Healing takes self-care.

Hello everyone! I first want to say thank you so much for everyone who has followed my blog and supported me through the start of this new little project! Love you all so much❤

Today I wanted to blog about self-care because for once I haven’t been doing too  bad in this area the past two weeks.

Now that I’ve got back in the swing of running, writing, crafting, etc. consistently it is so frustrating to me that I stopped doing these things and taking care of myself. The truth is, once we are adults no one is responsible for taking care of us besides ourselves. Yes, our significant others, friends, family, co-workers, kids, etc. pour into us and can make us feel good, but they don’t have the responsibility of completely filling our cups up to be full for our lives. This is one of the main steps of our journey that is a choice. 

I have found that my depression and anxiety are especially triggering when I quit taking care of myself and just retreat to my couch or bed. It feels miserable to lay all day long and to get stuck in your thoughts and fears. It can seem even harder to make the first step and increase active habits when you have been withdrawn for so long. 

This winter and spring I struggled with another bout of depression, mainly following the death of my puppy Rider. I laid and laid around and wondered why I felt like shit 99% of the time. I work with a lot of clients who tell me, “I don’t have any energy to do anything”, “I am completely stuck in my head and can’t move”, “no way could I do something active right now”. And while in the moment it does feel like depression and anxiety are crippling, that’s only our belief, not the truth. The past three weeks, I have learned that you CAN be active and take care of yourself, even when you feel like you can’t. It does feel better. I promise. 

So what do I like doing for my self-care routine? Obviously I started this blog for self-care because I love writing and I love helping others through my writing and my story. I also love crafting. My husband built our house about 3 years ago, and I’m still loving crafting up new unique editions for the walls and shelves. I also love anything to do with Disney and Walt Disney World. I love watching Disney movies and I LOVE watching different vloggers who vlog their Disney parks vacation. I also am really into make-up right now. I love trying new make-up and watching You-Tuber’s tutorials, reviews, and hauls for new products. I also enjoy pampering myself like: getting my hair cut regularly and getting mani/pedi’s when our budget allows for it. In the summer I also enjoying tanning (yes I know not the healthiest) and boating on the weekend with our family.

My husband and I also love traveling and vacationing. We always set aside a certain amount of money to our vacation fund each month as well as save any change, petty cash, birthday and holiday money we are given, and bonuses for vacation so we can take a vacation about every six months to recharge our marriage and ourselves. 

My dogs are another great sources of self-care. Oh do they have my hearts. They can make me feel so unconditionally loved each day and are so comforting to me. It’s amazing to just stare into their eyes and see how much love they have for you. I love taking them on walks, playing with them, training our newish puppy, and simply just snuggling with them. I could do a whole blog post on how healing my dogs have been for me.

I also love love music. I use music for self-care as motivation for cleaning, singing karaoke/car singing, and even as a journal entry. I have found for my clients (and self) that it can be very therapeutic to listen to music that helps bring out the emotion you are feeling at the moment or a song whose lyrics really apply to your situation. It also can be a great journaling prompt where you listen to a song that you connect with and then journal about why you do.

My main self-care is exercise. When I look back to when I was healthiest physically and mentally I was training for a half-marathon. I absolutely love the adrenaline high I get from running and kickboxing. I have made so much progress in my healing journey through processing my hurts, my fears, and my dreams through running long distances. I also use music to empower me through these work outs and to get my emotions out. My top five workout jams are “Rise” Katy Perry, “Fighter” -Christina Aguilera, “Stronger” -Kelly Clarkson, “Our God” -Chris Tomlin, and “Great I Am” -New Life Worship. I also have found running to be very helpful right when I get home from work as a separation from dealing with what I deal with every day to getting back into my normal home life. Typically when I get done with a workout I barely have work on my brain if at all. So this time I am fully committed to working out at least 4 days a week or 3 days and push myself to do the same amount I do in 4. 

Take the time to take care of yourself. It has made a night and day difference in my mental health, my attitude, and how I physically have felt the past three weeks. If you are in a helping profession especially, you need to do this. Even if it is just a half hour of each day to take time out for yourself to do a self-care activity, it’s worth it. Your family, friends, and clients will be able to tell a difference and will greatly appreciate it. You can’t give 100% to others if you can’t give 100% to yourselves. ❤

Healing involves the BODY, mind, and soul.

Healing is wholistic. Healing usually doesn’t come by just applying one piece of yourself wholeheartedly, but takes the entire person to reach full, long-lasting recovery. These next few blog posts are going to focus on ways that I currently feel either stuck or have found helpful ways to involve my body, mind, and spirit in my healing present and past.

This post is going to be a pretty vulnerable one, but I wanted to share where I am at in this journey today. Right now actually. Not too many people besides Luke and my therapist know about this because it’s not something you would know by looking at me…and is a big source of shame in my life. My weight.

I have struggled with body image issues since high school. These issues began when my abuser called me “chunky” and told me that no one would like my body besides him. He also picked apart everything I wore, how I did my hair, and what I ate. So I became fixated. A few months after we broke up, I went from being right at 100 pounds to 122 and then 129 within a few more months. I was starting to get the message from others that I needed to lose weight. That I wasn’t good enough. That I wouldn’t be able to find someone else if I didn’t lose weight. This was the first time I crash dieted. I lost about 13 pounds within two weeks from basically starving myself (and being “in love” again).

The rest of high school my weight yo yo’d. My junior year of high school I began working out. It was an obsession, and became more obsessive when I started binge eating and kept gaining even more weight. This is when the self-loathing of myself started as did the constant checking on my scale and comparing myself to everyone else. I would look at other people’s facebook pictures for hours and would compare my body to theirs only to end up disappointed and crying myself to sleep. I would weigh myself about 20 times a day hoping for a change. I worked out almost every day and would work off about 600-800 calories, but I couldn’t stop binging. It didn’t take long to be 140 and then 145 by the middle of my Senior year. At this point the messages from other sources became so strong that this was absolutely shameful to be this heavy. I should go on a diet. I had to do something with myself. I was chunky. And so I crashed dieted, lost 10-15 pounds, gained it back, on and on and on.

Now my Junior year of college, I weighed 160 at my highest. I cried every day. I felt absolutely horrible about myself and my self-confidence was at it’s lowest. This was actually what lead me to therapy in the first place (along with another failed relationship). As I began dealing with my past, the weight slowly came off, and I used exercise as empowering and as my number one coping skill, and was at a healthy weight for my body structure.

Up until last year, I had a semi-decent body image. I met Luke which affirmed my self-confidence in my body. I actually lost 40 pounds in about a year and a half which scared me and I actually wanted to gain ten pounds back because I unheathily lost it due to stress. I then became too focused on the wedding planning to care, and who cares about your weight your first year of marriage because it shouldn’t matter anymore right? Yeah right.

About this time last year, I went through a depression due to some life circumstances that were mainly out of my control, but did make some mistakes to cause them as well. At this point, I gave up working out, and I started gaining weight and losing muscle. Now my actual numbers aren’t bad as I have kept off about 25 pounds of my weight loss, but I hate my body again. I mean hate. The numbers are “ok”, but because I am not toned I hate what I see. Sometimes I look at the scale or the mirror and just cry. Today was one of those days. Some days I wake up and just wish I didn’t like food so much or that my body didn’t desperately crave food after doing what I do as a therapist every day. No, I don’t binge anymore, but it seems that if I eat two meals a day and a snack or two, I gain weight. Thankfully the sources who very much degraded by body image no longer are as influential in my life, but the voices are still there. The perfectionism for my appearance is still there.

This is one leg of my journey that I Just can’t seem to get over. I don’t weigh myself 20 times a day, but at least 4. I know I am in my mid-20’s and my body shape can’t be what it was when I was 21, but that doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t matter who tells me I am beautiful or that I look cute, it doesn’t matter to me, in fact almost annoys me because I don’t believe it and wish I could.

Two of my biggest celebrity influences are Kelly Clarkson and Amy Schumer. Part of the reason why I love them so much are because they are so ok with themselves. Both have been blasted by the media (and themselves at times) and they love themselves. I love just watching interviews/performances of theirs because it is just so inspiring to see them being so ok in their skin. I want that. I want that genuineness and that  “I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks I look like right now because I know I am sexy” attitude. How does someone get to that place? What is the secret? I want it whatever it is.

The main reason I want to work through this distorted way of thinking, is because it makes me feel shame that this is a part of me that my abuser and other sources who made me feel not good enough if I wasn’t a certain number own. And I want to take that away from them. I am ready to. I just don’t know how. But I am working on it and processing it, and that is what counts right?beautiful

Healing with PTSD…complicated.

A few days ago I told you my story and how my healing journey began. Today I would like to share with you what it has been (what it is) like dealing with PTSD for the majority of my healing journey. PTSD is a very interesting diagnosis, mainly because it actually takes something to develop it. Unlike most diagnosis, it’s not a long development period where nature, nurture, and experiences shape the forming of the diagnosis. One event, even minutes of someone’s life, can shape the way they deal with things and the way they see themselves, others, God, and the world forever.

Through being a therapist with more than half of my caseload having this diagnosis, I have found that it is very misunderstood. Most people (including myself until I was diagnosed) think they “are going crazy” when they feel these symptoms. Many are even misdiagnosed with Bipolar 1 or 2, depression and anxiety, etc. especially if they have never been comfortable to share their trauma and how it really affects them currently with a therapist. I have also found that for those that experienced childhood trauma or a trauma that happened a while before seeking treatment, may not even realize how their trauma effects them currently. They have been living with the symptoms for so long, it just becomes a part of them. A part of them they don’t realize is abnormal, has a name, and has an effective treatment to treat it.

Having these symptoms of PTSD feels shameful. The anger, the flashbacks, the nightmares, the self-hate, the relationship issues, etc. are not something that are fun to live with, let alone share with someone. You do feel “crazy” at times…especially when others don’t understand and say judgmental things to you like, “You just need to get over it”, “My friend has been through the same thing and they don’t act like this”, “You just need to go back to being yourself again”, “Let go and let God”, etc. Not helpful. Only more shame. I know personally, I would do anything to get rid of the lingering symptoms I have. Anything. And I would do anything to get my innocense and fearlessness back from the 15 year old girl I used to be. No one wants these symptoms, and once people are involved in therapy, most do work very hard to do the things necessary to lessen their symptoms.

Next, I would like to share the diagnostic criteria and share how each area still effects me and which ones I have made progress in. I hope that by sharing the true diagnostic symptoms, others who may not be diagnosed (or misdiagnosed) will feel less shame for having a name to what they may be experienced.

The first criteria (DSM-5) is experiencing trauma, witnessing trauma, learning someone close to you has experienced trauma, or a “first responder” type trauma. I should also explain that trauma is anything that may happen to someone that interferes with their ability to cope, may be (feel) life threatening, and changes the way someone views themselves, others, their spiritual life, and the world. In my previous post, I shared the majority of my trauma experiences. For those who have experienced more than one trauma experience (like myself) a “complex” PTSD diagnosis may be put in place due to many of the symptoms relate to more than one trauma and can take longer to treat due to having to process more than one experience and unique symptoms to each experience.

The next criteria (only one needed) is the trauma is re-experienced in ways such as flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thinking, emotional reactions when triggered, and physical reactions when triggered. For me, I struggled with all these symptoms right after the relationship ended when I was 15. In times when I was experiencing high symptoms in this area I could have up to 20 flashbacks a day. I have always been easily triggered. The towns where the events happened, music that was playing, movies that we watched, certain smells, riding in the backseat of a car, seeing anyone I was close with during that time, pictures, intimacy, certain things people have said to me, can send me into a flashback. I have had nightmares since I was little (due to anxiety and a vivid imagination), but I also continue (less now than in the past thankfully), I experience nightmares about my different trauma experiences including the people who inflicted the trauma or situations where others inflict the same thing. Most of my dreams have the theme of helplessness, fear, and emotional put downs which relate to all my experiences. When triggered, I have gone into panic attacks, felt sick to my stomach, cried incessantly, left the trigger, or have gotten very angry if someone is with me because they don’t undertand my reaction. Luckily, thanks to my husband, I have been able to go back to triggers and have much less severe reactions, or at least reactions I can keep in my head without anyone knowing what I am thinking. And let’s face it, while I absolutely love the trauma work I do with my clients, some days I can be more triggered than others. In these times, I feel it is beneficial to talk with my supervisor about it and to take at least ten minutes before starting another session. This is an area that I feel is not talked about enough…how a therapist’s work personally affects them (especially if their own journey relates to a client experience). Once again, this creates shame because when it’s not talked about openly, you feel shameful for how the job effects you when the pressure and stereotypical view of a therapist is to be invincible.

Criteria 3 involves avoidance of trauma-related thoughts/feelings and trauma-related reminders. This is my key defense mechanisms. Avoidance. Flight. While I am working in therapy on mindfulness and staying presence, I don’t want to even count how much of my life has been wasted due to me “zoning out”, staying way too busy, getting lost in my Disney fantasy world, and avoiding difficult emotions at all cost. Avoidance is so much of my personality, that most of the time I don’t even realize I am doing it, until Luke or someone else calls me out. I also very much have to be pushed to be vulnerable by Luke, my therapist, and even friends at times. I hate talking about sadness, shame, guilt, and the fear that still linger. I have learned that being vulnerable does have a ton more benefits than avoidance and in order to heal, you have to stop avoiding. And it can eat you alive.

The 4th criteria (have to have two of these) is having negative/thoughts and feelings that have worsened after the events  including: not being able to remember details of the event, overly negative thoughts about yourself, the world, and others, exaggerated blame for oneself or others causing the event, negative affect (feelings), decrease in activities participation, inability to experience positive feelings (happiness, love, excitement), and feeling isolated. At some point, I have experienced all of these (besides details. I remember everything unfortunately). After the events, I have always had low self-esteem. I have always had a mainly “hate” relationship with my body. I am my own worst enemy and have had a pattern in the past of seeing the worst detail in everything about me and what I do. I have made some progress in this area due to not having to be a perfectionist at all times, and working really hard to thought-stop these thoughts or work on balancing my thoughts. I definitely have a lot of work to do in how I see the world. Through having healthy relationships, I have made a ton of progress in viewing how I see other people, love, intimacy, and connection. Every day I have to push myself to do anything. Staying on my couch is my comfort zone, and getting involved in activities is hard. At times I do feel isolated in my journey mainly because I do not have anyone close to where I am living who “gets me”. My friends are amazing, but unfortunately live in different states. The biggest symptom I am working very hard at improving is trying to choose happiness every day and allowing myself to feel joy and excitement. This may sound nuts, like Why wouldn’t you want to feel happiness??, but it is a struggle with whats normally swirling in my head. I will say that medication can be very helpful for this, and most of the other symtpoms.

The 5th criteria (must have two) is heightened anxiety and arousal that worsened after the event including: irritability or aggression, risky or destructive behavior, hypervigilance, heightened startle reaction, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty sleeping. Now, I have always had anxiety. It runs very heavily in my family. As a little kid, I was scared of anything and everything and had to have control of everything. After the trauma, this did get a lot worse and is still a daily struggle. I have dealt with really bad anger int he past, especially in my teen years. I would yell and scream, destroy things, hold grudges, and say and do a lot of things I regret to my family and friends. It felt uncontrollable. Luckily, anger is not something heavily felt for me anymore. Believe me, I do get angry, but it’s managable and usually once I talk about it, I’m good. Thankfully, because of my fear, I have not ever done anything risky or destructive. Yes, once I turned 21, I did of course partake in that activity you can do once you turn that age. But for the most part, it has always been controlled. I will say that in the last two years, I have recognized the fact that when I am very sad/depressed it is best not to drink because it can worsen these things and can be real tempting to drink way too much. After the event, I am always afraid of being hurt in that way again. I always am looking over my shoulder, analyzing every look a man will give me, am startled super easy, and hate loud noises (especially when my husband likes to turn the surround sound up to the top level to watch action movies). At times, I do struggle with concentration and jumping from one activity to the next without finishing the first, but this has gotten better with time passing. And lastly sleep. Ugh. Sleep has always been a mess for me. In the past, sometimes I would go 2-3 days where I would only get 2-3 hours max and those were filled with nightmares. Luckily, I have found the right dosage of medication that has been a life saver to where I do usually sleep through the night now even if I do have a nightmare.

The next few categories can be combined easily including: symptoms have to last more than a month, symptoms have to cause psychological distress and impairment, and symptoms can’t be explained by a medical condition, substance use, or medication.

So there ya have it. That is PTSD. A personal demon of mine (and for so many others) that does make the healing process daunting. Thankfully due to two amazing therapists I have had, support from my loved ones, the right medication, and most importantly self work and reflections these symptoms are far more managable now than they have been. For me, it is helpful to fully accept this diagnosis as something I am dealing with, but do have the power to improve my symptoms and the effect it has on my life. I hope that by reading this, you will have gotten a better idea of what it is like living with this, what the actual diagnostic criteria are, and will be able to support others in your life who may have this (without shaming them) if you do not deal with it personally. Thank you again for reading and coming alongside me in this journey 🙂ptsd

 

 

Healing starts at the beginning.

“Trauma creates change you DON’T choose. Healing creates change you DO choose.” -Michelle Rosenthal

I thought I would construct my second post around the root of my healing journey…where it began. By no means am I sharing this story for pity, but in order to start the healing process, I believe, you have to share your story. You have to be willing to be vulnerable and open up the wounds to someone (or even just yourself) before they will begin to mend. It’s that connection piece. There is power in shared experience and in opening up yourself to accept empathy from your safe person you have chosen to share your story with. I hope that by reading bits from where my healing journey has began, you will feel empowered that you are not alone and that good can come from evil.

I was a very happy child (for the most part). I was given just about anything a child could dream of having physically. I lived in a fantasy world for most of my childhood without recognizing what was happening around me. My mom and dad divorced when I was 6 due to my dad’s Schizophrenia and severe PTSD. Disney and acting like a princess was my coping mechanism to deal with the divorce. Escaping. (it’s a pattern for me). But I was so so so angry. And I was so so so anxious. I was scared of everything, and felt like I didn’t have anyone to protect me. Anything I was scared of or felt I didn’t have control over, I melted down. I also began the pattern of being a perfectionist in everything I do to gain control. And in being honest, I learned that from other family members. My mom did what she could to help my behaviors stop, but she was suffering a great deal as well.

As a teenager, the most impactful moment of my life occurred. At 15, I was in an abusive relationship that was emotionally, verbally, physically, and sexually abusive. While I won’t go into details, I will just say that I have suffered a lot of guilt/shame from these events not only because they stole he stole my innocence, but also because it wasn’t a “textbook” sexual assault story. I wasn’t raped. There were no physical reminders. But I was manipulated. I was conned. I was in physical pain. I said no. I cried. The physical abuse didn’t leave marks, but it hurt my soul and made my already intense feeling of fear grow. And the names. Chunky. Ugly. Dumb. Unlovable. Disgusting. I could go on and on. And the blackmail, I was threatened that rumors would be spread about me, that I would lose friends, no one else would want me, etc. I was afraid of him (and his family). They could ruin me…and my reputation.

And almost even worse than the abuse itself, my high school years were stolen from me. Most theater and choir events I was in, he came. His family was very much part of the community, and I couldn’t escape them. I lost friends. He took them away from me by convincing people I was “crazy” and “a liar”. At one point, his friends made a few facebook posts calling me these things. I was a mess. depression. anxiety. suicidal thoughts. I hated my body. you name it. I hated myself. The sad thing is, none of my high school friends knew this was going on. I was so afraid I would be judged, or asked, “Why did you stay with him?” “Why didn’t you tell us while it was going on?” “He couldn’t have done it, he was a nice Christian boy”? And I could not take being questioned again for my story. I only told people from other schools who I thought had no connection to him, but this was not true.

I met a mentor through a church retreat organization, who was one of the only people I truly confided in through all of this. I met her when I was 16. When I was 20, I found out that she had been spreading the information I shared with her. Precious information. With him, his church, and family. She told me, “I needed to get over it, and that he had forgiven me for saying the things I did about him”. Trust was shattered in anyone from that point on.

In my early adult years, I made bad decisions in relationships. More manipulators. More boys who “called themselves Christians”, but who only wanted one thing from me, and when I wouldn’t give it to them, they left. I had no real friends until I was 20 years old, because I couldn’t trust anyone. And I let others walk over me. It was always me giving 120% to me getting no empathy from them in return.

I finally made the best decision of my life to begin therapy as a sophomore in college. This is what I would consider the beginning of my healing journey (I will share about my experiences in therapy in an upcoming post). I was done covering up (although I did not even talk about these things for at least 6 months in sessions). I wanted healthy. I wanted simple. I wanted me back. Throughout this experience, I first learned that I had a dysfunctional family (don’t we all in some way) and no one respected my boundaries, or allowed me to be who I was. If I didn’t fit the mold, if I didn’t meet unreachable expectations, if I wasn’t who they wanted me to be. I was threatened to be left and cut off. I couldn’t be me. This was destroying me (and is still one of my biggest obstacles I’m working to overcome).

Through this therapy experience, I learned what a healthy relationship was. This was my new story. Me actually having the power and control to make my own story. I made the choice to pursue therapy as my path for my Social Work/Psychology Major. I finally attached and built healthy friendships that were mutually balanced. I can’t thank them enough for sitting and crying with me, holding me when I cried, listening to me ramble and complain, and not giving up on me. *ok now I’m crying. And I met Luke. God bless Luke. He (with a little help from Jesus) have had to rebuild my heart. I could (and may) write an entire blog post on the power Luke’s unconditional love has impacted me and my healing. It’s incredible. I feel so thankful/blessed that I have had the rare human experience of being seen for who I really am and accepted by a man.   *crying again. Have these relationships been perfect? Oh hell no. They have challenged me in every way possible, but they have been so healing. We need that connection to completely heal (or at least I believe so anyway).

So there ya go. That’s where I come from. That is the core of my heart. The start to my journey. A mess, but I guess beautiful at times. Of course, life did not magically become a fairytale once I got married (like I thought it would be). But we keep on moving. I still have bad days (ok many bad days). I still struggle with PTSD (and the depression/anxiety that usually go along with it). But I’m refusing to stay here. I can’t. I want to move on in my journey. I go to therapy, I consistently am working on deepening my marriage, faith, and friendships. I continue to do the best I can as a therapist and to see every day how my experiences help me find that empathy for those I see that is so unique from having been through similiar things. And that’s why I’m here sharing this all with you. I hope you will continue on in your own journey, and maybe learn at least one thing from mine that you can add to yours as well.

 

Healing is a choice.

Healing is a choice. For some of you, this may be a strange perspective. If you would have told me a few years ago, that it was my choice to continue in my healing journey, I would have laughed in your face. For people (like myself) who have struggled with overcoming grief, suffering, heartache, and trauma, sometimes (well most of the time). it feels like you have no choice in how you are feeling and what you do with those feelings to continue to heal. Your body controls you. Your feelings control you. Your symptoms control you. Others control you. You have no power. You had no power over the trauma you experienced, and you don’t have any power in how you are dealing with it now.

While at the time, when you are in the pit of your suffering, it does truly feel like you have no way out. It feels like you are drowning. For me in struggling with PTSD, it felt like I just could not get out of my 15-year old body and experience. I was stuck there. Even when I tried to forget, something would bring me back to that place. Something always drew me back to the sights, sounds, and even smell of those darkest moments in my life.

Over the last few years, in my journey of actually working through my trauma (and not covering it up to the world), I have learned that I do have a say in my recovery, in my healing. Yes, it is ok to feel, to grieve, to mourn the loss of yourself and others. It is ok. But  for me, it is not ok to be stuck in that place anymore. I want more out of my life, and I want to actually be present in my life.

After watching “The Shack” today, it has inspired me to share my healing journey with others as real and raw as it is. Because I know that many in my own life (and strangers), the world gives us way too many false beliefs about how healing and grieving are supposed to look like ideally as well as what role God plays in human suffering.

I wanted to start this blog to be vulnerable, and I know that the power of being inspired by others’ journey and knowing someone has been in the exact place I am has impacted my life in ways unimaginable and is that soft nudge to continue in my journey knowing I’m not alone. I would love for you to come alongside me in this journey and I would love to hear about your journey as well. After all, we can’t heal ourselves. Recovery takes the mind, body, spirit, and connection with others. Here I will share how I am (well attempting as much as possible) to use all four areas of my life to get to a place of true hope and peace.High Life