FOCUS ON TODAY

  We rush about life pushing for better and happier futures. We wonder where our lives will be in a year or in a few years. People who suffer with anxiety worry about the future constantly. It haunts them. It can ruin their day and eat at their insides. It can suffocate them. They forget to live for today. They are too busy worrying about the worst scenarios for tomorrow and so on. It becomes impossible to see the good in the present.

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   I often worry about the next day, the next month, or even further ahead. Lou and I don’t have children. Most of my nieces and nephews live far away. My younger sister lives in North Carolina and my brother in Tennessee. My older sister and parents live the closet to me. I worry what will happen when Lou and I get old and need extra help. Who will help us if everyone is far away and we have no children? Who will help me out when Lou passes? Will I be alone in a group home or nursing home?

   I fear without Lou I will be unable to live on my own. If that’s the case, who will take me in and help me out? Will I end up all alone? My older sister is overworked in their family barn. My one nephew who lives close by works long hours. These worries causes anxiety attacks and fear that rips at my soul. My husband tells me not to think about the future because only God knows what will happen. I can’t help, but wonder about what is ahead of me, yet it only heightens my anguish.

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   A day or two before Lou and I get paid, I start up with that worrying thing. What if we don’t have enough money to pay our bills? What if we can’t afford groceries this week? What if we don’t have enough money to make it through the week? What will we do? Lou always tells me things will work out and in the end they do.

   I often forget to live for today. I try to predict my own future and what I predict is never good. My mind races ahead of me. I forget to focus on the present and this causes inner pain, fear, and sleeplessness. Even when my friend lost her husband, I found myself putting myself in her shoes. I started thinking about what if Lou dies. How would I deal with it? I could see myself being admitted into a mental health ward or being carried away from his casket. I decided I couldn’t live without him and I would just give up living.

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   Lou said, “Don’t worry about the future. Who knows what will happen? Worry about today, not tomorrow.”

   He’s right as usual. When I mulled over his words, I realized part of handling my anxiety is to stop worrying about what hasn’t come. I need to focus on one day at a time. Imagining the future only causes me more anxiety, sadness, and sleeplessness. I need to focus on today and let God handle the future.

   Today I have a wonderful and loving husband. Today I have a good job with customers I enjoy seeing. Today I have a dog who greets me with excitement. Today I have wonderful friends who care about me. Today I am happy and strong. Today is all that matters. I must live for today and focus on the good and face the bad one day at a time. I have to leave what the future holds for me in God’s hands. Only he knows what is to come. I must have faith he’ll work everything out for me when the time becomes necessary.

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   My advice to you is stop looking, worrying, and fearing tomorrow. Take each day as it is and focus on the good within it and face the bad as it comes. Let go of your worries for the future and focus on today. Today is the day you’re going to take the first steps to recovery, toady is the day you will take control of your life, today is the day you will find happiness, and today is your day. Focus on it and live for it. Let God take care of tomorrow and the days ahead. Focus on living for now. Life is too short. Don’t rush; just live for the moment.

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   I’m working on putting my worries about the future behind me. I’m taking the time to look at the day I’m in and focusing on it as it is. It’s not easy to do. Each time I start to think about what will happen, I remind myself of the moment I am in. Since I’m willing to work on focusing on the present, I bathe in the light.

HAPPY PILLS

   Antidepressants are very important to a person suffering with mental illness, but many
think they are a joke. How many times have you heard someone call them happy pills?
Have you heard comments like these?
     “Uh oh, someone’s in a bad mood. Did you forget to take your happy pills?”
     “Hey, you’re acting silly; can I take some of your happy pills?”
     “I gotta take my happy pills to make me as funny as you.”
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     Antidepressants are more than just pills that make a person elated. They work by
balancing chemicals in your brain that affect your moods. They help you think better,
help control your moods, help with your appetite, and help with sleep. You can find this
information and more at WebMD http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/
antidepressant-effects#1. They are very vital to a person’s climb to the top of the hole.
They help a person with mental illness stabilize his or her moods so he or she can
function and reach recovery. Antidepressants can be as vital as water to a struggling
person.
    
    Without my medication, I would be a wreck. Off my medication I would drop down to
the bottom of the hole. One time when I was going through a medication change, I fell
deep into depression: I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t keep food down, and I felt like my world
was crashing down on me. I lost my will to live. Once I found an antidepressant that
worked for me, my mood lifted, I could eat and I could sleep through the night.
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    That so-called happy pill was and is my lifeline. It keeps me going each and every day.
It helps keep my anxiety attacks under control, it helps calm me so I can sleep through
the night, and it helps keep my moods from falling into pure darkness. It helps me stand
tall and take control over my illness.
     Before I got on antidepressants, my mental illness seemed to control me. My
wandering thoughts and anxiety made me tense at night. I’d roll around in bed, but I
couldn’t relax enough to sleep. My emotions flooded me like a waterfall. I cried easily, I
felt a deep sadness suffocating my soul, and I went into emotional episodes. I felt like I
was out of control. Once I got on medication, the pills helped me regain control over my
illness so I could work on my thought process and behavior. They helped me feel like I
could rise up out of the hole.
 
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    Antidepressants and other medications that help with mental illness are not just pills
that suddenly make you happy. They control your moods so you can go through therapy
and work on yourself and the bad habits you got caught up in like negative thinking,
blocking the positive, and out of control behavior.
 
    See, medication doesn’t automatically make you happy. It helps stabilize you so you
can also work on yourself. While sick you develop bad thought patterns and behaviors
—things that medication alone cannot fix, but without medication you can’t find the
strength to see the light ahead of you. It takes medication and therapy to find happiness.
Antidepressants are a major factor in finding the right path to recovery and staying in
recovery.
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     The next time you tease someone about taking a happy pill, think. Think about how
much they mean to a person struggling with mental illness. Remind yourself they are
pills that are as important as heart medicine. They don’t automatically make a person
smile and jump for joy, but they help a sick person find the strength to climb out of the
hole. They are the rope thrown down into the darkness to make the climb up easier.
     If you have mental illness, don’t expect medication to automatically cure you. You
don’t just pop one in your mouth and suddenly you’re flying high. You also have to go to
therapy and do some work. It’s not an automatic happy. View them as a big step towards
recovery and a chance to find happiness.
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     I take my antidepressants daily.  These so-called happy pills, along with coping
techniques, help me live a normal life and stand within the light

 

 

 

THE UNEXPECTED ANXIETY ATTACK

  Since anxiety attacks are based on fears that can be unrealistic or magnified, wouldn’t you know when you’re going to have one? Can’t you just say, “My fears are overwhelming I better prepare for a anxiety attack”? Unfortunately, at times they come unexpectedly. One minute you might think you have everything under control and then suddenly you’re in an episode. You’re shaking, your hearts pounding, you’re sweating or you’re sick. You try to think why, but your not sure what it is that has you in knots. Shouldn’t there be warning signs?

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   The other day I was off from work. I did laundry, read a book, went to an appointment, and went to supper with my hubby. It was a nice day. I had no stress. My appointment with my psychiatrist went well. He said I was doing great. I did the laundry a little bit at a time and there was no pressure to get it done, yet I started feeling sick and dry heaving. It came on suddenly and I couldn’t figure out why. I was having a good day. Why did I have an anxiety attack?

   I tried hard to figure out why I was having an attack. My husband asked me, “What is bothering you?”

   I looked at him and replied, “I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. Everything is fine.”

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   He put his arm around me, “Are you sure you’re not telling me something?”

   I shook my head no. It just hit me without warning. I had no explanation.

   A month and a half ago, Lou and I took a trip out of town. We went to the zoo, went shopping and bummed around Cincinnati. It was fun and relaxing. We were away from home, there was no work to worry about, we had plenty of money, and we were relaxed, yet one day I started dry heaving and I got sick. It just came out of the blue. We were spending the day at the zoo. We had fun; I had no reason to have an anxiety attack, but yet I was having one.

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   I understood why I had an attack when I got us lost looking for a restaurant, but there was no reason at the zoo. I was having fun looking at all the animals and spending the day with my love. It just didn’t make sense. It hit me suddenly without warning. At least when we got lost, Lou was able to calm me down before I got sick, but when it comes unexpectedly there’s nothing you can do. You can’t do relaxation techniques. You can’t talk yourself down. All you can do is let it happen.

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   Maybe there was a deep down fear I couldn’t recognize that caused my anxiety attack. When the attack was over, I sat down and tried to think of what could cause my problems. When I thought about the day I had off, I realized I did have a fear that I didn’t recognize that was playing inside me. A friend’s husband died. I couldn’t help but deep down grieve for her and wonder what if I were in her shoes and it was my husband. My heart ached for her even though I seemed to be having a good day. Deep in the back of my mind she was there, and I hurt for her and feared the day I would lose my own husband.

   I didn’t recognize my feelings until later that night when I journaled and listed the things that happened that day. Even with the day at the zoo there was a hidden fear. When I listed things that might cause my anxiety, it came back to my continuous fear of not having enough money. This is a magnified and unrealistic fear that often haunts me. Even though we had enough money, that underlying fear was there. We spent money on the zoo, food was expensive there, and we had a train ride.

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   So even though anxiety attacks hit suddenly and without warning, there may be an underlying fear you may have not recognized. Even though things might seem to be fine, deep within the back of your mind there may be something you’re not aware of. After your unexpected attack, list possible reason that might be unresolved that could cause your attack. Then work on that problem. The unexpected attack always has a cause even if you don’t recognize it right away. It’s up to you to find out what it is.

   I don’t have my anxiety completely under control and I still have sudden attacks, but I’m learning how to fight them and recognize what may cause them. I stand up to my attacks and I refuse to let them run my life; because I’m willing to do this, I stand above the hole in the gleaming light.

WHAT IS BEAUTY?

  When you’re depressed you find yourself looking in the mirror at an ugly wreck of a person. Your perception of beauty is clouded by your lack of self-esteem. Viewing yourself as a beautiful human being is almost unthinkable. You forget the meaning of beauty. Maybe somewheres in your past people put you down and made fun of a physical flaw you have. This teasing led you to hate your looks, and your illness just seems to magnify your lack of self-image. The question is what makes you beautiful?

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   Growing up I was always the biggest one of all my siblings. I’ve never been skinny. Even my parents were skinny. I wasn’t like my older sister who spent hours putting make up on and doing her hair. I never cared for makeup and I was happy with brushing my hair and going. My classmates teased me about my looks. I was out of style and, according to them, ugly. I felt inferior to my classmates and siblings. I didn’t fit in. I began to believe I was ugly.

   Teachers took me aside and tried to show me how to put makeup on, wear stylish clothes, and do up my hair. I tried my best to improve my looks, but it wasn’t good enough. My teachers pointed out when my clothes didn’t match and my makeup was smudged. I even tried getting a perm, but I looked like a puff ball. I hated how I looked; I hated myself. I dreamed of being skinny like a model with gorgeous hair. I just wanted to be beautiful.

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   My depression increased my feelings of self-loathing. I thought of myself as a hideous, fat pig. How could anyone ever think of me as beautiful? I was anything but beautiful. My hair was a mess, my clothes were out of style and I hated makeup and jewelry. I wasn’t like a normal woman. I didn’t even like dresses. I disliked looking at myself in the mirror.

   Even when I dated, the men didn’t even comment on how good I looked or do anything to make me feel pretty. It wasn’t until I met my husband that I started to see myself differently. From the first date on, he told me how beautiful I was and still am. He treated me like a princess. He told me, “When I first saw you, I thought you were hot.” Each day he would say things like, “You’re gorgeous,” “Hi, beautiful,” and “You’re the most prettiest woman I ever saw.” This helped boost myself esteem.

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   I asked him, “Why do you think I’m beautiful when I don’t wear makeup, do fancy stuff with my hair, or wear jewelry?” He replied, “You’re beautiful just the way you are inside out.”

   Through him I learned you don’t need to fancy yourself up to be beautiful. You don’t need a skinny body or fancy clothes. Beauty isn’t just on the outside; it’s also inside. God makes everyone beautiful inside out. Maybe sometimes people are too blind to see your beauty, and sometimes you can’t see your own beauty, but it’s there. God doesn’t make ugly people. Even with our flaws, there is beauty. We are God’s creation and he gives each of us our own unique qualities that make us beautiful.

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   So if you’re feeling ugly, look in the mirror. Take a good look. Stand there for several minutes until you can see something about yourself you like. Maybe it’s the curve of your lips or your button nose. Then list the things you like about your personality. Are you a good listener, are you funny, are you kind or are you friendly? If you look hard enough, you’ll see you have beauty inside and outside. You’re a beautiful unique individual and that’s how God made you. Once you find your beauty, you’ll be able to learn to love yourself.

   With Lou’s help and therapy, I have learned to love myself as I am. I now know I have beauty within and out. I am proud of how I look and who I am. I don’t need makeup to look beautiful; I am beautiful just the way God made me. Since I have found my beauty, I am glowing within the light.

IT’S OKAY TO HAVE BAD DAYS

  Mental illness is a constant battle, even in recovery. Recovery doesn’t mean you’re cured. It just means you have your illness under control. So bad days can and do happen. They might come on suddenly and leave you feeling like you have slipped backwards. You might even feel like you have failed at the fight to stay well, but you haven’t failed or slipped backwards. Bad days are okay. They are part of your illness. You can’t be strong all the time. You have to allow yourself moments of weakness.

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   It’s alright to have days when you want to just lie in bed, when tears fall freely, when your soul sinks, and when you don’t fight the darkness in you. The important thing is how you handle that day and if you are able to stop that day from continuing on.

   I’ve been in recovery for a while. There are days when things get tough and I just have to sit down and cry. Sometimes my illness gets the best of me. For no apparent reason at all I just feel this overwhelming sadness in me. At times life and my illness are too much to handle.

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   This year has been a challenge. I have faced one medical issue after another. Trying to deal with my physical health and combat my illness has been a struggle. I have to fight to stay positive while all this bad stuff happens to me. It’s been hard. I keep telling myself I can’t let this push me down the hole. A few days ago I stayed in bed until one thirty in the afternoon. When I got up I lay on the couch and allowed tears to fall. My fight to look for the good suddenly seemed hopeless.

   I turned to my husband and asked him if I was slipping backwards. He held me tight and said, “No, you’re fine. You’re just having a bad day. We’ll get through this.” I wrapped my arms around him and just cried. Everything happening to me seemed hopeless and darkness seeped into my soul. That day I didn’t want to combat my illness; I just wanted to let go and not be strong.

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   While I allowed myself to have a bad day, I took time to take care of myself. I turned to my husband and friends for support. I took my medication and reminded myself this is just for a day. Tomorrow I’ll be stronger and will go on fighting. Lou reminded me things will get better.

   The next day I woke up in the morning and listed the positive things in my life. I reminded myself the medical problems were all fixable and could have been worse. I took a shower, dressed, and went to work. I kept my mind focused on moving out of the darkness. A good cry seemed to be refreshing, because that following day I felt even tougher. I took control of my illness and found the light once again.

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   If you have a bad day, don’t think it’s a sign that you lost the battle. See it as a day to just let go and let your feelings flow. Remind yourself there will be bad days and that is okay. Just remember to take care of yourself during that time and not to allow the sadness to continue on for a longer period of time. You’re only human; you can’t be strong all the time. Everyone has bad days; it’s just important to know you can lift yourself up afterwards.

   I know I will have bad days from time to time, but I also know I can pull myself up. I am too strong to slip backwards. Since I am able to pick myself up after bad days, I will continue to dance within the light.

I’M NOT A QUITTER

  While you’re struggling with mental illness, it seems like it would be easier to just give up and not fight. It’s hard to face another day, let alone think of a future. You can’t even see the light above the hole. You just want to lie in bed and pretend the world does not exist. When you’re fighting for recovery and everything goes wrong, it would be simpler to quit. The question you must ask yourself is, “Are you a quitter or a fighter?”

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   When I hit rock bottom my senior year of school after my cousin died, I felt like I couldn’t face another day, but I forced myself out of bed. I thought frequently of just lying in bed staring up at the ceiling and letting life pass me by. When I went off to college, the depression increased. I started thinking about suicide. I just wanted the pain to end. I even planned my death, but something in me wouldn’t allow me to complete my plan. I took a bunch of pills, but only enough to make me very sick. I wanted to give in, but something deep within me wouldn’t give up.

   Years later when I relapsed into my depression and my ex-boyfriend kicked me out, I felt like quitting. I took time off from work and went into a mental health hospital. In the hospital I became determined to get out. I studied the Bible, I participated in therapy sessions, and I journaled every day. I wasn’t going to let my illness keep me down. In a week I was released from the hospital, but I still had a long road ahead of me. I asked myself, “Do I want to continue to fight or quit?” I’m no quitter.

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   The therapist I was seeing at the time decided to start filing for Social Security Disability for me. She told me, “I think SSD is best for you. You’re not strong enough to work. I think returning to work would enhance your illness.”

  I looked at the paperwork and stated, “I want to work. I don’t want to quit and I don’t want to go on SSD. I refuse to let go of my job.” She went on explaining to me how I wasn’t able to work and I had to accept that. She strongly encouraged I file the paperwork, but I couldn’t allow my illness to take my job from me. I told her, “I’m not a quitter.”

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   When I started going to group therapy after I was released from the hospital, the administrator asked me how I would pay if I was not working. I told her I was only on leave and I was going to return to work when I was better. She asked me, “What if you don’t get better and you can’t work?” I informed her one way or another I was returning to work. Despite the administrator’s and therapist’s lack of faith in me, I returned to work and have worked at the same job for 22 years. Why did I go back? Because I refused to give up.

   Once I decided I wanted to climb out of my hole and stand in the light of recovery, I used all the strength in me to pull myself up. I had a lot of challenges standing in my way. I wasn’t quite over the abuse from my ex-boyfriend, I felt lonely, I fell into bouts of deep depression, and I had to undo years of negative thinking and behavior. It would have been easy to hide and let my illness overtake me, but I wanted to live some kind of a healthy life. I wanted to find happiness. So I went to therapy, took my medication, and worked hard to reach for the light.

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  Take this time and ask yourself, “Am I a fighter or a quitter?” Look within to find the strength to stand up to your illness. Don’t let your illness win. You are the winner. You can take control of it and live a good life. It’s a daily struggle, but you can do it. Be a fighter not a quitter.

   Why did I fight? I fought because I’m not a quitter. I will not let my illness keep me from working or taking control of my life. I know there is no cure for my illness, but I will not quit. Because I will continue to fight and never give up, I will stand tall within the light.

WHAT IS THE MEANING OF YOUR LIFE?

  What is the meaning of your life? This is a very difficult question for people suffering with depression. They see their life as an endless dark pit they can’t climb out of. They often think they are on earth to be tortured by darkness and emotional anguish. It’s hard to look beyond that. It’s difficult to think of anything but the overwhelming sadness within, but life has a much brighter meaning and outlook. It’s up to you to find the meaning to your life.

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   When I was suffering from depression I often wondered why God put me on earth. Was I on earth to be tormented by my sickness? Was I a mistake? Did my existence even matter? What was the meaning to my life? My life didn’t seem to have any meaning or purpose. I thought I was a mistake. It seemed like I was stuck in an endless hole of despair and sadness.

   It took time for me to look at my life differently. I had to dig deep down into my soul to find the true meaning of my life. I was determined it had to be more than the emotional pain, darkness, and sadness that engulfed me. I had to have a purpose for my existence. What could it be? What was my life all about? Was there more to my life then my illness?

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   To answer these questions I had to look at the people around me, the good things in my life and at myself as an individual, not a person with a sickness. I might have had an illness, but there was much more to me than that. I had loving parents, nieces and nephews, a job and much more. I loved, I gave, I cherished, and I listened. I realized God put me on earth to give, to listen, and inspire others. I suddenly saw there was more to me than darkness. A lot more.

   The meaning to my life is being around to watch my nieces and nephews grow up, to find true love, to make friends, to create memories, and so much more. I’m meant to give with all my heart, to inspire others with my writing, to live life to the fullest, to love like I have never loved before, to learn from my mistakes, and create memories. My life is not a mistake; it’s a blessing from God, and even suffering with mental illness has a purpose. I use what I went through and what I have learned to reach, inspire and help others. God can use everything.

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   It took me time to learn that God was never punishing me. He was standing beside me through my struggles and he opened doors for me to find recovery and rise above it. When I was willing he also showed me life has meaning and my life is meaningful. He kept me alive for a reason, to find the meaning of my life and to live my life to the fullest.

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   Look into your soul. Look beyond your sadness, your emotional anguish, and your dark hole. Look past your negativity and your illness. Look at the true person you are within. List the qualities that make you who you are; list what is important and positive in your life. Within these lists you’ll find who you are. You’ll be able to find that there is meaning to your life. Once you find what the meaning to your life is, don’t take it for grant. Live it to the fullest. Grab onto its wings and fly with it. In the search of finding meaning in your life you’ll find yourself.

   Maybe in your discovery of your purpose, you’ll find God and you will grow closer to him. You’ll see he’s not punishing you and you’re not a mistake. You might even find a reason for your suffering. So take this time and search hard and deep for your meaning to life.

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   Now that I know God’s reason for my life and the meaning he gave my life, I bask in the light of recovery.

WHAT IS ANXIETY?

  Anxiety is something we all have faced within our lives. We feel anxiety when we face uncomfortable situations or when we feel fear. It’s a natural response that warns us of danger. We can either face the anxiety and fight it or run away from it. I found this information in Anxiety Management, by Mike Mitchell. The question is when does anxiety become a serious problem?

   When your fears begin to grow to the point that they control your body’s reactions with panic attacks, heart palpitations, hand sweats, nausea, sickness, and so on, then you have a problem. Thoughts, worries, and feelings become overpowering. You feel as if you have no control over your body’s response and it begins to affect your day to day activities. Work, school, house work, and other daily rituals become overwhelming. You feel useless and hopeless. When you get to this point, you need to seek help.

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   During my recovery I started having anxiety attacks, I thought they can’t be real, something else must be wrong, because my life is good. The more I learned about anxiety, I realized what was causing mine. I worried excessively about paying our bills, not having enough money, doing my job righ,t and making mistakes that could get me fired. My worries turned into fears that grew within me like a monster. What if I lost my job, how will we survive? Would we go bankrupt? If we didn’t have enough money to pay our bills, would we end up on the streets?

  Each week, before pay day, my stomach would twist, my muscles would tense, and my mind would race with worries. I’d even struggle to sleep. I began dry heaving and throwing up on a regular basis. I felt helpless. I couldn’t control my feelings, my fears, my worries or my body’s reactions.

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   My husband said to me, “Everything always works out. Why don’t you believe me? I tell you this every week and we’re always fine.” It’s not that I didn’t believe him or that I didn’t want to believe him, but my worries and fears became so big they overwhelmed me. I couldn’t see past them or even around them. No matter how I tried I couldn’t gain control. They were bigger than I was. I couldn’t even focus on anything else. I couldn’t stop the anxiety attacks. They were more powerful than me. I couldn’t just shut them off.

   In therapy I learned relaxation techniques like breathing through my nose and slowly releasing it through my mouth. At night I would listen to a tape that led me through techniques to release tension and visualize a tranquil place. I started working on my worries. I analyzed them and asked myself, “Is this worry that important? Can I look at it in a different way?” I had to find ways to distract myself with reading, journaling, and other activities. I also started taking medication. The medication controlled the dry heaves and getting sick.

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   When your anxiety becomes out of control, it is time to seek professional help. You may never be cured of your anxiety, but you can learn to take control of it. It is possible to rise above your feelings of fear and worry. You can learn ways to catch your fears and worries before they become too out of control, but it takes a lot of work and determination.

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   I can’t say I have my anxiety completely under control, but I am learning to handle it better. My worries and fears are not as prevalent. I am willing to keep fighting them and work hard to stay within the light.

A WINNER OR A FAILURE

  While the mind is plagued with darkness thoughts become distorted. In college, when I got a lower than normal grade on a test my heart plummeted. I automatically thought I was a failure. Getting a good grade made me feel like a winner. There was no in between.

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   Receiving a low grade made tears threaten to spill and my chest tightened. “I’m a looser”, sang through my mind. “They were right about me in high school; I’m a retard. I don’t belong in college.” The more my negative thoughts filled my mind the further down the whole I fell. When I got a good grade I was flying high. There was no excuse in my mind for a less than a high grade. I had to get a A or B to be worthy, any lower I felt like my world was going to end.

   When I was unable to get the degree I wanted in college (due to my learning disability)I felt like a looser. I thought going to a four year college and getting a good paying job would make me a winner. Instead I became a cashier and once again I thought I was a failure. Even though I worked hard to prove myself in high school and then in college, I couldn’t even get a communication degree. Instead of going on to a four year college, all I could do was work in a grocery store. I was sure I failed. I believed I proved everyone right; I was a retard who couldn’t do anything right.

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   I learned in therapy that this type of thinking was all-or-nothing thinking.” The book Feeling Good The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D. describes it as seeing everything as black or white–shades of gray do not exist. In other words, I saw myself either as a winner or a failure. I couldn’t see the other good things in my life; like I graduated from college, I had stories published, and I was working a job despite my illness.

   My therapist taught me I didn’t need a high paying job, or a degree in communications to be successful. I learned not everything goes the way I plan and that does not make me a failure, but human. I realized I didn’t need to be perfect to still be a winner.

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   In life there are gray periods where we don’t always come out on top. We are not always perfect. It took me a while to believe this. I no longer have to prove myself, because I already have. No one in high school believed I’d even make it to college, let alone get a degree and I have a associate degree in Humanities. Someone once told me because I have a mental illness, I couldn’t work and yet I have been working the same job for 19 years.

   Sometimes I still fall into the all-or-nothing thinking, but I have a wonderful husband who reminds me I don’t have to be perfect to be a winner. I now know there is a gray spot in our lives, but it is only a part of life.

WHO AM I?

   While our minds are conflicted with darkness, we begin to question who we are. We confuse our illness with our identity. Sometimes we think we are our illness. We believe the sadness, irrational thoughts, uncontrollable emotions, and other symptoms we have are who we are. We become blinded. We can’t see the person we are beyond our sickness. We allow our mental illness to define us.

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   When the darkness filled my soul, I started to question who I was. Was I a sad, hopeless wreck? What kind of person was I? Someone who cried often, someone who hurt herself without understanding why, or someone who burst out into emotional episodes. I wondered how anyone would want to be with or hang out with a person like me.

   If this sad, emotional person was who I was, then what reason did I have for living? Why would God let such a person exist on earth? I lay awake at night wondering why God even made me. Was my purpose to hurt my family and friends? Was it to live at the bottom of the hole? I started to think I was my illness and it defined me as the person I was. I couldn’t see beyond it. My depression and borderline personality disorder no longer seemed like a sickness, but character traits.

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   I felt like I had no control over my life or my emotions. I found myself falling into one bad relationship after another and I felt like that was all I deserved. At times, my lips spit out angry words to the people I loved the most. I threw things and broke stuff. I couldn’t see beyond my inner pain. Awful things clouded my thoughts and I couldn’t think of anything else. I saw myself as a hopeless mental case.

   My friend Cheryl called my illness, “The Bad Bug Guy.” This helped me to look at my illness in a different light. I suddenly began to realize my illness is something separate from who I am. I was not a mentally ill person, but I was and am a person who has mental illness. In a mental health group I joined, they told us, “You are not your illness, but you have an illness.”

   My friends and family told me I am a kind, caring, and loving person. Those are my characteristics, not the sadness, emotional episodes, and other symptoms of my sickness. It took me time to convince myself that I am a wonderful person who happens to have a sickness.

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   With the help of my therapist, I started listing the positive qualities about myself. In time I was able to find myself. I learned what kind of person I really am and that God has a purpose for me on this earth. He allowed me to struggle so I can share my experience with others. I am much more than a mental illness and so are you. Knowing who I am helps me stand in the light.