and get help until the intense hypomania of her undiagnosed bipolar disorder took a dark turn. 

Trading in her straight-A student role for an out of control musician, this creative soul eventually realized that medication would save her life. Not just surviving, Sarah is thriving through bipolar disorder. Writing music around mental health, performing at high schools to educate teens, and even practicing aerial yoga, these fantastic forms of self care have kept her going, while helping others heal as well.

 

Meet Sarah. 

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Name: Sarah Jickling

Age: 26

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’ve had anxiety, panic attacks and insomnia for as long as I can remember. I come from a family with mental illness on both sides, and I grew up watching grown ups struggle, panic, and lose control, so I thought my experiences were just par for the course. When I was four, I slept with a fisher price knife under my pillow because I was scared someone would crawl through my window. When I was eight, my parents gave up trying to find a way to help me sleep after exhausting all their resources. When I was fourteen, I had one of my panic attacks, the one where suddenly everything is in slow motion and I forget basic motor skills, during a french class and failed a test for the first time. No one seemed to think any of this was out of the ordinary, and I never went to the school counsellor because none of the teachers even knew my name. I was too quiet.

But the quiet was about to end. In my late teens and early twenties, I went from a shy straight A student with an artistic side to a university-drop out musician who drank wine on the bus and had screaming matches in the streets. I felt completely out of control. One day I would feel excited, and feel sure that I was in the right place at the right time and it was only a matter of time before I would be opening for Feist on the big stage at a festival, and then I would wake up a few days later feeling heavy, feeling empty, and for the first time, suicidal. I would go to band practice and lie on the floor in tears. Everyone realized something was happening before I did. My behaviour pushed away my best friend, every boyfriend I had, my bandmates, and my roommates. People begged me to get help. People told me that I was broken and I needed to be fixed or no one would ever want anything to do with me. This was bipolar disorder, a new beast that was harder to ignore than anxiety and panic attacks. 

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

The thing about bipolar disorder is that it can seem like so many different illnesses depending on when you go to the doctor. The first time I decided to get help was when my best friend told me she wouldn’t be my friend unless I went on medication. I went to my family doctor who promptly diagnosed me with depression and put me on a waitlist to see a psychiatrist. But of course, soon I felt better, I felt like I didn’t need a doctor and I couldn’t imagine why I thought I ever did, and I would cancel the appointment. The second time I went to the doctor, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2. I rejected this diagnosis because I knew I was “crazy,” and I really didn’t want my ex-boyfriend to be right. Bipolar was something people had been teasing me about for quite some time.

The third time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I found myself at the hospital on boxing day, a week after my soulmate told me he couldn’t watch me suffer anymore. The doctor spent some time tracking my moods and finally asked me if I had ever “heard of bipolar disorder before,” worried she would scare me away with that big word. By that time, I had done enough research and read enough books to know that I had bipolar disorder. I accepted the diagnosis without a second thought. The doctor said that treating the bipolar might take away my ability to write songs, and that a lot of people miss the creativity of hypomania when they go on medication. I didn’t care about being a musician anymore. I didn’t care about anything but getting better.

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

It’s true that medication changes the creative process for people with bipolar disorder. Before my recovery, I would black out and wake up with a song. It was the only easy thing in my life. But bipolar doesn’t provide me with my creativity. Hypomania provides artists with a chance to write without our inner critic. I’m now learning to write songs thoughtfully, with extreme focus. It’s harder, but not impossible. 

My medication has completely stabilized me, but it does have it’s unfortunate side effects. I sleep a lot. I am constantly dehydrated. I can’t drink alcohol anymore. And of course, the unexplained ecstasy of hypomania is gone from my life forever.  But I can have a steady job, a real relationship and a working memory, so I think it’s worth it. My life is still all about coping with bipolar, anxiety and panic attacks though. I exercise every single day, I take mindfulness classes, I go to DBT groups, I see my therapist and my psychiatrist often. I put my mental health before any job or other responsibility. I think back to a time not so long ago when I was overdosing, praying I would never wake up, and I remember that vigilant self care is the only thing that has kept me from returning to those life or death situations. 

I also write music about my mental illness and share them with others. I’m lucky to have an outlet, and I’ve found a community of artists also dealing with mental illness who help inspire me to keep going.

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

Living with anxiety has forced me to learn how to rationally face my fears. When your fears are every where, you can’t help but bump into them at every turn. Now I feel as though I can do almost anything, whether that be travel to a different country or play on a stage to thousands of people. Learning to treat my anxiety has introduced me to all sorts of fantastic coping mechanisms… from mindfulness to aerial yoga to pole dancing! 

Living with bipolar disorder, on the other hand, has given me an ability to help other people. I have learned to live with a severe mental illness and now I get to help others, whether that’s through releasing my new album “When I Get Better,” or performing at high schools with the BC Schizophrenia Society’s musical/educational show “Reach Out Psychosis.” It’s also a great way to weed out fickle friends. If you have friends who will stick with you through bipolar treatment, you have very good friends.

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

You are worth loving, even with your mental illnesses. Anyone who tells you otherwise is wrong and should be forgotten immediately. 

 

 

 

 

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

Keep It Grape Art // Self Care Pack Review

Today was a great day. I decided to attend an event in my area called San Diego Festival of Books, where I walked around and did some networking for the blog. I met fantastic, creative people and I’m so excited to collaborate with them.

Putting yourself out there is not only draining – it can be a challenging task. While everyone was thrilled to hear about Anxiety Erica, my anxiety can find it easy to get worked up about whether everyone truly is interested in what I have to say. Paired with the fact that one or two posts I did on my Instagram didn’t go over as well as ones previously in the week, my anxiety was looming over the fact that I wasn’t good enough. That not enough “likes” equates to the caliber of my writing, my healing process. That’s not reality. I fought it in my ANT journal, because this blog is way too important to me to let a silly, trivial thing like social media likes bring it down. But, I was still a little drained.

Then my Keep It Grape Self Care Pack arrived in the mail. Game changer. 

Almost like mental health mail from the gods above, this package came right at the moment I needed it most. It made me realize I am making a difference – I’m connecting with creative, sensitive, and strong women like Katherine. 

Located over at @keepitgrape, Katherine is one of the purest souls I’ve ever encountered. Just 17 years old, Katherine is a freelance artist with her own online store filled with positivity prints, self care packs, custom commissions, zines, stickers, and poetry. Pouring her heart and soul into each piece she creates, she does it all while battling paranoid schizophrenia.

In addition to her art, she has a blog where she interviews other bloggers on the importance of mental health, recipes and positivity. You can check out her interview with me here! 

Madly in love with her fire, I’m beyond grateful to know this young, talented treasure in some shape or form. She sent over one of her wonderful Self Care and Realization Packs and boy was it filled with some goodies! Take a peek at the photos below to see some of the beautiful artwork, prints, info, recipes, stickers, and helpful mantras she included:

Self Care & Realization Packs 

Intended to promote relaxation and self care, these powerful packs get you to understand the importance of caring and maintaining your body. Focused on the essential mantra that we all deserve self care, Katherine showers each and every customer with love, positivity, and encouragement.

Tip Cards 

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Self care is important, but what if you don’t know what that means? While it’s different for each individual person, Keep It Grape has some great starter tips to delve deeper into what works for you!

Recipes

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This was a wonderful reminder for me, honestly. While I can be really good at self care involving reading, bath time, and relaxation – I’m lacking in the food department. I can be pretty lazy when it comes to cooking or prepping of any kind, so these recipes were a welcome sight. I plan to try this one out!

Prints 

Positivity can be hard to find sometimes. Not only great reminders to love ourselves, these prints are just gorgeous. Promoting and symbolizing self care and relaxation, I will be hanging them on my cork board next to my bed – that way I see the important words when I wake up and fall asleep at night.

Drawings 

I won’t lie, these were my all-time favorite. I adored everything in this package but these small, simple drawings were perfect. Encouraging self love and growth, they are beautiful and tiny enough to keep in your car, purse, tote bag, or on your bookshelf. Anywhere you are, there is a constant reminder of love, hope, and positivity!

Personal Thank You Note & Sticker 

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As if all of the goodies in the package weren’t enough, Katherine sneaks a lovely, personal note and sticker into my Self Care Pack. Reading through it filled me with inspiration, hope, and honestly eased my anxiety from the day. Job well done. 

 

With a combination of creativity and heart, Katherine makes it her full time job to bring others happiness with Keep It Grape. From opening up her package today, it was clear just how much she lives and breathes this work. She gives each person a piece of her heart. I’m proud to know such a talented, motivated and beautiful young woman – she is truly the future of mental health.

 

To learn more about Keep It Grape and Katherine’s art, visit http://keepitgrape.tictail.com/. Head to her blog and Instagram to see her latest pieces! 

Post Therapy Thoughts // Drive Versus Fire

Therapy this week was seriously enlightening. We discussed several topics – from handling parent/child relationships as an adult to the characteristics of a healthy relationship in general – but the subject I really learned from in my hour session was the difference between having drive and fire. 

In the discussion on healthy relationships, my therapist and I got to talking about my past romantic relationships and reasons why they may have ended. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking on this exact topic, and I’ve come to the conclusion that my fire is too strong for some people. And that’s not my burden to bear. 

In the past, I’ve always gone straight to the idea that the ending of a relationship – or friendship, hookup, what have you – was something I had done. It was in this therapy session, and the past few weeks, that a lightbulb switched on and I realized: it’s not me, it’s who I’m attracting. 

Here are a few things I learned this week on drive versus fire and how to have healthy relationships in the future:

 

Reflect on the vibes you send out 

For years, I’ve been attracted to a certain kind of partner. Confident, humble, quiet. Until now, I thought that was really what I wanted. But why? If anyone meets me for more than a few minutes, they will see the fire I have inside. I’m pure passion from my head to my heart – what you see is what you get. I’m loud, laughing, and I feel what I feel.

So, why am I dating more reserved people? Well, my therapist’s answer was that opposites attract, but sometimes it’s more than that. She went on to explain that I kept picking these people because that’s what I thought I should be more like. Quiet, reserved, not “too much.” In a way, my attraction to these kind of men was really just how I saw myself – I didn’t think I was good enough being authentic, so I thought dating different qualities than my own would change that deep insecurity. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.

It’s taken some distance from my last breakup and a hell of a lot of self reflection, therapy and growth to realize this. I finally love who I am and I want someone who not only loves that fire in me, but also shares the same passion. I deserve someone authentic, romantic, and emotionally mature.

 

Drive vs. Fire 

Now, you’re probably wondering: what’s the difference between drive and fire? While they may sound similar, they aren’t. To me – and my therapist – drive is pure motivation. While it can be a genuine attribute to have in your personality, it’s more technical. In the past, I’ve dated people with a lot of drive. At first, I mistook it for fire, but really it’s something that can take over every aspect of life. If you’re not careful, having too much drive can cause you to forget the little things along the way.

The difference is too much fire can only fuel the soul. Fire is passion. It’s part of my character, personality, and within my heart. Fire means that I don’t just feel a feeling and move on. Fire means I jump into every event of my life with two feet, one giant heart, and an overwhelming rush of love, hope, and courage. It’s how I know my worth, it’s why I’m here today – writing this blog. Motivation and drive are positive qualities to have, but fire is the reason they are even there to begin with.

I also thought being “too much” was a negative, and that I had to tone my personality down for men, but the more I love myself and nurture my worth – the more I realize that I’ll find that fire in other person if I don’t hold back.

It was from defining those two qualities that I feel so free. I feel like I can shed this insecure, toned down form of myself and step back into the world truly authentic. Is there anxiety about eventually getting back into the dating world? Absolutely. From here on out, I know that this pattern I’ve created will stay exactly where it belongs – in the past. Here’s to a future of fire. 

 

Do you feel like you have “too much” fire versus drive? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Works in Progress // Beata

Misdiagnosed with depression, Beata heard the words “bipolar disorder” for the first time in 2008. Finally given a name to her struggle in her thirties, she’s thrived on a detailed plan for mental strength and wellness.

Building a blog, Tickle My Mind, that shares her own journey – as well as the stories of others – Beata preaches a message of self care, support, and sustaining your goals.

 

Put a face to your business with a branding story photo session

Name: Beata English (pronounced Bee-ah-ta)

Age: 44

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 with bipolar disorder in 2008 and recently diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).  My first symptoms reared up in my teens. I spent a lot of time in my teens and early 20’s living the party life and living life on an emotional roller coaster. 

In 2008, I heard the word “bipolar disorder” for the very first time. I never felt more alone than I did in that moment sitting in my car outside my doctor’s surgery, looking down at my prescriptions with names I couldn’t pronounce, to treat an illness I had only ever heard bad things about. When the word bipolar was first mentioned to me as an illness, I immediately froze. I did not know anyone who had bipolar and my only experiences with the term had come from overly exaggerated and stigmatizing representations. In that moment I immediately rejected my diagnosis. I didn’t feel comfortable with it. 

I didn’t get properly diagnosed until I was in my thirties. I think I was late in getting diagnosed for a number of different reasons. My psychiatrist and doctor always refer to me being ‘high functioning’. Throughout my journey from undiagnosed teenager to diagnosed in my thirties, my mental health affected almost every area of my life. Education, career, my self-image. 

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

I was first misdiagnosed with depression only. I was prescribed anti-depressants to treat it and ended up suffering a severe manic episode. In most cases, prescribing anti-depressants only to a person who has bipolar disorder can trigger a manic episode. That was the moment the doctor realized it was more than only depression. Honestly, I did not know what it meant – but I learned pretty quickly. It meant I was very sick, that I was self-medicating an illness I had no idea I had, and that unless I sought and accepted treatment, my life would not be as happy and productive as I had planned or dreamed it would be.

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

Yes I still experience episodes, but these full-blown episodes are now very rare.  

I have created a mental wellness plan that helps keeps me stable and well. I’m constantly learning more about myself and my illness, and any new research – my plan is a living document that can be improved and refined when needed. 

My wellness plan did not get created overnight. It was a process of trial and error over a period of time. To be honest, it’s still a work in progress. Some of the things my plan includes is taking my medication as prescribed every day, visits to the GP, healthy eating, exercise, meditation, tracking and monitoring my triggers and mood, no alcohol or illegal drugs, a strict sleep routine, practicing self-care, gratitude and journaling. 

Positive psychology has also played a big part in my wellness strategy. Scientific research has shown that there are strategies and skills that allow you to navigate the challenges of life more effectively and enjoy life despite the upsets.  It may seem like a lot of hard work, and it is – but it does get easier. I have been diagnosed with a chronic illness and like any chronic illness, there are a number of lifestyle changes that need to be incorporated into your daily life. 

Another important thing that I need to mention – you can’t do this on your own. You need to reach out for help. Your friends, family, GP, mental health organizations – they are all there to support you. With the right combination of lifestyle changes, and medication, I have been able to manage my illness successfully. 

Preventing a relapse requires motivation, a commitment to your own health, discipline, structure, courage, and more importantly a belief that you can get better. Make yourself a priority.  Every battle with a mental illness is different, my message is, be patient. There will be setbacks, sometimes big ones, and possible relapses, but there will also be moments that take your breath away for all the right reasons. My motto is to hold on. It took me a while to learn this and that’s okay. Everyone is on their own journey moving at their own pace. Everyone will have their own ways of coping and their own ways of dealing with their illness – but please don’t be afraid to seek help, or to talk about how you feel.

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

I created Tickle My Mind, which is a place for me to write about my journey with mental illness and a place to empower as many people who have been touched by mental illness to live a healthy, happy, rewarding and balanced life. I am currently writing my first book, part memoir, part mental wellness guide and I’m studying a Diploma of Positive Psychology. I am also a Community Ambassador for RUOK? Day. 

I now find happiness in writing, a pastime I never thought I would be doing. I love spending time writing and promoting mental health awareness. Tickle My Mind is a place I share stories, lessons and tools that helped me to succeed, become well and to continue to stay well. Now, I advocate mental health wellness and I hope the things that I have to share will help someone else – somewhere along their journey. One thing I know for sure – it truly is possible to live a happy, meaningful and productive life despite what it throws in our path.

Without my mental illness, I doubt I would have become the strong, determined person I am today. I have learned to be non-judgmental and I have developed a strong burning desire to help others. I met my husband and soulmate, who is the single most joyful and important thing in my life.

Would I feel so deeply? Would I make the most of every happy day and squeeze as much into them as possible, the way I do now? Would I have created Tickle My Mind and studied Positive Psychology, which means the world to me without the experiences I have had to inspire me?  Would I have learned who my true friends and family are, those who have stood by me no matter what and who make my life so blessed and fulfilled? Would I be the person I am today, who I am so proud to be, without all of those experiences and without my bipolar disorder? I don’t believe any of those things would have happened without my illness. I don’t believe that I would be the person I am today, without what I have been through.  

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

I want to be honest, and say that managing bipolar disorder isn’t easy.  At times you may feel defeated, find yourself discouraged, and want to stop treatment. Every time I feel that way, I need to remind my that my brain isn’t functioning properly. I don’t resent having bipolar disorder, it’s part of the person I have become. I made sure that I continued to reach out to my friends and loved ones for support. 

Looking after myself or self-care, is important in helping me stay at the top of my physical, emotional and mental well-being. When things are getting a bit tough, it becomes so important for me to take good care of myself.  Whether it’s a stressful period at work or home, taking time to focus on self-care is essential to my well-being. Self-care helps me function at a higher level, and feeling good enables me to take on life’s challenges.

 

 

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

3 Ways To Embrace Uncertainty

I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase – the only certainty is that nothing is certain. In life, we come face to face with uncertainty on a daily basis. Whether it’s not knowing the outcome of a romantic relationship when it’s hit rocky terrain or feeling unsure about the stability of your job, the “not knowing” makes us uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. 

But you know what comes from being uncomfortable? You guessed it – growth. Before I started my own journey with therapy, I had a very hard time with this. Uncertainty and change were swear words to me, I didn’t embrace the idea – I either ran from it or ruminated to the point of exhaustion.

Anything from not knowing the outcome of a job interview, test, paper, or even not hearing back from a person about plans made would send me into a toxic cycle of obsessive thoughts and crippling anxiety. It was only through speaking with my therapist that I’ve come to this realization: Uncertainty is a natural part of life…and it can be a positive. 

It’s all in how you think about it. Then again, that’s usually the case with most situations. Like I always say, how you think moment to moment matters. This is no different.

I think the hardest part about dealing with uncertainty is the attachment we give to any specific outcome. When an event or situation has a genuine significance to us, it’s almost a knee jerk reaction to get comfortable with one way things could turn out.

While many attempt to control or avoid it, let’s talk about some ways we can embrace uncertainty and learn to tolerate it.

Cut off the control

When things don’t go our way, or have the potential not to, what’s the first thing anxiety holds onto? Control.

Through uncertainty, we learn that control is tricky. While we cannot control the situation or others – how they react or feel to certain situations – we can control ourselves.

Take control of your language and the words, thoughts you use. Negative talk is not going to help you grow through an uncomfortable situation. Thinking thoughts like, “I’m just going to fail,” “This is killing me,” or “Worst day ever,” are just fueling your negative automatic thought spiral. Instead, get in the driver’s seat of your own mind. Control the questions you ask yourself:

“Why is this happening?” 

“How can this be a good thing?”

“What can I do – or think – to help my situation?”

 

This is known as cognitive restructuring – a very powerful way to get more comfortable with uncertainty. When we no longer blindly accept the automatic negative thoughts that have come so easily in the past, we are developing the skills to battle them.

Another example would be if the thought, “I can’t handle this uncertainty” goes through your mind, challenge it with “Uncertainty is less than ideal, but I accept it and I can handle whatever comes my way.”

Your inner monologue is really the only thing you can truly control in an event of uncertainty.

See the future as open, not empty 

When the unknowns in life are looming like a dark cloud, it can be so easy for our minds to go straight to the negative. Whether you are just graduating college and starting out in the “real” world, experiencing a breakup, or any other form of change you don’t have a handle on, do not allow yourself to see the future as a wasteland.

Interpret the future as open, not empty. While we may think worse case scenario, there are endless possibilities waiting in the unknown, and that is kind of exciting. From one door closing, or an event ending a chapter of your life, something bigger might be just around the corner – it’s all how you perceive it.

Get some extra support

Dealing with uncertainty is tough and while our normal support system can be comforting – sometimes you need a little extra help.

My own therapist has some great tools and mantras for me when uncertainty crowds my thoughts. She suggested repeating the Serenity Prayer to myself in times of high anxiety during change, or uncertainty. While I am not religious, when taken in an empowering way, this prayer can be helpful (this is a section of the prayer, not the entire thing):

“Grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.”

You can even write it down. Create a list of what you believe is in your control and take action with those activities, if you need to do something to ease your anxiety. Also, make a list of what you cannot control, and visualize yourself handing it off to whatever you deem a higher power – or just releasing it. It doesn’t have to be handing off. For me, I visualize writing the list and then just actively letting it go. Allowing it to float away, into the sky. It’s calming and empowering to let go. 

That extra support doesn’t always have to be a therapist though. While I lean on my therapist in trying times, I also have researched and found other, smaller ways to ease my anxiety. One of those is Simple Habit. A guided meditation app with exercises tailored for any kind of situation, I have a specific session I always find myself going back to when I’m high anxiety. It’s called Dealing With Failure and one of the mantras that they have you repeat goes like this:

“I do not have to be perfect and I learn from situations that have outcomes other than what I anticipated.” 

Whenever I find myself anxious from an outcome I didn’t envision, I repeat this to myself over and over again, until the reality of the statement overpowers my irrational thoughts. We can learn from uncertainty and change, if we chose to.

 

Uncertainty is inevitable. No matter how hard we may try, controlling it doesn’t work – and can even make our anxiety even worse. Change or “not knowing” isn’t necessarily a bad thing, or something to wish away. It’s merely calling on us to practice acceptance, learn healthy control, and let go of created expectations.

 

 

Do you struggle with uncertainty? Share your story in the comments below! 

 

Why Words Hurt // Philip’s Story

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

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

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

Read Philip’s story below.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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