How Do You Work With Fear?

It’s natural, as we grow older, to have a bit more fear (at least, I feel it is). As a child, we  didn’t know all the ramifications – we could fall and get hurt if we did this or that, we could get emotionally hurt from xyz, we could be rejected or fail if we went after such and such goal. As we get older, and we learn more about how things work, how life happens, as we experience more struggles and challenges, there’s more to fear. As a toddler, you didn’t (hopefully) have to fear that if you went after your career dreams and failed, you may not be able to pay your rent or mortgage, or feed your family. Fewer responsibilities often meant fewer fears of what would go wrong.

As adults, we’ve been through a lot of life experiences, ups and downs, successes and failures, achievements and disappointments. We know what can go well, but we also know what can go not so well. And often times, especially when you’re dealing with depression or anxiety, it’s that “what can go wrong” that gets magnified. And often, that can lead to fear. Furthermore, because depression and anxiety often like to lie to us, clinging on to those fears and reiterating that we’ll fail or be rejected or some other concerning outcome, that fear begins to sound a lot more like fact to our brain. It slowly morphs from “but what if I fail” to simply, “I fail”. To clarify, I’m not blaming us for this. It’s our illness, doing what it does so well, grabbing hold of the most vulnerable pieces, and clamping down on them, and makes it feel impossible to see any other outcome. Furthermore, it often feels impossible that if this “worst case scenario” happens – we fail, we get rejected, we mess something up big time – that (at least in time) it’ll be OK. That maybe, in even trying and failing, we’ll move closer to where we want to be.

This is a challenge I’m actively working on with myself right now.  While I am not trampling over my fears thoroughly, I am learning a few tricks along the way that I thought I’d share.  Sometimes, in these situations, it helps me to approach things a bit backwards – look at all the awesome possibilities first, and then bring it back down slowly to “ground level”, so that maybe I can begin to work on the fear of other, less awesome, outcomes. In order to do this, I’ve been asking myself a few key questions.

So here goes a big first question. I’ll share some of my own responses to it, in case that helps you to record your own.

What would you do or be if fear wasn't holding you back_

What would you do/be/go for if fear was not holding you back?

To clarify, this isn’t a “perfect world” scenario. It’s simply, “if you are who you are, where you are, with all that is you, but without xyz fear(s) holding you back.”  As promised, here are a few of mine – they range from the mundane to the big, because we (or at least I) have all kinds of fears, and big or small, they can hold us back.

  • I’d submit writing to more sites/sources
  • I’d cook/bake/try more culinary stuff without worry that they’d be awful (told you some were smaller than others)
  • I’d try my hand at growing my own herbs and veggies (I make half-hearted attempts, but I know I’m afraid I’ll fail, and haven’t pushed myself).
  • I’d work on publishing my novel
  • I’d work for myself again – I’d dig in, and figure out what I had to do to make it happen, instead of hemming & hawing & “I don’t know”ing.
  • I’d expand my advocacy to things like videos, or maybe podcasts.
  • I’d reach out and try to get more involved in advocacy panels or speaking or something along those lines.
  • I’d reach out to friends more, and try to get consistent get-togethers planned (like “we play board games every Tuesday” or whatever). Yes, this is a fear thing. Friend rejection is a serious issue for me me.
  • I’d learn how to do more around the house – fix more stuff, etc. My husband is awesome at this, but I’d like to learn too.

As you can see, there are some big items, and some seemingly silly items. “If you weren’t afraid, you’d cook?” you might ask. Yes.  I’m so afraid I’ll mess it up, do it “wrong”, embarrass myself (I don’t even know what this means in relation to cooking but it’s a fear), set off the smoke detectors because I’m burning something, etc. And it may not seem like something that’s holding me back, but I hate feeling like I can’t do simple things, and it wreaks havoc on my self-confidence and self-esteem. So whatever your list entails, don’t cross it off because it seems silly or unimportant or like it can’t possibly be holding you back. If it came to your mind, it’s important. Plus, these “silly” fears play an important role in getting us “over the fear hump”, which I’ll discuss later on.

 

Question number two:

If your fears came true, what's the worst that's likely to happen_

If you try and your fear comes true, what’s the worst that’s likely to happen?

Two clarifications here:

1.) I’m not talking about fears of serious life events – like fear of losing a loved one, or of serious illness or injury.  Obviously, when it comes to serious impacts on our lives and health like this, we have to consider these serious possibilities. I’m talking about “What if I do try to cook that dish or to grow those plants or to make those plans with friends, and it doesn’t work out as I hope – i.e. I fail, mess up, get rejected.”

2.) Note that I say “is likely to happen”. Yes, there’s always technically the chance of the absolute worst case scenario. I could try to cook something and end up burning down my kitchen. That does happen. But the worst that’s likely to happen is I burn it, have to throw it out, and order pizza for dinner. And in the process, I’ve perhaps learned what not to do when cooking that particular item, so I have more knowledge for next time I try.

So, what’s the worst that’s likely to happen? Of course, the bigger ticket items are more risky. If I try to work for myself and it fails, then that’s a bigger problem than if I try to garden and it fails. But knowing these, even the more serious concerns, is a first step, because it helps us get a plan in place.

 

Question number three:

Are past failures or rejections actually what you think they are_

If you’re basing your fear on past experience, is the past failure/rejection/etc actually what you think it is?

Confused? Let me explain. Real life example: The first time I cooked for my now-husband (then boyfriend) in our house, I decided to make breakfast for dinner. I knew I could make omelettes so I felt pretty solid, despite my cooking fears. And I burnt them. Horribly. Like, smoke detectors going off and scaring the dog, horribly. We had to dump them and order pizza. My brain, in those moments, turned on me faster than a sworn enemy would: See you can’t even cook the most basic things! You’re incapable. How can you be almost 40 years old and not even be able to make eggs? How pathetic!  Except what I never considered, and my (now) husband then pointed out, is that it was the first time we’d used the oven in the new house, it was a very old electric oven (I was used to gas ovens), the coils weren’t even so it wasn’t cooking proportionally, and it looked like it hadn’t been used in probably months, if not longer, so the oven itself was metaphorically rusty. In short, maybe the issue was the oven, and not me (at least here – admittedly, with some cooking, it is me). So, are the failures/rejections, mess ups, etc actually that? Or could there be another reason they’re occurring. Note: Answer this honestly. This isn’t to push away all responsibility. That’s the opposite end of the spectrum. But it could be that your fear is based off a failing or rejection or mess up that actually… isn’t. This can help dissect that.

 

Question number four:

What small steps can you take to build up to your bigger fears_

What are some small steps that you can take to work up to your bigger fears?

Another real life example: I’ve been wanting to attempt publishing my novel since I finished writing it over a year and a half ago. But I’m afraid of rejection, that it’s not good enough, and all these other things. So, this past September, my dad came up with an option: He produces Wordgathering Journal (an online journal), and suggested publishing a draft of the first chapter in the journal. Despite the fact that it’s my dad, and I trust his judgement on what’s good enough to go into the journal, it was nerve wracking – this was the first time any fiction work of mine was being put out for public consumption. But the fact that it was one chapter, and my dad was publishing it, made it less scary. Now, I’m looking into eventually self-publishing the full thing. That one small step gave me confidence to go further. It also gave me the insight to look at other options for getting my work out there – it didn’t have to be “big publisher or bust”.

So look at your fears, and see how you can break them down. It probably won’t dissipate the fears all together, but they may break down into manageable fears, as mine did above.

 
And finally, a tip/thought:

Practice doesn't make perfect, but it helps.

This is where to address those seemingly “silly” fears first. It’s way easier to think, “Tonight, I’m going to try to cook a simple dinner” than it is to say “I’m going to go for it and try to get my novel published”. These smaller things, when we start to move with the fear (note: not past it, but with it, meaning, we’re not unafraid, but we’re not frozen with fear), can help us build up to those bigger ticket items.

The bottom line is, the more we practice (thoughtfully) doing things we’re afraid of, the less frightening it becomes. I say thoughtfully here because I’m not saying “throw all caution to the wind and hope it all works out OK!” But the point is, often, one of the most frightening things is the unknown: What will happen? What if this? What if that? What if, what if, what if… But the more we practice moving forward with our fear, the more we get used to it. That’s not to say that we should just all be used to rejection and failure. Those hurt, sometimes terribly, and if we were all completely ok with every rejection we ever got, that might be just as concerning, especially when it’s on a personal level (friends, relationships).  But the more we work with our fear, the more we understand that sometimes, rejection and failure and messing up happen, and that when they do, we can get through it. And sometimes, they don’t happen. And that’s even better.

 

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What Are You Really Afraid Of?

This week’s topic is fear – a topic that’s near and dear to my heart. To clarify, not because I love fear. Not by any means. But because I have fear, or should I say fears, and plenty of them.  While I do deal with some more external fears, like claustrophobia, heights, flying (ironic, for a travel planner I know), and a particularly strange fear of getting locked in a bathroom (there’s actually history to this one), my biggest fears are internal:

  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of rejection
  • Fear of loss of control (of life, of my mind, of anything)
  • Of never being truly happy
  • Of never finding my path in life

So if you, too, battle these, know that you’re not alone. Often, fear of failure and rejection, and even fear of loss of control, can show up as behaviors such as self-sabotage (whole week’s focus coming up on this), procrastination, talking ourselves out of going for something we really want, giving up on our dreams and goals even if they’re attainable or in reach. And frequently, because of these, our fears become a “self-fulling prophecy” and form a vicious loop.  If you struggle with depression or anxiety, this loop is often even trickier. To clarify, I am NOT saying that these things are our faults, that we’re to blame for feeling depressed or for having low self-esteem or confidence or self-worth. I’m not saying that at all. Here’s what I’m saying:

Depression and anxiety make it difficult for us to fully trust ourselves. They lie to us, telling us that we’re worthless, hopeless, not good enough. They tell us we’ll never be successful, or catalogue a list a mile long of all the things that will go wrong, to the point that we may be overcome with anxiety. When you’re consistently being told you’re worthless and hopeless and not enough, that you’ll never succeed, that nobody cares about what you do, or whatever other lies our illnesses tell us, the results are often low self-esteem, low self-confidence, and low self-worth. Afterall, being told this enough, even by ourselves, has a lasting impact. And if you’ve ever been told this by others too, that only compounds it further (note, we’ll go into stigma and dealing with other people’s B.S. later in this topics series). Speaking from personal experience, convincing yourself that you’re going to succeed, that you don’t need to be afraid of failure or rejection or anything like this,  can be incredibly difficult when you’re really struggling with feelings of worthlessness.

This is something I’m working with actively at this moment, and it’s something that I think a lot of us experience, at least on some level. Over this week, I’m hoping to offer some thoughts to help maybe break down the fears a bit, to make them seem more manageable, and also offer some tools to try to work through them.

To start with, here are a few questions to think on:

1. What do you truly fear? This could take a little digging, but it helps to get to the bottom of the fear. A few tools that might help dig deeper here.

  •  Note that the true fear may be hiding behind another fear. For example, you may be saying, “I want to start my own business, but I’m afraid I’ll make less money, and I won’t be able to pay my bills.” And maybe money is where the fear ends – maybe you are making six figures now and your business plan you’ve created for your own business doesn’t account for that kind of salary. But often, it’s not this cut and dry and we have to dig deeper and ask ourselves, “Is a this really what I’m afraid of?”  Or to put it another way, in this example, “If you started your own business and you were successful, would you have less money and not be able to pay your bills?”  See if this assumption of success changes the inner dialogue. If so, the real fear not be simply be the salary to bills ratio, but that you’ll fail in your business venture. When examining your fears, look for what’s being left unspoken, and that might help you get to the heart of the issue. Often our fears are layered, and we need to address each aspect of them to fully work with them.
  • Also note that sometimes, fear disguises itself as anger. For instance, say you’re a writer and have a dream of getting published. And someone says to you, “You’ll never be published. You’re not all that good. Why don’t you go after a more realistic dream?” Sure, most people would get hurt. Because it’s a hurtful statement. But if you get really angry, and (internally or actually) start screaming at them, “How dare you say that. You’re an a$$hole! You don’t know what you’re talking about. You wouldn’t know good writing if it hit you in the face!”, make note. Make further note if you’re still mumbling to yourself about how wrong they are days or weeks later. It is true that it’s a pretty rude (and unless they’re your editor, probably unnecessary) thing to say. But often, we get most angry at something because deep down, there’s a tiny voice that says, “what if they’re right?” It doesn’t mean it’s a justified voice, but it’s often there all the same. People putting a voice to our deepest fears can make us feel exposed and vulnerable, and that’s often not a comfortable place to be.Often, to protect ourselves (think fight or flight), our body goes into anger mode, to mask feeling exposed. So take note of those moments. They can often be the most telling.

2. Do you feel this fear is holding you back? I ask this because it’s not always the case. Three reasons: First, some fear can healthy. It can keep us from situations that are actually potentially dangerous. Second: Fear can make us think things through more. For instance, if you think starting your business will result in a lower salary, you probably should address the “how will I pay the bills” question, even if it’s not your deepest rooted fear.  Third, some people use fear as a motivator. They are determined to get past their fear, and it fuels them to push themselves when they otherwise might stop. Sometimes, pushing past the fear in itself is a goal, and it can be a good one. But if this does not sound like you (I know it often doesn’t sound like me), here are some ways to figure out if fear is holding you back.

  • Do you notice you often get stuck at the same point in tasks/projects/activities?  I, for instance, am gung-ho in the idea and brainstorming stage. I am great at the planning, I make content calendars and marketing plans, I have business plans bulleted down to the tiniest detail. And then, when it’s time for implementation, I freeze. Or I make one small effort, and if it doesn’t seem to immediately return a positive result, I get discouraged and often back off. It’s easier to find reasons why it’s a bad idea or it won’t work or I’m too busy, or I just can’t do it right, now than to face potential failure.
  • Do you procrastinate consistently when it comes to certain tasks or goals (by which I mean tasks or goals that you want to do, at least in theory – not like taking out the trash or cleaning the toilet)? To clarify, procrastinating doesn’t have to be scrolling through Facebook for hours (though it can be). But if you find that every time you have to do xyz, you suddenly realize that you’ve been meaning to organize your sock drawer, or rearrange the kitchen pots and pans, or clean the tub again, note it. Or, if like me, you constantly think you’ll just make one more list or read one more applicable article just to make sure every tiny detail is perfect, instead of actually starting on the next steps, you may well be procrastinating. Procrastination can be sneaky, so look for it in non-obvious places – like working around every other item that could possibly ever be on your to-do list, instead of starting on the one task you said you were going to do today.
  • Do you deal with all or nothing thinking when it comes to your goals? For instance, for the writer above that wants to be published, if they say something like, “It’s not like it’s going to be a best-seller, so what’s the point?”, fear is probably holding them back. This falls under the “I’ll never succeed so why try” category.  When you deal with a mental illness, gray areas can be especially tricky. Speaking from personal experience, when I struggle to trust my own brain, it can often feel like I need “solid” thoughts to hold onto – something is good/bad, right/wrong, this way/that way, success/failure. And having that anchor can be really important, because there are times that the whole world can feel gray, fuzzy, wobbly. But it can also feed fears of failure or rejection, because we may see the only possible outcomes as success or failure, not a sliding scale. This is something I am especially working on right now, and there will be a whole theme on “gray areas” later on.

If you’re working on determining your fears, I hope these help. My next post will be on what we can do once we have determined what are fears are, and how (if) they’re holding us back.

And to close, a final reminder: fear is a natural part of life. It’s ok to feel afraid. I’d venture to say nobody lives without some fear – even if it’s a small, less-obvious fear that they may not even be aware of. Having fear is part of the human experience.  We don’t have to be fearless. We just need to work on identifying those fears, and how we can best work with them to move towards our goals and dreams.

 

It's perfectly OK to be afraid.

 

 

Depression, Anxiety, and Trusting Yourself

When you live with mental illness, it can be difficult to trust yourself. Not in the “I don’t trust that I’m going to do the right thing” sense (though there’s plenty of that for me too!), but in the sense that often, it’s difficult to tell if you’re assessing a situation as it is, or as it is through the lens of our illness. Now of course, everyone looks at life with some sort of lens. None of us are completely objective about every single situation. But when you live with a condition like depression, anxiety, or a mood cycling disorder that includes mania or hypomania, it often feels (at least after the fact), like our brain might be lying to us. Depression, for example, often makes us feel that we’re hopeless, worthless, that our lives and what we do is pointless. It can make us feel unlikeable and unlovable. More than that, it can make us tell ourselves these things, repeatedly. When depression hits, a small setback may feel like a massive failure. It may throw us completely off course, not because “we’re over-reacting”, as we may be accused of, but because our brain actually sees it this way. Anxiety can act in a similar way, running away with worst case scenarios without our permission or cooperation – it isn’t conscious thought, it just happens. Mania, or hypomania, on the other hand, can make us overly energetic, sometimes to the point that the energy feels almost uncontrollable. On these days, distinguishing the (hypo)mania from just feeling really positive and good about ourselves and capable, can be tricky (at least for some).

 

trust yourself

 

All of this makes it difficult to trust yourself. Because when you have difficulty determining a good day from hypomania, and depressive lies from the realities about yourself or your situation, it makes it difficult to trust anything. This feels especially true these days, when we’re constantly reading phrases like, “You can’t control what happens in life, but you can control how you react to it.”  A nice sentiment in theory, but it can make you feel like you should be able to control every thought in your brain. You should be able to just tell yourself not to be so anxious, not to feel so hopeless or worthless. And when you can’t, it may feel like “If I can’t even trust my own brain, what can I trust? Certainly not myself.”

 

If you’ve been here, or you are here, know that you’re not alone. So many of us go through this feeling. And I wish I had all the answers, but quite simply, I don’t. But I’m hoping, through this series of weekly topics that I’m starting, we’ll cover topics that will help you (and me!) learn to trust ourselves more. By digging deep into some of our fears, patterns, and struggles, especially those that often make us feel stuck, that we can learn how to trust ourselves better. I do, though, have one piece of advice that I have to remind myself of time and again, and it’s this:

 

When in doubt, go back to your core values. When it’s all said and done, what really, really matters to you deep down at the core?  If you took away all the external factors, people’s thoughts and judgements, even some of those critical self-judgements and lies our brain tells us in a bad flare up, what would be most important to you?  If you aren’t sure how this ties back to trusting ourselves, think of it this way: Our core values, the ones we’ve held since we can remember, that are so near and dear to our heart, that make us feel like something’s off when we aren’t holding true to them, don’t tend to change drastically without some sort of major life change (i.e. having children may zoom “keeping my children safe” right to the top of your list, and alter your perspective on other, previously high ranking items). But for the most part, without major life changes, these stay consistent.  Therefore these core values be can generally be relied upon to guide us. For example, one of my core values is putting people first. My loved ones especially are the most treasured piece of my life. Money, on the other hand, is not (don’t get me wrong, I like money, but it’s not a “treasured piece of my life”). So no matter how stressed I get about money – and I get highly stressed about it at times – when it comes down to it, if I have to make a decision that puts the choice between my loved ones and money, I can always look back to my core values, and know that putting my loved ones first is the right decision. I can trust myself, when I look at my core values, to make the choice that I feel is best, even when I’m severely depressed.

 

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about topics that I hope will help those who may struggle like me, especially during bouts of depression and anxiety, to trust ourselves. Often this requires us to dig deep, and examine those things that are really tough to examine. I’ll be doing this right along side my readers, so please know that you’re not alone in this.

 

And of course, thoughts and inspiration are always welcome, so if you have something that helps you trust yourself, even when you are struggling to trust your brain, I’d love to hear them!

And remember….
You Are Amazing

I’m Going Live!

Hi friends! So, if you know me at all, you may know I tend to be more a behind the scenes (or behind the screen)  person. But, I was recently given the the opportunity to be featured on Crazy Talk, hosted by the amazing Lee Thomas. Crazy Talk is a podcast that’s broadcast live on Facebook that features open conversation about mental health.  I rarely pass up an opportunity to talk honestly about mental health and my life with rapid cycling cylclothymia, so I’m foraying into the realm of podcast participation!   I’ll be sharing my story/experiences/whatever else we decide to talk about – you’ll have to tune in I guess!

I’m being featured TONIGHT, Wednesday, Oct 10th, at 8PM EST, 6PM Mountain Time. The face that it’s World Mental Health Day makes participating today of all days feel that much more special. So  if you have the chance, tune in – and while you’re at it, give Lee’s page a like!

 

Self-Care Isn’t Silly, But I Am

Did you know that we’re swiftly approaching National Self-Care month? That’s right – it’s September (which is also Suicide Prevention Month, more on that in another post). Self-care is incredibly important when you have a chronic illness or mental health condition, and I love that there’s a month to specifically hone in on it.

 

National Self-Care Month

 

To honor this, I’m going to be doing a #30DaysofSelfCare campaign throughout the month of September. Each day, I’ll be IGing, tweeting, posting, otherwise sharing a different form of self-care. My goals of this campaign are three-fold:

1.  Illustrate the importance of self-care, and that it’s perfectly OK, even vital at times, to take a little time self-care every day.

2.  Offer ideas, and get suggestions, for ways that you can self care – both conventional and less so. I am hoping that my “less traditional” methods may help to show that self-care doesn’t have to be daunting – you don’t need to meditate for an hour or run 5 miles. It can be quick, simple, and even goofy/fun (more on that in a minute).

3. Kick my own butt (figuratively) into gear, and make sure I hold myself accountable for my own self care. I know this is something that I need to focus on more, and this is a perfect opportunity.

So what do I mean by self-care can be silly or goofy? First off, I let me state that I don’t mean the idea of self-care. I mean the actual actions. Sometimes, especially if we’ve been feeling particularly depressed or anxious, a good laugh, getting in touch with our inner child can greatly help. Often, it helps to take a break from focusing on “real life” concerns for a minute – like work/career, school, household chores/tasks, finances, etc – and bring ourselves back to a time when we didn’t have to worry about those issues as much. Or maybe it helps us to take a break from all the bings and beeps and stimulation of our electronics, and get outside, or in nature, or spend time “playing” (I mean this in a PC way, for the record – like actually playing games or building pillow forts or whatever silly, fun thing you want to do). Perhaps it’s putting our most ridiculously comfy, oversized PJs and snuggling up, when we don’t have the energy to do anything else.

I find that, for as much as I worry about… everything… I’m really a kid at heart. I love returning to my inner child, and to just letting go and being innately me. Depression and anxiety make me often feel so old , so to speak – it can be tough to have fun when you’re constantly anxious and fearful, or when your brain is continually telling you how awful you are. So I intend to take full advantage of self care month, and of my #30daysofselfcare campaign, to encourage my natural (when depression and anxiety aren’t forefront) youthful curiosity and free-spiritedness.

 

30daysofselfcare

 

What about you? What fun, silly things do you do for self-care? I’m always looking for more ideas, so I’d love to hear yours (warning: I might use these ideas in my campaign, and I’m happy to give you credit if I can tag you!) And of course, you’re all invited to take part in the #30DaysofSelfCare challenge! I’ll be posting updates on this blog, but to follow along or join in the challenge, follow Spread Hope Project on Instagram.

 

Guest Post! Journey to Hope

Back again with another amazing guest post, from a friend, who wanted to share their story. As always, I offer people the option to post under a pseudonym or anonymously. For these purposes, we’ll call the author of this post Inner Peer Supporter. Without further adieu, I’ll let our guest poster take over from here!

 

JOURNEY TO HOPE: MY STORY

Fall 2016

I was sitting in a peaceful room giving peer support to a wonderful person who had seen so much horrific suffering in her life. I listened quietly and felt emotional, empathy and concern for her being. The interesting thing was when I went home that day some how I didn’t allow her suffering to eat away at me and I knew for the first time that I was beginning to get stronger.

So how did I get to this place from my own suffering? This is my journey.

Underlining Reasons For Life Long  Anxiety:

Fall 1980: I was in the first Grade ready for the first recess of the day. I walked out the door and found myself being shoved around by fellow students. This marked the beginning of always running into some people from time to time who showed their resentment to me for being just me.

I was a shy meek kid who wasn’t perfect, but was good hearted and sensitive to the point that I always absorbed how I was treated and at young age defined myself as less then others. I recognise now that I had anxiety then. I always sat at the back of the class afraid to be ridiculed. Words have the power to harm and when I formed the opinion of myself as being less then others that view stayed with me until I was an adult.

My anxiety and fears had shaped me too, preventing myself from properly progressing. I remember one teacher I was scared of in a regular grade 5 class who ridiculed me for being in remedial for math. Kids in special education classes were labeled as retards then. Students in regular classes and some teachers were biased in their treatment as a result.

I remember an Olympic day in grade 4 where all the students go around the school competing in sport competitions. I was intimidated by my bullies and didn’t do well. At the end of the day the teachers gave out gold, silver, and bronze badges for participation and my teacher instead gave me a nil certificate for failure. Everyone and the teacher laughed.

I could go on with examples, but I think you get the picture that my childhood was filled with adversity that shaped my perception of myself. One side note of mention is that If I ever said something wrong or stumbled I rejected myself even more as a child.

My family was oblivious to my plight, because I never told them anything. Everything was buried within. That is how I dealt with it.

I went through high school never really fitting in and skipped my prom night as a result.

By the time I was in my 20’s I was glad to leave high school behind. I was in university studying history part time and working the rest of the time.

It began with a depression and increasing disillusionment that set in and I left University. Over the next eight years I would move in and out battling the perception I had of myself with anxiety; never dating, not having friends, never truly venturing out in life; I felt less then others; unworthy and ugly.

Down the road I would go to college instead. One program stuck in my mind. A leadership course. I knew then some how I wanted to help others, but didn’t know in what capacity. I found a best selling book there after by Dale Carnegie called, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ It floored me and I enrolled in one of their training programs. I remained on for 2 years as a volunteer coach working with other people.

Carnegie was influential in my life, but try as I did then, I never conquered that battle inside of me.

Over the years some of the depression and disillusionment returned. No matter what I tried it persisted for years and my anxiety began to get worse.

Finally in 2014 I was in total crisis. My anxiety evolved into a terrible disorder with powerful panic attacks and I turned to help at the hospital. That phase was the most grueling phase of my life.

At one point I sat across from a therapist who with compassion said, “can you do me a favour and throw away the rope.” I had revealed to her that I was suicidal. I had previously almost went through with it.

The compassion I received from her, my doctor, and a social worker, had an impact on me. Once again that urge to help others set in. My life was reignited.

I finally found a non-profit mental health organization; a cause bigger then my self to devote my life to.

I went from having no hope, no purpose to finding it again. I faced my anxiety head on and became a facilitator for wellness programs and trained volunteer peer supporter and even a board member. Our organization employs peer support workers in hospital settings. This was my calling to pursue.

Like every plateau in life, I did run into a few people who devalued my self worth, but was able to rise out of that. I found myself face to face with myself and this kick started the road to healing.

In January 2018 I took an online anxiety course with coach Leigha Benson that added to my recovery journey. It helped me to embrace myself and open the path to recovery even wider. I see now that repeated moments of self doubt in my youth and how I was treated kept me in a compartment for much of life.

I never had any animosity towards others for how I was treated for I knew God was always with me and them too. I first found him in grade one when I was being social isolated in play ground. I sat under these peaceful trees on a June day looked up and felt his presence in the breeze if the trees.

I credit spirituality as a constant in my life. For God taught me the value of unconditional love and forgiveness for people no matter what.

Anxiety will be something to always manage, but my life is gradually getting better step by step. There is more work to be done, but I can now do it with a rented strength and hope.

Accountability, Fear, Anxiety, and Hope

Happy Sunday! I hope you’ve all had a good week. Before I continue, I have to give some gratitude:

THANK YOU to all who have signed up to be Spread Hope Ambassadors.

If you haven’t yet, but are interested, reach out!

Today, I want to write a bit about accountability. To ourselves. It wasn’t a 2018 goal of mine per se, but more of an evolution of my life goal. I’m pretty good at holding myself accountable to others. It’s rare that I tell someone I’m going to do something, and then intentionally don’t. Sure, life happens at times, or you forget here and there. But it’s a rare day that someone can’t count on me.

But the person I do often break promises to is myself. Not intentionally, of course. But fear and anxiety often get in the way. Or the fact that I don’t feel it’s making a difference. Or lack of self-confidence. Or hypomania 1000-things-in-my-brain-at-once creeps in. The number of times I want to do something and then manage to talk myself out of it by thinking “I’ll just be rejected. I won’t be good at that. It’ll cost too much (even when the cost isn’t all that high.” Or “I tried this instagram campaign/hashtag/blog series and nobody cared.”  Or “I want to organize this community project but nobody would come.”

And true, you have to be reasonable. I’m a very small (one-person), self-funded organization right now. I can’t spend $1000 on a community project that I don’t reasonably think anyone will come to.  Honestly, I probably couldn’t spend $1000 if I thought everyone would come.  But there’s logic, and then there’s fear and anxiety that you can spin to sound a whole lot like logic if you want it to. Because sure, I know people that could help me do something similar that wouldn’t cost $1000. Or I could find a local business to partner with. Or some other option, I’m sure.  And sometimes, even when there is logic behind a reason, you have to weigh the short term logic for the long term – i.e. someone going back to school might take time and funds now, but the benefits of getting this new degree/certification/training may be worth it long term, for any number of reasons.

And so I’m determined for this year to be the year I hold myself accountable to myself. Not in exchange for being accountable to others, but in addition. This is the year that I’m going to find a way to things, or at least do my utmost to try. And sometimes, it might not work out. I might have to throw in the towel and say, “I really wanted to hold this community event, but I’ve looked at it from every single angle and it just isn’t feasible.” But then I will also make myself look at other options: can I do something else instead? Can I plan ahead and do it next year? What do I need to make this, or something like this, happen – if not now, then within a certain time frame?

When I was young, there was a sign hanging in our gymnastics gym (bonus info: I was a highly competitive gymnast for 14 years) that said,“Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, either way you’re right.”  As a kid, I didn’t really get it. In fact, the “if you believe you can’t you’re right’ sounded kind of harsh. And as much as I honestly really dislike someone throwing an inspirational quote at me when I’m battling severe depression or anxiety, thinking it will fix it, occasionally, there are a few that I need to remind myself of. Because lately, I’ve noticed that my biggest roadblock is often myself. Not always, of course (I’m 5’0, I’ll probably never dunk a basketball), but often. Knowing that is both a little disconcerting, and also quite freeing. Because while it makes me feel significantly more accountable, it also gives me significantly more control. And I certainly have plenty of times when my brain is not 100% in my control – anxiety, depression, hypomania lie, often. But at least I know where to start. With myself. I have this ability. And that makes me pretty hopeful.

 

Making New Connections

Goal Number 4: 

2018 Goal_Make One New Connection Every Day

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I’m an introvert, and a socially anxious one at that. It’s not that I have a difficult time talking with people. In fact, by virtue of my job/career I have to all the time. But I’m not a big small talker, as most introverts aren’t. I’ll exchange pleasantries because I have to, and because it’s the polite thing to do.  But I want real conversation. I want connection that means something. And I know there are others that feel the same way. Whether it’s because they’re introverted or socially anxious or feel that others don’t understand them because of an illness, or even just shy (I am not, but I can understand it). So whether it’s online or in person or a chance meeting, I want to make one new connection every day. It doesn’t even have to be someone I’ll regularly stay in contact with, or happen some grand moment. But it’s nice to connect with people, even if for a little bit. I want to offer that to others as much as I want to make it happen myself. Because as introverted as I am, it’s nice to feel like there are others, or at least someone else, who get you – even if just for a little while.

Facing My Fears

2018 Goal_ Do One Thing Every Week That Scares Me

This year, I’m going to try to face my fears. At least some of them. Maybe not quite the mountaineering kind illustrated above, but the smaller ones that are significantly more difficult to pinpoint. For instance, my overwhelming fear of making calls, especially to people I’m not close with/don’t know at all. Or my massive fear of failure and rejection at even the slightest thing – like, “Oh I’m afraid to cook this new meal because what if I do it badly and nobody likes it…” type of fears.  Despite knowing that whether or not someone likes the new dish I cooked doesn’t speak to who I am as a person, it sometimes feels like it does. Like it’s one more thing I’m not good at. So I need to get over that. Because there’s just as much chance they’ll like it… or at least some chance. And I’ll not know if I don’t give it a go. Plus, the more I avoid it, the more the fear builds. Often, the worst part is the anticipation, the what if. Rarely do little challenges like this turn out nearly as badly as I envision them.

So each week, I’m going to try to do one thing that scares me/makes me nervous or anxious, even if it’s minute. Because if you battle anxiety, you know that it doesn’t feel minute, even if you know logically that it isn’t going to make or break anything. Even if you know that by not doing it, you’re holding yourself back somehow.

This is the goal I am, as you’d expect, most anxious about. It’s forcing me out of my tiny comfort zone, which is exactly what it’s intended to do. But, naturally, that’s also what makes it a bit nerve wracking.

 

Self-Care Sunday

I’m going to be honest – I thought I published this post a week and a half ago. But… brain fog. So, this is about two weekends ago. My apologies. Anyway…

As someone who wants to spread hope and to help others, I often find I’m pushing myself. I’m pushing myself physically, but also emotionally and mentally. I’m constantly trying to figure out the next step, continually brainstorming and tossing ideas around in my head of what other programs and projects I could run, or how I could better spread my message. And I love this piece of myself. My imagination, my creative brain gets me through some super dark times. But it can also drain me. When I’m working extra hard on these things, focusing more than usual, I find myself physically and mentally tired. Add that to severe congestion and a cold that’s gone into my chest, which make it difficult to breathe, plus jet lag, anxiety, depression, and the usual exhaustion, and I needed some self-care.

So Sunday, I did just that. I spent the first part of the morning journaling and drinking  coffee. I had been excited about revamping my travel blog, so I worked on that, but casually. No expectations, just seeing where it took me. One might think of this as work, and technically it is, but I was excited about it, so felt more like a fun experiment than something I had to do. Then I relaxed and watched some football and saw my Buffalo Bills get an OT win in a foot of snow, which was pretty amazing.  I reheated some pizza (not the most healthy lunch option, but it didn’t require much effort, which helped conserved energy). I played a few games on my phone – I love word games, and they help keep me feeling sharp while actually enjoying what I’m doing. I ate a dinner (part of which involved more pizza … I clearly need to grocery shop) while intermittently blogging and watching more football on the couch. I did all of this in leggings and an oversized shirt that could possibly be mistaken for pajamas.

What didn’t I do? Answer work emails. Blow dry my hair. Put on makeup. Run any errands/go anywhere. Try to solve any major issues/questions/concerns in my life. Anything I didn’t want to.

I relaxed, I did things I enjoyed, I did minimal beauty regimen shenanigans (with the exception of showering, though half the reason for doing so was the hope the hot shower unstuffed my nose).

Sometimes, even the most hopeful of us need to replenish our stores.  That’s completely ok. We need to take care of ourselves in order to help others. And sometimes, taking a break from trying to figure everything out – whatever that everything entails – can actually be the the respite our mind needs to help us do just that.

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