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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Mental Illness: Dealing with a Mind that has a Mind of its Own

My lovely friend, Annie, being a great model for me and struggles with mental illness herself.

We've all had moments in our lives that make us feel nervous, upset, angry, or frustrated.  Having emotions and feelings as reactions to circumstances is a normal part of life that every person experiences from the time they're a little toddler all the way through adulthood.  However, what some of us haven't gotten around to understand quite yet is what it is like to have those emotional reactions when there is nothing happening or when it doesn't make any sense, and that is mostly because the topic in general has just recently been brought up.  Most of the general public doesn't quite have a grip on understanding mental illnesses, and it isn't entirely their fault, so today I would like to shed some light on the topic since I have one myself to help others be more educated and have a better understanding about what is happening to people around them.

Mental illnesses very recently have become confused with regular emotions mostly because those who don't have them can't completely understand, so they try to relate to it by comparing everyday emotions to a mental illness.  Countless times I have heard, "well everyone gets depressed sometimes," and "oh, I have anxiety too."  And those who say it aren't trying to knock down the mental illness necessarily.  They just don't understand.  But here is what is very frustrating for someone with a mental illness like myself: unless you have an actual mental illness, you can't begin to understand what is happening to those who do.  Depression is not feeling sad.  Anxiety is not being nervous or worried. You don't have OCD because you like your things to be organized.  Those are not synonyms, even though most people use them as if they are.

I suffer from Panic Disorder which according to is, "different from the normal fear and anxiety reactions to stressful events [and] is a serious condition that strikes without reason or warning."  What that means is that absolutely nothing stressful or upsetting could be going on, and I could go into a panic attack without any warning.  It means that I could be eating ice cream (one of the best food groups in my opinion) and laughing with my friends, and all the sudden feel an incredible amount of panic or fear for absolutely no reason.  Having anxiety or panic disorder is not like being scared for a test or applying for college or being nervous for a particular reason.  The difference is, I don't know when it's coming and I don't know why it's happening to me.  It is incredibly scary especially when you aren't diagnosed yet, and explaining how you feel to someone is almost impossible.  

Depression, OCD, General Anxiety Disorder, etc., work the same way as Panic Disorder does in the sense that the person who has it has no control over what is happening to them.  This is so important for those without a mental illness to understand because we aren't crazy and we aren't being over dramatic.  Trust me, we would much rather not go through the panic attacks or episodes. But here's the good news.  If you do have a mental illness, you can get treatment.  Medicine can help reduce the number of panic attacks you have (although they don't completely get rid of them).  You can write or listen to calming music to help calm down.  Fresh air works or drawing in a coloring book.  Getting away from people and the situation is usually a big help, and for me personally, I know prayer helps me calm down a lot faster.

A big misconception I have come across is that I have been told that I need to just breathe because "it's all okay" or that prayer will somehow magically make it better.  Here's my issue with that: like I said in the previous paragraph, prayer helps significantly calm me down, but it does not get rid of my panic disorder.  If someone had diabetes, you wouldn't tell them to just pray and it will go away.  That isn't how it works.  Mental illnesses are still illnesses, and no matter how much I pray, my panic attacks aren't going to go away completely, as much as I wish they would.  Sometimes God gives you difficult things (like mental illness) to grow closer to Him, which is the case for me.  

Now I don't have the other mental illnesses to be able to tell you what it would feel like to have one, but maybe you're wondering what it's like to go through a panic attack.  Here's just a little insight into what that might feel like:Imagine feeling the blood going to through all of your veins and feeling your heartbeat.  Imagine the walls looking and feeling like they are closing in on you and everything in the room coming towards you while everyone else in the room seems to be ignoring the fact that the entire room is rapidly getting smaller.  Imagine feeling like there's a cloud over your brain and the things people are saying to you not really processing because you're so nervous and scared that something (even though you don't know what that something is) is posing real danger to you.  When you have a panic attack, it's like your body isn't yours and your mind is completely separated from it.  You can be completely aware that everything is totally fine and that you are having a panic attack, but you are unable to calm down and switch your brain off.  Your breathing can escalate very quickly and you can get chills and hot flashes.  Sometimes you shake or feel dizzy.  It's a little bit different for everyone who has them, but overall, it's one of the scariest things you'll ever experience.

Another misconception is that meditation or having an overall positive attitude gets rid of a mental illness. I have been to many a yoga class and tried meditation routinely several times throughout my life, and most people I am around would describe me as a positive person. I am extremely optimistic and I go through life with the mind set that everything happens for a reason and it will all work itself out as long as I am patient. So although both things things may help lesson the amount of panic attacks that I have, it still is not going to get rid of them completely. If that is how it worked, trust me, I would have been cured an awful long time ago.

If you do not have a mental illness, and someone you know does, here is what you should do if they are having an episode (whether that be depression, a panic attack, etc):1. Ask them what you can do. If they say they don't need anything or they don't respond leave them alone. The situation could be really overwhelming for them, and sometimes that means they need to be on their own.2. If they ask you to do something, do exactly what they ask. They want you to hold them? Hold them. They want you to get you water? Grab a water glass and hurry back with it. They want you to just sit there? Just sit there then. Don't talk unless they ask. Don't ask what you can do every 5 seconds. Yes, they will be fine. Yes, they are aware that they are okay and that everything is fine. Yes, they know you just want to help them, but just do exactly what they ask with no questions asked. Trust me, if you do what they say, they will calm down a lot faster.3. Don't treat them like a hurt puppy. People who have a mental illness already aren't happy about having it, and I can almost guarantee you that they are probably embarrassed about it. How would you like it if you knew you were overreacting and causing a huge scene and there was nothing you could do?  You probably wouldn't like that at all.  Chances are, they already feel awful for worrying you, and if they have asked you to stay with them, they probably feel like a burden to you.  They really are fine, they just need a minute...or two...or twenty.  But the point is, they already feel terrible, so please do not treat them any differently than you normally would.  

What I want everyone who doesn't have a mental illness to understand and take away from this is that this is not a choice for the person who has it. This is not a way to get attention and it really is a disease. The chemicals in a person who has a mental illness's brain is sending signals to the rest of their body at inappropriate times, so his/her brain is not functioning properly. There is not a cure (at least yet. Let's get started on one though) and you can't just wish it away as much as I wish you could. It's something you have to struggle with every day, and you are always worried that something might go wrong. You learn how to cope with it and identifies signals (if there are any). You learn what calms you down the fastest, and you learn who you can trust to help you calm down or understand the situation. It isn't easy, and it is not an emotion. So the next time you say you feel "depressed," "anxious," or "are being soooo OCD right now" because you want your room clean, maybe choose a different set of words, because all of us with mental illnesses would truly appreciate it. Emotion is not a mental illness.

If you have a mental illness, please feel free to share your stories down in the comments below so we can support each other and help each other learn better ways to deal with it as well as for those who don't have mental illnesses so they can grab a more vivid understanding.  And if you don't have a mental illness and have questions, please ask them in the comments as well.  The first step to understanding is becoming properly educated on a topic, and I, as well as others with mental illness, would be more than happy to help clear up any questions you might have!Thank you so much for reading and share this to help others learn more about what is happening to them or how to help someone around them!  Be kind and understanding towards each other!

Bree x

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Shoutout to 2016

This year is quickly coming to a close, which means almost everyone is reflecting over 2016 and all the things that happened this past year.  Apparently, the majority of people hated 2016 saying it has been "the worst year yet."  In a way, I see their point.  This year has been interesting for sure and it seems like everyone has been on an emotional roller coaster in one way or another.  This past year has certainly not been easy, but that is exactly why I disagree with everyone who says this year was the worst.  I would argue the exact opposite: 2016 has been the best year yet.

Some of you probably think I'm crazy now saying, "How on Earth could I think this past year has been the best year of my life?"  Well, I like to think of myself as an optimist, and I think I have learned more about myself and life in general more this year than any other year of my life (which is saying quite a lot because there have been some very eventful years in the past for me).
So here is what I learned and exactly why 2016 has been the best year for me:

The people who are supposed to be in your life are going to make just as much of an effort as you will.  
I'm one of those people who desperately tries to hold onto people.  I spend so much of my time making an effort for every single person that takes one step into my life, and I wear myself out and spread myself way too thin because of it.  This year has helped me realize that about myself.  That does not mean that it is necessarily a bad thing, but it is something I needed to understand about myself so that I can make sure it doesn't turn into a bad thing.  It can lead to me getting used if I'm not careful, which happened a bunch of times throughout 2016.  But it forced me to learn that the people who care about you and the ones that matter will make just as much of an effort to be in your life as you are in theirs.  All relationships are a two way street, and if you're the only one going the distance, maybe you should think about whether or not that person is worth keeping around.  Every single one of the relationships I have made this past year that are real ones have consisted of people wanting to see me, checking up on me, asking how my day is, and going that extra mile to show me they care just like I do for them.  That is how you figure out who matters, and that is such an important lesson to learn.  Without 2016, I probably would have never figured that out.

It is okay to change your dreams.
Like I have said on here before, I am a very organized, everything-has-to-happen-in-a-certain-order, kind of person.  And big changes scare me.  I don't like it when I figure out that things aren't going to go as I planned them.  That's an issue and that is another thing I learned about myself this year.  Sometimes you have dreams that seem so perfect until you get there and realize it's not exactly what you'd hoped.  That is okay.  It is perfectly alright to change your plans... and then change them again... and then change them again.  It is okay to have absolutely no idea what you are doing.  It is okay to try something different and love that. The point of dreaming, and dreaming big, is not that your dreams don't change, but that you are chasing them full speed.

You need to feel.
Having feelings these days seems to be a negative thing.  We all seem to laugh too much, cry too little, get too angry.  So some of us just stop.  We stop allowing ourselves to feel the effects of life, and frankly, it just isn't human.  This year has taught me to stop bottling things up.  Life is tough and bad things are going to happen.  I am going to get hurt and get sad, and I am also going to feel so happy that my heart hurts.  The point is, I need to feel that joy when great things happen.  I need to let myself not be okay.  I learned that I have always been the type of person who slaps a smile on her face in front of everyone - including myself - and just keep saying, "I'm fine."  Well, part of life is not being fine.  In fact, a big part of life is not being fine.  When I have emotions, I need to let them loose or I won't learn anything and I'll just end up hurting myself.  2016 taught me that it is okay not to be okay.

Don't ever lose yourself.
Writing for me has always been an outlet.  It has been such a big part of my life and the entire reason I went into journalism this past semester.  I love deep thoughts and other perspectives, and that is what I thought it would be.  However, I was wrong, and that is okay.  Journalism just isn't the kind of writing I wanted to be doing.  But a lot of people asked me why I didn't just keep going with it since eventually I would probably get to write about what I wanted.  My answer to that was that writing is a piece of me.  It is a part of me that is completely my own and I never want to let someone else control when, how, or why I write.  For a little while this year, I stopped writing.  And I mean completely.  Whether or not it is a blog post or a story, I have always written at least some small things in my notes just because I truly love it.  I stopped doing that, and I could feel me letting myself slip through my fingers.  Never let somebody else dictate what you love or you'll start hating it.  So that is why I decided to switch majors so that I could write on the side on my own terms and not someone else's deadline.

As for the rest of this year, I got accepted to college; We started FCA at Canfield High School; I spent every day after school working out with my friend, Hannah; I gave two speeches in front of the entire school; I went to prom in my favorite dress in the entire world; I went white water rafting; I got really close with my friend, Moira, again; I graduated high school and had a fabulous graduation party; I went on a hiking trip; I started singing again; I turned 18 - yay adulthood; I met my lovely new little sister, Grace, to add to our multi-country family with my older sister, Megan; I chopped seven inches of my hair off which was brave for me; I went on a mission trip and met the sweetest kids; I went on a day trip to Pittsburgh for fun; I spent an entire week at the Canfield fair; I started college; I started teaching middle school youth group; I visited my friend, Christa, in Cleveland twice; I had a daily car ride with my friend Annie to Kent while waking our friend Taryn up by singing "What a Wonderful World" on the phone and we all went to Cleveland for the World Series; I learned loads about photography (and met the best professors in that class); I made a bunch of adult decisions like switching schools and my major and getting my car fixed all on my own; I decided to try to move in with my best friend, Andrea, next fall; I got a new job; I got all A's my first semester of college; I bought my first lottery tickets (yanno, because I'm a fancy adult now); I got closer with my family, especially my mom and sister; and lastly, I met some of the most amazing people in my entire life and grew stronger in the friendships I already had.  And so maybe this year was not full of a bunch of happy-go-lucky moments like I had planned for it to, and maybe there were some eventful and emotional roller coasters, but I learned so much, and for me, that is a pretty successful year.

Thank you so much for reading and feel free to comment down below your best memories of 2016. See you next year!

Bree x

Saturday, December 3, 2016

College 101 - The First Six Months

Starting at a young age, I was asked what I wanted to be.  Such a simple question, but the answer changed at least eleven times for me, if not more.  The older I got, the more the question was asked and the more it was accompanied by more specific and demanding questions.  Where was I going to middle school, high school, or college?  Where did I want to live someday?  How old did I want to be before I got married or had kids?  Did I want a family before or after a career?  So many questions that I had no clue how to answer, but continuously made up as I went.  And the more I thought about them, the more concrete they became in my mind like a checklist where I had to have "this" done by "this" date.  I had a timeline that I very much intended on sticking to.  As a girl who went through a lot as a kid, I just wanted to be able to paint my life's picture on my own and be confident in what I was doing.

And boy oh boy, did I think I had it all figured out at first.  I picked my middle school...and then ended up going to a different one instead.  I had one high school planned out and then switched my sophomore year.  I even had my college picked out thinking this one would surely stick.  I had the perfect major for me and for once I could just follow my plan, right?  Now I could happily move on to college with the reigns completely in my hands, become a super successful journalist, and travel absolutely everywhere (and if I accidentally found some cute guy in a foreign country, I would be totally fine with that), right?

Or maybe not so much.

Truth is, my plans never seem to work out at all how I plan them, and that can become very frustrating for a very self-sufficient, organized, high anxiety, eighteen-year-old.  In fact, it seems the more I try to plan, the more it doesn't work.  So as I take a deep breath after six months of "adulting" and wait to start my second semester of college, I am going to tell you what I have learned so far...because it is quite a list.

1.  The plans you make for yourself probably will not end up working out like you'd hoped.  
Turns out, the thing I thought I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life is not right for me at all. The college I started out at is not even the right fit for me.   Funny enough, I am going to the college that was originally not even on my list, not because it's a bad school, but because I wanted out like many other high school seniors do.  On top of that, my mother teaches in the business building at my new university, so you'd better believe that was my #1 on my "Not Going to Major In" list... and now I'm going to be in the very same building as her.  (Side note: I love my mother very much, I just really hate math and the thought of doing accounting made my head hurt, just like the thought of writing makes hers hurt).  

2.  You learn who your real friends are.
On top of schooling, my friends have changed a lot.  Sure, I still have some from the past that will always be close to me, but people change and so did I.  I think college forces you to learn who you are.  It's an entirely different ballgame.  Everything that formed your identity in high school is completely gone, and you have to start from scratch whether you like it or not.  You have to choose between doing what the crowd is doing and what is best for you, except this time your decision could follow you way into your career.  You have to be smart and look out for yourself because you're an adult, and no one else will do it for you.  You completely lose yourself and slowly, but surely, find yourself again, except this time it's an entirely different version of yourself.  The real friends are the ones who won't mind sitting in a stairwell listening to you cry about how lost you feel, and they might even cry with you.  They are the ones who make an effort to see you when they are home or make FaceTime dates with you when they can't be there.  In high school I thought I needed the largest amount of friends, but college has taught me that there are only a few that truly matter.  Give them the appreciation they deserve, you are so lucky to have them and you are going to need them to lean on.

3. Boys are stupid. 
That is something I have been hearing since as far back as I can remember, but you don't quite realize just how dumb they can be until you get to college.  Cat calling is a real thing and if you are a girl in high school saying, "that's never happened to me and it isn't going to," you are in for a wake up call.  This isn't to say every single boy in college is terrible, because that obviously is not true, but you do learn just how bad they can be.   For some reason, some boys get to college and forget about boundaries and they have absolutely no problem coming up to you and saying extremely inappropriate things.  It is going to make you feel super uncomfortable, and sometimes they don't stop no matter what excuse you come up with (I have a boyfriend, I don't want to date, No thank you, I have class, etc.).  So when that happens (because it will), take a deep breath and walk away.  They usually don't follow you.

4. Girls are stupid.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, girls are also very air headed.  They can make drama out of absolutely nothing, and half the time they make absolutely no sense.  I am a girl and I don't even understand.  What do you mean you don't like him but you are going out with him?  That makes zero sense.  You don't want guys to stare at you, but you are going to wear a tank top as a dress...yep, that sounds logical.  So what, your hair is getting wet from the rain on the walk to class?  It'll dry, I promise.  And dear lord, wear a jacket.  I don't care if your outfit won't be perfect if you wear one.  It is better than getting sick.

5. Your opinions and faith are going to be challenged. 
In college, you are going to face real life problems that you get to solve 100% by yourself.  There are going to be a bunch of people who disagree with you and tell you that what you think or believe is wrong.  It makes it very hard for you to think straight, but that does not mean you have to let them win.  It is okay to have an open mind, and to change it, but it is also okay to be sure of what you believe.  College teaches you to stand strong in what you do have faith in, and to become more educated so when you do encounter people who tell you you're incorrect, you can plead your case.  All the challenges can make you even more certain of your thoughts, religion, etc., which is one of the great things about meeting new people.  

After all these crazy first few months, I can honestly say I think I have at least a tiny grip on my life.  That is not to say I think I have found myself.  I've got a long way to go, but I'm finding small pieces that will help me figure out where I am going.  I have to put trust somewhere other than myself, which is something I have been struggling with since third grade.  I have to trust that God has this, and that I need to stop making a timeline.  The older I get, the more I am reminded that God's timeline and the one I imagined are nothing alike... at all.  And the hardest part of that for me has been to accept that that is okay.  Just because I am not on a plane documenting other countries right now does not mean I'm not on the right track.  God also has a funny way of taking my timeline, and turning my plans into something that helps His plans.  I went to the wrong college and went into the wrong major, but I made two amazing new friends and took one class that has started this entirely new career path in the process.  I realized what is important to me and what is the most rewarding.   

At one semester in, I can say college is certainly interesting.  It's an emotional roller coaster and a huge question mark.  I never thought I'd be where I am, but it is time for me to truly accept that I do not have control over this, He does.   So here's to a new semester at a new school with a new major and some new and old friends.  I'll keep you updated!

Love Always,
Bree x