I probably don’t need to begin this by reminding y’all of these ‘unprecedented circumstances’ and I’m sure you’re all tired of hearing it, so I’ll just skip all of that and jump right in. As someone who struggles with anxiety and PMDD, it’s really important to me that I stay in-tune with my emotions and communicate with myself. If I feel like something is off or brewing inside of me, I try to confront it head-on and get to the root of the issue. Sometimes, of course, you just have to stop cross-examining yourself and give your mind a rest. Here are the ways that I take care of myself and practice self love, particularly in tough times like these. 

I know it sounds really simple and cliche, but reaching out for support and upholding communication with your loved ones is so important! It can be as simple as a phone call to a best friend, partner, or family member. Whenever I’m feeling a bit gloomy or unmotivated, I’ll usually call either my best friend, Eli, or my boyfriend, Nathaniel. It doesn’t have to be a vent or a rant; even just having an upbeat, casual conversation can really lift my spirits and make me feel instantly better. In fact, sometimes it’s actually really nice and helpful to take your mind off the things that are driving you crazy, and focus on some more lighthearted thoughts for a while.

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Another way I maintain my mental health and practice self care is by keeping up with a personal journal, and no, I don’t mean my weekly blog newsletter! I have several actual print journals I write in, and unlike my blog content, I don’t share my journal with anybody. I think it’s important to have a special place where you can freely pour your thoughts onto paper, and not have to worry about what anyone else may think. I’m also starting to get into the art of junk journaling, which not only entails writing, but also crafting and sewing! I think it’s really beautiful to journal to yourself, and in most cases, it can give you a lot of clarity about problems you may be having. 

This is one that I particularly struggle with a lot: reminding myself that I am trying my best. Particularly in these strange times with my normal schedule being disruptive, I’m feeling less motivated and focused than usual. I also have ADD, which is making it really difficult for me to focus during my online classes. However, even though I’m sufficiently stressed and sometimes doubting myself, it’s important for me to remember that I am doing the best in these bizarre circumstances- and you are, too! It’s totally okay to feel not on top of your A game, because frankly, nobody knows what they’re doing right now. All you can really do is remind yourself that you are working your hardest in the given circumstances, and try to be gentle with yourself.  

Along with taking physical actions to improve my wellness, there are also a couple of analogies that help me to put things into perspective when I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed. The first one comes from a wonderfully funny Buddhist monk named Ajahn Brahm, who posts fascinating lectures on YouTube, by the way. He said something in a video once that really impacted me, and the analogy has stuck with me since. Basically, he compared having lots of different stresses in your life to carrying around lots of heavy rocks in a backpack. He reminds us that it’s important to evaluate what ‘rocks’ we are carrying around, and to decide what weight we can take out of our backpacks and out on the backburner for a while. For me right now, I’m dealing with the stress of online college, finding a job after graduation, coronavirus, moving into my first apartment, etc. Ajahn Brahm’s analogy helps me because it’s a great way to physically envision everything on my plate, and subsequently decide what I can put on hold for a while to make the weight of life more bearable.

Another analogy I really like comes from a book called When You Reach Me. Rather than try to explain the idea, I’ll just go ahead and insert the quote here:

“Mom says each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of the world, like a bride wears on her wedding day, except this kind of veil is invisible. We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way. But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down again. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to. Some people learn to lift the veil themselves. Then they don’t have to depend on the wind anymore.”

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I’m not sure what it is about this quote that means so much to me, but I think about it all the time (at least a couple of times per week.) Pretty much every time I am reminded of the ‘big things’ in life, I can almost see myself lifting my veil and observing life in a more clear view. The other day, I stepped out of my apartment and noticed that the sunset was absolutely gorgeous. For me, that was such a veil-lifting moment: observing the quiet beauty of the world and forgetting about the tiny stressors in my life for a few minutes. And honestly, since that day, everything has felt a little bit more okay. 

Animal therapy is a hugely successful way to alleviate stress in your life, and I’m very fortunate to have a dog around to keep me company. Sometimes, you really just need a support system but you don’t feel like talking, and that’s where pets come into play as wonderful companions. My dog doesn’t judge me or understand anything that’s going on- he’s just happy to be here, and that’s honestly all I can ask for. Petting animals can also help lower your blood sugar, so the next time you’re feeling stressed or upset, consider adding some animal therapy into your life.

Although it’s just a simple, little thing, taking bubble baths is one of my favorite ways to unwind after a crazy or overwhelming day. I really don’t understand people who say bubble baths are boring. Just bring a book or a podcast with you, or honestly, just scroll through your phone if you really want to. There’s just something utterly relaxing and wonderful about being immersed in hot water for a half hour with a few candles burning. Even better, it’s an easy way to avoid human interaction, so you can have some peace and quiet to yourself for as long as you want. For bonus points, go all out and have a complete spa night, with face masks and cucumbers on your eyes. 

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I suppose this sort of relates to the spa night idea, but lastly, I like to do hobbies and activities that make me feel beautiful- and I utilize that time for myself as being extremely important. For me, this is taking 30-60 minutes to put on my makeup, usually while I listen to a podcast or watch a video. I like the way I look bare-faced as well, but there’s just something about a full-glam face of makeup that makes me feel really pretty and confident in myself. I think makeup is also a great way to get to know your face and embrace your features, which ultimately means finding new ways to love yourself! 

Those are all my tips and ways that I practice self-love and take care of my mental health. I hope you found this article helpful, and maybe you can even draw some inspiration from it! Let me know in the comments how you like to practice your own self-care.

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Academically, I am one of the most stress-free people I know. I always get between 8-10 hours of sleep. I rarely spend more than an hour a day on schoolwork. And yet, consistently, I am a good student who manages to turn in all of my work on time, often with high markings. 

The most interesting aspect of all of this is that I do have ADHD and learning disabilities, but instead of wrestling with it, I use it to my advantage. I realize what my limits are, and I don’t try to push myself towards objectives that will simply be a waste of time. For example, I am NOT a textbook reader. I never have been, and I never will be. Rather than sit in my room and spend four hours trying to absorb a textbook, I’ll do other work instead that I know can be easily maximized. I can write three papers in four hours, so I might as well knock that out instead.

In all my three years of college, I’ve probably spent thousands of dollars on thirty or so textbooks. Realistically, I think I’ve opened three of them in my life. I’ve never failed (or even come close to failing) a class.

If this is ringing any bells, I have an exercise for you- make a list of all your academic strengths and weaknesses. Can you do anything about your weaknesses? If yes, it might be time to buckle down and work harder. Or, do you have a disability that prevents you from excelling in a certain area? Stop sweating about it. Focus instead on what you do well, and I promise you will flourish.

Like I said, I’m not a textbook reader. I have a really hard time sitting myself down and reading something that’s simply not interesting to me. I don’t enjoy answering questions on worksheets, especially if they’re self-explanatory and sound silly to answer. And, the worst, is taking tests and exams. I do not like working under pressure in those types of environments, and having my objective knowledge tested in a subjective method has never meshed well for me.

That being said, I have my strengths. I love to write essays and find it really easy to punch them out. I can write an A-grade, five page paper in less than two hours. I’m also very comfortable in group discussions that enable me to share my thoughts, and can intuitively figure out subject matter very quickly (without reading the textbook). I am comfortable with admitting what I’m not great at, but I’m also not afraid to admit what I am good at. I believe, in general, we need to give ourselves more credit. 

Like I said, because I have figured out my learning style, I am able to excel in the majority of my classes without stressing myself out exponentially. This is one of the biggest ways I keep my stress down- I focus only on doing my best, and if I feel like a task is a waste of time or energy, I find a way around it. That’s not to say “Give up when things get hard,” rather, “When things get hard, try not to stress too much. Carry out your work in the most effective way to your health and learning style.”

I always strive to do well, but I’m not obsessed with being an A+ student. College is a short channel in my life, it doesn’t define it- so I’m not going to work myself into a panic over the small stuff. I am totally and completely happy with soaring through college, and take B’s with gratitude. I am solidly okay with being “just average”, as long as it means my happiness and my health needs are met. I could never justify pulling an all-nighter to get a perfect grade on an assignment that won’t even matter in five years.

I have an article similar in nature to this one, which deals with how I manage my time at college. As a full-time student, I take six classes, post four blog articles a week, write for my school’s lifestyle magazine, and I still have time to take care of myself and get 8 hours of sleep per night. Like I said, it’s all about priorities. If I am assigned a fifty-page textbook reading for something I could just ignore and figure out myself, that’s exactly what I’ll do. Do I feel bad about that? No. That time is now going to be spent on something else, like an essay draft I’m really looking forward to starting early. 

I hope this doesn’t come across as “slack off,” because that’s not what I want people to do. I don’t slack off- I maximize my time. Trust me when I say your mental health is more important than turning in every single assignment with flying colors, even if you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. Take initiative to spend time with yourself and learn who you really are, and from there, everything will become a little bit more manageable. Every once in a while, it’s so important to let yourself relax.

Coming up next: Six Controversial Foods and My Opinions on Them

I’m the first to say that my mental health does not define me as a person, but that doesn’t change the fact that it actively affects all areas of my life. I’m also not ashamed of my disorders- at this point in my life, at twenty years old, I have accepted them as a part of my identity, not all of it.

With that being said, anxiety, OCD, ADHD are not parts of myself that I immediately bring up to people when I’m meeting them. Unfortunately, we live in a world where it’s become “cool” or “trendy” to have a mental illness, and flaunt it at every opportunity. The reality is, most people who are actually suffering do NOT want their mental health to be the center of attention, and this includes me. I do not want to be defined by what is only a portion of who I am. The only times I really bring up my mental illnesses is when it’s relevant to the situation, and if disclosing it will lessen the amount of uncomfortable situations in the future.

Like many people, the neuropsych areas of my life that I struggle with tend to overlap. Generalized anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder almost always go hand in hand. I’ve written about this before on my blog- they all tend to cycle together and have very similar symptoms in my personal experience. If you’re interested in learning more about that, I’ll link that article below.

Today, I want to talk about how these conditions affect my day-to-day life. Certainly, many people have it much worse than me, but that doesn’t change the fact that my life comes with a unique set of challenges and adversities. I want to be open about these experiences, because I’m sure there are lots of other young people going through similar difficult things. My mission has always been to be an advocate and a voice, and that’s why I’m happy to be as transparent and honest as possible.

Anxiety really is the umbrella for quite a few of my problems, to be completely honest. Anxiety is extremely common in young and old alike, but when it reaches a point of disrupting daily functions, that is when it becomes considered a “disorder.” Anxiety has persistently plagued me since I was a toddler; it is both a genetic and situational disorder for me. This is one of the reasons Lexapro- an antidepressant- has been so impactful in my adult life. Antidepressants literally change the chemistry of your brain, which is incredible for people who were simply born with lower serotonin counts in their brain (such as myself). Obviously, medication isn’t the answer for everyone, but it has been a pivotal solution for my own health struggles. Medication does have some downsides, however, and I will be going into those shortly.

A lot of my anxiety is very survival based, and my fight-or-flight instinct always seems to be ready for action. For survivors of childhood abuse (again, including myself), the fight-or-flight anxiety is a often result of feeling terrified and powerless as a child, usually due to some traumatic event. I am extremely conscious of danger, realistic or not, around me at all times. Anxiety plagues me with paranoia on a daily basis- while I am at college, I find myself constantly jerking around, watching other people, afraid that they are laughing at me and whispering about me. As anyone with social paranoia will tell you, it’s an exhausting cycle of worry and self-doubt. It can also effectively destroy friendships, if you’re constantly critical of yourself and others on such an intense level.

On the subject of this type of anxiety, my fear is also heightened by something coined “climate grief”. This type of anxiety is extremely common in young people, because it’s centered around a fear for the sustainability of my future, global warming, etc. Like I said, I’m a major hypochondriac, and my obsession with survival takes up an exhausting part of my thinking. When I get into this state of particular anxiety, it entails a lot of deep panic, crying, hopelessness, and frustration. The worst thing about climate grief is that there isn’t much I can really do about it, except lean on my closest friends and family for physical support and soothing.

Another form in which anxiety affects me is panic attacks and anxiety attacks. It’s estimated that 1-2 percent of the general population is suffering with a panic disorder, and as you may have guessed, I am one of those people. Anxiety attacks are much more common for me; I’ve only had about three panic attacks since 2015. There are particular circumstances that can trigger panic attacks for me- hospitals, doctor’s offices, blood, needles, claustrophobia (usually in the doctor’s office), and even low blood sugar are all catalysts for me to have a panic attack. For this reason, I always need to have my mother, a friend, or a trusted adult in the room with me when I need to get a shot or even a finger prick. The dread I feel about going to the doctor’s can start even weeks before my actual appointment. There is a name for having a fear of hospitals and medical procedures -nosocomephobia- and earlier, this year, I was officially diagnosed with it. Having this fear can often make me think irrationally, because it’s very likely I would consider avoiding going to the hospital, even if I needed medical attention. Subsequently, I am constantly afraid of developing illness or sustaining an injury. Doing so would first of all give me panic that I am going to die. Then, I would work myself into a panic about potentially having to go to a doctor or hospital. Then, my panic would spiral into a fear of having a panic attack once I got to the hospital, which is one of the worst possible experiences I can imagine happening to me.

Everyone’s panic attacks are a little bit different, but mine always entail “visual snow”, impaired hearing, and difficulty breathing. Visual snow is a neurological disorder characterized by a continuous visual disturbance, described as tiny flickering dots that resemble the noise of a detuned analogue television. This visual “static” slowly begins as a couple of flecks, but quickly takes up my entire field of vision until I can’t see or hear anything at all. It looks a little something like this.

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The first time I had a panic attack in a high school classroom, where my teacher was talking about blood types, I had absolutely no idea what was happening to me. I truly thought I was dying. The terror that washed over me as my hearing and vision disappeared into static is probably the scariest thing that has ever happened to me, and to this day, I work myself into intense states of anxiety, constantly plagued by the fear that it could happen again if I’m in the same room as someone talking about blood.

The second time this happened was in a church, and the priest was talking about the blood of Christ. The third time this happened was in a medical examination room, but the nurse was able to help me immediately by ducking my head to get the blood flowing again. This stopped the visual snow from happening, but I still threw up all over the floor. After having a panic attack, I’m always absolutely fatigued and feel lifeless for the rest of the day.

I normally don’t have sleep problems, but sometimes, my anxiety keeps me awake because I am worried I will have a panic attack. I worry when my mom is at work and I’m alone in the apartment, or when I’m alone at school- what if I randomly have a panic attack and nobody is here to help me? What if I collapse and hit my head? What if it’s not a panic attack, and I’m actually dying?

Welcome to the life of a highly anxious person!

So, that’s a look into my life with anxiety. We aren’t done yet. Now, we’re going to talk about Escitalopram, which is the drug I take to reduce my anxiety. My dosage of Escitalopram (my brand is Lexapro) started at 5mg, but about a year and a half ago I bumped it up to 10mg. Over time, drugs like Lexapro can slowly become less effective, so patients often have to amp up their dosage or switch to another medication. I have been on Lexapro for about two years, and it still appears to be working just fine for me. I still have anxiety, as you can clearly see, but it is much more manageable now than it used to be. I also used to struggle with depression, which is not something I have experienced since being on Lexapro. That being said, there are negative side effects that can come with taking antidepressant drugs like Lexapro. My side effects actually didn’t appear at the beginning of taking the drug- they started becoming noticeable to me about a year ago. The first thing Lexapro has affected is my overall sexual function. It may sound like a strange side effect, but it’s not uncommon for these drugs to lower your sexual libido and make it difficult to reach/sustain arousal with another partner. I haven’t had satisfying sex in about two years, which is when I started taking the drug. I know that probably sounds bothersome to an outsider, but it truthfully doesn’t bother me enough to the point that I would consider getting off the drug.

Another side effect with Lexapro that impaired memory and slow thinking. I have definitely noticed that my memory has gotten worse- sometimes, I can’t even remember what I did in the previous six hours. It’s difficult to describe how Lexapro has impacted my thinking skills, because it’s so frustrating and complex for even me to understand! The speed of my thought process is slower, my ability to think of relevant words is slower, and sometimes, my mind just feels completely blank. Again, for an outsider, I understand this probably sounds horrible and not worth taking the medication for, but like I said, these changes to my brain happened very slowly and I hardly even noticed them happening. At this point, I am used to it, and am even finding ways to adjust to this. I would love to be off lexapro in the future, because there are things about myself that I miss, and I also cannot drink alcohol while taking this drug (although that’s such a minor inconvenience compared to the other downsides). While weaning off lexapro is a future goal of mine, I have anxiety that my depression may return to me because of my compromised serotonin levels. Also, weaning off of this drug can have extremely intense withdrawal symptoms- some people are even hospitalized for this process. On the bright side, there is faith. It’s possible my brain has now learned how to make more serotonin on its own, and I may be able to continue living a depression-free life without it.

Moving on from anxiety and antidepressants, let’s talk about ADHD and my short-term memory skills. I was diagnosed with ADHD about five months ago, after going in for six hours of neurotesting at a nearby hospital. If you’re curious about my entire experience being diagnosed with ADHD, I’ll also link that article below. I’ll try to keep this segment short, because this article is already going to be crazy long.

I believe I inherited my ADHD genetically. My brother was diagnosed with it when he was in middle school, and though my dad has never been formally tested, I’m pretty sure that he has it, too. When I was growing up, I never associated myself with having ADHD, because I have always been a very well-behaved student and earned decent enough grades. It never occured to me that the fact I was working twice as hard as everyone was abnormal, because I never directly brought it up to my parents and teachers. I can remember, even going back to elementary school, literally not having a clue what was going on around me. I struggle following verbal directions, especially lectures, and usually need directions/instructions to be repeated many times for me to actually absorb information. The only reason I managed to get through school (and continue to get through school) with decent grades is because I am constantly observing what other students are doing, and copy their actions to yield passable results. Most of the time, I don’t actually know what I’m doing. I’m just sitting in a chair, surrounded by other students, completely unaware of what’s happening but still complying on a motor level.

I would say that about 80% of the time, I’m not really listening to my professor. I don’t read the textbooks, or worksheets, or anything else that I know I’m going to forget after ten minutes. If something does not have personal significance, or just doesn’t make sense to me, my brain doesn’t even bother making the memory. In more scientific words , I have “weak, albeit intact, performances for non-contextualized word list learning and memory.”

And that’s not just me assuming things about myself. It’s printed in my neuropsych report that I have impaired short term memory skills, and low “working memory” task requiring “arithmetic skills.” According to my report, I struggle to comprehend mathematics above a 6th grade level, which is about the time I started seriously failing math.

It’s noteworthy to add that my teachers in middle/high school never referred me for learning disability testing. Instead, they chose to litter my report cards with words like “distracting”, “not trying”, “daydreaming”, etc.

I really wanted to give you that much in-depth information, because I hope it will help you better understand how ADHD and anxiety are connected. When your life and savings are more or less dependent on completing your higher education, it can be frustrating and worrisome when you feel like you have no clue what’s going on. It’s ridiculous to walk out of a classroom and think, “I’m spending all this money to sit in a classroom and feel utterly confused.”

Like I said, I get through classes by copying what peers are doing and mimicking their actions. I work much, much better when I can be alone in my own space, working on my own time, and absorbing information in a way that works for me. I am excellent at writing essays, and have an easy time focusing on organizing my thoughts into words. This works out great for me, considering most of my college assignments just consist of writing essays anyway. I feel like I’ve earned the right to be proud of the fact that I can punch out a five-page essay in about an hour. Having ADHD isn’t all negative- I am also an extremely fast worker, and enjoy rushing through things as quickly as I possibly can. I don’t care about being the top in the class, or earning an A every time. I want to be quick, efficient, and…average.

So, that’s more or less the deal on my daily life with ADHD. If you’re interested in a more in-depth analysis, like I said, there will be a link at the bottom.

Obsessive compulsive disorder is something that used to plague me much more severely when I was younger, but as I have aged, it has become much more manageable. I attribute this somewhat to my medication, but also to the fact that I have been in and out of therapy to work on these obsessive issues with professionals. I have counting compulsions, and compulsions to do everything possible in even numbers. It used to be a lot worse when I was in elementary school and middle school- everything, everything I did, I was consciously aware of doing in even numbers. I stepped on cracks in the sidewalks in even numbers. I flicked lights on and off twice. I got up to check if the stove was off not once, but twice. Or four times. Or six times.

I sometimes still catch myself doing this frustrating habits, but the more aware I become of the ridiculousness, the easier it is to ignore my compulsions. OCD is significantly intertwined with anxiety, because ignoring these compulsions can literally litter my mind until I give into it. I know nothing bad will actually happen if I do something in an odd number, but it’s the fact that I’m going against it that makes me obsess over the diversion. Like I said, however, I have been able to manage this successfully to the point that it’s hardly noticeable anymore, especially to outsiders. I would say I have a compulsion about 1-3 times per day, but there are also days when I have no compulsions at all.

Lastly, I want to talk about Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), because this condition feeds directly into almost all of my other mental issues (mainly anxiety and OCD). The easiest way to describe PMDD is as very intense PMS, that begins up to 7-10 days before your period and last for days afterwards. On an especially bad bout of PMDD, I can feel symptoms for up to 15 days, which can start to feel like it will never end. It’s common for people already suffering with anxiety to develop PMDD, and the symptoms are very similar. Interestingly, I will sometimes have a cycle with no PMDD symptoms, and feel generally fine for the entire month. And then, in the next month’s cycle, I will start to feel pretty shitty around the second week of my cycle and know that a rough emotional storm is coming.

The somewhat nice thing about PMDD is the predictability. I’ve had enough episodes of it to know when my symptoms are coming, and I am able to remind myself, “This is okay, you’ve gone through this before, you know it will be over eventually and you’ll go back to feeling like yourself.” Taking oral birth control can help with these symptoms, and that’s actually exactly what I do to regulate my PMDD. Before taking birth control, I would feel totally out of control and severely depressed in the days leading up to my period. Because birth control can regulate hormones and affects estrogen, it has actually been shown to help women suffering with the condition find emotional/physical relief. It’s important that everybody knows birth control is NOT just for preventing pregnancy. Birth control needs to stay readily available to women because it helps with so much more, like managing hormonal mental illness.

The symptoms of PMDD include lasting anger/irritability, sadness/despair, tension and anxiety, crying, lack of interest in people/activities, troubling focusing, low energy, food cravings, binge eating, trouble sleeping, feeling out of control, bloating, and headaches . Some women also experience frequent panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts, but thankfully, I have experienced neither of those as a result of PMDD. I have never experienced suicidal thoughts, and my panic attacks are few and far between.

Feeling the effects of my PMDD can be really scary at times, even if I know they will pass eventually. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and panic, because I don’t feel connected to myself, and like I’m in some sort of horrible dream that I can’t wake up from. The climate grief that I mentioned earlier, and my hypochondriac behaviors, become a LOT worse. My OCD compulsions in an attempt to gain control of my life become heightened during this time. I usually don’t want to leave my house, talk to people, or engage in the activities that I usually love doing. When my PMDD is at its worst, all I can do is lay in bed and try to distract myself with naps and emotional support. I can also become extremely paranoid while dealing with my PMDD- worrying that people secretly don’t like me, or that they’re out to get me, etc.

Like I have stated, I have never experienced suicidal thoughts or tendencies, and I know the pain is not permanent. It is not my fault I have a hormonal imbalance in my body that affects my mind. I remind myself that it is not the end of the world, I pull my family and friends close, and eventually, I do start to feel better. I truly want everybody reading this, especially the young people suffering with mental illness and feeling hopeless, to know that YOU WILL BE OKAY. There are people here for you who want to help you and support you in whatever you need.

Because I take an oral contraceptive, my PMDD symptoms are a lot less severe than they used to be. I’ve mentioned in other articles that when I was in high school and early college, a lot of uneducated authority figures tried to send me to hospitals and crisis clinics because they wrongfully thought I was a danger to myself and others. I’ve talked in detail about these traumatic, scary experiences, and how it is resoundfully dangerous it is to call the police on a person in mental distress.

I repeat, DO NOT CALL THE POLICE ON A PERSON IN A MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS. (Unless they actually are a danger to themselves or others). For me and many others, however, calling the police or an ambulance on me when I am having an anxiety attack is the worst possible thing you can do. Even worse, making a person suffering in mental health distress feel like they are a nuisance, danger, or anomaly is a huge problem that I have seen across not only my college campus, but across the entire nation.

I’m not writing this article because I want pity or sympathy, I am writing this because I want to normalize invisible mental illness. I may have my privations, but that does not define who I am. I am a happy, healthy, and confident woman. If I can maintain my happiness, independence, and well-being, then I believe in you, too!

The relationship between ADHD and GAD: https://diplomatsdigest.wordpress.com/2019/04/12/the-relationship-between-adhd-and-gad/

Being diagnosed with ADHD: https://diplomatsdigest.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/being-diagnosed-with-adhd-at-19-my-experience/

Coming up next: Does Crystal Healing Actually Work?

I’ve heard a lot of people say that “ADHD isn’t real,” and actually, I think that’s a really interesting point. Coming from a person who has ADHD, I can understand that point, and agree with it to some extent. I do believe that there are different learning styles, but to label ADHD as a “learning disability” just seems fundamentally wrong to me. I mean, 6.1 million American children have been diagnosed with the disorder, so at that point…is it even a disorder? Or just a vastly versatile and large demographic of people who all learn in a particular way which is different than the norm?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There isn’t a right answer to that question- at least, not one that I’ve come across so far. For all practical purposes, I do tell people I have ADHD when needed, but in the back of my mind, I can’t help but feel silly for even needing to label myself. After all, we all experience ADHD symptoms to some extent, and the numbers are continuing to grow. Why should we, the people diagnosed with this “disorder,” have to medicate ourselves and change ourselves to fit the mainstream society? Why is society not changing to be all-encompassing and open-minded to different learning styles?

That was a little bit of a tangent (and it’s mostly aimed at the American educational system), so let’s get back to the main point here: ADHD and anxiety disorders. Do they really go hand in hand? More or less, yeah.

In fact, ADHD is one of the most common disorders that usually go hand in hand with other conditions. ADHD and OCD tend to go together (I have both), and of course, depression and anxiety can correlate with ADHD as well. Generally, I would say my OCD, ADHD, and anxiety all feed off of each other, almost in a cycle. When I can’t focus, or I can’t interpret what’s going on around me, my fight-or-flight instinct kicks in, and I get anxious. When I’m anxious, I have a debilitating desire to control my environment. When I’m constantly trying to control everything around me, my world is out of focus. And so on, and so forth.

It is definitely an unfair cycle, but luckily, I have medications like Lexapro and Lorazepam to alleviate my symptoms. Medication obviously isn’t for everyone, but for me, I’ve found it to be extremely helpful and even critical to my mental health. Medications won’t banish all your problems and symptoms, but they do make an extremely positive impact, in most cases. I still struggle with anxiety, and occasional OCD symptoms, but they’re manageable and nowhere near as extreme as they once were.

Interestingly, even though I do have ADHD, I’m a generally high-performing student with decent grades. I’ve figured out a way to do well in classes without the help of anyone else, so taking Adderall  or something similar has never felt like something I needed. Sure, doctors and neuropsych doctors have recommended it to me, but it’s never something I’ve wanted to pursue (and probably never will). It kind of ties back into ADHD not being a “real thing”- why should I have to change, and literally alter my brain chemistry, just because society doesn’t want to change the educational structure to fit all learning styles?

On the flip side, I do believe in treating my anxiety with medication, because that is something I haven’t found an alternative way to work around. Therapy doesn’t really work treating my anxiety, and neither does deep-breathing, meditation, exercising, etc. No, the only way I have been able to reduce my anxiety long-term is through medication, and I’m totally okay with that. The changes I’ve seen in my attitude and energy levels are undeniable, and my self-esteem has also greatly improved in the two years I’ve been on Lexapro.

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Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

In a nutshell, what I’m really trying to say is, just do what’s best for your individual case. If you’re struggling with a tangle of emotional issues, you might not want to completely rule out the correlation between anxiety and ADHD. Especially if you’ve been diagnosed with one or the other, it increases the chances that there is something else going on there, too. I’m generally not a big fan of labels, but if a label is going to be useful to me and actually make my life easier, yeah, I’ll accept all these medical terms as a part of my mental health identity. I have ADHD, GAD, specific phobia, and OCD, and I’m completely, utterly happy with myself. No matter what you’re struggling with, I hope you can remember to love yourself, too.

If you’re interested in me doing more of these personal-mental health stories, let me know! I love to be completely open about my health history, because I’ve come to accept it and love it as a part of who I am. I also feel like mental health is still not talked about enough, so if I have the opportunity to make a difference, I will. Thank you for reading!

Coming up next: Switching Majors, My 20th Birthday, and Other Life Updates

 

To be completely candid, this is a difficult article to write. I’m not putting this up on the internet to be a role model or positive example- I’m using my blog instead as a form of therapy. It isn’t my choice that I’ve been bullied, but it is my choice to decide how I handle it. And frankly, I haven’t always coped in the best way.

Also, this is mostly about the emotional effects of bullying, but I also reveal a lot of my own mental health journey. Mental health is extremely relevant to how we socialize with others, and in my case, it plays a very large role in my life.

I’m also publishing this article as an apology. If you’re reading this and I have hurt you, scoffed at you, rolled my eyes at you, or made a bitchy remark, maybe this article will help explain why I turned out the way I did, and how I’m trying to fix that.

Since I was born, I’ve always been a highly sensitive person. Physical stimuli like pain and noise have always been extremely intense for me, and definitely contributed to my generalized anxiety disorder when I was little. There were other things going on in my early life that caused lasting emotional distress, but I’ve managed to deal with those issues separately and resolve them.

Anyway, bullying. I was bullied in elementary school for my extreme sensitivity, because it made me an easy target. There was a particular trio of girls who emotionally tormented me from 1st grade to 4th, no matter how much my counselors and teachers tried to intervene. Because I struggled so much with making friends, I learned to spend a lot of my time alone. I’ve always been mostly introverted, and enjoy doing quiet activities in my own company. This is something that I have carried into my adult life, through activities such as writing, reading, and knitting. I’m sure I speak for many other sensitive people when I say it’s extremely calming to spend time in your own company, away from loud stimuli and large crowds of people. My brain can’t focus on various sounds at once, so I do my very best work when I’m completely alone and undisturbed.

Like many others, my middle school years were quite hard for me. Cliques, cyberbullying, and rumors that spread like wildfire were rampant. Our middle school years are some of our most meaningful times for emotional growth, along with finding a sense of identity and self-esteem. I had some friends in middle school, but I was still overwhelmingly aware of my “outcast” status. I found myself being picked last for gym day after day, until finally, I stopped going to gym altogether to read books in the locker room. I knew it would be useless to talk about my feelings to a counselor or teacher; you can’t make people want to be your friend, and why should you, anyway?

I definitely had a reputation by the time I reached high school. My teachers thought I was gifted, my classmates thought I was a basket case, and I thought I was misunderstood. When my parents split up during my sophomore year of high school, I completely broke down inside, not knowing how to deal with the stress. I cut my hair short, dyed it black, and started living out a short-lived goth phase. I was sick and tired of being walked all over, and I wanted my public image to show that: “If I look unapproachable enough, maybe people will leave me alone.”

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Obviously, that didn’t really work out. I’m a total softie on the inside, and no amount of painting myself with black lipstick and bitchy smirks could stop that. Even if it fooled other people, I didn’t fool myself for a minute. During my “goth” period, other students ridiculed me by copying my dark makeup looks and posting them on Instagram, trying to embarrass me.

On top of feeling completely alienated by my peers, I had another privation eating me alive in high school. I had struggled my whole life up to that point with undiagnosed generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. I lived the first sixteen years of my life not having a single clue that any of these disorders applied to me and my health. At Amesbury High School, you see, we weren’t taught that mental health could be a spectrum. I lived most of my life naively believing that you could only be happy or sad. If you felt somewhere in between, or even if you felt neither, well, you had to figure that out yourself.

I knew I wasn’t suicidal, or crazy, or hell, even depressed. I’ve always been a relatively happy person. But if I wasn’t depressed or crazy, what was wrong with me? Why did I find myself constantly having anxiety attacks in classes, eating lunch in bathroom stalls, picking fights with girls and obsessing over whether or not boys liked me? After one particular scary incident, in which I broke down in tears during school, my counselor and school nurse stuck me in a fluorescent-lighted room and locked the door. They made me call my mother and tell her what happened on speaker phone. And then, after that mess, they sent me to a hospital in the next town over, for a “psychological evaluation.” I remember my mother sat me down in a chair before I went to the doctor, and curled my hair for me. While I sat in my bedroom, feeling the heat against my neck, I heard my father come into our apartment uninvited. He was screaming and fuming, scared, and I was even more scared, crying and wondering what was wrong with me.

I told the doctor at the hospital everything that had happened to me in the past few years. I told her about my parents getting divorced, my completely random panic attacks, my social anxiety, and the increased levels of distress I experienced during my menstrual period. She scoffed when I told her that my school thought I was a danger to myself and my peers, which is when I realized my school was doing this to students to avoid being sued. I told the doctor about all the individual research I had done on anxiety disorders and premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and after hearing me out, the doctor signed off on my medical forms and wished me the best.

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That horrible experience was actually one of the most life-changing turning points of my life. After I returned to school, the principal made my mother and I attend a meeting in a conference room with him and some other faculty. Essentially, I had to tell a room full of old men that my outburst was caused due to my menstrual distress.

Some good did come from that, I’m happy to say. I started seeing a therapist, who put me on a 10mg dosage of Escitalopram (Lexapro). That, along with starting oral birth control, significantly helped to reduce my anxiety and hormonal irritability. If I had just been aware of these options and earlier in life, I could have avoided a mile of pain and embarrassment. Maybe, if I had been screened correctly instead of immediately being written off as a “danger”, all of this trauma could have been avoided.

Since being on Lexapro, I’ve noticed significant improvements to my mood and overall health. Less anxiety means less social avoidance, which, in turn, has turned me into a more social person. I’ve decided, after processing the initial grief, that my parents’ divorce is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It opened a door for me that was scary at the time, but looking back, it needed to be opened.

Anyway, that was a bit of a tangent, but it’s relevant to my current life at college. My anxiety was still around, but it was nowhere near as bad as it used to be. After high school, I was so, so excited for a fresh start, to surround myself with people who didn’t know my name, who didn’t think I was a basket case. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but I should have assumed it wasn’t going to be as awesome as I thought it would.

Just like elementary school, I once again found myself being targeted for my anxiety and sensitivity, but this time, it was being carried out by grown adults. Freshman year of college was extremely difficult for me- I was bullied extensively by my former roommate and her posse of friends, by methods of manipulation and fear tactics. One time, I spent a night sleeping in the laundry room, for my own safety. I came into college with high hopes and visions of myself being appreciated and loved. Instead, I felt afraid to even leave my room, afraid to trust peers, and afraid to make connections. At one point, after suffering an anxiety attack due to the bullying, the campus police showed up and cornered me in a public space. As students crowded around the door to see what was happening, I had to sit through about twenty minutes of male police officers asking me what medications I was taking, what conditions I had, was I having boy problems? Did I want to go to the hospital? Was I going to hurt someone?

No, I said, for what felt like that 900th time. I have an anxiety disorder. I’m being bullied. I’m not a threat to you, myself, or the damn college. Similarly to the incident in high school, I was traumatized by this public mental health shaming. For months afterwords, I remained in the constant state of paranoia, feeling panic attacks come on just at the sound of a siren. It’s extremely difficult to be open with authority, and even peers, about anxiety, especially when the system doesn’t know how to properly understand those situations. I’m happy to say that all of the police officers involved were “reprimanded.”

I feel like this article is starting to sound too sad. Here’s a picture of my dog to cheer us all up! And don’t worry, there’s a happy ending.

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I’m a junior now, and I’m happy to say that group of toxic people have left my life completely, and according to my college, they have also been “reprimanded for their actions.” About a year ago, around the time I had moved out of that horrible situation and into my own room, I started writing my blog. I also started getting seriously interested in crystals, healing stones, knitting and period dressing- all things I have kept up to this day. I have something to take pride in, to strive towards, and build my name around. My writing has, and always will be, my saviour.

I am a cheerful young woman, filled with gratitude and silliness. When I’m around my friends, and even by myself, I’m full of smiles and creativity and energy. I am by far in the best place I’ve ever been, emotionally and socially. Despite my happiness, however, I am still held back by one thing. I’ve maintained a stubbornness, and furthermore, a streak of unforgivingness towards those who intentionally hurt me. If you want to be my friend, that’s great, but the minute I feel intentionally hurt or excluded, I will mercilessly cut you out. Sure, it’s necessary sometimes to cut the toxic people out, but I’ve reached such a level of hurt, I shut out everybody the minute they make a mistake. Even people who don’t even know me have gotten the cold shoulder from me- mostly popular people on campus, with swarms of friends, and even relatively nice co workers. If I feel unincluded, I take it painfully personally. I don’t forgive, and I certainly don’t forget. After you’ve spent more than a decade of your life feeling ridiculed, betrayed, and ostracized, it’s hard to suddenly gain trust and warmth towards strangers. As psychology has shown, it’s all a part of our fight-or-flight instinct. Here’s a few paragraphs taken directly from WhyTeamBullying.com:

“The human body responds with ‘fight or flight’ mechanisms designed to help us escape from dangerous situations, when we are subjected to bullying. This is caused by the feelings of fear that victims often suffer.

Additional stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline are produced leading to a faster heart rate, constricted blood vessels, and a tensing of muscles, and a release of the energy your body would normally store for fuel.

Systems which are not required for ‘fight or flight’ are often constrained by the body during this release, such as digestion, immune and reproductive systems. In a typical danger situation, this response only impacts the body for a short period, but the repeated exercising of this mechanism by a bullying victim both the frequency and the duration of the stress response can be dangerously high.

The link between this stress response and future health issues has not been proven, but is suspected by many experts to be one of the key factors at play in the health issues bullying victims go on to suffer.”

I also have a really awful impulse problem that has developed over the last few months. I don’t have a problem turning to someone and saying, “Excuse me, is there a problem?” If I see they’re staring at me. It’s not always the smart thing to do, and it certainly doesn’t win me friends, but again, it’s a power-dynamic thing for people who have a past of being victimized. It’s very much a “You can bully me if I bully you first” attitude.

Like I said, I’m not broadcasting this to pretend I’m a great role model, or anything like that. I’m putting this out as a way of healing and acknowledgment, and maybe, find another victim of bullying who feels the same way. Being bullied has effectively turned me into a bitch, and it’s one of the only things about myself I wish I could change. I have days where I feel happy and full of forgiveness, weeks, even, when I think I’ve finally let go of my scars. And then, after a minor incident or disappointment, the hurt comes rushing back.

Partly, this is my own conscious fault and wrongdoing. When I take interest in someone, I usually let them in way too quickly and spill my feelings too fast. And then, of course, I find myself shocked when the friendship/relationship doesn’t work out.

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If you’ve even gotten this far in my article, and if this strikes a chord in you as well, I want you to know that you’re not a broken human. I’m not broken, and I’m not damaged; there are things I need to improve on, and I believe in my heart and my abilities. If I can do that, so can you.

If you’re struggling with social anxiety and making friends, there are people who are happy to talk to you. I’ve had some shitty therapists in the past (one of them actually blackmailed me, but that’s another story), but I promise there are also a lot of genuinely good ones. Don’t feel shameful in talking about your feelings. I’m out her on a limb sharing my story, and it’s a little scary, but only good things will come from being completely honest with yourself. And I promise, no matter how hard things seem, they will get better. If someone had told me my junior year of high school that I would one day be this happy, I probably wouldn’t believe them. But I’m here, I’m full of gratitude, and damn, I’m so happy with who I am. The next step for me is to face this coldness I’ve developed, and hopefully, find peace with myself, my peers, and those who have hurt me in the past.

References: https://whyteambuilding.com/resources/the-appalling-mental-physical-impact-of-bullying/

Coming up next: My Favorite Drugstore Products

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you know that my cognitive/learning disability testing has played a huge role in 2018. The seed was actually planted for me exactly a year ago, in the January of 2018, when I was discussing with my therapist the problems I’ve faced with my attention span and short-term memory. I’d never thought of myself as a candidate for ADHD before then; after all, ADHD just meant you were hyper, right? It was never something I had originally associated with myself, but the more I spoke to her and began to reflect on my academic/personal experiences, the more I wanted to pursue an answer.

Academically, I’ve always been a well-behaved kid. I completed my work on time, I wasn’t disruptive in class, and I generally got along with others. I have always struggled big-time with math, and even reached points in my life where I almost failed the entire class, but it was never brought to my attention that I might have an impairment in learning mathematics. The explanation I always got was along the lines of, “You’re gifted in English and arts, so of course you struggle with math.” Or, my favorite, “Why don’t you just try harder?”

The funny thing about ADHD is this, you are trying as hard as you can. In fact, you’re probably working twice as hard as everyone around you to retain the same information. The problem isn’t my level of willingness, the problem is neurological.

In school, I differed from other students in that I enjoyed taking notes and listening to lectures. When the information was personable and heavily reliant on verbal skills, I quite enjoyed learning and tended to retain much more information. The biggest issues for me were in mathematics, focusing on textbooks, and memorizing facts upon facts upon facts. When you struggle with these things but don’t show signs of hyperactivity, unfortunately, ADHD is not the first thing that comes to most adults’ minds. If you had experiences like me, you’re more likely to hear responses like, “Oh, just try harder.” Or, “Be more patient.” Or, “Just stop daydreaming and focus!”

Don’t you think if I could work harder, I would?

Generally, the way I got through most of middle/high school was by what I’ve coined “intuitive learning.” If I’m assigned a task that I have virtually no clue how to complete, and I know that no amount of asking the professor will help me understand it better, I simply start mimicking what other students are doing around me. I may not know what I’m doing, but at least I’m getting it done in the meantime, and I can push it out of my mind as soon as class is over. This generally only occurs in classes that involve verbal directions, computers, numbers, math, etc. Essentially, it comes out to play when I have to complete a task that doesn’t involve any artistic creativity.

Anyhow, I was talking about how I decided to get tested. I was thoroughly kicked in the ass with the need to get tested when my college told me they couldn’t secure a medical single for me without two medical diagnoses (I’ve already been diagnosed with GAD, so ADHD would have been the other hopeful diagnosis I needed.) My therapist referred me to a hospital outside Boston that offered cognitive/neurological testing, and told me that all I would have to do is make sure my insurance covered it. This part was a little bit tricky, and set me back/discouraged me in regards to actually getting the testing booked. Not every insurance company will cover learning disability testing, and my insurance plan unfortunately didn’t. After back-and-forthing even more with my therapist about this tiny problem, she explained to me that the hospital itself would have to reach out to my insurance and essentially plead for coverage. Otherwise, well, I simply couldn’t afford it.

The good news is, after sending out a letter to my insurance and phrasing my testing needs as means for “cognitive well-being”, I got the entire testing covered. I can’t guarantee that situation would pan out for everyone, but thankfully, it worked out for me.

The first step for me was to fill out a lengthy packet entailing all of my concerns, behaviours, reasons for seeking testing, etc. After I filled it out, I mailed it to the hospital, and waited 1-2 weeks to hear back. The next step is to set up your first meeting with the hospital via phone, which can be quite a gruelling experience due to the scarce availability. I called to set up an appointment in September, but couldn’t even find a date to work for me until December.

The entire experience consisted of three meetings with a doctor. The first meeting was probably the shortest, around an hour or so, and just consisted of discussing my packet and my reasons for wanting the testing. She asked me about my childhood, my academic habits, my behavior, and generally all things that would help her determine what kind of tests to proctor for me. After that, we set up a longer appointment for me to complete the tests, and she sent out the request to my insurance company for coverage.

The actual testing itself wasn’t very hard, but sections of it were actually kind of stressful. Some of the tests challenged my memory; for example, she would read me a list of random words and then ask me to repeat all the words I remembered. There were tests in which she would show me a very detailed design, and then ask me to re-create it to the best of my ability. One particular test which I found very stressful was a computer test that flashed different letters quickly on the screen. I was supposed to hit the spacebar for every letter except for “X”, and due to my speed and impulsivity, I literally failed that test with flying colors. I also took vocabulary tests, personality tests, mood tests, math tests, word tests, tests with blocks…you name it. The entire testing took four hours for me, which she told me was actually quite fast. I wouldn’t say I felt physically tired after the testing, but my brain was definitely fried. That being said, I’m extremely happy I went through with it, and was more or less entertained for the entire testing. My recommendation for anyone preparing for a similar testing experience is to eat a very large, protein-abundant breakfast so that you can have sustained energy and a focused mind.

It literally only took a week for my results to be ready, which surprised me, due to the busy nature of the hospital. The third and final meeting with my doctor took about an hour and a half, and basically just gave her a chance to go over my results with me and answer any questions I may have. When I got my results back and went over them with my doctor, she answered some questions for me, and then told me she was going to diagnose me with ADHD. I was right on the line of being diagnosed with OCD as well, but I didn’t quite meet all the criteria she would need for a diagnoses. I was actually extremely happy to finally have a diagnoses and an explanation for why I had struggled so much with retaining information and paying attention. She explained to me that I was exceptionally fast at processing information, but my short-term memory skills were lacking in situations where the subject wasn’t interesting to me. For example, I could recall many details from a short story she read to me, but when it came to reciting numbers and random lists, I struggled greatly and showed a level of impairment. She also concluded I had an impairment with math, which I had already assumed, but what I didn’t know was that I only comprehended up to sixth-grade level math. Yikes.

She didn’t only tell me what was “wrong” with me, but also highlighted what cognitive areas I excelled in. For example, I learned that not only was I very smart with quickly processing complex ideas, but I also had an “above average” vocabulary and excellent verbal skills for my age. She agreed that communications was a great degree for me to pursue, and advised me that anything involving numbers and short-term decision making skills would be a challenge for me. There were tons more components that she analyzed, but I think those were essentially the highlights. After the doctor goes over your results, you can expect a formal written diagnoses and (lengthy) copy of your results to come in the mail within a few days. I received mine exactly seven days letter, in the form of a very, very lengthy analysis.

I am so happy to have had the testing done, and regret nothing about it. Albeit, it was super strange to receive a six-page analysis of myself, containing everything from how I was dressed to how often I snacked and took breaks. There were paragraphs upon paragraphs describing all of her impressions of me, how well I performed on the tests, and what advice she had for me to improve my skills and lifestyle. At the end of the paperwork, there was a detailed chart describing my exact score on every test, and the formal diagnosis of ADHD, OCD, Specific Phobia, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. The Specific Phobia, by the way, is for needle/blood/hospital phobia. I may consider writing a separate article for that as well; we shall see!

It’s fantastic to finally have an explanation for why I do the things that I do, and how I can help to better myself physically, emotionally, and even socially. I can’t guarantee that everyone will have the same experience as me, but if you have concerns about your health, I highly recommend considering cognitive testing.

My other article about ADHD (before I had testing): https://wp.me/p9QumI-1z 

Coming up next: Fashion History Friday: Queen Victoria