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! 

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! 

Skin Deep // Linn

A secret shame for most people with mental illness, skin picking isn’t a disorder regularly talked about – until now. Picking her skin for as long as she can remember, Linn’s habit began innocently. Growing into a full forced act that seemed to calm her anxiety, it felt like something she needed to do.

Sharing her story of recovery piece by piece, Linn is constantly conquering dermatillomania. Opening up about her journey through Instagram, meet Linn and learn some tips on how she battles the body image challenges that come with skin picking. 

 

 

 

Wounds. Scabs. Loose skin. Spots. Blemishes. Imperfections. We all get them, and I’m willing to bet we’ve all picked them at some point. In itself, this isn’t a problem. However, if you – like me – feel the need to pick to ease uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, intrusive thoughts, stress etc, it becomes one. When you – like me – often don’t realize you’re picking until the damage is done, it’s a problem. When this leads to a vicious cycle of thoughts and an urge to pick even more, it’s definitely a problem. So why don’t I just stop? That, my friends, is where it becomes an issue.

I have been a picker for longer than I can remember. I guess it started as an innocent habit of picking at loose skin around my fingernails to smooth it out. Seems harmless enough, and it is – until it turns into a compulsive act – something you feel like you need to do. And why stop with loose skin when there are so many other imperfections to “sort out”?

I often catch myself picking, and often I don’t even realize I’m picking until someone snaps me out of it by telling me to stop. I zone out. I get into a trance-like state where my fingers wander over my skin on autopilot as if they’re searching for something to pick at. Despite the resulting damage, the picking does help ease the discomfort in my mind that triggered it in the first place.

It was only a few years ago that I found out there is a name for what I thought was just an anxious habit. Dermatillomania, skin picking disorder, excoriation disorder, compulsive skin picking – call it what you will, it’s not pretty. This is closely linked with anxiety and OCD, and for me, anxiety is definitely a big trigger. The truth is, there are a number of reasons why I do it. A perceived need for smooth, flawless skin, which is ironic considering the damage it causes. A need for control, which I don’t possess when I’m searching my skin for spots to pick. Relief from anxiety, which it does give me most times, but only until the regret kicks in. And on the cycle goes. With time however, I’ve gotten better at dealing with the aftermath of my picking. Most times I can forgive myself and move on but other times, I get extremely self-conscious and feel like everyone can see how broken my skin is, when in reality it might not even look that bad.

Thankfully, there is help for this condition, and there are things you can do if you struggle with skin picking. It’s taken me a long time to get to where I am now, but I would like to share some tips that help me.

I try to be mindful of where I put my hands when I’m bored or anxious. I sometimes use a fidget toy to keep my hands occupied instead of tracing my fingers over my skin. I also try to keep my nails short, but what I think helps me the most, is taking care of my skin. In all honesty, I was never that big on skincare and skincare routines until I was shown the benefits it can have. Cleansers, moisturizers, facial scrubs, masks – you name it, I’ve probably tried it. What this does for me is it makes me associate touching my skin (mainly my face) with something positive – something I do out of love rather than discontentment. It doesn’t always stop me picking but it does reduce it, and sometimes, that’s enough. After all, a small step forward is still a step forward.

 

 

 

Do you struggle with a skin picking disorder? Share your story in the comments below. 

3 Tips On Coping With Conflict

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

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

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

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

Respond, Don’t React 

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

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

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

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

 

Practice Saying No 

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

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

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

 

Know Your Value 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

Works in Progress // Sarah

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

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

 

Meet Sarah. 

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Name: Sarah Jickling

Age: 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Anxiety Art // What’s Your Superpower?

With my blog, it’s become so clear what the power of words can accomplish. While I view myself as a skilled writer, I’m not much of an artist. I can draw a mean stick figure, though.

I’ve been falling in love with the different artists that have taken to Instagram and social media to express their versions of mental illness through art. I really wanted to share these unique, specific stories on the blog so I reached out to two beautiful, bold souls to kick off the beginning of a new project.

Vulnerable, vibrant and brimming with creativity, Alexia and Jessica are two women who understand the power of sharing their journey.

In the first ever installment of my new series – Anxiety Art – I decided to ask these two artists one important question:

What’s your anxiety superpower? 

 

The first piece is from someone I’m proud to call a friend. Attending the same college, I was always stunned by Alexia’s brazen, yet beautiful personality. A truly unique soul with scary fantastic talent, here is her submission:

Alexia Markopoulos

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“Fart Woman has a new super power: honing her own anxieties and shooting them at her enemies. Tripping out about the future and racing thoughts melt their brains – I am Fart Woman. Not only does Fart Woman have electric shock hair, plutonium heels, and poisonous farts, she has the ability to embrace her anxiety and use it to save the world.” 

 

The second submission is from a sassy and sensitive soul – Jessica Ferhadson. Using art therapy for her own mental health, Jessica is a Psychology BA Studio Art Minor. Selling handcrafted stickers and pins on her Etsy store, she isn’t just surviving through her mental illness – she’s thriving. Check out her beautiful submission:

Jessica Ferhadson

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“My superpower is the ability to combat my mind. Whether it be through calming my mind, talking down my paranoia, or not taking things to personally – this is a superpower that helps me get through each day. Getting sudden waves of stress or overthinking certain issues is rough, but with the power of my mind, I am able to recognize when I am overreacting and when to just take a deep breath.

Your mind is powerful, sometimes that can be negative. It’s how we counteract the negative with the positive that is important to focus on. Focusing on the negative and ruminating is much easier than focusing on the positive. So having the ability to fight the negative and visa versa is hard, but strong. Being in a constant battle with your mind is difficult, but sometimes can be productive and lead to self-awareness. It is a superpower I wish I didn’t have to have, but proud to carry with me.”

 

I’m so honored to have these powerful pieces of art living on my blog and to be able to show all of you just how extraordinary these women are – and how their art helps to fight the stigma of mental illness.

 

 

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

 

Post Therapy Thoughts // Recognizing A Narcissist

When I got into therapy on Tuesday, it was a regular session. We discussed smaller triggers I had experienced throughout the two weeks, such as the fight about money with my father and even former hook-ups of mine starting to message me again, and not really being ready for that kind of male attention.

However, it wasn’t until I began to discuss a certain person in my life (who I am choosing not to name due to sensitivity) that the real discussion started. We’ll call her Sally. I had been in several fights with this person over the last month, and for me – it’s always difficult to handle.

I needed space, and Sally just hasn’t been able to respect that. Calling and texting me every single day, I would grow more and more anxious and angry at even the thought of picking up the phone. Writing a new blog post on money anxiety, Sally texted me with her opinion of what she read, and it was borderline emotionally abusive – according to my therapist. I was shamed for even having money troubles to begin with. Rather than seeing how much vulnerability it took to write the post, she focused on tearing me down. The relationship can be described as my therapist states,

“They pull you in with charm, only to slap you then kiss you.”

This is a narcissist.

Whether it’s a friend, partner, or even family member, narcissists can have a serious, negative impact on everyday life and relationships. We tend not to see narcissists in our lives until confronted with the cold, hard facts about their personalities. Sometimes, we are just too close to see, but once you do – it all becomes very clear. You stop feeling the shame and guilt, and start seeing that this is their problem, not yours.

After the session, my therapist emailed me a handout that helped me to better understand narcissistic behavior, and validated my experience all these years. The information below is loosely based off that handout by Elisabeth Caetano.

 

They’re likable, at first glance. 

Narcissists tend to be well versed in first impressions, coming across as personable and charismatic. In the beginning, all you see is the positive, but over the long term more and more negativity seeps through.

They always manage to make it about themselves.

While they engage initially, they always eventually turn the conversation around to talk about themselves, their accomplishments and achievements and typically don’t ask about you and your life or interests.

Not all stories are victorious ones. 

Narcissists often tell stories about themselves – sometimes even repeating the same story over and over again – and many times, the story will be surrounding an instance of personal heroism or an exploit. But, even when the story is something negative, it will never be the narcissist’s fault. There’s an air of entitlement in the victory story and victimization in the failure.

The key is seeing through the facade, as they never take responsibility for anything negative.

Appearance is everything. 

While they aren’t necessarily more attractive than other people, they do take care of their appearance and place an importance on looking good. This doesn’t just apply to physical, the emotional has to seem perfect all the time as well.

Making sure everyone knows how hard they work, how much they make money-wise, how much they have, and how deserving they are of it is essential.

They are hyper sensitive to criticism.

Fragility of the ego is paramount in narcissistic behavior. They simply cannot be wrong, or responsible, therefore – you cannot give them even constructive criticism without it turning into an argument.

With no ability to see themselves as less than, or flawed, they are almost delusional in their “truth” of who they are. It’s not your fault if you can’t help them see.

They love to make excuses. 

Tending to externalize blame, pinning the blame on everyone but themselves, narcissists are skilled at making excuses and not taking credit for mistakes.

They even tend to get extremely defensive and then go on the attack – sometimes in an aggressive manner – to prove it’s not their fault. This usually involves tearing others down to make their “point.”

They do not honor boundaries. 

This one I have experienced all too well. While this is more of an informational post helping others to understand when a narcissist might be in their lives – I still think back to my own situation. I have someone very close to me who fits the bill in most of these traits. While I love her, it’s incredibly hard to handle. She has always been problematic with this specific behavior.

Narcissists do not honor boundaries because they simply don’t believe it applies to them. That’s where the sense of entitlement comes back into play. Healthy emotional boundaries are essential for any relationship – especially for people suffering with mental illness. To disrespect that is toxic, inconsiderate, and potentially dangerous for another person.

It’s likely they have no clue they are a narcissist. 

With no real insight or ability to see themselves at that level, it’s likely they will never understand how their behavior effects the people around them.

Because they feel so superior and may even have some success, they’re unlikely to seek treatment. In itself, this issue is a double whammy because the things they see in themselves prevent them from seeing they have real problems that need to be dealt with.

Flattery maintains the peace.

Have you found yourself resorting to flattery to maintain the peace in a relationship? You’re dealing with a narcissist. While it’s the best way to avoid conflict, it can cause you to doubt yourself – your feelings, perceptions.

 

Did any of these situations above feel all too real? If so, it might be time to make some changes. If you don’t feel emotionally safe with someone, cut the cord.

While it can feel like being in a relationship with a narcissist is necessary for survival, your mental health is worth more.

It’s a long process to recover yourself after being in any type of relationship, but it can be done. You can rebuild your life, emotional health, and come back from being lost in the toxic world of a narcissist.

 

Have you dealt with a narcissist in your life? Share your story in the comments below. 

Works in Progress // Veronica

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

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

 

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Name: Veronica

Age: 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

3 Tips on Coping With Money Anxiety

Today, I had a triggering conversation about money. In some shape or form, we’ve all been there. Money and financial struggles is a tender topic to talk about, but it’s one that can easily affect our mental health.

Let me just start this off by saying that I have a stable job that allows me to live in a studio all my own, and have my emotional support animal – I realize how fortunate I am. There are plenty of people suffering devastating financial struggles all over the world.

Earlier today, I spoke with my father about how I don’t have enough right now to pay for a certain bill, and he got upset with me. Thinking like the rational lawyer that he is, he was completely right. I did need to pay it now, but I just didn’t have the money available. It turned into a projection from his bad day, but in the end I was left feeling like a failure. I linked my own self worth with how much was in my bank account.

Adulting is really hard – sometimes, we just don’t get it right the first, second, or even fifteenth try and that’s okay. Whether you’re rollin’ in it or stressing over getting gas each week, your self worth doesn’t have a price tag attached to it. You are always good enough – regardless of how much you make financially. 

I am not perfect by any means, but here are some tips I’ve learned that can help ease money anxiety:

Banish the shame 

How you’ve handled money in the past, or even currently, can lead to a mountain of shame. Whether it’s a lack of money, incorrect budgeting, or simply being unaware of the right practices (I’m still this person, believe me), stop with the shame and realize you are doing the best you can with what you have.

There’s no shame in wanting to be better with money, so don’t feel awkward if you have to bring up the subject with a therapist, partner, friend, or even a family member.

Cut out the comparison 

This is a biggie. In my past relationship, this is all I did. My ex did pretty well for himself – much better than I did – and I gave myself some anxiety about that. It’s usually an awkward subject when a partner makes more money than you do, but it doesn’t have to be. Eventually, I realized that I should be proud of him for working hard and doing well financially. While there were moments I felt guilt or embarrassment, I did not need to link my self worth to how much I made compared to him.

Our social media is filled with pictures of people’s trips, cars, and other expensive things. No matter what your friend posts, comparing yourself and your own finances to others will only trigger you.

Here are some things to remember next time you feel the urge to compare money-wise:

  • You don’t know what’s in their bank account. While a friend may seem to enjoy plenty of nice things, it could be supplied by credit cards and debt. 

 

  • Usually, you don’t see the hard work and sacrifice that goes along with financial success – just the spending. 

 

  • Your friends’ journeys are not yours – your experiences are unique. 

 

  • Like I previously stated in my post on comparison, people tend to post only the best version of themselves on social media, so our perception is skewed. 

 

  • The only person you can change is yourself. Instead of ruminating over the success of others, focus on what you can do to better control your thoughts or make your situation more manageable. 

 

Educate yourself 

If you find yourself getting high anxiety over your money problems, take control by learning more about it. By turning your unknowns into knowns, you can silence some of the voices telling you you’re not good enough, or not prepared enough, or doing enough with your situation.

Whether that looks like talking to a financial advisor, signing up for a local course in financial management and budgeting, or asking someone for advice who understands your specific situation, you can take matters into your own hands. Once you begin to learn, money stops being a trigger and morphs into something you’re able to understand and control.

No amount of money puts a price on your self worth. If you’re struggling with money or financial problems, learning how to calm those fears and anxiety is a matter of education, understanding, and action – rather than reaction. Rich or poor, you are always good enough. 

 

Do you have anxiety about finances? What tools do you use to cope? 

Works in Progress // Hannah

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

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

 

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Name: Hannah Kassebaum  

Age: 21

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

  

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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