Ten Things That Have Helped Me Heal

Several days this week, I have awakened in the morning and been keenly aware: I’m okay. I’m just about . . . almost . . . back to my baseline.

It’s about damn time. For months, I anxiously awaited this day, when I would wake up and not feel anything. When I wouldn’t be afraid to be alone. When I could go more than a day without crying.

Here are the ten things that have helped me get to this point:

  1. Walking: The number one thing I started doing months ago was taking a walk every day. It was something that I didn’t want to do, but it was one of the easiest things I could do to start healing from my trauma. Trauma is energy trapped in the body. Walking provided that energy an outlet.
  2.  Listening to my Body: This one was huge, and yet it was something I had to do in moderation. Initially, I almost had to not listen to my body, which was trying to tell me that I was in danger and that something could happen to me at any moment. I had to push on despite it telling me that. The only time it was useful to pay attention to my bodily sensations was first thing in the morning, so that I got out of bed before my anxiety began to peak. Eventually, as my level of stress began to decrease, I started to feel hunger, and I needed to start listening to my body again. As I had not had an appetite when I was ultra stressed out, I needed to regain ordinary eating patterns. I didn’t know how much to eat, or when to eat . . . my body told me that.
  3. Safe Places: One of the major components of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (or acute stress disorder) is the loss of feelings of safety. You don’t feel safe in the world . . . at all.  My apartment wasn’t safe. My work wasn’t safe. The store wasn’t safe. So, I needed to find places where I could begin to feel safe again. My friend began inviting me over to work at her house. My parents moved, and needed me to help out around the house. I began to find places that felt safe again.
  4. Safe People: These included the people from my safe places, but was not limited to them. I had a list of friends that I would call when I was upset. Having safe people to talk to helped me learn to trust again.
  5. Pushing Myself: This part was hard. Sometimes, I didn’t have the wherewithal to push myself, and I needed others to do it for me. But, every time I got myself out to take a walk, or I got myself out the door to an interview, or to a client, or an event, I was helping my healing process. I needed to build up a bank of experiences where I was safe. The only way to do this was to go out and learn that I would be safe when I did these things.
  6. Self Compassion: Self compassion meant treating myself kindly. It meant allowing myself to be upset when I was upset, and not trying to fight it. It meant allowing myself to cry, and instead of saying to myself, “damn it, why are you crying again?”, saying, “it’s okay, this will pass. It’s okay that you’re upset.” It meant identifying with the small, scared child inside, and embracing and comforting her, talking to her the way that a scared child needs to be spoken to.
  7. Letting Myself Cry: This goes along with #6, and also with #1. The emotions needed to be expressed, or else they would linger and fester. It would not have been good to hold them in.
  8. Therapy: My therapist helped me keep things in perspective. She kept me thinking, and when I was able to ask myself the right questions, I was able to find the right answers, which gave me some piece of mind. She also showed me options I didn’t even know I had, and that kept me from losing hope.
  9. Lists: When I started making lists, it was a game changer. I went from pacing around, complaining about how I had nothing to do, and how I was too distraught to possibly do anything anyway, to focusing on productive tasks. First thing in the morning I would start on my list, as soon as, or before, I started to get too anxious. As long as I was accomplishing something I was able to keep the anxiety at a manageable level.
  10. Time: All healing takes time. Two months ago, I yearned for this day. I’ll be fine once I get to December, I thought. I had just wanted to fast forward through all of the hard and messy parts. But I got through those parts by taking it one day at a time.

Healing isn’t easy, but it’s possible, with the right plan.

Advertisements

Just Keep Singing

I now know that I first started having panic attacks in high school. I would often be in my car, completely safe, driving to my music lessons, which were a half an hour away. That’s a long distance for a new driver! And then I would feel the now familiar symptoms set in: pounding heart, sweaty palms, dizziness, tingling in my hands and feet.

I was alone. I had no idea what was happening to my body, or why- but I was able to determine one thing: the other symptoms were accompanied by irregular breathing. The best way I knew to regulate my breathing was to sing. So, I would turn up the radio and sing to every single song that came on. And then, when the commercials came on, I would just sing to whatever song I could think of. I just kept singing. It kept me calm. It kept me focused.

I found myself returning to that truth a few months ago. I had been out of work on FMLA for a day. It was early morning, and I was getting ready for a job interview. I was so extremely anxious that I was having panic attacks that made me feel like I could pass out. But I had to go. This was my only opportunity to escape the job that had traumatized me. I had to sum up every ounce of courage and strength inside of me.

So I opened my mouth and began to sing:

“Regrets collect like old friends

here to relive your darkest moments.

I can see no way, I can see no way.

All of the ghouls come out to play.

. . . .

Shake it out, shake it out

Shake it out, shake it out, oh

It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back,

so shake him off. ”

Shake it Out, Florence and the Machine

I got myself to that interview and I got the job.

Instinctively I knew that singing was healing. Is it any wonder that I became a music therapist?

I Am Mighty

Just a quick blog post to share some good news! I am now a contributor to
The Mighty! The Mighty is an awesome website dedicated to giving a voice to those who deal with mental health and chronic illness.

My first article is a republish of one of my recent posts:

How My Weighted Blanket and Memory Foam Pillow Help with my Anxiety

Taking part in communities around these issues helps those of us who deal with mental illness to know that we’re not alone, and gives us an opportunity to access hope.

Be mighty!

Thanksgiving Gratitude


It’s been a hard year. Not just for me, but for many people I know. When things seem hard or negative, it is especially important to practice gratitude. That’s the only way to stay centered and grounded.

A regular gratitude practice has been known to reduce anxiety and depression, increase resilience, improve relationships, and improve overall health.

This year, I am thankful for:

    • This little angel, the sweetest cat I have ever known, my Felicity. I’ve had her for almost a full year.
    • Friends who didn’t even hesitate to step it up for me during a breakup
    • Family who have welcomed me back home to spend as much time as I need while I am healing
    • That I was able to leave a stressful job . . .
    • and almost immediately get back on my feet with TWO new jobs!
    • That I have been able to sustain myself without regular work for a month and a half, with no major issues. I have everything I need.
    • The aspects of my anxiety that have gotten better. Although I often feel like I haven’t made much progress, I have.
    • Although it’s over, the relationship I had with my boyfriend, as it enriched my 2017 and provided me with some light in the darkness. I still think he is a beautiful person, and I’ll cherish his friendship.
    • Everyone who is out there fighting to make sure that the current president doesn’t roll back American progress

What are you grateful for?

Home

My parents’ new home.

Three weeks ago, my parents moved out of my childhood home, where we lived as a family for the most part of twenty years. Although I recently turned 30 and live on my own, this was tremendously difficult for me to cope with. I visited my parents a few times as they were packing, and each time, I would break down sobbing. The last time I had gone to help, I narrowly avoided a massive panic attack, and excused myself to leave after barely two hours. I began to break down almost immediately after going through my old things, when I threw away a framed painting that I had made as a young child.

Why was that such a trigger?

Because it meant that the safety of my childhood was over. Not only that, but I was losing my safe place.

That house was my safe place. We moved in during the summer of 1996, and I lived there continuously until I started college in 2006. Then, I returned during summers and breaks for the four years between 2006 and 2010, and during breaks from grad school through 2014. I moved back in for a year and a half after graduation, until I found a job that could sustain me.

I returned there many, many times, for many, many reasons. I would come home to be consoled from breakups, to be cared for when I was sick, for comfort when I was first dealing with my anxiety, and as a refuge when I was unable to make it on my own as a professional.

I spent a lot of time there. It was my safe place.

Home is where the heart is.

I was very upset about my parents’ move. But then something happened. The week that they moved, my boyfriend broke up with me in a very shocking and eventful day.

I was so upset, I didn’t want to be alone. Our relationship had been stable! Or so I had thought. I could not stop crying and I needed comfort. So, I called my parents and asked if they needed help with unpacking. I came over that weekend to assist. And then, a few days later, I returned to help with something else. And then a few days later, I asked if I could come over again. They weren’t sure if they had anything else I could help with, but that was ok- I said I’d bring over my laptop and work on things, and as my mom came up with tasks, I could take a break and help out.

I’ve been visiting them a few times a week since. I pack a bag of work, and I work quietly while my mom writes in the other room. I don’t even have to be in the same room with her- it just helps to know that she’s around. I’ve spent so much time there that the new house just about feels like home.

My safe place wasn’t a place after all. It was, instead, wherever my safe people were.

“Home- I’m coming home. Home is wherever I’m with you.”

Home, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Out with the Old, and in with . . . Something

Last week, I wrote about how I felt my life was up in the air, like a pile of leaves that had been disturbed by a child or a leaf blower.

But, I’m not the only one.

Just as my life has been disrupted in a major way, so are the lives of many of my friends and family. Jobs, relationships, and homes are all in upheaval.

I can’t help but think that it’s not a coincidence. This fall, we are being called to let go of the old and to release what isn’t working for us, in order to make room for something new.

Why? I don’t know. What we’re moving to, I don’t know. I’m inclined to think that it will be something better. Not just for us as individuals, but as a society. As a world. A lot of “new-agey” sort of people seem to believe that we’re moving into a new era, that humankind is going through a sort of moral and spiritual evolution. I don’t see any evidence to the contrary.

Everything is in upheaval because you need to get rid of what isn’t working in order to start anew. And in order to know that something isn’t working, you need to see it not work. 

It’s painful, but it’s for the best, if we make the best of it.

Music to Uplift

Any music therapist will tell you that music is medicine.  Here are three artists who uplift me, and songs of theirs that I find healing.

Matisyahu

Sometimes in my tears I drown,

but I never let it get me down.

So when negativity surrounds

I know someday it will all turn around.

Matisyahu is an Orthodox Jewish musician. Much of his music, (ex. “King Without a Crown”) incorporates religious themes. Matisyahu said, “All of my songs are influenced and inspired by the teachings that inspire me. I want my music to have meaning, to be able to touch people and make them think.” Although he no longer wears a beard, yamulke, or tzitzit, he still remains invested in his spirituality.

After days and days of waking up with negative music in my head, I cannot explain just how relieved I was a couple of days ago when these were the lyrics I heard instead. This was how I knew I was starting to regain hope.

India.Arie

I am light, I am light.

I am not the things my family did,

I am not the voices in my head,

I am not the pieces of the brokenness inside.

India Arie released her first album, Acoustic Soul, in 2001. This album, and her single “Video” were met with critical acclaim. She was the center of controversy during the 2002 Grammy awards, as India and her album were nominated for seven awards, but won none. Her music has always had meaningful themes, but now, her music has taken a spiritual angle.

“I Am Light” is the perfect reminder that we do not need to identify with our circumstances or even our physical attributes, and I have listened to it hundreds of times. All of her music is amazing and uplifting, but I highly recommend her albums SongVersation and SongVersation: Medicine, which were independently produced.

MC Yogi


When I’m lost and disconnected,

searching for a way to heal,

I remember the message you sent me-

only love is real.

MC Yogi is an independent musician who unites hip hop with eastern spirituality. Some of his songs incorporate Hindu chants, while others teach concepts such as the Eight Limbs of yoga or the story of the Buddha.

MC Yogi has also collaborated on a song with Matisyahu, “Heaven is Here.”

Although he focuses on eastern philosophies, this song, “Only Love is Real,” reminds me of one of the core teachings of A Course in Miracles- that only love, and not fear, is real. It is a very comforting concept to someone like myself who is plagued by anxiety.

These three artists come from different spiritual orientations (India Arie refers to God and angels in some of her songs),  but the meaning in their music has the ability to speak across religions and cultures. I hope these songs help you like they have helped me.

Fall

Fall is THE season of change. Nature is transitioning from the warm lushness of summer to the bitter chill of winter. The trees release their leaves as they prepare to conserve their resources in order to survive the harshness of the year’s last season.

It’s funny, however, how our lives often mimic the changing of the seasons. Like the trees, I, too, am in transition.

This fall, my life has felt like a pile of leaves that someone has tossed up into the air, each leaf to scatter and fall newly askew on the ground.

(The pile of leaves, of course, was perfectly content where it was.)

My career leaves have been tossed askew. Due to a traumatic work experience, I have had to quit a steady, well-paying, full-time job in order to piece together part-time and independent contractor opportunities.

My mental health leaves have been upset as well. My anxiety has been at its highest level in ten years as I cope with traumatic stress from my previous job.

My social relationship leaves have been thrown about. My parents have moved from the family home of over 20 years to a new house. This transition has been very difficult for me, as that is where I grew up. And, my boyfriend broke up with me on a shocking day where he also lost his job. Our relationship had been secure, or so I had thought.

In a book to which I frequently return, The Way of the Happy Woman, author Sara Avant Stover describes how, in the autumn, “we too are in the process of letting things wither and fall away to gather only what is essential for the winter months.” This fall has forced me to let many things go as many of the things I had come to rely on were disrupted. She continues to explain that “grief and sadness are the primary emotions of the autumn season, which, when tended to, are transmuted into courage.” This fall, I have experienced much, much grief.

May it develop into much, much courage.

Two Essentials to Help With My Morning Anxiety


Because my anxiety is at its very worst first thing in the morning, it has occurred to me from time to time that I might need to examine how I sleep. This seems to be paying off. Here are two of my bedroom essentials for a low-stress morning.
Memory Foam Pillow

The first thing I bought was a memory foam pillow. I had noticed months ago that my anxiety seemed to reside in that little knob where the neck connects to the back. I would begin to feel a tingle or a burn there, and it would then spread to other areas of my body. After several nights, I noticed that, with my regular pillow, I was sleeping with my neck and shoulders all scrunched up. Spending eight hours in that position certainly couldn’t help. So, as this was an experiment, I went to Target and purchased the cheapest contoured pillow that I could find. (Specialty pillows can be very expensive!) I’m pleased to say that it seems to be doing the trick! I’m waking up with less anxiety in my body. It’s not gone, but it is noticeably less.
Weighted Blanket

Weighted blankets and vests have long been used by occupational therapists working with autistic clients. Wrapping a child up in one of these items has the ability to calm them during tantrums, often to the point of sleep. Similar are thunder shirts, which are manufactured for pets who become anxious during thunderstorms. Temple Grandin pioneered the use of Deep Touch Pressure, the concept these blankets are based off of, with the invention of her squeeze machine.

Lately, I had been seeing advertisements on facebook and instagram for weighted blankets, not marketed for children, but for adults with anxiety and PTSD. Studies have been done on the use of blankets for both autism and ADHD as well as anxiety. Scientists hypothesize that when pressure points of the body are stimulated that the brain produces serotonin, an important neurotransmitter.

The recommendation is that the blanket weigh 10% of the user’s body weight. This blanket is only 12 lbs, but I find that to be sufficient.

It may be premature to say, as I only received this yesterday, but I LOVE THIS THING. I slept very well last night. I woke up in the middle of the night, as my cat likes to disturb my sleep by grooming my face, but I was able to fall right back asleep. And, for the past couple of weeks, my body has been waking me up by 5:30 AM, and I try to keep myself in bed until 6:30. This morning, I woke up at 5:00 AM, fell back asleep, had a dream, and then awoke at 7:00!

Well, maybe you were just tired, you might say.

Nope! No matter how late I had been going to sleep or how tired I was, my body was waking up consistently before 6AM. Then, I would just have a very tired day.

The anxiety in my body when I awoke was also significantly less. I would go as far as to say it was 40 to 50% less. I almost didn’t need my walk to release my jitters this morning!

Attending to my sleep has proven to be just as useful as keeping a morning routine.

Monsters, Demons, Exorcisms, and Clouds

As Miley Cyrus crooned on Saturday Night Live last weekend, “I wake up in a bad mood.” Every morning, I wake up with thoughts that trouble me and scare me. They set the wrong tone for my day, and it takes me awhile to redirect my thoughts and to become focused and productive.

In popular music, artists often refer to their dark thoughts and mental health issues as “monsters” or “demons.”

“Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide.”

Demons, Imagine Dragons

 

“A monster, a monster,
I’ve turned into a monster,
A monster, a monster,
And it keeps getting stronger.”

Monster, Imagine Dragons

Many cultures of antiquity believed that mental maladies were literally caused by demons. They thought that the sufferers were possessed, and were treated through prayers and exorcisms. (For an interesting article on this topic, go to Psychology Today.)

If all it took to make the thoughts go away was an exorcism, believe me, I would go for it in a heartbeat. But nothing is that easy.

A few mornings ago, somehow, in my sleepy state, I was able to remember a basic tenet of mindfulness. As I’ve read in The Untethered Soul, “you are not the voice of the mind– you are the one who hears it.” Don’t become attached to your thoughts- let them go by, like clouds being guided across the sky by a gentle breeze. So I used that image- my thoughts were clouds. Some were white and pure. Some were a dreary gray. Some were as black as soot. (Those were the “bad” thoughts.) But, they were all together, in the same sky, and they came and went at the same rate. I was able to let them go.

This was able to relax me.

I’ve only read 20 pages of The Untethered Soul, but it is clearly making a positive impact on me already. This book was sent to me last month when I won a contest. I think maybe it came to me at the right time.