World Mental Health Day

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As many of you have been following along in my journey this past year through my blog and social channels, you probably see an ongoing theme of happiness, fun, and living life fully. Many have stopped me in public to say how they have been inspired through what I share, my openness, and encouraging me with kind words.

While I have appreciated it greatly, I am always quick to add that it hasn’t been all fun. There have been some big struggles and learning curves…and some of which I haven’t fully shared but with it being World Mental Health Day, it seemed appropriate to open up on this part of my journey.

The first time I ever recall feeling the heaviness of depression, I was 15 and it was about 3 months into living with my first foster family. I had just begun feeling settled and safe when I was suddenly told I would need to move. It felt like the world was crashing in around me and I couldn’t breath. For weeks I barely ate, I cried myself to sleep and wished that my life would just end. Looking back on this today, I can see how this wasn’t just because of a move…it was a combination of events that my emotions were starting to catch up to. As the date neared, I slipped into a deeper depression, until one night I told my foster parents that I had seriously contemplated ending my life. It not only scared them…but it actually scared the shit out of me that I had come to that point. And I didn’t want to again. 

I started into more therapy but I buried the pain, hurt, and any emotion related to my past and present just so I could cope with day to day life. Because the deep hole of depression I had felt scared me so badly that I feared feeling and dealing with anything would lead me down that path again. But that lead to the depression being replaced with anxiety.

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I didn’t recognize the anxiety until later on in life. I didn’t realize it was underneath so many of the decisions I made, the fears that I had, and the emotions I was feeling. Until I started to get panic attacks. And sometimes out of the blue. It is incredibly scary to find yourself unable to breath, seeing spots, and not understanding why. But I quickly recognized when one may approach and knew to remove myself from a situation or try to understand what was causing it in that moment. And to remember to breath!

Fast forward to this past year, where life got turned upside down and everything that brought structure into my life had changed…and when you have anxiety…structure is your friend.

I continued with therapy, had supports in place and kept myself busy. I put on a happy face and climbed hurdle after hurdle after hurdle. I honestly thought I was doing ok. Until I wasn’t.

I’m not sure if the weight just became too much to carry or if life just handed me one too many lemons…but the anxiety increased to a level I had never experienced and with it came a dark cloud of depression. I fought so hard to battle through it, do the work I had learned in therapy and get past it. But I soon realized I may need more help. Back in June, after talking with my doctor and finding that the anxiety was leading to a depression and that it was starting to take over other areas in my life, I was prescribed an anti-depressant that works with anxiety. Just typing that alone, I can still feel twinges of shame in acknowledging that I had to go that route and the sense of failure that I couldn’t get through it on my own. It’s funny that I have always been open about going through therapy but there is just some sort of shame, a stigma surrounding the idea that you suddenly need to medicate yourself to be able to cope through life.

I still remember the first day taking the medication and how scared I was. Not just because of the long list of side effects…and let me tell you they are seriously unpleasant… but because it meant to me that I had failed. I had fought for over 15 years to never feel this way again, but little had I known I had probably just been keeping it at bay and not in a healthy way.

When I have felt comfortable enough, I have opened up to people about it and found out very quickly that I am not alone. Not just in these emotions and struggles, but that I have people in my life who have had to turn to something like medication to assist them. And when you realize you are not alone, the shame and failure you felt start to slowly diminish.

So that is why I felt, on a day like today, that it was important for me to share this part of my journey. If I don’t share it, it would feel like I haven’t being completely honest in the struggle and that it could be perceived that it has been mostly an exciting and fun year when in reality, it has been quite tough. No, what you see isn’t me ‘faking it’ for I am sharing a lot of happy moments…but it seems fair to also share that behind those moments have been some darker ones too. 

I’m month 3 into taking medication coupled with the therapy I have been in. They come with some intense side effects sometimes…nausea being the main one for me. But I have also been able to feel so much lighter and think a lot clearer. I can’t say that it has cured the anxiety for me. I still feel it from time to time…but it comes up in a way where I am able to recognize it better and let myself sit in it to figure out exactly where it is coming from and work from there. I started out swearing I would not rely on medicine and would work hard to get off of it fast. But I soon realized I was putting way to much pressure on myself and only adding to the anxiety. I have come to terms with the fact it may be something I do on a long term basis…and I am learning to accept that and be ok with it.

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In all of this, the one thing I have really taken away from it, is that we need to be so much more kinder to ourselves. I was so angry and so hard on myself for feeling like I failed, that I didn’t appreciate all that I had gone through so far without that help. I have survived so much and should feel incredibly proud of myself for it.

My hope in opening up more about my struggles with anxiety is that those who may resonate with some of what I have shared will realize they are not alone. That they will be kinder to themselves and maybe feel like they can reach out for help without feeling the shame.

Because there is NO shame in reaching out for help. There is NO shame in admitting that life can sometimes be more than we can handle. And we need the reminder that help is there and that we don’t have to go through this life alone.

**Great resources if you are looking to learn more about anxiety or are in need of a safe place to reach out for help**

One Year

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It was one year ago tomorrow that I left for my 8th trip to California. A solo adventure after a big life decision. A chance to spend time with just myself because from that day forward it would be just me. I never thought this day would come. I was literally just trying to survive day by day. Taking a step forward into the unknown…not really knowing what would lie ahead but just knowing I had to trust my gut and my heart and move forward.

I can’t help but spend time this week reflecting on this past year. And being in awe that I actually survived it. I think I knew deep down I had it in me, but I can honestly share with you that there were moments I did not want to get out of bed. Where I have looked at booking the next one way flight out of here. Where going home to my parents seemed like such a wonderful escape from life. But that’s all it would have been. A temporary escape…and then what? No, I needed to face it all head on. Feel every moment, grieve the loss, celebrate the small victories like waking up and smiling, and making & eating a wonderful dinner just for me.

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It has not been an easy year. When they say things come in threes…mine came in 5’s sometimes 6’s. Being hit with so many challenges, some completely out of my control really should have knocked me down, but I surprised even myself by getting back up…every time. I kept reminding myself that I have survived so much more and that this too shall pass. And not only pass, but that I would grow and learn so much about myself through it all and if I let it, I could come out even better from it.

It doesn’t happen overnight.  But it does happen. You start to feel like yourself again….scratch that….you feel like a newer, better version of you. You can’t not come out of it different than you were before. Because it changes and shapes you. It teaches you so much about yourself and just how much you are capable of.

The last 365 days have taught me to love life more than ever. To be free and just live. To not take myself so seriously and truly live life to the fullest. They have taught me to not be so hard on myself…that I can be my harshest critic sometimes and that I need to start being kinder to me. I have had to put myself first this year, which meant saying no to a variety of people and situations that I may have normally said yes to…and be ok with it. To not let how others may think of me control my decisions. To take time for just me. And do all of the above and not feel selfish for it. It’s a work in progress 😉

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So this week, I do even more of that. I’m not only taking the time to look back and see the tough moments (there were plenty!!) but I’m choosing to also reflect back and see the beauty in it all as well. Because though it was an incredibly difficult year, it brought out friendships that may never have formed, it pushed me to say yes to adventures I may have never considered, and it made me feel stronger and braver than ever before. This year also comes with life-long memories that I will forever be thankful for and a true appreciation for life. I can honestly say that though this year was one of the more difficult ones for me, I can sit here on day 364, look at myself in the mirror and truly believe when I say that it was all worth it.

Soulful Friendships

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I have been reminded this past week this past year just how grateful I am for the people I have in my life. I couldn’t help but reflect on how some of these wonderful people entered my life at just the right moments. I think of how some new people entered my life just a year ago and have become incredible rocks of support to me months later when some who had been in my life for years had drifted off. 

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So much has happened this past year and through each hurdle there has been someone there to offer support and encouragement. Not every situation calls for the same friend either. It’s quite intriguing to see how different situations bring out different friends. Like the friend who can sit with you and eat vegan ice cream and be a shoulder to cry on, one who can kick your butt out of bed and get you back to the land of the living. And for us ladies, our male friends who are great for helping us understand just how the male mind operates.  And let me tell you, I’m so grateful for the male friends in my life because when it especially comes to dating and understanding how their minds work, your guy friends will tell you exactly how it is, no BS…just straight shooting. You may not appreciate it in the moment and it may be hard to hear, but you will be grateful in the end! 

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As I was chatting with a friend today, we talked about how some of these relationships come into our life for just a season. My friend pool from just 3 years ago is quite different from the one I have today. But I am also in a different place in my life now than I was then. And though it can be sad to think of those friendships not being there anymore, I truly believe they each served a purpose. Each can probably say they learned something about themselves from it. I know I can look back on some of my past ones and see where I was challenged and made to look at myself differently. I can also see how they were just the right people I needed in my life at that time. And even though not all end perfectly and some may just drift off…I can at least look back on them and know they made an impact on my life and can feel grateful for what each relationship taught me.

blog8So for those who may read this who might not be in my life as much as before, know that I am incredibly grateful for the impact your friendship had on me. My hope is that you can look back on it and feel that you grew from it as well.

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And for those in life now, in this crazy topsy turvy season I am in, thank you for being along for the ride and for being that steadfast support and encouragement. I don’t know how I could get through all of life’s challenges that have been thrown my way without you all. Know that you are valued, that you are special, and that you are loved.

My Sunday encouragement to you is to think of those people in your life who have your back, lift you up when you are down, and who make sure you realize just how amazing you are.

Then take a moment and thank them for it.

Because when life hands you lemons, they will come in with the tequila and turn that sh*t into some kick-ass lemonade 🙂

The Value of Unplugging

 

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When I was in Nicaragua, I found myself away from social media quite a bit. I did the odd posting of images because so many were asking for them. But for the most part, and because wifi didn’t just grow on trees there…I stayed offline. I had no idea what kind of an impact that would have on me…until I realized how much I didn’t miss it.

I found when I returned home, I didn’t care to be online as much. In fact, I noticed I started to retreat a bit. It was nice to share about my trip…but when I realized I wasn’t always doing it for me…that was when I took a step back and reevaluated how I engage online…and in general! You can very easily get sucked into the instant gratification that is social media. That second you post and you see the ‘likes’ roll in. The comments/compliments that come along that seem to fill your empty confidence bucket. But when you take a step back from all of that you soon realize that there isn’t much value in it all. In this world of instant gratification, we seem to look to social media to help us feel whole, loved, valued…and not alone. But it can very easily become a quick fix to an even bigger issue. I soon realized that my time offline gave me the freedom to discover all of that in private and in a world beyond a computer screen.

I had never understood before how people felt the need to unplug and take a hiatus from facebook. I mean..really? You are going to leave? How will you know what I am up to? How will you know what is happening in the world? Well my ten day hiatus gave me the chance to see what they were talking about. You can find out what is happening in the world by plugging yourself into it…literally! Getting outside, traveling to another country, experiencing people I hadn’t met before…I received way more knowledge and fulfillment in those moments,  in those ten days, than I ever had on social media.

And I started to lose interest in people knowing what I was up to all of the time. I had been a very public person for so long, that taking a step back I started to see that though others may get value from it….I sometimes wasn’t. In fact, it was starting to suck some of the life from me. I felt like I had to share what I was doing because I felt it was expected. But there are moments that I felt I was giving so much more of myself but didn’t have much left to give TO myself.

I’ve been talking a lot about this with people in my life recently, but one conversation in particular was a huge eye opener to me. I had met someone for dinner a couple weeks back and his comment to me was ‘I find I know so much more about you than I do of those I even work with or some of my own friends’. Now this is someone whom I have met twice. I shrugged it off in the moment but couldn’t shake the fact that he wasn’t alone. I had heard this before. And though I am glad to be able to share my story with others, there is a part of me that truly misses the time where no one knew my name. Because all of sudden that is all you become: the story, the things people have heard, the label, a brand. And when new people come into your life that is all they see at first. It’s a struggle because you are so much more than that. You are more than the posts people see on facebook, you are more than the story behind a successful campaign, you are more than that and all you wish is for people to see that.

So I’m spending more time (when not at work) away from the screens and plugging more in with my closest friends who know me inside and out and beyond the story and images. I’m taking more time to find out who I am beyond the story I share. I’m finding the time to appreciate life in its private moments. I have found value in sharing some parts of my life..like this post…through social media or speaking engagements because it gets others thinking about their lives and how much they should value it…just as it does for me. I also realize that I have the control in what I share and so I choose to do so more wisely…instead of leaving everything out there for the world to see, I choose to show small glimpses of it where I get value in sharing as well. Learning to give without it being an expense to your well being is a lesson worth learning!

I’m realizing not all that happens in life needs to be shared and that sometimes it holds more meaning and value when we can cherish and hold onto it just for ourselves.

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