Self-care 101: Journaling

I may be just a little biased about this, but I think writing is one of the coolest ways to take care of yourself. It only costs as much as a pen and paper, you can do it anywhere (within reason), and no one can do it like you doThere’s truly no downside.

In my opinion, If you don’t have access to therapeutic services keeping a journal is one of the best ways to get your emotions out in a healthy way. It goes beyond the bubble baths and face masks to help you get to the root of your emotions in order to grow, which is imperative on this journey.

The benefits of journaling

There are so many benefits that go along with keeping a journal. From improved confidence to beefing up your memory, the practice of wrestling with your thoughts is worth the time it takes to get it done. By putting your emotions down on paper – both good and bad – you’re freeing up your mind to start healing. Instead of keeping everything bottled up, only to explode at inopportune times, you’re carving out a space to be unfiltered and honest. We’re more likely to open up when we aren’t going to be judged, so what better place than a book no one gets to see unless you trust them to read it?

How to get started

Journals don’t have to be what they were in the past. Sure, they can be pretty, leather-bound books you save up for, or they can be your thoughts scribbled in a $2 notebook. You can do it digitally on your phone or computer if you please, as long as you carve out time to sit and let your mind flow. Your journal is your safe zone. It’s your place and your time to work out the knots messing up your day, or to gush about how fantastic your dinner was. It’s your reward to yourself for doing the damn thing.

I do think it’s important to acknowledge that writing isn’t easy for everyone, no matter how much you’ve been forced to do it in school. For many of us writing was a task,or sometimes a punishment for bad behavior, so it’s understandable if you can’t relax enough to let the emotions flow. Here’s a tip: if you approach your journal with the mindset that no one will see it – like no one, not even your cat – the process can become exponentially easier. Don’t worry about grammar, how your script looks, or if it even makes any sense at all ; this is purely for the release of your emotions. You can do it however you want to do it. It doesn’t matter if you want to use bullet points, write in short hand, or draw – it’s all the right way! As long as you are giving yourself freedom to be unfiltered you are going to flourish.

With that said, why not give journaling a go this year?

When The World Brings You Down

I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why I was so sick. One day I was fine, then the next I was blindsided by a sore throat, migraine, and stomach ache. I would get better, only to be right back at square one a few days later. For weeks, I’ve been in limbo without a clue of what to blame. The new environment? Allergies? Diet? I tried it all, but nothing seemed to work beyond taking enough medicine to put down a blue whale.

Sickness isn’t just inconvenient, it’s also a real mind warp. You start to wonder if your body is more than just sick – maybe you’re dying. Maybe you’re finally succumbing to all that cheese and wine. It’s even worse when, like me, you’re waiting for insurance to kick in so that you can get a doctor to tell you to chill out and prescribe something you’ve had in your cupboard all along. Instead, I started to question every single food and exercise decision I’ve made in the last year. But, nothing stuck. I haven’t diverged from my diet in any considerable fashion, I exercise a little less, but not drastically, and my last doctor visit was normal.

Then it hit me: the world is a dumpster fire and I am caving under the stress. When we talk about stress, I think it’s important to acknowledge the insidiousness of it. It creeps in slowly, but it can cause a weakened immune system, a lower blood pressure and heart attacks. I realized I was slowly being taken down by the weight of the world.

If you’ve read my blog for any period of time, you can tell that I’m a liberal Feminist with a soft spot for the inherent goodness of humans. I really and truly believe there is more good out there than bad. However, I’ve realized that I can only take so many hits to my optimism. My body was being affected by the stress of the ugliness in the world. After a little digging it became apparent that each stretch of days that I was sick has coincided with terrible events in the news. If your first thought is ‘Well, terrible things happen daily’, then you have just solidified my theory. The reality is those terrible things ripple out, they infect us all, and make healing more difficult.

So, now what?

On Friday I spoke about shutting down my social media, taking time to unwind and breathe in preparation for the new week. I did all those things and I admittedly feel much better today. But how realistic is that for us all? Not everyone is privileged enough to remove themselves from the world, and even fewer of us have access to mental health advocates and therapy. Funnily enough, thinking about those facts started to overwhelm me. When you have nothing but everything to lose, how do you take care of yourself? For me, it has boiled down to this: if I don’t take that time, if I continue to ram my way through the muck without stopping until my body begins to lose the fight there’s a possibility I could die. My life could end and no one would get to read all the stories I have rolling around. I won’t ever get the chance to meet my future family members, or go to Paris, or try deep-fried crickets. I don’t think that notion is so dramatic once you’ve looked at how stress can kill.

If you’re like me, feeling weighed down and without a therapist, there are some alternatives:

  1. Daily Self-care.: Technically, brushing your teeth and eating three square meals counts, but I suggest taking it further. No phone after 8 PM, saying no to triggering TV shows or movies, listening to music that relaxes you. Anything is better than nothing at all!
  2. Meditation: I’ve written about how hard that is for me to do, but now that I use Tapping to ease into the practice, it’s become much easier. The Headspace App is another great alternative that I was recently introduced to.
  3. Free therapy: Most advocate services for domestic violence, sexual assault, or PTSD offer group therapy or one-on-one therapy sessions. It all depends on the level of funding, but they do their best to have something for everyone. I’m currently going to a weekly group session that has made waves in my mental and physical health.

I must also add that is imperative you speak with your physician and share your health concerns before labeling your struggles as stress-related. It was only after a doctor’s visit that I was able to rule out any physical ailments beyond stress.

I say all of this to remind you that you do not have to suffer and you definitely aren’t required to do it all alone. Since I’ve been working to listen to my body and disconnect here and there, I’ve been feeling healthier and clearer. I really encourage you to take time to figure out what you might be going through and what you need to get better. Good luck!

 

World Mental Health Day: How I’m Working To Empower Myself

When you’re struggling with your mental health, every day becomes a battle to stay afloat. You never know which interaction is going to propel you forward with confidence, or which has the potential to stop you in your tracks. There are days when the smallest of set-backs can become roadblocks to your healing journey. I have learned that by doing a few little things each day to fortify myself for the bad days, getting back up from a fall can be easier than I previously thought possible.  In honor of World Mental Health Day, I want to share the little habits I’ve picked up that are really helping me to redefine my worth and move forward with a new kind of confidence that I have so been missing in my journey.

No more calling myself “crazy”

I think this is an easy habit to fall into, as anyone or anything deemed to be difficult is quickly smacked with this label. In particular, it is usually leveled at women who do not conform to what makes men comfortable.  There have been many times I’ve whispered this to myself with derision after failing to get this whole perfect life thing right. It’s not only unfair, but a particularly cruel way to invalidate the pains and triumphs of living with authentic vulnerability.  No more, I say!

I’m committed to talking about what I do – and don’t – need

I was raised by two very polite people who instilled in me an almost pathological desire to keep the boat from rocking. I’m thankful to them for the ways they’ve modeled kind and caring behavior, however now I am working to unwind myself ever so slightly from this fear of letting people down. Being a considerate person is a wonderful quality, yet when you’re unwilling to do what’s best for your mental health can anyone really win? Nowadays, I am doing my best to say yes when I mean it, and no even if it might disappoint the one making the request. It seems everyone in my life is better off because of it.

I say my name proudly

Folks with spicy names will get me when I say this: no more watering down my name to make others happy. I can scarcely remember a day that didn’t involve someone stumbling over the schematics of my first name. They get a confused look, turn up their noses, and sometimes even scoff at the ridiculousness of me not being named something easily digestible like Rachel (no shade to girls named Rachel). I used to get so embarrassed that I would quickly encourage people to call me Kasey or Kase, or I would laugh along with them. Can you imagine what that does to a young person, always trying to make others comfortable? It’s a nightmare. I can’t remember the exact moment things changed, but rather the growing rage that made me say enough is enough. My father carefully chose my name to honor his sisters, and I am happy to have it. Just that simple act of wearing my name with pride as changed the way I look at myself in the mornings and how I carry myself. There’s a wonderful kind of joy in reclaiming something so simple.

 

My journey has taught me that a lot of the struggles tied to my mental health involve the way others will perceive me and how those perceptions shape my confidence. It’s truly never too late to shake things up, especially when it comes to how you’re going to take care of yourself. These are just a few of the little ways I’m trying to help myself along each day, but they have made a marked difference in my life. I hope you are able to find ways in your own life to protect and foster your own mental health.

 

 

The Emotional Freedom Technique Is A Great Way To Ease Into Meditation

Keep your heart clear

And transparent,

And you will never be bound.

A single disturbed thought

Creates ten thousand

Distractions.

– Ryokan Taigu

Within the Black community alone, for every one woman who reports a sexual assault there are fifteen that go unreported. Statistics show that 80% of rapes are reported by white women, but women of color are more likely to be victims of sexual assault. Due to low rates of reporting for men, the numbers aren’t clear on how many are truly affected by assault, but it is believed 12% of Black men are survivors of rape. When it comes to healing, the road is long and winding.

Nothing steals peace of mind like trauma. It muddles every thought, each activity, and disrupts one’s ability to take care of the self. The pain makes even the most mundane tasks seem like mountainous undertakings. For most people, meditation is a healthy way to engage with your mind in the pursuit of peace. It offers the kind of self-care you can’t find in a product, or fancy meal. But what if you’re unable to meditate? For some survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, or other traumas, being left alone with your thoughts can be more terrifying than relaxing. When struggling with symptoms like PTSD or automatic thoughts, it can be difficult to settle into the kind of space that allows meditation.

I was introduced to the Emotional Freedom Technique in a therapy session. As a survivor of sexual assault, I have truly struggled with any form of self-care that involves my thoughts or being still.

When it became apparent to my therapist just how difficult sharing was for me, she suggested we explore the Emotional Freedom Technique. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or “tapping” was developed in 1993 by Gary Craig, who believed stimulating the meridian points of the body could release energy blockages and perhaps stop negative emotions. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, such as acupuncturists, believe the meridian points are channels the chi will pass through to flow to the vital organs. The tapping process requires using the fingers to gently tap or massage various points on the face and torso while repeating positive affirmations. Ideally, as you continue the tapping you will feel yourself begin to calm. You can repeat the process as many times as you need.

The act of tapping and focusing on her words allowed me to recenter my thoughts, breathe easier and relax. After that, we began all of our sessions using the technique until we were comfortable enough to share and grow together. Now, as I revisit meditation, I use EFT to begin the calming process. Tapping soothes my mental aches from the day and helps me to reclaim the power I thought I lost in assault.

Below is an instructional video on tapping if you would like to give it a try.

*Statistics courtesy of End Rape on Campus

 

Here’s How to Build a Community That Keeps You Healthy

And why it is so important.

Recently,  I wrote  about my move to California, which you can read here. I offered suggestions for how to prepare yourself when undertaking a huge move, sharing tips from the practical day to day tasks, to the emotional support you inevitably need when you’re far from home. Being uprooted, then planted in a new environment can be touch and go for a shrub, so there’s no doubt it will be a battle for people. What becomes of us emotionally when we’re physically isolated can be compounded ten-fold when we hide our emotions opting to go through it alone.

I think it’s time for some serious candor on my part: I spent the month of August under the covers, alternating between eating carbs and crying. All my grand plans of joining a yoga studio, snagging a doctor, and conquering my fear of meeting new people got swallowed up by the seemingly insurmountable odds: how do I do all that when I’m afraid to step outside, when the landscape is off, and people stare at me like a sideshow? I’d put so much pressure on myself to be amazing that I was incapacitated by the possibility of failure, or worse, being ostracized. While I was safe under the covers the world turned around me, but I was too afraid to join in, even with people I know for fear of their disappointment.

Luckily, my brother and husband broke through my tortoise shell to get me thinking about the nature of community, how we build it, and why we really gotta let it do it’s thing. Community doesn’t have to be a gaggle of friends, who run off to save the world and unite nations – sometimes it’s as simple as a person who lets you cry on the phone. Community is being present, open and caring with those you have learned to trust. It’s not always nice; oftentimes the people who love you the most and want to see you win will piss you off. Sometimes the communities we need aren’t in town, or in the same country. If you’re far from home, or your home doesn’t feel like home, there are times when community has to be found across the internet. No matter where you find i,t I believe you owe it to yourself to hold onto it and to be an active member within it.

Today, I want to share with you what these two have helped me to (re)discover about the power of a circle of confidants and how we can continue to nurture those relationships. If you can build a core group of friends I guarantee growing will be made easier through their emotional support. Below I’ve laid out how to build your community. Let’s hop to it!

Vulnerability

Have you ever had one of those dreams about being naked in front of a crowd? Maybe you’re singing a song horribly, or giving a speech, then BAM – fully nude.  That’s one extreme of vulnerability you don’t have to go to, but if you can think of community like singing the bad song or giving a speech that makes you sweat,  all while dressed, then you’re on the right track. You see, community – the real deal, not the shallow stuff – is all about being open to discomfort. When you peel back the layers of yourself to expose who you really are it’s crazy uncomfortable, bordering on painful. When I finally let my husband see me in distress( and all covered in tears and snot)we made a breakthrough. Together, we learned that vulnerability isn’t a one and done situation. Being open is a 24/7 deal, that isn’t always fun, but is guaranteed to make a difference in your health.

There will be times when you’ll attempt to be open and honest with others and they’ll betray it or ignore it. However, I hope you’ll still remain open to trusting again. I’ve had many disappointments in the vulnerability department, but part of finding your tribe is going out on a limb. Also, those times I’ve been let down have actually helped to feed into the next point.

Empathy

Most of us have had that naked dream, because humans are cut from the same cloth. We’re all afraid, born naked, and just a little bit weird. I find it so fascinating that despite being separated by time or space we can find common ground. The beauty of empathy is that it transcends most obstacles. I say most, because there will be times when no matter how reasonable it seems to get along, there are people who aren’t here for it. Applying the concept of vulnerability can run you into some walls, but when you find people with shared experiences like depression, anxiety, PTSD, a similar home life, or even favorite anime shows, the honesty will pay off.

The huge thing about empathy is that it keeps communities, no matter the size, patient. When we take the time to understand where someone has been we are much more likely to stick around to help them out. In your respective community, and outside of it ,it is so imperative to remember kindness. Empathy lays the groundwork for you to give and receive with understanding and care. If we practice it with one another, showing a little love to ourselves becomes that much sweeter.

Humor

The best part about those embarrassing naked dreams is when you get to laugh about it later. Everyone has had them, they’re always preposterous and they take the edge off any of your other worries. Your circle is the place to air out your ridiculous fears – even if they don’t seem so far-fetched – so that you can remain grounded. Laugh with each other, bust each other’s chops, and stay humble so that you’re not carrying the weight of the world. When I finally got real with my brother and broke down why I was so afraid to be out in this new world of mine he took a breath, was honest about why I shouldn’t be afraid, then made a joke at my expense. He didn’t make fun of me, but rather he made me see the humor in life and in my situation.

When you take yourself too seriously like I was, building up real fears into dragons, you risk never putting forth that brave step. Staying grounded is difficult on your own, and laughing about things that feel like the worst situations ever can be pretty impossible. If your community isn’t one that’s able to look at the fears you present critically, take out what’s silly and get you to laugh? Run for the hills, because a place without laughter is dead.

At the end of it all, we need to encourage each other to feel joy in between the tears. You don’t have to be Patch Adams (great movie) to your friends, nor do they have to be circus performers for you, but we have to remember that it’s ok to release with some happiness, too.

Forgiveness

You can’t have anything if you still don’t think you’re worth it.

Let me say that again: You can’t have anything if you still don’t think you’re worth it. I say you can’t, because you won’t allow it for yourself if you feel unworthy and you’re punishing yourself. Please believe me when I say it’s ok if you were a bully in 4th grade and now feel bad about it. It’s fine if you couldn’t get out of bed today, or for most of the week. It’s ok. You still deserve the help and love of your people.

I wasn’t following the previous guidelines I’ve laid out, because I was ashamed and angry with myself for not being fine on my own. I didn’t make room for myself to be reliant on others, and when I discovered just how much I need my community, I wasn’t ready to handle it. So, I turned in on myself so far that I didn’t know how to forgive myself for “messing up”. You know where that got me? Nowhere good. I’ve realized I would rather learn to forgive myself for perceived shortcomings than being alone.

You deserve people who want to help you. You deserve to be pulled up, and you are absolutely worthy of the struggle others choose to put in to keep you around. So, work on forgiving yourself for your own shortcomings and try to be a better person moving forward.

 

In conclusion, I just want to encourage you to be with people however you can be in the BEST way you can be. Who you are in your community bleeds into who you are out in the world on your own. If you’re closed off, an unfeeling bully, or too serious, then that’s who you’ll see outside with others. Allow yourself the room to be human with other humans and you’ll be better off for it.

Thank you for reading and following along with me. If you would like to share what you love about your community, or the ways you all take care of one another, please comment below. Stay safe out there!