Finding the balance of physical and mental health through adventures and fitness

Tag Archives: anxiety

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.


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.

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.

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.

 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