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On 2 Years Without Self-Harm

As always, I did my best to keep triggering language out of this article as much as possible. However, it does discuss self-harm and cutting, which may be triggering for some people. Please practice self-care through personal responsibility

I truly believe that every accomplishment deserves to be celebrated. Recently, I reached my 2 years without self-harm anniversary, and my 2 year anniversary from inpatient hospitalization is coming up in the next few months.

I use the term self-harm instead of cutter/cutting because there are many ways to engage in self-harm and not all of them involve cutting. Nor do all forms of self-harm leave visible evidence on the skin.

When I was 11 years old, I took an object to my skin for the first time with the intention of self-harm. It was the beginning of a very long journey with self-harm for me. Self-harm became my primary coping mechanism – if not survival mechanism. I could do it anywhere, anytime, with anything. It’s what kept me going.

Self-harm became something of an addiction for me. When I started self-harming, there weren’t scientific studies showing how the “high” of self-harm affects the brain. Your brain gets a similar release and “high” feeling as if you are using a traditional drug or substance. People who knew I did it just thought I was crazy. If they didn’t, it was probably because they did it, too. I lied through my teeth every time I was asked about it and did my best to cover it up as much as I could. Thank goodness, fast forward so many years later, we understand self-harm better than we used to.

None of the hundreds (if not thousands) of times I harmed myself were a suicide attempt or with intentions of suicide. I was not trying to kill myself. It was not for attention. I was just trying to get through the day; I was hurting. I felt like I couldn’t handle what was going on in my life. It is a common myth that all “cutters” are trying to kill themselves, and they just “can’t.” However, that isn’t the case for many people. People who cut themselves are not sick or twisted. They are hurting.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) teaches that cutting can prevent suicide because it gives a little release and helps people feel like they can keep going. It’s an unhealthy and self-destructive coping skill, but it is a coping skill for some (like it was for me). That does NOT make it any safer or less serious. It is still a serious issue, and it doesn’t’ matter how infrequent or superficial the incidences may be. Anyone who self-harms is hurting very much on the inside.

If someone you know has engaged in self-harm, ask them if it was a suicide attempt. Get comfortable saying those words. Some people are just trying to cope and get through the day. Encourage them to get help.

It’s okay to talk about it. It’s okay to speak up. It’s okay to not be okay.
We are only as sick as our secrets.

As I got older, I tried over and over again to tell myself that I would never do it again. I kept track and counted the days on my calendar. Once, I almost made it a year and a half in late high school, early college time period. Somehow my self-harming habits always found me again. Finally, I just accepted and believed it would always come back and be a part of my life. It became normal for me.

But that’s not the case anymore. I could easily look back into my old journals to see what the exact date was that I did it, but it doesn’t quite matter to me anymore. I’m able to be thankful each day that I get through without self-harm. I’m beyond thankful for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), yoga, and medication. I continue working to find my voice and to express myself. My recovery requires time and attention from me every day. Today, I practice coping skills every day so that I have a coping toolbox when I need it.

There have been so many times in the past that I have said that I would never self-harm again. I would love to say that and know it is definite and true. I just don’t know what the future holds. I would love to know that I’m never going to hurt that bad again. All I do know is that I try to get a little better every day, and I’m thankful for every day free from self-harm and self-destructive habits.

To people who self-harm: You are not crazy. You are not abnormal. There are chemicals in your brain that are giving you these urges and you aren’t alone. Self-harm isn’t anyone’s first choice, and it does not have to last forever. Help and recovery is available.

If you have a question about self-harm, please ask in a comment or on the contact page and I will answer as much as possible personally or in another post.

If you or someone you know is engaging in self-harm, speak up and get help. There are hotlines, counselors, programs, all sorts of help and resources available. No one has to live like this forever.

HOPE – Hold On Pain Ends

Friends Don’t Let Friends Self-Criticize

I went to a conference in college. One night, we had a “fancy” (not really formal) event. We were getting ready and went to check our makeup before the event started. She noticed the way I was staring at my body – poking and prodding at what I thought was fat. She told me to stop. I’m sure I said something complaining about the dress and my body. She simply took my hand and said,

“Friends don’t let friends self-criticize,”

and led me out of the bathroom. Sometimes it’s something you need said to you and sometimes it’s something you can say to someone else.

I had another friend in college (at a point in time when I thought I was really healthy and far into my recovery – I wasn’t) who was one of the sweetest girls I’ve  ever met, but she could not take a compliment to save her life. Similar to many people with low self-esteem, she would say, “No, stop” and look down. We would say something nice to her and she couldn’t maintain eye contact, and she didn’t even realize she did it. I would tell her, “Just say thank you. It feels uncomfortable at first but that’s good. When you can just accept how amazing you are, it will make you look more confident. In the mean time, it’s trickling into your subconscious. Then, you’ll feel and see it, too.”

She refused so I changed my tactic. “Fine, but every time you say no, I’m going to say 3 good things about you. If you still don’t say thank you, I’ll just keep going until you do…and I can talk forever. You don’t have to say anything, but don’t reject the compliment because you deserve it.” Sometimes she got frustrated with me, I think that’s fair. With a little persistence, she eventually started saying thank you.

When we reject a compliment, we contribute to rejecting ourselves.

That is not empowering at all.

Even if it’s hard to accept or face, simply accepting the compliment makes you look more confident and eventually feel more confident, too.

Self-talk is the way we talk to ourselves in our head, and it plays a large role in our overall self-esteem. If you walk around everyday telling yourself awful things about who you are; that is going to affect how you interact with others, how you carry yourself, and your overall mood and energy. The problem is that a lot of times, we don’t tune into the station. After awhile of putting yourself down, criticizing, and insulting yourself; it starts to feel normal and natural. For years, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. When I tuned in and listened to what I was saying to myself, I could see how such negativity was affecting my confidence, self-image, and self-concept. Negativity was infecting my life like the plague.

If you find that your self-talk is negative, start talking back. In interpersonal communication (between people), studies show that it takes about 4 positive statements to balance 1 negative comment you make to someone or someone makes to you. Follow this guideline in communicating with yourself, too.

For every negative thing you catch yourself saying, say 3-4 positive things about yourself. It goes a long way for your self confidence. In interpersonal relationships, the 4 statements must happen over time; but with intrapersonal communication (self-talk), you can say them all at once to fight back against that critical voice.

If it’s difficult to find positive things to tell yourself, say affirmations. You don’t have to say them out loud. Thoughts are very powerful. After trying this for even just one week, you’ll see a major confidence boost.

What are you going to start telling yourself? How are you going to talk back to make self-talk positive? Leave a comment below and let us know. It may give someone else an idea.

Originally posted to this site on June 3, 2014

On Quitting Acting School

Note: This article was written prior to inpatient treatment. I do my best to keep triggering language off of this site, but this article does address Eating Disorders thoughts and behaviors.

Acting has always been one of my greatest passions in life. I took a gap year after college to focus on achieving my dreams. Unfortunately, it was a year I mostly wasted, but I still learned a lot in the process. I started studying Meisner Technique at an acting school in Philadelphia. I studied there for 8 months (which isn’t long at all when you consider acting conservatories and such) before I quit. I said it was because I was broke (which I was), but I could’ve lasted a little longer if I’d really wanted to stay. The truth is I quit acting school because my eating disorder told me to.

How?

When you’re acting, it needs to be real. You need to feel what your character is feeling. It’s not about saying words and making expressions appear believable. It has to be real even if just for that moment. But I couldn’t feel anything. I lived emotionally numb for years and that was my norm. My eating disorder got me to the point that I couldn’t even handle positive emotions. I just never knew what to do with them. I would get excited and happy about something and my reaction was to act on ED symptoms or smoke; I just didn’t know how to react to the world. I wasn’t human, and part of acting is revealing humanity to an audience. You put yourself through some of the most difficult situations and make pain, angst, anguish, love, and happiness real to move yourself and stay connected to a partner to live out an imaginary situation. The problem was, I couldn’t move myself, how was I ever going to move an audience?

There was nothing true or authentic about what I was doing while I was training. I put little to no effort into preparing for acting exercises. Usually, I prepared while I was sitting in class waiting my turn. After so many years in my eating disorder, I had forgotten how to feel. There were times when I was told it was a “good exercise.” I fooled myself into believing I could “get by” in this industry (missing the whole point of the craft completely…and I knew that). My teacher was a master, there is no doubt in my mind that he knew just how empty I was as I went through the motions and moments during the exercises.

I didn’t read the plays or watch the movies. I was too busy with my rituals and obsessions. I took notes claiming I’d read/watch it later, but I never did until I started getting better. The truth was I couldn’t concentrate enough to sit and watch a play. I was too exhausted and my ability to focus on anything was almost nonexistent; but while I was in it, I never could have told you that. I lived with my body in starvation mode for most of my life and that became normal to me. I couldn’t tell the difference. I wrote in a book report that I didn’t have time to read and my teacher wrote on my paper, “You don’t have time not to read. Make time.” Instead of accepting that for what it was (truth), I just believed he hated me and that’s why I wasn’t getting “good” scenes. Scenes I couldn’t have done realistically. I stopped progressing and moving forward in class probably because I continued finding more and more reasons not to go and not to care about class. The one class that was teaching me the craft that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

I hated going because it was a three hour class, and I always ate before I went to act anywhere because I didn’t want to worry about my stomach making noise and having people “think I was hungry.” When I am filming, it was the one chance I had to not feel self-conscious, to not do body checks, to not worry about my weight. It was my only chance (I thought) to actually live in a moment and actually feel anything (or think I was).

Then, I had a scene where I had to eat. I had to find a way of making it look like I was eating without actually eating, which is something most people with eating disorders become very good at over time…but when you’re on stage alone, you can’t fool a room full of people especially not in an art that expects you to show yourself in the most raw state possible. And I was terrified of eating even three pieces of popcorn. Luckily, my scene partner ate most of it. I was supposed to be watching a film in the scene, but (as in life) I was too focused on (not) eating the popcorn to even be aware of the film. Similarly, I was never present at any meal with a family or friend. That was my reality.  He gave me the following notes: “You’re given an activity in this scene. You’re eating popcorn and watching a movie. You have to actually eat the popcorn and actually watch the movie.” That simple. The healthy part of me knew what it was: the eating disorder was winning. We were supposed to bring the scene back in the next class, but I found an excuse to give my scene partner each time as to why I couldn’t perform the scene that day. All because I wanted to get out of eating a few pieces of popcorn.

One day, he used me as an example and pointed to me and said, “Why doesn’t she just tell him about how hungry she is?” I was convinced that he and everyone in that class now thought I was fat and I obsessed over that for the entire class. I thought he could have said anything to me and nothing in the world would ever come close to being as humiliating as that moment because, at the time, eating and hunger wasn’t something normal and healthy.

That was the last class I went to.

What’s the point of writing this post? My eating disorder took away my biggest passion in the world and I didn’t think twice about it. At the time, I felt like I had the eating disorder under control and I didn’t feel consumed by it because I had been in deeper. I was still denying the prevalence of the eating disorder in my life. The worst part about it is that for so long I was able to convince myself. When you have an eating disorder, you’re not living at all. You lose everything and give in to a world of contradictions.

Choose life because it’s more than just survival. It’s everything.

Originally published on this site on June 2, 2014

5 Ways to Get Energized

It can be hard to stay motivated, especially if you’re feeling down or battling depression. Depression is an illness that works against our own recovery. With most viruses, our body helps us fight back but with mental illness the symptoms work against us, too. If you’re searching for ways to get energized and motivated today, check out these 5 ideas.

1. Listen to music to get pumped up

I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t have a playlist of songs that get them pumped up. Every morning, I turn on Pandora or ask Alexa to play music to set the tone of my day. It doesn’t matter what genre you’re listening to as long as it is enjoyable and energizing for you. Some people may prefer Top 20 while others may prefer Classic Jazz. Listen to different types of music to see how different songs and sounds make you feel. You may even want to try keeping a “music therapy journal” of your experience and favorite energizing songs.

2. Pretty yourself up – if you want

When we look good, we feel good! (Well, not always – but go with me here.) It can be a great way to start your day by prettying yourself up, whatever that means to you. For some, it can mean a shower and brushing your hair. For others, it may be a cute outfit, curled hair, and a full face of makeup. Wear whatever makes you feel confident and ready to take on the day. It can be really motivating to put some effort into your appearance to give yourself an energy boost. Of course, this won’t be for everyone. That’s why there are 4-5 other options.

3. Workout

A good morning workout gets blood pumping and helps with mental alertness. It also helps with depression, stress management, and releases endorphins to help us feel good. Most people know this, but it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Maybe today is a good day to try going for a walk. Maybe dancing around your room is more your style. You can make a workout out of anything that gets your blood pumping and body moving. I personally don’t like going to gyms so I plan my workouts at home to get my blood pumping.

4. Read

Reading – really? Yes! Find something inspirational to get you energized and motivated to start the day. It can be something online, a daily devotional, meditation, an inspirational book, or you can choose to get lost in some great fiction.

5. Dream Big!

Try writing down 10 goals you want to achieve in the next year and the first step you are going to take today to move into that direction. Another option is to sit in stillness for 5-10 minutes while you visualize the great future in store for you. Create the life you want to live, and it will come true. Allow your dreams, wishes, and future to get you motivated and energized in the now.

Remember that depression is a result of chemical imbalances in the brain. Lack of interest and/or energy may be a symptom. If you’re feeling this way, it may be best to talk to a doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist about what is best for you. There are medications such as antidepressants that can help you become more energetic. A psychiatrist can help you find out which medication may be a good fit for you. There are supplements that can do the same thing. One of my favorites is a B complex which is great for an energy boost and stress relief. (Of course, you still want to consult with your doctor before consuming any medications or supplements to make sure it will be safe and effective for you.

What do you do to get energized? How do you keep yourself motivated to keep moving? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Originally published on this website on March 31, 2017

The World Needs This

There are a lot of blogs out there. There are a lot of mental health resources available, a lot of organizations working towards this cause, and a lot of people sharing their stories already. Why start another one?

I’m starting this blog because this website has been begging to do it for over 10 years now. I’ve put it off long enough. I’m ready to share with all of you now. About a month ago, I decided that I had waited long enough. July 22 would be the day I start. It was my puppy’s birthday, and it is my first year without her. It seemed like the perfect time to start.

Precious

Little did I know just how perfect it would actually be – in the most unfortunate of ways. It’s the same week Chester Bennington of Linkin Park completed suicide. Another life lost. His music was such a major part of my adolescence and the beginning of my fight with mental illness. It is truly devastating. He was someone who impacted so many lives by giving a voice to feelings and experiences for which we needed an outlet. Mental illness does not care about your money, job, race, gender, sexuality, age, religion, or any other arbitrary demographic. No one is immune and any life lost to mental illness is devastating. Someone else lost their battle with mental illness and that is all too common.

The stigma and judgmental attitude about mental illness must be stopped. Between substance use (like the current opiate epidemic) and deaths by suicide, people are dropping like flies and something needs to be done. People who don’t cross the line to mental illness still have mental health concerns that may affect their life and those around them. It does not matter where you fall on that spectrum from mental wellness to mental illness, hopefully you will find something on this site that speaks to you or helps you in some way.

We need to talk about these issues. We are only as sick as our secrets, and we live in a society that promotes these unhealthy secrets. People need to have this conversation.

Writing is one of many ways I help myself (and hopefully others) heal. It is an opportunity to educate people about mental health. Hopefully, if I can grow this site as I hope to, I can also give many of my future readers a voice because our voices matter and deserve to be heard.

I write to help people know they are not alone. I want people to know that help and treatment options are available. I write to share my experience, strength, and hope; which continues to change and grow each and every day. I write under the thought that there has to be someone somewhere that will be helped by it.

Though I hope to make a living in wellness (including wellness writing), I would write even if I never made a penny from it because it’s important and it matters. It’s been a passion of mine since I was a little girl, and the desire to help others is implanted deep in my soul. I have to try to help people.

But why now? Why write? Why me? My story isn’t the most extreme in any way. It seems like everything has been said and done before. Isn’t it kind of depressing to start writing something now?

Absolutely not.

I am the only one who can tell my story. My recovery path is different but it’s mine. My perspective and experience is different. I feel called and drawn to this work, and I’ve been putting it off for long enough. This is just the beginning, and I am so excited for what is to come.

I trust that the people who are meant to find my blog will find it and those that are meant to be put in my path, will be.

If you have found your way here, I am so thankful that you are taking a moment to read this article; and I hope, from the bottom of my heart, that you find something that resonates with you.

My only goal is to help myself and others heal. I struggled for years and years, like many do, because I didn’t know how to help myself and I didn’t know what services and options were available to me. Others shouldn’t have to hurt the way I did or for as long as I did. I would love any opportunity to minimize someone else’s pain. Perhaps I can help someone continue to stay on the path to recovery. I share my story and experience to help others avoid unnecessary suffering. I write things that heal me and hopefully will help some of you to heal as well. My recovery is a journey and I’m sharing with you the lessons I learn along the way.

When I was in middle school, my English teacher said we needed to take note of any “itches to scratch” in our writing and I have a TON! Some of these haunt me until I get them out, and I want to share them with you. My experience may help you, someone you know, or help someone else know that they aren’t alone.

I write because it matters.

As a country, we have made strides in the fight, but there is still so far to go until we can say people in this country are getting the treatment they need (or even have access to it). There’s still work to be done, and I am one of many people who wants to continue fighting. It is a life or death struggle for so many people in this county and around the world.

For more specifics on my story, check out the about page and stay tuned for more articles.