mental health, Mental Illness Awareness Month

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.

mental health, Mental Illness Awareness Month

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.

Mental Illness Awareness Month

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.

anxiety, mental health, Mental Illness Awareness Month, Mindfulness

11 Mantras Everyone With a Mental Illness Needs to Hear

Having a mental illness – or even just going through a rough time – can be the most isolating thing on the planet. It is like you are in a downwards spiral, and have no way out of it.

With that being said, it’s hard to think that there will be an end to the suffering and the pain that you are dealing with. So, I’ve decided to provide a list of mantras for those who are going through a mental illness or a rough time to serve as reminders that you truly can get through it.

  1. I am worth it.
  2. I can beat this.
  3. I am worthy of love.
  4. I am strong.
  5. I am beautiful.
  6. Everything is going to be okay.
  7. I am loved.
  8. It is okay not to be okay.
  9. I am going to get through this.
  10. My best is good enough.
  11. I am good enough.
anxiety, mental health, Mental Illness Awareness Month, Relationships, Uncategorized

Not Tonight Dear, I Am Having A Panic Attack: Anxiety and Dating

As a person with anxiety, it is safe to say it has had an impact on my relationships. When I was in my previous relationship, it was when my anxiety was in full swing, and panic attacks were a regular occurrence. However, I was really lucky to have a boyfriend who was supportive and did whatever he could to help me with dealing with it.

While I am lucky to have minor anxiety now, it still exists. I am unsure how anxiety will play out in my next relationship. But, I learned enough about it over the years to give advice to couples that may have to deal with anxiety.

Note: While this post mainly talks about anxiety, these tips pertain to all mental illnesses, from eating disorders to depression.

Talk it Out

With all relationships, you need to communicate, as communication is key. When it comes to my anxiety, I pretty much am an open book and am completely honest with my partner, or a potential one. If not, then you are putting on a façade of someone you may not actually be. Since my anxiety is a part of me, I like to take the time to have a thoughtful conversation about it with my partner. In that conversation, we’ll discuss things such as what makes me anxious? What are my triggers? What is my role in this anxiety thing, and what can I do to help?

One thing that my former partner and I did was go to therapy together to have an open space to discuss anxiety. I believe that it was a helpful thing for us to do, because it induced productive and effective conversation, and is a worthwhile option for those who are willing. However, therapy is a private thing – meant only for the indexed individual. So, if you don’t want to have your partner sits in on a session, then that’s okay too.

Be Supportive

With that being said, always do what you can to show your support for them and their journey. This can be something as simple as hugging your partner while they hit a low, asking them about their therapy session, or just reminding them that you’re here for them.

While the ideal partner is always supportive, it is especially important for when your partner has a mental illness.

It’s Not One-Sided

Sometimes, sadly, a relationship can be consumed with anxiety. It can be overwhelming for anyone to deal with anxiety, especially the loved ones of that person – I am not going to lie. However, it is important to remember that your partner does care about you as well, and wants you to take the time that you need for yourself.

While it is up to you how you prioritize how you divide your time, it can be overwhelming when you constantly feel like you are on call for your partner. Newsflash, you are not a doctor. So, Be sure that you take care of yourself. Play your video games, go for that run, or do whatever it is you do for fun.
In addition to that, do not be afraid to be honest with your partner. If you feel overwhelmed, tell them. I definitely understand, and to be honest, I would want my boyfriend to tell me how he’s feeling.

Just Be There

Sometimes, all we need is a hug and someone to tell us that everything is going to be okay when the world feels like it’s crashing down on you. You may have to do this a lot sometimes, but trust me, it does not go unappreciated.

Be Understanding

You might not understand what a panic attack feels like, or the effect it has on the person going through one until you see your partner stare off into space while kissing you because they are scared and feel unsafe. This is especially true if you yourself have never dealt with anxiety. However, all you can do is just understand and be patient. And, if this does happen to you, kiss their forehead and remind them that it will truly be alright.

Remember They Are More Than Their Anxiety

I am much more than my anxiety. I am a writer, a photographer, a person, a bookworm, and so much more. Mental illness, especially the label, does not define the patient. Remember that they are much more than that, and they too are human. So, whatever you do, be sure to remember that there is more to them.

Mindfulness

Who Are You To Tell Me How To Feel?

If I had a dollar every time someone told me to (or not) feel a certain way, I would have enough money to pay for the car I want to buy in full. Don’t feel this way because it’s not worth it. Don’t cry about that boy because he is not worth it. It’s been this amount of time since you’ve broken up-why don’t you start dating again?

It is almost as if we have to shut our feelings off and push them in the back of the closet, because feeling something, any kind of something is a crime. Happiness, okay you can feel that. However, anger, sadness, and anxiety? No, you can’t feel that because it is much too harsh for us to deal with on a daily basis.

Too bad it doesn’t work that way. Many times, we are asked to ‘suck it up’ when something happens. After six months of grieving something (a relationship/a death/whatever), we have reached the maximum time that we are allotted to feel sad. After that, you no longer have the right to cry at night, because you are still hurting from your break up. That is the time when you are expected to suck it up and move on.

But, that’s not how it works.

And, I absolutely hate it.

I wish I could meet the person who made those rules, so I can slap them in the face and tell him that they were stupid. I wish that I can get a megaphone so I can scream to people “it’s okay to feel upset sometimes, you will heal eventually.” I wish that I could hug every person who is feeling sad, anxious or depressed right now and remind them that what they are feeling is truly valid.

Since I do not own a megaphone, this is the closest feeling that I can get to that. It is the power of the Internet.

So, it is okay to cry. It is okay to admit that you are sad. The thing is, by admitting that you are sad, you are one step closer to reaching the point where you are healed. By repressing those emotions, it is only going to explode one day. And, that is definitely not healthy.

The thing is it is going to take time to get back up. It’s going to take time to heal your emotional wounds, and to reach the point of true healing. However, with that being said, there is no end date to the hurting. So stop creating one, and focus more on healing you.

After all, it is your opinion that matters the most, doesn’t it?

anxiety, mental health

I Am Not Fragile

There is something that I want every single person out there who is reading this to know about my anxiety and about me: it does not make me fragile.

Anxiety causes me to be a bit more sensitive than a person who does not deal with anxiety symptoms, and the smallest of things can often turn into the biggest of deals. Sometimes, I have panic attacks. But, so what?

Just because I deal with (or I should say dealt with, as I am happy to announce that the majority of my symptoms have subsided, and I have not had a panic attack for the past five months) with anxiety does not make me weak or fragile.

In fact, I would like to argue that it has made me stronger. After all, I had just spent a year in therapy learning how to deal with them on my own, and investing time and energy into growing myself. I learned how to deal with it, to truly learn how to be strong, and maintain a positive outlook on life. I grew stronger and more independent, and I am pretty damn proud of this person that I have become.

And what did you do this past year?

Lets face it-having anxiety sucks. However, I learned to deal with the symptoms. Let me say this once and for all: not everything gives me anxiety, and it is not up to you to control my anxiety. My anxiety does not have to do with a lot of things that I deal with daily. I am not anxious writing this blog post. I am not anxious petting my dog, going to the store, buying a coffee, you get the picture. And, even if it did, it is not up to you to help me deal, although I appreciate the support. It is my problem, and I think that I  do a pretty good job dealing with them.

That may be harsh, yes. However, whenever I tell someone that I have anxiety, I often feel that they treat me as if I were made out of glass and easily broken. And, that frustrates me. Just because I have some sort of mental illness does not mean that you have to treat me like I am a child and protect me. I can do that by myself, thank you very much.

So, the take home message here? Just because someone has anxiety (or any other mental illness for that matter), does not mean that they are weaker than you. It does not make them fragile. It makes them strong, and that is why they deserve to treated as every other damn human on the planet, with a bit more understanding of course of what they went through, because they went through hell to get to the point where they are at today. We are not the label that we possess-we are so much more than that. Be sure to remember that.

 

mental health

Why We Need to Change Our Perception Of Mental Illness

Nearly 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and over suffer from a mental illness each year, according to the Kim Foundation. This translates into about a quarter of the American population who deal with the crippling effects of mental illness on a daily basis. These illnesses have a wide range, from anxiety, PTSD, depression and eating disorders. And, those are only a few that the DSM lists.

With so many mental illnesses out there, there is still a bad attitude towards those who suffer from them, whether it may be calling them “freaks” or “weirdos,” calling those who have a learning disability “retarded” or saying that they simply want attention. These perceptions can originate from many different places, from family members growing up, from media or from lack of knowledge. However, I believe that we as a society need to change this, so we can not only accept those who suffer from these illnesses, but encourage them to get the help that we need.

These negative perceptions have a variety of range, and can have an effect on the patient, because they feel almost as if they are not validated to feel what they are feeling. I suffer from anxiety and have experienced numerous panic attacks. One of the comments that I have received was “you are freaking out over nothing,” or “you are doing this just to get attention.” Honestly, let me ask you this. If I could control my panic attacks, don’t you think I would? Do you honestly think that I want to live with panic attacks that consistently put a stall on my life?

I didn’t think so.

I can honestly say that it is almost twice as hard to heal from a mental illness than a physical one. I myself can speak from my experiences, as it took nearly a year to get to a place where I can control my anxiety. During this time, it was like trying to fight a losing war, as I tried to change my way of thinking, tried to put myself first and figure out what treatment I needed to get better. Anxiety was not something I could just not “get over” at the snap of my fingers. Anxiety was something that consumed my body, taking over both my physical and mental states of being. By saying that anxiety is something that I simply can “get over” is both hurtful and offensive.

We need to stop those who suffer from mental illness to simply “get over it.” We need to change our perceptions of mental illness, and treat them with the same amount of respect, or even more, that we treat those who do not suffer from mental illness. We need to not disregard the symptoms that can not be helped. We need to listen to someone who is struggling with the effects of depression with a kind ear. We need to erase the r-word from our vocabulary.

Those who suffer from a mental illness do not deserve those derogatory terms. They do not deserve to be dismissed. Haven’t they been through enough without feeling that they are less than in a society? I think so.

anxiety, mental health, Relationships

6 Tips For Dating Someone With Anxiety

Being a significant other to someone with an anxiety, or any kind of mental illness for that matter, can be a daunting thing, especially if you have no experiences with the disorder. Anxiety can cause many different problems, especially in your point of view, you do not understand why your partner is freaking out about something small or a larger thing.

As a person who deals with anxiety, and has had relationships, I can tell you that it is not easy. In my experiences, my anxiety had become the third wheel in my relationships. While I was lucky to have a partner who wanted to understand, dating someone with anxiety can be tricky, and I hope this list becomes a resource of everyone who has a partner who has an anxiety disorder. While these tips pertain to people who have anxiety, these also pertain to all mental illnesses-from depression to eating disorders.

1. Communication is key. This is crucial in any kind of relationship, but this is especially crucial in a relationship with a person with anxiety. Ask them about what makes them anxious, ask them about what triggers a panic attack and talk to them about the things they can do to help make them feel better. The more talking you do, I think the better off you are.

However, with that being said, dating someone with anxiety can be overwhelming. If you feel like they are leaning on you too much, be sure to tell them (in a nice way, naturally). I am the first to admit it is not the easiest thing to date me because of my anxiety. With that being said, I also think that if my boyfriend should speak up if he is feeling like he is lost in my anxiety, because I feel like anxiety can consume the relationship as well. Therefore, if you are feeling like that, then please speak up.

2. Do not ever make them feel guilty or tell them how to feel. One of the worst things that anyone can do with someone who has anxiety is make them feel guilty for their anxiety, or tell them to stop feeling anxious over something so small. Whenever I hear that, I want to slap someone in the face, and say “if I could control it, don’t you think I would?” By saying that, you are shutting them out, and making them feel even worse then they already are. Instead of saying “stop being anxious,” replace the sentence with “I do not understand how you are feeling, however I would like to try to. Can you tell me what is going through your head?” This sentence is ten times better because not only are you opening up communications, but you are also making them feel like they can come to you for support, and not pushing them away.

3. Remember they are not just their anxiety. As I mentioned in my sermon, I am a lot more than my anxiety. That is something I want every guy I date to remember. Sure, I deal with this thing called anxiety. But, there is more to me than that. I am sure that every person out there who deals with any kind of mental illness can attest to that. Chances are, there is a reason why you are with that person, and attracted to them, whether it may be because of their sense of humor or the things you both have in common. Therefore, remember that their mental illness is not the whole part of them.

4. Come to a therapist appointment, if you want. In my last relationship, my ex-boyfriend attended a therapist appointment with me to further learn how to manage my anxiety, and become a support system.

While I do not think it is a necessary thing to do, I do think it is something that is beneficial for both communication factors and to help understand exactly the circumstances of your anxiety is. In addition to that, I think it is important for partners to do this, just because it can help create an honest communication with each other, and learn more about anxiety/whatever if not familiar with it.

5. Take care of you. Just because you are dating someone with anxiety, and needs constant support, does not mean that you have to give up everything just to be there for them. Going through a year’s worth of therapy helped me learn to manage my anxiety on my own. However, from time to time, I lean on the support of friends and family. Leaning too much in any relationship can lead down an unhealthy path.

What I want partners of anxiety patients to know is that they do not have to feel like they are on call consistently. As I could imagine (and hope for that matter), you have a life outside of your relationship, whether it is work, school, friends and family. Sometimes, if your partner is having a crisis, you just can not be there for them for whatever reason. And that is okay, and if your relationship is a healthy one, your partner understands that. You need to take care of you, which is something that is important. This includes making sure that you are getting your work done, making sure you do things that are fun for you and making sure you do things that make you happy.

However, I would also like to add that whenever you are able to talk to them, you should aspire to let them know that you are there for them to offer support when needed. That alone can mean the world to them.

6. Be patient and let them feel what they need to feel. Anxiety is often the combination of several thousand feelings at once pulsing through your brain. When I have a panic attack, I am hysterically crying, and feel like I just can not breathe from the weight of the anxiety. Panic attacks come from all sorts of triggers (which is important for you to learn about them), and as I mentioned earlier, some of them you might not understand.  Being able to support them and be patient with them is a combination of traits that I think everyone who has a significant other with anxiety needs to have to make the relationship successful.

However, it is important for you to remain patient and let them feel that anxiety. The more you do this, the more comfortable and supported they feel. Speaking more you do not let yourself feel that anxiety, the more destructive it can be.

So while you do not understand why your significant other may be crying in a corner, remember to remain patient with them, hold their hand if you are able to and if you are not able to, just say that you care/love them, and will always be there for them.

I can speak from experience by saying anxiety is tough, and is especially tough to deal with in relationships. With that being said, constant communication and discussion can be your weapons in dealing with its craziness.

Uncategorized

8 Easy Ways To Implement Mindfulness In Your Life

There are so many theories on how to live a happy and fulfilled life that it’s even a section at Barnes and Noble. However, I learned that it’s not as complicated as it seems. Here are some easy ways to incorporate mindfulness in your day to day life:

      • Make an upbeat playlist to play when you’re feeling down.
        Whenever I’m having a bad day, I blast my “Upbeat, Feel Good Music” playlist on Spotify, which is filled with several songs that help me feel empowered and happy. Having that playlist helps me not only get out of my bad mood, but is extremely uplifting. For me, my playlist is filled with songs by Demi Lovato and Beyonce, but that song differs for everyone. The key is to have a playlist of music in tow to help you jam out for a while, and essentially just feel empowered.
  • Journal.

I’ve kept a journal for the past four and a half years, and honestly, it is one of the most helpful things for me, both as a writer and as a person with anxiety. Recently, I’ve discovered it’s useful to help me reach a calmer sense of self. Whenever I have a panic attack, or even feel one coming on, I break out my pen and pad and begin to write until every emotion I am feeling exits my body, and is on the page. Even if you’re not a writer, I highly recommend you keeping a journal of some sort if you’re feeling stressed, because it’s helpful for you to reflect on yourself and what you’re feeling. Or, you can even use a journal to create a list of stuff that went right in your day. But, if you’re really stuck on how to start, check out this article by Journal to Wellness with some journaling tips for beginners.

  • Surround yourself with positive quotes.

I have a Pinterest board dedicated to this, and every so often, search for some new ones to use as my wallpaper so I can have some sort of affirmation whenever I’m having a bad day. Surrounding yourself with some positive quotes not only makes you feel empowered and inspired, it also helps make you feel more positive. And who doesn’t need a healthy dosage of positivity in your day to day life? Furthermore, you can also purchase notepads and mugs to further surround yourself with some good vibes.

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It’s always good to remind yourself that you deserve the best.
  • Make time to do something that makes you happy everyday. 

For me, it’s reading a book every morning with a cup of coffee. However, for you it can be something different, such as devoting time to do a craft, or something like that. By doing this, you are not only carving time out for yourself, but also finding time to do something that you enjoy. Chances are, even if you only get a few minutes each day, by doing this you are in a sense happy.

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There’s nothing like a great book and a cup of good coffee to start the morning.
  • Check with yourself every now and then. 

Stressful day? Be sure to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling, and see what you need to do to take care of yourself. This can be simple as making sure you take some time to eat if you’re hungry, or even take a brief break while at work. It’s important to do this, because if you’re neglecting your own needs, chances are you’re only going to be adding to the stress.

  • Drink a lot of water. 

According to this article from the Calm Clinic entitled “Can Anxiety Be Caused By Dehydration?” not drinking enough water can definitely worsen anxiety symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to stay hydrated through out the day. So, before you leave in the morning for a long day of school/work/both, be sure to make sure you packed a water bottle in your bag. Trust me, it’s helpful.

  • Create a “carrot” for you to get through the day/week/month.

Midterms/finals are stressful. However, instead of dwelling on the negative, which is only going to bring you down, think of something that you can treat yourself with, whether it may be a cupcake from your favorite place or a night out with friends. These carrots don’t have to necessarily be material things, however, simply by saying to yourself “all I have to get through is one more day, then I’m going to have a fun girl’s night,” will definitely help you be more optimistic.

 

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Cupcakes make the perfect “carrot” after a long day.
  • When stressed, ask yourself what you need to focus right now.

When dealing with stress, ask yourself what you can do right now to help reach that goal. For example, if you’re stressed out about not being able to find a job after you graduate, be sure to take small steps to get there. This may mean getting your resume ready, or tackling a few applications a day. Therefore, by taking those small steps, you reach a larger goal, i.e. full time employment.

*All photos were taken from my personal Instagram.