#14DaysOfMe Challenge Complete

Two weeks ago, I challenged myself to a #14daysofme challenge wherein everyday I must pick one thing I love about myself, capture it in photo and share it via social media. While aware that this may appear to be narcissistic, I did it to not only change my own inner voice, but to encourage you to change yours. Positive self-talk is one of the most effective ways to improve depression and anxiety, but it takes a lot of work to change that negative inner-voice. The #14daysofme challenge was my answer to kicking off better habits and thoughts about myself.

The first two days were easy. It’s simple to find at least two things you like about yourself, but by the third day it started getting a little challenging. I began questioning anything I liked… What if I share this and everyone thinks “really? she likes that about herself?” What if I’m wrong? What if I sound cocky? What if I don’t like anything about myself? I almost asked Husband to help me out a few times, but I never never did.  You know what? I found something everyday.

And, what’s more, everyone was super supportive. I cannot tell you how nervous I was to post each photo, but everyone single one was met with words of encouragement, agreement and even appreciation. It started getting easier to find what I like about myself. I began feeling more confident and am now very aware when that negative voice sneaks back in and tries to knock me down. THAT is a huge step in the right direction. Oh how, I hope hope hope my little challenge may have challenge one of you to do the same and change your inner voice!

By the end of the two weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking of things I like about myself. In fact, today, the final day, I had a list of things I could have shared, but after reading this beautiful essay by Glennon over at Momastery, I decided to appreciate my many faults. I highly recommend reading it if you have or know anyone who has any sort of mental illness. (addiction, anxiety, depression, etc).

Help us manage our fire, yes, but don’t try to extinguish us.Tweet: What we mentally different need is respect. Help us manage our fire, yes-but don’t try to extinguish us. @momastery http://ctt.ec/e11Cc+ ‎ That fire that almost killed us is the same fire we’ll use to light up the world. And so we don’t want you to take what we’ve got, we just want help learning how to use what we’ve got for good.  – Glennon

(Funny, how you find just what you need at the exact right moment.)

So here it is, all 14 days of me…

The challenge may be over, but it’s just the beginning to my new habit of loving and encouraging myself. What’s more, is this little boost of confidence is already empowering me to encourage and remind others how they too, are beautiful and wonderful. Like, you. You, my friend are beautiful, brave, kind and strong. And don’t you forget it.

Cheers!

#14DaysOfMe

Over the years I have tried numerous techniques to help me handle my anxiety and panic attacks. Yoga, praying, counseling, medication, meditation, exercising and diet changes, just to name a few, are all practices that I have tried/still do, but there’s one that I rarely talk about because it’s a little embarrassing and pretty silly. MANY professionals and fellow mental healthy sufferers swear by it… positive self-talk.

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“Self-talk” is your inner-voice. It’s that little person in the back of your mind constantly telling you what you can and can’t do, what looks good on you, how much you should weigh and giving or taking away your confidence and self-worth. It’s powerful, that little voice. Small, but mighty. So mighty, that it affects how you see yourself, how you behave with others and even how high you set your goals. The power it has over you, is exactly why it is so important to recognize how you talk to yourself, and if needed, change it.

It isn’t easy to change your self-talk, but the fastest way to recognize the negative thoughts is to recognize your negative feelings. Next time you feel anxious, depressed or unworthy, stop and listen. What are you thinking? What are you telling yourself? More than likely you are dwelling on the negative and it’s time to change what you are telling yourself. Flip it around, look for the positive and tell yourself more realistic and positive things.

change

All of this thinking about how I think, has really got me thinking… how can I create better positive thinking habits? 

Then, this happened. (The time I chose myself as my #wcw).

Then, Dove released this incredible video. (Imagine hearing the words you say to yourself being said out loud to someone else.)

Finally, I read about the #100happydays project.  This is a project being shared and spread like wild-fire through social media. It’s simple. Just post a different pic of something that makes you happy for a 100 straight days, using the hashtag #100happydays. (I love this idea, and plan to do it very soon.)

Each of these added up to my answer. To help myself create a habit of thinking positively and changing my inner-voice I am going to find and share something I love about myself for 14 days.

For 2 weeks, I will look at myself, inside and out, and find one thing each day to share on Instagram. I will share my photos with the hashtag #14DaysOfMe, starting tomorrow. My goal is to begin changing my self-talk and make positive thinking a habit.

I’ve got to say, that I’ve given this challenge a lot of thought over the weekend, and already begun looking at myself and debating what I love enough about myself to share on social media, and it’s challenging. Hopefully, it’s less so after two weeks. We shall see.

I’d love for all of you to join me in this challenge and see how it affects your own inner-voice. If you want to try it with me, then please use the hashtag #14daysofme so I can see all of your beautiful photos!

In 14 days I’ll be reporting back with the outcome of the project. To view my pics and thoughts each day follow me on Instagram @PositivelyPanicked.

Cheers!

Writing Heals, It Really Does

A couple of months ago, an article popped up in my Facebook feed with a title that went something like….10 Facebook Pages Every Writer Needs to Follow!  I would never ever call myself a “writer”, but I do enjoy writing and am always looking for ways to improve my writing so I read the article and found a couple of pages that offered writing prompts, quotes, interesting articles and whatnot.

I followed the pages, then, I completely forgot about them and because Facebook is super annoying these days and only allows certain people and pages to show up in your feed, I didn’t ever see any of their status updates, until today. Today, a status from NaNoWriMo magically appeared in my feed and caught my interest. It read…

“Now researchers are studying whether the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.”

Today’s writing prompt? Write a sentence summing up your year so far… then write the next sentence in that story as you look forward to the rest of 2015!

So I tried it. It’s much harder than it sounds. Go ahead try it. Just think of a sentence. Here’s what I came up with… (It’s 3 sentences, but whatever.)

Happily trying to keep my head above water as I finally figure out how to manage life as a Mom. Everyday feels like a race these days, but it’s a race I never want to end. I only want to continue growing, learning and chasing dreams.

Afterwards, I went on to read the actual article from the New York Times that is linked on NaNoWriMo, and found it no only intriguing, but oh so right! OF COURSE the power of writing can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness! Isn’t that why I write. Yes, yes it is. Don’t I always tell everyone that writing is what helps my anxiety most? It keeps me sane. It brings me back. It reminds me of everything that really matters. And, now I’ve found proof.

why i write

Apparently there have been studies done that prove that writing about your life, your problems, your loves and your dreams can actually “improve mood disorders, help reduce symptoms among cancer patients, improve a person’s health after a heart attack, reduce doctor visits and even boost memory.”

When I write about any issue that has been eating away at me, and nervously press that powerful “publish” button I immediately feel a weight taken off my shoulders. Sharing my truth allows me to let it go. Then, when I begin connecting with you, reading your comments and emails, and learning that I am not alone, I am lightened. Beyond that, I learn more about myself, my mistakes, my habits and my fears through reflection. Putting pen to paper (err..fingers to keyboard?) allows me to make corrections, outline my future and began creating a new chapter.

write what

Perhaps, the most powerful quote in the article is the last…

 

“When you get to that confrontation of truth with what matters to you, it creates the greatest opportunity for change,” Dr. Groppel.

That’s important. How do you get to that truth? Do we all find it through some form of art? Can you write and tell your story? Would you prefer to paint it? Choreograph it? Photograph it? Will it have the same effect as writing? I think so. I think, perhaps, we all have a way of finding and sharing our truth. Find yours.

Writing this blog has changed my life. It began as a way to share my life abroad with friends and family and has since morphed into therapy. Therapy, that is constantly curbing my anxiety, healing me after many health scares and teaching me what’s important. Thank you for being a part of the process!

how yo do it

If you are ever debating to write, or not to write, whether it be in a journal, a blog or an email, please do it. You will not regret it.

Cheers!

My Volunteering Experience

After having Luna I knew I wanted to begin volunteering. There are lots of reasons why volunteering topped my to-do list. One, is an obvious, to be a good example to Luna and to introduce her to a helpful and positive environment. I also always wanted to volunteer when I had a full-time job, but rarely had the time, or flexibility in my schedule. Mostly, though, I want to volunteer because I want to give back. I want to help people. I want to do what I can, even if it’s small, to make this world a little brighter.

When I was in the hospital with Luna, I was so depressed and scared, but so many people continued to show up. Friends, family and strangers did not give up on me. They showed up, they brought me food, they made me laugh, they messaged me, believed in me and eventually made me believe in myself again. When I was finally able to come home with Luna I knew I wanted to “show up” for others. I wanted to help someone feel a little stronger, happier and braver. I spent hours trying to find the right volunteering fit for me. There’s actually a website (volunteermatch.org) that uses your likes and skills to match you up with a volunteering job in your location. In fact, I found something that seems to be a good fit, but it’s been a VERY long process. Every single volunteering gig seems to require a background check, a medical release, a personal record, a fingerprint, a signature in blood and your firstborn child. I’ve been patiently waiting for all my appointments, paperwork and documentation to go through and get filed so I can get started, but geez it’s a bit ridiculous.

Then, right when I was feeling disheartened, I was asked by a friend of a friend to visit a little girl in the children’s hospital. No paperwork required, just me. The little girl they spoke of, spends a lot of time alone in the hospital and the thought maybe I’d be interested in spending time with her. I was absolutely interested and immediately began making plans. I broke out my box of teacher Christmas activities, grabbed my favorite children’s books, packed some art supplies and headed to the hospital full of nerves and excitement. I was finally going to make a difference! BUT, it require me being in a hospital…my biggest fear.

The Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville is basically Disneyland. It’s gorgeous. It’s so full of colors, animated animals, activities, treats, toys and events. I was beyond impressed, but quickly depressed. It’s so wonderful that these children and families have a safe and beautiful place to take their children, but it’s also hard to know that it’s there because there are so many kids who need it. As I roamed the halls, passed the food court and watched some local performers single Christmas carols my heart felt like it was breaking with each step I took. Before I even made it to the little girl’s room I began questioning whether or not I was capable of taking on this particular volunteering opportunity. Maybe, this isn’t the right fit for me.

My first day began with the children’s musician who goes from room to room singing and playing instruments with the kids. Before she left the room, she had me, the Dad, a friend, a volunteer, a nurse and Luna playing instruments and singing Feliz Navidad. It was a beautiful moment. Thirty minutes later it was just me and my new friend (Oh, and Luna!). The sweet little girl is painfully shy. I was told she wouldn’t talk, but would communicate with me by pointing and nodding. I decided to just talk and talk in hopes of breaking the ice. I danced around, showed her how to make ornaments, read How the Grinch Stole Christmas (which she had never heard), wrote a letter to Santa and asked her every question I could think of that would require more than a nod. Ten minutes in I got her to whisper, and by the end of our time together I couldn’t get her to stop talking! We had a blast! I was a big ball of anxiety half of the time, but when she hugged me as I packed my stuff to leave, I knew it was worth it.

Luna playing along with the music.
Luna playing along with the music.

She called me a couple of days later to invite me back, and I’ll be back a third time on Thursday. She hugs me, laughs at me and seems to enjoy just talking to me, but I think she likes Luna most of all! I don’t think Luna has ever had someone play with her and love on her as much as this sweet girl. I get hugs when I show up and when I leave, but Luna gets hugs and kisses. I got to know one of the nurses who was giving a breathing treatment during my last visit. She found out that I used to teach and she went on and on about how much respect she has for teachers and how she could never do such a hard job. I think my jaw was on the floor. “You can’t be serious?? Yes, teaching is hard, but ummmm, you’re a nurse. I have no idea how you do your job everyday.” Nurses are very very special people and are probably some for of superhero.

I have loved the little bit of time I’ve gotten to spend with my new young friend, and look forward to more, but it doesn’t make that walk through the hospital any easier. I cry the second I get in my car, thank God for my healthy baby. I think “I just can’t…I just can’t understand any of this. How is life so hard and so unfair for these kids?” I am in such awe of every family I pass. I have so much respect for everyone working and volunteering at the hospital each and every day. While I think “I just can’t”, they just have to. They have no choice. I do though, I can choose to show up, and while it may be hard, it’s not near as hard as if that little girl was sitting in that hospital room with no visitors.  Seeing that little girl’s smile and her whole face light up when I walk in the room is worth any bit of uncomfortableness I may feel. Yeah, visiting a children’s hospital isn’t exactly sunshine and rainbows, but you may be their only sunshine.

If you’re fortunate enough to have some time to volunteer this year, please consider it. I know it’s not easy to sign up with an organization. It takes time and often a big commitment, but there are many simple ways to help out. Visit an elderly neighbor, bring food to a local shelter, walk your sick neighbor’s dog, babysit someone’s kids who needs a break, wash your Grandparent’s car or call someone you know is lonely this Holiday season. Sometimes, we think we aren’t strong enough to help or make a difference, but we are. We are enough. So show up as you are and I promise you won’t regret it.

Cheers!

Mr. Panic Monster Returned

Life has been so busy the last couple of months, and with the holiday season already starting, it is sure to be even busier. I love busy, so I am not complaining. I’m actually making an excuse, an excuse for steering clear of the topic of anxiety. For a while, my anxiety seemed to be disappearing, but the last month has been a brutal reminder that my anxiety is always lurking in the background, just waiting to jump when it sees a moment of weakness.

Over the last month of or so I’ve had a few little hiccups in my health (my anxiety trigger)… I had a small mass appear on my hip that had to be removed. It turned out to be nothing, but scar tissue and fat, but there were a couple of weeks of worry. Honestly, I didn’t think I was that nervous, until the very small operation. And, why?? Simply because I was afraid of having my blood pressure taken. I am having the hardest time recovering from the post-traumatic stress of being so sick after having Luna. Then, my nerves really kicked in as a waited for days for the results of the testing. I felt much better after the whole episode, but a week later was my next appointment with my hypertension specialist.

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I LOVE my doctor. He is blunt, bald, a traveler and has a very dry sense of humor. He does not understand my anxiety or panic at all, yet we somehow work well together. His nonchalant attitude toward my tears and questions of “AM I ABOUT TO DIE???” is very calming. Last time, I saw him I cried and told him how scared I was of dying and not being a Mom anymore. He looked at me seriously, and said, “Why? I’m not worried. It’s my job to worry about you and I’m not. Let me worry. You have no reason to worry. Stop crying.” This brought back memories of church and my Sunday School teacher telling us to “cast our cares upon Him” and “let God worry for you”… it was actually extremely helpful. I love my doctor, which is why I don’t know why this next appointment freaked me out big time. I was so anxious that I was physically ill days before my appointment. Obviously, the appointment didn’t go swimmingly…

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Between the doctors (squeeze an OBGYN appointment in there too), the sleepless nights (thanks Luna) and the hectic schedule, my brave walls of tranquillity began to fall, and Mr. Panic Monster invaded. It’s been rough. Anxiety is always a vicious cycle. Going to the doctor makes me nervous, when I’m nervous I can’t sleep, lack of sleep cause anxiety, the anxiety makes me worry about my blood pressure and so on and so on.

I tried to do all the right things. I made myself exercise every day. I tried really hard to get more sleep. I ate healthy, even drank less coffee. I took deep breaths and my medication, but nothing seemed to help much. The one thing that has helped the most is simply going to all these doctors and being told I’m more or less healthy. Just that bit of reassurance has made me a much happier person this week. It is so very hard to face a fear when you suffer from anxiety disorder, but please know that facing that fear is sometimes the only action that gives relief. At least, that what works for me anyways.

The problem now is fearing fear itself. When you have a panic attack, it’s typical to suffer from anxiety about having another panic attack. You’ve got to understand that having a panic attack is one of the scariest experiences, and often forces you to believe you are dying. Who wouldn’t be afraid of that happening again? Especially, since it leaves you feeling powerless. I’m working to stay in control, which is one big reason why I’m writing this now. Writing is a huge release for me. However, I need to take further action. I need to speak to a professional.

I have been putting off speaking to a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist/counselor for a VERY long time now. Partially, because I don’t actually know the difference between any of them and partially because it’s embarrassing (though it should not be) and time-consuming. I will do it though… I will. I will. I will. I will. I will.

Hopefully.

Now, if someone could just hold me accountable, or perhaps pick me up, tell me you are taking me to Starbucks and then drop me off at a shrink instead! But, then be sure to bring me Starbucks when it’s over.

If you suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, please do your research, find solutions and do what works for you. Talk to people you trust (like me!), take a deep breath and repeat after me, “It get’s better. It always get’s better.”

Cheers!

God, Drugs and Critics

Since starting this blog I have had lots of people (friends, family, strangers) reach out to me to discuss anxiety and panic attacks (and a myriad of other issues they may be embarrassed about). Most people who message or call me are simply in need of talking; letting it all out. These friends (old and new) are embarrassed to let their friends and family know that they are on edge all the time, but like me, they need to talk to someone about how they truly feel. I get this. I really get this.

I understand the importance of opening up and letting someone, anyone, know what you’ve been hiding, and what’s more is finding someone who can relate. I began to heal and grow when I was finally honest with someone I trusted, and turns out someone very close to them was experiencing my exact symptoms. Not only that, but this person had been to a doctor, tried a few different medications and worked with a therapist. This person had been there and could not only “get me”, but could give me real advice. It was a turning point in my life. I only hope that through this blog and living openly that I can be that turning point for someone else.

Which brings me to today’s topic: God, drugs and critics. I have debated writing about this for a very long time, but I am so scared of offending someone that I’ve kept it shelved. After a lot of venting, Husband convinced me that this is a topic I need to write about and get off my chest. Here goes something…

I grew up in a Christian home, we went to church at least a couple of times a week, I never missed Sunday school, and although I no longer attend a church I still consider myself a Christian. Maybe a non-traditional, gay supporting, liberal Christian, but still… I believe in God, I pray, and I believe my job is to love, respect and accept everyone and do my best to make this world a better happier place. It is never ever ever to judge. Now, that my beliefs are out there I can really be honest with you.

I suffered with anxiety for a LONG time; most of my childhood. I was told to pray, cast my cares upon Him, have faith, God will take my worries away, etc. etc. So I did. I prayed. I prayed A LOT. I had faith. I knew God would take away my fears and worries, but when the anxieties did not go away and ended in a panic attack I felt guilt. I had heard on numerous occasions that “to worry is to sin”. Ever heard this verse?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. ” Philippians 4:6

Okay.

Obviously, I was doing something wrong. I must be at fault, right? So after having a panic attack I then began to worry about not being able to control my worries, AKA my sin. I must not be Christian enough. God knows I’ve been questioning things…I must not be worthy. Not only, is my faith not strong enough to take away my fears, but I cannot help but sin all the time because I worry all the time. I was caught in a vicious cycle and did not think anyone would understand if I told them what I truly felt. There was no way I would have shared my uncontrollable sinning with someone at my church. It was awful.

NOW, I know better. Now, I know that talking to a professional, seeking help, being honest and even taking medication for my anxiety is just as normal and helpful as if I had the flu. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it is definitely not a sin, just like being bipolar isn’t a sin.  It is who I am. I was born with a heavy heart that causes worries about basically everything, but it’s not just a burden. It’s often a blessing. A blessing in a very ugly disguise that requires drugs and a therapist, but a blessing nonetheless. Perhaps I was made this way so I’d always be concerned and compassionate for others. Everyone’s troubles become my troubles, but I’ve learned to put that to good use. I also know that I’m not alone. I want you to know that you aren’t alone either. You aren’t wrong. You aren’t a bad person and it’s okay to get help.

The friends that have come to me with their real, open, heavy-hearted selves are so relieved to just talk that our conversation always leads to tears; tears of relief. However, the conversation very often has a strange ending. Once my friends, find this slice of relief and feel better, they tend to slip back to denial. I always always always hear “I’m sorry for bothering you with this.” “I feel much better now, I think I’m just PMSing.” “It was  bad, but I know it’s better now.” “I was going to talk to my doctor, BUT…” “I don’t believe in taking medication.” “I’ll just pray about it.” “I’m just emotional.”

These final phrases kill me. I’ve been there. You feel better, of course, it’s like being in remission. You forget how bad that moment of panic felt. You tell yourself everything is better, it won’t happen again… until it does and the cycle starts over. If you are having anxiety attacks more than once a year, if it’s affecting your day-to-day life, your family, your sleep, your eating habits, etc, than it’s a real issue. It’s not something to ignore or to simply pray away. Sorry, but it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong I believe that prayer helps, meditation helps, deep breaths and talking to others help, but for many of us it’s not enough. You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to simply pray it away or sleep on it, and you shouldn’t tell someone who has a mental illness this either. Our generation is so fortunate to have tons of research, doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, open-minded friends, holistic treatments, religious freedom, every kind of exercise we could possibly imagine that there is just no excuse to make excuses and allow yourself to suffer.

I’m not saying that everyone needs to be medicated, and I’m certainly not saying that your faith or religion (whatever it may be) is wrong. I just want anyone who felt like I did at 14 years old, full of guilt and confusion, to stop feeling ashamed and guilty. I wish I could go back and tell teenage Hilarie that it’s not her fault. So, just know, it’s not yours.

I say this all with love, you know I do. And, if you ever want to talk, I’m all ears.

Cheers

It’s Here: My Day of Hurricane Relief Video

Husband and I put together a video of our experience with Occupy Sandy yesterday. It was difficult to get a lot of shots because there was A LOT of work to do, but it’s a good compilation of our experiences yesterday. Keep in mind, this is footage from only Coney Island, and a little at the hub in Brooklyn. The devastation is so much more than what you’ll see here.

Thanks for watching.

Cheers.