Braving the Wilderness

I recently picked up a book off my shelf that had been sitting there collecting dust over the last six months. You see, I’m not an avid reader, albeit wishfully I was, therefore I buy all these books that I admire and read great reviews about, but I never read the actual book.

I’ve been going to therapy twice a month over the last four years and we often discuss different types of self-help or inspirational books and it feels as though every session I walk out thinking, ‘I need to read more – It will be good for me.’ So, why didn’t I pick up that book for all these months? I could come up with several different excuses, but who cares. Instead, I will share, over this beautiful four-day holiday weekend, I woke up feeling grateful, made some coffee, opened my window and listened to the rain, put on some piano peaceful music, grabbed my glasses, and that beautifully covered wilderness book off my dusty bookshelf. It is the perfect morning setup.

Let me just say, when I do read – I highlight my favorite quotes and inspirational sayings, and the more sticky notes you see on the side, means it was a damn good book. I will tell you, Braving the Wilderness is a damn good book. I’m a fan of Brené Brown and her writing/research. She’s truly inspirational. This book is about The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. I want to share just a few of my favorites from this one and how it resonates with me:

True Belonging – is a spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

“I don’t think there is anything lonelier than being with people and feeling alone.”

I rarely feel lonely, however, I am often alone. There is a big difference between the two. I hear people often say, “…but being alone is lonely.” Not necessarily. I value my alone time. If anything, I feel my loneliness most when I’m in a room surrounded with people.  Why’s that? Well, I believe that maybe we don’t feel that connection to the people or the place we are at. At home, when I’m alone – I’m always connected. Connected to all my efforts, projects, memories, cleanliness, smells, music, and my kids. It’s my happy place. However, sometimes we may go someplace we’ve never been or meet new people for the first time – it’s likely the connection may not be there. We are humans, naturally, we want to feel connected, to something – anything. It’s inevitable.

“Loneliness tells us that we need social interaction-something as critical to our well-being as food and water.” yet, “…we feel shame around being lonely – as if it means there’s something wrong with us.”

There are times where I’ve felt lonely at an event full of people, but I cannot pinpoint why I feel that way as I am enjoying myself and having great conversations with family and friends. I’m aware of it at the moment. I don’t feel sad or ashamed of it – I just wonder why that is. If anything, I want to find a way to get connected. I use my awareness as an opportunity to find that connection so that if/when I may return – I will have the memories, the new friends, the sounds and smells I missed most from it in hopes that I will feel connected next time. Sometimes It doesn’t always work out that way though and that’s okay too. Do you ever feel this way?

“I will leave you with this. There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty. Someone, somewhere, will say, “Don’t do it. You don’t have what it takes to survive the wilderness.” This is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, “I am the wilderness.”

How I explained my mental health condition to my kids

Should I talk to my child about my mental illness?

Many parents who experience living with a mental health condition will often wonder if they should open up and talk to their children about mental illness. I know, because I was one of them. Perhaps you’re one of those parents as well.

I believe it is common for parents to question whether or not they should open up and discuss such a taboo subject to their little ones. They may view it as, “bad” or “wrong”. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. My first thought when deciding to open up about my condition was, “they are not going to view their mother as being a strong woman, they will see this “sickness” as a “weakness.” However, through recovery I learned that having an illness does not make us weak. In fact, managing and expressing our emotions or episodes in a healthy way makes us remarkably strong. I want my children to understand that. I want them to see my resiliency. So I decided to open up about my mental health condition.

Communication is the utmost important thing, and I find it extremely difficult to live with mild to severe symptoms around my kids and NOT tell them why or what is going on. Although, I believe it is not a bad thing to be open about our struggles, it is still very important to understand HOW to explain those struggles and condition to our children. I’ve always said, emotions are never bad or wrong, but how you express those emotions can be determined as good or bad. The same applies here. Our struggles are neither, right or wrong – good or bad, but how our children view our reactions to these struggles can be determined as good or bad.

If you are a parent, then you already know how curious little ones can be. They will continuously ask “Why?” until they feel they have the information they need – but sometimes it still doesn’t stop there. I admire curiosity and encourage my kids to always ask “Why?”, when it is appropriate, of course. With that said, I had to be mentally prepared for a million questions when opening up to my oldest child about my condition. Not only that, but be completely educated on the subject of my condition as well. Below I list an example of several questions my kids asked me when I opened up to them about my mood disorder, this may give some people an idea of what to expect.

The first thing I openly discuss with my children is our emotions. I truly believe that our emotions drive our behavior. It helps to explain these more complex topics to children when an example can be made that will relate to them. For example, there is a popular Disney movie that my kids love called Inside Out. This movie emphasizes our emotions and how our mind works at a level our children can understand. Therefore, I often reference scenes from the movie to help explain my situation a little better. I’m allowing myself to get on their level to help them better understand the minds like ours.

My oldest is nine years old. She also struggles with her emotions like I do. After discussing the importance of emotions and how it drives our behaviors, she brilliantly decided to come up with a code word for the both of us to use when we are struggling. I let her pick the word – “Congruent”. With the understanding that when this code word is said, we would stop what we are doing and take a deep breath. Collect our thoughts and emotions for a moment, then calmly discuss our feelings with one another before things escalate. For me, an example would be – receiving a triggering email from someone. Instead of having a breakdown or start screaming at my computer over it – I take a deep breath, look at my kids and simply explain the following: Mommy just received a rough email regarding something I need to work on and it has upset me a little. I am going to put my headphones in for a moment and take a few minutes to myself to collect my thoughts. This usually results with a response from my daughter, “Okay mommy, we’ve turned the TV down a bit so you can focus. It will be okay. I love you.” (Best.Kid.Ever, right?!)

The second thing I openly discuss with my children is the frequency and inconsistency of my mood swings and what I do to help myself through difficult times. My kids know that I attend therapy and take medications to help regulate my emotions, they may not understand the full extent of these things but they don’t need to at this age, in my opinion. With our code word in place, I explained that using the code word will help me tremendously, thus giving her the understanding that she plays a huge role in helping me feel better. I lightly discuss my coping skills such as putting my headphones in, listening to music, going for a walk, writing, or just having cuddles in bed with them. With this, they can see that I’m handling my intense emotions in a healthy way.

Inclusion is important. I want my kids to feel as though they are apart of something that I know will be helpful for them. After I openly discuss my mood disorder, I ask my kids if they have any questions. I encourage them to open up to me about what they are thinking and how they are feeling on the topic while reassuring them that they are in a safe space with no judgements. After answering any questions they may have for me, I turn the conversation around a bit and ask them what I, “Mommy”, can do for them when they are going through a tough time. This allows me to understand their needs as well. It goes both ways and it’s extremely important to understand that as a parent.

For me personally, I tried to answer their questions to the best of my ability. I think it’s important to not overload their brains with too much information regarding a complex subject. Here are a few questions my children asked me when I opened up to them about my mental health condition:

Questions

My personal responses
Why do you feel sad though? Sometimes I feel sad when I see something that brings up a bad memory. Or when someone says something that hurts my feelings.
Why are you not happy when you’re around us – don’t we cheer you up? You absolutely do cheer me up and make me very happy. Sometimes things on TV or my phone can put me in a bad mood and that doesn’t have anything to do with you. Spending time with you and cuddling up with you is very helpful for me.
What kind of things do you talk about in therapy? I talk about emotions, work, school and set some personal goals for myself. My therapist likes to help me achieve these goals.
Being alone is lonely, can’t we just all play together? Being alone and being lonely are two completely different things. I enjoy being alone. It helps me to collect my thoughts and think clearly. I rarely ever feel lonely. After I collect my thoughts, I would absolutely love to play a game together.
Do we stress you out? Being a parent has its stressful moments but in general, no – you do not stress me out. If anything, you help me in many ways you don’t ever realize.
Do I have a mental illness? I don’t believe so, no. Not everyone has a mental illness.
Should I go to therapy too? I don’t see the need for you to go, however if that’s something you would like to look into then I will fully support that decision.
Daddy gets sad sometimes, should he go to therapy too? Therapy doesn’t work for everyone. If daddy has a great support system (which it sounds like he does) then he may not want or need to go to therapy and that’s perfectly OK.
Is this a secret? Do other people know about this? It’s absolutely not a secret. The people I am closest with do know about my mood swings. I prefer to discuss it with people if it’s necessary but i’m not ashamed of the struggles I face.
Are you getting better? With my friends, family, support systems like therapy, and YOU – I am getting better.
Why do you have to take medicine for it? I don’t have to take medicine for it, but I choose to because it helps make my moods or emotions less intense. Medicine doesn’t make my emotions go away but they are just there to help keep me a little balanced.

Since explaining my mental health condition with my kids, I have noticed an increase in comfortability when discussing their emotions and feelings with me. I’m surprised by their new level of emotional intelligence and how well they are handling this condition I live with. Overall, it definitely brought us closer together as a family.

100 Things I Learned In Recovery

Here are 100 things I learned in recovery 

  1. My passion for Mental Health
  2. Mental illness doesn’t define us
  3. Self-Reliance
  4. It’s okay to not be okay
  5. There are no good or bad emotions, but there are good and bad ways of expressing emotions.
  6. Resiliency
  7. Self-Compassion is a priority
  8. Self-Awareness is key
  9. Coping skills that best work for me
  10. We don’t owe anyone an explanation for self-care.
  11. Beauty lives in our differences
  12. Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  13. Mindfulness
  14. The more I loved myself – the more I fell in love with my kids
  15. Not to feel guilty for self-care
  16. Patience and understanding for othersLove Yourself
  17. Recovery comes first
  18. How to stand up for myself and fight against stigma
  19. Things will always work out – do not give up
  20. We are not broken, weak or worthless
  21. It’s never too late to become the person you want to be
  22. The present moment is all you ever have
  23. Who my true friends are
  24. My story has helped make a difference
  25. Internal vs. external Locus of Control
  26. I found myself more at peace
  27. I am Brave
  28. Courageousness
  29. I’m an introvert and value my alone time
  30. To let go of my past mistakes; they do not define me
  31. I am emotionally intelligent
  32. Gained more self-esteem
  33. Judgments are a confession of character
  34. Happiness is found within
  35. Self-Confidence is the best outfit; fucking own it
  36. Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of
  37. Self-love is the most important love
  38. I am a stronger and healthier mother to my two kids
  39. Without the dark and stormy days, we can’t learn to appreciate the good days
  40. The Minds Like Ours are beautiful
  41. Our feelings are valid; don’t justify them or seek approval – they are YOUR feelings.
  42. Our behavior is driven by our emotions
  43. Helping others makes me feel good – we rise by lifting others
  44. Your worth is not defined by someone loving or not loving you
  45. My worst days in recovery are by far better than the best days in my manic episodes
  46. A bad day doesn’t equal a bad life
  47. The words, “Fuck it” do come in handy every once in a while.
  48. You are not a burden
  49. You have to learn to love yourself before you can fully love someone else.
  50. Do not be afraid to walk away from toxic relationships/friendships
  51. Embrace the sadness
  52. It’s okay to be different
  53. Be patient with yourself
  54. Recovery isn’t strictly about being “happy”, it is about learning to become whole.
  55. The bad things people say about you are actually reflections of what they think of themselves, not you.
  56. I am unique
  57. Ultimately it’s only your opinion of yourself that matters. Do what makes YOU happy.
  58. The art of meaningful conversations
  59. Stigma’s three components are: Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination
  60. EMDR therapy
  61. Step outside your comfort zone – you might actually have fun
  62. You are worth much more than you think
  63. It all starts with willingness
  64. I am a fighter, survivor and a warrior – so are you
  65. Be acutely aware of your thoughts
  66. No, we can’t just fucking “Get over it”
  67. Good things take timerecovery123
  68. Expect nothing – appreciate everything
  69. How beautiful it is to be alive
  70. How to live less out of habit and more out of intent
  71. We are the directors of our own mindset
  72. Strength
  73. Life’s a bitch sometimes
  74. Mental illness is not a choice, but RECOVERY is
  75. If you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone
  76. I no longer want to compete with anyone but myself – I hope we all make it
  77. Hold on to hope
  78. Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do
  79. How not to lose myself in the process of loving someone else
  80. How to magnify your strengths, not your weaknesses
  81. We can’t fix ourselves by breaking someone else
  82. My appreciation for music
  83. We are exactly where we need to be
  84. BREATHEEEE!
  85. Protect yourself with ADA
  86. How to maintain a balanced life – parenting, career and education
  87. I am emotionally sensitive- my emotions are more intense than the average person and that’s ok
  88. Face your fears – It’s fucking liberating!
  89. Be gentle with yourself
  90. Your time is important – spend it on things you are passionate about
  91. Make time for yourself
  92. The part you play is sacred – you are priceless
  93. How to manage impulsiveness
  94. See the value in our stories
  95. Trust your intuition
  96. Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle; start a conversation
  97. Your speed in recovery doesn’t matter; forward is forward
  98. Life gives you challenges that you can overcome; be strong
  99. Emotional awareness means recognizing, respecting and accepting your feelings as they happen.
  100. How to discover who I truly am; gained a huge sense of self.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

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I recently concluded my first ground campus course with University of Phoenix in Sacramento, CA this week. It was one of my biggest fears to be in a classroom setting. I faced that fear head on and overcame it almost immediately. It was an awesome and by far the best learning experience for me. I met some fun people, an incredible instructor and learned more than I ever did during online classes.

For those of you who do not know, I am working towards earning my Bachelors degree in Psychology for this is my true passion; mental health. My first course was an elective course and I wasn’t all that thrilled about taking Sociology – Cultural Diversity. I didn’t think I would get anything mental health related out of the course, but let me tell you!!! I learned A LOT about mental health in this class. I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was my first presentation {since high school} on mental health but as someone who has a mental health condition, I gained a lot of insight and resources that will help me tremendously in the workplace and in school.

Not only did I learn about discrimination in the workplace {as I currently am experiencing} but I learned about how to apply for protection with the ADA, not just for work but for school as well. For those of you who do not know about the ADA, or are being discriminated because of your mental health condition, read up. This is helpful.

What is ADA? 
Americans with Disability Act also known as ADA, was enacted in 1990 and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else.
– ADA applies to all employers with 15 or more staff members.
– Requires reasonable accommodation if needed in order to perform essential job functions.
– The ADA is enforced by a federal government agency, the EEOC (US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
_____________________________________________________________________________
TO QUALIFY FOR PROTECTION UNDER THE ADA, the law states that you must identify that you have a disability.
What is considered a disability?
ADA defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits a major life activity. This includes having a history or record of such impairment or a person perceived by others as having such an impairment. Some of these activities may include:
– Caring for oneself
– Seeing
– Hearing
– Eating
– Sleeping
– Walking
– Standing
– Concentrating
– Communicating
– And learning
The two most Important things I personally want in my work place are 1. to be treated fairly and given the same opportunities as everyone else and 2. to have flexibility to focus on self care and recovery when needed.
The ADA can give that to every individual with a disability.
If someone has faced discrimination within the last 180 days in their workplace, they can contact the EEOC and file a complaint here.
It took me 7 years to finally complete my Associates Degree in Business, SEVEN. I struggled mentally for years on top of my personal and financial hardships. I wanted to give up so many times, but I LOVE to learn. I was always eager to learn and grow no matter how hard it was for me. I always knew that school shouldn’t have been that difficult for me, but it was and majority of it had to do with my mental health condition. It’s okay to ask for help and protect yourself in situations like this. If only I had known about the ADA and how it could protect me in school- giving me more flexibility and understanding with my assignments, I probably would have graduated a lot sooner.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!! I will be creating a page on my blog, titled EDUCATION, where I will be sharing anything mental health related based on what I learn in this program. Stay tuned.
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“I Jumped Off the Golden Gate Bridge”

I found this amazing story about a man, named Kevin Hines, that shared his story with mental illness and a suicide attempt. He was one of few survivors to have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and lived to tell his story.

I love how he made a point to say he felt like a burden. I don’t think that people who don’t have a mental illness understand that piece of it. Recovery is possible and this man is living proof.

Taking Back My Narrative

I’ve done things at the age of 23 that I’m not proud of. I’ve had horrible names written on bathroom stalls about me, the whispering, the shit talking, people looking directly into my eyes asking me how I can show my face in public, some family members and friends have bullied me on Facebook and stopped inviting me around. Someone harassed me for months stalking my every move making me feel unsafe to walk to my car alone, texting me from four different untraceable phone numbers a day, knowing what I was wearing and what my plans were every day and even talking about my children.

I was, at a time, left feeling completely alone wanting to end my life. To top it all off, during this time trying to seek help through therapy I was diagnosed with a mental illness that I was suffering with for years prior and the stigma associated with it didn’t help, people called me “crazy”, some people didn’t believe me, or said it’s just made up for attention.

The lack of support, compassion, and empathy from others at a time I was at my lowest was awful. I made mistakes, we all have but nobody deserves to be bullied online or offline. You have no idea what internal battles people are facing. It can take just one person, or in my case, two little people, to help keep us moving forward. Please be kind to others.

It has taken me time and effort to accept the truth that my story is unparalleled and powerful. It has taken me time to finally forgive myself, to stand up for myself and to take back my narrative and to realize that I play a necessary character in the narrative of those around me, as do you.  This is my story, I’m not ashamed to share it.

Please take a moment to watch Monica’s TED talk below. “It’s time. It’s time to take back my narrative.”

Fear

fighting fear

How do you manage your fear going through everyday life?

Face it and embrace it. My biggest fear was being alone, doing things alone, going places alone. I hated the idea of it, made me sick to my stomach. I always had boyfriends because of it, I “needed” someone all the time. But then I started hating the idea of not doing things I wanted or going places I wanted to go to because I was alone. Six months ago I broke up with my boyfriend, to be single and alone. It was terrifying for me to face it but I love a good challenge and I had hope that I could overcome my fear. People do it all the time, so why can’t I? I’m braver than some people I know, so of course I could do it. I took baby steps from that point forward. Instead of traveling the world all alone, I thought it would be wise to sit in a restaurant by myself first, then go to some new place local by myself, then started traveling out of town by myself, getting a hotel by myself and the list just keeps getting better and better. Six months in and I can honestly say I no longer have a fear of being alone. There is nothing lonely about being alone. Embrace your fears, face them and learn to love them, if possible.

Anger

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How do you deal with anger in a positive manner?
As a mental health advocate, I always say, “Take something negative and turn it into something positive.” I have a temper sometimes, it used to be really bad but I have managed to change my perspective and start thinking more positively. I used to think that feeling anger was a bad thing, mainly because my dad was always angry and I hated it. It’s not bad thing, It’s okay to be angry, to feel anger. It’s how you handle that anger that can determine if it’s good or bad. When someone lies to me, I feel angry. That is normal. How I react on that anger could affect myself, my kids and others around me. When I get angry, the first and most important thing I do is try to think rationally. I tell myself that I’m aware I’m feeling angry. Once I’m aware of my feelings or emotions, it’s easier for me to control them. I used to be the type of person to react on my anger before rationally thinking about why I’m angry and how I can change it or make the situation better. Taking a deep breath, going for a ten minute walk, listening to music are things that will calm me down. Once I am calm, it is easier to review the situation and communicate in a clear and positive manner. Don’t let anger consume you or ruin your day, try to focus on the positive.

Stressors

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What are your stressors?

As a single mom, I have a few stressors in my life. My top stressor would be finances, as it is for most people. I have one income and two kids, I work full-time and pay for; full-time day care, food, housing and school activities. This in turn puts a lot of pressure on me at work to ensure I continue to work hard, and move up in the company so I can provide more for me and my wonderful kids. I’m not only a single mom and a full-time employee but I’m also a student. When my kids go to bed, that is usually my time to focus on school and homework. If you couldn’t tell already, I have a full plate and this at times can cause me to stress out if I don’t stay organize and stick with a strict routine. When I get stressed out, I take a break. My mental health is just as important if not more than my education, family and career. I’m aware of these daily stressors so it is easier for me to control them. There are other kinds of stressors that are out of my control like my kids getting sick, or unexpected and unfortunate events or situations that arise. Either way, it’s important to take a break; 10 minutes, two hours, or even a day if needed. Breathe, and do something for yourself to clear your head to help you through the tough, stressful times.

Heavy and Light

I drove to Los Angeles by myself to attend Heavy and Light, To Write Love On Her Arms. It was by far an incredible experience.
I stood in a room full of stories, music and other people that have suffered or struggled like I have.
I overcame a fear, I learned a lot, and I can honestly say how proud I am of myself to have come this far.

Growing up as a teenager, I was scared to be alone, and go places alone. I thought the word “alone” meant “lonely”. Only until the last few years have I learned that there is a major difference between the two. After having two kids, one at the age of 18 and the other at 21 and my husband working swing shift every night, it taught me to grow up. I had to learn to live in our house alone, go to sleep alone, I had to learn how to cook and take care of the kids and the house when he wasn’t home. I was terrified in the beginning, we just bought a brand new house when I was 20 years old, it was about 45 minutes away from family, in a town in the middle of nowhere. I remember the first few weeks I would call the cops every time I heard a noise. It was awful, I had never been alone, I didn’t know what to do.

On January 15th of this month, I made the decision to drive by myself to L.A. and visit the House of Blues for the Heavy and Light show by To Write Love On Her Arms. I got my own hotel, walked around L.A. by myself, went to the show, then the next morning I took a drive to Santa Monica (I’ve never been there before) and walked along the ocean and had a nice lunch to myself on the pier. The weather was 75 and sunny, couldn’t have picked a better time to go. It was the most empowering experience I’ve ever had. I had moments of anxiety, but I pushed forward and did something I had always wanted to do. A lot of people told me, “Wow I could never do that, I could never travel somewhere alone.” It made me feel proud, and brave. I did it and the best part was, I can’t wait to do it again. Below are some pictures of my trip. 🙂

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