Mental Health and Education

The summer of 2004 I received a call from my best friend to pick him up from the hospital. He had been in the psychiatric unit for about a week for suicidal ideation. When I arrived he hugged me, had a smile on his face, and then wanted to show me around. I was surprised that I could come into where he was staying. I was introduced to a couple of staff members and a patient that he had gotten to know. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her blond hair, pale round face, rectangle glasses, and how exhausted she looked. Her slumped shoulders, dark circles under her eyes, and defeated posture has been stained in my mind ever since. And she was a teacher. 

At the time, I wasn’t an educator. So, with my ignorance I remember thinking, “What is a teacher doing in the psychiatric unit for suicidal ideation during summer break? Shouldn’t she be enjoying her time off, relaxing, and traveling?” I shouldn’t have been so naive. I was married to a teacher and knew many others through my wife, so I was aware how stressful education could be and that teachers didn’t just forget about their students and the demands of their position during their break. Still, it came as somewhat of a shock that this person was suicidal. 

On the drive back to my friend’s house that day he looked at me and said, “What the hell are you doing with your life?” His question took me aback a little. Wasn’t I the one that just picked him up from the psych unit of a hospital? This was my friend though, more like a brother, and he could be very forthright. He also knew that I wasn’t content in my career choices at this point in my life. He continued, “You are good at helping people. You care about others. You should be a counselor or teacher.” I dropped my friend off and left without giving his words a lot of thought. At the time, my self-efficacy whispered constantly in my ear telling me I wasn’t bright enough or good enough, so becoming an educator or counselor was difficult to imagine. Then, about six-weeks later, my friend committed suicide. 

I was seeing a therapist for about three years at that point, the same incredible human that I see today, and he told me that my mind and body were in emotional trauma. I was about to start a new job in human resources and had to put that on hold for a couple of weeks. My mind was completely swirling and I kept asking, “Why?” A question that will drive you to the brink of desperation because it will never be answered after someone close to you commits suicide. 

I loved my friend. I miss him. He was incredibly intelligent and practical, and offered his wisdom to me over the years, which helped me grow. After his death, I started thinking about our drive home from the hospital that day, and the weeks after, and all the conversations that we had regarding my future. He continued to talk to me about becoming a teacher. So one day shortly after his death, while walking our new puppy, I told my wife I was going to go back to school to become a special education teacher. I enrolled in a program at a local college and the rest is history. 

I think about my friend almost daily, and I often think about the teacher that I met when I picked him up from the hospital. Over the years, I have seen the toll that stress can bring to educators. I’m not saying that this particular woman was suicidal just because of her stress from teaching. I’m certain she had other troubles in her life. However, there is a reality in the field of education that depression and anxiety is very real and rising. Much of it is related to secondary trauma and compassion fatigue, along with the plethora of demands that are being continually placed on educators. I use the word educator because this isn’t solely about teachers. Administrators, social workers, counselors, para professionals, and others are also impacted. 

I recently read an article that reported fifteen percent of teachers have had suicidal ideation. The rate of depression and anxiety is rising among educators, where more than half have reported a decline in their mental health. This is alarming! Over the years I have had educators come to me that are feeling burned out, in tears, frustrated, and losing hope. They feel like they cannot possibly keep up with the demands that are being placed on them and never feel their efforts are never good enough. Then, there is the reality that educators become emotionally fatigued dealing with student behaviors, trauma, and feeling responsible to help “fix” students. Again, this is not just teachers. I have seen administrators that struggle to take care of their mental health needs because their jobs have become ones that seem to go twenty-four hours a day. 

I have witnessed many incredible educators leave the field and have done so because of their mental health. Education is in crisis right now because we are seeing educators leave and fewer coming into the field. Where there was once one hundred fifty applicants for a teaching position, there are now twenty. That might not be an exact number, but it’s an example of the reality that we now face in education. My greatest concern is that this mass exodus from education will, and probably has, affected students. This trend needs to stop. 

Someone recently asked me if I liked being a teacher. I replied with, “I love it. It’s one of the best things that I have ever done with my life.” I continued talking about how the highlight of my career was being a Dean of Students. I mention this because I have been both a teacher and administrator, so I understand the burnout from both perspectives. As a Dean, my mental health declined rapidly by my third year. I approached my position as a student advocate rather than a disciplinarian. I knew that I needed to create strong relationships with students in order to better serve them, especially when they were in crisis. I tried to take a restorative approach, along with fair consequences when it came to discipline and I never stopped looking out for their best interest. However, I often felt like I was climbing up a muddy hill with worn out shoes. For every step that I took to improve climate within the building, I fell several steps back. There were several reasons for this that I would rather not focus on, but it took its toll on my mental health. My anxiety grew to the point where I had several panic attacks daily and often thought I was literally dying. This didn’t stop the work I was doing with students. I knew it was too important to be there for the kids, but the secondary trauma continued to increase. I became worn out by the issues that students brought to school. A small list included: homelessness, abuse, drugs, anxiety, depression, fights, unreasonable parent expectations, social media bullying and harassment, suicidal ideation, divorce, and the list goes on and on. When you are an educator who takes the time to do the important part of your job, which is building strong connections with students, you will hear and see all that they have to deal with in their lives. And with all of this, you are still expected to plan your lessons, set your teacher effectiveness goals, coach, facilitate extra-curriculars, navigate parent concerns, and so much more. Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed? When you bring students into a building with all of their mental health concerns and combine that with educators who are also struggling with their mental health, something’s got to give.

I’m writing this for all of my fellow educators with the simple mission of bringing awareness. I care about them and their wellbeing, and I care about every student that walks through our schoolhouse doors. When I see the dire statistics surrounding the mental health of educators I think we all need to take notice because the education of our young people is the foundation of our society. Our work is extremely important and young lives depend on it, but there has to be a better way. 

I certainly do not have all the answers, but I can suggest a few things. Educators need to speak freely, without judgement, about their mental health. The stigmas need to be extinguished and we need to be okay with saying that our chosen field is causing much of our increase in depression and anxiety. Educators need to build strong relationships with students and continue to help them, knowing that sometimes just being there is enough and that you are doing everything you can. We have our kids for a short amount of time five days per week and cannot possibly undo every trauma in their lives. This is a hard reality. You are enough! We also need to be allowed to slow down and focus on quality, not quantity. Hopefully, this would decrease the hours of after school planning and the pressures of getting through so much material, which in return may offer more time for educators to focus on their own mental health. We need compassionate, empathetic leaders that are here to serve. In return, we need teachers that also understand that administrators are facing incredible obstacles on an hourly basis in a thankless position. After all, we are all in this together, with mutual passion, to help kids become their best selves. We’re on the same team. Mostly, I think we need to bring awareness about the signs of mental illness to educators. This will help them understand the symptoms and then build the coping skills necessary to build resilience, so they can continue to show up everyday and have an impact on the young people that are before them. There are many more things that schools could do to support mental health with teachers and I will list a few without getting into detail: Hold students accountable for their behaviors because a large part of teacher’s stress is the verbal and sometimes physical abuse that they endure, bring mindfulness to schools and allow time for the practice, inform teachers about detachment strategies (examples:yoga, exercise, reading) and allow time for them to make those strategies a part of their life, reduce initiatives and allowing time to do less better. This is not a complete list but a good start. 

Years ago, I listened to my friend’s words, “You should become a teacher,” and I never stopped listening. I am a teacher, an educator, a mentor, and a compassionate leader. I do care about my fellow educators and I love my students, even the ones I have not met, and that is why I bring you these words today. I am concerned about a profession in crisis. A profession that I tell young people to enter because even with all of the stress and secondary trauma that you will inevitably feel at some point, there is nothing like seeing a student stand in front of you telling you that you made a difference in their lives. I have always said, my students have had more of an impact on me than I will ever have on them. 

What Depression Feels Like To Me

I call depression my “Dark Little Friend” or “My Dark Little Bastard” depending on how bad it happens to be at that moment. I think I had to name it for it to be real. Naming it helped me accept it and become friends with it. To me, depression is like a moist fog that clogs my brain. It makes all thought disoriented and my feelings become hard to navigate. Depression is going to bed feeling good and then waking up at two in the morning feeling like your head is sewn to the pillow. When I come to the realization that my dark little friend has arrived and the hours, days, or weeks to come will be filled with self-doubt, a sense of being a worthless piece of shit, and insomnia, I want to withdraw in a deep hole or take a long walk in the woods and hide. I feel this way because I think that I don’t deserve to be around anyone. I don’t deserve happiness or love, and the people I love most will have to witness my suffering. That’s when depression causes guilt because your suffering affects those around you and it’s not fair to them, so the awful feeling of worthlessness that you have has a topping of guilt thrown on.

 Depression can make me cry as I picture myself as a once little blond boy that was shy and quiet because his self-doubt was already sinking deep in his soul. I cry when I see the look in my wife’s eyes when she knows my depression has visited me and she is a witness to my suffering. She hangs on until it lifts. I shed a tear when I think how my death would be best for anyone around me: my wife, mom, brother, sister, nieces and nephews, and students. I’m a burden that should be punished or exiled. I’m never certain how long depression will visit. It plays with my emotions like spring weather. When it finally lifts I am thankful for how good I feel. It’s like a rebirth and I come out of the darkness charging a\head with life that a moment before seemed trapped in mud. Therefore, depression allows me to feel renewed over and over. One has to turn such things into a positive because the alternative is too heartbreaking. 

As bad as depression can feel and the mental and physical pain that it brings, I would never wish I would have been spared from it. Depression is a part of me and has made me stronger, building resilience through the years in order to survive the darkness. It has been a great teacher and I am a devoted student trying to learn as much as I can through each lesson, each moment. Hopefully, it has granted me some wisdom that I can pass onto others and help guide them through the relationship with their own dark little friend. 

Thankful

She Brings Hope

“To live is to fly
Low and high
So shake the dust off of your wings
And the sleep out of your eyes”

-Townes Van Zandt

I want to live a life of exhausted laughter, the kind of laughter that brings an ache to my stomach and permanent lines on the side of my eyes. I want to let the suffering come followed by the inevitable calm and happiness that it brings. I want to climb mountains and swim in oceans and continue to be humbled by how small I truly am. I will read great books and be inspired by words. I want to help young people grow and guide them to accept their own suffering, and then teach them how to heal their minds. I want to feel my feet on the dirt trails and smell the trees as I give thanks to them while passing. Most of all I want to love. I want to love my wife deeply, my only true love, until we take our last breaths. I want to hear her laughter, which always seems to make the hairs on my neck stand tall because of the joy and energy it brings to me. I want to hold her hand and lead each other through this life and have no regrets. 

I have what I want and she stands beside me, in this moment, not the past, not the future, we are together here and now. I must hang on tight and enjoy. My road will always have darkness and my anxiety, at times, may feel like I’m in the middle of a lake without a shore. But I have my breath, and I have her eyes to sink into, and maybe that is enough. 

Reflections on Guilt

“The problem with surviving was that you ended up with the ghosts of everyone you’d ever left behind riding on your shoulders.” 

-Paolo Bacigalupi, The Drowned Cities

The feeling of guilt should be added to the five stages of grieving. It’s an extremely powerful and true feeling that attacks your soul. It’s the desperation of wanting to die because you think you were the cause of the person’s death that you lost, which can be much more intense than the other five stages. The guilt of living, of being a survivor is strange to me. Shouldn’t we want to live? Living is an accomplishment. I’m not talking about longevity as much as quality. To live a long life that is not fulfilling is tragic.

There is guilt to surviving when you know the person that died had the same pain as you, the darkness and dreariness that depression so often brings. Depression and anxiety are wars waged in our minds. When someone that you know suffers from depression enough to want to end their life, and their suffering mimics your own in so many ways, you ask, “Why them and not me?” This feeling, will happen again in my life, I am sure of it, and I will ask that same question to ghosts that will never reply. I wish I could charge the ghosts rent for the space they take up in my mind.

One small comfort is to know that I can close my eyes any time I want and those that I have lost will appear in their best self, my best memory of them, and possibly go for a run with me in the woods. Memory is all we have to hold on to, along with a promise to yourself to live a life full of emotion, adventure, pain, happiness, and gratitude.

In the end, I have no regrets for knowing those that now haunt me. The honor of sitting, walking, and running by their side has been worth the pain that I have to bear. They were a part of this journey that I am on, steering me on an uneven path, and I just hope my boots take a long time to wear out.


Grappling In The Dark

Grappling In The Dark

“Depression is the inability to construct a future.”

-Rollo May

Does anyone really know what to do with depression? When I fell into that darkness at age thirty, I had a doctor who immediately said, “Let’s put you on medication.” Certainly I was desperate, and I was sinking into a dark hole that I didn’t anticipate the depths that depression would take me to, so I downed the pills without much thought. The doctor did not mention therapy to me, so with my ignorance of depression I figured taking the tiny pill would be the cure all for my gloom. It wasn’t. In fact, it made my depression worse and all I could think about was killing myself and trying like hell to hang on. I fought my mind daily not to fall further but the fighting made me weaker. I lost a job and almost my life. Now, I’m not anti-medication if it helps, but I am an advocate for having a variety of coping strategies that are healthy. For me, meds brought more desperation and that’s simply part of my journey.

At this time in my life, shortly after exiting my twenties, I wrestled with thoughts, energy, existence, and self-worth for several months. The depression was becoming crippling. I once found myself driving in a daze. My mind was dark, in a fog, and I just drove. I’m not sure how I got there but I ended up in the bluffs two hours away. My intention was to drive my car off the sandstone peak and plummet to the bottom. That’s where I was anyhow, the bottom. When one hits bottom there are only two ways to go, up or dead. 

Often, depression is looked at as having a rose-colored glasses outcome. Take a pill, talk to a therapist, and it will get better in six-weeks. However, depression and anxiety roll you in a wave that is difficult to swim out of. There will be scars. There will be turmoil and inner battles that fluctuate and creep up on you when you least expect it. It’s your own mind after all, that is causing this. It’s your thoughts that are the challenge, so it’s not so rosy. It’s scary as hell and that’s okay to admit! What your mind tells you to do to yourself, and what it tells you that you are, can rip your guts out and leave you feeling nothing. Feeling nothing at all is the worst part of depression. That’s when you are capable of no empathy for yourself. Numbness, I am told by many sufferers of depression and anxiety, is the worst part because it’s when you cut deeper and deeper into your mind without the ability to stop. The pain is tortuous and you want to pick your brain out of your skull with a fork. I hate the dreaded numbness.

Still, we are survivors. We are animals meant to thrive and move through the murkiness of life and continue to find a way. Then, why do some of us lose to the darkness? Do they give up or do they simply give in? Either one is appealing when the pain is so real that you feel like you are slipping too far into the shadows of mental illness and will eventually not come back either in body or mind. This is why I have taught myself to fight and embrace the pain. I’ve learned the art of blending. Welcome the suffering like a friend to dinner and hug it with enthusiasm, or slap it in the face with the same enthusiasm. You have to bring emotion to your mental illness because it helps take away the numbness. You need to love yourself. After all, the darkness is you. It is your pain that you must take care of because no one else will. No one will come to save you. Ultimately, you will need to find the strength to grapple in the dark.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness Brings Hope

Like many men in their forties, and many men in general, a couple of years ago I had to take a step back and look deep within. I was really just trying to make sense of my life, mostly my depression and anxiety, and why I am the way I am. What happened along the way to cause this darkness? Why me? It wasn’t out of self pity that I asked these questions. I have always considered myself fortunate. I have always been healthy, have good friends, travel and life experiences, a family who mostly loves me, and a wife that would rather carry the burden of my demons than for me to have them myself. That’s real love, when you want your partner’s pain so they can find their smile. That’s sacrifice! Of course, I would do the same for her, and my reply when she states she wishes she could have my depression and anxiety instead of me is, “No my love, that would break me to see you in such despair. This is my burden to bear.” 

Even with the good fortune of friendship and love, I still ask the question of why I have these struggles? It starts as a cliche really because it begins with a father, that I found years later, did not really love me. It’s a cliche because it’s how many young men and women develop their darkness from an early age. The abusive father found in so many of our stories. 

My dad would have been eighty-five last Friday. He died in 1995 from a medical suicide. That date is coming up in December. I always said that he decided to end his life right before Christmas so he could ruin the holiday for us, like he tried to so many times when he was alive. That may be difficult to hear, and it’s harder to say, but it’s the reality of a broken man. My mom, brother, and sister’s all have their own perspective of their time with this man. Mine is one of fear and anger that came from emotional and physical abuse. The fear was caused by being a witness to watching him abuse my mother, and the anger came when my young body was not powerful enough to stop him. The abuse turned emotional when I grew stronger as an adolescent. He knew that I was not scared of him anymore and that if he touched my mom, he may get hurt. 

After their divorce, he started to follow her around, torment her through phone calls, and try to keep control over her. My mom is incredibly strong, always has been, but any soul can only take so much before they break. This is when I drove to my dad’s apartment and sat across from him and threatened to kill him if he ever bothered my mom again. I don’t say this to sound macho. I say this from a place of love for a mother who I have adored since I was old enough to recognize she was my mom. 

This man, my dad, had a profound impact on my life, in shaping me into the man I am today. He was not a role model. Far from it! See, I have tried to develop myself to be someone far removed from who he was. I like to think of myself as a gentle, compassionate human who adores his wife more than anything in the world. She’s like the air and gives me life. I wish my mom could have experienced this type of love from my dad but that did not happen. She did have five children that she loves with all of her heart. She deeply loves the four that have survived so far, and mourns the beloved one who did not. Through being mindful of his rage, I became the opposite of everything I knew and thought my father was.

So, why the title of forgiveness? Well, I realized long ago that if I did not forgive my dad that he would continue to control me. I would be controlled by the hurt and anger that filled my veins and eventually my emotions would continue to boil over. I came to the conclusion that my anxiety and depression were, in great part, a result of the influence he had over me through his abuse and lack of love. If I continued to have hate in my heart for him, I could not heal myself. It’s amazing when you forgive those that wronged you, there is almost immediate relief in the control and power that you bring back to your life. It’s not an easy journey. The path to forgiveness is filled with rocks and thorns and fields of shit, but it can liberate you, and it might just bring enough light to your darkness that your smile will return. Peace!

A Piece of My Mind

Piece Of My Mind

I recently fell into a discussion surrounding mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety. The person I sat across from was telling me how she lost her brother to suicide when she was seventeen. I know statistics vary from source to source, but a recent one I read stated that suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15-34. This is why I speak up about mental illness. We all should raise our voice in order to combat the stigmas that accompany mental illness and to simply tell one another that they are not alone. Feeling isolated in your mind, even if you are surrounded by love and support, is one of the scariest parts of depression and anxiety. We don’t have time anymore to remain silent. One part of the discussion I had with this young woman was how I believe that people that do suffer from mental illness are often  stronger because of the obstacles that they have had to face and overcome. There is no battle like the battle in your own mind. Mental toughness and resilience are crucial and it takes time to build them. The incredible part of the conversation that I had, which also led to this piece of writing, was how relieved both of us were to open up about our own struggles. Here are a few thoughts, a piece of my mind, that I hope others relate to or can at least contemplate. It’s me, giving you a small look inside, in hopes of helping someone cope. 

Depression makes you want to die, and anxiety makes you feel like you are dying. Depression can take your thoughts to dark places. The kind of places that dig a muddy hole in your brain that force you to tell yourself, “You’re not worthy. You’re a burden that should go into hiding because you deserve nothing or no one.” Then, there’s that little bastard, anxiety, who likes to sneak up on you when you least expect it, slap you on the back of your head and scare the fuck out of you. Anxiety likes to scream, “Wake the hell up because I’ve come to play!” Only, it wants to play with your mind and breath and pain, and give you chills all over that you wish would just go away. 

Depression has been with me most of my life. It’s like a dirty fingernail that likes to itch at my brain every so often, especially 1:30am, followed by days of insomnia. I didn’t really understand it when I was little. I just figured my lack of interest or understanding was because I wasn’t good at anything. A loser and a burden. I always thought I was terrible at school because I was dumb, and depression allowed me to accept that. As I got older, the depression led to having suicidal thoughts while sitting in the commons at school. Depression will do that to you. It makes you think that death will be the only thing that can take away the pain. As a young man, it sometimes came in the form of anger and recklessness that could have ruined me. In my adult years, I learned through therapy, reading, and self-discovery why my depression visited me in the first place. It didn’t take away the pain but it allowed me to accept it, to call it, “My Dark Little Friend.” Yes, I had to name it and make friends with it in order to come to terms with the darkness that distorted my thoughts. At times, those thoughts make me want to self-destruct and destroy everything I’ve built in my life because, once again, the depressed mind tells you that you are not worthy of anything good. 

Anxiety patiently waited to visit me until well into adulthood. It’s a sneaky little fucker. Apparently, I compartmentalized all the trauma, grief, and other bad shit in my life until one day anxiety decided to rear its ugly head and torment my brain and body. I was forty-two when I had my first panic attack. It hit me like a storm on a flight to San Francisco, and as a nurse was taking my pulse and blood pressure to see if I was having a heart attack, she gently told me it was anxiety. Of course, I didn’t accept that. I’m a man who is too damn strong for anxiety, or so I thought. My physical strength was no match for the mental war inside my mind.The panic attacks hung around for a couple of months and then they simply left. I’m not sure how and I wasn’t mindful enough at the time to be aware. However, a couple of years ago anxiety returned. When I say it returned, I mean it came for blood. It came for my mind and body and soul. I was working in a job that I loved, but one that was stressful. It wasn’t really the kids that were causing stress, but other factors. It started with some tingling in my hands and fingers, which led to blurred vision and the feeling that I must have a disease. By the way, never look your symptoms up on Web MD. They killed me in ten different ways over the Internet. I would be at work, walking down the hallway, only for the hallway to start moving. There were times when I would have to hang onto the wall, or the SRO, to keep me upright. I would be in the lunchroom talking with students and my vision would be terribly blurred, muscles tight and twitching, and I was so dizzy I figured I would eventually pass out in front of a lunchroom full of teenagers. There were other times that I would be having discussions with kids in my office and I would have a panic attack. Of course I would try to hide my panic, which only made it worse. What I should have realized is that my students would have understood. They would have been forgiving and recognized my pain because I have helped many of them work through their own panic. Yes, I could help them with their panic but I had no idea how to help myself. When you are in the midst of anxiety, it’s not exactly easy to press pause, collect yourself, and “fix” what’s wrong. Anxiety doesn’t allow that. Instead, it wants to toy with your mind and tell you that you are most likely going crazy, and then slap you in the face and show you who’s in charge. 

One day, I came out of a meeting, walked up to the admin assistant that I worked with and said, “The side of my face is tingling and twitching and so is the entire right side of my body.” With her wisdom and compassion, she knew what was happening but told me to call my doctor. She always did take care of me. This was the start of many emergency room visits. Over the course of a few months, I was given CT Scans, EKGs, EchoCardiograms, MRIs, and blood work, only to be told that all of my symptoms, including the crushing chest pain, was anxiety. What a mother fucker! I was told that what was happening to me was caused by stress and past trauma. I still couldn’t accept that my symptoms were “just” anxiety. Unfortunately, I had to make the decision to leave my job and the students that I loved and did my best to help, and start focusing on my health. My superintendent asked me to stay. He assured me things would be changing for the better. A bit after my departure they did, but I had to leave. This was the first time that I was determined to focus on me because I was becoming so trapped in fear that it was ruining me. I had to protect myself, my marriage, and my life. Anxiety does not just go away. It wants to hang onto your shoulders in the deep end of the pool and pull you under water. That’s what anxiety feels like. You are drowning and every once in a while you lift yourself out of the water just far enough to catch your breath before being pulled under again. Sounds like hell, doesn’t it?

There is hope. I started to realize that I needed to take control of my life again. I needed to create a tool box full of coping mechanisms that I could use when needed. I also realized a harsh truth that is difficult for many to accept. No one is going to come along and rescue you. You can have all the love and support in the world, but you have to help yourself. You have to stand up and yell, “Enough!” and then start putting in the work of building resilience. I mapped out things that I either knew worked for me or wanted to try: Exercise, meditation, yoga, therapy, nature, more sleep (still working on that one), mindfulness, reading, gratitude, writing, and a few more things. Here is what I found: I needed to accept what was happening to me. The more I fought anxiety, (it’s the same with depression) the worse it became. By accepting it fully, I was finally able to stop going to the ER, take a look at why I had anxiety in the first place, and realize that it was my mind and a part of who I am. To deny it was to deny myself. I started to read a lot of books by Thich Nhat Hahn. This gentle man taught me about impermanence. That nothing is permanent and anxiety would not always be with me, especially as extreme as it was. He also taught me that you cannot have happiness without suffering. This made sense to me, as did all of his writings. I have always exercised, so I was used to that being a part of my life. I incorporated breathing exercises into my daily routine to the extent that I now belly breathe all day and all night long. See, most of us breathe into our upper chest, which is anxiety producing. Breathing in our belly helps us calm down and relax. It does take practice but it brings us to being mindful of our breath, which makes us more mindful of our day to day life. I stayed connected with my therapist that I’ve had since I was thirty-one, even though he now lives out east. He told me about Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and also told me he wasn’t surprised that anxiety came to me. He told me I was a master at compartmentalizing my feelings and thoughts to protect myself and survive. Those feelings eventually have to come out and when they do they come for vengeance. Understanding myself and my anxiety helped me start to heal. 

As you can see, I am open about my anxiety and depression. I am open because I am not ashamed and have made it my mission to extinguish the stigmas that accompany mental illness. I also want to share my story if it helps others. Even if it reaches one person and gives them hope, it’s worth putting myself out there. This isn’t about being brave. It’s about being human. We are all connected and we are not alone. You are not alone in your suffering! That’s important to remember because when you have depression and anxiety, you feel like you are on an island with no one in sight. 

I have known too many people that have committed suicide because they could no longer hang on. Don’t let your mind do that to you. There’s another way. Even when your darkest thoughts come along and smother you, bare with it, hang on, and then kick it in the teeth. You are worthy. You are strong, and your depression and anxiety are impermanent. Yes, they may return and remind you they are there. If you build your tool box, your arsenal to cope and be resilient, you will be ready for the war that is in your mind. Win that war! Peace!

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

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