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 // 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! 

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. 

Anxiety Art // What’s Your Animal?

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

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

What’s your anxiety animal?

 

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

Stephanie Kenzie 

Anxiety Spirit animal Steph Kenzie

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

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

 

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

Alisa Briski 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Works in Progress // Sanya

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

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

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

 

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Name: Sanya Singh

Age: 25

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

  

 

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

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

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

 

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

Do not give up. Things actually can get better.

 

 

 

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

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! 

Works in Progress // Beata

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

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

 

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

Age: 44

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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