When a Doctor Laughed After Noticing I Take ‘Happy Medication’

I posted this status on my Facebook page at 4:18 a.m. on October 25, 2016:

“I’m going to be open and honest here, so bear with me. I usually don’t share things like this but I feel compelled to, at 4:18 a.m. thanks to my insomnia. My dad has been pushing me to get LASIK surgery for my eyes. To ease his voice in my head, I went for a second consultation yesterday. Upon entering the exam room with the assistant, I felt a little discriminated against and stereotyped. He first automatically assumed I go to one of those ‘smart schools’ and I was ‘too smart for us (whoever those people are).’ He then made a comment about how I only got a 35 and not a 36 on my ACT.

A little upset at this, I let it slide. However, he then proceeded to talk about my eye history and such. This is when he started throwing out terms like “myopia,” which I honestly don’t really know what that means. However, what frustrated me the most is when he said it was my ‘small, Asian eyes’ that caused vision problems.

I’ve had people make fun of my eye shape all my life. I squint. I have almond shaped eyes. It just frustrated me to hear this from a health care professional, especially as he joked about my eye shape. I don’t know why it bothered me, but I woke up thinking about this encounter.

I think what hurt the most though is the fact that as he went through my medical history and reached my medications list, with one look he laughed and said, ‘You take happy medications.’ This hurt the most. I already struggle deeply with taking my medication regimen each evening, but to hear this statement from a health care professional? It’s the 21st century. Can we not minimize the struggle that one in five of us have with mental illness? It’s not a ‘happy medication.’ It’s to help my brain so that on my worst days I can manage to get out of bed and walk the dog.

Example: You may or may not know from just meeting me, but I struggle with severe anxiety. I went to a Bottle and Bottega paint event last night to try and be in a social environment, to talk with strangers and to overcome my desire to be perfectionistic when it comes to all aspects of my life. Instead, I had anxiety leading up to the event, and as the event progressed, my anxiety worsened.

How do I know it’s not just the nerves? I became short of breath. My legs went numb. I almost passed out and became light-headed and dizzy. I threw up.

Getting myself into social situations is hard for me. I put myself out there last night only to have one of my worst fears come true, having such severe anxiety that I end up sick and unable to enjoy my night. I ended up sitting quietly at my end of the table hoping the night would move faster so I could curl up in bed. I avoid social situations for that reason.”

I am honored by the outpour of support I have received from my community of friends on my social media account. The comments and messages they have left me encourage me to continue to speak about my experiences and try to be one person in the world to try and start a conversation about mental illness.

My experience shook me to the core. I haven’t been criticized for my tiny, Asian eyes for many years now, nonetheless by a healthcare professional. It felt discriminatory and made me self-conscious and aware of my appearance. I already struggle with anorexia. I didn’t need somebody else to comment on my appearance and add to my ongoing battle with myself.

Yet, this isn’t about just the discrimination of my eye shape. It is about the fact that I was told outright by this healthcare professional I take “happy medications.” He said it in such a lighthearted, jovial manner that I was so taken aback. I didn’t know how to respond.

Why is it that when it comes to medication for mental illness, it is laughed about, minimized and stigmatized? Mental illness should be taken as seriously as any other illness. The brain is an organ. So let us treat it like one.

Just by looking at my medical history and jumping to the conclusion that I take “happy medications” has really put me in a sour mood. I feel judged by a complete stranger, and I am now even more hesitant to take my medication regimen than I already was. My father already tells me not to take medication and to not need it or rely on it.

I can’t help I am on four different psychiatric medications. I’m not happy about this. Yet, I have accepted it.

So how come such a simple statement shook me to the core? It’s because of the ignorance and stigma surrounding mental illness that this hits so close to home.

Please, don’t judge those of us struggling with mental illness by our medication list. Please, don’t jump to conclusions about our condition and who we are. Please, don’t judge a book by its cover. Please, don’t ever tell me again that I take “happy medications” because that minimizes the struggle and experiences I have had to get to where I am today.


24 Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because of Your Social Anxiety

When people think of social anxiety, many imagine a shy introvert who doesn’t go out and doesn’t say much. While this version of social anxiety exists, living with it is more than just being “shy.” In fact, not everyone who has social anxiety is even quiet. Social anxiety manifests itself in many ways, some which might even surprise you.

To find out some of the different ways people are affected by social anxiety, we asked people in our community to share something they do because of their social anxiety that others might not realize.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Most people think I’m being rude when I’m not talkative in a group of people. In reality, I’m terrified because my mind constantly tells me I’ll say the wrong thing.” — Maegan B.

2. “I’m constantly glued to my phone. It’s just an excuse to not look directly at anybody! Constantly going over a sentence I want to say about 30 times in my head, then realizing it’s no longer relevant!” — Grace D.

3. “Being quiet – I’d rather listen to a conversation than be in one. I feel like whatever comes out of my mouth may seem stupid.” — Juliana G.

4. “Talking fast, rambling and joking around even though really I’ve zoned out and I’m pretty much not there… I run on autopilot and later when I’ve grounded again I go through and recollect what I’ve said or done… a bit like after being drunk! Of course I joke and talk fast anyway so nobody can tell the difference, including me usually until after I’ve come out of the fog.” — Suze A.

5. “I don’t think most people realize that when I’m out with friends and I suddenly leave, it’s because of anxiety. There’s always a moment when it’s just too overwhelming and I have to go home.” — Lucas Z.

6. “Constantly watching the body language of everyone to see if I’m offending them just by breathing.” — Jennifer L.

7. “I actually find myself talking a lot… in my mind I’m telling myself, be quiet, you’re talking to much, no one cares, everyone is judging you. But I get so anxious when I’m out with friends and there is an awkward silence or no one is talking. So I feel the need to talk more even though I’m dying of panic and anxiety inside. Sometimes after large events, it takes me days of no social interaction or staying in bed to recuperate.” — Jessica G.

8. “Actually talking on the phone can take days sometimes to muster up the courage. Texting is easier, but it’s still difficult to be the first one to start the conversation. I don’t like talking in groups. Will go somewhere, sit in my car for a half hour and decide not to go in.” — Tiffany A.

9. “Being loud, playing the joker, laughter. Anything that will draw away from the fact that I’m extremely agitated and struggling.” — Vikki M.

10. “I get upset before I have to go deal with people. This usually happens at home and is basically the adrenaline aggravating me, but I get snippy and can’t answer questions in any detail until I have to drive and therefore get distracted. Includes, ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘Why?’” — Myrlyn B.

11. “I’ll play with my hair, purse, or anything I’m holding to relieve my nervous energy. I won’t even notice it sometimes until I’m holding a torn up napkin.” — Katie M.

12. “I will always sit with my back to the wall, will even ask a friend to change seats with me. I sometimes miss pieces of conversation because I’m busy selecting and planning my exit routes and taking mental notes and descriptions of everyone in the room.” — Julz T.


13. “I will either shut down completely and not talk and people think I’m not sociable. Or if I try to convince myself to appear ‘normal’ I ramble and talk fast. It’s a lose, lose situation.” — Bryanna B.

14. “Practicing and practicing what I’m going to say on the phone and writing it down on a piece of paper before calling so if my anxiety becomes too much, I can just read my script.” — Leah O.

15. “Taking a long time to reply to emails, texts, etc., especially group messages, because I’m terrified of spelling something wrong or saying something that is incorrect or could come across as rude or mean. I’ve had misunderstandings in the past with these types of communication and and it scares me. I feel like everyone hates me already, and when I write something silly I feel like they hate me even more.”– Keira H.

16. “Not focusing on a conversation because I’m thinking about if I’ll miss my train or if my hair looks OK or if I look interested enough or if I’m allowing the person to speak enough or if I leave now I’ll get home at X time and have Y amount of sleep. It’s exhausting because my mind won’t stop, and I generally can’t remember anything anyone has said to me during said conversation.” — Stephanie T.

17. “Social anxiety is part of why I keep my hair long. It’s kind of a safety blanket for me, very comforting to be able to play with and soft. I feel less exposed with my hair there like a curtain I can disappear behind every so often.” — Opal S.

18. “Resting bitch face… not that I’m not happy; I’m uncomfortable and can’t really show my emotion. When I zone out I’m deep in my own destroying thoughts. Constantly finding an excuse to leave a room because I’m uncomfortable in a room of people, being glued to my phone or social media to escape myself and everyone around me. Being fidgety.” — Andrea M.

19. “I cancel plans, often last minute, not because I’m rude or necessarily don’t want to go, but because I’m afraid of going out in public sometimes, afraid of what’s going to happen, who’s going to look at me, am I going to be embarrassed, etc. And afterwards, I feel bad for missing out.” — Jessica S.

20. “I start to sweat, ridiculously, no matter the temperature. The worst is the sweat that breaks out on my upper lip because there’s just no hiding that. Before every job interview, I have legitimately wondered if this time I should go through with trying an antiperspirant on my upper lip.” — Angela J.

21. “I always prefer to make plans at least one day ahead. Every morning I mentally prepare for the day. It helps soothe any anxiety and is a comfort to know what to expect. It is difficult to be spontaneous, but as long as a friend let’s me know they’d like to do something on a certain day, I can anticipate that social interaction yet be flexible about exactly what we do, where we go or when.” — Jessica D.

22. “Coming across as completely cold, blunt and uptight – when that’s in fact actually a direct result of the panic and sheer effort taken just to to engage with that person – ironically, in what’s intended to be in a ‘normal’ way.” — Cat S.

23. “I zone out sometimes when there are too many stimulants. I just kind of go somewhere else in my head and am physically just there, usually staring at something weird, like a garbage can.” — Elaine W.

24. “I just awkwardly smile and try so hard not to get in anyone’s way. All the while, I feel like I’m annoying them in some way. I just want to leave, even if everyone is nice. It sucks.” — Emily J.

The Isolation Cycle of Depression and Anxiety

Sometimes, I’ll just be laying in bed, sat on the train, or walking from college to the train station with my friend M, when the following happens. It hits me, without warning. My heart starts to pound, my breathing rasps, and my body feels like it’s no longer mine. I find myself asking “Why now?” or “Really now? Just when things were looking up?

This is how for me, a down spot usually starts. Completely without warning or reason, one brief moment of panic tips me over the edge, and my mind shuts down and refuses to let me leave the house the next day.

When it is spontaneous like this, there’s no way of telling people. After or during the down spot I nearly always hear from either a staff member at college, a friend, or family member: “Why didn’t you say something?” “Because it hit me just as randomly as it hit you,” I think, but I always reply “I don’t know.”

I find it hard to explain because in times like this, my coping mechanism is huddling under my duvet and watching films or listening to music. But there are people out there who don’t deem that acceptable because our world isn’t engineered around the ones who cope by no longer “functioning.”

Throughout life’s miseries, accidents, awkward moments, mistakes, and nearly all social situations, I have the burning desire to scream this into the faces of all those around me: Why do I have to live like this? 

So in my mind, the best thing to do is compartmentalize the life around me and hide away from it. Because if I did shout this out at people I’d look even worse than I already did.

I established in the first meeting with my new college counselor that I have felt the wrath of anxiety and depression throughout the last four years endlessly, even over the simplest of tasks such as going to the supermarket, as well as the big horrible ones, such as exams, deaths, births, making friends and losing friends.

Sometimes this just ends up in a day or so off college, but other times, it’s extended into a week, and during that time I have nobody to talk or vent to. And I slowly start to cordon myself off from the rest of the world.

The problem is, once you lock yourself up in your room and resist leaving, it can become extremely hard to ever do so.

However for some of us, even though we’re so introverted and anxious, we still eventually feel the need to leave the house. It’s probably because we’ve been bottling hundreds of thoughts and feelings, and we can feel deep down that we are not really coping. Just stalling the big breakdown that is yet to come. Yes, I can survive living like a hermit, but in the nicest way possible, after a few days I’ll stink because I’ve been in the house so long there’s nobody to smell good for. So it is at this point that I feel abhorrent, in good need of a shower and probably exercise, and I need to leave the house, but… the longer you’ve left it until “sorting yourself out” and leaving the house, the more the burdening anxiety builds up. You have only the internet, messaging, or the possible phone call to socialize. And if you don’t live alone, you’re most probably sick or just bored of the other people in the house, and they’re sick of or bored of you too. So you make the decision to finally leave, and along the way you build a certain confidence, but as soon as you open that door and try to leave, it all shatters, and you’re back to wanting to hide in your bed with your chocolate and your DVD box set and/or Netflix.

I get to that point constantly. And sometimes I just have to force myself to grit my teeth and bear with it.

I’ve always lacked self-confidence, even before my anxiety disorder was identified. I try to mingle with the best of them, but at the same time on the inside I’m an intolerable nervous wreck and always wish I was at home watching repeats of “Friends” with a slab of fudge cake, even when I’m socializing with my nearest and dearest. Sadly, I don’t think this will ever change. So when I’m at that point where I’m trying just to leave the house, let alone do anything adventurous, my fragile mind always says “But, why? Why bother? You’re going to fail at this anyway?” and I then go back into my house and end up cursing at myself under my breath. Because he’s right. I’ve isolated myself. And I can’t get out alone.

The first step to this for me is to contact a friend, usually over Tumblr or Facebook and tell them what my current situation is. The second is to message my counselor at college and say, “Can you just pass on the message that I am not currently coping and that I’m trying as hard as possible to move myself right now?”

So what does it actually feel like?

A that point, I have several things in my mind. And what always surprises me is the overwhelming feeling of guilt and disappointment and how it drags me even further down. Not only do I always feel like I’ve let myself down, I feel like I’ve let my parents, college, and friends down. I worry what people will think about me now. Especially when college was still such a new environment during the last few months, nobody knew that side of me, and I was having to expose it un-readily at an early stage.

The other thing I feel is the numbness, desolation, and heaviness of heart that first triggered this whole episode in the first place. And I always feel like I need to find a cause, but no matter how hard I try, I can’t; it is nearly always completely spontaneous or just a prolonged feeling that started so long ago I can’t remember what might’ve done this. And I’ve just been hiding it so well that as soon as my mind has an empty spot, I start processing how bad I really feel.

And the problem is it starts so not-noticeably. First, I no longer want to do work, then I don’t want to go into college, then I don’t want to see my friends or family, then I don’t want to go out at all, then I don’t want to do the things that used to be fun, then I don’t want to eat, then I don’t want to sleep, and then suddenly, I just don’t want to live. Which is a hard path to walk away from, as many of us will know.

My usual internal monologue when people actually ask how I feel is: Well, I’m extremely restless thanks to my burdening anxiety and depression, I haven’t slept properly in weeks, and my social relationships are breaking down, which is worsening my fears of rejection. I desperately want and need to tell someone. Maybe I should tell you. I really need a hug. And someone to tell me it’ll be OK. I want to unbottle my thoughts and spill out everything. But what if I tell you that and you get weirded out or reject me? What if you think I’m just after attention? Or think I’m a freak? 

So another week or so passes without me alerting anyone to how I feel because there is no way I will tell someone how I feel. My mind adds sharply, I’m repressed, depressed, and British.

Believe it or not that entire repressed emotion thing is a staple of British culture. I firmly believe now that it’s ingrained into all of us from birth. Furthermore, you don’t touch or greet people in the street or anywhere else. For example, if you accidentally grazed someone’s arm you on the bus, you are to immediately apologize or people will think you touched them on purpose. The same goes for talking — there’s no way in hell you would get away with approaching someone on the morning commute who you’ve never met, and go “How’s things?” Yet I have had perfect strangers ask me this on social networks. They don’t know me, but they still care and feel. Something I cannot comprehend. Because it isn’t a familiar experience.

Which is why for me, it’s very hard to not be isolated. I don’t make friends easily, I cannot by any means approach someone I’ve no reason to, (I would be further labeled as a pariah), and most of the time, I’m anxious just to see people around me. Even at the best of times when I feel otherwise well, if I go shopping, I feel like asking, “I have anxiety, can you buy this? I’ll pay you if you buy this for me so I don’t have to”.

So when it comes to those times when I’m in an already-difficult situation, there’s an unlikeliness to me approaching anyone with my problems, thoughts, or feelings. Most of the people I do know have their own life and problems to attend to anyway — and I tell myself I’ve no right to disturb them. Feeling needy has always to me felt like a weakness because of this, which is why I found it so hard to come to terms with the thing’s that make me, well, me in the first place. First came the dyspraxia, then the anxiety, then the depression. To me, it was just a mounting list as to reasons I’m not “normal.” And that in itself still gets me down at least once a week.

And for me, that is what it feels like to have anxiety and depression. It feels not normal, and it feels devastating. It feels like I’m not right and don’t fit in with the status quo anymore. And that’s why isolation occurs in the first place. Because our first reaction is not to talk, not to vent. It is to shut ourselves down and wait it out. Even though it didn’t work the last time, the first time, or the times in-between.

I described my bouts of depression in my online journal just last month:

“I nearly always see the storm clouds on the horizon. But if I shut my eyes, clench my fists, and hold my ground, I know that eventually, they shall pass me by. I force my mind to try and instead see only the blue skies and sunshine that await me on the other side.”

And lastly, I just add, there are hundreds of us struggling like this, and as a result, the best thing is our understanding of each other. Please don’t sit in your room like I have done and tell yourself you’re not good enough for the world out there. Speak up. Because the likelihood is that there is someone out there struggling just as much or in the same way as you. And as a result you can socially click with them and find a meeting of minds.


6 Hidden Benefits of Anxiety

Just like being an extrovert or introvertcomes with plusses and minuses, so does being anxiety-prone.  Here are some of the plusses.

1. You’re pleasantly surprised when everything is ok.

Anxious people jump to negative conclusions in ambiguous situations.  For example, if you attempt to turn on your computer and it won’t start, your initial instinct might be to panic that it’s broken, before you think “It’s probably just out of battery.”

Given this thinking pattern, many of the times you jump to a negative conclusion, you’ll get to experience relief and happiness when you figure out that whatever catastrophe you’ve leapt to hasn’t happened.

Even when everything doesn’t turn out well, being prone to pessimism can help you reach acceptance more quickly.  For example, if you stain an item of clothing the first time you wear it, and assume the stain probably won’t come out, you can start working through your disappointment straight away.  By the time you’ve tried a couple of stain removing techniques, if they don’t work, you’ve accepted what has happened and worked through your feelings.

2.    You’re pleasantly surprised when things are easier than you expected.

This point is similar to the one above, but subtly different.  If your anxiety causes you to expect everything will be difficult, you’ll get to experience things being easier than you expected.  For example, parenting or exams.

3. Having a Plan B and C can save you stress, heartache, and money.

Someone who is anxious and is planning an outdoor wedding, will have a Plan B for if it rains, even if they’re having their wedding in the desert in July.   Someone who isn’t anxious may rely on their only being a 2% chance of rain in that particular month and location.   If it does rain, it’s a much more difficult and significant problem to deal with on short notice than in advance.

4. Anxiety can nudge you to keep following up when you receive false reassurance.

“Something’s not right here” is a familiar feeling for anxiety-prone people.   There are all sorts of occasions when we’re given reassurance that everything is or will be fine.  For example,  you’re told

– “yes, X will be ready by the date you need it,”  or

– “yes, the work you’ve paid for has been done correctly,” or

– “those symptoms are nothing to worry about.”

Anxiety can prompt you to follow up when you sense you’re being fobbed off, or if you think “It’ll probably be ok, but if it’s not, it’s much easier to deal with this now than later.”  Sometimes you’ll end up being really glad you doubted the information you were given initially.

Of course, there can be downsides too.  Following up is time consuming. You may end up experiencing unnecessary stress and worry, other people may find you annoying to deal with, or if you have unnecessary medical investigations due to health anxiety, you could experience iatrogenic injuries (injuries caused by medical investigations or treatment).

Try to find a good balance.

5. Worrying can occasionally help you avoid problems.

The problem with worrying is that it’s often more likely to lead to inaction than it is to useful action. People who worry a lot get so overwhelmed by their worries, it seems impossible to deal with them all, so they don’t.  They just avoid.

However, there are times when worrying does lead to useful action.  For example, you buy drops and spills insurance for your new device, and then end up using your insurance. Or, you just have greater peace of mind knowing that if your roommate spills Dr Pepper on your device, it’s doesn’t matter too much.

To maximize the benefits and reduce the risks, try strategic worrying.  To do this, on a case by case basis, evaluate whether worrying is helping you.  Continuing to worry is useful if it’s leading to you taking objectively beneficial actions.  For example,  does worrying about getting cancer lead to you doing behaviors that objectively lower your cancer risk.  Or, does worrying about being in a car accident result in you driving more safely?   If you can see a link between worrying and positive behaviors, then the mental anguish of worrying may be worth it to you.  When you find yourself worrying but not taking useful action, then it’s time to identify the most important actions to take, follow through, and then move on. And, yes, it is possible to do this.

6. Concern about what other people will think of you can be a good thing.

Feeling anxiety about making a good impression on other people, and wanting others to like you, aren’t negatives.  Sure, it’s possible to take other people’s judgments too personally.  However, on balance, having a prosocial desire to be evaluated positively by others is a very good thing.  It helps us have a cohesive, tolerant society.  For example, if anxiety causes you to take care not to offend someone or hurt their feelings.


The Side of Anxiety People Don’t Always Know or Understand

Yesterday evening, I was doing the dishes, with a nice upbeat playlist playing. I was feeling pretty pleased I’d completed my workload for university before Christmas break starts. It was then I felt the heart palpitations, I felt the shaking of my hands as I was drying a plate, and my legs felt really weak. It was then I felt this dread of anxiety come over me. For absolutely no known reason.

This is my reality of living with anxiety.

Sometimes, I know what sets off my anxiety. I know crowded places can make me really anxious, I know using public transport can make me really anxious. I have learned what can trigger my anxiety, and I’m learning how to cope.

But sometimes, it hits me when I least expect it. It hits me when I think that I’m having a good day. It hits me when I’m washing the dishes.

This is the side of anxiety some people don’t know or understand. It’s the side of anxiety that hurts me the most, because it can be so hard to understand yourself. I’ve had anxiety for five years, and I still don’t feel as though I understand it all. I still avoid certain situations; I still find myself frozen with fear.

I needed to go into a building in university today because my tutor meeting time was on my tutor’s door, but for some reason I found myself dreading to go in there. There was nothing to worry about, all I had to do was look on the door of my tutor’s office. Yet this caused me huge anxiety. I still did it, and in the process bumped into my friend and we then went to the library together to study. Nothing bad happened. I knew nothing bad would happen, the worst thing that could have happened is I bumped into my tutor and had to say hello — and my tutor is lovely, so there’s no reason to dread this at all.

I don’t understand why I was sat in my two-hour lecture this morning with heart
palpitations and anxiety so bad I could hardly concentrate. I only managed to make notes for some of the slides as part of the lecture was a complete blur to me as I was concentrating on keeping my cool.

I’m currently in the library writing this post, waiting for my meeting, feeling absolutely sick to my stomach with anxiety.

The feeling of anxiety is so hard to describe, so hard for somebody who hasn’t felt it to understand. But I’ll do my best to try and describe it:

It’s like this heavy weight on my chest. It almost hurts; it feels as though I can’t breathe properly and it’s dragging me down. It weights down on me more and more, and I don’t know why, and I can’t seem to stop it either. It gets into my head, makes me start to second-guess things. I start to think of worst-case scenarios for situations that don’t need one. My heart beats so fast that sometimes, I swear, it skips a beat; it feels as though it may take off if it goes any faster. I shake; my legs feel like jelly, and I feel as though I can’t grip anything with my hands. It can make me feel nauseous, lightheaded, and completely lose my appetite.

Now this isn’t all the time. Usually my anxiety isn’t this high, and it’s got to the point where I’m used to my “normal” level of anxiety. This is what it feels like when I have an anxiety attack, and this feeling can last for a few hours or a few days after the attack. But this. For me, this is what it’s like to have anxiety.

It’s not just little worries every now and again. It’s not made up. It’s not me just overreacting. It’s something I can’t help. It’s something that affects me not just mentally but physically. It’s exhausting. Truly exhausting, and very real.

This is the reality of anxiety for me.


We Cannot Continue to Overlook ‘High-Functioning’ Depression

I first saw a psychiatrist for my anxiety and depression as a junior in high school. During her evaluation, she asked about my classes and grades. I told her that I had a 4.0 GPA and had filled my schedule with Pre-AP and AP classes. A puzzled look crossed her face. She asked about my involvement in extracurricular activities. As I rattled off the long list of groups and organizations I was a part of, her frown creased further.

Finally, she set down her pen and looked at me, saying something along the lines of, “You seem to be pretty high-functioning, but your anxiety and depression seem pretty severe. Actually, it’s teens like you who scare me a lot.”

Now I was confused. What was scary about my condition? From the outside, I was functioning like a perfectly “normal” teenager. In fact, I was somewhat of an overachiever. I was working through my mental illnesses and succeeding, so what was the problem?

I left that appointment with a prescription for Lexapro and a question that I would continue to think about for years. The answer didn’t hit me all at once; rather, it came to me every time I heard a suicide story on the news saying, “by all accounts, they were living the perfect life.” It came to me as I crumbled under pressure over and over again, doing the bare minimum I could to still meet my definition of success. It came to me as I began to share my story and my illness with others, and I was met with reactions of “I had no idea” and “I never would have known.”

It’s easy to put depression into a box of symptoms, and though we as a society are constantly told mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, we are stuck with a mental health stock image in our heads that many people don’t match. When we see depression and anxiety in adolescents, we see teens struggling to get by in their day-to-day lives. We see grades dropping. We see involvement replaced by isolation. People slip through the cracks.

We don’t see the student with the 4.0 GPA. We don’t see the student who’s active in choir and theater or a member of the National Honor Society. We don’t see the student who takes on leadership roles in a religious youth group. No matter how many times we are reminded that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, we revert back to a narrow idea of how it should manifest, and that is dangerous.

Recognizing that danger is what helped me find the answer to my question. Watching person after person, myself included, slip under the radar of the “depression detector” made me realize where that fear comes from. My psychiatrist knew the list of symptoms, and she knew I didn’t necessarily fit them. She understood it was the reason that, though my struggles with mental illness began at age 12, I didn’t come to see her until I was 16. Four years is a long time to deal with mental illness alone, and secondary school is a dangerous time to deal with it.

If we keep allowing our perception of what mental illness looks like to dictate how we go about recognizing and treating it, we will continue to overlook those who don’t fit the mold. We cannot keep forgetting that there are people out there who, though they may not be able to check off every symptom on the list, are heavily and negatively affected by their mental illness. If we forget, we allow their struggle to continue unnoticed, and that is pretty scary.


Sleeping With Weighted Blanket Helps Insomnia And Anxiety, Study Finds

How can something so simple as sleeping with weighted blankets be a solution to stress, anxiety, insomnia and more? Messed up sleep can create a long list of secondary issues that can quickly become primary concerns if insomnia or other disturbances continue untreated. Lack of sleep, whether it’s medically related or anxiety-driven, can throw off your normal functioning during the day. Concentration becomes difficult, productivity at work or school begins to suffer, irritability can have you lashing out at family and friends, and you also become at risk for serious health issues like heart attacks.

Deep pressure touch stimulation (or DPTS) is a type of therapy that almost anyone can benefit from. Similar to getting a massage, pressure exerted over the body has physical and psychological advantages. According to Temple Grandin, Ph.D., “Deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding, stroking, petting of animals, or swaddling. [sic] Occupational therapists have observed that a very light touch alerts the nervous system, but deep pressure is relaxing and calming.”

Traditionally, weighted blankets are used as part of occupational therapy for children experiencing sensory disorders, anxiety, stress or issues related to autism. “In psychiatric care, weighted blankets are one of our most powerful tools for helping people who are anxious, upset, and possibly on the verge of losing control,” says Karen Moore, OTR/L, an occupational therapist in Franconia, N.H.

So, How Does It Work?

A weighted blanket molds to your body like a warm hug. The pressure also helps relax the nervous system.  It’s a totally safe and effective non-drug therapy for sleep and relaxation naturally. Psychiatric, trauma, geriatric, and pediatric hospital units use weighted blankets to calm a patient’s anxiety and promote deep, restful sleep. In a similar way to swaddling comforting an infant, the weight and pressure on an adult provides comfort and relief.

When pressure is gently applied to the body, it encourages serotonin production, which lifts your mood. When serotonin naturally converts to melatonin, your body takes the cue to rest.

Weighted blankets are typically “weighted” with plastic poly pellets that are sewn into compartments throughout the blanket to keep the weight properly distributed. The weight of the blanket acts as deep touch therapy and acts on deep pressure touch receptors located all over your body. When these receptors are stimulated, the body relaxes and feels more grounded and safe, and clinical studies suggest that when deep pressure points are triggered they actually cause the brain to increase serotonin production.

Weighted blankets are especially effective at alleviating anxiety. A 2008 study published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health showed that weighted blankets offered safe and effective therapy for decreasing anxiety in patients. These results were confirmed in a 2012 study published in Australasian Psychiatry, which indicated that weighted blankets successfully decreased distress and visible signs of anxiety.

More Than Just Insomnia And Anxiety!

Depression, anxiety, aggression, OCD, PTSD, and bi-polar disorder have all been linked to low serotonin levels in the brain, which weighted blankets are reported to assist with. In addition, people battling with depression, mania, anxiety, trauma, and paranoia, or undergoing detoxification have reported relief from symptoms.

Weighted blankets have reportedly helped patients suffering from a lot of different diseases and disorders, from autism, to Tourette’s, Alzheimer’s Disease, Cerebral Palsy, Restless Leg Syndrome, and even can help alleviate menopausal symptoms!

Using Weighted Blankets

The weight of the blanket will depend on your size and personal preference, but the typical weight for adults is around 15 to 30 pounds in the blanket. Experts recommend seeking the guidance of a doctor or occupational therapist if you have a medical condition. Do not use weighted blankets if you are currently suffering from a respiratory, circulatory, or temperature regulation problem, or are recuperating post surgery.

Where To Buy?

There are many website where you can purchase a weighted blanket in tons of choices of fabric and weight, or you can even make your own!There are specifically blanket shops, such as Magic Blanket, created by product developer, Keith Zivalich in California, which have children’s blankets that are 36 inches wide, and adult blankets, which run 42 inches across. Another good option is Mosaic Weighted Blankets which sells all-cotton versions. Amazon, Etsy and Ebay all sell them, and therapy and special needs stores like National Autism Resources also sells them. You can find them in a variety of sizes, colors, and fabrics, and this is one simple change that can make a HUGE difference in your life,


Why We Need To Talk About High-Functioning Depression

To an outside observer, Amanda Leventhal, a college student at the University of Missouri, appears to have it all together. Perfect grades, a good group of friends, involvement in her campus choir group—she’s not someone many would characterize as “depressed.” And yet, she is. It wasn’t until Leventhal penned an essay on her secret struggle with anxiety and depression that her friends knew anything was even wrong.

Antidepressant ads and pop-culture portrayals of depression often paint the same picture: withdrawal from friends or favorite activities, trouble sleeping, and crying. While those are signs, the problem is that there are many faces of depression. It also looks like Kristen Bell. It looks like Olympic swimmer Allison Schmitt. It looks like your colleague who just got promoted or your friend who just got engaged. They are part of a growing contingent suffering from what’s been dubbed high-functioning depression. And because a stigma is still attached, many keep their sadness hidden and no one knows anything is wrong—sometimes until it’s too late.


High- vs. low-functioning
High-functioning depression is when someone seems to have it all together on the outside, but on the inside, they are severely sad. Carol Landau, PhD, a clinical professor of psychiatry and human behavior and medicine at Brown University, says she primarily sees this in women with a penchant for perfectionism—AKA the same people who are likely your colleagues and friends with enviable lives and a long list of personal achievements.

“People often say being ‘high-functioning’ is better than being ‘low-functioning,’ but that’s not really true because the most important thing is for a depressed person to get help—which a high-functioning person is limiting herself from,” Landau says.

(Photo: Pexels/

A struggle hiding in plain sight
For Leventhal, the public essay of her private struggle was years in the making. “It was something I had been thinking about for a while,” she says. “I was up late one night, not sleeping, and decided to put into words everything I had been reflecting on over the years.” She says after her post went live, her friends told her they were shocked. Now, she feels more comfortable bringing up her depression in conversations—“I mention that I have an appointment with my therapist the same way I would a dentist appointment”—but says she still doesn’t bring the topic up a lot because she’s too worried it will bum people out.

Landau says this is typical for women. “We’re still striving to be caregivers, and part of that is not admitting we need help,” she says. “But it’s a huge problem. Depression is actually the leading cause of disability worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, which takes into account things like days lost from work, not being up to doing daily activities, and [possibly leading to] other illnesses like diabetes,” she says. “So the minute someone opens up to their friend about it, they’ll find out that their friend will say, ‘Me too,’ or, ‘My sister feels that way too,’ or, ‘So does my mom,’ or, ‘So does our other best friend.’”

Other ways to spot depression
Leventhal doesn’t identify with the mopey women in antidepressant ads. Her symptoms manifest themselves in other ways. “For me, it was irritability,” she explains. Landau says this is totally normal. “You might have a friend who is cranky all the time, or who people think of as a ‘bitch,’ but inwardly that person is really struggling. Other subtle signs to look for: ironic or morose jokes—if they are out of character—or often seeming out of it.

So how do you talk to a friend who you believe is masking her depression? Landau says to ask if she is okay, pointing out that she hasn’t been herself lately. Leventhal echoes that sentiment. “Just little things, like asking, ‘How are you doing?’” she says. “Just be there to listen and ask them what they need. Different people will need different things.” Landau says it’s best to be able to come armed with a suggestion, like a reputable therapist, or an app like Headspace, used for meditation. “There are so many different types of therapists, medications, apps, and other tools,” Landau says. “That’s why it’s tragic that so many people don’t seek help.”



While it may seem obvious that a good hike through a forest or up a mountain can cleanse your mind, body, and soul, science is now discovering that hiking can actually change your brain… for the better!

Hiking In Nature Can Stop Negative, Obsessive Thoughts

Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. Many of us often find ourselves consumed by negative thoughts, which takes us out of the enjoyment of the moment at best and leads us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst. But a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.

To conduct this study, researchers compared the reported rumination of participants who hiked through either an urban or a natural environment. They found those who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and they also had reduced neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to mental illness. Those who walked through the urban environment, however, did not report decreased rumination.

The researchers noted that increased urbanization closely correlates with increased instances of depression and other mental illness. Taking the time to regularly remove ourselves from urban settings and spend more time in nature can greatly benefit our psychological (and physical) well-being.

Hiking While Disconnected From Technology Boosts Creative Problem Solving

A study conducted by psychologists Ruth Ann Atchley and David L. Strayer found that creative problem solving can be drastically improved by both disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. Participants in this study went backpacking through nature for about 4 days, during which time they were not allowed to use any technology whatsoever. They were asked to perform tasks which required creative thinking and complex problem solving, and researchers found that performance on problem solving tasks improved by 50% for those who took part in this tech-free hiking excursion.

The researchers of this study noted that both technology and urban noise are incredibly disruptive, constantly demanding our attention and preventing us from focusing, all of which can be taxing to our cognitive functions. A nice long hike, sans technology, can reduce mental fatigue, soothe the mind, and boost creative thinking.

Hiking Outdoors Can Improve ADHD In Children

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is becoming more and more common among children. Children who have ADHD have a difficult time with impulse control and staying focused, they get distracted easily, and exhibit excessive hyperactivity.

While raising children who have ADHD can be difficult for parents, the usual solution — opting for prescription medication — may be doing more harm than good, particularly when natural solutions can work just as well. A study conducted by Frances E Kup, PhD, and Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, found that exposing children with ADHD to “green outdoor activities” reduces symptoms significantly. The results of this study suggest nature exposure can benefit anyone who has a difficult time paying attention and/or exhibits impulsive behavior.

Hiking In Nature Is Great Exercise And Therefore Boosts Brainpower

We already know that exercising is fantastic for our overall well-being. Hiking is an excellent way to burn between 400 – 700 calories per hour, depending on your size and the hike difficulty, and it is easier on the joints than other activities like running. It has also been proven that people who exercise outside are more likely to keep at it and stick to their programs, making hiking an excellent choice for those wishing to become more active on a regular basis.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume — the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory — in women over the age of 70. Such exercise not only improves memory loss, but helps prevent it as well. Researchers also found that it can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self esteem, and release endorphins. Many people take medication to solve each and every one of these issues, but the solution to these ills may be a lot simpler than you think!

How Can You Begin To Start Hiking?

Luckily, hiking is one of the easiest and least expensive sports to get involved in, and it can have great benefits for the whole family, including grandma! Start out small and test your abilities. Do what works for you — if that means just walking through trails in a park, that’s fine. Any exercise outdoors is better than none. You can easily find maps of trails around your home online, and there are plenty of smartphone apps to map them out, too. I recommend turning off your signal and your phone while hiking though, so you can reap the most benefits of the hike (though it may be wise to at least carry it with you in case of emergency).

Make sure you have some good sturdy hiking shoes, a hat, and a water bottle, and be sure to layer your clothing so you can take things on or off easily as you warm up and cool down. You may want to consider using trekking poles as well, which can increase your speed and take some of the pressure off your knees. Now, can you just do one thing for me?

Go take a hike!

Much Love

3 Common Grief Sayings That Can Bring More Pain Than Comfort

If you have lost someone you love, you know that there are no guidelines or instructions on how to get through your grief.  You also know that people who try to support you will offer well known platitudes in an attempt to comfort you, but many of these comments do nothing more than confuse and hurt you.

It has been a decade since I lost my husband and son within two years of each other. Immediately after my losses, when some of these comments were made to me, I didn’t understand why I felt more upset than comforted by the statements.  A decade later, I now have some insight into why, at least for the griever, these comments can cause additional pain. And why those wanting to support a loved one should use them with caution.

#1 Grief will make you stronger

I have never bought into the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” theory. I don’t know about you, but I never asked or wanted to be stronger. I only wanted my loved ones and my life back.

While I do not believe that my losses have made me stronger, I can recognize that suffering has made me more resilient, but it came with a price. I almost didn’t make it through my losses and the fallout of my grief. The pain of grief can break you. Not everyone survives their pain. Many people have been broken, mentally, physically, and emotionally by the death of their loved one. This type of suffering in grief can be brutal and this saying should not be taken so lightly.

While I do not believe that my losses have made me stronger, I can recognize that suffering has made me more resilient, but it came with a price.

While grief brought loss and a tremendous amount of pain to my life, it has helped me understand what is, and what is not, important in my life. And I can more easily let go of the things, or people, in life that do not serve me in a positive and healthy way.

Going through the pain of loss has also made me more empathetic. I now understand and feel heartbreak when I hear that someone is going through loss and suffering. I now see pain in other’s eyes, that before my losses, I did not recognize.

Suffering is a formidable opponent, an opponent we never asked to face. But suffering, while not making us stronger, can broaden our perspective on life, on ourselves, and on our fellow man.

#2 Everything happens for a reason

I find this statement particularly upsetting. Even before losing my loved ones, this way of thinking made no sense to me. As a pediatric intensive care nurse I saw children die unnecessary and preventable deaths. What possible reason could there be for an innocent child to die a tragic, painful, prolonged death? What possible reason could there be for a parent to lose a child to a horrific murder? What reason could there be for a child to be abused by an adult who is supposed to protect them? I just don’t buy the reasoning that this is all part of God’s plan. Why would a loving God allow the suffering of someone who has done nothing to deserve it?

There is no intelligent, or empathetic, way to defend the statement that everything happens for a reason. I understand that for some, the idea of this brings comfort, and that is fine. But for those who have lost loved ones in terrible, unfathomable ways, this statement is no comfort. In fact, it can bring much more suffering.

#3 Time heals all wounds

Time becomes a very strange thing after someone you love has died.  Not only does life as you know it come to an abrupt stop, but so does time. Eventually the clock starts moving again, but without your loved one at your side, the concept of time is completely altered and time moves agonizingly slow.

One day without your loved one can feel as long as a month. One year without them can seem like ten. Ten years can seem a lifetime. Death will change many things in life, including your perspective on time.

Regardless of what you are told, time does not have the magical ability to heal. You won’t wake up one day with your pain suddenly gone. What time does offer you is the space to eventually learn how to carry the pain. The pain never goes away, but by working through your emotions, it can become bearable, making it possible for love and loss to live side by side in your heart. The love you shared, and your memories, can combine to create a healing balm that will soothe the wounds of your loss, and one day you will find that the pain is at least tolerable.

Regardless of what you are told, time does not have the magical ability to heal. You won’t wake up one day with your pain suddenly gone.

As someone who has struggled with grief I can offer up some insights into a griever’s world:

We don’t want to have to act like we are ok, when we aren’t.

We don’t want to pretend we don’t miss our lost loved one, because we do, and we always will.

We don’t want to have to walk on eggshells when someone doesn’t know what to say to us, we are already walking a tightrope and barely keeping our balance.

We are doing our best to put our lives back together and all we really need is understanding and patience.

For someone who wants to support a loved one who is struggling with grief, but who isn’t quite sure what to say that will help ― just your physical presence, and telling us you are here for us, or simply asking what you can do to help, has so much more value than offering up one of these generic statements.

No one, and nothing, can fix this for us. There is really nothing you can do or say, but just letting us know that you see our pain, and that you are there, is the most helpful thing you can do.