Anxiety Art // What’s Your Stigma Saying?

“You just have to stay positive.” 

“You don’t look depressed.” 

“You have anxiety? You’re so social I would never have known.” 

We’ve all heard them. Sayings that may seem simple, but continue to perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental health. It’s little phrases like “stay positive,” or “just snap out of it” that not only make those suffering from mental illness feel they are a burden, they aren’t even helpful or empathetic.

It’s been awhile, but I was so grateful to have these two wonderful artists share the phrases or sayings they’ve come into contact with throughout their journey.

What’s your stigma saying? 

 

Sydnei

An aspiring art therapist, this sweet soul is advocating mental health and recovery through her beautiful doodles. With bright colors shining off of each print she draws, her words and art are a mixture of her own lessons in therapy and empowering affirmations for those who face their fears on a daily basis. You can buy her art here!

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****TW: Abuse****

“That’s the phrase I heard over and over from my abuser. And I remember the first person I told said ‘that’s disgusting.’ Now, I am surrounded by people who care about me thankfully. But the word dirty has broke me, though these days I am much stronger. Even if I my room gets to a certain point of messy it’s like I shut down. Sometimes my hands with have paint and stuff and I shut down because it translates to ‘I’m dirty.’ It’s the biggest trigger for my PTSD. I’ve had to unlearn that phrase. I’d look in the mirror and instantly feel shame and disgust.”

 

Eliza

Promoting mental health one illustration at a time, this anxious doodler is here to break the stigma. I’ve only recently come to know Eliza, but judging from the vulnerable, authentic and powerful print she submitted for this series–we’ll be fast friends. 

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“Have you tried meditation? Omm yes… but that’s not the point.

Imagine having killer migraines that everyone you met had recommendations on how to take care of. But, you were allergic to the helpful essential oils and your tolerance levels were too high for pain killers. It would be frustrating to constantly hear solutions that worked for others but–because of your body’s chemistry–failed you.

It’s the same with my anxiety. When I open up about it, I’m not looking for solutions.

I’m looking for friendship and support. You don’t know the journey I’ve made or what solutions I’ve tried. You don’t know what may trigger bad memories or add to my anxiety. Perhaps try asking questions rather posing unsolicited advice. ‘Thank you for sharing. Is there something I can do to help?’ ‘I’ve never heard of that, can you tell me more?’

Solutions is what I pay my psychiatrist for. I need a network of caring friends not a network of well-meaning unlicensed doctors.”

 

With help from their pencil and paintbrush, these two artists communicate essential messages of unlearning phrases we’ve heard over and over and navigating unsolicited advice about our own individual struggle. I cannot stress how crucial breaking these stigmas are for those of us who consistently battle mental illness. I’m glad these two women are here, on the front lines with me. Showing up everyday and confronting society–while they confront each aspect of themselves. 

 

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

Works in Progress // Jocelyn

Suffering from years of abuse by a family member, Jocelyn’s mental health issues began at an early age. Pushing through a period of darkness, she was able to find the light through a combination of nutrition, consistent movement, and self-care.

Meet Jocelyn.

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Name: Jocelyn Zahn

Age: 25

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

(TW/CW: Suicidal ideation, self-harm, eating disorders, sexual abuse)

I have been diagnosed with PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder and have also battled orthorexia and anorexia.

My mental health issues arose at a young age. During my childhood, I suffered years of sexual abuse by a family member. At age 12, my life felt as though it was falling apart for the very first time. After going through the Texas public school system and taking “sex education”, which was really only abstinence only education, as an 7th grader, I began to panic. The system failed me entirely and I believed the abuse was my fault. I was scared, alone, and felt as though I couldn’t tell anyone what happened to me because they would view me as a sinner. When you’re young, you don’t always understand the concept of abuse, I certainly didn’t. And the “sex education” I received only left me feeling isolated and hopeless.

This was the first time I can recall staring a hole through my knife drawer in my home in San Antonio. This was the first time I envisioned what it would be like to take my own life…and I wanted to. The suicidal ideations have been a part of me almost every day since.

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

Well, I was truly pushed to my limit before I decided to reach out for help. The first time I received mental health treatment of any kind was when I was hospitalized at 18 for suicidal ideation. This was a result of me coming out and having negative backlash-to say the least. I lost almost everything and everyone I loved (at least for a time) and I wanted to throw in the towel. Though, I definitely wish I had received help earlier.

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

While I am ecstatic to say my life is beautiful and fulfilling now, I still live with my mental illness every day. I have come to learn and accept the fact that it is a part of me, a part I will live with forever. Because of this, I have shifted my focus from trying to “rid myself” of my mental illness to learning how to cope with it daily.

I have learned coping skills that work for me, my mind, and my body. Developing these skills certainly looks different for everyone, but for me, I have found great success in balancing my mood through food, movement, and spirituality.

90% of our serotonin (some people call this the ‘happy’ chemical, or the ‘feel good hormone’) is made in our gut. This has been an incredible thing for me to focus on and experiment with due to the fact that the biggest daily challenge I face in regards to my mental illness, is volatile mood swings. Gut health has saved me a whole lot of random ‘crying for no reason’ tears or ‘lashing out at someone for no reason’ moments. I have found a balance of nutritious and not so nutritious food that works for me to maintain a steady mood throughout the day.

Other than that, incorporating consistent movement has been a life saver for me. Due to years of suppressed trauma, I have a whole lot internalized anger. Moving my body intuitively gives me the outlet I need to release this anger and anxiety. As you can imagine, this helps balance my mood, as well.

A couple years back, I learned that me and almost my entire immediate family has some pretty severe vitamin deficiencies. This was so helpful to learn (KNOWLEDGE IS POWER haha). To combat my almost daily suicidal ideations, I take a Vitamin D supplement, as I am lacking quite severely in that area.

I also practice affirmations, daily self-care, and tarot card readings- as they help me feel more connected to something bigger than myself and my own problems.

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

Wow. This is an excellent question. Contrary to popular belief, living with a mental illness has not been all negative for me. Living with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and more has made me a much more empathetic person than most people I know. It has given me the skill of powerful and active listening. It has taught me so much about what it means to be “good enough” as a human being on this earth. It has given me perspective. It has also led me to the career of my dreams. All of which, I wouldn’t trade for the world.

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

If I could tell younger me one thing, it would be that no matter how much the darkness is consuming me at any given moment, it is not me. Darkness lives inside of me because of things that have happened to me, yes. But the light is a part of me.

I would tell myself that as alone as I feel at times, I don’t have to carry my burden alone.

 

Learn more about how Jocelyn has turned her mess into her message at Holistic Self-Love!

 

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

Works in Progress // Stephany

Diagnosed with anxiety, depression, severe PTSD, traits of borderline personality disorder, GAD, and an eating disorder, Stephany has overcome so much. Fighting her way through an abusive relationship, sexual assault, and even homelessness, this strong soul is the definition of a mental health warrior. 

Meet Stephany.

 

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Name: Stephany

Age: 20

 

**Trigger warning: rape**

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

When I was a freshman in high school I moved from my La Jolla home to Carlsbad in hopes of escaping the bullies and finding a new sense of belonging. With all the changes of a new home, new school, my mother’s new boyfriend, my best friend moving across the world, and entering high school, I fell into a deep pit of hopelessness.

In the heat of a massive fight with my mother, she threatened to send me to my father and that was the exact moment that sent me spiraling out of control. After 12 weeks of missing person reports, truancy, failing grades, days of hiding behind locked doors, and refusing to eat, I was admitted to a residential treatment facility in Utah where I spent six agonizing months learning how to cope and sharing my deepest fears with strangers. While I was there, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, severe post traumatic stress disorder, traits of borderline personality disorder, generalized mood disorder, and an eating disorder.

With a team of doctors, therapists, and facility staff I was able to work through the wreckage and claw my way out of my first experience with rock bottom.

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

After I was discharged, I returned home and continued my treatment with a team of doctors and therapists and spent three years coping with mild anxiety and the normal stresses of a teenager. Then, in May of my senior year of high school I entered into a depressive episode after becoming homeless and living out my car with only $100 to my name. At the time I was in an abusive relationship with a man who was older than me by four years and I truly believed we were in love. After managing to find a full-time job, graduating high school with honors, and finding a place to live, my relationship began to crumble because I was no longer in need of his help. We broke up in the beginning of July and two weeks later he called to invite me over for drinks. That night is the night that I was raped.

A year and a half later, I came to accept the reality of that night and sought help from a therapist who asked me, “Well did you say no?”

After that session, I was determined to fight my demons on my own and spent endless hours researching the affects of trauma and steps I could take to work through it. I slowly began to share my struggles with my closest friends who helped teach me that the smallest victories are worth celebration and I am worthy of self-love. The most pivotal moment of my recovery though was when I shared the story of the sexual assault with a friend who knew the offender and said to me, “I believe you.” 

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

Today, I still have my struggles with anxiety and disordered eating, but I have learned that I am not alone and by sharing my story I can help others on their journey. I am unashamed of my demons and I often wake up and thank myself for not giving into those low points where I felt like there was no way out of the misery I was experiencing. I am strong and I want to empower others to feel their own strength.

 

 

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

The Importance Of Animals // ESA’s + Service Dogs

I know, I know. It’s been a little while since my last post. Albeit, I’ve been sick this week and prepping for a new job, but still..it’s about time I get back to it.

While my holiday came and went without a hitch, today was something much different. Since I’ve been sick, I’ve really just been hanging out at home watching TV in bed. I’ve given myself permission to rest.

One of my family members came to visit and bring me a few things for my cold, and while it started out pleasant, it certainly didn’t end that way.

I found myself sitting through the same fight I’ve been in with some of my family lately. I’ve been fighting for my own mental health, my space, and my voice.

I have a very complicated and emotional relationship with specific members of my immediate family. One that has always been surrounded by the fact that I’m now sticking up for myself. I’m speaking up – protecting me. I have never felt safe or protected around them, so with therapy and inner work I’ve learned to raise my voice and fight for me.

I’ve come so far and done so much work in therapy to find my inner voice and authenticity, and sometimes being this self aware really sucks. It pushes people away – people drop like flies when they see growth. It’s unfortunate and hurtful, but it’s life. Weak people will always find a way to make a monster out of self awareness. While it hurts, it means I’m always fighting for my mental health.

When I asked her to leave my space – I could feel myself getting anxious and uncomfortable – she planted her feet firmly, with her hands on my bed frame, and loudly told me no. In one simple action, she disrespected my feelings, my space, and my mental health.

When she eventually left, I sat on the floor of my studio and cried. Noticing how anxious I was, my 11 year old dog Gussie – who is also my ESA – just came up next to me and laid down. With his paw on my leg. He didn’t move it until I stopped crying. In that moment, that was exactly what I needed. A safe, comforting touch from a soul who loves me exactly for me. ESA’s aren’t just for having your animal in your space fee free. They help in a huge way for mental health. He’s there when I need him. He loves me in any state.

I’ve written about Gussie as my ESA – Emotional Support Animal – before (you can check it out here) and it’s still as crucial now how he helps me heal.

Today, he was the little bit of comfort and support I needed, and just six or seven months ago, he was glued to my side during an emotional breakup. Whether you have anxiety getting on a plane and traveling, or suffer from severe panic attacks, ESAs and service dogs are a gift to this world. They unconditionally love you for you. 

ESA’s vs. Service Dogs

You might be asking yourself the question, what’s the difference? Don’t worry, it’s not a stupid question because you would be surprised how many people share that inkling. If I’m being completely honest, years ago I didn’t specifically know the difference until I took the time to research it.

Here’s a helpful definition of each from the American Kennel Club:

The key difference between a service dog and an ESA is whether the animal has been trained to perform a specific task or job directly related to the person’s disability. For example, alerting a hearing-impaired person to an alarm or guiding a visually impaired person around an obstacle are jobs performed by service dogs. Behaviors such as cuddling on cue, although comforting, would not qualify. The tasks need to be specifically trained, not something instinctive the dog would do anyway.

After the emotional fight and having my moment with Gussie, I took to a Facebook group I’m part of called Dogspotting Society. I had seen people post stories of their own ESA’s in the past, so I took the chance and posted about my own experience with my pup.

I didn’t really know what to expect from it, mostly just to help me heal from the day – since sharing and writing is cathartic for me. But man, did I get the most amazing response! Not only did I get words of support and praise, I had endless strong souls commenting to share their stories and photos of their sweet animals that have helped them along the way.

Here are a few of their stories and the animals that have helped them heal!

Rachel & Harley

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***Trigger warning: suicide, suicidal thoughts***

How did she become your ESA?

That is a pretty long story. Our history is a pretty complicated one. Long story short, I fostered her twice since she was a puppy and when she was returned to me a third time I decided to keep her. A week or two after I got her back, my mom (who I was very close to) killed herself in our backyard. My dad found her and I had to help clean up the remains that EMS didn’t take… It was very traumatic for me and I couldn’t move far from bed for weeks. Harley stayed with me the entire time and licked my tears away when I would cry. She would bring me toys and cuddle with me when I wouldn’t move. She never left my side, not even to eat or drink. I brought everything to my room because the only times I would get up was to bring her to go outside. After my mom’s death I thought about suicide myself very often after that. I forget the statistics but once a family member commits suicide, members close to them are more likely. My plan that was always in the back of my head was that I would drive my car into a tree. In order to keep myself from acting on my urges I started driving everywhere with Harley in my passenger seat. When I finally had the motivation to go see a psychiatrist they said that I could bring her with me to my appointment. I brought her with me to my next few sessions and after seeing and hearing how well she took care of me, my psychiatrist wrote me a letter for her to be my ESA.

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How has she helped your mental health?

As you can tell from my story, she pretty much kept me alive. She gave me a reason NOT to kill myself when that urge came, and comforted me the best ways that she knew how. My mental health has improved drastically in the 3 years that I’ve had her, I still see my psychiatrist and they recently mentioned how much I’ve changed. I used to go into their office so defeated and depressed, I wouldn’t even look anyone in the face. My eyes were always glued to the ground and I barely talked. Now I walk in smiling and have so much to say and talk about.

Emily & Wally

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I can’t believe how much my doggo has helped with my mental health. We got Wally as an ESA but it’s not official yet. He’s still a pup, so when I’m upset he’ll either ignore me, try to play with me, or, on one occasion, lick the tears off my face and nudge me with his nose. 

Kelly & Xena 

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Xena isn’t actually an emotional support animal but sometimes I think she should be. Her emotional intelligence is through the roof (though she can’t solve a problem to save her life) and any time any of us is upset she knows and comes over and MAKES you pet her, despite not normally being cuddly. Plus when I got her, she changed my other dog into a whole new dog – he went from being a ball of anxiety who was afraid of EVERYTHING and always upset to an almost normal doggo who still complains about everything but is much calmer and happier. 

Sorry about your rough day! I’m so glad for your ESA, they truly save lives. Xena has saved me from plenty of panic attacks and helps me chill when I’m stressed. I’m super glad to have her.

 

Danielle & Haru

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I’m kind of ashamed to admit it since I try to be cutesy with my posts here but I have a really REALLY terrible violent temper and usually after I act out I’ll get an urge to self harm or spiral into a depressive episode. Haru does typical ESA things like coming to me when I’m crying and tolerating being a hugging pillow when I’m sad, but his presence alone helps the most because not wanting to upset him with an outburst forces me to use healthier coping skills.

 

Victoria & Doomper 

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 My doomper man. He’s always been a mama’s boy. Every time I have an anxiety attack, he will come head butt me until I am using both hands to pet him and hold him close. He’s been a lifesaver for me. My husband said if an apartment complex won’t accept him, we don’t live there. There have been several nights where I’ve disassociating as I wake up and he’ll follow me to the bathroom and if I don’t respond when he meows, he’ll go wake my husband up in any way necessary so he can make sure I’m OK.

Kaleigh & Tootsie

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We’re emotional support for each other. ❤️

Ellen Jean & Harley Quinn

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She helps me when I’m having an anxiety attack by performing deep pressure therapy and basically annoying me until I take medication. She also is learning to retrieve items for me when I’m unable to do so for myself due to a vertigo spell or migraine. I decided to train her to be my service dog after my therapist suggested it being a beneficial part of my treatment along with medication. She has helped my family in many ways. We got her less than a week after our cattle dog passed away unexpectedly. She has helped us heal from his death and gotten back into activities that we used to do with him like going to local state parks and walking trails. She has also shown my husband how much she can actually help me with my mental and physical health. He is now extremely supportive and understands my mental and physical needs a lot more now because of her.

The more we bring up these special animals, the less stigma there is surrounding their gifts to those of us with mental illness. I’m so proud to have these strong, sensitive souls sharing their experiences on my blog – and the unconditional love from all those furry friends!Do you have an ESA or service dog? Share your story in the comments below! 

Self Care Club // Therapy Threads

Guys, life has been seriously chaotic lately. With new opportunities and adventures around each corner, I’ve been almost on standby – waiting to embrace the unknown of certain areas of my life.

I had reached out to Therapy Threads – a fantastic, meaningful company that combines aromatherapy and wellness with fashion – to be part of their Self Care Club a few months back because I truly believe in their mission, and the inspiring founder, Dani Singer.

Self care is something constantly discussed in the mental health community and what is so beautiful about it is how different it looks to everyone. While it can be marketed over social media as taking a bath, using bath bombs or a facial – it’s so much more than that.

Whether it’s reading your favorite book, going for a drive without a destination, exercising, or taking a nap – the focus isn’t really on the activity itself. It’s the meaning and purpose behind it.

Whatever it may be, self care is an active way that those with mental illness nurture the practice of putting ourselves first.

While I swear by my own forms of self care now, I didn’t always practice it actively. I still find myself having trouble truly focusing on myself. More recently, while learning about a new flyer my therapist gave me, my first thought was, I would love to share this on the blog – people would learn so much from it! But, what about me? I had to process it and learn too. I was completely skipping myself and my therapist didn’t hesitate to remind me.

It is companies like Therapy Threads that also help to remind me of the real mission. I’m so glad I get to partner with this wonderful brand that has come from such an authentic place.

Delivering hope and healing one thread at a time, Therapy Threads is the product of passion for using fashion as a foundation for wellness. Combating mental illness, their patent-pending aromatherapy scarves aren’t just super cute – you are literally wrapped up in the benefiting power of essential oils when wearing one of these bad boys. Cool, right? 

Dedicated to fighting the stigma against mental illness, Therapy Threads even gives a portion of the proceeds from each purchase to health and wellness organizations near and dear to their hearts.

An impressive woman, entrepreneur, designer, mental health advocate, and psychotherapist, Dani Singer created Therapy Threads to combine “scents of style and purpose.” Making it her life’s mission to introduce alternative therapies that empower healing, Singer is a survivor of sexual abuse, bullying and domestic violence. Spending years struggling with PTSD, depression and anxiety – she was determined not to let her past define her future. Now, she has decided to use her experiences to help others heal.

What is the Self Care Club? 

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Friends, I’m so stoked to talk about this. Not only are the shirts way cute from this brand – these brand ambassadors are kicking ass. A mental health advocacy club curated by Singer herself, the powerful people that make up this group help to build awareness and end the stigma associated with mental illness and sexual assault.

Promoting strength through the struggle, Self Care Club shows everyone that stigma isn’t cool and most importantly – we aren’t alone in this fight.

I’m so proud to have found my way to all of these courageous brands fighting the same cause as what drives this blog each and every day. I could never have dreamed that in starting this blog back in May I would be repping for such an empowering company, but pinch me – here we are.

 

 

Want to be part of the Self Care Club? Click here to share your story! 

Works in Progress // Maddi

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

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

 

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Name: Maddi

Age: 21

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Morgan Stinson 

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

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

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

 

Sanna

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

Beautiful As Ever // Love What’s There

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

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

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

Who’s behind Love What’s There? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Works in Progress // Michael

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

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

 

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Name: Michael

Age: 26

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Andy

Diagnosed with anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder, Andy was growing more and more distant from his wife and daughter. Believing he wasn’t worthy of their love, he turned to meaningless online relationships. When his wife confronted him, he hit rock bottom.

Not wanting to hide his pain anymore, Andy reached out for help. Gaining a deeper understanding and patience within himself, he has a newfound purpose to help others not go through the same mistakes. An honest, authentic man dealing with the demons in his mind, meet Andy.

 

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Name: Andy Wagner

Age: 41

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder. I also believe I suffer from PTSD due to my experiences in the Navy, but that’s undiagnosed. I was growing distant from my wife and daughter. I started isolating myself at work. Even though I have a wife and daughter who love me very much, I began looking for meaningless relationships online. I didn’t believe I deserved their love. I didn’t believe I deserved anyone’s love. I was doing my best to shut everyone out.

  

 

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

I call it my bottom. I hit my bottom when my wife confronted me about an online relationship. Of course, I was guilty as sin, but I did my best to make her feel like the bad guy. She refused to budge. She held her ground. I was in the Navy at the time, so I couldn’t just call in sick. I eventually made it in, and my Department Head asked me if I was OK. I said no, I wasn’t. He then asked if I might harm myself and/or others. I knew I just had to say no, fake it a little, and I would be off the hook. He would leave me alone. Instead, I replied, “You know, I’m not sure.” That was the moment I decided to stop lying to myself and others. That short statement was my scream for help. I didn’t want to lie anymore. I didn’t want to hide my pain anymore. I was so tired, both emotionally and physically. I just wanted to be OK.

 

 

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

Communication. Communication is key to coping with the demons in my head. I’ve learned that it’s OK not to be OK. Instead of putting on a brave face, sucking it up, and hiding my struggle, I deal with it in the open. It’s allowed me to discover who I can really rely on in these situations, which is a lot more people than I thought. It amazes me that all of us who struggle with anxiety/depression think we’re alone. We’re not. There are so many others who face the same struggles. Most importantly, I’ve learned that when I’m having a bad day, I reach out instead of internalizing. I’ve found that I have so many friends who understand and share my struggles that I never knew were there before. Just being open about how I feel has been liberating for me.

 

 

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

It has given me a better understanding and a whole lot of patience toward others who fight the same battle I do. It has given me a desire to help people not go through the same things I did. I don’t want others to feel the same pain or suffer the way I did. It’s also brought me closer to my family. Understanding what is going on in my head has led to a lot fewer fights. I’ve been able to acknowledge what I’m thinking and feeling, express it, and therefore deal with it in a healthier manner.

 

 

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

It’s OK to talk to someone. It’s OK to reach out for help. It’s OK not to be OK. You don’t have to be happy all the time. It’s OK to have a bad day. More people understand and share what you’re going through than you realize.

 

 

 

 

 

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