During my therapy sessions back home, and my counseling sessions in college I have found that I frequently bring up creative self care ideas. I have my stress ball, but do I pull it out when I really need it? I have my positive quotes, but do I read them? During a walk-in appointment this past week I said, "I almost need to fill a box of self care/ coping techniques so I can just have everything there when I need it." The counselor said, "That's not a bad idea!" I smiled and said, "Oh I know, I'm serious."
"OH I'm great at coming up with ideas to help myself, It's just doing them that is my problem."
I went home for the weekend, and returned to campus with a wooden box that I had found in the craft section of Walmart.
Just by doodling on it in colorful sharpie marker has been zen enough. Coloring is very relaxing for me. Whether it appears "artsy" or not, I just wanted to fill it with color. I'm still working on it.
SO FAR, This is what I have inside:
I haven't had an anxiety breakdown or "crisis moment" since I put it together, but it's all set. I can't always prevent my anxiety attacks. I can only ride them out. Instead of hating myself for them and fighting against them, I can be prepared to care for myself during that time.
My roommate is aware of my "self care kit" as well. I told her to redirect me to the box if I am having a down day, and she is on board.
I find it difficult to always tackle these battles mentally when I am mentally struggling.
I am becoming more knowledgeable and creative about physical plans to make for myself.
Since I've been on campus I have:
She pointed out everything I've been doing right that has shown I have been working against ending up where I was this past year.
She genuinely asked how I have been getting my work done and making it to my classes even with the anxiety I have had these past 2 weeks. I just shrugged, thinking I didn't have a choice. But I did. She looked me in the eye and said, 'I'm serious. You're a rockstar." I laughed a little but it was the mood booster I needed.
I left acknowledging the hard work I've put in, whether it feels hard or not. It felt fun to be called a rockstar, but I'm definitely in agreement that I'm doing okay. I'm liking this "college me." She has grown- big time.
Today is National Psychotherapy Day. How will you participate?
I am going to share my journey from a childhood belief that "therapy is a punishment" to growing up and seeking out a therapist myself.
Around age 10, I had developed a short sense of patience, and sensitive irritability. Whether it was a reflection of how I felt about myself, or how I was handling my anxieties at the time- I still don't know. I remember I was always the one being yelled at for my mouth, my early attitude and raised eyebrows. I don't remember much about what I would do, but I remember feeling like an outcast. I felt hated by my family, and myself. I felt like a bad person, yet I always was quick to defend myself. My cousins would be over my house playing, and I would be sent to sit alone on the staircase after who knows what.
In my early adolescence my attitude only became worse. It was never at school, with my friends or teachers, but always in my household. If I was scolded for my behavior in the moment, I would laugh. My parents would look at me with stern eyes and I would hold in a giggle, feeling the corners of my mouth slide up into a smile. I wasn't trying to make my parents more annoyed, and I would bite my lip to hold it in. I am still not sure why I reacted that way. A defensive wall would come up and I would try to blame my behavior on anything but myself.
I remember my mom telling me to fix my attitude/rudeness, or she was going to take me to see a counselor. She was going to make me go. My early thought of the word "counseling" seemed more like a punishment than a helpful tool. I refused to go, said I didn't need it, that my mom was out of her mind, and I didn't need help. I was not the type of kid that needed counseling, right?
Flash forward to the summer before my junior year of high school when I asked my mom to take me to see a therapist for my anxiety. I didn't care what "type of person" I had thought fit into the client category at that point; I just wanted to feel better.
This was my FIRST experience with a therapist:
So this is what I have learned when it comes to finding a therapist:
I realized what worked for me, and what did not, and who I could connect with. My school social worker connected me with someone new, and I now feel supported.
This is how therapy has helped me:
The best part is...
I had never thought I could.
If you find it difficult to put your feelings into words, struggle with social anxiety, or are giving up on asking for help because of it: Read my story. It is possible to communicate your needs, even with difficulty. Not everyone is an expert on expressing their emotions/private thoughts to others.
If you have other questions for me or about an adolescent's experience with counseling feel free to contact me on my Contact page, or my "Ask Haley" column. Can be anonymous if you state so.
Ok so that photo is a little dramatic, but it gave me a chuckle so I was hoping it would do the same for you.
I am going to be 100% honest:
2 weeks ago I was walking back from the store with 3 of my friends. I was swinging my grocery bag around and being a "typical Haley" by telling my story a mile a minute, probably not getting a breath it. I didn't finish my sentence when a buzzing sensation moved from my lips down, and my vision was blurry. Dizziness consumed me. I stopped dead in my tracks and just looked up and said, "whoa." My friends asked if I was okay. The feeling passed so I continued my story and kept walking, but was still a bit concerned.
Since then, this has become a "thing." I would be walking to class and it would start with a weird feeling in my face, and then I would feel lightheaded. Me being self-aware, and a psychology student immediately thought: anxiety. But no because I'm not anxious, that makes no sense. I've been dizzy from anxiety before, but it didn't feel like this. Me being a hypochondriac, yes..you guessed it...googled my symptoms. Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Brain tumor, etc etc. The list went on. Days continued and I would find my limbs going numb along with the dizziness. My entire arm was numb, it felt like there were bricks resting on the back of my neck when I was standing and so I did some more research, and increased my paranoia. "I don't know what's wrong with me." My suite-mates continued to hear me say. They offered to take me to the clinic, just to reassure me I wasn't dying. Instead, I curled up in a ball and let my anxiety take over me convincing myself I was experiencing early stages of paralysis..
At night..I've been having nightmares. The counselor I've been seeing here suggested I look for a "common theme" but nothing about my dreams are commonly related. Accidentally killing people with my car, getting attacked by a whale in a swimming pool, and putting out a fire in my house (childhood home) with a lighter? And even more twisted things.. My roommate tells me I've been whimpering in my sleep.
What the heck is going on with me?
I've been bringing a stress ball to class.
*Shoutout to the campus counseling center for providing those*
I couldnt make it to a mandatory event for a class because of an anxiety attack. (My professor was extremely understanding, and supportive..but still.)
Annnnd I've been needing emergency bathroom trips more often than I would like to admit. yay IBS yay
I see my counselor here every Thursday, but it was a Monday when I had my anxiety attack and by then the center was closed.
The next day, I brought myself to this magical thing the counseling center provides called "walk-in hours" and was ready to let out my problems to WHOEVER was available. Thursday couldn't wait.
With anxiety attacks, unfortunately, there is not much you can do in the moment to make it stop. You have to ride it out. And with me sitting there with a counselor like a confused Nancy Drew, trying to solve this mystery as to why the hell my body is behaving against my mind, I learn there is not much to solve with the missing pieces in Generalized Anxiety. Little bitch. Why can't I have a fear of spiders? That'd be easy to determine.
What I learned is that even though college has been going swell for me, it is still an adjustment and a change for my body. My body is telling me it does not recognize this change, and it is sending messages that say it's time to panic. I was reminded that this is still all very new and very different. I'm on a different schedule, I'm living with new people, eating new foods, and as okay as I feel about that, my body doesn't understand what's going on.
I'm dealing with this damn battle as I wait out these stubborn symptoms. After many panic attacks, tears, and showing my roomies my ugly side, I was able to calm down today. I find that I can reach air after counseling. I know anxiety is normal, I know I am not truly going crazy, but sometimes I just need to hear it. I needed to be able to sit with someone and tell them I've been happy, but my body isn't following that and it scares me. I needed someone to sit there and provide genuine empathy and apology that these feelings are scary, but reassure me as well that it is normal, and it will pass.
She used an example of self-talk that made me smile a bit. "Okay, Haley girl, it's okay to take a break." She stretched the importance of self-care during this time. My body is telling me it has reached it's limits when it sends me those uncomfortable signals. I need to respond by taking care of myself, instead of pushing myself.
I always say that change doesn't scare me, but now I think my subconscious does not agree with me. Anxiety effects can be residual, and very confusing. Anxiety and panic attacks can even create the same symptoms as a heart attack. Whaaaaat?
My anxiety disorder is a learning experience, and I am still learning just how it works. Not just with me, but in the general human body. I know I can not let my physical symptoms trick me. I am okay. I am safe. I am happy. Self-care is crucial for me, especially now.
The wrap up:
Listen to the cute little dinosaur thingy.
These past 3 weeks have been pretty crazy, so bear with me as I catch up with you all.
I spent my first 2 weeks of college ahead of the game when involved in the Bridge Program. I knew it was going to be a busy schedule, but I didn't realize how busy it was actually going to be. Most mornings, unless I skipped breakfast, I would wake up at 7:30 am. Some nights we would have seminars/activities until 9pm. (Which is past my bedtime because I'm a grandma.) We had free time every day, usually from 4-5. We were all very tired, many of us had a breakdown within the first few days, and it was an abrupt transition. Overall, I could not be happier to have been involved in it. It was insanely beneficial. I was able to experience 3 professors with different teaching styles, and immediately getting into "school-mode." There were less than 40 of us in the program, and by the end of those 2 weeks I knew all of their names, and made friends that I can now say hi to when passing on campus. On weekends, we were able to sign up for city trips, and practice using the T.
Throughout Bridge with one of my professors, we were assigned a narrative essay. The topic for our assignment was, transition. We had to write about a time in our life we experienced a transition, good or bad, and how it changed us. I had many many ideas, because I tend to write about those things a lot, but I wanted to push myself more. I wrote a 4 page essay about my parents' divorce, moving into a new home, and eventually coming to the realization that change is inevitable, but can be for the better. After writing our first draft, peer editing, revising, and submitting our final copy, we were going to share them. During Bridge, we were split into 3 groups and that is who would be in all of my classes. For me, "blue group" became a comfort zone. With my first day of classes we were already sharing deep parts of our lives with each other as strangers. I revealed some personal information and was surprised afterwards of what I had shared, and also that I felt safe enough in my environment to share it. I felt free of judgment. I felt free to write my narrative openly including some unpleasant truths. On our last day of classes, our groups got together with our desks in a circle and one after another we read aloud a passage of our choice within our essays. Afterwards, we were given an index card and were able to vote for 2 names from our group. 1 student from each group, blue, green and orange, would be chosen to read their narrative at the Bridge program's ending banquet.
The 3 professors met together to collect the votes and decide which stories fit well together for presentation. I twirled from side to side in a spinning chair and nervously fiddled with my fingers. Just reading that passage in front of 8 of my peers had left me shaking. Well, if I don't get chosen I can relax, but a part of me hopes that I do. When they came back in the room, my professor Jenne came up to my side and quietly said, "how do you feel about reading your essay?" I tried my best to stay calm. With uncertainty, yet positive surprise I said, "sure" but gave a faint smile and asked "really?" She confirmed the decision, I thanked her, and when she left I realized what I had just agreed to. On the board were 3 names:
They announced us as the 3 readers, and that we would be presenting in the order listed. I sunk back in my seat mumbling "oh my god." My friends were all looking at me. I'm going to be reading a piece of my life story in front of those 30 something students in Bridge, my professors from Bridge, the president of the college, the counseling center, some upperclassmen, etc etc. And I was going FIRST ?
Part of me was trying not to laugh. It was out of nervousness, and cracking up at what the hell I was getting myself into. Another part of me was questioning if I can handle it with my social anxiety, how I visibly shake in front of people, forget to breathe when I speak, going through every possible "what-if" thought. I took a breath and looked at the bigger picture, giving myself some self-talk in my head.
"Ok Haley, that was a really good paper. It deserved to be chosen. If you don't read it, you may feel disappointed with yourself knowing it was good enough to be shared. Just smile before and after you read. If you are nervous, people will be understanding if anything. I will still have people acknowledge me, and maybe people will think 'good for her for getting up there.' I don't present in front of ANYONE by choice. The last time I read in front of a big crowd was at Papa's funeral. It wasn't easy, but I did it and I was so proud I had. I can do it again. No matter how nervous I am, it will be a temporary discomfort, but a permanent accomplishment. Also, what a way to put myself out there at the start of my college career!"
Hours later, I was able to say "I did it. I can not believe I did it."
I did not look up from my paper once, but when I finished and looked up at the crowd, the first face I saw was an upperclassman. She had been crying. I forced a big smile as I returned to my seat. After the banquet, people started approaching me to either shake my hand, thank me, or compliment me. It didn't matter then how much anxiety I was fighting, because I was able to reach people.
I have a long way to go as far as confidence, but I have a long way ahead of where I used to be.
I had told my therapist, mother, and myself that when I got on campus I would get connected with the counseling center. Knowing myself, if I waited too long for when I truly needed it, it would be difficult to get myself there. I stuck to my word, and advocated for myself. Within the first week I set up an appointment over the phone, and am now seeing someone regularly. I am able to continue my skills away from home, and work on new ones.
Now that I have put this long update out there, you can expect my general posts to be coming back on track!
I have been walking A LOT. Well, because I'm in the city so I can, but it is terrific for my mental and physical health!
I have been sticking to my gluten-free diet.
I have been doing yoga, and I plan on taking yoga classes this year.
I'm happy, healthy, and not a bit homesick.
Reminder that the "Ask Haley" column is always running. I'd love to get more submissions in. Talk to me about anything!
College life can be very very busy, but I'm still here. :-)
Here' s a look into the life of a living contradiction! Welcome Welcome! Just a college girl trying to create a peaceful life while managing irrational anxiousness. :-)