Mental health, Spirituality

That monkey on my back

Every once in awhile, here it goes again. Wide awake in the wee hours of the morning knowing that I have a big day ahead of me. Not sure if it’s hormonal or subconscious anxiety but I’m not a fan my friends of this latest development.

I have been working a lot at the coffee shop and feeling pulled in all directions as a supervisor. In fact I had to have a few difficult conversations this week with my partners. I’m not one for confrontation and I’m definitely in flight mode rather than fight. Yet they say change and growth can be painful. I guess that’s what’s up right now. Just those growing pains of evolvement.

I am a classically trained dancer in ballet, tap, jazz, modern and contemporary dance styles. I started when I was just two years old. My biggest dream was to dance on Broadway. My sister and I were on a competitive dance team that traveled and took classes in New York City. I pursued this up until I was sixteen years old. That was when some harsh realities became too much to bear and I quit dance all together. I did rediscover my passion for it after my oldest son was born and I started attending adult classes. What’s the point of me writing about this you may ask? Here’s some truth to that question.

Since growing up and striving to be some part of the very competitive dance world, I definitely developed this perfectionist side to my personality. Everything had to be just right. My parents tell me they would catch me organizing my room by stacking up my books just so. Arranging my Smurfs figurines in a particular order. Everything had to be straight and neat. I even carried this over into people pleasing and being quite passive in my intimate relationships.

Fast forward to present day and I can feel when this shift tries to take the wheel again. This time in a more destructive way. I start becoming very strict with myself. I get overly angry with myself when I make even a small mistake. I start reverting back to old habits that I know aren’t healthy for my positive outlook. The tiny voices in my head that whisper, you’re not good enough start to get louder as if someone turned up the volume on that old tape. I thought I threw that one out years ago in the midst of my healing from the traumas. Here it is again playing louder than ever, boombox style.

One of my downfalls is that I have always been my own worst enemy. More than most other people are I think. The original diagnosis from my psychiatrist on my first visit was that I have OCD with PAD (panic anxiety disorder). I had decided I’d had enough of the unexplained anger and anxiety surrounding the way my environment appeared to me after my oldest was born. I was constantly cleaning and was absolutely consumed by this drive to have everything look perfect. I found myself stuck in these crazy routines of cleaning things over and over again to the point where I wasn’t leaving my house. I developed these phobias surrounding having to clean incessantly or else. What you may ask…….even today I’m unsure. I had a dark burgundy formica countertop in the kitchen at my first house. I used to wipe it so much that it changed colors in some spots. Definitely a bit too obsessive.

So, when I feel that itch coming back again this is what I do. I restart the positive self talk in my bathroom mirror. I allow myself to feel the uncomfortable feeling of understanding that I am imperfect. I give myself permission to feel uneasy. That sounds like a simple enough statement. Boy, is that a hard pill to swallow during these spells. That’s what I like to refer to it as, a spell. Like some greater force has taken over my mind, body and spirit.

Quieting that harsh inner negative dialogue can be tricky once mixed with a heavy dose of anxiety. The “not good enough” imaginary police are breathing down my neck. You are nothing, you will never be anything, you are a loser…. their sirens wail loudly in my head. I steady myself as I ride this wave of uncomforbility. Assess what I actually can control, what to attempt to let go of and what next behavior will serve me the most. Some days are of course better than others. Add in our recent moon cycle and there you have it…….that nagging need to be perfect.

At the end of the day, I accept it will always be that invisible monkey on my back. It’s always there, lying right beneath the surface. Some days it’s quieter than others. Like everything in life I know it’s temporary. This too shall pass.

Anxiety, Mental health, Spirituality, Women's self care

Friend in the mirror

A few months ago in August I did something I never thought I would do. I fearlessly posted a no make-up selfie with words on it that represent me and who I am. My words are sushi lover, dancer, Complex PTSD, movie buff, humanitarian, ❤ car trips, fiesty, writer, book lover and suicide survivor. It’s posted on the i_weigh movement page on Instagram founded by multi-talented actress Jameela Jamil.cropped-20180828_1017001.png Ms. Jamil herself battled anorexia as a teen and struggled with self image. She noticed and began questioning the distubing trend of what determines beauty messaging and how it has brainwashed our society. Why every magazine and commercial are always pushing the idea that only being thin was beautiful and desirable. She is quoted by saying,”I was bombarded with a narrative that had no alternative. There were never any women who were celebrated for their intellect … and all of my magazines were selling me weight loss products or telling me to be thin. Otherwise, I wasn’t worth anything.” In an effort to raise the middle finger to entire industries that are complicit in perpetuating these ideas she started the i_weigh movement. Proving we are all more than a mere number on the scale. I fell in love with it and messaged my picture to be included.

I started ballet when I was 2 and I continued to dance competitively into my teens. My passion for dance led me to want to become a professional someday. I studied ballet, tap, jazz, contemporary and modern from some of the best instructors and choreographers  in the dance world.  It became my life and my main focus. It also served as a catalyst for my eating disorder. I’m 5’2 and have been the same height since 7th grade. I was always told I was too small and I would never make it as a dancer. I didn’t have the long legs of a ballerina, I needed to lose weight (I didn’t), my skin is too olive(I’m Italian and Puerto Rican) and a list of other physical appearance critiques. I started restricting my food at the age of 13 or 14. I also abused laxatives, water pills and diet pills. I would spit into cups for hours before dance class in hopes of losing a pound, utterly ridiculous I know! At 16, I finally got fed up and lost my drive and self esteem about dancing. I quit and thought I would never take another class. Thankfully,  I rediscovered my love for dance as adult at 25 when my oldest son was 2. My new love is for tap and contemporary style classes. I have also enjoyed teaching little ones creative movement and beginner ballet but those are topics for another post.

My eating disorder however grew worse now that I wasn’t getting the extreme exercise from dancing daily for hours. I began an intensive workout routine and started running. The combination of restricting my food and my exercise routine bore behaviors that then turned me into an exercise anorexic. It was like a high, my newly discovered drug. I was able to control something because my home life was so chaotic and dysfunctional. My thinking became very obsessive and I was developing strange ideas about food. What I would eat and what I would avoid. It was a full time job mentally and utterly exhausting. Those patterns lasted on and off for years and I really didn’t confront it until five years ago. I have body dysmorphia as a result in addition to my many conditions and I still hold some of those beliefs that tell me I’m ugly in my core. I can absolutely agree with Ms. Jamil that negative body image is ruining people’s lives.

As a result of having my picture posted on i_weigh I met an extraordinary woman. She lives in Australia, we have never met in real life yet we have a kindered spirit bond like few are blessed to know. We have so much in common with our life experiences and we are both empaths. Currently we are trying to schedule a time to video chat with each other so we can “meet” face to face. I credit my new friend for inspiring me to get back to my writing and to share it online. She gives me so much support and artisitc suggestions.  I have even nicknamed her my pseudo creative director on this blog! Her spirit and soul are exquisitely beautiful. I look forward to our message chats because we uplift each other so much. We discuss anything and everything and I feel truly blessed to call her my friend.

Seven years ago during the height of my mental breakdowns and recovery after my suicide attempt, I was introduced to mirrorwork therapy. I stand in front of a mirror and tell myself  positive affirmations and I recite mantras. I know what you’re thinking, sounds weird right, talking to yourself in the mirror? I always say that I’m my own best audience and it’s a scientific fact that positive self talk is a sign of good mental health. At first I started to read off of the sticky notes that I had put up next to the mirror, I couldn’t even look at myself directly in the eye for awhile. Once I got more comfortable and with practice I can now stare right at myself and have an intimate conversation. The main two mantras I use are, I am a beautiful and capable woman. I am a child of God and I am loved. These are two statements I had the hardest time believing about myself especially after attempting suicide. Part of my therapy included examining my core beliefs, the things I tell myself and completely rewriting them. That tape we all have running through our minds constantly. At times we can carry our negatives thoughts and ideas about ourselves in an invisible but very real backpack. During my many years in therapy I have learned to stop the tape and take the backpack off.

Currently I’m on a therapy hiatus. I began taking part in therapy when I was seven years old. Mostly it was family therapy and sometimes it was individual. I have successfully completed a ton of different therapy programs over the last thirty years. That’s a lot of expressing and pain shedding and I’m to a point now that it has become uneccessary to continue on a regular basis. At the height of my time in therapy, I was seeing a DBT certified therapist four times a week. I have been in psychiatric hospitals over ten times and have completed numerous outpatient programs. I have been a member of different support groups with varying topics surrounding my mental health. I have read countless books about mental illness both non-fiction and fiction and listened to as many audio self-help books. I’m therapied out (I think I made that word up) and I need a darn break.

I used everything I have described here as my inspiration for this poem. Take notice of how I started describing my new Australian mate and then my subject morphed into discovering myself as my friend. It is hugely important to be friends with yourself. We are so loving and generous with our friends and at times we can be our own worst enemies and treat ourselves like dirt. The golden rule of treat everyone has you would like to be treated needs to also include, and especially yourself! We can all use that reminder sometimes!

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