- by Alyson Shane
I know you're there.
I've been told by a few of you on a couple of occasions that you intermittently read what I post here. That it upsets you. That you don't understand why I do any of this.
That's okay. I don't expect you to.
Because I'm not like any of you. I'm a writer. I find solace in the curves of words, in their permanence, in what is left unsaid between the paragraphs. Some people find comfort in a bottle, or the arms of a lover, but I find it in words.
I don't know how I turned out this way. How I grew up to be such a demonstrably different person than I was ever told, encouraged, expected to be.
But I'm thankful for it.
I'm thankful that I am learning to handle my anxieties and issues in positive, healthy ways; I'm thankful that I have people around me who support me; I'm thankful that I have this blog, my little corner of the internet, where I can pour out my heart and soul and thoughts when they overwhelm me.
I want you to know that I'm working on learning to accept that you can't and won't be the people that I so desperately need you to be. It's hard, but it's something that I will need to work on coming to terms with. If I spend my whole life expecting you to change then I'll never be happy.
The only person whose growth I can control is my own, and I'm doing my best.
Part of that includes writing here. Of being honest about my struggles and challenges, and the steps that I'm taking to overcome them.
Lots of people go through similar situations, and if my words are able to help a single person feel like they're not alone, or encourages them to get the help that they need, then I have a responsibility as a writer to put myself out here. Even if it means upsetting you.
As I said: I don't expect you to understand.
I do expect you to continue to ignore me; to continue to pretend like nothing is wrong and I'm just delusional or making up the fact that I have anxiety or issues with trust, confidence and self-worth. I expect you to continue to deny your roles in causing these issues, to continue to keep me at arm's length because it's easier to ignore me than it is to face the things about yourselves that make you uncomfortable.
But I know you read this blog. So I'm telling you that it's okay.
I forgive you.
(At least, I'm working on it.)
- by Alyson Shane
Many of you know that over the past while I've been trying to take positive steps to start tackling the stress and anxiety that I deal with in my day-to-day life. Part of that has been creating positive dialogues by sharing my experiences, and recently it's involved using an app called Pacifica.
I'd never really considered using an app to manage my anxiety, but after John mentioned it and sent me a link to their webpage, I figured "why not?" Since then I've been using it daily and have really been noticing a change in my mood and my anxiety levels.
Basically the app provides you with tools to work on mindfulness and to track your moods and activities over time, which attempts to paint a picture of the kinds of behaviours that can increase or decrease anxiety and stress.
There are five daily tasks: Mood, Relax, Thoughts, Experiments, and Health, though when you use the free version (like me, I'm cheap) you only get access to three a day. Honestly though this is more than enough.
There are two things about this app that I liked enough to sit down and write a review, one of which is the little push notification. Usually I hate them, but there's something sort of soothing to look down at your phone and see a message that says "how are you feeling?" - even when I know it's coming from an app, it makes me stop and think.
This also works well because once I see the push notification I go right into the app and input my Mood, which means that I don't just use it when I'm feeling good or bad, which would skew my ability to figure out if I'm making progress.
The other is the Thoughts feature. I used this for the first time the other day after a particularly stressful experience.
Basically the feature has you record your thoughts out loud, then it plays the recording back to you and asks you to identify positive and negative statements.
When you identify a negative statement, it displays leading questions which force you to think about why you felt that way, and why you expressed it the way that you did.
Once you've listened to it once (or more times if you need) the app has you re-record your thoughts on the issue: was it as bad as you thought? How could you change your thinking patterns moving forward? etc.
I really struggle to do this in the moment and while it was a bit weird to talk out loud when nobody else was around, hearing myself played back and thinking critically about the statements that I heard myself making really, really helped.
The app does other stuff, too, like helping you track how much you sleep, how well you ate, how much exercise you got, etc, but this was the most influential tool that I've used so far.
I really find that managing my day-to-day stress and anxiety levels can be a challenge, and having an app has really helped me be more mindful of my choices and it's helpful to go back to a particular day and be able to say "yeah, I handled that really well" or "I could have done better, what can I improve on?" and see that progress over time.
What about you - do you have any app recommendations for managing anxiety? I'd love to hear them!
- by Alyson Shane
Since I wrote my #BellLetsTalk post the other day I've had tons of people reach out and share their experiences with me - largely stating that they, too, struggle with feelings of negativity and often have a hard time not getting overwhelmed with negativity.
I really, really struggle with negativity. I'm was raised to be a pessimist and to always look on the bad side of a situation. My first reaction to pretty much anything that stresses me out is to get my back up and start spiraling mentally into a black hole of what if's and this is terrible's.
So as a bit of a follow-up to that post I wanted to share a few of the steps that I've taken (and currently practice) to try and cope with my negativity and be more positive.
I remember dating a guy who, years ago, went on a huge rant about how a friend-of-a-friend changed his whole outlook on life because he made himself smile all the time. I thought he was a total whacko, and while his story might be a slight exaggeration, there's science behind the fact that smiling makes you feel happier and I can personally attest to the fact that smiling, even when I'm sitting around and typing something makes you feel happier.
Focus on positive speech
I wrote a post a few months back about my efforts to remove negative words from my vocabulary and I'm happy to report that not only have I been successful, but that I've been able to encourage other people in my life to start curbing their use of hurtful words as well.
However, because of my anxiety I still routinely refer to myself as being "stupid" - as in "I can't believe I forgot that, I'm so stupid!" which has got to stop. I know it, I'm working on it, and if you find yourself doing the same thing, try and catch yourself when you think it or say it aloud.
There are enough people in the world who are going to put you down, there's no need for you to help them out.
Additionally, try to focus on talking about positive topics and ideas. Venting about your tough day or that thing that your partner did that pissed you off might feel good in the moment, but vocalizing it adds more value than it probably deserves, and only serves to reinforce the negative things that you feel.
Focus on the good around you
A lot of advice of this nature will tell you to keep a journal of things that you're thankful for, but if you're like me and feel a bit silly doing it, just make a point to try and find things that make you smile, or small positives throughout your day.
For me, a big part of being able to maintain this kind of thinking is my partner, John. We both vocalize the good things in our lives often, and probably say things like "I'm so lucky for XYZ" a few times a day. Personally, my Instagram #Project365 is also making me take a more critical look at the world around me - instead of going to and from places, I'm actively looking for things to photograph and admire and share. It's been a lot of fun, and it keeps me mindful of my surroundings.
Ditch the cynics
Do you have friends that just love to sit around making super-snarky comments about how awful the world is, how much their life sucks, and how nobody "gets them, man"? Yeah, we all have at one point or another, but in order to start leading happier, more productive lives we need to rid ourselves of those bad influences.
This can be incredibly hard to do, especially if you've got a super-tight circle of friends. I was fortunate in that I lost almost all of the negative people I knew as the result of a breakup, which forced me to take a long, hard look at the attitude and lifestyle habits that I had developed as a result of those influences.
Not everyone is as lucky as I am, and it can be hard to start putting distance between yourself and those negative people, but once you start spending your time with more positive, energetic, driven individuals you'll find that your attitude changes naturally over time. It can seem intimidating at first, but actively making an effort to hang out with more positive people will result in a more positive you.
Sweat it out
I'm not saying start drinking protein powder for every meal and putting on massive gainz at the gym, but exercising releases feel-good chemicals and makes you happier, it helps relieve stress and your body will look smokin' hot if you keep at it long enough.
If you're like me it can be hard to find exercise that doesn't feel like a drag after the first 30 seconds (I lift weights, mostly, because cardio gets boring fast). Most people just default to cardio because it seems like the go-to exercise, but there are so many other ways to get your heart racing - check out your local gym for classes, cycle around outside, go swimming, whatever!
Pay it forward
Being nice to other people makes you feel good. I'm not saying that you have to volunteer at a soup kitchen every night of the week (though if you want to that's cool, too) but doing small things like smiling at people on the street or holding doors open for strangers really make a difference in someone else's life and make you feel fabulous as well.
One thing I always make a point to do it thank my bus drivers. I commute via transit during the winter months and always make a point to thank the drivers if I'm exiting the bus at the front door. Think about it: these people basically drive in giant circles all day so that you can go to and from where you need to be. It's a pretty important job when you think about it, so I always let them know I appreciate it.
Remember, it takes time
These tips won't always work. There will be days when you feel blue, get the Mean Reds, or just need to bitch it out over a cocktail with friends. That's totally okay. Becoming a more positive person isn't going to happen overnight, and the effort and things you learn as you grow will help contribute to long-term happiness. Give yourself a break and smile.
What about you? Do you have any tricks for staying positive? Let me know!
- by Alyson Shane
I remember the first time I heard Audrey Hepburn utter those words. I was sitting with a friend, watching Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time, and I started to cry.
I felt relief. Relief that I finally had a way to describe what the stressful, overwhelming, terrifying emotional state that frequently overtook me.
That's what anxiety is like. It's like getting the mean reds.
Let me tell you a little more about what living with anxiety is like:
It's trying to write this post. Over and over and over again and deleting it all because as I see the words forming on the screen and my head starts to swim and my heart starts to pound and I think
You're so stupid. Nobody wants to hear what you have to say.
Or being so ashamed of my story, of how I found myself fighting this almost-daily battle against myself that I I spend more time trying to breathe deeply and fight back my tears than actually typing anything at all.
I wrote a huge post, earlier. About how my anxiety led me to my suicide attempt at 16, about the ways in which my relationship with my mother has left cracks the size of the Grand Canyon in my self-esteem, about how I've struggled with feelings of guilt, fear and, most importantly, of worthlessness for as long as I can remember, and you know what I kept thinking while I was pouring my heart out?
Nobody wants to hear your stupid thoughts. They're going to think you're an idiot for even thinking that they're worth sharing. You're not good enough to talk about your anxiety when there are other people out there who have it so much worse.
That's what living with anxiety is like. I spend my days second-guessing everything I've said, everything everyone has said to me, and worrying that somehow, some way, I'm going to ruin everything for myself and everyone. It will all be my fault.
I spend hours analyzing and re-analyzing the smallest of conversations. I re-read text messages and try to figure out the ways in which that person must be angry, or irritated, or disappointed with me, because I am always expecting someone to be angry, irritated or disappointed with me.
I've been this way for as long as I can remember. Due to a seriously abusive relationship with my mother and being a member of a family unit that operates on guilt and negativity I've developed this tendency to always assume that I'm not good enough.
Every single memory, every interaction, every milestone, is peppered with moments where my chest clenches up and I feel tears welling up behind my eyelids.
Did I just say something stupid? Oh my god they must think that I'm such an idiot.
Do I even deserve to be here? I'm such a fraud, I'm a sad excuse for a person and once they figure it out I'll lose everything I've worked so hard for.
Does he really love me? Because I certainly don't deserve to be loved. I'm too stupid and worthless and too much of a burden for anyone to want to love me.
People tell me I'm strong. They tell me that I'm smart, that I'm motivated, that I'm able to do anything that I put my mind to. I have a list of accomplishments as long as my arm that I'm so fiercely proud of, yet there's a voice screaming in my ear that I'm a fraud.
That I'm a stupid, worthless fraud.
Believe me, I realize how irrational this sounds, but anxiety isn't rational.
Some days I feel like I can't manage. The vice grip on my chest becomes too strong and I can't hold back the tears and I hide in a bathroom, or behind my sunglasses, or best of all under my blankets where I can just disappear until the feelings fade enough that I can try to put on a brave face and pretend like I'm okay again.
Most of the time I'm just pretending. Pretending that I feel at ease, that there isn't a perpetual knot in my chest, that I'm not worried that someone will wake up and go "aha! You never deserved any of this, you awful, terrible, worthless person!"
But pretending only goes so far.
Talking helps. Talking, crying, screaming it out helps. I'm slowly learning to accept that I don't have to be ashamed of having a mental illness, or that it's only a very small part of what makes me "me" but there are hard times, and I never know when it will strike.
But I'm getting better. I wrote this post, even though it took me several hours, a lot of tears, frantic text-messages to get reassurance that yes it is okay to talk about this on the internet of all places and no, nobody is going to think I'm stupid for feeling this way.
Let me repeat (both for me and for you): nobody thinks you are stupid for feeling the way that you do. Your feelings are always valid, no matter how irrational they may seem or how often that voice in your head tells you they aren't. You have value.
I have a long way to go before I'm able to rid myself of the Mean Reds, and maybe I'll never get to a point where they're 100% gone, but I'm going to get better.
Please, if you're feeling any of the same things that I described in my post, talk to someone. Call your mom, your boyfriend, your best friend, or, if you're feeling too overwhelmed, the Manitoba Suicide Line at 1-877-435-7170 or call any of the other 24-hour crisis hotlines to get help.
There's no shame in reaching out. Together we can beat the Mean Reds.
(I wrote this post for #BellLetsTalk, a hugely important campaign which encourages open discussion to end the stigma surrounding mental illness. If you know someone that you think might be suffering from mental illness, please reach out the them and let them know that they are loved & supported.)