Ending National Mental Illness Month

Today is the last day of May — as well as the last day of National Mental Illness Month. Throughout the month, I’ve written a grand total of seven posts that discuss my experience with anxiety, as well as the perception that mental health has. We have come a long way from the days of mental illness being perceived as something to be ashamed of. With that being said, there’s still so much to be done.

If you’re sitting here thinking hey, I want to do more to make a difference, there’s so much you can do. Unsure what you can do? Here’s a list to help get you started:

  • Become informed on mental health issues and educate others.
  • Volunteer for your local mental health agency/suicide line.
  • Donate money to a charity whose proceeds go to mental health aid.
  • Write letters to your congressperson about important issues in mental health care and how they will have an effect on patients. 

However, most importantly, I ask you to remove all stigmas you have about mental illness and just listen. Yesterday, I discussed the toxic ways mental health is perceived. Now, I want you all to examine how you interact with someone who has a mental illness. I want you to do whatever you can to ensure that you treat them with both respect and kindness. Because, like you, they are human too.

With that being said, just because the month is over, doesn’t mean the conversation has to be. Keep talking, keep learning, and keep educating. Why? Because with every person who strives to make a difference can be crucial to helping the cause become stronger.

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Why Mental Health Needs To Be Treated Like A Physical One

A couple of days ago, I saw this video that demonstrated what it would look like if we were to treat physical illnesses the way that we treat mental ones.

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For me, this video really brought home the message that both mental and physical illnesses have one word in common – illnesses. They are something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

My question is, why do we?

Clearly, we know it’s not okay to say to someone who has just hit their head to stop complaining because they are bringing you down. Instead, we ask them if they are okay. So, why do we think it’s okay to tell someone who is diagnosed as clinically depressed to just stop complaining? Or, better yet, why do we belittle them.

Newsflash, people. Mental health needs to have that same perception as physical. End of story.

Being told to suck it up is so last year. When someone has a diagnosed mental illness, it is almost the same, or even worse as a physical one. And, when you tell them that they are complaining too much, or bringing you down, it’s downright rude and disrespectful. They need to take care of themselves, and they are doing the best that they can to do that. Sometimes, people with depression struggle to get out of bed. Sometimes, people with anxiety panic to the point where all they dwell on are the negative. And, if you were their friend, you would do whatever you can to help them – not, disrespect them.

With an Italian upbringing, mental illness was perceived as just not being tough enough. Having anxiety, many of my family members often think that I am just complaining when I say that I am feeling anxious, or think that my therapy sessions are just a waste of money. Or, that I don’t need a therapist.

But, do I tell the person with a broken leg that they don’t need physical therapy? We don’t say shake it off, because you’re complaining too much? No, because that’s crazy. We shouldn’t be saying that going to a psychotherapist, therapist or psychologist is a waste of money, either. Like physical therapy, psychotherapy is trying to heal the mind to make them stronger. And, why would we try to knock down strength – physical or mental?

And, by these stigmas floating around in the world, it might be the very reason why someone is too afraid to get the help they need because they feel like they are complaining too much, or too ashamed or proud to admit that they have a problem. And, that is just tragic.

Mental illness and physical illness need to be on the same tier. Someone who complains anxiety or depression is not them craving attention. It doesn’t come from wanting to drown you down, which by the way is absurd. They come from living in that sea of depression daily. They come from living in a constant state of anxiety and they are not complaining. You running your mouth and saying those things to them is only adding fuel to the fire, and can easily make things worse for them.

Which is something that they didn’t need.

So, let’s not belittle those who suffer from a mental illness. Let’s not make them feel ashamed for getting the help that they need. Let’s applaud those who struggle, but are choosing to get the help they need? Let’s applaud each and every person who decides to fight whatever obstacle they face, instead of just allowing themselves to get swept up in the tide and drown.

Instead, let’s call them warriors, because they go to war with their minds every day, which sometimes can be a constant battle. Life with a mental illness isn’t easy, and therefore, they deserve to be treated with the same sympathy and respect that you did when you broke your leg, arm, or that any diabetic has.

Confronting the Elephant in the Room: My Journey With Anxiety

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Whenever I talk about my anxiety – whether it may be in writing, in a sermon or in casual conversation – I always feel like I am at an AA meeting.

So, let’s get something out of the way . . .

Hi, my name is Natalie and I have anxiety.

There, much better now.

My journey with anxiety began about two and a half years ago, when I soon discovered that I could not handle the pressure of taking five classes and working two jobs. Luckily, I was able to control it by dropping a class, attended therapy to help maintain the anxiety, and managed to float through the rest of that semester.

I thought that would be the end of my anxiety, if you could call it that. Oh no. In the fall of my senior year, my last full academic year, anxiety came back – with a vengeance, I might add. I began to experience panic attacks, moments when I could sit in bed and do nothing but cry, and times when I felt crushed by the weight of everything that I needed to do for my classes and my jobs. I felt isolated, like a constant sinking stone that felt so lost at sea that no one can come to rescue me.

So, I tried to do the best I could. I went to see a therapist at my school, something that ended up not being helpful, because he had a list of things that I needed to do. That list was a set one. First, let’s try some deep breathing exercises. Didn’t work? No problem, let’s try writing. Didn’t work either? Okay, time to try medication!

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Since nothing seemed to work, I felt like I was setting myself up for failure, almost as if I were failing at therapy if that were such a thing.

I then realized that something had to change. Little did I know at the time was that change had to begin with me.

2016 began as a year of change. I changed therapists, and got a job that didn’t make me sick to go to anymore.

Things began to look up – kind of. I still cried at night because I was just so overwhelmed with everything, I still had panic attacks regularly, and I still felt as if I was so easily broken, almost as if I were made out of glass. I felt almost as if I were in a hole that I couldn’t dig myself out of.

But, beneath that sadness and anxiety, I began to slowly see sunlight. In the spring of 2016, I began to take the wheel and do what I can to make sure that my anxiety was better for once and for all. I was successful to completing that goal – to some degree – thanks to the help of an amazing support system. By the end of the summer, despite some ups and downs, I was able to finally make the right steps to get better.

And, it’s safe to say that most of the steps I took worked for my last semester as an undergraduate. My anxiety, other than the confusion of what to do after with my life after graduation, was pretty much at a standstill. I thought that I beat anxiety for sure, and triumphantly gave a sermon at Luther House at Yale University about how I conquered anxiety and beat it.

As 2017 approached, I was certain that I would leave anxiety in 2016. But, I thought wrong. I struggled as I transitioned from being a full-time student to being a full-time employee. I reverted back to my old ways – crying at the drop of a hat, panic attacks, and being an overly irritable person. To top things off, I soon began to get really sick, to the point where I ended up getting really dehydrated to the point where I couldn’t even move.

At that point, I realized that I had to once again make the choice to do what’s best for me. I never once regretted it since having to do so, and now, am currently leading a life that I am happy with.

And, as I wake up every morning, I appreciate every morning I wake up.
Going through my journey with anxiety these past two years, I believe that it has taught me to love and appreciate myself – the person I am, the person I aspire to be, the journey I am on to get to that point, and the progress I have made to get to that point. I came a long way from that person that I was a few years back! I have learned to take the wheel and make changes that I need to see a result. I learned that my happiness matters above all else. I learned that sometimes life can take unexpected turns, but can fight it with a positive attitude and ‘I can’ spirit. I try to make light of what I went through with humor, and am grateful to be able to laugh at my experiences, rather than cry about them.

Many people – friends, family, teachers, my pastor and a therapist to name a few — have contributed to that journey and supported me to be the person I am today. That very cast of people reminded me that I was worth every challenging moment, were the arms of support when I needed it, and were the people who reminded me that everything was going to be okay whenever I had any doubt that it wasn’t. So, to those who this applies to, I thank you with my whole heart.

But, what I am so glad to announce, is that I have become that pillar of support for myself. I can calm myself down during a panic attack, and remind myself that despite the dismal appearance, everything will in fact be okay. And, that is everything.

Anxiety will always be a part of my life, just as my hair is brown. However, it’s not my whole life, and I refuse to let it consume me. There will be some days when panic attacks that are the furthest thing from my mind, and there will be nights where I can’t sleep because of my anxiety. But, I am not just my anxiety, as I reminded everyone during my sermon at Luther House. I am a bookworm, a blogger, a writer, and a human. But, most importantly, I am stronger than I could have ever imagined myself being. I will not let anxiety be the road barrier to my paradise.

So, as Mental Illness Month draws to a close, I hope that you all have gained insight about anxiety, and for those who suffer with some kind of mental illness, I hope that you know you are strong and wonderful beings. I hope that you know that you can get through whatever you don’t think you can, and you are worth every challenging moment that you have with anxiety.

And when you do have those moments, I’m going to leave you with some lyrics that have been helpful during times of turmoil:

“I won’t break/I won’t bend/But, someday soon we’ll sail away to innocence, and the bitter end” – “Simple Life,” Elton John.

Aftermath of Manchester

Last night, there was an attack in Manchester, England at an Ariana Grande concert. At least 22 are dead, and over 50 are injured – not mention countless others missing.

When I heard the news – a notification on my phone during my first book club meeting – my heart broke.

This was a concert, one with innocent children and young adults. They were looking forward to seeing their favorite artist, and to hearing their favorite songs. They didn’t deserve this. It breaks my heart to hear a mother frantically cry for her daughter to come home. It breaks my heart to hear that these innocent children are victims to a crime that is so unjust. It breaks my heart to the footage of the attack.

And, all they did was go to a concert.

It’s sad that these have become more and common, and it’s sad that we’ve become immune to the intensity of attacks such as these. Right now, I’m thinking of Paris, Orlando, Nice – and those who lost their lives or suffered injuries. I’m thinking about the children who are victims to this, and the tomorrow that they have to live in. Those children have to live in fear. Those children will sadly never be children again. Stealing the innocence of a child is perhaps the most tragic loss of all.

So, today I pray for Manchester. I pray for those who are injured, those who are deceased, Ariana Grande, and those who anxiously await for news on their children. But, I also pray for the world, for peace, and a better tomorrow.

What I Wish Those Without Anxiety Knew About Anxiety

For those who are lucky to not have to experience mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or an eating disorder, I consider you to be lucky. There are so many things that you may not know – or even understand what it’s like to have to deal with the effects of one.

I have anxiety. Having anxiety means overthinking everything – from the way that you said hello to someone, to how you worded that text message, or why the guy that you like isn’t texting you back – the thoughts circling around your mind like an endless drain. Having anxiety means having panic attacks – often over something small or nothing at all. Having anxiety means living in a constant state of worry, even though you may have nothing to worry about. Having anxiety is often being scared over things that seem small to the naked eye, and not being able to do something because of that fear. And that is only giving you the Reader’s Digest version of what is truly like to deal with anxiety.

With that being said, there are so many things that someone who doesn’t have anxiety may not get. For example, if they see someone on the street having a panic attack because they are about to go on a date with someone and they are afraid of what may happen, they may think that they are crazy or over reacting.

I can assure you that they are not. I can simply say that it’s their anxiety. And, no they are not overacting. They are not doing it to get attention. They are not saying that so you can drop whatever it is you are doing to get your attention and affection. And yes, they are doing the best they can to control it, but sometimes their very best isn’t enough.

They are saying that because their brain is telling them that there is a danger of some sort. They are feeling that way because the fear of doing whatever has taken over their body like a parasite, and sucked everything else out of them. They are doing that because they cannot help it, and if they could, do you really think that living their life in that constant state of mind?

I don’t think so.

And the same thing applies to those who have other mental illnesses, although I myself can not speak to what it’s like to deal with those on a daily basis. I can tell you this, though: every day, someone with a mental illness is doing the best that they can to float through daily life. And, you should understand that, and remind them that they are awesome, and give them a hug.

It’s Okay To Cry Sometimes

Big girls don’t cry.

Stop crying now, men don’t cry.

You’re acting like a baby, stop crying.

Crying is showing weakness.

These are only a few of the stereotypes that are associated with crying. However, I disagree with each and everyone.

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: it’s okay to cry. Crying does not make you weak.

I, on the other hand, think that by being comfortable enough with yourself to allow yourself to express those emotions in a healthy way is the best thing ever.

I don’t know where this concept comes from. Maybe it’s something that is passed down from generation to generation – something that a father tells his son, who then tells his son. Maybe it’s society. For instance, many men in television sitcoms, such as Frank Barone from Everyone Loves Raymond or Tim Taylor from Home Improvement proclaim that “real” men don’t cry.

With that being said, I would like to challenge that notion with this. By bottling that emotion up like that, it leads to an emotional explosion where you finally release everything that you’ve held in for so long. It’s not healthy, plain and simple.

I also would like to argue that crying shows strength, as I mentioned earlier. There’s something about allowing yourself to release those emotions. It’s your way of release in the moment, a method of filtering out all of the emotions that are making you sad and release them into the world. And, it’s healthy.

I remember when my grandfather died, and I had to give a bible reading during his funeral mass. During halfway through the reading, I broke down and cried, apologizing to the audience (mostly family) afterwards. My cousins gave me grief about it, but I think in that moment, considering that my grandfather and I were close, that it was okay to release the sadness that I was feeling in that moment. Looking back on it, I think it’s what I needed to do, and needed to feel. And that’s perfectly alright.

And, there are health benefits to crying as well. According to Psychology Today, crying releases stress hormones that build up throughout the body. The article then goes on to state that crying “stimulates” endorphins – you know, the stuff that makes you feel good. After crying, the article states that our bodies enter a “calmer biological and emotional state.”

Can’t argue with science, now can you?

So, with that being said, no one on this earth should ever apologize for crying – whether it may be because you’re going through a breakup, dealing with a loved one’s death, or just because you’re stressed out. I myself, whenever I am stressed out, scared, upset or dealing with PMS. And I say that you should too, if you want, cry it out and express your damn emotions – and don’t let anyone take that away from you.

You Are A Badass Book Review

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One of the reasons why I love reading so much is because books truly have the impact to change your life. This is why You are a Bad Ass by Jen Sincero is one of my favorite books.

The book is not your mother’s self help book, and is truly unlike any other. It approaches the topic of changing your life and giving you the momentum to actually go out there and do it. Sincero approaches each with of the 27 chapters with wit and is extremely entertaining. In fact, one of the chapters is called “Your Brain is Your Bitch.” Take that, Freud.

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What I like most about this book is that it reminds you that you have the tools to change your life, and that it is up to you to change the way you think to get change. The attitude of being a bad-ass is something that you can bleed into your daily life – whether it may be doing something because you want to, or deserve it, or going for things because you want to. She also prompts you to stop thinking about doing something, and start doing it. Being a badass means forgoing any feedback from others, and doing things your way. This is something each and every one of us could use more of.

Furthermore, this book also talks about going out of your comfort zone, and trying something that you always wanted to try for the hell of it, whether it may be sky diving or taking an art class. By doing things for the hell of it, Sincero stated that you learn to enjoy life, and it’s worth it.

However, what is unique about this book is how Sincero ends each chapter with two simple words – love yourself. Two simple words that truly have an impact on a reader who may need to hear them during a time of turbulence.

A little background information about my relationship with this book: it was actually recommended to me by my therapist. Since I read it back in September, my attitude towards life has done a complete 180. For example, when something in my life isn’t working – a relationship, job, for instance – I refocus my energies to figure out why that is and what can I do to find a resolution. Sincero writes that when you don’t you allow others (and yourself) to feel sorry for you. But, instead of allowing that to happen, you get out and do something about it, thus allowing change in.

Because of reading this book, I was able to have the attitude to go out and get what I want, and that I actually deserve it. Why, you may ask? Because I am truly a badass, and completely worth it.

Reading this book made me want to kick ass and get off of mine to do something about my life. With that being said, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking to change their life or is unhappy with it. Why? Because you too, are a badass.