The Hidden Struggle: College Edition #WorldSuicidePreventionDay September 10, 2018

September is Suicide Prevention Month and today, September 10th, is World Suicide Prevention Day. Like most of us, I too have been personally and closely effected by suicide. I am thankful every day that even during the most difficult times of my own mental health struggles, I have not been drawn into that darkness. However, many are not so lucky and struggle every day to see and feel the light.

College-age students are extremely susceptible, while simultaneously being really good at hiding their pain. I was reminded of my own hidden struggle recently as I went through the process of acquiring my transcripts from the undergraduate and graduate schools I attended.  Once I received those papers, I had an unexpected, visceral reaction. It felt like I was transported back in time as I closely reviewed each semester.

My undergraduate years were rough. An intense and traumatic relationship that had started in high school followed me to college. Layered on top of that, my nuclear family was facing obstacles no one could have ever imagined.

I went from an honor roll student in high school to a “holdover pledge;” i.e. my grades were not high enough to be initiated into my sorority on time, so I had to pledge an additional semester in order to get my grades high enough to be inducted, achieving the absolute bare minimum.

In addition to my relational struggles, I showed up on campus completely ill-equipped to self manage and self monitor. While others could party all night and get up and go to class, I couldn’t figure out how to balance the two, and ultimately chose fun times far more often than class time.  At first, this unfamiliar freedom to make my own choices felt new and exciting, but it escalated into a pattern of unhealthy decision making.

So why was I, someone who showed solid aptitude in high school, so challenged in college by its demands of independence and self-motivation, while others were able to successfully manage?

Anne Marie Albono, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders says she is inundated with texts and phone calls from students who struggle with the transition to college life. “Elementary and high school is so much about right or wrong. You get the right answer or you don’t, there are lots of rules and lots of structure.” College life is, she says, “free-floating” which causes increased anxiety in students.

Lack of daily structure, ignoring any potential consequences for my choices (DENIAL!), relationship and family problems, as well as a lack of defined sense of self**,  combined to form massive amounts of anxiety and bouts of depression for me. I never told anyone or sought out help while in college, yet the hidden struggles were there, building semester after semester.

I suffered alone or found ways to numb the feelings of fear, anxiety and depression.  When feelings were numbed, life was not so overwhelming and scary. Was help available to me? I’m sure it was but shame and fear kept me from telling even my closest friends and the stigma of mental health problems kept me from pursuing campus resources.

I recently read the book, What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of An All American Teen by Kate Fagan – (summary link here: (http://womensrunning.competitor.com/2017/07/books/what-made-maddy-run-suicide_77052). The book is the true story of University of Pennsylvania cross country athlete, Maddy Holleran, who committed suicide by jumping from a parking garage at the beginning of her second semester of freshman year. Maddy was a smart, talented, beautiful young woman from a wonderful family and home town. Her back story reminds me a lot of my own town and my daughters’ friends: high performing kids and exemplary members of their school communities in academics, sports and volunteerism.

The flip side of this type of environment is that the often intense pressure and demands they (or others) put on themselves to be high achievers can be doubled-down on as they enter college, leading to significant mental health struggles. Sadly, that was Maddy Holleran’s story and she was unable to see any other way out of her personal pain.

One statistic I recently read is that the number of students seeking help at counseling centers on campuses rose by 30% between 2009 and 2016.  Hand in hand with the increase in counseling services has been the slow but consistent growth in the number of students reporting feelings of depression, anxiety and social anxiety.  “In the past, students may have suffered in silence, unaware of the help available to them or too afraid of the stigma to take advantage of it,” one researcher says.

Below are some additional findings from the reports:

  • College students report feeling as if their mental health struggles are an extremely lonely experience – they feel disconnected and like they are the only ones having the problems they are experiencing.
  • In a spring 2017 survey, 40% of college students said they had felt so depressed in the prior year that it was difficult for them to function; 61% of students said they had felt overwhelming anxiety. If the student was an athlete, the numbers were even higher.
  • Peer comparison, shift of control from parent to student (think of the life change from helicopter parenting to complete autonomy), and a combination of academic (keeping grades high enough to maintain a scholarship, for example, or thinking about applying to law or med school) and financial concerns are listed as major causes of anxiety in students.

Citing the upward trend in college students increasing mental health support needs, the government has infused money into colleges and universities to increase resources available. Here are some examples of a few progressive university innovations:

  • Virginia Tech opened satellite counseling clinics to reach students where they already spend their time, including above a campus Starbucks, in the athletic department and in graduate centers.
  • Ohio State in 2016/2017 launched a counseling mobile app that allows students to make an appointment, access breathing exercises, listen to a playlist designed to cheer them up & contact the clinic in emergency
  • Penn State allocated $700k in additional funding for counseling and psychological services in 2017 citing a dramatic increase in demand for care.

With this post, I hope to reach college-age students who may be wondering if they should reach out and ask for help – the answer is YES. Talk to someone. Know there are resources available to you at all times. You are not alone, even if it feels like it. Most of us have felt have you feel!

My hope is also that parents of college students will read this, listen to their intuition and pay attention to any red flags in their child’s behaviors, words or lack thereof (i.e. isolation, lack of communication, etc.).  Most importantly, make sure your child is aware of all the resources available to them on campus. Just find it and text it to them, even if they act like you are crazy. Tell them to share the information with their friends.

Reducing the shame and stigma of mental health struggles by increasing communication on the topic will help in normalizing the experience of mental illness. Had I known this when I was in college, I would have saved myself from many years of private struggle, from college years into adulthood. Increased awareness of behavioral red flags and pushing through what feel like awkward and difficult conversations can save lives.

Please leave a comment and/or share this to reach as many people as possible today.

RESOURCES:

TEXT:  The Crisis Text Line (crisistextline.org) is the only 24/7, nationwide crisis-intervention text-message hotline. The Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741-741

CALL:  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/) is a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255

World Suicide Prevention Day:   https://iasp.info/wspd2018/

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**Definition of Sense of Self. … In psychology, the sense of self is defined as the way a person thinks about and views his or her traits, beliefs, and purpose within the world. It’s a truly dynamic and complicated concept because it covers both the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ self.

Be Fearless, Love, Garry

Lately I have been having these incredibly interesting life events simultaneously occurring. As I continue to open myself up to others regarding my personal history with mental health struggles and some of the causal factors of those challenges, more people, more articles and more connections are continually being revealed to me.

In psychology, Carl Jung calls this “synchronicity:”  events that are “meaningful coincidences,” occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related.

For example, if someone recommends a certain book to you, then you happen to see a review of it in a magazine and then see a stranger reading it in the airport, there’s most likely a message in that book for you.  When three different people of no connection suggest you try something new, it is worth your effort to investigate. The universe has something waiting for you in these meaningful coincidences. I accept life’s synchronicities as little winks from the universe: “Keep going, Jane. You are on the right path.”

However, in order to be alert to life’s synchronicities, we must be fully present, or mindful.  As a reminder, mindfulness is: “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”

This is a picture of the artwork I keep on my office wall as a mindfulness reminder:

BeHereNow

It’s a lot harder than it seems, frankly. When I am at lunch with a friend, am I actually present mentally or am I thinking about the 3 things I need to do immediately after? When I am working at my “real job,” where the above artwork is framed, am I day dreaming about what I want to write about next on my blog? (Usually, yes…but we are all works in progress).

The most significant synchronicities have been in the revelation of connection through our shared experiences, particularly our common struggles:  real life stories of anxiety, panic attacks, major depression, anorexia and/or bulimia, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, alcoholism, prescription medication addiction, PTSD caused not only by military experience but also by rape and child abuse, suicide and suicide attempts. Real stuff. Scary stuff. But the stuff from which we are most deeply connected, if we allow ourselves to remove the shame and stigma.

Big name movie stars, athletes, news anchors, and comedians are braving the consequences and sharing the truth of their struggles with mental health. Parents, coworkers, college students, children, young adults and grandparents are opening up with confidants and professionals. I am hearing these stories first hand and know that the more we talk about these things, the more they will be lifted from of the darkness, free from shame.

Which brings me to Garry Frickin’ Shandling, of all people. As those closest to me know, I’m a sucker for anything biopic. Unlike a sitcom rerun that makes me run from a room covering my ears, give me a life story and I’ll inhale it faster than a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. But Garry Shandling? Isn’t he a dorky comedian who was in his prime during my college years??

Well, yes, I guess, but I’ve just recently learned so much more about his depth and process through the HBO mini series, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, produced and directed by Garry’s protégé, Judd Apatow.

Posthumusly, Garry Shandling, who died at age 66, has become a major contributor to my Synchronicity Posse. Below are  pictures on my phone from some of his diary writings, which he began in his earliest days of trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, and continued throughout his explosive career.  His soul searching began as a result of the trauma he experienced as a boy through the loss of his brother at ten years old. His parents never acknowledged the death of his brother, nor allowed his grief. He wasn’t even permitted to attend his brother’s funeral.

I paused the show and snapped pictures, paused and snapped, taking photos of Garry’s personal diary and his words of wisdom and personal reflection. Each one of these had a personal meaning to me or was relevant to things I care keeping about: being fully present, being/becoming my most authentic self, being fearless, the power of vulnerability, just to name a few.

This is a screen shot of all that I accumulated… from Episode 1:

GarrysNotebooks

A writer. A spiritual seeker. A student of buddhism. Practicer of mindfulness. Also, often a pain in the ass, work-related perfectionist who was often difficult to deal with and overly sensitive. Was I watching a documentary on myself???

No, just my synchronistic soul brother, encouraging me to follow my path and be both brave and fearless at the deepest levels.

Because, of course, this is not the first time I have heard these exact words recently. Meaningful connection through occurrence. Synchronicity.

befearlessGarry

“Have the courage to feel your emotions in <whatever is important to you>”

Meditate on it, open up at the deepest level.

Be brave at the deepest level.

Be fearless.”

– Garry Shandling, Zen Diaries

Look for the 2 part series, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling on HBO:

https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/the-zen-diaries-of-garry-shandling

Rise

This post is for those of us who may have wanted to do something differently this weekend and are perhaps feeling some regret; maybe wanting to take back certain words or change some actions. It’s for those who feel they have let themselves or others down. For those who strive to be a positive example to their children, friends and families, but may have been tripped up by personal struggles. And for those who have been challenged by their physical or mental health.

We will Rise Up. A thousand times again.

This is for the thousands of students who Rose Up to their feet, who walked it out, in the March for Their Lives. You will move mountains.

In spite of the ache, we will Rise Up again, today and everyday.

“Just like moons and like suns

with the certainty of tides. Just like

hopes springing high,

Still I rise.” – Maya Angelou

I am with you. We are all connected. You are not alone.

Jane

Rise Up
You’re broken down and tired
Of living life on a merry go round
And you can’t find the fighter
But I see it in you so we gonna walk it out
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousands times again
For you
For you
For you
For you
When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet
And move mountains
We’ll take it to its feet
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you
For you
For you
For you
All we need, all we need is hope
And for that we have each other
And for that we have each other
We will rise
We will rise
We’ll rise, oh oh
We’ll rise
I’ll rise up
Rise like the day
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I will rise a thousands times again
And we’ll rise up
Rise like the waves
We’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
We’ll rise up
And we’ll do it a thousands times again
For you oh oh oh oh oh
For you oh oh oh oh oh
For you oh oh oh oh oh
For you
Songwriters: Cassandra Monique Batie / Jennifer Decilveo
Rise Up lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

I Do

I had my first full blown panic attack on my wedding day. Well, to be more accurate, it began at the exact moment that I was to walk down the aisle and meet my betrothed at the other end.

All of a sudden I was completely alone. After having people fussing around me all day long, everyone assumed their positions and I was left to cross the daunting aisle all by myself. To this day, my mother and I wonder why we did not think to have her escort me down the aisle. My father, who would have been the traditional choice, was not in our lives and, frankly, my wedding was planned at a bit of an accelerated pace. We just never really discussed that aspect of my wedding. It was a blind spot.

The expeditiously arranged event was not due to a bun in the oven or any other sort of potentially scandalous plight. It was just love, plain and simple. A 6 month whirlwind romance that had two 25 year olds longing to start their lives together.  That, and the fact that my sister had an enormously grand affair planned for her own wedding three months later that we did not want to encroach upon, had us moving at a rapid organizational pace.

I didn’t care about many of the details of planning my wedding, unlike most brides. I just wanted to be married. I had met a man who made me feel safe in the world and who lived his life with uncommon morality. Characteristics that I was longing for in my own life.

We had approximately zero dollars and zero cents allotted to throw a wedding. My father had left our family essentially bankrupt and as much as my mother wished she could contribute financially, she had been burdened in all aspects of her own life as a result of my father’s actions. After designing and building the home my sister and I grew up in, she had to sell her precious abode at a huge loss, find her first paying job in 20+ years and move into a rental property.

My wedding dress was second hand; “vintage,” if you will. One of my mom’s church friends sewed the alterations and created the veil. She even took some of the lace from the dress and appliquéd it to my shoes.  Payless brand, dyed pumps, if I remember correctly.

None of that really mattered to me. I wanted to be as far away from the chaos of the life that I had come to intimately live over the previous years and start a new one. No more Jane O’Flaherty. I was to be Jane McDaniel from this day forward. New name, new life. If I could only get across the chasm of red carpet between my future hubby and me.

Standing alone in the narthex of the church, my heart began to feel as if it was going to jump out of my chest. The pounding was almost unbearable. My ears tingled and my eyesight grew blurry. The congregants stood and all eyes were on me. I tried to remember what we practiced at rehearsal: Step. Together. Step. Together. Except, instead of “Step. Right foot forward. Together. Step. Left foot forward. Together. Step. Right foot forward, etc.,” I could only move one leg: “Right foot forward. Together. Right foot forward. Together” and on and on down the aisle. I was the most ungraceful, lurching bride ever to traverse a wedding aisle. My sister and I can reenact this ridiculous walk until tears of laughter stream down our faces.

By the time I made it to greet my wedding party, I could barely remain standing.  Using the sister-eye-contact-that-needs-no-words for communication, I summoned her to my side. She and my future husband put one arm under each side of me to keep me standing upright during the ceremony. With their literal and figurative support, I made it through. I said, “I DO.”

I never talked much about that first panic attack.  It was easily negated in my mind by stories of traditional ‘wedding nerves’ and the frequency of brides and groomsmen fainting on their big days. Nothing to worry about.

But what I didn’t know then was that there was so much more to come. More pain and suffering, more panic and fear. And most often in silence and alone. Because, you see, we can not just leave one life behind and instantaneously become something else. One way or another the issues and pain we wish to suppress will rear their ugly heads.

There were long stretches at a time where I thought I had “it” handled. I was intermittently consumed with child bearing or child rearing or traveling or house hunting or volunteerism or mom’s clubbing or buncoing or partying or helping other people with their own problems to stop and pay attention to my own internal struggle. But when I did have quiet moments, the panic could set in. Not always but enough to say, frequently.

My husband would leave to go on a business trip or a weekend away and I felt scared, alone and incapable of handling all of my responsibilities. Frozen in fear, consumed in panic. And completely alone. Surrounded by friends and family, but alone. No one knew. I couldn’t let anyone know. I would be judged and rejected. And worse yet, I would have to face the reality of my own mental health struggles.

Believe me when I say, this went on for years and years and years. Not even those closest to me knew the depth of the struggle that I faced. I strived to be the embodiment of the perfect wife and mother. And I in fact loved being a wife and mother, much more so than I could have ever imagined. I tried everything I could to not allow my own personal issues effect my children. They were and are the best thing I have ever done with my life. I tried to give them the best parts of me and keep the darkness to myself. I also knew that I would do everything within my power to keep them from experiencing the scary stuff that I went through as a child and young adult.

I was living those days with anxiety, depression and PTSD and I leaned heavily on my husband for support. His presence was like a safety net and a buffer between me and the outside world. He was my safe person. In his absence I felt like I couldn’t stand on my own two feet. When he wasn’t there, I had lost my crutch and I wasn’t strong enough to bear this burden, whatever it was at the time, alone. Come to find out this is very common among people with trauma. Finding a safe person and limiting social activities to those in which the safe person can participate.

Lots of therapy was needed in order for me to understand my diagnosis of trauma, PTSD and the resulting anxiety and depression.  Once I allowed myself to open up to my therapist, the pieces of this mind-puzzle all started to make sense.  Instead of feeling like a freak show living inside a normal looking person, I began to understand and accept myself.  Gradually, I was able to build my own reservoir of self-sufficency through practicing mindfulness, meditation and self-compassion.

My husband left this morning for a long business trip and I was able to say goodbye without any of the old fear and anxiety creeping up. My two feet felt solidly planted on the ground. I feel strong and capable. And I feel proud of myself for navigating a very difficult course.

If you suffer from anxiety, depression, trauma or PTSD like I DO, or know someone who is struggling with these issues, I hope the articles below will help you learn more about these issues and how mindfulness, meditation & self compassion can soothe the symptoms.

3 Ways Mindfulness Decreases Depression

Link Between Self Compassion & Anxiety Reduction

Why Don’t PTSD Survivors Feel Safe

Inner Critic on Blast

I’ve been amazed by the support and outreach that I received after posting Down Day here on my blog and on Facebook.  Feeling propelled by the positive responses, I have had a million thoughts racing through my mind about what I want to write about next. My desk is surrounded by writing notebooks, old journals and a stack of books that guided me along my journey, any of which provide a hundred or more writing topics.  I can’t turn on the T.V. or open the internet without seeing an article on mental health. All incredibly inspiring – so what’s the problem??

I realized today that I had acquiesced to a self-imposed pressure of “perfect writing” (no such thing) for the “perfect reader” (anyone who I may be able to positively effect), after going public last week with some of my innermost thoughts and struggles.  Instead of writing for healing, I was frozen in perfectionist fear thoughts: “How is this story going to be interpreted?” “Who is going to judge me if I share this?” “Who am I to be writing with any authority on mental health issues??”  “My writing SUCKS and I have nothing of value to say!” DELETE YOUR BLOG, YOU BIG.FAT.DUMMY!!!”

Whoah. That escalated quickly.  The Inner Critic had armored up and was using FEAR as her weapon of choice.

I think I have my topic.

The Inner Critic wants us to stay small and quiet in order to feel safe. She hyperbolizes negative thought patterns and seeks to minimize growth and healing. Fear and the IC rely on one another, just a like a couple of BFFs, and they love to treat us to episodes of “Lifestyles of the Anxiety and Panic-ridden.”

So what can we do to quiet this Inner Critic in order to live more joyful and authentic lives? We must first learn to take away her power, which thrives in fear, shame and feelings of unworthiness.

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our FEAR of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” – Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

Sometimes I need to break things down very simply in order to fully process them, so let me do that with this quote:

  • The dark = traumatic experiences, things we keep hidden from others & sometimes ourselves
  • does not destroy = has no power over
  • the light = joy, love, happiness, shared common experience
  • it defines it = through our processing, acceptance and integration of the most difficult times of our lives, we are able to fully live as we are intended; our highest purpose & most authentic selves
  • It’s our FEAR of the dark = our worry over possible outcomes or side effects of dealing with the scary stuff
  • that casts our joy into the shadows = we are deprived of a life of joy if we allow fear to define and control us

So, in applying this quote to my writer’s block:

  • The dark = my inner critic
  • does not destroy = has no power over
  • the light = helping others through shared common experiences, personal healing
  • it defines it = years of accumulated negative self talk and personal judgement want to keep my in my safety zone, but I no longer want to live in that constricted space
  • It’s our FEAR of the dark = if I “go there,” share too much will I be rejected? what does the future hold if I continue on this path?
  • that casts our joy into the shadows = swirling thoughts, distraction, the voice of the inner critic could win out over the light, if I let them

I used writer’s block somewhat lightly as an example of how we can quiet the voice of the Inner Critic, but this process works in breaking down deeper issues as well.

For too many years my joy was cast to the shadows because I was afraid of the repercussions of acknowledging my real life struggles. I honestly didn’t think I could handle the reliving and retelling of some of those traumatic experiences, so I listened to the voice of the Inner Critic who affirmed my fear and feelings of unworthiness. But suffering endured and true joy was cast aside.

The good news is that the Inner Critic is disarmed in the face of mindfulness, love and self compassion. Now, when she starts yammering away, I acknowledge her: “Oh hey there, IC. Let’s have a chat. I really don’t need you here anymore. Fear does not control me. I am not ashamed of who I am. I am driven by the light. And light overcomes your darkness.”

If you struggle with the loud, obnoxious voice of an Inner Critic, disarm her. You can learn how to take a few steps toward deescalation by listening to this short guided meditation: “A Basic Meditation to Tame Your Inner Critic.” There is such relief to be found in the silence. You deserve to rest.

Down Day

I used to get really scared when I was having a Down Day. You know the feeling, the one that many of us call the “Sunday Scaries?” It’s that, “I feel sad and I don’t know why” on a random Tuesday feeling. When this happens to me, I typically run through my checklist of usual worry suspects – kid stress, work concerns, sleep deprivation, familial arguments,  friendship issues – to identify a culprit. On a Down Day, the check list typically comes up empty and what’s left is a case of the Unknown Scaries.

The Down Day feeling is a gnawing heaviness; a general malaise perhaps, to put it fancifully. My husband asks, after observing my quiet and distant behavior, “Are you okay?” and I answer, “Yes, I’m just having a Down Day.”

On a Down Day, a tear sits at the ready, waiting to emerge at the tiniest bit of distress or even a kind word.  Not a heavy duty, cleansing cry.  Just a few damp escapees down my cheek that expose hidden sadness to those who may cross my path. Tears, those traitors.

Most of my life was spent white-knuckling my way through a Down Day. Ever fearful that if I stopped moving, stopped numbing, another D, depression, would overtake me, beat me down and exile me. I had to move faster than the depression, like a storm you see in your rear view mirror that is quickly catching up to you.

GO GO GO. DO DO DO. Anything except FEEL FEEL FEEL. Feeling was scary and brought with it too many unknowns. I had convinced myself that my feelings were too much and way more than I, or anyone, could handle.

“The cure for pain is in the pain.
In Silence, there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”        – Rumi

One gets to the point, however, where white-knuckling, busy-ness or any other false coping mechanism no longer work as “feeling avoidance strategies”. That storm in your rear view mirror catches up to you because, as Rumi says, the “cure for pain is in the pain.” We must sit in and then go through pain in order to get to the other side of it. Going around it? Not an option.

I have experienced adverse life experiences that span in time from early childhood through adulthood. No wonder on a random Tuesday the effect of this accumulated trauma may periodically show itself, often times without warning.

What I have learned in sitting with the pain, whether that is in a therapist’s office, in meditation, or in a mindfulness practice, is that when the deep pain and hurt reach out to you on a Down Day, they need to be attended to with compassion and love.

Our tendency is toward avoidance or covering up of the pain. Put on a mask of happiness and go on with our lives. However-

“What we resist, persists” – Carl Jung

Avoidance and numbing strategies create resistance to what is presenting itself, which then results in increased anxiety and depression. If we want to minimize Down Days, we need to do the opposite of resist: accept and allow.

So, what does it look like to “Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves” per Rumi? How do we stop doing and start feeling? Stop numbing and start healing?

For me, it’s an acceptance of, and sinking into, the flow of life’s ups and downs, acknowledging my feelings through stillness and meditation, along with a combination of self-compassion and self-care.

Self-compassion as defined by Kristin Neff, PhD., “requires the we stop to recognize our own suffering. We can’t be moved by our own pain if we don’t even acknowledge that it exists in the first place.” So, on a Down Day, I try to increase awareness, decrease avoidance and offer up some love.

For example, in meditation, I send love to the hurt parts of my emotional and physical self. I literally put a hand over my heart to comfort myself, and then connect with the love and light I send to those hurting places. Some times tears flow as a part of this practice, but when acting within the realm of self-compassion, I no longer think of them as traitors. Instead, they are truth – the truth and authenticity of my story. I feel you. I see you. And I honor the pain and suffering that I share with you.

Self-care can come in any positive action that feels comforting. For me, self-care is crawling into my bed with a good book or to watch a silly reality show, being with my family, snuggling with my dogs or even a mani/pedi. For others it may be a bath, watching a movie, or a phone call with a friend.

Self-care is also prioritizing my own mental healthcare even when my bank account, fear or life’s unexpected circumstances say I should cancel. I have stuck to this self-imposed guideline for the better part of three years and it’s the best gift I’ve ever given myself.*  Healing was not possible for me without intensive therapy.

Instead of being scared of a Down Day, I now know these times are the indicator that my innermost self needs a little love and attention. Sometimes there is a clear cause of the darkness; other days not-so-much as a clue. If you get a case of the Down Days, I hope that the combination of avoiding resistance through mindfulness and mediation practice, self-compassion and self-care will help you feel less scared too.

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*I highly recommend therapy for anyone battling anxiety, depression and PTSD. Keep looking until you find someone you can afford, who takes your insurance, etc., and make it a top priority for yourself. It took me multiple attempts over the years to find the “right” therapist, but when I did, it positively changed all aspects of my life.