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OUR.SOULS

We believe in many versions of the soul. Whether it is religion or science; agnostic, christian, muslim; physics, evolutionary, or biblical — there are ways to explain (or debunk) the presence of the soul. Why do we need to tap into OUR.SOULS now more than ever? And what is the point of believing in something that we cannot see?

Maybe we cannot see it, but we can feel it.

The God particle

Even the discovery of the Higgs boson several years ago lead me to wonder about the soul. I will never forget reading a story in The New York Times about “the God particle” and how its existence was proven. I am no physicist but my gut told me that this particle meant there are forces greater than us and life as we know it. Was there proof that invisible force fields are keeping the universe balanced? And isn’t there a reason to believe in other forces, like our souls, that we cannot see?

It was also around the time that I had a psychotic break that lasted three torturous years. I was in and out of hospitals, trying to stay alive, and fearing everything from the paranoid state I was in. This discovery was my only hope, learning of it before the psychosis set in, that my soul would save me from the mental illness. The psychosis I experienced felt like I was being physically, mentally, and yes, even spiritually tortured by my own brain. It felt like my soul was so broken down that it had disappeared — disintegrated. I felt like there was no hope without it. But I reminded myself, there are invisible forces at work in the universe, and someday my soul (and sanity) would return back to me.

And it did.

Holy souls

After three years of auditory, visual, and scary-as-hell tactile hallucinations, my soul came back. My sanity returned. I had fought the fight of my life, and made the decision that I would put my life back together. Medication began working. I resisted the demons in my head. And I learned to ask for help. My spirit lifted, and I felt that I had a spiritual purpose again. It had to be forces greater than myself at work. And I developed a connection with Jesus stronger than I ever had.

The fact that over the next two years, I have built my mental and physical wellness back together again is amazing. I would never want anyone to go through what I went through — though many of you do know and feel that pain. And I hope you find or have already found relief. Just know that your soul is more than spiritual. It is the thing that makes you amazing YOU. Always listen to what your soul is saying. I felt close with God, but it can be a closeness with yourself, your loved ones, anything. And know that the greater forces of good, in whatever way, shape, or form, are looking out for you and will bring you back to where you need to be.

Why the soul matters

I feel like we are drifting away from our souls. We are not listening to our spiritual selves, and we are dividing, isolating, and ignoring our morals and values that make our souls shine. We need to come back to living for what is true, what is right, and what feels good. When we have a gut feeling that something is wrong, run away from that, or resist it and fight for what we believe in.

We should not be separating families at our borders — those are babies that need their parents. It is about humanity. We should not shatter once strong ties with our allies — those are countries that need our mutual support. It is about unity, not isolation. And we should nourish our souls with truth and justice, not mass-digest toxic falsehoods from a leader who is ignoring everything that makes America great.

Come back to your souls, the way I came back to mine. It once was lost, but now is found. Find yours again. And share the wealth that listening to your soul brings.

Whatever you are, be a good one. — Abraham Lincoln

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DEAR.DAD,

DEAR.DAD,

The water lilies of Monet’s paintings

Are small in comparison to

the love I have for

my father.

You had that love too with

my grandfather

and it lives on

in the Adriatic waves.

Sail away but not too far

always come back to shore

as we all wait

to greet you.

Always know

in your deepest of heart

we are not a family

without you.

LOVE,

JOANNA

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DOGS.LIFE

It’s a DOGS.LIFE. We just live in it.

I’m coming up to the anniversary of my aunt and Godmother’s death. The only way I see fit to honor her is with a post about the exceptional love a dog brings it’s owner. She wasn’t just a Godmother. She was a Dogmother.

Judy meant the world to my family, and her many friends. She was a free spirit, a brilliant intellectual, and often misunderstood. She went through a lot. It wasn’t always smooth sailing between us. But we had (still have) an unbreakable bond. That bond was especially important to the many dogs that she had rescued over the years.

A dog’s love.

Any dog owner can tell you just how special the love shared with their dog can be. When they are just a puppy, they bond with their mother. If a puppy is adopted out, they form a new bond with their owner.

My dog Layla immediately bonded with me. Her first night at home was spent sleepless and successively walking her until she fell asleep on my stomach around 4 AM. Sure, she’s not a human baby. But she is my baby.

Why Judy loved her dogs.

Judy bonded with each and every dog that came into her life. Every birthday, she gave me a card especially from her dogs — signed “love and licks.” There is no better way to honor her memory than to mindfully appreciate the way a dog protects, needs, and cherishes with loyalty their owner. Layla the poodle is my special girl who will forever remind me what Judy taught me about treating animals with kindness and compassion. Anyone who tries to tell you that animals cannot feel emotion is wrong. So wrong.

Wild instincts.

One of the reasons I felt close with Judy was that we shared an otherworldly instinct. Our sense of intuition was so strong that we would go on emotional rollercoasters. That instinct comes fairly close to how dogs can sense their owner’s sadness, joy, depression, frustration. They feel what you are going through, and do everything in their power to loyally make you feel better. They love you unconditionally.

Judy, I love you unconditionally.

Rest in peace.

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be —

— The Beatles

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Layla the poodle.
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GOOD.ENOUGH?

This may surprise you, since my recent post declared that I was in agreement with being called TYPE.A — however, instead of striving for the ultimate goal of perfection, should we stay mindful and aware when we are GOOD.ENOUGH?

Shocker: I have been working on being good enough for myself. Sometimes perfection can be a reason to see the negativity in life, rather than the glass half full. Because when you are constantly striving for an unattainable goal — perfection — you judge everything you do that will never meet that qualification as subpar, bad, or just wrong. That ain’t no way to live, people!

What does it mean to be GOOD.ENOUGH?

Being good enough requires a lot of work for people who grew up thinking all of their behaviors were insufficient. It may be overly critical parents, learning disabilities that were never diagnosed (or were diagnosed), or a number of other reasons. I promise that you can “teach an old dog new tricks” and at any age, find ways to feel good enough for the most important person there is: YOU!

Feeling good enough takes a lot of time and energy. I started using positive affirmations. Then I gradually started believing them. Then, shocker yet again, I noticed a positive sense of self in other aspects of my life: work, friendships, relationships. The relationship that had the biggest impact on feeling GOOD.ENOUGH? Well, it was the loving new relationship I keep with myself. You only have one you, and one life; it’s about time that you start appreciating and loving beautiful/handsome you!

BUT WHY IS LIFE SO HARD?

Yes, yes, and yasss. Life is F*CKING.HARD! It feels unbearable at times, especially when you have an invisible mental illness and feel misunderstood and alone in your struggle. But there are so many others who fight to feel good in spite of illness, both physical and mental. Being good enough for you means to get your ass back up on that horse when you get knocked down, and saying hey, I may have fallen or even been pushed off by life, but check this out! I got back up on the G-damn horse and rode it into the effing sunset. All metaphorical, but true.

One more thing: Internal validation rocks socks.

External validation is fantastic. Someone tells you they love you. You get a “job well done!” at work. A stranger compliments you on your outfit. Etc…

What about looking in a mirror and saying to yourself, “Hey! You look great!” Or, if that is too cheesy, thinking about what you did today that made you feel good about yourself. Keep it written down in a journal or app. Compliment yourself.

It sounds life bogus hocus-pocus kumbaya, but self-love feels so much better than self-loathing. Practice it. Feel it. Live it. And appreciate it.

You truly are GOOD.ENOUGH.

Maybe my best isn’t as good as someone else’s, but for a lot of people, my best is enough. Most importantly, for me it’s enough. — Lindsey Stirling

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#BOOK.NERD

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Who qualifies as a #BOOK.NERD? I know I do.

I don’t think it’s about how many books we have read in our lifetime, though that may say a lot. I think it matters what books you choose, and above all, how they make you feel. Some of my favorite books have been short and sweet, but chock full of emotional words that add kindle to the fire of my passion for the written word (pun oh so intended).

What I love about reading is that it is versatile and can be done anywhere. Books do not even have to be functionally read — they can be listened to in audio form for those who may be blind or unable to hold a book or e-reader steady. I like to carry a book or my Kindle in my purse everywhere. Even if I just get a few pages in at a doctor’s waiting room, I feel content.

When I was going through some hard times and on heavy doses of medication, I found it excruciatingly difficult to read even one or two pages at a time. I grew up loving my books, and can remember them along with what was going on in my life at the time. Watership Down was the 5th grade. Amelie Nothomb books were read while I studied in Paris. Stellaluna will forever be my favorite children’s book. Don’t even get me started on the Harry Potter book series.

Anyway, I thought I would share some of my favorite books and why I love the way they helped me at the time — and benefit my life moving forward.

My #BOOK.NERD timeline excerpt

  1. High school: Memoirs of a Geisha; Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress; The Joy Luck Club. I put these books together because looking back at the books that I gravitated towards in high school, there was a nice theme. I had a fascination with and excitement for eastern culture. I loved reading Memoirs of a Geisha for the pictures painted with words of beauty and pain. I enjoyed Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress for the romance and history. And The Joy Luck Club for the family relations and emotional tension among the characters.

    Image: Amazon.com
  2. College: The Character of Rain; A Moveable Feast; The Tipping Point; The Elegant Universe. These are some of my college choices, because they were the good kind of college choices, not the bad kind of college choices (haha). The first two represented my time in Paris reading about Hemingway’s walks around the Seine on an empty stomach in order to better appreciate the beauty of the city. I discovered Amelie Nothomb’s books at a bookstore walking along that very river. The second two represented my thirst for some non-fiction thinkers as well. Malcolm Gladwell satisfied my interest in psychology relating to economics. And Brian Greene expanded my warm-and-fuzzy feelings for physics.

    Image: Amazon.com
  3. Mental health reading and beyond: A First Rate Madness; Touched with Fire; The Shining. These are mostly a few of the books I’ve read in the vein of mental health, with one curveball by Stephen King. A First Rate Madness had fascinating theories on great leaders who are suspected to have had mental illness, and how it shaped their policies and decisions. Touched with Fire is about famous artists, poets, and other creative-types also with suspected mood disorders, and how it may be correlated to creativity. The Shining was my Stephen King curveball — I’ve been on a Stephen King fix and just adore the suspenseful style (and intriguing, psychologically-thrilling undertones).

    Image: Amazon.com

Just to name a handful of some of the books that I still grow nostalgic for and the time and memories that they represent.

What are some of your #BOOK.NERD favorites that bring you back to the time you read them?

When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.” — Virginia Woolf

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TYPE.A

Oddly enough, I am a Type A. Are you?

I always thought growing up that I was a Type B. But I think that says a lot about my insecurities and anxiety as a child that got even worse into young adulthood. What does it mean to be Type A or Type B anyway?

TYPE.A — It’s okay, you got this. Like, all of it.

Okay, so maybe I am not Type A all the time, but I am sure as heck ambitious, driven, impatient, focused, and strong-willed (I would like to add, strong-hearted). Some basic Type A predispositions also include:

  • controlling
  • aggressive
  • competitive
  • self-critical
  • perfectionist
  • overachiever
  • you may be a Gryffindor (duh).

Now that I look at some of those traits, I can see why I have been called Type A, literally by people who barely know me. It is easy to spot a Type A. But, you have to remember, it is not all encompassing of someone’s personality. Rather, it is more of a spectrum of behavioral traits. And TBH, I think everyone lies on a spectrum of mental health. In fact, mental illness diagnoses are made by checking the DSM, a Diagnostic Statistical Manual to see if you get like a handful of symptoms to qualify you with the disorder. Crazy to think about, right?

We just don’t know enough about the brain chemistry to directly pinpoint what may be a mental disorder with, say, an easy blood test. Vampires beware!

TYPE.B — It’s like Sloth Cycling…we’ll get there…when we…get there.

Here’s the bread and butter of Type B or at least the stereotypical traits:

  • low stress
  • flexible
  • relaxed
  • easygoing
  • in the moment
  • laidback
  • Sloths, the cutest and slowest animals ever.

And here, I thought I was a Type B. Just totally chilled out. Wrong. Bears. Beets. Battlestar Galactica. Think of Type A as Dwight Schrute. And Type B is Jim Halpert. And yeah, I can relate to Dwight. Wish I was more like a Jim. #TheOffice

But wait! There’s more!

As I have learned to go easy on myself, especially with therapy like DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) I have discovered ways to calm my hyperactive brain and body, and slowed my roll a bit. Just because you mostly fit into one personality category, does not mean you can’t change some of those traits. Type A can learn to chill out and live mindfully. And Type B can set some goals, son.

Either way, none of this is set in stone. Have fun and let your TYPE.A or TYPE.B personality shine.

Before I do anything I ask myself, ‘Would an idiot do that?’ and if the answer is yes, I do not do that thing. — Dwight K. Schrute, THE.OFFICE

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SELF.CARE

This generation has to deal with a constant bombardment of upsetting news headlines from around the world, required connectedness to work 24/7, smartphones and social media becoming an extra appendage (God forbid I turn off my phone!). As you can see, there is a lot of stress and pressure placed on the human race these days.

So, I ask you this: How do you practice SELF.CARE?

What is SELF.CARE?

SELF.CARE is practicing compassion towards yourself. It is making sure you eat a healthy lunch at work. It is running a bubble bath at the end of a long day. It is going for a run with the dog when you need some fresh air. It is making sure you put on your oxygen mask before you place it on another. It is not being selfish. It is taking care of YOU. You are the only person you unendingly have in this world. Meditate on that. What good would you be to helping others, friends, and family, if you do not take care of yourself, first?

My SELF.CARE habits.

Personally, I follow some basic SELF.CARE habits on a daily and weekly basis to make sure that I make time for number one: Me.

My daily SELF.CARE habits include:

  • Take baths with LUSH products. The hot temperature and the aromatherapy, bubbles, and water colors provide me with a soothing and relaxing escape. I light a candle, and often play music on my speaker to heal all of my senses. I make a point of doing this at least one night a week. I spend at least a half hour in the hot tub and then treat myself to a soothing lotion that helps me drift to sleep at the end of the night.
  • Meditate and listen to soft music in bed. Before falling asleep, I spend a few minutes meditating. Meditation at night, for me, means being nonjudgmental towards my thoughts and ruminations. It is focusing on my breath and detaching from the shackles of the daily worries and woes. It is scanning my body and relaxing each part from top to bottom, allowing any harbored anxiety and tension to melt away. And, once I feel settled in, I throw on a soft and soothing album to fall into a constructive sleep. I used to be a sufferer of insomnia. This calm habit has erased the insomnia, and kept my sleep steady for nearly six months now.
  • Eat healthful foods and exercise. This may seem more like a chore than a SELF.CARE habit to some, however I believe that eating well and taking the time to do a workout that I enjoy, such as yoga or running, really is SELF.CARE. It is treating my body kindly by nourishing it with tasty and healthy food-fuel. And it is releasing the toxins and regaining mental clarity by practicing yoga or running outdoors.

How can you practice SELF.CARE?

There are many ways, not just the habits I mentioned, to practice your own SELF.CARE habits. Start small and aim for some consistency. Spend five extra minutes in the shower lathering your hair — you deserve the quick scalp massage! Or treat yourself to an afternoon snack that provides you with the extra energy you need to get through the day — trail mix, anyone?

It all comes down to preserving your physical and mental well-being. It isn’t cool to burnout (get the irony??) anymore. Rest, nourishment, and self-compassion are much more valuable than losing sleep over burnout, and crashing later on from lack of consistently practicing healthy habits.

Try practicing SELF.CARE today. Your body and mind will thank you.

How you treat yourself is how you are inviting the world to treat you. — Unknown

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TRUE.LOVE!

Oh, how sweet true love is. As I watch the Royal Wedding of Meghan Markle to Prince Harry, and get ready to attend another “royal wedding” of two lovebirds tonight, I have love on the brain, as Rihanna would say.

What makes love so special is the mysteriousness of it. Why do we feel love? We can’t quite pinpoint it with a science; I would say that love is more of an art. Love isn’t objective — though I believe love to be the objective and ultimate goal of living life. No, I see love as subjective — the thing that makes love so great is finding someone who feels the way that you do, has coinciding morals and values, otherwise we would all fall for the same people! Yes, the thing that makes love great is the art of finding the person that is the last puzzle piece to your jigsaw of life.

I believe in the science of love’s lusty needs, impulses, and desire to be in a conventional healthy and happy relationship. Though, what I also believe is that there is more to it than we understand; a part of our brain that we haven’t fully tapped into understanding just yet. And to be honest, I hope we never do! It makes love exciting and exhilarating.

So what do we know about TRUE.LOVE!? What can we deduce and explain with science, and what can we leave to inexplicable heavenly forces at work?

The love formula

Does love, actually, have a formula? Can we pinpoint a process of love? According to research led by Rutgers scientists, the short answer is yes.

Love follows a formulaic process in the form of hormones released to the brain as you fall in love. The three steps in the process are defined by Lust, Attraction, and Attachment.

Lust is actually testosterone and estrogen driving the biological force behind why we feel “love” in the first place. Love at first sight may be these basic needs at work: hormonal and evolutionary “Me Tarzan. You Jane.” type feelings.

Attraction comes next after the basic need of Lust. Here, we see a release of the “happy” hormones: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.  These hormones will release when you start to feel joy around your partner. After all, they are the hormones keeping you from feeling depressed (in cases of depression, you need SSRIs and other antidepressants to provide this hormone release). And elation and elevated feelings ensue in the form of Attraction.

Finally, there is Attachment. The hormones associated with Attachment are oxytocin and vasopressin. These are hormones that create a habitually good feeling that you biologically seek; in the case of love, it is an attachment to your sweetheart. You want to be around them as often as possible. And so, Attachment follows.

However, I am not completely sold on TRUE.LOVE! being purely a science.

Who wrote the book of love?

If you are a God-fearing follower of a religion, you may see all the science behind love as a bunch of hootenanny. And I have to agree with you there. I believe there is a greater reason for why we fall in love and stay with our partners. How could it all be scientifically explained away as coincidence?

In a world of chaos and entropy, I think finding your TRUE.LOVE! is the driving reason why we go on living, growing, and succeeding as a society. I joke about following Pythagoreanism and the presence of a mathematical pattern to the meaning of life: for instance, why do we see Fibonacci so prevalent in nature? I also see the beauty in love being disorderly, fantastic, and yet, greater than us. There is a beautiful unknown to love.

I think our brains contain the answer to the age old question, why do we fall in love? The thing is, we may have millions, or even billions of years before we use our entire brain function and solve the problem. For now, I relish in the thrill and fun of not knowing why we fall in love.

I hope you do, too.

Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love — Mother Teresa

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DEAR.MOM,

DEAR.MOM,

Today is the day that I realized just how small life really is. We see our lives as these long, drawn out periods over the course of many decades. When in reality, life is quite short in the grand universal scheme. If I were to map my life, and even many ancestors’ lives passed, it would be minuscule when compared to the weight of humanity as a whole.

I think about this often, particularly when I am going through depression and feeling like I can’t keep going through life. But today, I am recognizing why each of these short lived lives matter — every one of us. It is because it is our opportunity to contribute to the larger picture. And there is no greater contribution to the all-encompassing path of civilization than bringing another life into this world.

The job of a mother is to shepherd new life, physically and through passed on teachings, into the world. The hope is that they have a better, easier time of life than themselves. And so on, and so forth comes evolution.

Until I become a mother someday, I will not fully feel the sense of love, worry, and joy a child brings to her mother. I can only empathize, with the little wisdom I have in my young life, the connection a mother feels to her child, and the pain it must bring to see her son or daughter going through hurt, sadness, and depression. There is a reason we hear stories of mothers gaining super-human strength to save their children from car wrecks, or why we have to remind them to put their oxygen mask on first, and then their child’s. This is the epitome of motherhood — babies first!

When I feel low, angry, hurt, fearful, suicidal, it’s Mom that I turn to first. When I am proud, joyful, elated, excited, thrilled, it’s Mom that I want to share my happiness with. On this Mother’s Day, I thank you, Mom, for being the one I can turn to when I’m at my high point, or at my low point.

I want you to always know that I am happy, healthy, and safe.

I want you to know that I want to live an even better life than you. I never want you afraid for me. I want you to always know that I am happy, healthy, and safe. And I want to share all of your teachings with my own daughter, someday.

Mom, you are the reason I want to stay on the map and continue my journey in this grand design of life. Thank you for always shining the light of the moon on my darkness. Happy Mother’s Day.

LOVE,

JOANNA

A mother’s happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also on the past in the guise of fond memories. – Honore de Balzac

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BRITNEY.B*TCH

There’s a thing or two that we can learn from Britney Spears.

First of all, she is a mother, a triple threat singer/dancer/actor, and a fighter. Second of all, we’ve seen it in the tabloids way back when she shaved her head during a kind of nervous breakdown: what I’m getting at is, she’s human. The STARS: they’re just like us.

Whether Britney suffered a mental break or not, she sings to the tune of her own beat. Listening to classics like “Stronger” or watching the psychologically thrilling video for “Everytime” brought to my attention what a deep, emotionally charged lyricist she is. She’s not a vapid Barbie Doll. She is a fierce lady with a voice for good.

Here are the lessons I’ve learned from this lovable blonde. Get ready to laugh, cry, and feel all the feels. It’s BRITNEY.B*TCH.

1. Can we cool it with the crazy labels?

After some erratic behaviors, Brit got labelled as crazy, bipolar, manic-depressive, nuts, etc. What people may not realize is that 1 in 5 people suffer from mental illness. So what if she is or isn’t, chances are if you’re sitting in a room with 4 other people, you could be on the mental disorder spectrum, yourself.

Did I freak you out enough? Good. Just because mental illness is invisible to the eye, doesn’t make it easy or painless. It also doesn’t mean you should label a person as “bipolar” or “psycho” or “crazy.” Would you call someone with diabetes “sicko” or “insulin junkie” or “freakish?” Probably not. Let’s not label people; let’s see people as the beautifully multi-faceted humans that they are.

2. Keep fighting, and look good while doing it.

I’m not necessarily saying Britney Spears is fighting an uphill mental battle. However, in spite of being slut-shamed and called looney, she brushes it off and looks hot while doing it. She keeps pushing herself to stay physically fit and mentally stable.

Since I had to go on medication for depression, I gained a lot of excess weight over the past 10 years. I was very thin and fit prior to that, and I have struggled to keep weight off of my body. Britney is in her 30’s and looks amazing. She takes care of her body. After bringing yoga and running back into my healthy repertoire of habits, I have become more physically fit, and I benefit mentally, as well. Keep it up, Brit. I will, too.

3. “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman.”

I get it, Britney. I’m that awkward-aged, late millennial who is stuck between independence and co-dependance. I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I’m starting to build my life now, after struggling for so long. “Sometimes I run, sometimes I hide.” And it often seems like, “every time I try to fly, I fall without my wings…I feel so small.” A lot of the time, I want to say to life, “You drive me craaazy!” But I know, I am moving in the right direction, whichever way that may be. Hey, at least “I’m stronger than yesterday.”

“I’m stronger than yesterday.”

And that’s that! The lessons I learned from growing up listening to this pop-siren goddess. Thanks for the nostalgic memories, Brit. You teach us a thing or two about being a BOSS.B*TCH. Keep doing you. I’ll keep doing me.

If I was to pick a cartoon character I am most like, I would say Daisy Duck because she is very stubborn, she has a very feminine sense, and she knows what she likes. — Britney Spears

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Image credit: Amazon.com

 

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W.RITE?

An interesting article from The Washington Post on punctuation, specifically the choice between one or two spaces after the end of a sentence, intrigued me this morning while I had my cup of Joe. On the topic of punctuation, or PUNK.TUATION in my case, I like to move freely with the alphabet and set of symbols we have for PUNK.TUATING the English language. I grew up reading and learning that the two spaces at the end of a sentence were proper. I knew nothing else. Until, that is, I went through adolescence and began college in the era of Facebook, MySpace, and good old-fashioned texting.

Communicating through written word was now done in short spurts. And forget about Twitter — when that came on the social media scene I was baffled by the hashtags and acronyms — do we not even write a full word anymore?

All that said, the point of my blog post today is that we have the opportunity to make time to write and to share what we write, thanks to things like Twitter, Facebook, and texting. Psychologically, I believe that there are some detriments to our social-societal well-being due to things like social media that remove us from just that, socializing as humans, in person.

But there are also great benefits.

For instance, I can keep in touch with my cousins on another continent. I can check in with my friends across the country. And I can write to an audience of people who I never would have reached before. For all these reasons, I’m glad that I can share what’s on my mind in writing with other people, even if it is removed from speaking live and in person.

So, what do we do with this great new power we have? Do we unleash it and abuse it, the way some politicians (I won’t mention names) do? Or, rather, do we take the power to have our voices be heard around the country, around the world, and use it to benefit the greater good of society and our evolution as human beings on this great planet Earth?

By way of my words, tweets, posts, and PUNK.TUATED blog, I am choosing the high road to the best of my abilities. No one is perfect. And no man is an island. We still need human interaction and socialization — even animals like dogs, cats, and wild critters need to socialize. Next time you notice that you are being sucked into the psychological under-belly vortex of online trolling, or you can’t seem to understand why your friend out in Nebraska wrote that radical, polarizing and politically charged comment on Facebook, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that good old-fashioned “verbal diarrhea” has now become “written diarrhea” or even scarier, “online post, tweet, comment, share diarrhea.” Online people. For everyone to see and judge over and over and over again.

Now, being one of the queens of “online post diarrhea” (honestly, I am just writing this to see how many times I can write the word “diarrhea”), I know that I overshare. I know that. But, I felt silenced by the stigma of my mental illness for so long; I felt pushed down by the numbing emotional pain I went through after the trauma and PTSD symptoms surfaced; I felt dead inside without the ability to use my voice. I had to write. I had to write about it. I had to find out if others were feeling like me. And many others have been through these struggles of the mind, even physical battles with palpable pain and depression and anxiety.

But, I felt silenced by the stigma of my mental illness for so long; I felt pushed down by the numbing emotional pain I went through after the trauma and PTSD symptoms surfaced; I felt dead inside without the ability to use my voice.

My main point is this — if you feel like you are alone: write. Write down your feelings on paper, in a journal, heck, draw what you are experiencing mentally and internally. Writing gets the ruminating thoughts out of your head. Next step is to read. Read what people are writing about, and you are sure-as-sugar to find out that there are other people feeling the way you feel. Write for expression of emotions. And read for the human connection of similar stories and life paths.

Writing down what I am going through, what I feel, my opinions, my triumphs and tribulations — it opened the door to so many great things in my life. Work, friends, family reconnections, my inner core being. If you feel alone, or feel as though you are living in silence, begin to write. And share with others your story. We may not be speaking face-to-face all the time, but we can make the best of the power we harness to go online and share what’s on our minds or tweet to open a dialogue on what we are passionate about.

Punctuation, no punctuation, poetry, or posts — writing can heal the deafened inner voice. And we will be a more fruitful society if we apply the manners we learned as children to the way we now text or type to each other. I mean, am I W.RITE?

My head is a hive of words that won’t settle. — Virginia Woolf

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PET.LOVE

Those of us with a furry family member know the love and joy a pet brings to everyday life. Pets have been an integral part of my mental health journey. I have been blessed to grow up with family dogs and cats who bring me such happiness. What is the science behind the therapeutic benefits of having a pet? And how can a therapy animal soften the symptoms of depression or other mental illnesses?

Let’s dig into why PET.LOVE works to ease the brain, pain, and stress of living with mental illness.

Endorphins

Petting a dog, cat or other beloved pet can release endorphins in the brain, oxytocin specifically, that calm anxiety and ease mental tension. Oxytocin is thought of as the “love hormone” and brings about that gushy feeling you get when you pet your animal. This hormone is associated with childbirth, so its no wonder that we often think of fur babies as our own kin!

Encouragement

Having an animal, especially an emotional support or service pet, can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation associated with mental disorders like depression. Petting your furry friend takes away feelings of alienation, encouraging pet owners with disabilities by providing support. A service dog, for instance, can aid someone suffering from social anxiety to get out of the house and feel comfortable being around crowds of people, which otherwise felt overwhelming.

Heart Health

There is a physical benefit to petting a therapy animal, as well. Touching your four-legged friend can lower your blood pressure, and improve your cardiovascular wellness. Animals help reduce chronic pain, and have a healing effect on the body. A relaxation response is automatically triggered when touching your pet, and in some cases, can improve medication effectiveness or even reduce the need for high dosages (though there is still a need for research on the positive correlation).

For the Love of Pets!

Whether you live with mental illness, chronic pain, or simply have a love of animals, PET.LOVE does more than just soothe the soul. There are real benefits to owning a therapy animal, or being visited by one. Feel-good hormones, positive reinforcement, and physical wellness are among the good side-effects of being around your favorite furry ones.

For more on the great ways that AAT (Animal-Assisted Therapy) helps those with mental and physical illnesses, check out this article from UCLA Health.

I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals. — Winston Churchill

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MUSIC.BRAIN

Everybody can relate, whether you struggle with mental illness or not: we all have our personal taste in music. But how can music help your brain?

Certain songs lift us up, and others provide us with an emotional expression of our sadness. When I am feeling blue, I give myself a chance to listen to sad songs and embrace the sucky feeling. But I like to follow it with something uplifting, to help pull me out of that bad mood. Listening to soft music helps me unwind from the day and fall asleep (the album Mental Illness by Aimee Mann is my go-to).

Some of the positive effects music has on the brain include:

  • reduction of depression
  • decreased anxiety
  • improved sleep
  • better memory
  • greater cognitive function
  • pain relief
  • lightened mood

Music has also been proven to alleviate symptoms of the following disorders:

  • Depression — alleviate your low mood state.
  • PTSD — process trauma and grief caused by the event.
  • Schizophrenia — regulate emotional disfunction.
  • Anxiety — calm tension in the mind and body.

On a personal level, having a MUSIC.BRAIN has really helped get me through difficult mental challenges. I would focus on music played on the radio to process the stress of being hospitalized for my mood disorder. I distinctly remember listening to Kendrick Lamar’s song Swimming Pools, and appreciating the lyrical honesty as I got sober. Singing also provided me with an emotional release during my psychosis, and took me back to the present moment.

My top 3 albums for helping me through difficult times are:

  1. Mental Illness by Aimee Mann (for getting a good night’s sleep)
  2. What is this Heart? by How to Dress Well (for relaxation and anxiety relief)
  3. Fallen by Evanescence (for when I really want to release my depression or anger)

How does music help you through tough mental health days? And what are some of your favorite songs for uplifting your spirits?

For more on how music improves your mental health, check out this article from the American Psychiatric Association.

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain. — Bob Marley

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RE.LAX!

Take a mental health day. RE.LAX! Stay a while in the moment. Here are my favorite ways to keep your mental health in check in the middle of a busy work day.

1. Take 5 and breathe deeply.

Even if you don’t have time to take a full blown mental health day, you can recover your mind and relax with 5 minutes of deep breathing. Try focusing on your breathing, and take a few deep breaths in and out. Follow it with a natural breath, and begin counting your inhalations and exhalations to the count of 10, then begin again. After 5 minutes, come back to the present, and feel refreshed and focused.

2. Go on a mental vacation with imagery.

When you need a vacation, but can’t drop everything to take one, use imagery to get away. Start by closing your eyes and picturing your favorite place to relax, or imagine a new one. Describe the sights and sounds — if your vacation is at a beach, do you hear seagulls and waves crashing? Really immerse yourself in your happy place. The more details that you imagine, the better you will feel after reaching your special spot.

3. Have a cup of tea.

If you have trouble counting breaths and just can’t imagine that vacation spot, don’t fret! Take a moment for yourself and make a cup of tea. Coffee seems like the go-to for an afternoon pick-me-up. But replacing your afternoon coffee with chamomile tea, or green tea if you need a small caffeine boost, can keep you relaxed and mentally sharp for the rest of your day. Try a new tea, and make a point of sipping it slowly and appreciating the warmth of the mug. Changing your temperature is a DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) skill, and it can help you RE.LAX!

These are a few of my favorite ways to take a mental health break. Try them out, and see if they soothe and relax you when you just don’t have time to take a full mental health day. Enjoy and RE.LAX!

For more relaxation techniques, check out this Harvard Health article.

If you do what you love, it is the best way to relax. — Christian Louboutin

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FOR.GIVE

Forgiveness is not always a gift you give to another person. Often, forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself. You do not need to forget about the wrongdoing. Rather, don’t place all powerful importance on the mistake. Forgiveness helps someone detach from the hurt, and no longer suffer because of it.

I’d like to write this post about what it means to me to forgive. Broken down, I see it as FOR.GIVE and a way to give back to your emotional, mental and spiritual self. It is a gift, for you — not always for the one who hurt you.

Giving is contributing to yourself and others.

When you give a gift, you are contributing to the greater good of humanity. It does not have to be monetary, it can be volunteering your time, or doing a favor for a friend. So why is the word “give” in forgiveness?

The answer is simple. It is forward giving, moving past the hurt, and treating mistakes as a learning experience. Rather than having an all-or-nothing mentality, you meet a dark moment in another person’s life with a light for them to see with — a goodness that heals your own heart as well.

Forward thinking is moving past the pain.

Focusing on the past and the pain others may have caused you can be draining. Stay in the present by forgiving the past, and your forward thinking will become clear, level, and productive. Moving on is not a bad thing. It is a step onward and upward.

Holding onto pain hurts, especially when it was caused by something (or someone) out of your control. Forgiveness is detaching from the pain, and taking back your control over your feelings. Letting another back into your life can be frightening; sometimes, it just feels easier to shut them out. Moving forward with your attitude does not have to mean condoning hurtful behavior, but it does greatly reduce the stress. Bring your thinking forward, and let go of the attachment to the pain. You will be happier for it.

Together, FOR.GIVE means a gift for you.

Treat yourself to the gift of forgiveness, and find a blissful release of toxic energy. Don’t hold on to the hurt and suffer. Try a prayer for the person whom you resent, or a formal show of forgiveness in person. Remember, it is a gift you give to yourself.

On a personal level, I had a landlord at my apartment who gave me sound advice: pray for the men who sexually assaulted me, and forgive them. I was appalled initially, thinking they deserve no forgiveness, let alone a prayer! But I pondered it, mulled it over, and finally prayed for them. And I found I was accepting of what had happened, yet able to move forward with my own life, and without letting the memory cause me suffering. You don’t have to be religious; even if it is a simple kind thought wishing those who wronged you well, you will give a gift to yourself, for you and from you.

How do you define forgiveness? And how has it helped you move past the pain of being hurt by someone?

Let us forgive each other — only then will we live in peace. — Leo Tolstoy

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ME.TOO

The #MeToo movement smashed the ceiling and shed light on a major crisis. Women, and men, no longer have to sit in silence with sexual abuse, assault, and harassment. #MeToo is a way for victims to become survivors.

It hits home on a personal level for me. I began writing about my experience with sexual assault as the movement came to the surface. Whether in the workplace, or elsewhere, no one should be made to feel unsafe by perpetrators using their superiority as a means of aggression. No one should be victimized period.

Now is the time to take back control from our abusers. Silence only gives culprits more power over us; speaking up reminds survivors of their strength. How does ME.TOO affect you?

MY.STORY

After a trip abroad, I came back unsure of what had happened to me. It took years to fully realize what had been done: I had been sexually assaulted. What solidified it for me was checking out the Department of Justice website and realizing that everything about my experience fell into the defined category of rape.

MY.MIND

My mental health became unstable in the months after the assault. I became catatonic from depression. Bipolar disorder surfaced and led to a diagnosis. And I felt lost. It took years to finally be found again.

MY.VOICE

Slowly but surely, I spoke up. And it made all the difference. My mental health symptoms are now at a bare minimum. I am honest with my therapist about what I am feeling, and what I continue to go through. And I found my voice, choosing to use it to help others like me take back control of their lives.

We have the power to speak up. I wanted to use this post to share a bit about my story, my mental health challenges, and my voice — finally found.

I’ll leave you with this: champion people instead of breaking them down. The #MeToo movement shows just how many of us have been affected. Be a part of the cure, not part of the disease. And be the light you have always been, because you are not alone.

For a safe place to talk with professionals about sexual assault, call 800.656.HOPE (4673) – the National Sexual Assault Hotline.

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become. — Carl Jung

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NAMA.STAY

What are the physical benefits of yoga? And how can it perk your mental health?

Practicing yoga for the past 15 years, I have noticed my balance, stamina, and gracefulness improve. Yoga has been a staple of the positive way I feel about my body. The added benefit? It is a practice of patience that calms my hyperactive brain. Let’s investigate the ways yoga supports a healthy MIND.BODY&SPIRIT. Namaste.

What can yoga do for your physical health?

My love for yoga began with the added stretching to my sports routines — lacrosse and running. Flexibility made it great for joint pain, and the poses were new to me and fun to practice.

Physical benefits include:

  • flexibility
  • balance
  • strength
  • circulation
  • energy
  • metabolism

What does yoga do for your mind?

The amazing thing about yoga is that it is a practice of mindfulness. Meditation can be incorporated into the practice, calming the brain and focusing on the activity at hand. When I amaze myself with what my body can do for me during yoga, I gain positive body image.

Mental health benefits include:

  • stress relief
  • positive body image
  • focus and attention
  • chronic pain
  • decreased anxiety
  • improved mood

What does yoga do for you spiritually?

Whether you are religious or atheist, yoga can be a spiritual experience. Becoming one with your breath, your center, and grounding technique may bring a sense of spiritual awakening within oneself.

I find that yoga sets up my day and night for better connectivity to my thoughts, and it helps me believe in the good of the world. I am closer to my soul, as it heals while I practice.

There are many different types of yoga, and they can benefit all ages and body types. I highly recommend it for the above reasons of physical, mental, and spiritual benefits. Do you want to give yoga a try? Check out your local studio, or download an app or video to get started. And I truly believe you will NAMA.STAY with it.

Ohm.

For more on yoga health benefits, check out this article from Harvard Health.

Yoga is not about touching your toes, it is what you learn on the way down. – Jigar Gor.

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BE.BOLD

I want to take a minute to tell you something amazing. Finally, I am finding my voice. Finally, I know how to say “No.” Finally, I am living my life, unafraid of being my assertive, strong, and kind self. Now, it’s time to BE.BOLD.

I grew up thinking anger was an un-pretty emotion. I often stuffed my feelings deep inside myself, and turned my anger inward into depression. Today, with coping skills, I am channeling anger, sadness, and even joy into a healthy expression of my mood. Finding the upside to feeling an emotion that you are uncomfortable with can make it more digestible, and release the tension and anxiety that may come along with it. Today, I vow to notice my feelings, without judgement, and find the root cause. Expressing your emotions can save relationships with friends, family, and significant others. Don’t live in fear of your feelings. Embrace them, and BE.BOLD.

ASSERTIVE.VS.AGGRESSIVE

Many times, my assertiveness has been wrongly seen as aggression. Viewing myself as a strong, independent woman, my assertive moments were shot down many times, and often left me feeling insecure and unconfident.

Want to know the real aggressive case? It’s the people who put you down for feeling smart, capable, and decisive. I used to sink to a lower level, and get upset with the toxic relationships I had with the people who kept me feeling weak. No one should make you feel guilty, stupid, or “too pushy” when you are asserting yourself.

definition of assertive

1disposed to or characterized by bold or confident statements and behavior 

SAYING.NO

Do you find it difficult to say “No?” Still, I have trouble with this one. I think a lot of it came from being taught to be polite and people-pleasing, but in my later years it developed into a real issue.

Practice this two-letter word on the small things: if you don’t want to go out somewhere, say No; if you don’t have time to help someone with a favor, say No. No should NO.LONGER be a BAD.WORD. This is one of the greatest words of our language, it is empowering and assertive and so not selfish. No is an honest word. Be genuine with the things you just don’t want to do, and say NO.THANK.YOU. We can still do it in a polite way…

USE.YOUR.VOICE

The more you use your voice, the more you learn about yourself. No life should be lived in silence, fearful or unsure or numb to our emotions.

So, I challenge you to be assertive, say no thank you, and find your inner voice. Go forth, and BE.BOLD!

Read more about the benefits of BEING.ASSERTIVE on PsychologyToday.com.

Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind. — Dr. Seuss
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GET.FIT.

We all should be celebrating this weekend. It’s EARTH.DAY and there is no better way to rejoice with MOTHER.NATURE than by being in the great outdoors. In NYC, several neighborhoods are going carless today and embracing the impact we have on protecting our beautiful planet.

What better way to show our appreciation of our world than by getting out there, breathing some fresh air, and finding your new favorite exercise. I’ve come to enjoy walks with my dog and running outside as a way to stay physically fit, as well as mentally sound. Being out in the sun, or on a brisk day like today, I notice natural beauty. Birds chirping to welcome Spring, trees and flowers blooming, the happiness my dog brings to me when she’s out and by my side: these are all reasons that fitness helps the body, mind, and spirit. I’d like to share with you my goals for getting fit, and ways I achieve them in a healthy way.

1. How can I start a GET.FIT plan?

Baby steps. The same way mindfulness teaches us to focus on one thing at a time, evaluate the first small step you can take towards your health goals. Write a list of ways you can improve your health. Prioritize and take the initial step that makes the most sense. I cut out red and white meat from my diet. I have gastrointestinal issues, so making this small change improved my energy, digestion, and metabolism. For exercise, I began hiking and walking with my dog, which evolved into jogging and running. Want to try something outdoors? Go to your local park and take a lap around it. Make a game out of it: how many trees can I identify. It may sound silly at first, but I assure you, there’s no harm in feeling a little goofy. You would be surprised by how great it feels to try something new in nature.

2. What’s the best way to keep up the GET.FIT momentum?

I use my iPhone much more nowadays, for the major reason that mood and fitness apps exist. It’s like having a physical trainer at my finger tips. I used Runkeeper to begin my running journey, and it increasingly improved my abilities, distances, and time. Knowing that I get a gentle reminder every few days to get outside has kept up the momentum. I feel I am held accountable when I can track my progress and feel the nudge in the right direction. Other apps can get you out there and meeting people interested in similar outdoor activities, like Meetup for instance. Building confidence through trying something fresh and new is healthy for your SELF.ESTEEM and MENTAL.STATE. Feel like giving it a go?

3. READY.SET.GO!

Just as the Nike tagline goes, JUST.DO.IT! Put one foot in front of the other, take it one day at a time, and get that momentum going. Some days I don’t want to be outside. I give myself a little push by remembering how amazing I feel when I get back after that brisk walk or run. We only have one life to live, and it’s never too late to begin a GET.FIT plan. Talk to your doctor about what exercise is appropriate for you. And look in the mirror when you get back, say that positive affirmation you love, and believe in yourself. Why not get it started on this lovely EARTH.DAY weekend? The planet will thank you. And there’s no day like today.

Ahh, Earth Day, the only day of the year where being able to hacky-sack will get you laid. — Jon Stewart

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DONT.PANIC!

Staying aware of my anxiety sometimes leads me to more…anxiety. There is a delicate balance between avoiding and prepping for an anxiety attack, and staying calm in the throws of one. But, DONT.PANIC! Let me tell you what my attacks feel like, and ways I stay CALM.COOL&COLLECTED.

1. Have a gameplan.

Easier said than done, because anxiety may creep up on you when you least expect it. I try to have a toolkit of DBT.SKILLS for when I feel anxiety, or a full blown attack, and use them to calm me. We cannot always drop and meditate in the middle of the workday, but we can use a quick deep breathing exercise and count our breathes. Try breathing in and out to the count of ten. Focus on the feeling of your chest as it rises and falls. Stay grounded, and enjoy the small break while in the moment.

2. Know your triggers.

We do not always have the luxury of avoiding our daily life triggers. Stress at work, an unexpected loss, or a flashback to a traumatic event are difficult to predict. So get to know some of the foreseeable triggers. Maybe you get social anxiety at the supermarket. I get anxiety in crowded places like at concerts. Avoiding triggers like these is not reasonable or helpful. But if I make myself aware of the stress I am going to be placed in, I can gain an understanding of why I feel the way I do. And I can cope with it as exposure lightens the load of anxiety. There are triggers that may be important to avoid: for instance, I like to steer clear of eating at bars simply because I want to keep myself away from alcohol. Get comfortable with your triggers, and you might save yourself from HEAVY.ANXIETY.

3. Get through it, it won’t last.

I have heard and read many times that the ultimate fact is this: you cannot die from an anxiety attack. It may feel reminiscent of a heart attack. Keep breathing. I make sure to drink some water or tea, or lie down and close my eyes if it sneaks up on me late at night. Ride it out. I don’t know the world record for longest anxiety attack, but if it does not pass, call your doctor or 911 in the case of an emergency or worsening pain or tightness. I’ve gone to the emergency room for anxiety, and get piece of mind that I am safe and with professionals. Notice that you are in the midst of one, and gently accept that it is a feeling that will soon alleviate.

The more ready I am for my anxiety symptoms, the more capable I am of soothing myself until it drifts away like a feather in the wind. Remember, even people who are not diagnosed with anxiety have stressors in life that may cause feelings difficult to overcome. We are all in this together. And DONT.PANIC! You got this.

Try out some simple breathing practices found here at PsychologyToday.com.

“To venture causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self…. And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self.” — Søren Kierkegaard

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SPRING.FEVER

Since my first diagnosis was Bipolar I, it is only fitting to mention that CRAZY.MANIC time is upon us: Spring. As it gets warmer (when will it?? PLZ.NOW), I notice my moodiness lift as the frigid air of winter dissipates. The sun starts showing its face, and my mood is generally up. I track it with a nice app called Moodnotes and regularly check in with myself to get a sense of how I am feeling each day. Here are my thoughts and opinions on mania, depression, and the role the weather plays.

What is a manic state?

Basically, I see it in the form of an upped mood, heavy in pleasant and productive feelings, also high in agitation and restlessness. I used to lose sleep, work like a racehorse in the final stretch, and think I was queen of the world in my grandiose thoughts. It doesn’t last (for me, no more than 3-5 days) and it comes with a pretty heavy CRASH&BURN.

In greater detail, mania is marked by some of these symptoms:

  • rapid thoughts
  • fast speech
  • aggitation
  • elated mood
  • risky behaviors
  • lots of energy and activity

What is a depressive state?

For me, it is major anhedonia, or a lack of desire to do the things I enjoy doing. I don’t want to go for a run or exercise, I don’t want to eat well, I struggle with daily tasks that were once second nature like getting the laundry done or tidying up. The depressive states bring me SMH.

Other depressive symptoms may include:

  • low activity
  • loss of desire in enjoyable activities
  • hopelessness
  • forgetfulness
  • thoughts of suicide
  • excessive eating or loss of appetite

Why am I concerned about SPRING.FEVER?

Well, because I think the weather affects my mood and mental well-being a great deal. I have been tracking my mood fairly regularly for about 10 years now, and find that often I would feel depressed in the winter, and more manic as spring came around.

Why is mood change important?

I plan on keeping fluctuations in my mood in check as I remain in a sort of remission from my major health struggles. The more aware I am of how I am feeling, the better prepared I can be for a dip or rise in mood. With any luck, all the extra effort of keeping my life balanced will benefit me in the way of avoiding and preventing major episodes down the line.

So, my advice to you is this: keep it cool this summer, don’t get caught up in SPRING.FEVER — and if you struggle with a mood disorder like bipolar, try out a mood tracker for that extra bit of preventative care. Good luck!

Check out more on bipolar disorder at NIMH.

This post is meant to raise awareness of bipolar disorder, and by no means is a substitute for professional support. Please contact your doctor in the event that you are struggling. And always remember, you are not alone.

There are a lot of studies that suggest a higher rate of creativity in bipolars than the general population. — Kay Redfield Jamison

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OD.CRISIS

Want to know something frightening? By 2015, the number of Americans who suffer from prescription opioid addiction rose to 2 million. Scary, right?

An opioid epidemic is changing the way doctors prescribe painkillers. And it seems to be getting worse, before it gets better. Today, 115 people overdose on opioid and related drugs every. single. day. Have I terrified you enough? Statistics like these show that anyone can be affected by addiction. It may be as easy as a trip to the doctor’s office. Or a post-surgery medication regimen.

How can we end the OD.CRISIS? Alternatives to opioids can make a big difference.

It’s becoming common for people to request non-addictive pain relievers for surgery recovery. In fact, there is now a form addicts can fill out requesting non-opioid pain relievers in the event of a hospitalization.

Aside from forms, there is a whole slew of prescription painkillers that can work even better than opiates, without the addictive side effects. Here are a few of them: over-the-counter NSAIDs, corticosteroids like prednisone, or Tegretol, an antiepileptic.

Going in a different direction, non-pill routes like yoga, acupuncture and eastern meditation can provide pain relief as well. I personally use yoga when I have hip pain from running. As someone who used alcohol to self-medicate, I remain weary of addictive prescription drugs — in this way, I enjoy stretching and strengthening through exercise, and find natural alternatives beneficial to relieving my aches.

Preventative measures and recovery alternatives can keep a person from suffering an opioid addiction later on down the road. I have met amazing people who have recovered from this disease, and I have known many who have died of overdoses. If we can get serious about the OD.CRISIS then maybe we can save lives instead of continuing to bury our children, friends, parents, and loved ones.

Start today by asking your doctor about alternatives to opioids. It just might save your life.

For more statistics related to the opioid OD.CRISIS check out the NIH page on opiate addictions.

Even as a junkie I stayed true [to vegetarianism] – ‘I shall have heroin, but I shan’t have a hamburger.’ What a sexy little paradox. – Russell Brand

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DREAM.SLEEP

My very first experience with mental health occurred during my sophomore year in college. I found myself experiencing acute anxiety and insomnia after having a routine surgery to remove my wisdom teeth. I started the semester completely sleep-deprived, a nervous wreck, and at a loss for what to do to get some help.

Naturally, I logged onto WebMD and scared the bejeezus out of myself with symptoms and potential outcomes of a lack of sleep. My lungs would eventually collapse, and with one more night of zero shut-eye, I would literally die. Please note that since 2007, the insomnia page has greatly improved and is much less frightening in tone.

Anyway, I was offered Xanax by the school nurse. Had I known how much better I would feel, I would have jumped on the prescription (and naturally taken the pills as prescribed). But, my head said no: this must mean I am crazy.

I simply couldn’t shake the feeling that taking Xanax, or any psychotropic medication for that matter, was absurd; I was a bright, capable, stable (mostly) young woman. So I went to the local university hospital and was prescribed Ambien. One pill did the trick, and I slept through the night. I was screened for an Anxiety Study, but was not selected. Phew, I thought, I’m mentally clear. HAHA.LOL.

If only my past self could prepare for the struggles I would have to eventually overcome, and the challenges life would present. I would take the Xanax and run.

In all seriousness, this started the journey towards recognizing the importance of sleep hygiene to my mental wellbeing. Here’s why Zzz’s help:

REM.SLEEP. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is a part of the nightly sleep cycle that is vital to your mental refresh. It has been proven to improve memory and emotional health. Are you frequently waking up throughout the night? You might not be getting the REM deep sleep you need — and if you have a mental illness, your psychiatric symptoms could become exacerbated.

Recommendation: Talk to your clinician first and foremost. Keep informed on your sleep patterns with a sleep app or an OLD.SCHOOL sleep journal. This way you have an idea of what to mention to your healthcare provider.

DREAM.ON. Another important, but very mysterious, factor of importance to your sleep cycle are dreams. I’m going to go all supernatural on you for a minute. There are theories older than Freud and Jung on what happens when we dream, whether they are random memories or psychic visions or whatever you may believe. The bottom line is that dreams occur in that deep REM sleep, leaving us well-rested.

Recommendation: Not all dreams are good, like those RLY.COOL ones where you feel like you’re flying. Many of us with PTSD can have recurring nightmares that take us back to a troublesome event, catalyzing anxiety, depression, or other mood changes. Something that has helped me with uncomfortable dreams is meditation before bed. It can help relax you and prepare for deep sleep. It can also clear your head and make your dreams, if any are remembered, much more pleasurable.

ROUTINE. Lastly, get yourself into a sleep routine that fits your busy life. Going to bed and waking up at the same time everyday can do wonders for your mental health. Sometimes, it may improve your medication effectiveness, especially if it helps you take them at a regular hour of the day.

Recommendation: Set sleep alarms. Just as you would do for waking up, set a gentle reminder to go to bed at a usual time. When I began noticing my SLEEP.HYGIENE deteriorate, I simply tracked my sleep through my iPhone. The app got me back on track, and my mood improved.

And there you have it. WHY.I and those crazy NEURO.PUNKS recommend you count those sheep and drift into deep slumber. Happy sleeping.

For more on how sleep relates to mental health, check out this Harvard health letter on the subject.

When we prioritize our well-being, everything else in our life gets better, including our products, including our performance at work, including our success. — Arianna Huffington

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DBT.MATE

What makes D.B.T. (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) so beneficial?

It teaches us CRAY.BAES the skills we need to cope with the stresses of everyday life.

We don’t have to feel abnormal, strange, or different anymore. It takes some practice, but D.B.T. can enhance our daily experiences by keeping our emotions regulated, communicating with others in a more effective way, and keeping things balanced with mindfulness. There’s even ways to calm yourself when in distress. I have been practicing D.B.T. for many years now, and the benefits make learning worth it. Here are a few of my favorite skills, and how you can apply them to your therapeutic routine.

RIDE.THE.WAVE. Riding the wave is like sailing through the waters of an uncomfortable emotion. If you’re sad, surf through it. Feeling anxious? It won’t last — just keep on swimming with the wet-and-wild tide. I like to picture paddle boarding on a rough surf.

A tough emotion can seem like it will sit with you forever, but riding the wave without attaching to the feeling can help it pass quicker, and without getting pulled down by the undertow.

DISTRACT. This tool is especially handy when you need to refocus your attention from a negative thought to a positive one. Say, you can’t stop reliving a traumatic flashback. It feels as though your brain can’t focus on anything but the horrible visualization. Now, listen to some loud music. Or put your heart and soul into that D.I.Y project you’ve procrastinated working on.

Sometimes, fully engrossing yourself in a favorite activity can reframe your thoughts away from that difficult time.

SELF.SOOTHE. Now, for my personal favorite: self soothe. We have five senses and can appeal to each of them in many ways. Aromatherapy takes advantage of your olfactory glands with pleasurable scents. A massage eases tension in the physical way. I like to take a comforting bath when I can’t fight off my anxiety — and incorporate candles for the visual sensation, bath bombs for comforting smells, and the a hot water soak for touch.

You can also pet your cat, or eat a piece of chocolate: soothing your senses helps you tolerate an emotional crisis by bringing you back to the basics.

There’s a crazy amount of DBT.SKILLS you can pull out of the toolkit and apply to your thoughts and emotions. I like to keep it real simple and reap the benefits of D.B.T. even when I’m just chilling out, not a care in the world. Practicing when you are feeling great makes it easier to utilize when you’re just a wreck. Get on board with D.B.T. and take back control of your mind.

For more about D.B.T. check out this article on the WHAT.WHY.HOW of the treatment method.

The great thing about treating borderline patients is that it is like having a supervisor always in the room. — Marsha M. Linehan, DBT.CREATOR

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WELCOME.PUNK.

My journey through the maze of mental health has brought me here to PUNK.TUATED. — a blog I use to share my stories, successes, and yes, failures with rockstars like you, my readers.

Let me introduce myself. I’m Joanna, a bright-eyed, been-through-hell human on a mission to raise awareness about what 1 in 5 of us suffer from: mental illness. Shocked by the statistic? I’m not, anymore. Brain chemistry can land anyone onto a mental disorder spectrum. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Our brains are wired to communicate to us what we need. Just as a diabetic needs their insulin, so does a depressive need their SSRI. It’s all part of the same medical function: get a person to feel better.

Don’t be ashamed. The stigma is being broken, bit by bit.

Anyway, I can’t wait to share all my crazy stories. It’s been a wild ride, and I haven’t hoped off the rollercoaster just yet. One thing I can tell you, we all have a little wild in us. And that’s what makes PUNK.TUATED. fun. Let’s redefine what it means to be mentally ill. And give it the badass rep it deserves.

Keep fighting. And never lose your sense of rock&roll.

Thanks for reading PUNK.TUATED.

Let’s have some fun redefining mental health in the process.

The sun is gone, but I have a light. — Kurt Cobainpexels-photo-568785.jpeg