I Can’t Always Do More – And That’s Okay

In a surge of excitement earlier this week, I decided I’d go get a haircut in-person for the first time in more than a year. The pandemic and my anxiety are the main reasons I haven’t done so already, and while I didn’t regret that at all, I got excited because I found a place to go that I might feel more comfortable in, that wasn’t as busy and didn’t have as much going on. But then things shifted.

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Life Update: February 2020

Since it’s been almost two years since I gave any sort of life update, I figured now would be as good a time as any. I’m notoriously bad at talking about myself or sharing any interesting information about the things I do, and I’m trying to be better about that. I know that I’ve alluded to a few decisions (and non-decisions) that I’ve made throughout this blog’s run, and I’d like to be clearer about them. I challenge my readers every week to be their best self, to show the world that they’re more than their mental illness. How can I challenge someone if I’m not showing the world that I’m more than mine?

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Guest Post: A Mental Health Reflection

This post was written by Stephen A. Harris, who was asked to reflect on his experience with mental health and masculinity in his life. He is a dear friend of mine who has agreed to share his story. Thank you Stephen!

It Started From the Beginning

“You weak, cuz.”

“Why you cryin’ like a bitch?”

“You need to man up, that’s how females talk.”

These were common phrases when showing emotion around family growing up, especially my cousins around the same age as me. I was raised to believe real men don’t cry, real men are tough and real men don’t show weakness. What I didn’t realize was the damage that was being done that affects me to this day.

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What’s the Right Level of Anxiety to Feel?

After the events of the past few months, I feel comfortable saying it’s a nervous time right now – to say the least. And rather than tell you why that is, pretending I’m any sort of medical expert (I’ll just point you to the CDC), I want to focus on the anxiety that many of us feel right now surrounding the situation.

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The Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness

I talk about mental health a lot, I write about it a lot and I read about it a lot. It’s a big part of my life (if you haven’t guessed that already). When you’re learning about a new aspect of yourself, you want to learn as much as possible about that aspect so you can understand how to deal with it. In doing all of that, early on I learned about a few common misconceptions about mental health, and anxiety and depression in particular.

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Common Physical Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders

The first time someone brought up the term ‘symptoms’ in connection with mental health, I was confused. All my life, I’d been told that symptoms are diseases and chronic conditions. If something feels off, it was understood that you hit up WebMD to find out which symptoms could match up with what you’re feeling. So when this therapist brought up several physical symptoms to describe my chronic (which I didn’t know at the time) anxiety, I was put off. But once they explained further, I began to understand that certain physical symptoms can indicate other types of anxiety disorders past my own.

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We’re Heading Into Winter

So it’s October! While September is a little less in your face about it being fall, by the time we reach October people are pretty much in full-on Jack Skellington mode or sending Dwight Schrute’s pumpkin head to their friends. But for me, October can signal a lot of changes – the most important one being that summer is over, and this year it’s especially important to me.

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What To Remember When Choosing a Therapist – If You’ve Had One Before

Last week, I wrote about things you should think about when you’re choosing a therapist for the first time. This week, I thought I’d build on that by talking about choosing a therapist if you’ve been to one before. 

Odds are, your first therapist will not be your only one. Sure, you might strike gold with the first one – you might even find ‘the one.’ But often, life and circumstances change, and we’re forced to see multiple therapists during our mental health journeys. Here are some things to remember when you’re picking a therapist when you’ve had one before.

Know your diagnosis. One time I went to see a medical professional who diagnosed me, after one brief assessment, with borderline personality disorder. They did this after ten minutes of speaking with me, and they were aware I had first been diagnosed with a mental illness three years prior. Still, that one ‘diagnosis’ was hard for me to shake, and it took many visits to other mental health professionals – who all told me that was a rash diagnosis – before I could believe them. If you’ve been diagnosed with something from a professional you trust, bring that with you to your new therapist. It’s helpful for all involved.

Do some research. Sometimes when you’re first looking for a therapist, you don’t get to be picky. You pick the person who’s closest, or the first person you find that takes your insurance. If you’re able, really dig into these new potential therapists as much as you can. Psychology Today has a ‘Find a Therapist’ section on their website and I’ve spent a lot of time on there when looking for someone new. You can see people’s specialties, the issues they deal with and their client focus. It’s been a great help to me and I’d totally recommend it!

You know more than you think you do. I remember the first time I went to therapy. I didn’t know what to expect and to be honest, I didn’t get much out of my first session. But when I went to see a new therapist for the first time, I felt much more assured. I knew myself, and my mental health, much more than I had in the past. That knowledge has helped me going forward, and your knowledge will help you, too. That leads me to my third point…

Confidence helps. While I didn’t have confidence in myself, I did have confidence in my knowledge of my mental health. This is something I remembered when I was going to see a new therapist a few years ago. Since I knew more about my mental illnesses, I was able to take comfort in the fact that at least I knew what I was up against. Having that confidence – even in the fact that I didn’t have confidence – helped me as I got to know my new therapist.

Think about your goals. Why did you decide to see a new therapist? I had to see new therapists because I was in college, so I was constantly switching between therapists at school and therapists at home. It got hard to keep track of what I was trying to achieve in therapy and made me sometimes feel like the visits were pointless. Yes, it’s okay if you don’t know why you’re there – getting help is a good step to take. But if you have time, take a minute and see what you’re trying to achieve. It can help in the long run.

I know there are plenty of other tips but these are some of my favorites. Have any to add? Leave a comment below.

“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” – Chinese Proverb.png

That Little Bit of Doubt

Last time we talked, I was telling you about reality-based problems. My ceiling caving in. My computer breaking. My car being towed…you get the picture. But we’re moving on from that and focusing on something new because while all that did happen, other incredible things happened to me in the past week that I would love to share!

Last week, I took a trip out of the country to El Salvador. It was the first time I’d gone abroad in more than two years, so needless to say I was extremely excited – but I was also nervous because I hadn’t traveled like that in so long. Would I still enjoy myself as much as I had when I traveled in the past? Would I want to embrace the new culture and lifestyle that was sure to be in this place?

Though I felt confident that I would adjust, I have to be honest with you – I was scared. But the moment the plane landed and I looked out the window, all that fear went away. I became immediately excited to tackle a culture that was brand-new to me, with so much to see and explore. And I did. I packed more into five days than most people do in a month, going from one place to another with a clear head and a smile on my face. The people I met, the food I ate, the places I went to…all of these experiences will be ingrained in my mind (and my camera roll!) for a very long time.

But why am I telling you this? Because even though I was incredibly excited to go to this new place, I still had some doubt, some fear in the back of my mind that I wouldn’t enjoy the experience as much as I used to. I was afraid that too much of me had changed since I last traveled. Though I am extremely grateful that I could NOT have been more wrong, I recognized that, no matter how happy I was, that fear and doubt still existed.

Wherever this post finds you, I’m sure you’re nervous about an upcoming decision you need to make. Maybe you have doubts about a decision you just made. I’m not here to validate or invalidate those choices – I just want you to know that you aren’t alone in those feelings of doubt. Everyone has them! Whether they’re big or little, important or insignificant, that kernel of doubt is a very real and human aspect of everyone one of us. But you do have control over how you handle it, how you face this doubt. And if you learn how to handle it, that can make all the difference in the world.

P.S. I’m hoping to share my trip to El Salvador on the blog next week. It was a one-of-a-kind experience, and I am very excited to share what I saw and learned!

Shakespeare Quote

Happy or Healthy?

Happiness is an interesting word to me. Some days it’s all I’m looking for; other days I don’t even worry about it. I have a complicated relationship with happiness and ‘being happy’, and for a good reason. I feel like it can be a buzzword in the mental health community that is overused and misunderstood. So instead, I’m more concerned with being healthy rather than being happy.

I know I’ve done this before, but I feel like Google search results speak a lot so here is some more fun info again. When you Google ‘how to be happy’ you get more than 4 billion results. When you search ‘how to be healthy’? One billion. Sounds like a lot, but it’s only a quarter of what ‘how to be happy’ has. Why do you think that is? I think it’s because people have a tendency to place a priority of being happy over being healthy. And yes, I’m one of them. But hopefully not for long.

When you think about being healthy, what’s the first thing you think of? Probably your physical health. I don’t blame you. Physical health is supremely important and your wellbeing depends on it. But it’s not the only type of health you should take care of – not by a long shot. Dr. Bill Wettler came up with the Seven Dimensions of Wellness in 1976 and they include:

  • Social Wellness
  • Emotional Wellness
  • Spiritual Wellness
  • Environmental Wellness
  • Occupational Wellness
  • Intellectual Wellness
  • Physical Wellness

Yes I know, I’m going to want to push mental health, which in this case is encapsulated in Emotional and Social Wellness. But each type of wellness is important in leading a productive life – and can certainly lead to a happy life. Instead of worrying about if we’re happy, why don’t we worry about being healthy? And I’m not just talking about exercising a few times a week or meditating more. We need to attack each part of our health as if it’s important as going for a run – because oftentimes it is. My friend Pat wrote a great guest post a few months back about flexing your ‘mental muscle’ and it is indeed a muscle. A muscle that we must work at and strengthen, same as any physical muscle we have.

So yes, I would advocate for practicing being healthy over being happy. Because more often than not, if you are living in a healthy manner, in every facet of the word, happiness is sure to follow. And if it isn’t, that’s okay. I haven’t stopped trying, and I hope you won’t either.