A Year in Reflection // 2018 Goals

The year is drawing to a close and we all know what that means. The dreaded New Year’s resolution. I’ve never been a fan of calling them resolutions. There is always a pressure to maintain them or you’ve failed, you aren’t good enough if you didn’t keep up with that drive to lose ten pounds.

I would much rather call them goals. I’ve always had much more concrete goals for myself each year. And if I don’t achieve each and every one perfectly, that’s okay. You aren’t a failure if you don’t do exactly what you said you would right off the bat. Practice makes progress.

This time of year always calls for reflection. 2017 has been a year of learning and unlearning valuable lessons. It’s a year of intense positives and negatives in my personal life. It’s a year that I moved onto a new job, got into a relationship and that relationship ended. It’s a year I lost several people, only to gain so many that were right for me.

2017 was the year I started this blog. It was the year I finally decided to take the plunge and start writing more, sharing my story and the stories of others. It was one of the best decisions I could ever have made. It has not only allowed me to overcome so many hurdles in my own mental health, but I have connected with so many wonderful people in this community. I feel so grateful to have them in my life. I’m much better for it. 

2017 was the year I lost a partner, one that was not ready to be in an adult relationship. One that didn’t understand what it was to be with someone with anxiety. I spent months learning from this loss, letting myself truly feel each emotion and it was how I let a new person into my life. The same year I lost a partner, I gained someone so much more.

2017 was the year I got another new job, one that I truly believe is my passion. When I got the call that I had it, I felt a wave of purpose mixed with true happiness wash over me. This is what I’m meant to do. I cannot wait to start 2018 with such a wonderful company!

Whether you’ve had a good, bad, confusing, or life-changing year, do not forget that you are full of possibility. You can make 2018 whatever kind of year you want it to be. I don’t know what this next year will bring, but here are some of my goals:

 

Learn to be smarter with my money

This has been something I’ve struggled with all of 2017. This past year, I had my first studio and I’ll admit – it’s really hard paying studio rent and not being broke all the time. With my new job, I’m making it a goal to learn how to budget better so I can thrive in a bigger space soon. We all have money anxiety and honestly I wish money wasn’t as big of a deal as it is, but I can definitely afford to be smarter with my cents.

Get more creative 

Whether that means getting more creative with things I write on the blog – new series, collaborations, etc – or picking up where I left off with a few of my creative projects on the side, I want to finish what I start. I’ve had an idea for a children’s book in the back of my mind for years, but never have the self-discipline to keep going with it. This is the year I push myself.

Spend time away from my screen

This past year, I’ve had multiple people tell me I spend too much time on my phone. While it can be annoying to hear, they are right. I’m so locked into my phone that I’m not experiencing life going on around me, and that needs to stop.

Whether it’s finding an allotted time where I don’t use my phone or actively practicing leaving my phone in my purse when I’m out, I think it’s time I learn to separate with my screen a little better.

Give this new job my all

It’s really starting to sink in that I have a fresh start with this new job. I have the opportunity to show my talents to the world through this wellness company, and that’s just what I plan on doing.

2018 is the year I give my new position all that I have. I so look forward to practicing more of my passion on a daily basis!

Make time to read

This year, I participated in a wonderful book club that had me reading so many different books! However, life has gotten the best of all of us lately and we are majorly behind. 2018 is the year I make time to read. Netflix tonight? No, I will actively be putting down the remote to pick up a new book. I love reading so much, it’s always been a form of self care for me. I want to find the pleasure in it again.

Practice unlearning

This year, I’ve unlearned more than I ever thought I would. It took a genuine relationship with a man who is able to communicate in a healthy way for me to truly understand that what I thought relationships were isn’t healthy.

Not just specific to relationships, I’ve had to unlearn how to be treated at work, how I deserve to be treated by my own family, and what a healthy friendship looks like. While learning is essential, unlearning is so, so important for growth. It’s not a negative, it’s important for us to realize our worth, what we deserve.

 

I’ve achieved so much for my mental health in 2017 with continuing therapy, this blog, and making new realizations about myself and my own anxiety. While I experienced a lot of loss, I also gained so much more than I thought was possible.

I still stumble and fall some days, but that’s all part of the process. I head into 2018 as a work in progress who knows her worth. I am good enough and so are you. 

 

What are your 2018 goals for your own mental health? Share in the comments below! 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESA’s vs. Service Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel & Harley

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

How did she become your ESA?

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

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How has she helped your mental health?

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

Emily & Wally

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

Kelly & Xena 

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

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

 

Danielle & Haru

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

 

Victoria & Doomper 

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

Kaleigh & Tootsie

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We’re emotional support for each other. ❤️

Ellen Jean & Harley Quinn

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

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

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! 

Rad Reads // The Sun And Her Flowers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wilting

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

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

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

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

Falling

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

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

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Rooting 

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

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Rising 

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

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

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

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

Blooming

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

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

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

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

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

Post Therapy Thoughts // Fighting Fear

The thing about fear is that it consumes you. Wrapping it’s claws into your mind, it doesn’t let go until you’ve cut off the things you can’t control.

Last week, I had some pretty intense fear anxiety. With new situations popping up in my life, it can be easy to resort to the old way of dealing with anxiety. When I reached the middle of last week, I was so anxious that I broke down crying to a coworker, and quickly realized I needed to ask for help.

Texting my therapist for guidance, it was like the universe aligned. She had an opening that afternoon, so I took it and went into an unexpected session. It was hands down one of the most helpful sessions I’ve ever been in.

Heavy with fear, I sat down on the couch I’m so familiar with by now. Just making eye contact with my therapist at the start, I broke down into tears. She is my safe space, and I knew I could let it all out here.

I poured out all the feelings of anxiety that had been clinging to me all week, and when I was finished my therapist replied: That’s fear. 

She went on to tell me an acronym for fear. Heard of it? Well, you’re about to:

F – alse

E – vidence 

A – ppearing 

R – eal 

 

Fear is false evidence appearing real. It’s exactly what anxiety does to our minds when we are scared of uncertainty. We cannot control the outcome, so we create irrational scenarios that look and feel so, so real to us.

My therapist went on to say that fear is used to controlling us. She said the perfect description of how my own fear anxiety works:

“If fear can’t use anything new, it’ll grab the old ideas.”

Instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for something to go wrong – what if we threw our hands up and embraced what was new? 

My anxiety hated this idea. She’s a selfish, immature, controlling bitch with a serious attitude on breaking out of my old patterns. She reacts with defensiveness, fear, and doubt when challenged, but she is not Erica. And this is how my therapist showed me just that.

In a sort of therapy exercise, she had me speak as Anxiety Erica. In that time, she noticed that I was wavering in my voice – from crying – and my body language was very severe. Making rapid movements with my hands, and shifting in my seat uncomfortably, touching my neck and shoulders. That’s what my anxiety looks like. 

She then asked me to speak as what she called “my authentic self.” She said, speak as Erica. This wonderful hearted soul who you have spent so much time cultivating. And I did. Immediately, she told me she noticed a difference in my body language. My voice was calm, I sank into my seat and seemed very sure of myself. It was something very interesting and motivational to experience. I’ve come a long way, and it’s amazing to see how much of a difference there really is between my anxiety and who I’ve grown into as a person.

Lastly, she asked me where I felt my anxiety when I spoke during it and I immediately replied with my neck and shoulders. She said that we often carry our anxieties on our shoulders, and it’s a common place to feel in the body. It had been so tense that day because I was actively fighting my anxiety, my self critic.

She also asked where I felt it in my body when I spoke as my authentic self, and I couldn’t give her an answer, so she asked me to say a certain phrase again and pay attention this time to where I felt it. To be honest, I’ve never truly believed in things like this, and didn’t think I would feel anything anywhere. But, the moment I started to speak, I could feel a warm, emotional light right smack dab in the middle of my chest. Experiencing the moment together, she saw me realize this and it was magical. That was my authenticity. My soul, my fire. I’ve been kindling it for so long and now I can feel it.

For so long, the house that is my mind belonged to fear and my self critic. It’s time to give my authentic self a couple rooms to breathe. She needs to stretch her legs, watch some TV and claim that space. It’s been long enough. 

When we ended out the session, my therapist left me with a new way to maintain these fearful thoughts. She told me to let that critic self have her time with all the what ifs, and not controlling the outcome, but always end with my authentic self. What is she telling me? 

Right now, she is saying this crucial phrase:

I may not know what will happen, but I’m going to find out by letting myself be in the moment. 

 

While that may not be your specific phrase for your own personal life, take the time to make up a mantra for yourself to say after you’ve had your time to ruminate. The thing about fear is that it fades, if we no longer allow it to control our minds. 

Greet that fear anxiety with your authentic self and cast it away with courage, confidence and the ability to embrace the new.

 

Are you feeling the fear anxiety? Share your story in the comments below! 

Works in Progress // Lauren

Suffering from GAD at a young age, Lauren went through the tough experience of having to self diagnose at only 14. With doctors who weren’t fully listening to her pain, her anxiety worsened.

Not being able to work for the past two years due to her anxiety, this strong soul refuses to let her mental illness win. Realizing a new love for photography and even starting to create a book, meet Lauren and read her story below.

 

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Name: Lauren

Age: 20

 

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

I have been suffering with GAD from a very young age, however it started to get a lot worse when I turned 14. Depression has grown from this over the past two years. The first day of school in 2011 was when I realised something was very wrong, I felt extremely nauseous and had to be sent home. I then became too afraid to even leave the house, because the thought of going back to the place that made me so uncomfortable just wasn’t something I wanted to experience ever again. This continued for two more weeks until the teachers noticed a pattern in my absence, e.g leaving at the same time every week and not returning for the rest of the week. Eating became impossible because I felt so poorly and my whole routine was jumbled.

 

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

After self-diagnosing myself at 14 because none of the doctors I went to would listen, these anxiety flare ups would occur at least once a year but in a very intense way. This meant that I would spend 2-3 months each year fearing to leave the house, avoid experiencing fun events, my appetite would drop again and I’d lose weight, I even missed prom because I couldn’t imagine going when I felt so scared. I didn’t want to embarrass myself. It was only until I turned 18 and left college that I realised I desperately needed help.

I’d recently started a new job, which I was so excited for as I was finally starting a new life. However, shortly after I started, catching the train for 7 minutes became a chore for my brain and body. I would sit in the locker room before a shift trying to calm myself down with deep breathing and sips of water, yes I’d get through it but I would already be winding myself up for the next shift. Eventually, it got so bad that I wouldn’t even leave to go to a shift – I was too scared. Whenever I thought about work, I would have an anxiety attack. I couldn’t even go ten minutes down the road to see my best friend without panicking. This meant I had to leave my new job and seek medical help because I couldn’t physically function anymore. I was then put onto Citalopram and have been on it ever since, as well as FINALLY finding a doctor who listened to me and has helped me for two years now. I’m so thankful.

 

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

I still struggle a lot with my anxiety, especially when it comes to traveling or going to events such as concerts, etc. I look forward to when it’s over, instead of looking forward to it starting and experiencing it. I’ve not worked for two years, because my mental health is too unsteady for me to work comfortably at the moment. Going to town with a close friend, or going out for a meal with family can be a huge task for me as nausea and vomiting is a huge part of my anxiety attacks, so understandably I want to avoid that issue in public!

My weight has taken a huge hit, because I find eating difficult when I experience anxiety so I am now underweight. I struggle to maintain friendships and relationships with guys specifically because of a bad past experience, but I’m working on it! I use meditation as a way to cope, calm myself down and bring myself back to the present. Herbal remedies and essential oils are also something I use occasionally when I need a quick fix before going out. Breathing techniques are an obvious tool, but a good one at that! Another tool I use is a hard one, but an important one and that is making myself go to things, even when I really don’t want to.

 

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

It has benefited my life because I’ve experienced things and done things I never thought I would. For example, I’ve started doing photography again and created a project based on my mental health, which is now going to be a book! If someone told me I would have my own book at the age of 20, I would’ve laughed. I’ve met some incredible people who have inspired me immensely with their stories and have also become very good friends! It’s helped me learn what I do and don’t want in life, what friends to keep and who to move on from.

It’s given me the knowledge and strength it takes to get through life, as well as being able to help others which is something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s given me so much I can’t even list it all!

 

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

Just keep going. Simple, but powerful. It’s so easy to just give up and believe that things will never get better, but if we choose to believe this then that will be our biggest downfall! We won’t ever get better if we give up and give in to these illnesses. Even when you’re at your lowest, just remember what you’ve done and what you’re working towards. Who you’re doing this for and why. You can do this, because you’ve gotten this far and that hasn’t been easy. 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below (or send me an email!) and you might be featured on the blog! 

My Path To Purpose // Anxiety Erica Classroom Visit

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

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

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

What would I say?

Would I get my message across in the right way?

Would any of them even care?

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

Check out a few of my personal favorites:

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

 

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

 

 

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

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 // Dani

Initially misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder and OCD, Dani was struggling at school and other aspects of life. Finally officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and GAD, she was prone to rash, impulsive decisions such as walking out of class and quitting college entirely.

It wasn’t until January of this year that she took the leap and sought therapy. Grateful for her growth, read Dani’s story of fueling her space and dealing with her mental health.

 

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Name: Dani Pope

Age: 28

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 initially misdiagnosed with major depressive disorder and OCD. After, further assessments, I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I was aware of something going on at an early age; certain behaviors, emotions and actions just became “normal” to me for so long and I felt as if I was sinking into a dark hole and losing grip of myself. I would make such impulsive decisions, I was in my last year of undergrad and I literally walked out in the middle of class, stormed down to the admissions office and withdrew myself from college. I quit school.

I was feeling on top of the world and like ‘PFFT. I don’t need this. Fuck school.’ Now, I am actively pursuing my Master’s of Science degree in Nutrition and Integrative Health with a concentration in Human Clinical Nutrition. The taste of impulse is still there, but I check in with myself multiple times throughout the day. By the way, that was just one of the many rash decisions I’ve made in my life. I am committed to a healthier and happier me.

 

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

My wife and I were living in Moab, UT when I began experiencing severe anxiety and ongoing depression. I’ve lived with anxiety and depression throughout my entire life, but I reached my breaking point with the daily suffocation of anxious thoughts, major depressive episodes and draining emotional outbursts. January of this year is when I decided that it was time to seek professional help. I’m not going to lie, I was scared shitless at first, but I needed to do this for myself.

 

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

My life will never be the same. Not in a negative way, but in a rejuvenated and enlightened type of way. I have a deeper appreciation for the smallest of things. I take joy in things I easily took for granted before. Every day isn’t perfect, but I am grateful for my growth.  

 

I am more patient with myself, my mental health condition and my healing journey.

I am more aware in dealing with depressive and hypomanic episodes.

If I am feeling a lack of energy or in a low mood, I will not force myself to interact or be a part of activities, conversations, events. etc. for the sake of others. My mental health comes first, no matter what. 

 I am opening myself up to real and raw conversations to those around me. I am working on expressing myself in a healthy manner, without closing up or painfully pretending. 

 

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

Living with bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder has benefited my life in a number of ways. I now have an entirely renewed perspective on life and living. Some days, I’ll just want to stay in bed. Some days, I won’t have the energy to take our dog out, shower, put away the dishes or wash my hair, and that’s okay. Every day won’t be a walk in the park and some days will bring their own set of challenges, but I am strong as hell and I know that I am able to push through those low times.

Living with multiple mental illnesses has forced me to take better care of my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. I feel as though I am a part of something bigger than myself and my voice is needed to help fight the stigma against mental illness. I’ve gained a sense of confidence in my friendships, relationships and taking time for things that positively fill and fuel my space.

 

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

It may seem impossible right now and the days may seem so dark, but you will not fail. This struggle will only make you stronger and build you into the imperfect perfect person you are meant to be.

 

 

 

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