Life of A Fit College Student Series: “It’s Your Turn Traditional Dozen – Mental Health and School Work”

I’ve talked about Alicia before. She’s younger than me. She’s a junior in college and I’m 27. Without social media our paths would have never crossed. Without peanut butter we would’ve never started talking. Without talking we would’ve never seen past the social media posts and learned that we are more alike than we could’ve ever imagined. At the beginning of the summer, Alicia was struggling with mental health and I suggested she use resources on her college campus. I had used these resources as a student and at my last job, I knew students who had also used them. After many conversations and her sharing her experience, I bit the bullet myself and went back to therapy in July as well.

We push each other in positive ways and this semester Alicia has had to be an advocate for herself, especially when she was being pushed to the aside when seeking help for her anxiety. Her story isn’t very unique, but it’s a perspective that people brush aside.

Her story dabbles in her own blogging series I’ve let her write here and the It’s Your Turn Series. I think it fits both perfectly. So her post makes the IYT Series a perfect dozen, just cupcakes and doughnuts and sugar cookies.

Being a student and trying to juggling life  is not easy, being a student is not easy in general. These past couple of weeks have honestly been the most difficult time I’ve ever had in my school career, between the mental breakdowns, anxiety attacks and all of the stress of the school work. Actually, I might be able to say that this has been the most difficult semester that I have had while in college. It’s at that point in the semester where there is only 2 weeks until Thanksgiving and every professor is trying to get all of the last tests, quizzes and assignments in before the week break.  After Thanksgiving there is only one week left of the semester.  Obviously there has been a lot of stuff going on in my life in general, my boyfriend moved out of state, I moved out of my parents house, officially decided on a major (even though I am still doubting it), applied for internships,  and picked up another job – as you can see life has been crazy.

As I have said in previous posts in this series, I suffer from severe anxiety, trying to juggle life and school is not easy, but my anxiety skyrockets during school. The moment I get to school I feel anxious and as classes go on it begins to hit its peak. I can’t even count the amount of times that I came home and had a mental breakdown because of all of the homework and studying I had to for the following day. Even the slightest bit of work makes me anxious because I want everything done right and I want to do well. Tests make me anxious, I can honestly say that I have not gotten above an 80% on a test yet this semester. When I go into a test I blank, when I say I blank on everything I studied i mean sometimes I just sit there and stare at the test for a while before it actually comes to me.  During tests I suffer from the physical symptoms of anxiety too, I mainly get the chest and muscle pains/ cramps, there are times I get muscle twitches or eye twitches too.

This is what I’ve been working on this semester to help me balance my mental health and school work as well as life in general because we know that gets in the way too.

  • Being brave and seeking help, if you find yourself struggling with anxiety or depression or some type of mental illness don’t be afraid to get help.  Most schools have a well-being center with free counseling, take advantage of it, it will help in the long run.

I started seeing a counselor on campus this year and while they are busy, they want to help. Recently, I followed my counselor to her own private practice off campus so I have access to more flexible hours. This is helpful for my situation since I not only go to school full-time, but I work part-time off campus at a retail job.

  • Learning to take study breaks, if you find yourself studying for hours at a time take a break, you can’t just sit there and study all day, you do need to take a break, go for a run or go to the gym or even just sit outside for a few minutes. Anything will help you just need to give yourself a moment to relax.

This is something that I’ve truly had to come terms with. Sometimes, studying for extended periods of time makes me question or doubt my knowledge of the course. Taking a break to walk across campus or get a cup of coffee has allowed me to clear my head and come back with new perspective.

  • Deciding to cut down on caffeine, trust me, I know I am a college student and most college student survive on coffee, but if you become anxious sometimes caffeine makes it worse. I am not saying to cut out caffeine completely just cut back

I still get my latte every now and then, but I’ve noticed that for me at least, cutting back has given me a clear head and taken away some of the jitters. It’s not a perfect science, but I’ve been drinking more tea (decaf) and water to fill in the void that was once a higher coffee consumption.

Finding balance between mental health and school work is not always easy. Not all people understand it either. It’s important to find balance because without it you, might not succeed in school. If you are a college student, tuition is expensive and you don’t want to waste that money or time to not be successful. GPA does not always matter, sometimes you need a break from school work, especially if you’ve been studying for days. I actually have a professor who allows you to take “mental days off” if needed.  Mentally you need a break, taking on too much at once may not actually be effective in the long run and may hurt you. Talk to your faculty about this, they understand more than you know. Don’t be ashamed to get help, you have to understand that it will get better, but remember that you have to do something to make it better. Going to therapy is one of the greatest things I have done, trust me at first I was a little on the edge about going, but it ended up working out very well and I really enjoy going. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and know that you are not the only one who is going through this, there are plenty of other people who are going through the same thing.


It’s Your Turn Series: Post 11 “Life in My Days: 22 Years of Mental Illness and Counting”

This is my friend Ahmad. He pretty much started this series. What I mean is it was his words that set something off in me that made me think about the larger problem at hand. Yes, I am working through my own anxiety, my own PTSD, and I have no issue talking about it. But, there’s a but. But what about those who don’t share their stories. They don’t have an outlet to do so. They don’t think someone will listen or understand or care. What about the others out there who are also suffering silently. Maybe they need a place for their voice. He doesn’t realize that he sparked that in me, but he did. I wanted his story too though. So Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Co-Founder of Muslim Community Link, an Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, a Novelist and the founder and editor of Life in My Days. He speaks and writes about Mental Health, Wellness, Support, and Social Justice. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on instagram and Facebook .

Ableism – are the practices and dominant attitudes in society that devalue and limit the potential of persons with disabilities.

Within our ableist society the definition of wellness is the absence of physical or mental disability. In that case, according to ableism, I have never been well. But according to the World Health Organization (WHO) Wellness is defined as “…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So why do we continue to believe the first definition far more than the official?
The simple answer is that the world is not defined according to the WHO; it’s defined in the very fabrics of society, from the moment we’re born until the day we die, and even beyond. Ableism, like many other forms of oppression, is one of the foundations of our society.
I have suffered from mental illness since I was two, even before I was supposed to be cognitively conscious. It started with social anxiety and general anxiety, years later body dysmorphic disorder would reshape my image, major depression and a dissociative disorder took years out of my life, and finally PTSD redefined what a college experience should be like.
Throughout it all I have felt alone, invisible in a world moving too fast for me at times, and too slow in others. At times I have shut down, for years at a time, while other times I was able to function in slow motion, every breath seemingly my last, and I was able to graduate from an engineering school, co-found a non-profit, start my own site, write almost a dozen novels and so much more. Because of that, because of the diversity of my illnesses no one believed that anything was wrong until I was 20 years old. At 20, I spoke to my second grade teacher, and for the first time my pain was validated, my illness was validated, and I was validated. I was no longer the illness, the illness was a part of me yes, but I was not my illnesses.
Since then I have learned to take back control of my life. I do so through sharing my story, raising awareness about mental health, writing and blogging, taking time off, and just as importantly, exercising and focusing on my diet. Most assume the last is about self image, but the reality is that it’s far deeper than that. My body dysmorphia does not allow me to see what I truly look like, and no six pack can change that, but eating right and exercising gives me the energy I need to function, to sleep, and to monitor my illnesses like you would with diabetes or any other physical illness. It’s a matter of control, in a life where we have very little.
Today, I have productive days, I have mental health days, and I have days where I do not function. For me mental health days are days I take willingly, they are a time to reflect and rejuvenate so that I may have productive days. The days where I do not function are the ones beyond my control, and I barely exist, or exist far too much during them. The relationship between the mental health days and the non-functioning days is inverse, the more I have of one, the less I have the other. So in times of severe stress my mental health days will be far more than in less stressful times.
There’s a lot that goes into my wellness, some days it seems that it’s too much, but wellness is not a one time deal, wellness is a way of life. And believe it or not, I happen to like my way of life.

It’s Your Turn Series: Post 10 “A Fight Worth Fighting”

There have been quite a few who have reached out to share their stories and how mental health has impacted them, their families and what they believe to be their ability to be a mother. We know that events trigger us to develop these disorders we’ve been talking about in this series, but I don’t think we truly realize how the symptoms really crossover and not only confuse us, but our therapists and doctors. It’s possible that a diagnoses is completely wrong or is missing a piece – maybe it’s two or three disorders like mine with post traumatic stress disorder AND anxiety AND binge eating disorder. As you grow up and the brain becomes more evolved and there are more experiences, things can change.

Meet Courtney, she’s a stay-at-home mom of two and has been diagnosed with different disorders at different times in her life, but all have similarities.

I’ve always been a worrier – it could be from the years of living in a home with domestic abuse. I’d watch my Dad filled with rage and my mom would sheepishly try not to detonate the ticking time bombs of his own shattered childhood. I’ve spent my life never feeling good enough, and less than. My saving grace would be meeting my husband when I was 17, and in a whirlwind by the next year having our daughter.

My life changed and all my emotional burdens were now tucked away and my life’s goal was to do right by this little baby girl.  It wouldn’t be until she was 2 that I would realize something was off. In my eyes everyone was out to get her, I knew for sure that something bad was going to happen – these thoughts filled my mind and the pictures they paint could bring me to tears.

See as a young teen I was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), then attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), then I stopped taking all those medications because the side effects either had me feeling like a zombie or so filled with energy I could not sit still. I sat in the doctors office naming off a laundry list of horrific things I knew would happen and that’s the first time in my life I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, for which I was put on medication,  was examined by a psychiatrist and finally the horrible images started to become less and less.  I was on this medication for five years up until the time we decided it was time to try for one more baby.

My doctor told me to immediately stop my medication and honestly, it almost felt freeing. Don’t get me wrong, I spent my pregnancy an anxious mess, but the thought of being medication free made me happy.

Flash forward to after giving birth.

Being a failure at breastfeeding my awkward body and staying at home, I started to feel hopeless.  I let this fester until one day when my son was about six months old, I told my husband it would be better for my daughter and son to be raised by someone else. I could never do them justice and they deserved better, he deserved better. I remember that weekend my Mom came and took the kids so I’d have a “break” and a break is what I had.

That was the weekend I thought about killing myself. Just typing that gives me a nauseous feeling because in those moments I’d felt outside myself watching somebody that wasn’t actually me. Still, two months passed and I would put on my super woman cape in crowds. In a crowd of one, just with my thoughts, I’d be this self-loathing bitch.

Christmas time came and on Christmas Day, my Mom had gotten me a couple bracelets I felt were too expensive for my stay-at-home lifestyle. In that moment I asked her to take them back – I didn’t deserve them , I didn’t deserve anything.  I let it get so bad before I was diagnosed with postpartum-depression and the anxiety I’ve always carried since childhood. I’ll never get those months back where I was in a fog, but if I can help someone else then it doesn’t seem as bad.

After that Christmas I started to take my mental health as seriously as I was my physical health. I started back on medication and visiting a psychiatrist weekly (for about three months). I still struggle EVERYDAY, but the two little people that I would never stop fighting for, need me, the healthy ,physically and mentally me. They deserve that and I am worth that. Some days are hard because I didn’t ask for this disease. I struggle with a lot still, but no where near as bad as a year ago. Postpartum-depression and anxiety changed the person I once was. I’ll have triggers from my childhood that can still put me in a depressed funk, but now I can say ” hey I’m anxious” or “hey, I feel like I suck at life” – being able to talk about it has made a big difference.  I plan to start seeing my psychiatrist again with the holiday season approaching.

It’s Your Turn Series: Post 9 “Scarlet Letter”

October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It was also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I’m sure there’s a third cause out there that was also supposed to be highlighted and educate the public. I will not downplay that both of these causes are important. 1 in 8 women are impacted by breast cancer. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are impacted by domestic violence. Whether it’s 12% or 30%, doesn’t truly matter, lives are impacted. But, there’s a but, one is more warm and fuzzy than the other. It’s more common to talk about breast cancer, screenings, a loved one passing away from an illness that has no cure than to talk about something that has been considered shameful and personal. Both are important and both need to be talked about.

Mental health has a stigma, just like domestic violence. It’s considered shameful, personal and must only impact those that are “crazy”. But according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, just looking at adults – 1 in 5 adults are impacted by mental illnesses that range from anxiety disorders to personality disorders.

Below is the story of a 40-something female and how she has lived with her illnesses.


It blows my mind the selfish-instant-gratification society we are living in.  Consideration is hardly ever taken to those silently suffering with chronic illnesses. Mental illness has been my scarlet letter and a major part of my life ever since I was 15.

It all started when I was sexually assaulted one afternoon in front of the school library by a random stranger while waiting for my mom to pick me up. It happened quickly and something broke inside of me. A light went out and darkness filled my mind like a fog. I didn’t say anything right away to my mom thinking it was my fault because she told me to wait for her inside the library and I had disobeyed her like a careless little girl thinking the world was a good place helping a strange man take his books to his car around the corner. The guilt was so intense that two days later I attempted suicide.

When my mom found me, I had no pulse. I was rushed to the hospital and was saved by having my stomach pumped twice and put on a ventilator. At that time is when I revealed what had happened. Many people think that was my nightmare but my true nightmare began after that. I spent a week in a mental institution and after many evaluations, I was sent home with scheduled therapy sessions twice a week and a ton of pills as well as a new illness I had never heard of and my mom made me keep to myself.

An invisible illness that didn’t make you look sick. An illness that did not respond to diet and lifestyle change. An illness that caused intense pain that somehow not even the strongest painkillers can touch. An illness that can not be cured and carries a horrible stigma: Bipolar I with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The violent attack traumatized a part of my brain causing an inevitable imbalance. I wanted to fix it and make it go away. I wanted to run and hide. I did both things.

After I graduated high school, I moved as far away as I could from all my friends and family and started running. I became a runner with an insatiable appetite for more and more miles. That was my therapy. That was my drug of choice to help deal with the pain and isolation I felt in a world that frowned upon this invisible illness. Twenty-four years of running and hiding. I am 41 and in those 24 years, I became a mother of 3 beautiful children. I married and divorced three times.  I had three different careers. I moved more than 20 times to three different states and even moved out of the country and eventually came back. Always running. Always hiding. Until now.
 I have grown tired of running. I have grown weary of hiding. The mental exhaustion outweighs any physical exhaustion I can put on my body. I have started to go to therapy again. I have agreed to take medication once more. I also have physical conditions that do not help the matter but I tote those around like a Gucci purse because those chronic conditions are acceptable. Those physical chronic conditions are recognized and even empathized by society so I don’t hide them. I show the world I conquer my chronic conditions like a warrior.
I wish I could say the same for my invisible illness. Some weeks are better than others but never perfect. I wish I could say the future looks bright and I have to wear shades but this carefree dreamer knows things don’t just come to an end; they just take twists and turns like the river bends so I just go with the flow. So the next time you want to throw the first stone, remember that we are all living in glass houses.

It’s Your Turn Series: Post 8 “I Am Not What Happened To Me, I Am What I Choose To Become.”

 When I emailed with Sarah, she told me that she had pushed aside her anxiety out of how I might sound to someone else. She’s not the only one. There are so many people that have experienced various traumas, almost all of which are out their control, but yet they take on shame. We are not the problem. It is not our fault. Sarah’s story hit me in the stomach. As children we don’t understand our surroundings and the experiences are created for us. People don’t realize that when children experience violence, that they will become adults who remember and react to violence.

I can not remember a time in my life where I did not have anxiety. My home life was a war zone in my eyes. I was the third of four girls. My mother was a full-time single parent and my dad was as drunk as he could be on a daily basis. We never knew when he would come in smelling of whiskey and ready to yell at my mother. He never was physically abusive, but we watched him verbally abuse my mother for years. We tried to protect her, but four little girls can only do so much.
This home life caused me to be a little girl that was terrified of everything. I would cry as soon as the fire drill went off in class, I would have to held aside to walk with the teacher because the anxiety over took everything I had. I wasn’t afraid of the loud noise or the chance of a fire, I was upset by an unplanned commotion. It reminded me of home and how happiness could be burst like a bubble. My eldest sibling poked fun at me for my anxiety and called me names like cry baby and scaredy cat. As a little girl those names hurt and when you can’t describe why you are so shaken with fear, you then yourself brush it off that you are just being a baby. I can recognize now that I had anxiety issues as a child, and a 2nd grade teacher even wrote to my mother suggesting that I see a child psychiatrist, something my mother felt was not needed, or she just didn’t have the time for. I got better with my anxiety at school but at home it always remained alert.
As I entered middle school my father was sent to prison. He ended up in and out of jail most my teenage life. It was always weird to me because he would get sober there, come out and I would have to get to know a different person. Just for him to turn around and within months to maybe a year be back in jail. We wouldn’t have contact with him other than a shared phone call on the holidays or letters he wrote. I held a lot of resentment towards him. My mother saved us all by staying strong but we watched her suffer a lot. Once my father was out of the picture, my eldest sister took the role of verbal abuser. I watched her treat my mother and siblings like we were garbage, say horrible things to us and insult anything we did.  It didn’t help that we were all chubby in my family. I think my mother felt if we were fed well we were being taken care of. My older siblings had a bigger weight issue than myself and my younger sibling but we all suffered and struggle with it. I can’t even get into all the problems we had though my teenage years. We dealt with suicide threats, cutting, bulimia, anorexia and extreme low self esteem at times. I had thought we had the worst behind us as we all started to become adults. The worst was yet to come.
My sister who shared the middle spot with me was starting to show symptoms of a mental illness. In the next two years we would be on a roller coaster from hell of never knowing if the police or someone would call saying she got in trouble or was sent back to the psych ward. We tried to help her in every way we could. It became more difficult to help because she kept getting into trouble with the law and taking things out of our hands and hers. In May 2014 I came home and saw police cars and ambulances all parked in front of my house. I remember leaving my car parked in the middle of the road as I ran to the door. No officer would let me in, they said they didn’t want me to see her that way and that she was gone. My father was the only one there. He was the man who helped her buy a gun, she convinced him that it was hobby. I was there alone waiting for my mother to get home from work. I had to break the worst news to all my family. I was numb. For the year following I would have breakdowns and depression that I just couldn’t control. My boyfriend (now husband) would try to comfort me but we both knew that neither of us knew what to do.
 Since then my life has continued on but with different struggles. My oldest sister is an alcoholic and my younger sister is basically one foot out the door of never talking to anyone in my family again. It will be five years this May since my sister passed. I always say to my husband, I don’t even know what part of my life has caused me more pain. And I don’t think I ever will. What I have come to realize that helps me is that I can’t control what caused the pain but I can control how I deal with it. I get anxiety and depression to this day and I feel horrible when I think I am not being the partner my husband deserves because I mentally and emotionally am not there. I continue on and refuse to give up.
I believe I need to be strong for my family and try to help keep together what little bits we have left. I do not want to give up. My sister wouldn’t have wanted me to give up. Before she was sick she was every one’s cheerleader. She was brilliant and beautiful and I do not want to let her down. I know she is my little extra push when getting out of bed is the hardest thing for me to do. I have learned from being skinny to being over weight, the scale number never matters. I always want to think it does because it is the only thing I can control. Bad things , anxiety, and depression have all happened to me at all different weights. What I want is to be healthy now and listen to my body and not with a diet. I want to be healthy to keep my mind healthy not look skinny.
I am going to be 31 this Jan, and I want to get it my best yet because I believe I deserve it. Thank you for giving people, including myself, this outlet to express their story. You are an amazing , strong and very intelligent woman. I know I will continue to look forward to your many adventures, stories and personal shares.  I wish you nothing but the best on your journey.

If you or someone you know is at risk for hurting themselves or others please contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline – 1-800-273-8255

It’s Your Turn Series: Post 7 “It Really Came Out During My College Years”

Many of us have a hard time pinpointing the moment we realized we weren’t feeling like ourselves. We struggle to determine the time in our lives when depression or anxiety started. I think we have an idea, but I think some of us dismiss our own behavior as typical.
Below is Meredith’s story. She even says that labeled herself as a typical teen, but now realizes that her behavior wasn’t very typical at all.

Depression for me started at a rather young age, it was probably when I was about 12 or 13 years old, however, I wasn’t actually aware that I had it. My parents thought I was just a “moody teen” and I of course gave them the “well, you just don’t understand me, mom and dad”. I had an very negative outlook on life and while sports and friends helped me through high school, when college hit, it all went down hill from there.
I was a freshman in college and I was really lonely my first quarter of school. I felt like no one was like me. They wanted to drink and party all the time and I wanted to do more than that. So instead of try to seek help, I went to food and I ended up gaining 50+ pounds. I would eat entire cartons of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting multiple times a week. I would eat grilled cheese, fries, chicken tenders, pizza, etc. hoping to mask the pain. I remember crying almost every night because I hated my school and I just wanted to hide because I’d never fit in.
My depression took a real turn for the worst when I was a junior in college. I remember one Saturday it was gorgeous out: sun shining, 70 degrees, a perfect day to go out and enjoy the city. However, I just couldn’t get up. I physically would not get out of my bed. I was so drained emotionally and I just didn’t want to do anything and enjoy life. My boyfriend (now husband) tried to get me up time and time again, but i just laid there and did nothing, feeling sorry for myself.
One night I got into an argument with a friend and I got really upset. I then texted a few friends and told them that I wasn’t worthy anymore and I was going to commit suicide by walking in front of a train. I was miserable. One of my friends called the school safety and in the middle of the night they came and got me and took me to the hospital for my own safety. I was admitted into the psych ward in the hospital and it was a real eye opening experience.
I scared my boyfriend, my friends and my family. It was cold, dark and scary there. I prayed real hard for a day to let me go home and I would seek help. I talked with the psychologist at the hospital, who also talked with my psychologist at home and they decided to finally release me. My parents took me home; I remember them being so rattled by this experience and I promised them that I love myself too much to go through with it and it was time to change.
From there I went into intense therapy and I went on medication. I realized that I did not want to live life that way anymore and I worked hard day in and day out to become happier.
Depression has luckily not really crept back into my life too much, but anxiety has recently surfaced. Last holiday season, I took a pre-workout supplement and it caused anxiety to rise and I freaked out about my heart. I was literally paralyzed on my couch for a month. I was afraid to move, afraid to do anything and was convinced I would die of a heart issue. I had heart palpitations and chest pains – I had worrying thoughts. I got multiple tests done and all came out normal, but that wasn’t enough. I talked to a few friends who have anxiety and they told me this won’t be forever. I knew what I had to do. I went into intense cognitive therapy, back on medication, started yoga, meditation and even got back into exercising (as i had been for months). I would also journal my thoughts no matter how awful they may have been. I had an eye opening moment in January where I read a booked called “Feeling Good” by David burns. He mentioned that it’s always your choice how you react and feel. This honestly turned my thinking around a full 180 and helped me get through this part of my life. I continued to work really hard for months and I finally moved past it and I feel better than ever. I live in the present and am grateful everyday.
I think one other note people don’t always realize is how mental health issues affect the people who are close to you in life. Looking back, I lashed out/hurt the people I loved most in my life and I have since apologized for my actions, not because they wanted me to but because I felt that was the right thing to do as they stood by me. My husband has been with me through my lowest of lows and has never left my side. This is how I knew that I wanted to marry him. My parents have continued to love me regardless and the friends who talk with me about my issues and are there for me anytime of day are the people who mean the most. When I realized how hurt those people were by my mental health, it was a real eye opener and I didn’t want them to feel that way. It helped me work even harder and now we’re all happy.

It’s Your Turn Series: Post 6 “I Never Would Have Imagined That This Would Change My Life So Much”

I’ve received some stories where the writer has asked to be anonymous. Writing is an outlet for me and I think some of you have found it to be helpful as you’ve sent me your stories. Some of you have pointed out that knowing someone on the other end is reading it, even though it’s a stranger, has been helpful. Some kind of release.

This is a story from a 25-year-old mom. I cried as I read her email, which made JP rush over to find out what was wrong. His heart broke for her.

By society’s standards, I used to be “normal.” I was fun, outgoing, had a lot of friends, spent most weekends out, worked my ass off at a job I loved, and so on. When I was 20, I met a guy who I thought was the end all, be all of men. He was sweet, funny, and kind. He treated me well and we always had fun together. But when I started seeing red flags in our relationship, I started distancing myself from him and eventually broke things off. He didn’t take the break up well and immediately showed his true colors (which he had done amazingly well at hiding up to this point). He started stalking me. He’d spend days at a time outside my house taking photos, calling me, texting me, threatening my family. I bought two guns to keep at home: one right next to my bed and one next to my front door. I was terrified of him. Whenever I called the police, he’d be gone before they could catch him. When they finally did, he was arrested and sent to prison. I spent almost an entire year in court with him. One court hearing per week, every single week until the case was finally closed. It was draining, to say the least. I had to change my phone number several times to avoid getting prison calls. By the second month of court hearings, the judge suggested I see a counselor. I was barely eating, I was having trouble focusing at work, and I was having nightmares so bad, I was afraid to go to bed at night. I gladly took the judge’s suggestion and met with a counselor. She was amazing and helped me through a lot. She even got me set up with an advocate who came to the remainder of the court hearings with me and spoke for me so I wouldn’t have to face my ex alone. The case was finally closed and I felt like I was starting to heal and get back to my normal life. I had no idea what was coming soon after.

Fast forward about a year and a half later. I was happily married and pregnant with my daughter. I went into labor on a Saturday, my husband and I took our daughter home from the hospital on Monday, and my world fell apart on Thursday. I was sitting at home with my 5 day old newborn, enjoying every second with her. My mom was at our house helping me with the baby. She picked up her phone to check the news and her face went white. When I asked what was wrong, she turned her phone toward me and a picture of my ex was plastered on the front page of the news: he had been released from prison and had brutally and violently murdered someone. My husband quickly grabbed my daughter because he knew I would fall apart. And I did. I fell to the floor and could not control the crying. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t even know what to think or how to feel. Was it true? Maybe they had the wrong guy. The next few weeks went by in a blur. I was terrified. I didn’t answer my phone. I didn’t leave my house. I didn’t see my friends. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t eat. Most of all, I didn’t understand what the hell was happening. Everything was back. The fear, the nightmares, the paranoia. But a thousand times worse than before. I had nightmares of him escaping from jail, breaking into my house, and killing my family; killing MY baby girl. The story was on the news for two weeks straight. All my friends knew. Everyone tried to call, everyone wanted to talk to me. I stayed off the internet and social media as much as I could and tried to ignore it all. But then I got a letter in the mail. It was from him. I didn’t know how he got my address and that scared the hell out of me. The letter was long and detailed. He blamed me for the murder. He went on for pages about how if I had never left him, he would have had a normal life and he never would have murdered this person. Any sane person would have understood the absolute ridiculousness of such a claim. But me, in my mentally unstable state, completely believed him. He was right, wasn’t he? I shouldn’t have left him. I could have prevented that murder.

My mental health deteriorated so fast, it was unbelievable. Three weeks after the murder, my mom came over to my house and found me lying on my kitchen floor staring at the ceiling crying. My 3-week-old daughter was lying on the floor next to me. My family called the police and I was taken to a hospital for observation. I spent 3 days in focus groups with other “mental” people. We had to talk about our feelings and share why we were there. Looking back, I can honestly say that 3 days saved my life. Was it weird? Yes. Did I feel like a freak? Yes. But I needed it. I needed the break. I needed sleep and food and peace and quiet. And something about being locked up in a place with bars on the windows gave me an odd sort of comfort. I knew that he couldn’t get to me. When I got to go home, my family worked hard with me to restore some of the balance in my life. I started seeing a counselor again and I was determined to work as hard as I could to be a good mom and take care of my daughter. But within days, the police were at my door. They needed me to testify in the trial. If I wrote about the next year of my life, I could fill a book. Long story short, my life changed for good. I’m no longer outgoing, I have very few friends (I chose a small circle of people to keep in my life) and I keep my family closer than ever. It’s been a while since the trial ended. My ex was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Some days are great, some days are awful. The awful days are usually the days when I can’t control all the thoughts that fill my head. Most days, I still can’t connect in my head what my ex did. I can’t seem to connect the fact that my sweet, loving, kind hearted (or so I thought) man had violently taken someone else’s life. This man that had told me so many times that he loved me. This man that had planned romantic dates for us and wrote me love letters. Some days, it still just doesn’t make sense.

About 6 months after the murder, through a VERY strange chain of events, I ended up on the phone with the mother of the man my ex had murdered. We talked for 5 hours straight. I told her all the things my ex had said to me and that he blamed me for her son’s death. And I let her talk for hours about her son. She told me all about him. His likes, his dislikes, what he did for a job, what he was like as a person. It was a relief for her. But at the end of the phone call, she said something I’ll never forget: “Forgive yourself. My son is not dead because of you. And you can’t live your life believing that he is.” I was floored. This woman had tragically lost her son and here she was comforting ME? What?! We cried and thanked each other. A few days later, I visited her son’s grave and placed a bouquet of yellow roses at his headstone. I took a picture and sent it to his mother. She appreciated the gesture and said she thought her son and I could have been good friends. We haven’t talked since. I guess we just needed that one 5 hour time period to cry and talk and vent.

Very few people understand my story. Most people look at me and say, “Um, someone was murdered. You have no right to be affected, you’re still alive.” In a way, they’re right. But it still doesn’t change the fact that I am affected. I was and still am. I never would have imagined that this would change my life so much. You see murder everywhere: in the news, on TV, in movies. But it’s never so close to home. It’s never someone you know. Nowadays, I’m a stay at home mom. I do nothing but spend time with my family and do my best to make amazing memories and appreciate the time I get with the people I love. But he’s still in my head. I still have nightmares. Fairly often, I sneak into my daughter’s room and crawl into bed with her just to remind myself that she’s safe because the nightmares are so real. My ex is in a level five facility in the middle of the plains of Colorado. He is guarded by some of Colorado’s finest and there’s no way he’s ever getting out. But some days, that doesn’t matter. It’s still terrifying. I do my best to choose happiness and peace every day, but of course some days I fail miserably. I’m thankful now to have a beautiful, healthy, and happy 3-year-old who loves life and lights up every room she walks into. I’m thankful to have a husband who supports me no matter what, even on my terrible days. Life goes on and that’s something I’ve learned the hard way.

It’s Your Turn Series: Post 5 “I’ll Be There Someday…”

When I was a kid, I used to look at the world with large open eyes. Before things were bad and even when they were bad, I never thought to myself “what’s the next bad thing that will happen to me”?” Even when things are bad now, I think there’s someone out there who has it worse. Someone who is having a different kind of bad day. My bad day is mine, and their bad day is theirs.
Allison is 25 and her story is amazing to me because of her resiliency. As she says below “everyone has those days, weeks, months and years”, but I can’t imagine the events she writes about to get the strength she has inside her. She is one of the amazing women I have had the chance to engage with through this series. Her story is below.

Everyone has those days, weeks, months and years where bad news and unfortunate events are the name of the game. Life is a graph of varying lows and highs.
My lows go something like this: dad diagnosed with brain cancer, bullied in school for my weight, anxiety, depression, self-conscious, dad dies, depression, mono that presented as meningitis, anxiety and depression, being diagnosed with poly-cysctic ovarian syndrome, anxiety and depression, not getting into the grad school program I always dreamed of, the discovery of a growth in the center of my brain, anxiety and depression, brain surgery, graduate school program decisions.
But the best part about some of those lows is that they lead to some highs. My experience with witnessing my dad’s 9+years battling brain cancer, as well as my experiences being bullied lead me to seek degrees in psychology, art, and clinical mental health counseling. My diagnosis with PCOS lead to me seek medical help, which assisted in regulating my hormone levels and my weight. Not getting into the graduate program I wanted lead me to an alternative program, where I have met some of the best friends I could ever wish for. My brain surgery to remove a cyst in the very center of my brain was the start to a life of less pain and higher quality of life.
It took a lot of work to get to those highs. Months of therapy, hours of self care, days of fighting with myself, and years upon years of learning to love myself.
One constant in my life has always been my mom. While I was always closer to my dad than my mom, she and I build an incredible relationship after he passed, she met my step-dad, and I opened up to her about my depression and anxiety. She was my warrior and in my corner every step of the way. While she had a hard time understanding why I couldn’t just “snap out of it” she respected that it wasn’t that easy and it would take time. She believed in me when I didn’t. She was there for every phone call full of tears, for every unsure and scary moment, and she was the first person I told when I finally admitted to myself that I needed professional help. My mom is my super hero. Together we are a dynamic duo.
Before my brain surgery, I was at my lowest weight. However, recovery was long and difficult. Medication and being sedentary and in a restricted lifestyle lead to weight gain. My mom was there to help me get back on my feet. In June, I asked my mom if she would be my accountability partner as I started a new journey towards fitness. But, like the super hero warrior my mom is, she didn’t just agree to be my accountability partner, she volunteered to join a 21-day boot camp with me. We both loved it so much, we became members of the gym on the last day of the boot camp and haven’t looked back since. Together we accomplish 5:15am or 5:45am workouts. On off days, we are there to push each other to the finish. Workouts are a second form of therapy for me. And I’m glad my mom gets to be part of those sessions.
While I still have bad days full of anxiety attacks, pure hopelessness, and uncontrollable sadness, I know that I am working towards a better me both physically and mentally, and, although it’ll take time, I’m okay with this process.
As a famous Disney character once sang:
“I’ll be there someday, I can go the distance

I will find my way if I can be strong
I know every mile would be worth my while
When I go the distance, I’ll be right where I belong”

– Hercules

It’s Your Turn Series: Post 4 “It’s Not About Me – But It’s A Journey That I Am On With Him”

Mental health doesn’t just impact the person who has the illness or disorder, whatever you want to call it. I know some words aren’t as PC as others, but really, with name changes over the years – I feel like I can’t keep up.
Kristen is a mom and her story isn’t about her own mental health, but the health of her son from her perspective as someone who is also impacted daily.

My husband and I had been married for a couple years when we decided to start having a family. After struggling for eight months to conceive, we sought the help of a fertility specialist only to discover we both had strikes against us in the baby making department. We were given only 5% chance to conceiving naturally. After countless surgeries, hormones, failed treatments, we decided to try IVF. We were in the early phases of the process when I discovered I was pregnant. Our miracle son, Caden was born on August 14, 2008 and our life was blissful with this squishy creature.
In the summer of 2011 when Caden was almost 3, I learned I was pregnant again, only to then discover I had a tubal pregnancy and would need emergency surgery. Caden was with us in the ER when the Doctors were speaking to us, and it quite an emotional moment for my husband and I and Caden was witness to everything. Two months later we enrolled Caden in Pre-K3 at a private school. A week after school started, he started waking up every night screaming and crying and the struggle of getting him back to sleep in his own bed proved to challenge us more than those 1st weeks home with a newborn. We spent hours awake every night for three weeks. I took him to the pediatrician – “he’s fine, it’s probably growing pains.” #sideeye
I knew in my gut this couldn’t be it. Not only was Caden not sleeping at night, I couldn’t even leave the room without him going into a mass panic. His separation anxiety was extreme. So, we sought the help of a therapist. After months of sessions, she shared with me that she believed Caden to have anxiety. I thought no way was this possible, he’s just a baby?!?! Caden had shared with his therapist that he didn’t like Doctors because “they made Mommy and Daddy cry, and he was sad.” My heart broke, that this poor child was suffering from anxiety at such a young age. We continued with therapy quite awhile for him, and his anxiety and fears seemed to sub-side for the most part – occasionally rearing their ugly head at times.
Years later, we learned that Caden was struggling in school. We decided to have him tested in the summer of 2015. Caden was diagnosed with combined ADHD. He struggles with all aspects – inattention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. After countless hours of research and reading, we decided to try him on stimulant medication once he began 2nd grade. The 1st medication was no help and Caden was suddenly crying all the time, so we nixed that in the rear. I spoke with our new pediatrician and shared Caden’s history of anxiety. I told her we thought it was just brought on by a traumatic experience, but had subsided for the most part. She shared with me that many children with attention disorders have a co-morbidity that can vary from learning disabilities to emotional struggles. We decided to try another medication because he was struggling so hard. Initially, it seemed fine. His grades and focus improved, Caden even made the honor roll. Shortly after the new year I began to notice he was having these “fits or meltdowns” over the slightest thing. When told to go to bed, he would become irate. When told it was time to turn off the TV, he would became enraged. When he would lolly-gag in the morning and I was rushing to get him to school so as not to be late for work – he would go into a sobbing, mass panic that fell into a heap on the floor. This went on for months and our happy home was now a nightmare. My husband and I were so beat down, Caden’s older half-brother (who lives with us while going to college) was tired of hearing his brother’s screaming. This sweet miracle baby I prayed so hard for was pushing us to the edge of our sanity.  Our pediatrician recommended the help of a psychiatrist. So, off we went. We started bi-weekly appoinments with the psychiatrist and re-introduced weekly therapy while trying to help our son.
In May of 2016 – Caden had a seizure. This was the last day he took the stimulant. After seeking a specialists help, we learned that the seizure was related to fainting spells (which run in my family) and neurologically – he was fine. While the seizure was the scariest moment of my life, it was also a salvation because after it happened I wasn’t going to give him the medication anymore since we weren’t sure what was going on. Within a week – Caden was himself again. No more rage, no more hitting, no more violence. Yes, the anxiety is still there and I think it will always be part of him. Last month while out for a family dinner, he had a meltdown over wanting his salad before his chicken strips….sobbing at the dinner table in a steakhouse. Anxiety in it’s finest form beyond his control.
Caden has started 3rd grade and we decided to try a month without a stimulant. We were so fearful to re-introduce one since our experience with it was dreadful. However, a month into school Caden was struggling again. He couldn’t focus, couldn’t finish his work in class and was bringing home 30’s and 40’s on his work. We decided to give another new stimulant a try because my fear is this will eventually affect his self-esteem…the poor grades because of his lack of focus. Caden’s psychiatrist advised us it can take years adjusting the brands, dosage and delivery of the medication to find one that works. We have started to notice some improvement, yet the anxiety and agitation is starting to increase again. He has night terrors and comes into our room at night screaming in fear. We aren’t giving up….on medication or therapy. We continue with his bi-weekly therapy to teach him skills to help him cope through his fears, and have discussed if this medicine produces the same behavior as the last, well – we know the source and will have to try a new route. I will not give up on trying to help him, we are his advocate.
This experience which I once called a nightmare has become a humbling journey for us. It has humbled my husband to open his eyes be more accepting that true anxiety and fears are not always “just a phase” and something you can control. It has taught me as a mother to stop the judgement on other parents in public with the kid who is screaming out of control in Target….because we don’t always know what battle they are fighting. I have often questioned the Lord as to why this is happening with my perfect miracle……and while I may not ever know the reason – I believe it’s for me. To humble me as a person and as a mother – that having the perfect, poised, well-behaved son who ALWAYS does what he is told – DOES NOT EXIST. And that’s okay. The hot mess express with the mis-matched socks and dirty shirt – who is riding his skateboard on his belly down the sidewalk while dragging a piece of chalk…..and then runs in the house with a flower (okay, a weed) he picked for me…is my perfect miracle, because he is perfect in his own special way.

It’s Your Turn Series: Post 3 “I Want My Daughter To See Her Mom As Someone Who Is Strong On the Inside and Out”

Being a mom isn’t easy, from what I hear. I’m not a mom and I don’t have plans to be one. That doesn’t mean that I don’t respect the women who choose or may not choose to be one. I think there are many great moms out there. People acknowledge that moms do a lot for their families, but I don’t think they truly think about the toll it can take on someone.
This is Amanda’s story. She’s a mom and it sounds like she’s working hard to be the best one she can be.
When I found out I was pregnant, I had known my then boyfriend for over eight years, but we had only been together as a couple less than a year. It wasn’t planned- in fact, I didn’t even want kids, at all.
During the first three months of pregnancy, we moved him into my house and dealt with him not having a job since the one he had kinda screwed him. I was working as a clinical scientist at a hospital and was doing so much overtime. I worked a hour away so most days I was leaving the house at 5 am and coming home around 11:45 pm. It was so rough on me. I always had a horrible relationship with food, so I turned to that to help fill that void that I thought I had. I told myself “oh, you’re eating for two now, this is ok”. A couple months later I ended up going into early labor at 27 weeks. Luckily, they were able to stop the labor and I was allowed home, but I no longer could continue to work and I was put on bed rest. By this time my now fiancé (he proposed few weeks after we found out about being pregnant) had a job.
Again, I turned to even more food because I was home. I cried almost everyday because I hated how big I was getting. Everyone kept telling me it was all because of the belly, but I knew my eating a whole pizza by myself was not helping.
After going through labor and delivery (which was the easiest part out of this), I became so anxiety ridden. We planned our wedding to be July 11, that was only three months after having Zelda. I didn’t even fit into my wedding dress – I had to get it taken out a lot. I hated myself for that. I didn’t do anything about it though, I tried, but food was always there. Late night bottle feedings turned into late night snacking sessions. I look back at my wedding photos and I can’t stand them.
Around October of last year, I started to really try and workout and eat better. I had to get up at 3 am to workout and shower and get ready for work. As days went on, I was seeing some difference, but not much. My husband and I started talking about having another baby and we agreed to try sooner than later. Since I was already working out I knew I could at least be more active than I was in the first pregnancy.
Well, we had a miscarriage. It hit us both very hard. I spiraled into a depression and gave up on myself again. I blamed myself. My husband created another Instagram and began following all these women. He was even conversing with one, telling her how she is beautiful and everything else. I found out and was so upset.
How could someone do this to me when I am feeling like this? When he hasn’t even told me I was beautiful that day?
Our marriage, I thought was doomed. Here I was, trying to get healthy and he was off doing that – so once again, I turned to food. Food and my daughter were the only things that were keeping me grounded. Months went by and a lot of discussions were had with my husband. We luckily were able to make it through all that, but the emotional damage had been done. I didn’t feel worthy. I would order food, eat it, and then cry because I felt so gross. I was gradually loosing weight, but it was because of depression.
In April, shortly after my daughter turned one, I was diagnosed with having stress related seizures so I stopped working and became a stay at home mom. This time though, I tried focusing my energy into being stronger instead of filling a void with food. I really was starting to eat right and with My Fitness Pal, I found it so easy. I started to workout each day and I was feeling good about myself.
I fixed my physical self and that is a struggle each day to do, but I had never focused on my mental health. I’ve learned that in order to be a great mom, wife, daughter, sister, etc I have to not only be strong physically, but mentally. Lately, I’ve been working on my mental health and seeing how far that can get me. I want my daughter to see her mom as someone who is strong on the inside and out. I want to give her a role model and show her that if you honestly put your mind to it, you can do whatever you want ( as cheesy as it sounds). She’s my life, she gives me all my motivation,  and I want to be able to give her as much of my life time as I can. The only way to do that is to make sure I am healthy physically and mentally.
 I hope all moms know that their arms are made for more than lifting babies- they can definitely lift those weights too.