mental challenges

Happy Anniversary to Me!

Life is really good. I am so grateful. I feel so blessed. I am so happy to be here and be healthy.

Three years ago today I started my healing journey by asking for help. I was at the bottom of the deepest darkest pit and I could barely see a sliver a light shining down on me and I took that as my sign to walk through the doors of a hospital and express the turmoil I was in. It wasn’t easy. It was ugly, uncomfortable, scary, traumatizing, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life but I am here to tell you it was the best thing I ever did for myself. I learned more about myself from that week in the hospital than I had learned in my 34 years at the time.

It was a crash course in all things mental illness for me. I learned about medication, side effects, advocating for myself, and balance. I learned that trauma is the root cause of most mental challenges. I learned that no doctor has all the answers. That medicine isn’t a perfect cure-all. That every body is different and requires different individualized care. I was reminded of my faith. I learned to fight for myself.

It was clear that I lacked the tools I needed to cope and so I began working hard to sort it all out the best I could and I wished that I had made the effort sooner. That sentiment might resonate with some of you because you are here and reading this. You may be searching for answers and hoping to find help. I am happy to be part of your journey to find healing and I hope you have found my space here to be safe,  helpful, and honest.

On that note…I have a new resource to share with you. It’s an article and PTSD self-test by Safe Harbor House. You can take the screening which is based on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It’s the standard reference used by healthcare providers to diagnose mental health and behavioral conditions. The article also offers information about signs, symptoms, risk factors, treatment, and self-care. It’s a very thorough resource and I was glad to have found it. Please share it with anyone who you feel might be suffering from PTSD!

Three years ago, I could have used this resource myself. Now I am just blessed to be able to share it with all of you.

 

Calm On The Go! CalmiGo

I am excited to share with you a new resource that I have been using over the past few months for anxiety. It’s called a CalmiGo and it claims to offer a “Calm in your pocket” experience – I couldn’t agree more! This drug-free and all-natural anxiety remedy has quickly become one of my favorite tools because it’s easy to carry, easy to use, and quickly helps me regain control of my breathing when I am struggling through an anxious moment. It’s been scientifically tested and is even being recommended to patients by doctors and therapists in several countries already.

The CalmiGo device was developed by Adi Wallach. Adi herself understands how awful and uncomfortable anxiety can be and through her own personal journey to find healing she lovingly created the CalmiGo. Her attention to creating this multi-sensory, compact, and easy-to-use device was a passion project for her and I think she nailed it!

I love that the CalmiGo is even safe for children to use. I have been hearing from so many of you who have children struggling with anxiety and I believe the CalmiGo can be helpful. I think that giving your anxious child a tool like Calmigo is a great way to empower them to take control of their feelings and as a mother myself I can’t think of a better way to show my kids how much I love them and care about their mental health.

I have been using my CalmiGo at night when my sleep is disrupted and I wake up anxious. I love that I can turn off some of the features so I don’t wake my husband and each time I’ve used it in this instance I have fallen back to sleep quickly. The light lavender scent that the device emits is great too!

Using my CalmiGo proactively three times per day for three minutes has improved my sleep, my anxiety and anticipation in certain triggering situations, and it feels so good to take a few moments to breathe deeply. It helps me feel grounded and well – calm.

Visit the CalmiGo website for more information about how it might help you gain control over your own anxiety.

Here is a link to a video that shows a CalmiGo demonstration.

I am very excited to be partnering with Calmigo because I know how much it has helped me regain control of my anxiety and I know it will help you too!

For 20% off your purchase with Calmigo use my code BLOOMING.

Surviving the Holidays with PTSD

My husband and I filled out our family calendar for December and we have so many commitments as many of you do too I am sure. We took some time evaluating what we would attend taking into consideration what we can do as a family and what might be too much for us.  I think this sets us up for success during the holiday season.

I promised you some techniques I use to survive the holidays and I hope that by implementing some of these techniques into your own life you will be able to maintain peace and mental stability during this wonderful time of year!

#1. Say No.

You know your limits and what you can mentally and physically take. This season has a way of testing those limits! I want to empower you to say no this time of year. It’s okay to say no to hosting people and attending every party. And I know we have so many traditions this time of year but sometimes that added pressure makes things worse. Don’t let that pressure derail you. Stick to your guns with family and friends and honor yourself by saying no to what doesn’t serve you. Remember, these are your holidays too!

#2. Don’t over-do it with sweets, caffeine, and alcohol.

Over-indulging is what the holidays are all about! I know for me though that when I do this it affects my sleep, my stomach, and takes a mental toll on me. It confirms to me that there really is a gut health and mental health connection. Also caffeine is a stimulant that leaves me jittery and anxious and alcohol is a downer. Adding these to my system affects me quickly especially if I haven’t been drinking enough water. So this time of year I try and maintain my plant based diet, drink all my water, and limit the rest.

#3. Take a time out

I get very overstimulated. Loud parties and a lot of people can leaving me reeling. When I start to feel like this, no matter where I am, I give myself permission to leave the space that is bothering me. I either excuse myself to the restroom and run cold water through my hands (it’s a great coping skill) or I step outside and take a short walk. I can also use my Anxiety Release app or essential oils during these moments. Whatever tools you choose to use I think it is important to give yourself the space you need to breathe, refocus on your safety, and set an intention to get you through the rest of the party. Also, sharing your feelings with a friend or loved one before you take your time out is important as well. Find someone who will have your back and who can help support you through these moments.

#4. Continue taking medications and supplements

This is so important and so easy to stop doing! With all your extra commitments it’s easy to forget your medication or supplements. I’ve done it before too and I always kick myself when I’m feeling sick days or weeks later. I dedicate 20 minutes every Sunday night to divide my supplements into easy-to-go containers that I can grab for each day and throw in my purse. This step makes it easy for me to take everything I need so I can feel my best. My favorite supplement to take these days are my CBD pills. They help me sleep and keep me calm – two things I need in my life during the holidays!

#5. Speak up for yourself.

Honoring yourself through your voice is so important and when there are so many people and opinions to consider this time of year. It can be hard to do.  Sharing your feelings, frustrations, and stress with a trusted friend or loved one can help. I know for me I sometimes need someone to just listen to my feelings and somehow I start to feel better.

One more thing I want to add because it is so important to consider when discussing PTSD and trauma is that many of us are traveling this time of year and some of us may be visiting places where our traumas occurred. If this is the situation you find yourself in I hope you prepare in advance with your therapist and discuss coping skills that you can lean on if you start to struggle. I also recommend you line up all the tools that have worked for you in the past and pack them with you because traveling and trying new things don’t always mix…stick with what you know works and take it along for the ride. And – be gentle with yourself as you navigate the stress of traveling this time of year on top of the mental baggage you are carrying. You can do it!

I hope these tips will help you get through the holiday season and enjoy it your own way!

I’d love to hear what tips and tricks help you too – leave me comments below!

Two Years Ago Today

Two years ago today I asked for help.

It was the most difficult thing I have ever done.

That night I found myself in the fetal position in my closet seeing my death before my eyes. I was terrified but I had had enough.

My life had gotten so out of control in the months leading up to August 3rd 2016. I had stopped eating and sleeping. Anxiety had consumed every second of my days and nights. I was so uncomfortable that being in my own skin was nearly unbearable.

Luckily, I knew all the blessings in my life were worth fighting for. I knew who I could lean on to get me safely to the hospital and I didn’t waste any time getting there.

Most importantly I had faith. Not much, but just enough to trust that God would be right there with me and He was.

Asking for help took great strength and surrender. It took courage and submission. It took every fiber of my being, whatever was left of it anyway, to walk through those hospital doors.

I wanted to write that down to remind myself of that day and how far I’ve come but also to paint a picture for you of just how hard asking for help can be. 

I want you to remember this when you hear about someone taking their life. I want you to remember this when you hear about someone not being able to get out of bed in the morning. I want you to remember this so that if one day you find yourself in the fetal position and in need of help that you will know that it is okay to speak up.

Asking for help the first time might be hard but I promise you it gets easier.

In honor of the two year anniversary of my hospitalization I want to recognize those who helped me when I needed it most.

My husband. My Aunt Laura. My sisters Val and Marisa and brother Sam. My dad. My best friends Mary and Adriana.  My therapists and psychiatric nurse. My naturopath, Dr. Kris Wallace. My extended family, friends, and those in my community who prayed for me.  You all believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself and that encouragement is more valuable to me than you could ever know.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Call 1-800-273-8255

 

Changing

I am not done changing

Out on the run, changing

I may be old and I may be young

 But I am not done changing

                                –John Mayer

When people say they choose change I wonder if they really mean it. Are they really prepared to make the difficult decisions needed to amend whatever is challenging them? Are they willing to leave behind those who don’t value their change? Are they willing to break away from the habits that keep them from change? Most importantly, will they be able look in the mirror after said change and embrace the person they see looking back at them?

I see adorable memes all the time on my Instagram feed displaying quotes about change and I think they leave most people feeling like it’s an easy thing to do.

“Be the change you with to see in the world.”

“Life is like underwear, change is good.”

And my personal favorite, “It only takes one person to change your life. You.”

All of these sentiments are accurate but far from easy.

What I know is true about change from my own experience is that “all great changes are preceded by chaos.” And I wish I would have figured out that “change before you have to” could have helped keep me out of the hospital. Regardless, I have lived, oftentimes painfully, through great changes and I am here to tell you that I am better for all of them.

Being hospitalized and diagnosed with PTSD at the ripe age of 35 wasn’t easy and part of what made it so difficult was knowing that I couldn’t be the same Elena I was before I went there if I wanted to live and live my life beautifully. The changes I had to make involved me being different, living differently, and thinking differently about myself and about the world around me.  What I’ve learned more recently too is that making the changes I did wasn’t the best part of my journey. Embracing the changes and celebrating them is where I grew the most and I’m 100% thrilled with the person, the new Elena, that I am today.

If you find yourself grappling with change I can offer some advice –

Practice your change every day and in every way.

Share it with those who support and love you.

Be gentle with yourself if you slip up along the way.

And most importantly – let go of perfection and instead embrace the journey you are on. It will uncover your strengths, your true passions, and the amazing person you truly are.

 

 

My Treasures

As I have been reflecting the past couple of weeks on the anniversary of my hospitalization and preparing my kiddos to go back to school, I have wondered just how I got through all this chaos last year.  I remember my husband doing the back to school supply and shoe shopping, my dad picked up hair bows from the uniform store, and my sisters and friends filling in other pieces of the puzzle. When I was released and “mom life” smacked me in the face, I’m not sure how I managed. It’s really just a blur.  

But that isn’t what this post is all about. It is about my kids. My “treasures” as I refer to them.  

I have tried writing this post many times but emotionally just couldn’t get through it. So, now, the stronger me will give it a try.

Many friends and family have asked me how my treasures reacted to my hospitalization. Did they know where I was? Do they understand my challenges? How am I managing day to day with them? Do they know about the bombing?  And there are so many answers for each of these questions but really the answer is, yes. Over time my husband and I have shared details with them that we felt they could understand.  As they grow and mature we will continue to share more details until perhaps one day I share this project with them. I hope they will be proud.

I knew that when I go out of the hospital that they were going to have missed me and want to know why I was there. I’ll never forget seeing their little faces waiting for me to be released in the waiting room. My daughter had so many questions right away and my little boyfriend couldn’t stop hugging me and telling me he loved me. It was heartbreaking.  And it also motivated me to work hard through my recovery. 

Children have a natural curiosity and I knew this was an important time to be honest with them. They trust me and I can’t lie to them.  I also knew that once I made it through this trying time in my life that hopefully I would have shown them firsthand how important faith, grace, honesty, family, and fighting for yourself is.  It’s everything I want them to value in their own lives and so I knew I had to set that example for them.  I also, have experience as the daughter of a mother who mostly gave in to her own mental illness and pulling and pushing her along has been an enormous strain on me. I won’t be this for my children. No matter how difficult it gets, how uncomfortable it is, and how challenging life may be — I will never back down shamefully to PTSD. I won’t let it define me or hold me back from living a beautiful life. It might be a small part of my life, but it isn’t ME.

Some ordinary day to day situations have been hard to get through with the kids this year. For starters, driving can be hard. If they are screaming or fighting I have to remind them that I am trying to focus on driving and my brain injury makes it hard to do so when they are being loud. Restaurants and public places have also been trying for me for the past few years as well and I do my best now to prepare mentally ahead of time because I don’t want my kids to see me leave those places fearful again. Lights, televisions, background music, and crowds are all overstimulating for me and create the perfect storm for my anxiety to bubble up. I mostly use homeopathic remedies, mantras, grounding and coping skills to get through those situations now.  Our busy over-scheduled life got a major overhaul too and I was able to honor myself by saying “no” to so many commitments that were just adding to my stress load.

I have also found ways to share with my kids when I’m not feeling well and struggling with PTSD symptoms. I simply tell them I’m not feeling well and I start to add guided meditations and essential oils to our nightly routine. These tools end up helping all of us! But sometimes when I’m really struggling it’s harder to contain and the demands they place on me can be overwhelming.

One particular instance with my treasures sticks out and I know its an experience that they will likely remember as adults.  We were buying new ballet shoes for my daughter one day and we were in a store I once bought my own dance gear from. I know the couple who run it well. I was in the middle of a long PTSD wave and they could tell I wasn’t my usual self and asked if I was okay. The tears immediately started and I couldn’t keep them in.  They were so amazing to me and the kids and made me feel safe and comfortable to share my story.  My treasures were upset to see me come undone and they shed a few tears too. At that time the bombing hadn’t come up yet and I told Jeff it was time to explain that piece of my story to them. We sat down that night with Mal, our little lady, and we did our best to share what had made me so sick. One day I am sure we will give the same details to our little guy too but for now he is happy knowing I am getting better and that I love him.

My daughter’s questions were so focused on whether or not the bad guys were caught and if people died or were hurt, that me being there was not scary to her. That was fine with me.  I am happy that those were her questions because her heart needed to know those things.  She handled this knowledge with such understanding for a six year old. I guess some things seem clearer when you look at them through the eyes of a child. I wish my mind could only make it that simple.  

So we tackle the questions as they come up. That method has seemed to work for us around here and we explain it the best we can on their level and we are honest with what we know they can understand.  As they get older the conversations will be different and I am sure we won’t back down from them or hide the answers. That I have promised to myself.

My kids have also embraced my newfound love for natural medicine and accompany me often for acupuncture treatments. Of course the first time was funny for them but now they are used to it and know that it helps me feel better.

My family spends a lot of time in Boston. It’s my husband’s hometown and we spend our summers enjoying Cape Cod.  It is a place I can’t avoid and I want them to feel safe there.  I had thought that them knowing about the bombing would scare them or trigger a sense of lack of security in them when we are back there but it doesn’t. They feel safe there and that is very important to Jeff and I.

My new family, my survivor family, have really embraced my family too.  I think that has helped all of us heal.  Jeff finds support from other spouses and my kids get to play with the other kids who are around and somehow in our shared misery of wounds both visible and invisible, we all lift each other up.  It is a group I never thought I’d be a part of but now that they are in our lives I am so grateful.  They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, and friends just like I am and we are learning from them how to get through this.

When I look back on my hospital stay, I remember each person there telling stories about their kids. Some didn’t have custody of their children. One lady had overdosed in front of her kids. Some people were the bi-product of broken and abusive families. And some were young kids themselves trying to navigate their hospital stay the best they could. It was very intense and I learned that as humans we each have in common a need to feel loved, comforted, understood, safe, and validated and this starts when we are children.  It never goes away.  So if I can encourage anyone going through PTSD or any other mental challenge who is a parent right now I would urge them to share their journey with their children.  Maybe even just small pieces of it at a time.  It is one great way we can break the cycle of shame and secrecy surrounding mental illness.