Friday Guest Blogger: Part II

In part two of my Friday Guest blog spot we have another blogger, who wishes to stay anonymous, in which the author describes social media and mental health. This is another guest blogger in my series in May for Mental Health Awareness Month. It has been a pleasure to write.

You can find the author’s blog here: http://www.wherearemypillows.com/

The Upside of Social Media

In the context of mental health, it seems to me that society has given social media a bad rap.

I’ve seen countless new stories implicate the rise of social media with increased isolation, decreased self-esteem, and greater rates of depression and anxiety.  Our mental health suffers from the use of apps like Instagram, Facebook and Twitter—or so the narrative goes.

But a major piece of the conversation is missing. As social mediamatures and more of us internalize the idea to “stop comparing your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel,” I sense thelandscape shifting.  A growing number of people are figuring out how to use social media for one of its greatest strengths: the greater interconnectedness it enables between wider numbers of individuals.

It’s only been in the handful of months since I restarted blogging and identifying on social media platforms as a chronic illness writer that I discovered this strength for myself.  By posting on various topics concerning health and noticing others on the web expressing similar struggles, I have gotten to know so many people across the globe who I otherwise would have never known about.  This has done wonders for my mental health, allowing me to maintain a form of self-expression and human connection even during those times when all I’ve wanted to do ishide in my pillows.

Without social media (and specifically the ease of finding community and support amidst my attempts at self-expression), I firmly believe that my road to better mental health would be more challenging, more overwhelming, and more prolonged.

I have also come to realize something in a way I had never appreciated before: we all have our share of internal demons.

It’s so easy to feel alone when you’re struggling with your mentalhealth. When everyone around you seems to be holding themselves together just fine but the inside of your head looks like a warzone, it’s hard to escape the feeling that something is wrong with you—and you alone.  This makes the idea of reaching out for help paralyzing, as the last thing
you want to do is make yourself feel vulnerable to someone that seems to have themself together.

However, I have now identified enough of my own anxiety- and depression-driven thoughts in other people’s words online to realize that the struggles I experience are not uniquely mine. They are shared by countless others before me, and will be shared by countless others behind me.  And while I don’t wish mental health struggles on anyone,
there’s a sense of comfort in knowing that I’m far from the only one with internal demons to overcome.

If you’re feeling lost, feeling lonely, or could use another tool to support you in your journey towards improve mental health, I wholeheartedly encourage you to consider the upsides of social media. Get your thoughts and feelings out there  whether it be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or a blog; you can be as anonymous as you like, while being true to your inner self, in a way that can feel impossible offline. Or if that seems daunting, start by taking a look around tosee what other people are posting and find ways to engage with them, little by little. I bet that with some patience, you’ll meet others with which you can identify and benefit from the human connection that having
those increased social links provides.

In This Mental Illness Life, Some Days You Just Survive

It’s okay if all you did today was survive.

The other day I had one of those days. I couldn’t focus. I had trouble getting out of bed. The need to be productive was just not there for me. I could tell in that moment when I opened my eyes that this day would be one of those days I hate.

Then I realized. Some days you just survive.

I had a choice. Try and force myself to do things and feel worse or just survive the day. I chose to survive. I stayed in bed for a hour after waking. I have been working on getting my new sleep schedule, but it didn’t work this day. Not every day will be a perfect day.  Most days I get through just fine.

At first I started to be really hard on myself.

How could I let myself get this way after such great production? Depression and anxiety was fighting with one another and I felt if I let things go too far, it would not end well. For those first few hours I was down on myself. But realized something. No matter how things go, there will be days when you have no choice but to survive this mental illness life.

I have to give myself a break. I took the day off. I finished off one of my audiobooks. I listened to music. I binge watched some episodes of Dark Angel, my all time favorite show. My mental health was better for it.

If all you did was survive today, give yourself a break.

I woke up the next day at my regularly scheduled time, and while things are never perfect, life continues on.

Always keep fighting.

J.E.Skye

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoJoshua Earle

Grief and Time – It Doesn’t Get Easier, But That’s the Point

What we want to do is put grief in a box. “Package it up, tape the bitch, and put it somewhere where we can see it.” That’s what we say. With this, we get control over our grief. We can watch it and make sure it doesn’t fly out of the box, ripping at the edges, scrambling over to catch us in meetings and during someone else’s happy moments. If we can contain it, we can control it, and we’ve falsely believed – for quite some time now – that we’ll dis-empower it this way over time; that one day, that grief will cease to exist because we’ve made it smaller by cramming it into something with crippling limits.

I’ve discovered, in the wake of my own grief with loss and depression, that grief in a box is like a tumor. Just because we don’t allow it to grow outward and free, doesn’t mean it will disappear through the existence of time and us not paying it any attention. That’s not how it works, but who am I to tell you how it should? Here’s my experience, and you decide for yourself:

When my grandfather died, I isolated. I knew other coping mechanisms existed, but I didn’t care for them. I didn’t want to reach out to my family and grieve with them because we all isolated from each other. We didn’t create spaces in which to come together; we looked for spaces in which to hide from each other so that we could “process in peace.” And I put that sentence into quotes because, in my family, there is no peace in grief. None found none sought. What we do – successfully – is we push aside the human choice to sink into our feelings for the other choice to rack our brain for a way out: a way out of grief, out of sadness, out of crying in front of one another. We look for a loophole, mentally. And when we find one – whether that is keeping busy, averting eye contact, or making ourselves think about literally anything else – we latch onto it and use that runaround as an escape. “We’ll never think about loss again, and we won’t let grief pull us under.” That’s what we think, but rarely ever say. To my mom, that was a sign of strength. Her Herculean feat was to establish her ground as a no-crying badass who never looked at herself in grief as pieces she had to put back together. She was going to live long in the belief that nothing could break her. To my dad, that was an end result he chased but never attained. Contrary to my mom, he was and still is an emotional opportunity, to actually sit with his feelings and ACTUALLY process them in peace. But that doesn’t work when you’ve been fed the “life’s shit toughens you” mantra for decades. After a while, you start to think that being a no-crying badass in the face of grief is supposed to be a proud staple of who you are. And then there was Me in the middle, the neon-colored sheep of the family. I believe grief is different.

Even though I still run to hide in spaces where I can process in peace, I am aware of my running. Losing someone or living with depression are some of life’s hardest phases through which to maintain this awareness. I was recently inspired to read a writer’s beautiful and accurate description of grief. He likened it to waves in the ocean. I think this is a far better description than the box because the ocean is expansive and sometimes when you look far, infinite. That’s how I imagine grief to be. It’s not this small thing we can hold and stuff into a tiny space when it begins to hurt. It’s the opposite of that. So when we’re faced with the beginning stages of grief – in those first hours and days – it feels like the waves are coming in non-stop. One right after the other. Never-ending. And they come crashing down hard! I mean, “face in the sand, tumbling on rocks” hard. Everything we have gets thrown off track, and everything we control is now no longer up to us. It’s scary! There is no space or time between those waves where we can stand up or stick our heads out long enough to catch a full breath. Everything feels rushed in the slowest way imaginable.

This is how I felt when my grandfather died when my favorite singer died when I went through a hard breakup. A loss doesn’t have to mean the end of life. It’s the end of something. Sometimes, it’s the end of some part of yourself. And in those first few days, I was underwater. You literally have to throw your hands up in the air and allow the flood to blow everything to pieces. And you watch yourself get thrown into the tumult with it all, and I’ve noticed that the more you scramble to stay on top, the more grief kicks you down – like it wants you to get to a point where standing up is no longer even an option for you. I liken this to your own metaphorical death; because when you lose someone, you have to die a little with them, too. Something of yourself has to pass on so that you can understand how grief works so that you can teach your scared and running Herculean family that this death is also OK.

I don’t believe that time heals all wounds. I think that’s bullshit. I think that’s what we’ve been led to believe so that we’ll stop talking about our grief with people who pretend their wounds are just little scars. I also don’t believe time heals all grief. We’ve adopted the mentality that time is an action. And maybe for some things, it is. But for this? Time is just space. Space between those waves where we can finally stand up and take a full breath in without feeling like our lungs are collapsing. Time is space – no matter how brief – where we can get out of bed, or have a normal conversation, or smile just because. And this space exists between crests of waves that are always going to be there because grief doesn’t end. It doesn’t get easier or better. We just get stronger. And we gain more space in which to see the waves approaching, and we can prepare. We can anticipate that it’s going to hurt when we remember their smile or hear their voice in that one song or remember how much they loved to fish. And the only time in which Time will ever give us healing is when we begin to welcome those waves, not as torture, but as perspective.

If I’ve ever learned anything at all by being who I am in a family who is the polar opposite, is that grief and loss and depression are topics of conversation that should exist, freely and wholly. When we share our stories and give words to our thoughts and feelings, we learn. I am not anyone who has stumbled into this knowledge and advice because I’m smart or wise. I am here because I’ve found that carrying the burden of remaining silent is too heavy, and not for me.

I hope you give your waves a voice, unapologetically and without reserve.

Interview Feature – Julia Cirignano

This another interview feature article that I have written as part of series you can find here. Interview Features – The Series

A Look at Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Anxiety

Imagine for a moment. Every second of your existence is a struggle. The struggle is with fear, rituals, anxiety, and depression. It has always been a part of your life. A part of your existence. You have no idea what or why things happen to you. This was the life that Julia Cirignano— from Boston, Massachusett has lived. It was the before her diagnosis life started Julia struggled, something that many in the mental illness community can relate.

“My diagosis with anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder came in high school. I have dealt with the symptoms my whole life.”

Like many in the community she struggled in high school,  and it was in this time that Julia received a diagnosis in high school. It has always been hard for Julia to remember a time of peace. A life without an illness. In a life of constant ups and downs it was in high school while seeing a therapist that Julia first found a diagnosis.

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The high school years of Julia Cirignano were the darkest of times in her life. It was also her lowest point. The daily struggle for Julia is to find balance in her self-care and in all aspects of her life.

“While I do use medication, one of the biggest things that helped me was focusing on the things I love,” Julia expains. “From a young age, I had a passion for horses, literature, music, animals in general, and more.”

Julia finds solace in her activities and it helps to keep balance in her mental health. Julia keeps her body fit, with boxing, working out, and staying productive. Along with eating well, Julia believes that keeping fit helps keep her mentally fit.

A single day with OCD and anxiety can be difficult for Julia. The key is to take each day as it is, and always stay busy.

“In my day-to-day, I try and keep myself busy because that keeps me happy,” she explains. “Accomplishing chores, no matter how big or small, gives me satisfaction. Nights are hard, like they are for almost everyone with mental illness. I drink tea and smoke weed to help with that.”

 

It hasn’t always been easy for Julia in the past. It was not uncommon for her dwell on the negative aspects of her mental illness. At the same time her illness has made her an empathetic person.

“Some people may call me sensitive. I like to think of myself as a person who sees and feels all that’s happenings around them,” Julia explains. “I am affected by the energy around me, which is hard in the negative world we live in. I try to put myself in the best situations possible.”

Julia has learned many positive things in her journey. She wanted to share some of that wisdom with the mental illness community. What Julia has learned is to channel the strengths that her mental disability has given her.

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“Yes. There are ways in which it has slowed you down,” Julia explains. “But, everyone (no matter if you struggle with mental illness or not) has to figure out their strengths as a human. I believe that with weakness comes great strength. I believe in opposites. I believe that when you hit rock bottom, you’re there to push off and bounce back to even better, richer highs.”

Julia has written a blog not so much for mental health but for writing. Julia recently self-published a book of poetry called White Wine and Medical Marijuana. It was an extremely personal book for her to write. Writing in Julia’s life is theraputic, and it comes as second nature in her life.

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“For me. It was more uncomfortable and anxiety provoking to publish my book for my loved ones to see. The process of writing comes easy. It’s easy for me to publish and promote my work to people I’ve never met,” she explains. My fellow writers, or people who can relate to my mental illness. It’s hard to hand my book to people who know me well – especially if they don’t deal with mental illness themselves.”

For Julia, most people didn’t know the internal struggle with her mental illness. It was hard to show the ones Julia loves most in this world her book. In the end it was a positive thing. It brought Julia closer to her family.

The things that make life worth living for Julia are the people and pets in her life.  “My family. My horse. My friends. Chocolate. Steak. Mashed potatoes. Ice cream. Books. My Bed.” In this mental illness life we have to find some peace. Julia has come a long way but she is right with her mental health.

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I always love to write these interview feature article about members of the community of bloggers that discuss mental illness. Julia has taught us in her journey and her story that with the right attitude you can find acceptance in your diagnosis. It was an honor to write another interview feature.

James Edgar Skye

If you want to learn more about Julia please visit her blog and social media sites.

https://juliasbookreviewss.wordpress.com
https://www.instagram.com/juliajulia100/
https://twitter.com/JuliaJulia1001
https://www.facebook.com/WhiteWineMedical/?ref=bookmarks
https://www.juliacirignano.com

Interviewee: Julia Cirignano

Author: James Edgar Skye

 

Sleep Hygiene – Top Ten Sleep Tips

Top Ten Sleep Hygiene Tips

My therapist gave me this great sheet of sleeping tips that will help with my sleep hygiene. Insomnia is always an issue in my life, so I thought today I’d share each one of these tips and if any have helped me. These tips hep added one to two hours a day of sleep. My sleep issues will never be perfect but sleep is the first step in self-care.

If you have time please look my latest post.

CBT – Mood Induction with Music

#10 – Keep your bedroom dark.

#9 – Get lots of natural light in the morning

This one is a good one. I went out and bought myself a lightbox to help in the cloudy coastal weather we often get where I am from, but going for a walk helps as well. I use my light box even in good weather for 30-45 minutes a day. It varies for each doctor recommendation. I never realized how important natural light is to mental health and sleep.

#8 – Don’t work on your computer late at night, or if you do get an application like “flux” to minimize the amount of bright light you’re exposed to.

This is a tough one for me. I always work the best writing late at night on my laptop, tablet, and even my phone (especially in bed). Often a great idea will come to me while I am laying down and I naturally grab my phone and making notes on my thoughts. I thought a great alternative could be making my journal more accessible or maybe a small pad of paper and a pen.

#7 – Don’t nap during the day.

This is an easy one for me to do. I barely can get to sleep at night, so it’s impossible during the day.

#6 – No Caffeine 3 hours or more after wake-up time.

This is the most unfair one in my opinion and the one that I regularly break. To compromise I made a promise to my therapist for no coffee after 12pm. For the most part, I stick to this plan and it has worked well.

#5 – Only use your bed for sleeping or romantic activities

More times than not at night I find myself in bed writing, and out these tips, this has been the hardest to give up in my life. I write so much better at night. I always have my phone at arms reach writing notes for chapters I will be writing the next day or ideas for my next blog post. I once started writing a chapter in a piece I was writing in at the start of my “sleep schedule,” only to find out it was 4am when I stopped.

#4 – Figure out if you’re a night person or a day person.

For this one, they recommend figuring it out and making a sleep schedule. I have learned that I am a night person who can’t sleep during the day. I must do my best at night to get as much sleep as possible.

#3 – Get a relaxation routine before bed.

The list says that this varies from person to person. Meditation? Taking a bath? Listen to easy listening music or a podcast? This is really what works for you, which I still struggle because writing relaxes me and they recommend not to have a bright screen in bed.

#2 – If you can’t sleep after 15 to 30 minutes get out of bed and do something relaxing.

#1 – Don’t drink alcohol in the evening.

The last one is easy for me. I have been working on these tips to better my sleep hygiene but it’s a work in progress. Let me know if any of these tips help, or if you have others to add!

J.E. Skye

Photo Credit: unsplash-logoHernan Sanchez