Category Archives: Anxiety

My Mom, Me, & PTSD By Courtney Blake

Mental illness has always been familiar to me. My mom has lived with depression and anxiety for the majority of her life. There were days she wouldn’t get out of bed, but would remain curled up with her tattered red robe, with a pillow over her head. My sister and I learned to play quietly enough to not disturb her, and managed many of our daily tasks on our own.

After years of therapy, medication management, and self-exploration, I am proud to say my forty-one year old mother is happy, and recently married her boyfriend of eight years. It took her a very long time to get here.She had always told me and my sister, that she didn’t want us to end up like her; a teenage mother with only a high school degree, stuck in a toxic relationship, and a job she hated. We vowed we would do better.

When I began exhibiting symptoms of depression at age fifteen, I approached my dad with my concerns, not wanting to worry my mom. He responded by claiming I wasn’t crazy like her. After that, I hid in my darkness for awhile. Things got significantly better when I left my dad’s house my senior year of high school to move in with my mom and her boyfriend full-time. My mom helped me find a therapist to see regularly, wherein I began to unpack my anxiety, depression, and my father’s abusive tendencies. My mom never shamed me for needing extra help, and she and her boyfriend provided an open, engaging, and often dysfunctional environment. I began planning my future, excitedly and mostly thrived, only to be taken down by boy issues

The summer after I graduated from high school, I was put on my first SSRI, Zoloft. I never felt shame about being on meds, since my mom had always referred to her anti-depressants as her “happy pills,” therefore normalizing them. I followed suit and was convinced I would get through this. I knew I had a solid support system and endless ambition.

Everything changed.

Just a few weeks into my first year at the University of Minnesota, on September 20, 2013, I was raped by a fellow classmate. He got me alone in my dorm room that afternoon to watch a movie. I said no repeatedly, I tried to start an argument to shift the mood, and finally I felt like I gave in. I’ve written about my first rape extensively on my own blog, because almost three and a half years later, this affects my life every single day.

I can’t even describe how disgusting I felt after the assault. I had cleaned every inch of my dorm room and scrubbed my vulva until I believed there was no evidence of him on me. I waited a week to report this to my school. I waited nine days to tell my mom. I felt like telling her I had been raped would disappoint her, and it would make my rape real. I was working through my mental illnesses and a breakup with my high school sweetheart; I  felt I had enough on my plate.

When I told my mom, I was relieved. She and I cried over the phone. She asked me why I didn’t tell her sooner, and I just sobbed harder. She attended my post-rape checkup the following day, and held my sweaty palms in her hands while I went through the re-traumatizing process of reporting my rape to the University. She reaffirmed that she was there for me, and that I could lean on her.

My perpetrator was ultimately found responsible for violating the Student Code of Conduct, and was sanctioned with mandatory counseling sessions, an essay on consent, and one year of academic probation. He violated my body, and didn’t even receive a slap on the wrist. I was told I could appeal the sanctions, but was discouraged from doing so.

I felt like my life and my world had ended. I felt so much shame for not throwing him out of my dorm room, for not screaming, for not saving evidence to report to the police. My advocate at the Aurora Center, a center for victims of sexual and domestic violence, gave me words of encouragement; she told me the two common stress responses of fight or flight did not include the incredibly legitimate response of freeze.

After my assailant’s sanctioning, I felt pressured to return to normal life. I became hypersexual and had sex with many men, settling with a boy who would distract me from my pain. I missed classes often, fearing I’d run into my assailant. I didn’t  understand the severity of panic I felt whenever encountering him. I don’t know how I made it out of that semester alive, but I persisted. The only positive thing I can remember is being introduced to my mentor in the journalism school. They had been my TA in a class, and I greatly admired them. After the semester ended, they disclosed they too had a history with sexual violence. I don’t know why I never expected people I practically idolized to be immune to trauma. They began to make me feel I was not alone.

Spring semester was worse. I had no understanding of my emotions, thoughts, and behavior. I couldn’t acknowledge this trauma had changed me. I occasionally had counseling sessions with a grad student at the university. She was kind, and listened to me talk about my life, but she would cry during our sessions. I began to believe I was too dark, too strange, and too much for the rest of the world. I rarely attended classes. Instead, I curled up on my boyfriend’s futon all day, watching West Wing on my laptop. He noticed. Since the primary thing bringing us together was sex, we lost our connection. He broke up with me the day after Valentine’s Day.

I didn’t have a distraction anymore. I wallowed, I self-isolated and self-harmed. I began to plan my suicide. I felt like a burden to everyone. I knew someone who could easily provide pills I could use to overdose. On February 25, 2014, I mentioned in my pre-counseling session survey that I was dealing with suicidal ideation. My counselor confronted me on this, and when I told her I needed her to make the decision on my hospitalization, she called my mom to pick me up and take me to the hospital.

My mom bought me lunch before. She was stoic, and she spoke to me calmly, but I could see her red, puffy eyes and the tear stains running down her face. I was only in the hospital for a few hours. I promised I wouldn’t hurt myself if I was under my mom’s care. I couldn’t ever do that to her. Per the psychiatrist’s request, I moved back home, I withdrew from school, and I began an outpatient day treatment program, and returned to the therapist I’d seen my senior year of high school.

I worked through all my therapy, because my life depended on it. I was finally given a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but had basically no knowledge of how PTSD really functioned. I hated that I wasn’t in school, and felt like I was being held back. By May, I had convinced myself I was fine, and enrolled in a class for the summer, taught by my mentor. I loved the class and felt like my normal self again. For my final project, I wrote a blog post disclosing publicly that I had been sexually assaulted  and I created YouTube video to go along with it.  I received an overwhelming amount of support from my classmates and others after I went public. People from all over the country were reaching out to tell me I wasn’t alone.

I returned to school full-time in the fall. On September 13, 2014, seven days before the anniversary of my first assault, I was drugged at a party, abandoned by my friends, and raped again. I found out what had happened over Facebook. An acquaintance told me I got drunk and had sex with some guy, but the guy seemed nice so it didn’t matter. Then I saw a photo of most of my clothing and puke, with a caption mocking the girl who had had sex in their bedroom and threw up everywhere, wanting to hold them accountable. Since most of my belongings were at this house, I had my roommate call my mom.  I was drowning in my own tears and panic. I kept screaming “this can’t happen again” repeatedly. My roommate stayed with me until my mom picked me up. She brought me to the hospital for a rape kit and stayed by my side, hugging me as I cried.

Police interviewed me. The first thing they asked was “how do you know anything even happened?” I stopped crying, gave them a quick anatomy lesson, only to be dismissed. An investigator was assigned to my case. He barely made time for me, and I did not have the energy to fight this alone. I didn’t know who raped me and whether or not they were on my campus. My mom fought for me. She made remarks that Ice-T could do a better job than my investigator. By early October, the Minneapolis Police Department declined to press charges, so I assumed the case was closed and I could at least find out the name of my perpetrator. The police department fought me at every turn. My mom and I got in contact with the head of the Sex Crimes Unit, who told me he would not feel responsible for me feeling victimized. Police officers told a journalist off the record, that I had been on antipsychotics, had a psychotic break, had consensual sex and just didn’t remember it.

On campus, I was often harassed by my second perpetrator’s friends. My friends would continue to go to that house for parties, or spend time around those people and would attend parties at my first rapist’s fraternity. They threw me a birthday party and  invited two people who lived in the house and had never acknowledged what what had occurred in their home. I couldn’t even begin to explain my frustration and how little I began to feel about myself. Rape me once, shame on you. Rape me twice, shame on me. I began getting drunker than I normally would while going out. I had sex with many men. I consumed what I could to make me feel less empty inside.

Eight months after my initial police report, an investigator from the University of Minnesota Police Department contacted me, claiming my perpetrator had assaulted someone else. I finally had a name of my assailant. This investigator had my case transferred to him, and went back to the beginning. He re-interviewed everyone and discredited their stories. He submitted his findings to a prosecutor, who declined to press charges. I felt broken. I felt like my rape wasn’t violent enough to really be considered rape. I developed incredibly complicated feelings while seeing other victim-survivors I cared about receive some sense of justice. Resentment boiled inside me, against my will and I tried every day to challenge it. Some days, resentment wins. 

I dropped out of the University of Minnesota for good, in the fall of 2015. What I had once considered to be my campus, had become a place where an assailant’s education mattered more than a victim’s. I brought bad press to the university and I know the administration was happy to see me gone.

My mom supported my decision, as she always did. She told me she just wanted me to be well. I began EMDR with a therapist I was seeing, but wasn’t stable enough to focus on it as much as I would’ve liked. Without school, I worked part-time in retail. I felt unfulfilled. I entered a relationship that turned toxic very quickly and has created issues between me, my family and my friends. In October, 2016, I moved back to my mom’s house after a breakdown. I have felt like a disappointment. I know I have hurt my mom. She has become exasperated, claiming she doesn’t know what to do with me, and expressing her fears that I might never be a functioning adult. She has on more than one occasion threatened to make me homeless. This isn’t the relationship I am used to.

The best explanation I’ve been able to give my mom, in an effort to repair our relationship, was to talk about what PTSD has done to me. I wrote her a letter, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to have this conversation without bursting into tears. I told her being diagnosed with PTSD is like being diagnosed with a brain tumor. It alters your brain function, which is even visible on brain scans. Healthcare providers don’t always have enough information to cure it. Progress in treatment isn’t always linear. Recovery is a fight for your life.

I’ve begun looking into PTSD from more of a research standpoint. I know what my triggers are and I understand I was traumatized. I need to begin to understand how this has affected me neurologically, so I can be fully armed to fight this. I completed another 3 month bout of outpatient therapy and am seeing an individual therapist weekly, and seeking out support groups of other victim-survivors. I don’t quite know where I’ll go from here, but I’m not going down without a fight.

14572800_10210864932088967_4919062629177437705_nCourtney Blake is a twenty-something writer and aspiring advocate for victim-survivors of sexual violence. She is hoping to finish her Bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Mass Communications within the next few years so she can move onto her Master’s degree. In her spare time, she bakes, tweets her sometimes controversial pop culture opinions, and enjoys having full conversations with her cat, Bingley.

Courtney Blake can be found on her blog and Twitter

Lindsay Bissett – Anxiety Blog

The rock. The warm hug. The one you call. The one who would listen. The one who didn’t judge. That was me.

I wasn’t a person with mental illness. I was a person who had friends with mental illness. Amazing, one of a kind, incredible, motivating, strong friends that I loved and admired very much. I was a good friend and I was one of the lucky ones.

Until one day I wasn’t the lucky one anymore.

Several years ago, a series of unfortunate events occurred in my life which triggered the beginning of my journey with anxiety. This series of unfortunate events was nothing like the books by Lemony Snicket and were seriously lacking Neil Patrick Harris. I had handled tough times before, I was the person that could get through anything. I was the strong one, right? My story is about what happens when a strong person feels like they can’t be strong anymore but are called upon to be stronger than they’ve ever been. In my eyes, people who battle mental illness are like mystical phoenix birds. To rise, brighter and stronger, we must sometimes fight through crumbling ashes and times of darkness.

So, big ugly anxiety marches into my life and it has shitty timing. Not to worry, I had experience with mental illness, some of my best friends battled anxiety and depression, I read endless articles and supported them through their times of darkness, surely, I would be able to recognize this in myself and get help, right? Nope. I was in complete denial. Those same friends and my incredible spouse continually reached out to me and all I did was deny deny deny.

Now, I don’t want to talk any more about the stages of grief, (denial being one of them) although it’s a fascinating thing to look at if you’re interested, or about how long it took me to come to terms with having anxiety; I want to talk about what helped me. You can read a million articles about what anxiety feels like but I’m going to guess that if you’re reading this you already know what being in the dark feels like. What lit my fire and brought me back to life was talking about it. One day, finally, I caved. I told one friend. This was a big risk for me, I felt like I was exposing myself, my weakness, ugly anxiety was telling me constantly that no one cared, everyone would just think I was a whiner, people would turn their backs on me and I’d be more alone than ever. Luckily for me, my friend was an absolute hero. I really should have known she would be, why else had a chosen her as a friend? She embraced me both literally and figuratively. Then, I began to rise. I had proven to myself that not only was I not alone but anxiety was a liar.

Talking about anxiety was the best medicine for me. Once I admitted I was struggling, my spouse took on the task of learning everything he could about what I was experiencing; I slowly told more people and they helped share strategies on how I could build myself back up.

Today I still battle but I feel like I’ve have a whole tool kit of ways to stay burning. On days when I crumble into ash I am now able to hang on to a shred of hope -fire- that reassures me I can make it to the next day. In 2017 my friendships are strong; my marriage is something I am grateful for everyday and I eagerly await welcoming my first child in July. My message to anyone in the dark is that you are still you, you are not alone, anxiety is a liar and your fire lies in your hope and your story.

Twitter HeadshotLindsay is a formerly non-anxious person who learned to be anxious. She enjoys trying new foods, wines and places with her husband and two dogs. As well as advocating for mental health awareness, Lindsay is passionate about inclusion and poverty reduction. In her spare time Lindsay sits on the Board of Baobab Inclusive Empowerment Society in Surrey, BC Canada. 

Lindsay can be found on Twitter

 

14700920_1172435542850388_4181663310734351706_o

Nadya Hope

I am staring at the scissors in my hands and I am shaking. I am twelve and I don’t know that I can simply take the screen out of the window. I assume that I have to cut it away. I assume that even ending my pain will be difficult. I assume that I cannot do anything today without struggle. However, I am simply allotted more time to think through this moment.

I am shaking and crying, and I recognize that this is the moment when adults would advise me to call a suicide hotline or speak to a parent. I can’t do either. I don’t want to do either. I don’t want anyone to convince me otherwise. So I sit on the floor below my window sill and I hold the scissors in front of me like I am passing them to someone else; because, I don’t really want to die, I just don’t want to live, either.

In that moment, I didn’t know that I would decide to continue. In that moment, I didn’t know that I would decide to keep living and breathing and laughing and talking and making connections and breaking them and crying over them and wanting to die again later. I didn’t know that life would go on but at an alarming speed until I was bored. I didn’t know that the mornings I woke up feeling energized would be the mornings that everyone would suck the energy right out of me. I didn’t know that eating breakfast in the morning would hurt because suddenly, I wasn’t in control anymore, my hunger was.

I didn’t know that I would one day love someone enough to give birth to their baby nine months later, and I didn’t know that it would all go so poorly. I didn’t know that I would fight my own demons the way I fight with friends, I don’t. I didn’t know that I would be stopping on the side of a highway just to take a deep breath, or try to, at least; because, suddenly, I thought of a thought that I knew would make me upset, but I thought it anyways.

I didn’t know that I would be so terrified of love, but more terrified of being alone, so I’d chase it enough to be able to reject everyone else’s advances. I didn’t know that friends would feel so isolating. I didn’t know that family would feel so cold. I didn’t know that the damn suicide hotline lady would have such an attitude. I didn’t know that people could be so unsympathetic.

Back then I didn’t know that mirrors would be a bigger enemy to me than the skeletons in my closet, which is to say they were the same thing. I didn’t know that instead of lifting weights and eating healthy, I would simply stare in the mirror on an empty stomach, watching the fat fall away with the help of diet pills that had no business being in my system.

I didn’t know that instead of tattoos, I’d be getting scars on my arms like sleeves. I didn’t know that makeup would be so expensive. Better yet, I didn’t know that covering the stories on my arms would be so difficult. I didn’t know that people would be so curious to know about the reasons behind your mascara stains. I didn’t know that “I’m tired” would be a valid excuse for almost anything when you didn’t want to talk.

Back then, I didn’t know that I would get more excited about sneaking sleeping pills into a theater than food. I didn’t know that to sleep, I would need to blackout, but that experience is the first time I was ever taken advantage of. And they say that everyone makes it through somehow, but somehow, I’m still trying to end it all again like I’m twelve.

I didn’t know back then that I would put the scissors down only to lift the knife to stab my own back with it daily. I didn’t know that I would wake up only long enough to yell profanities in the mirror. I didn’t know that I would be okay as long as people reminded me why I shouldn’t be.

I didn’t know that

But right now, right here, today, I know that my scars are a story and my body is not a trash bin that fills up and looks better when it’s empty.  I know that mind is not the enemy and my heart is perfectly okay. I know that I will be okay.

Today, I put the scissors down. I lowered my voice and stepped away from the mirrors.

Today, I gave myself another chance. Today, I hope you will too.

14700920_1172435542850388_4181663310734351706_oNadya was adopted from Russia when she was eight and has struggled with depression and anxiety ever since. She has developed a passion for writing about these topics in her blog, “Where Is Hope” in the hopes of reaching someone else who may be struggling with the same things. Today, she is an aspiring author and poet, aiming every day to perfect her coffee brewing skills.

Nadya can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and her blog. 

steve-headshot-3

Steve Austin – What’s it Like to Feel Crazy?

What’s it Like to Feel Crazy?

The other day at work, I couldn’t take any more. I grabbed my water bottle and keys and followed the road near my office complex until it led me to the highway. For 45 minutes, I drove. Where I went didn’t matter. The trees blurred past my car windows just like the thoughts clouding my mind. At this speed, it was impossible to see any one tree or thought, but I could feel them, taunting me as I raced by. I was starving but I drove past one restaurant after another. Nothing sounded good, anyway.

Have you ever had a “crazy day”? One of those days where a thousand tiny things compound and before you know it, you need either a stiff drink or a straight jacket? I think we’ve all been there. Hard days aren’t anything new to me.

At the next intersection, I was hurting so bad. I stopped at the red light and leaned my head against the steering wheel, just for a moment. I wanted to cry. To shout a giant “fuck you” to everyone on the highway at that moment. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. The fast paced, hard to focus, overwhelming, racing and negative thoughts were clouding my mind and smothering me inside my car. I couldn’t catch my breath. The horn of the F-150 in my rearview mirror finally got my attention and I drove North, anxious, stressed, and angry. I had been just barely holding it together for two days.

Coming off one SSRI and starting another one sucks, and that’s what I’m doing now. Both medications are in the same “family”, according to the doctor, but it doesn’t matter. One SSRI may act one way and have a particular side effect, while another med in the same family may do something completely different to the same person. Even the exact same drug can be different in two different people. I hate feeling dependent, but I know that without them, my behavior might not be so even-keel.

There are days I feel like a science experiment, trying each med my doctor prescribes, hoping one of them will make life normal again. Sometimes the med works for a while and stops. Most recently this medication destroyed my libido. At thirty-four, no longer being able to connect with my wife sexually, adds mountains of shame on top of an already steaming pile of guilt. So I travel back to the doctor’s office for another humiliating visit and tell her just exactly what my side effects are.

#ThisIsWhatAnxietyFeelsLike

So we’re trying a new med. And we hope for different results. Hope: that’s a funny word. The Bible calls it the anchor of our souls, but all an anchor does it keep you from drowning. It does nothing to prevent the wind and waves from ripping your sails and smacking you around.

I tossed and turned all night, checking the clock at 11:40, 12:12, and every half-hour that followed. To add insult to injury, after drinking coffee for fifteen years, the doctor said it was making my anxiety worse. At my last visit, my blood pressure was higher than it’s ever been in my life. I’ve not had any coffee in a month. Today, in particular, I resent it.

The frustration and uncertainty piled up and came toppling down mid-morning.

I wanted to see my wife. I wanted to call my Momma or my Grandmother. I wanted to call a couple of different friends. But I was ashamed. When I am having a hard day my negative self-talk loves to tell me how crazy I am. That I’m a burden, unworthy of love. Words ran through my head like, “You’ll never see your dreams come true. You can’t even hold yourself together!” Shame and anxiety never fight fair. They attacked where it hurt the worst: belonging and acceptance. I felt helpless and stuck. I bought into the bullshit and ran with it today.

I screamed as I drove out of the parking lot. Partly at God and partly just for the hell of it. It didn’t necessarily make me feel better, but it made me take a deep breath. That was a start. I exhaled and finally realized I had been feeling vulnerable, exposed, and ashamed of my own mental illness for two solid days. I needed to give myself some space to breathe.

In the 45 minutes away from work and responsibility, I did just that, found my breath again. I allowed my emotions to cool a bit. In the Best Buy parking lot, I finally cried. And as hot tears poured down my face, I heard a different voice. The voice of grace, which sounds a lot like truth and patience and self-compassion. It reminded me that feeling crazy and being crazy are not the same thing. I slowed down long enough to recognize that my life wasn’t over, that there would be a purpose for this pain.

I had plenty of hard days before my suicide attempt. But afterward, I wondered if I would ever be a value-added member of any community again. I constantly struggled with my diagnosis, believing I would never feel normal again. I remember looking into my little boy’s innocent and curious blue eyes, pleading with God to save him from his own father. Wrestling with relationships was one of the hardest battles of all, but not nearly as difficult as wrestling with my faith. How can one feel faithful in light of depression and anxiety? The thing to remember is that the hard days after the attempt are no different than the hard days before the attempt. They are hard days. And sometimes they really suck.

Hard days are not different before or after the crisis has ended, but the person who attempted suicide is certainly different. They have tasted death. They’ve traveled to the bottom of the barrel and know what rock bottom feels like. For me, it was the latching of the large metal door, which locked me in the bowels of the hospital. Someone recovering from a suicide attempt knows what the end of the rope looks like. But they are still alive, still holding on, caught between secretly hoping the strands fray so they can die, or wishing their feet could just touch solid ground.

For me, the hard days still come, but I know what to do with them now. I’m able to recognize shame for what it is. I know to let the emotions wash in and recede, like a tide. I know there is an ebb and flow to life, even life that includes triggers and trauma. I have learned to no longer read my emotions as the only truth.

At the end of a hard day, I get back in the same car, but I am stronger for having faced my struggles head-on. I put the car in drive and I head home–to my safe place, my comfort zone, my support system–and I rest. Hard days will come again, but as I drive, I know those good days will come too.

*For more conversations around faith and mental health, check out the CXMH Podcast with Steve Austin and Robert Vore. A great place to start is Episode 2: The Power of Storytelling, with Sarah Fader of Stigma Fighters and Sarah Schuster of The Mighty.

steve-headshot-3

Steve Austin is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, From Pastor to a Psych Ward, plus Self-Care for the Wounded Soul, and The Writer’s Toolkit.

Steve can be found on his website, Facebook, and Twitter

IMG_0307

Karen Kaiser

Wrestling for Control of My Mental Health

Mental illness is a unique issue in that everybody has an opinion about what it is, how to treat it, the use/efficacy of medication, etc. Often, the person suffering doesn’t have a voice. In the past, I worked as a caretaker and nursing assistant for patients with physical illnesses; particularly cancer, diabetes, and kidney failure. I’ve also assisted people with neuropsychiatric diagnoses. There’s a distinct difference in the way we treat physical illnesses versus mental health issues. I believe this is due to the stigma attached to mental illness and a general lack of knowledge concerning the subject.

I’ve been dealing with mental health issues for so long that it’s hard to remember a time when I was healthy. I have bipolar disorder (bipolar 1), anxiety, ADHD and PTSD. At times I feel like a walking billboard for the DSM handbook. I was formally diagnosed in 2006, however I’ve been struggling since I was a teenager. I knew something was wrong in high school when I experienced repeated bouts of depression, mood issues and severe hypersensitivity. But at that time I had no name for what I was going through. I just thought I was different and somehow deficient. I was active in sports, had a close knit circle of friends and a supportive, loving home environment. Yet none of that shielded me from developing mental illness. That’s been the hardest for me to accept. Occasionally, I still feel as though all of this is my fault in some way.

Looking back on my college years, I see now that I was very troubled. I had extremely destructive coping mechanisms and no awareness of how my mental state affected my daily existence. I hit rock bottom during my last year of school. By that time, my lifestyle was wild and out of control. I didn’t care whether I lived or died at one point; I just wanted the pain to stop, and to find relief from the emptiness. I remember curling up on my bed in the dark one night and feeling the most alone I’ve ever felt. I knew things had to change or I wouldn’t make it. Soon after that I was introduced to Islam and eventually converted. I thought this was what I had been looking for and an answer to my problems. I was correct and mistaken at the same time. I did have a deep connection with Islam and knew I wanted to live according to this religious tradition, yet I was naïve in thinking I didn’t need to seek medical help for my psychiatric issues.

By 2006, I had a family of my own and was teaching at a private religious school in my area. I was studying in an intensive Quran memorization program and taught classes of my own, both during the week and on weekends. I thought everything was going great. But increasingly I noticed periods where I couldn’t function and I had trouble maintaining a sense of stability. I found a psychiatrist in my community with whom I discussed my concerns. He diagnosed me easily, as the symptoms were pretty textbook. I was ashamed but at the same time happy to have an answer about my mental health.

The initial response to my diagnosis was a superficial acceptance, that indeed something was wrong and I needed professional help. But quickly the tone shifted from one of understanding to blame and judgement. As my episodes became increasingly severe, people around me decided they knew what was happening with me better than my psychiatrist. They felt that mental illness had no place in a religious setting and that I needed to tap into my faith in order to heal. I was advised not to rely on Western medicine and that I simply needed to ‘toughen up’ and face my responsibilities as an adult. I listened to this advice despite my misgivings, and my illness got much worse, not better. After repeated episodes, meltdowns and unusual behavioral changes, I began to feel ostracized because of my instability. I finally decided to go to the hospital for treatment, as I recognized that I couldn’t handle this alone anymore.

This was the best decision I could have made and one that saved me. In the hospital I met so many people who knew exactly what was going on and how to help me. It took a long time and a lot of hard work, but I finally began to understand mental illness and how to proactively deal with my issues. After I completed a partial hospitalization program, I remember approaching the director of nursing for the psychiatric unit. In tears, I thanked him for his program, for giving me back my life and restoring my dignity. I told him that because of PHP, I had learned invaluable tools with which to handle my symptoms. And for the first time, I didn’t feel like mental illness was a curse that would ruin my life.

To this day, I still receive feedback on how to handle my diagnoses. Mostly from laypeople, well-meaning though they may be. But I’ve learned that the best way to address this situation is to listen to my body, and to my clinical team.

Tips for staying in the driver’s seat with your illness:
1. Always seek professional help and listen to the experts.
2. Know that it’s your right to deal with your health challenges in whatever way suits you best, not other people.
3. Never apologize for how you feel or accept being treated as ‘less than’ for having a mental illness.
4. Remember what they say about opinions 😉 and realize that when it comes to mental health, everyone truly does have something to say, helpful or not.
5. Find your tribe! I can’t say this enough. Find those who can relate to you and help you move forward despite any difficulties.
6. Trust yourself. Trust your intuition. This can be a struggle when your illness affects your thought process and overall mentality, yet it’s vital to your well-being.
7. Ignore the naysayers. At the end of the day, you are the only one facing your particular issue(s) and the effects on your life. Leave those who only want to tear you down for those who will lift you up and inspire you.
8. Advocate. Advocate. Advocate. For yourself and those in the mental health community. Your voice counts and your experience matters. Help yourself and others by speaking up and helping to combat stigma.
9. Be vocal and specific about your needs. People can’t help you if you don’t tell them exactly what will work for your situation. *You may need to be repetitive until they get it 🙂
10. Give yourself a break. Don’t beat yourself up when things aren’t going well; remember that ups and downs are a normal part of life, and it’s even more true with mental illness.

By focusing directly on how mental illness manifests in my life and by following my doctors’ lead, I’ve been able to not only function but actually thrive in spite of whatever obstacles I face. I wish the same for anyone with similar life tests.

IMG_0307I am an African American Muslim in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, learning to come to grips with mental illness and the role it plays in my life. I am an advocate for mental health issues in general, and more specifically for Muslims dealing with Mental Illness. My goal is to bring awareness to this subject and to do my part in erasing the the stigma surrounding this disease. I have 3 beautiful children who are my inspiration and my world.

Karen can be found on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

12095196_771444286297790_2719231150435317770_o

Sparklle Rainne

I had just transferred colleges and moved two states away. It felt like it’d be a comfortable environment, just four hours away from the town that I grew up in, but it wasn’t going to stay that way for long. The school was a dream come true, as far as administration and student accommodations went. It was awesome, considering the fact that my last college hadn’t even had a cafeteria. They even had a police station on campus, which I didn’t expect to need, but, unfortunately, it came in handy for me later.

Well, actually, it wasn’t that much later.

I had been in school for a solid week, but I had met a small group of people in the area prior to school starting. We were quickly becoming friends. They seemed fun and welcoming, laid back, a tight-knit circle of people that I felt like I could really get close to. One of the first things that I do when I move somewhere is look for friends. Despite having an anxiety disorder for my entire life and enduring sexual, physical, emotional, and verbal abuse as a child, I’ve always kept myself in the mindset of “most people are good.” Something that I had always wanted was a tight-knit group of friends. We had been hanging out for about a month and I really felt like we were going to be close.

One of the guys in the group liked me. I had turned him down and asked to just be friends, which I thought he respected. He knew that I had been abused as a child and that I am abstinent. This experience was very recent, so as I write this, I’m having a hard time deciding how much to share. This all builds up to one night – the night that he slipped something in my drink. It was a Saturday night and a few of us were hanging out. The previous Thursday, we had all hung out and things seemed as innocent as they could possibly be.

I blacked out entirely that night and do not remember much. I came to for a clear (yet quick) few seconds while vomiting and screaming for him to get off of me in the back of a car, then blacked out again. I do not remember how I got in that car, nor do I remember how I got out of it, but what I do know is that I had bruises and welts on my left side and that when I got picked up by a taxi that night, I was laying on the side of the road. I remember seeing the word “taxi” in a blur, knowing that I needed a ride home, and getting in the taxi. I don’t remember how the taxi was hailed. I only know that I was laying on the side of the road when they picked me up because the taxi company told me that via phone call when I was trying to piece together what happened.

I stayed in bed the day after everything. I was sick as hell, for one thing, but mainly I was just trying to process everything and figure out what to do. When I went back to school, I told my instructor. I didn’t know who else to go to since I was so new to the school and city. He was very kind and helpful. He told me to go to the police station on campus and file a police report, so I did. They brought in a female advocate from the school – she came with us when the police picked up my clothes from that night at my apartment and stayed with me through most of the time that I was at the hospital that day. I’m so thankful for that.

I can’t imagine going through that process alone. I was at the hospital for six hours waiting and getting checked over. The advocate from my school connected me to an organization that provided me with a cab voucher for the ride home from the hospital right before she left. The nurse said “that’s a good thing to know about, for the next person” when I got the cab voucher.

The next person. I couldn’t stop thinking about the next person – who, what, when? Will their predator be someone they know? A stranger? Why does anyone have to go through this? Why did it happen to me? When I filed the police report, they asked me if I wanted to press charges. I asked what that would entail. I was told that if I pressed charges, I’d have to face the person who did it in court. I couldn’t imagine having to see him again. I didn’t want to keep repeating and re-living what happened. I didn’t press charges.

What I did instead was drop out of school and leave. I tried to live normally for a few weeks, but the person knew where I lived. I lived alone and off campus. My apartment wasn’t the safest. I knew that he’d obviously find out that I filed a police report and I was terrified of what might happen when he did. It was the first time that anything really broke through my “most people are good” mentality. It has made me afraid to make new friends. It has made me afraid to get close to anyone. I ended up getting a greyhound ticket and scheduling a job interview near where my mom lives. I told myself that if I got the job, I’d leave school. I got the job. I quit school. Now, I’m just taking it one day at a time and trying to figure out how to move forward – how to finish my degree, how to feel safe, where to move, etc. Never leave your drink out of sight – not even with friends. I hope to see a world where every survivor gets justice. I hope to see a world where no one feels so helpless and ashamed upon coming forward.

12095196_771444286297790_2719231150435317770_oSparklle Rainne is a singer/songwriter that lives on the West Coast.

Sparklle can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

P10-copy

Stigma Fighters: Peter Michael Marino

“Socially Anxious Artist Seeking Anxiety-Causing Opportunities”

In the middle of a recent holiday party, a friend discovered me in the kitchen washing dishes. “Why are you doing that now?” she asked. “I need a break from the people,” I sheepishly replied. “But, it’s your party. There are only six people here. Come on! You’re in show business. It’s a people business!” She had a point.

People in show business do shows that generally involve other people – fellow creatives, the audience, theater staff, etc. So, why does someone like me who has problems with people work in a “people business”?

When I first fell in love with the business of show in the 80s, I didn’t have social anxiety or depression. I was the guy who created theater companies and hosted cast parties. I relished rehearsals, auditions, and meeting others. Then, in 2007, I had my first huge flop – a high-visibility West End musical that I wrote and conceived; that I hoped would put me on the map. The day after it opened, the whole world read the scathing reviews. It closed after a month. And BOOM – my first bout with crippling depression hit. My dream was dead. I had nothing to live for. It was in a coma of depression for over a year.

This depression thing was totally new to me. Yeah, I’d gotten depressed in the past, but this feeling was new. And severe. My body was achy and sore. My brain was cloudy. No motivation. I tried anti-depressants. They worked so well! They made me not care about being depressed…or eating well, or exercising, or applying for jobs, or writing, or leaving the safety of my bed. I stopped taking them. I could barely leave my apartment other than to see my therapist, where I’d burn through a box of Kleenex in 45 minutes. I couldn’t ride in the elevator with a neighbor – that I liked! I’d cross the street if I saw someone I knew approaching. I stopped going to events. I had so much shame about myself and my failure that I just wanted to hide from the world. So, like many artists in pain, I wrote a solo comedy about the experience – and that show became a hit, running for over two years on three continents. Great! No more depression! Until two years later.

I was bored telling my own story, even though I’d unexpectedly affected so many strangers who also suffered from depression. But, I didn’t have another story to tell. Again, the things that brought me joy – writing and performing, were over and I felt like I had no reason to go on.

I fell into another deep depression that lasted for one long, sweaty summer. Luckily, I was house-sitting at two different beach houses. Every morning, I’d dutifully feed the pets and plants and venture to the shore with my notebook and sunscreen, ready to create my next masterpiece…and I’d just stare at the foamy waves, thinking about what a loser I was. I managed to fill a notebook with about a hundred random ideas. I was lost again. But somehow, all those ideas came together and I created another solo comedy featuring an optimistic but deeply flawed show-biz character. This I could relate to. I booked dates at theaters so that I’d be accountable for finishing the show. And I did. Depression gone! The show ran for over a year. Then…BOOM. I was bored with it. And my shrinking finances got the best of me. And several projects I was involved with fell through the cracks…and I had no more ideas and…yeah, I fell into another completely unanticipated, deep depression.

I knew I had to create another show, judging by past experiences. But I was terrified of failing and writing and memorizing and…ugh. “Why can’t I just show up and make a show happen?!” And that was it. I’d do just that. I decided the show would be an improvised solo show based on the challenging and enlightening life-changing experiences of the audience. But that didn’t feel like enough. I emailed my director Michole after writing late one night – “The show has taken a dark turn. I hope you’re OK with it.” And that turn was peppering the show with my own challenging, life-changing experiences. And me “coming out” as someone with social anxiety and depression. I wrote honestly and boldly…everything from why I don’t often attend parties, weddings and funerals to why I leave right after another performers’ show. And why I appeared to ignore people or forget I’d ever met them. I freely wrote about how frightening it can be to live and grow old alone. I admitted the need to be doing something all the time or else I’d spend the day/week/month watching TV shows about aliens. Yes. I’ve done this too many times. Somehow, I created something during another period of deep depression. And it was funny!

I performed the show at various venues. I heard “That’s MY story you’re telling up there,” more times than I can count. And they weren’t just talking about the improvised part. So many audience members also had some kind of social anxiety or suffered from depression and anxiety. People thanked me for being so honest, vulnerable and authentically “me.” The thing that held me back became the thing that empowered me…and the audience.

I hope that I can make a difference in others’ lives because I’m being transparent about who I truly am: a flawed, socially-anxious, self-deprecating, yet hopeful human being. Just like everyone else.

I’m still socially anxious. I totally am. But I’m not alone. Showing up isn’t always easy, but I’ve learned that doing it is often easier than thinking about doing it. And yes, I’m happy to do the dishes at your party. I’m waiting for my invitation.

P10-copy
Photo Credit: Alicia Levy

Peter Michael Marino is a NYC-based performer, producer, writer, director and teacher. He is the creator/co-producer of SOLOCOM, which has launched over 400 world-premiere comedies at The People’s Improv Theater. His internationally acclaimed solo comedy “Desperately Seeking the Exit” chronicled the unmaking of his West End musical flop “Desperately Seeking Susan” – receiving 5-star reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and Adelaide Fringe, and a London transfer. His 2015 solo chat show spoof “Late with Lance!” played everywhere from NYC to London. Directing credits include: Amy Marcs’ “Nice T*ts”, Mark Demayo’s “20 & Out”, and Mark Giordano’s “Mad Man.” His production company credits include “David Carl’s Celebrity One-Man Hamlet,” David Mills: Shame!, Charles’ “Moby Alpha,” and “Joe’s NYC Bar.” More info at: www.petermmarino.com

Peter can be found on his website, Facebook, and Twitter

IMG_4503

Savannah Tabor

The first time I can ever remember my OCD showing itself was fourth grade. My sister, only three years older, was showing me a rated R movie, and my mother walked in. As any typical mother would, she scolded us.
Something switched in me that day. I don’t really know what it is that just causes a seed of anxiety to appear, but whatever it was, it was planted. When she said that she forgave me, it didn’t sound right. So I said it again. And again. And again. For the next two months.
Since that day, I told my mother everything. I apologized constantly for things I didn’t even do.
A specific habit I remember was practicing my cello. I was supposed to practice 20 minutes everyday for the intermediate school orchestra, and if you did so, you got stickers on a chart. Every other kid got their parents to sign off on the paper without actually doing any work, but everyday, right after school, I set a timer and played. If I messed up a song, I had to start over until I got it perfectly. The stress of it all became too much. The truth was simple; I couldn’t fathom the idea of dedicating myself every single day. It got to be too much pressure. I began crying as I played. So eventually, after two years, I quit. I still regret that now; I was the best in my class. I can’t help but think of where I’d be musically now had it not been for my OCD.
We didn’t call it OCD then, though. We, like the majority of society, still thought that just meant being tidy. We called it my inability to let go.
Sixth grade brought my next wave, caused by being placed in advanced math. I skipped two grades. It was only natural my grades would struggle. I, however, had full mental breakdowns. It was fourth grade all over again, telling my mother about menial homework questions I couldn’t quite grasp over and over again. Looking back, however hard it was, I am so happy the solution wasn’t the same as that of the cello. I already lost one part of myself, and honestly, math is so important to me. I can comprehend it. The answer’s are easy, and it’s not up to me to craft them perfectly. I am so happy I didn’t lose that to my disorder.
My favorite memory associated with OCD is when my mother asked if getting me a hamster would solve the problem. An hour later, we went to PetSmart and picked up Ivy, a somewhat grumpy but sufficient chinese dwarf hamster. The OCD didn’t go away of course, but she was a pretty good hamster.
The third wave hit in ninth grade.
Originally, the third wave was pretty similar to the other’s. I identified my main problem as something I called intrusive thoughts, which I can best describe as having a twelve-year-old sitting in the backseat of your brain, kicking the back of your chair, and asking you if you took the wrong turn. You, as a conscious being, have no control over him. He often has the power to force me into believing I am truly thinking violent, awful things.
I began turning to a form of selfharm to help cope, pinching myself. If that didn’t get the job done, I’d move onto biting or hitting myself. It seemed harmless initially, since inflicting pain while trying to get a thought to seem right in my brain seemed to make it more impactful. Soon, however, the consequences made themselves visible. I remember going to school one day with scratches down my face, telling everyone I was attacked by a dog. Really, I had been stressed about a friend the night before.
See, I’ve suffered other mental illness, and nothing quite compares to that from OCD. Whereas panic attacks may feel worse in the moment, they are spaced out. OCD is a fulltime job. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed, I have to distract my brain from thinking about everything else that has ever happened that maybe made me a worse person.
An average day has become, to a degree, manageable for me now. After brushing my teeth, I have to turn off the faucet 40 times, or 70 if that doesn’t feel right, or 110 if I really mess up, since I don’t want to waste water. From then, it continues until I go back to sleep.
It’s funny, because I know it’s all unnecessary. I know how much time I’m wasting in my head. I know how much easier everything would be if I could just let go.
My life isn’t as easy as it’s once been, however. People are coming and going. My anxiety is ruining friendships. I lost a lot of my family. I’ve lost so much I wasn’t ready to let go of.
So I hold my rituals in a tight grip, not ready to let go yet. They annoy me, but they aren’t going anywhere. I can lose everyone who loves me, but the door still will need to be closed. I hate my OCD, but it’s a part of me, and I’ve come to accept it.
So OCD is almost like an old friend at this point, but the type that you hate visiting. I know one day he could be gone completely, and while I know my life would ultimately be easier that way, it scares me. He’s been here forever, and I’ve just adapted to him. After all, at this point, all of his effects are just coping mechanisms to remind myself I’m doing the right thing.
I can’t let go yet. I know that. I’m not ready, and until the day I am, I’m surviving. I can get through each day, and sometimes, that’s all you need.

IMG_4503Savannah Tabor is a junior at Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, where she majors in literary arts. She has previously been published in children’s anthologies and recognized regionally by Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She is passionate not only about literature, but astronomy, philanthropy, and, most of all, birds.

Savannah can be found on Twitter.

img_3521

Natasha Bounds

“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t help you.”

“You just want me to admit that I am broken! You are looking for a reason to leave”

“No. I am looking for a reason to stay.”

Not everyone can can look at the exact moment when their lives changed. I am lucky. My partner Gray was brave enough (or tired enough) to say what needed to be said. He has stood by me everyday since then and I will be forever grateful.

Of course, it didn’t start there. I was a shy child. That is what I thought, my parents thought, even teachers.  Twenty to thirty years ago that is what it would have been called. We didn’t diagnose children back then with social anxiety.

In my early twenties I was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer. That was the start of a twenty year battle with myself and my high-functioning depression and anxiety.

At twenty-nine I had my first panic attack. I had six more in six months.  That is when I talked to a therapist. Therapy didn’t last long.  I figured I could control it with yoga and diet. I wasn’t someone who needed medication or professional help.  I wasn’t THAT bad.  That wasn’t me.  So I learned to control my diet and do something physical and take prescription strength antacids to control physical effects of the stress levels .

All the way into my thirties I knew I had depression and anxiety. I just figured that since I got out of bed everyday and did the things I was “supposed” to do that that meant that I wasn’t severe enough to really need help. I could handle it on my own. I just needed to suck it up and stop feeling bad. Other people managed it, I could too. That is what I thought. What I avoided facing were the people in my life that started to distance themselves.   

I went along like this until I turned forty-three having what I considered to be good days.  While I can’t say I was ever happy, things were status quo and that is what I thought life was like. I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.

Gray and I were trying to figure out our relationship and I was working on what I wanted to do for work for the rest of my life. We would argue (couples do that) but I noticed I would be unable to function the next day.  He would tell me he loved me and my brain would tell me he was just saying that to try to calm me down. He would get upset because I had accused him of not loving me or wanting to leave or whatever… because that is the story I was telling myself.  He was going to leave, everyone did, it was just a matter of time and why couldn’t he either just tell me truth or convince me I was wrong.

I didn’t expect someone to challenge me.  I didn’t expect him to stick around and make me take a good hard look at myself. I didn’t expect him to look for a reason to stay.  

I made an appointment with my doctor the next day and decided to go in and be honest with her: I was having erratic and strong mood swings, I was sobbing uncontrollably for apparently no reason.  I would suddenly get very angry and there were some days I couldn’t do anything but sit on my couch and stare into space. I diagnosed myself: clearly I was emotional and lazy.  She asked me some questions and diagnosed me instead with PMDD and depression.  

I suddenly felt lighter.   You mean there is actually something happening with my brain chemistry? Okay, well, I am still not “bad” enough to need medication. The doctor sat me down and talked to me about just starting on a low dose of prozac to “take the edge off”.  I decided that I would try.  I had a follow-up visit 4 weeks later and I had her take me up to the next dosage.

What I hadn’t expected was that even a low dosage would take my anxiety down. It would almost stop the ruminations.  I realized I had never really lived without those things.  I had no idea I could. I found a therapist and he explained anxiety and dysthymia to me.  He explained what happens when someone with dysthymia also has deep depressive episodes.

Now, two and a half years later, I have good days.  I actually feel happiness.  I also still have bad days. I recognize them most of the time and can ask for help. I get tired of fighting my brain some days but I know that another good day will come.

Over the last year I started to talk to people openly about my struggle.  It helped me to just let people know that some days are a fight, to ask them if it would be okay to lean on them when I needed to.  What I didn’t expect was the outpouring of people that were grateful that I had spoken up because it made them feel less alone. People began to tell me their own stories.  Suddenly, instead of being alone we had networks of people that we could ask for help or even just for the simple comfort of a silly picture. People were surprised that I had been struggling.  

Last year Gray and I lost a dear friend to PTSD-related suicide. That was the last straw for me.  The path was clear to me, I needed speak out whenever and wherever possible. Some days, writing posts, talking to people or just reminding someone they are not alone is what drives me. I want there to be better resources for people who are struggling and  I want everyone to stop fighting about whether medication is the answer or not. We need to be for better health coverage and making resources available to everyone so they can find what works for them. For example, medication doesn’t “fix” me. It makes it possible for me to look at things objectively. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and practicing mindfulness also play a huge role in managing my depression and anxiety.  Those things won’t work for everyone; they have worked for me.  Resources should be available and people should be able to find what works for them without fear of ridicule.  We live with enough fears.

Speaking without fear has played the biggest role in getting me here.  It started with that conversation with Gray and continues every day and with each person I meet.

img_3521My name is Natasha and I am a 45 year old entrepreneur.  I live with my partner Gray who stands by me everyday while I struggle with chronic depression and anxiety.  What started out for me as something I hid or just denied has become something I talk passionately about everyday.  It is my belief that by talking about mental illness we increase the chances that someone else will realize they are not alone.  They may even start to talk about it themselves.

Natasha Bounds can be found on Twitter. 

 

volunteer-portrait

Mallorey

Right now I feel like I’m standing on fairly level ground looking back over the past several months of spiraling anxiety and depression like a rocky, brambly, dark, deep canyon I just traversed. Things are slowing down now and seem a bit brighter. All the sleepless nights and nightmares, the headaches and stomachaches, the loss of appetite, the repetitive, negative, racing thoughts are already fading behind me. “For now,” my pessimistic side is thinking, after all it’s a place I’ve been before a few times. And I’ve eventually fallen back in.

Something is different this time though. I didn’t just slog my way out without really learning anything like I’ve done before, or wait for some fortunate happenstance to improve my outlook for me. This time I got out of my own Pit of Despair (yup, Princess Bride fan) purposely by making a conscious decision to do everything it takes to stop feeling so uncertain and hopeless, and become the confident, purposeful, productive, generous, outgoing person I’ve always wanted to be. I decided to put worries of what I’m going to do with my life on the back burner and just focus on taking care of myself, my whole self, right now.

Every decision I’ve made since then has been with that goal in mind, and it’s launched a whole cascade of epiphanies and awesome changes. I used to be hindered in keeping a personal diary by this weird belief that each entry had to be a complete, well-written story. That I had to explain myself and justify my thoughts as though someone else was reading them. Since I realized no one else but me (hopefully) is ever going to read those words and I don’t care what they look like, it’s been easy to just spew them out almost as fast as I think them. It’s an amazing relief to empty my brain that way, how I imagine it would feel to use a Pensieve. (yup, HP fan too).

I knew remaining alone with my thoughts wasn’t enough. They got me into that mess in the first place and I didn’t trust them to get me back out. I had to work past some deeply internalized personal stigma about therapy but it was definitely worth it. So far I’ve done most of the talking in counseling but it’s so nice to talk to someone whose job it is to just listen without judgment and reflect back what you say. I then pushed past my fear of awkwardness and reached out to a fellow lonely person looking for a friend on Craigslist, finding a fun new friend and running buddy. I even broke down and told my boyfriend exactly everything I needed him to do to be more supportive, and he came through admirably. Most importantly I’ve remembered the necessity of regular communication to maintaining friendships and good relationships with family, so I’ve been trying hard to make that happen more often. At my darkest times I’ve made the big bad mistake of cutting myself off from people, feeling undeserving of their support and company. I am determined never to do that again.

Making changes to my lifestyle also seemed like a good idea. Part of my depression was coming from craving change, yet being too fearful of the unknown to leave my comfort zone. Part of my anxiety was, and still is, a result of feeling like I don’t have enough time every day to do all the things I want to do. Enough of that. My life is at least ¼ over already, who knows, maybe more. I decided to take small steps and focus on the things that I keep coming back to, keep thinking about. For example I’ve been wanting to volunteer at an animal shelter since high school but kept making excuses I was too busy. More recently I made the excuse I should get a paying job first. Fortunately I decided to move forward anyway, and I’m so glad I did.

Somehow being busy and purposeful with one thing makes me happier and more motivated to do other things, even though it necessarily limits the time I have for other activities. I feel more motivated and brave enough to write, to draw, to apply for jobs, to work out, to try new recipes, to spend time with people. The more I do, the more I feel I CAN do. Spending more time on things I enjoy made me fully recognize how miserable my job was making me, how high my anxiety was there. It took a lot of self-convincing, but my commitment to taking care of myself held true and I took the big step of resigning. People have called me brave for resigning before having another job nailed down, and to be honest, I do still worry it was foolish. I believe it was the best decision for me though. My thoughts and emotions are no longer tied up with the stress of that job and they’re free to help move me forward.

Now I’m standing at a crossroads. I’ve made short forays in several different directions to see what looks promising but now I have to wait on other people. I don’t know which way I’m going to go so I’m trying to focus just on the present and near future, working on building my confidence, exploring new things, and enjoying life how it is now. In spite of the uncertainty and occasional relapses into anxiety, I feel safer, happier, and more hopeful than I’ve felt in a very long time.

volunteer-portraitI was briefly a teacher, now I’m almost 26 and embarking on a new path in life. I’m an aspiring writer, world traveler, and dog-owner. Presently a bibliophile, runner, cyclist, photographer, nature-lover, foodie, feminist, humanist, and a morning person, dog person, and cat person. Actively recovering (hopefully for good) from anxiety and depression.

Mallorey can be found on her blog and Twitter.