Post Therapy Thoughts // The Thing About Expectations

Hi friends, it’s been awhile since my last post therapy thoughts. I missed it terribly. Lately, the motivation to blog comes in waves and I’m honestly just trying to ride them as they come. Not push myself to write if I don’t feel inspired because who wants content that feels forced?

Today, I went into therapy in a whirlwind. In the morning, I woke up early and gathered my thoughts into a journal – which I realized was basically full, so if anyone has any suggestions for a new one that they LOVE, let me know – so I figured I would be good to go, fully prepared for the session. Wrong-o.

Just when life lets you believe things are headed one direction, it yanks you into a completely different place. I got into an argument over a family situation, and got out of the car pissed, walking into therapy shaken up.

I sat down and basically vomited out all my feelings until I had to slow down and drink some water, it’s tough business sharing.

We changed topics and the theme of nitpicking and overly high expectations came up in conversation. Whether it’s a friendship, relationship, work, or anything really, I’ve always created unrealistic expectations. This can lead to symptoms such as disappointment, anxiety, and fear in the future of being let down.

In all seriousness, it’s been a big issue for me and my anxiety. Whenever something new enters my life, I overthink and build up these ridiculous expectations that will usually always end in disappointment. When I get let down, Anxiety Erica has me right where she wants me: afraid. Afraid of change, afraid of repeating my toxic patterns, afraid of anything unknown.

Because if I’m afraid, I won’t do it. I used to not let the scary stuff in. But now, I’ve learned that fear is just false facts and when I found that searching for the truth triumphs–my anxiety was shit out of luck.

However, it still occasionally pops up. That’s the thing about anxiety. With all the therapy and tools you can learn, your brain still thinks the negative thoughts from time to time. They don’t just vanish–it’s just I have new ways to handling them when they’re here.

I have fears, and from that comes expectations that are rigid and unrealistic. When I explained all this to my therapist, she stopped me and nonchalantly said (as she always does):

“Erica, don’t make it ‘good enough.’ It’s already there. Take it for what it is right now.”

Now, I’ve heard high expectations spoken about in many different ways, but this was a first for me. Don’t make it good enough. That really hit me. That’s exactly what I do.

I sit, fester, and obsess over little details until they are deemed “good enough.” Not even for me first, but for the other people in my life. For family, friends, coworkers. When I’m so focused on it feeling “right” and “perfectly fitting”  into my life, I’m missing moments where I could be present.

And that’s the most frustrating thing of all about anxiety. It keeps you caught up in your own little lies, making you miss what could be a truly wonderful moment. One that is good enough all on its own, without anyone’s permission.

This is constantly something I work on, and this new affirmation from my therapist is what I can repeat to myself when I feel the fear and need for expectation creep up into my bones.

No need to find what is good enough, it’s already there. It just is. 

 

Do you have overly high expectations, or a fear that something isn’t good enough? Share your thoughts in the comments! 

What I’ve Learned About Dating

I say this every time, but it really has been awhile since I’ve written anything on this blog. For the past few months, I haven’t felt motivated to write much of anything. There have been so many shifts in my personal life – with my friendships, family – that I’ve been taking the time to process those and honestly, that takes all of the energy out of me.

However, I got a message from a follower on my Instagram asking where my blog posts were, and it made me realize that this is my first love. This is my passion, and it also has always helped me to heal – why not go back to it?

Around five months ago, I was broken up with for the third time. Relationships haven’t ever been easier for me. I’ve always felt like “too much,” and that I’m bothering the person I’m with. I thought this more recent person was much different, more authentic, but it turned out that he wasn’t ready to for a real, adult relationship. So, I am single again and with that comes a lot of self-realization, and dating. 

Since I’ve been around the block three times now, I thought I would share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Here’s a little guide on how I navigate dating with anxiety! 

***Also, I’ll be including GIFs into my post because they are fun and I love them. That is all. 

Alone time is essential 

Alone does not mean lonely. Repeat that as many times as you need to to actually believe it. Just because you are alone, without a partner right now, does not mean you have to feel lonely. 

If you aren’t used to it, is being consistently alone difficult? Of course. It’s not something you will get used to overnight. After one of my exes broke up with me, I remember calling my dad and sobbing, afraid to go to sleep because I knew I would wake up in the morning alone. I still remember what he said to this day: “Erica, morning will come no matter what you are afraid of.” 

And he was right, morning still came. I woke up crying, but I was still okay. There are no set steps to being comfortable with alone time, it’s just something you have to sit down and do. Sit with it, and eventually it will start to feel good. 

Now, I cherish my time alone. I’m beyond grateful that I took the time and learned to love hanging out with myself because guess what? I’m fucking fun. As an added bonus, learning to enjoy your own time does wonders for your self worth, and will make for an even healthier relationship when you do find someone in the future. Give it a try. 

You don’t have to be dating if everyone else is 

I’ve been here, believe me. I was literally just here. Let me tell you, peer pressure is alive and well at 27, it’s kind of crazy. 

I don’t really go out much anymore, but when I do – a lot of the time, my friends are on dating apps. Which is totally fine and I respect my friends for putting themselves out there, they deserve to find someone. However, sometimes it can lead me to think that since they are on it, and talking about it as a group, that I need to be on it as well.

When we see others doing something as a group, the pull to feel included is strong. The harder thing to do is self-evaluate. Do I actually want to be on dating apps, or is this just because everyone else is and I want to be part of the discussion? 

It’s been something I’ve been learning on a case by case basis, but I’ve definitely done it. If the dating apps aren’t working for you, get off of them. Don’t sign onto something that makes you feel less than, or anxious. If you have healthy, supportive friends they will understand. I have incredibly genuine and supportive friends that have told me it’s okay if I’m not ready. I’m thankful to have them around. 

Trust your gut 

Listen when something feels off. That’s your intuition warning you that you’re maybe going down a path not quite right, for right now. My whole dating history, I’ve been very dismissive of my intuition. She senses that something is amiss, trying to prepare me emotionally for what is to come, and I just chalk it up to anxiety or thinking something is always going wrong. But, it’s a different feeling than anxiety. It’s strong, and it’s true.

If you decide to go on Tinder or Bumble, make sure that it feels right. If you get that ping in your gut telling you you need a little more time, that’s okay. If you go on a dating app, talk to other people, and then realize that you don’t want to continue, need more time – that’s okay too. If you don’t get that gut feeling and you’re comfortable with putting yourself out there, that’s okay too. Go get that cake if you’re ready, I say.

There is no perfect time to become self-aware. It might not be convenient, but it’s always worth it to be honest with where you’re at, and to be honest with the other person. Don’t just ghost them, tell them. Explain to them – in whatever comfort level you feel – that you might have thought now was a good time for you to put yourself out there, but turns out it’s not. It’s that simple. I’ve learned both from experience and from the sage advice of my therapist and friends, that people respect authenticity and honesty in dating. It might be awkward, but leave it on a good note. Be true to you. If the other person doesn’t respect that – and I’ve gotten that before too – that is their issue to work out. You’ve spoken your truth, and to be real, it’s a serious red flag if someone can’t respect your decision and ability to say no. Good riddance. 

Take baby steps 

One day at a time. Being alone, or “single” isn’t about finding the one, or the *next* one. The purpose isn’t just a chunk of time meant to search for a soulmate – it’s your life. Take the time to search for who you are, fall in love with each and every part of what makes you, you. The good, bad, confusing, scary parts that no one pays attention to, claps for, understands, or sees on a daily basis. The more you understand you, the more you can show others how to understand – and treat – you. 

Now, I am not a believer in this idea that you have to “love yourself in order to be loved.” That is complete bullshit. Most people with mental illness do not love themselves each and every day. It’s a constant battle to see our worth, but I will say that the more you dig deep down and meet every part of yourself– the more bright your light shines. So bright that the right person – or people – won’t be able to take their eyes off of it. 

You are worthy of being alone and enjoying you, and you are more than deserving of sharing your life with someone who loves, understands, and wants to grow – together. Confront the fear of being on your own, don’t settle for less. Right now, someone you haven’t met is out there wondering what it would be like to meet you. Don’t lose hope, take care of yourself, your time will come. 

A Look Inside Anxiety Erica

A few months back, my good friend Grace interviewed me for a project she was doing. She wrote an article surrounding a creative person and I was seriously honored–and maybe a little terrified–that she chose me.

Once I had finished answering her questions, she sent me what she wrote and I’ll admit it, I was in tears. Grace has such a way with words, a way of describing the very spirit of someone’s soul that I felt so grateful to be seen by her. Here’s her article below:

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“I threw out my back skiing in ’88. Never been the same since. Going to physical therapy now actually. 1988, that was one hell of a winter.”

“Yeah, just heading to my gyno again. You know, lady stuff going on down there that needs to get taken care of!”

“Can’t wait until these kids are 16 and can drive themselves. I have to pick them up from school, take one to tennis, one to saxophone lessons, get the dog from daycare…You know the routine.”

These are some classic lines you may have told your co-workers as you leave early on Wednesday, like you do every Wednesday, for your weekly therapy session.

Whether its a sense of shame, embarrassment, or denial, many people hesitate to tell others that they are seeing a therapist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist. But not Erica Arvanitis.

Erica, 26, is a proud ginger, a dog-mom, a puzzle maven, and take-no-prisoners, speak-your-truth, writing warrior. Her blog, Anxiety Erica, chronicles her journey with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and shares the stories of others living with mental illness.

I met Erica when I was living in San Diego. She was a recent hire to the company I worked at and, truth be told, she was pretty hyper and an oversharer. Despite her incessant peppiness, we became friends and I soon saw that underneath all the enthusiasm, there was an awkwardness, a desire to connect, and a cocktail of insecurities, emotions, and fear. By all means, this was the ideal recipe for a starving artist but Erica loved avocados too much to ever go that route. So, instead, with a little bit of nudging from moi, she started therapy.

It was in therapy that she was diagnosed with GAD and was encouraged to express herself to others, not in energetic bursts of conversation, but on paper. Erica lived in a studio where the walls were lined with books and she never left home without the latest read in her bag, so turning to paper to help her deal with GAD simply made sense.

A year into therapy, she decided to share what she had written with the rest of the world and Anxiety Erica was created.

Now two years into therapy, Anxiety Erica serves as an platform to help herself heal and reflect on her own setbacks and discoveries. And while therapy is the main impact in her writing, she feels that connecting with her audience is something that both improves her writing and her own journey with GAD.

“I write about mental health because not only is it important to bring up, but because I know what it is like to feel alone. When I was first diagnosed with GAD, I felt like I was the only person in the world suffering through it,” Erica said when I got ahold of her to chat. “From writing for this blog and connecting with the people I have, it’s so clear there is a wonderful community that’s sprouted from such pain. If I can make just one person feel less alone in their journey, it’s all been worth it.”

Becoming a mental health author has also pushed her into becoming an advocate fighting against the stigmas around mental illness. Her “Works in Progress” series gives others the chance to share their own stories, both triumphant and not, of living with mental illness. She believes intertwining their tales with her own will help more people see they don’t suffer alone and will help combat stigmas by showing the diversity and breadth of people who struggle with their mental health.

Both Erica’s writing and advocacy have grown thanks to her readers. Many readers have brought up crucial topics that she might not have thought of and they help give new points of views that she never would have understood without them. But, she admits, her willingness to write honestly about her life has taught her some lessons in boundaries and how to balance sharing and recognizing when it’s okay to keep something only for yourself.

Erica is still pretty hyper, I think that just comes with the package, but she no longer fits the profile of the starving artist. Since starting therapy and writing her truth, her awkwardness has turned into elegance both on and off the page, she no longer strives to connect but does so every day through her words, and she has learned how to turn insecurities into confidence, how to examine her emotions, and how to face fear. Avocado in hand, she is a healthy artist which is a cliche that I’m much more keen to idolize and follow.

Erica knows that people aren’t as open as she about their mental health or even about attending therapy as she is. “I’m not ashamed…Therapy is still seen as something shameful to others, embarrassing, or like you ‘need help,’” she said with a Liz Lemon-style eyeroll. “But what if I do? It’s okay to reach out, it’s perfectly okay to need help. We can’t do it all and therapy is there to support us in our own self discovery.”

Thank you for seeing me as I am and writing such beautiful words. I’m proud to know you and I love you. 

 

If you want to read about climbing, mental health and her adventures in Utah, go follow Grace at @gracexplorations

Post Therapy Thoughts // Time To Trust Myself

Hi, friends. It’s been awhile. Man, I’ve missed you all. It’s been a whirlwind start to 2018, but it certainly hasn’t been what I thought it would be.

I’ve learned – and unlearned – so many important lessons. I got into a new relationship, and recently, things ended with that relationship. I was broken up with again, but this time it was very different.

In the past, when I’ve been broken up with, I react in pure, overwhelming sadness and grief. I’m a sobbing mess. I think it’s all my fault. That I’m the burden causing this surprising end.

This time, I felt anger. Pure, healthy anger. Wanna know why? Because I did absolutely NOTHING wrong. I was blindsided, and it wasn’t anything I could have done. He wasn’t ready to be in a mature, grown up relationship with someone else, so he skipped out. It’s as simple as that.

As I described to my therapist the night of my breakup, she became more and more proud of me. I’m not used to being direct or confronting my anger, so this was a giant step forward for me

I realized, I’m proud of me too. I’m proud that I didn’t automatically think it was my fault, or that I’m such a burden for having my insecurities or anxiety.

We then unpacked my intuition. Normally, I get a sense when things aren’t going how they usually do. Since I’m an empath, I can get effected by the smallest shifts in emotional behavior. Sometimes, these shifts are so tiny, the people themselves might not even know they are doing them.

But, time and time again – I feel them. Loud and clear. So, when I sensed them in my now ex-boyfriend, I asked him if something was wrong. He kissed my hand, and said everything was fine. This is where my anger started. 

Since I was told everything was fine on that front, I took the “this is my anxiety” path. The one where I go to therapy and unpack why I’m picking at my seemingly fine relationship. I told my ex boyfriend this as well, so he listened as I explained to him my anxiety with this, and let me be misguided. Let me stay anxious about something that was to become my reality. I don’t deserve that. From now on, I need to trust those instincts and let them lead my decisions.

I was disrespected by him, and that’s where the next key point comes in. This is now the third time I’ve been broken up with, and it’s never easy. Yes, I’ll freely admit that I’m always the one being broken up with, but it’s because I put up with a lot of bullshit from my partners.

I’ve recently come to the realization that, in my past, I’ve dated people with addictive behaviors. People that consistently prioritize their addictive behavior before me, and as a result, they are emotionally immature.

When this third breakup happened, I was pissed but when I finally called my friend to tell her, I started crying and said, “Why won’t anyone stay?” 

I told my therapist this and her reply was,

“It’s time to stop thinking no one will stay, and start picking the people who are capable of the long haul.”

Because she’s right. I’ve been settling and tolerating a good deal of bullshit because – in the end – I’m afraid they will leave. And honestly, I have that fear because it happens, and it happened in my childhood. All men did was leave.

But, the time for tolerating is over. The time where I thought I didn’t deserve a higher quality in men is cancelled.

Based on this extremely empowering and productive therapy session, here are my new affirmations:

I am worthy of my own trust.

do not have to tolerate disrespect or something I am not comfortable with in any relationship – I deserve better.

I am loving and worthy of unconditional love.

 

No more forgiving because I’m afraid they will leave. Let them leave. If they don’t want to stay, they aren’t meant for me in the first place. I deserve someone authentic, kind and willing to put in the work for the long haul. Nothing less.

 

What lessons have you learned from a breakup? Share your story 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! 

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

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

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

 

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

 

Morgan Stinson 

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

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

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

 

Sanna

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

Works in Progress // Kimberly

Struggling with depression since she was just 12 years old, Kimberly quit her job of 13 years in a major episode of mania. It wasn’t until she spent time both in jail and a mental institution that the time had come to get help.

Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I, Kimberly has learned that sometimes family can be the company of close friends. Refusing to let the lack of family support stop her recovery, this brave woman inspires others through her work. Writing a novel entitled It’s My Life and I’ll Cry If I Want Too: The Diary of a Bipolar Woman. read Kimberly’s journey below. 

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Name: Kimberly

Age: 50

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

My life was pretty up and down before I experienced mental health symptoms. I had a lot of mood swings and what I now know of manic behavior. However, I did manage to graduate from high school and I obtained a good job with the federal government as a civil service employee. I am a 50 year old African American woman and I have lived in San Diego, California most of my life. I experienced a lot of depression from the time I was 12 years old. I experienced mania that made me impulsive and sometimes reckless with my behavior. I quit my job of 13 years in a bout of mania and tried to take my life or self-harm on several occasions. I divorced twice and my life was in a state of chaos. When I finally went to the doctor, I was 28 years old. Initially, I was diagnosed with clinical depression and two years later, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder I. 

 

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

I was quite happy to get the diagnoses, but I was confused and didn’t know what to expect in my life going forward. I took my medication as prescribed and managed to live for a few years symptom free. It took me many years to find my acceptance. It wasn’t until I spent five months in jail and one month in a state mental institution did I begin to accept my illness. However, in an intensive outpatient behavioral health program, I learned that I could find peace and a sense of normalcy in my life.

 

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

Recovery today is beautiful. I live a lifestyle that embraces recovery. I practice coping skills everyday through lots of things. I like to read and write and I use a lot of pet therapy with my two year old puppy Emma. I practice good eating and sleeping habits and I am an author today. Initially, my family was afraid of me and did not want anything to do with me because of my challenges. Fortunately, I had some good friends that only wanted to know how they could help. I embraced them and found a good support group.

 

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

One piece of advice that I’d give myself today would be not to allow a lack of family support to stop me. I learned the hard way that help and support is available in many forms. There are helplines, Outpatient Programs, support groups, doctors and nurses who have all helped me in my journey in one way or another.

It’s hard still for my community to accept a mental health diagnoses. Some of them don’t believe that it is legitimate. Most believe that I just need more of God and that he can heal me if I wanted him to. Despite this, I have worked diligently to educate my peers though community work. I currently speak for NAMI’s In Our Own Voice program and I am a recent author. The name of my book is It’s My Life and I’ll Cry If I Want Too: The Diary of a Bipolar Woman. I hope to inspire others to tell their stories and not to be ashamed of some of the things that come along with mental illness.

 

 

 

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

Post Therapy Thoughts // Emotional Reactivity

When I headed into therapy tonight, my heart was feeling different emotions. The state of our country is in complete chaos. Hurricanes, earthquakes, and now a massive shooting in Las Vegas. While I was confused and in pain from all of this death, I had a lot to discuss with my therapist in my own personal life.

The events in Las Vegas stirred some panic and anxiety within me, due to a loved one living in the area. When I found out that she was safe and sound, my fear subsided, but the anxiety did not lessen. I ended up in an argument with another family member over issues somewhat related and regardless of their topic – it was triggering.

I was berated and attacked over the phone, even after I spoke my own truth on the matter. Months ago, my therapist helped me figure out a little trick for when you are unable to handle a conversation over the phone, but don’t want to trigger someone else by just hanging up. She taught me to clearly state – and if you have to speak over the person when they are yelling, do it – that you are done speaking to them about this, and you will give them a call later. For me, it’s usually in less words, but it gets the message across. It’s a win-win – they understand your boundary and you practice enforcing it.

There is normally a level that my arguments with certain family members get to where I know that I’ll have to use this tactic. That happened in this situation. I was direct, spoke my truth on the matter and then I was met with defensiveness and anger. When it reached a level I was no longer able to handle mentally, I clearly stated so and hung up.

In hearing this, my therapist looked at me proudly. She told me how happy she was to hear that I stood in my truth, and didn’t let the words of someone else affect me so deeply. She said that because she remembers how I used to be.

Just about a year ago, this would not have been how I handled a scenario like that. I would have responded with emotional reactivity linked to codependency, which more information can be found on here.

Essentially, it means that instead of speaking my truth and actively letting the thoughts and feelings of others go, I would spiral into them. Spinning endlessly and feeling like my feet would never hit the ground, I would ruminate and let it ruin my entire night. Still allowing myself to feel all of the anxiety and emotion within someone else entirely.

Here’s a better definition of reactivity: 

“If someone says something you disagree with, you either believe it or become defensive. You absorb their words, because there’s no boundary. With a boundary, you’d realize it was just their opinion and not a reflection of you and not feel threatened by disagreements.”

Instead of protecting my own mental health, I would let myself be consumed by the need to help people understand. To just get them to see my point of view. It didn’t matter how much of my time it took, how deeply it pierced my heart, or how it skyrocketed my anxiety – I keep getting caught in the cycle.

Nowadays, I can proudly say I get a gold star in positive, direct emotional reactivity. Well, at least that’s what my therapist tells me. Achieving massive growth in that category, it’s incredibly empowering to know that a lack of understanding in others no longer has the same affect on me.

When I’m confronted by these type of people – loved ones or not – I go through this neat little four step plan my therapist and I created:

Listen + engage – When starting off any conversation, it’s important to hear the person out and allow them to state their truth, so they can – hopefully – let you do the same. Engage if and when you feel comfortable and it is necessary.

Speak my truth – When allowed in the conversation, clearly state your own truth. There is no outline for how this is supposed to sound – speak from the heart, be direct and vulnerable. If they don’t react well, that is not on you.

Assess the emotional reaction of the conversation – Once you’ve spoken your truth, there are several different ways a person can react. Listen and assess how they have responded, whether it’s from a place of understanding, empathy and respect or anger, blame and defensiveness. 

React accordingly – If they react in the first way stated above, then you’re golden. They are clearly healthy in their boundaries and respect your truth. If not, and you are being bombarded by anger and projection – establish your boundary and display healthy emotional reactivity. This can look different too. While my way is stating I cannot talk anymore and hanging up, yours might be redirecting the conversation to another subject or clearly stating you don’t want to talk about this any longer. Do what is right for you in the moment, but don’t be afraid to create boundaries. 

 

I’m so proud of how far I’ve come in this specific area of codependency and establishing clear, healthy boundaries. I cannot state how important it is to protect our mental health and our hearts. Do not allow the thoughts and feelings of others consume you – speak your truth and move on. It’s not our responsibility to show everyone exactly how we feel. Most aren’t listening. Cut it off and let it go.

 

 

 

Do you have trouble with healthy emotional reactivity? Share your thoughts in the comments below! 

 

 

Post Therapy Thoughts // Understanding Codependency

Heading into my session, I had something weighing on me, and it wasn’t until I sat down and blurted it out that I realized it was affecting me so much. Over the weekend, I had found out some disturbing updates on a former boyfriend and while he hasn’t been in my life in years, I was worried about him.

Discussing it in more detail, I explained to my therapist just how concerned I was and how I felt compelled to reach out and help. With this blog and writing about mental health on a daily basis, I truly believe that I’ve started to lead with my heart more. I care unconditionally.

In the middle of my story, my therapist suddenly said, “that’s codependency.” And it hit me. That’s what it is.

Let me be clear, codependency is not equivalent to kindness. It is in my personality to be caring and kind, but what my therapist explained was that codependency feeds off of this quality.

It pulls you in, weighs you down. A whirlwind, hurricane swirl of that intense desire to be needed by another human. To make an impact in someone’s life. Their choices, their self worth.

Most people have this notion that codependency means you’re “addicted” to each other in a relationship, but it can mean that you’re addicted to helping. Always the cheerleader, encourager, or even mother in any relationship, you are the healer. They come to you for solace, comfort, and contentment.

My overwhelming desire to help others has always led me down a difficult path when it comes to relationships and men. Picking slightly broken people with addictive personalities, I believe I subconsciously had the desire to be needed, to help others heal. It was in this session that I learned I need to let that feeling fade.

My therapist truly understood my emotions, because with her own profession, she wants to help everyone heal – but she can’t. I can’t help everyone, she says. People like her and I, who fully understand how rewarding and fulfilling the other side of pain can be, just want others to see it too but sometimes, they don’t. She went on to describe how frustrating and emotional it can be to see someone’s self worth and have them be so blind to it, and that struck a cord with me.

I just want him to see his worth. That’s what I immediately thought. My previous boyfriend wasn’t the best boyfriend I’ve ever had, but he’s a good person. He has worth, more than he knows. More than anything in the world, my codependency wanted to help him realize his meaning, his purpose but in reality, I have no control over whether he sees it.

Realizing my hurt and confusion over this new notion, my therapist told me how she handles it.

“Once we get to a level where we can no longer affect change with another person, we must learn to trust in something bigger than ourselves. I pray, but it can be anything you feel comfortable doing – meditation, sending out positive vibes, etc. Let go and let the universe take over.”

These words not only gave me comfort, they made me feel like I was doing something for him, anything. While it might be small, I truly believe that sending out positive energy of love, self worth, and kindness can have an affect on that person.

I’m still struggling with the realization, but it’s crucial that we embrace this concept that we cannot help everyone. Even my close friend, who is also a healer in her personality, told me that it’s important to know when to step back and heal ourselves. Learning to protect our hearts rather than pour them out to others can be more beneficial than sharing it with someone who is deaf to the impact. My therapist gave me a list of books with topics surrounding codependency, and I plan on researching them and reading a few. I’ll be sure to give you all updates on those!

Let’s save our strength and compassion for the right people, and for ourselves. We can’t help everyone, but we can control how we use our kindness towards others. 

 

 

 

Do you have issues with codependency? Share your thoughts in the comments below!