I stopped holding my breath for everything this year, even food.

It was a crap year. It started out solid, though. I’m disappointed in myself for giving in to fears, and even trying new things, but I won’t talk about that here.

While writing the previous blog post, I asked myself, “who has the authority to give advice on mental health?” It reminded me how much I hesitated for months before starting this blog. For a moment, I thought I’d catch imposter syndrome again. Two years ago, it seemed like uplifting others was only reserved for folks with abbreviations beside their name or even life coaches. Whether they were good at their job or not, they were qualified, and I was not. But at the time I often heard, “you don’t need to go to school to help people,” and “your experiences are enough to help people,” in the videos I watched on YouTube. I also admired Michael Pollan’s career as a journalist who wrote several books on nutrition. With all that in mind, I created an account on WordPress and confessed the reality of my situation. Started giving tips. People flocked. Two posts gained a lot of merits. I had the passion for this project… until this year when it burned out.

The passion burned out because I found out that many, if not most, people don’t want to be helped. Everybody wants to feel good, though. It feels cruel to say that, but it’s true. I don’t think I’m better than anyone or superior in any way, however, I do a lot of inner work– enough to realize this. Despite that, I still have the same sense of purpose to help people heal. I would really love to find a way to say important things and help who I can in an entertaining way because everybody likes to have fun. I mean, Michael Jackson did it. Not sure why I can’t, you know, because actually, I can. Although I explored the possibility to revamp the blog into something that looked more sophisticated, with contributors, it’s been quite challenging without the right tools (and money). There was a contributor page in the first 2 years, but no one submitted anything.

Recently, I took a massage therapy workshop to see if bodywork could be the way to help because everyone holds tension in the body. That tension is linked to emotions/trauma we store. I could get into a massage therapy program I may like, but it wouldn’t be a long-term career for me. Ultimately though, I believe my answer is in fiction stories, poetry, and art. Just the stuff I’ve always been doing, but this time the world will see it. It’s a lot more fun for me, too. There’s no other way I’d rather help people when I think about it, although I’m finding it extremely challenging to establish a business and to get out of my own way. Somehow, I’m still beating myself up every day for not having a traditional career path. I’ve tried, trust me, but I either get fired or quit. And folks really dig my poetry, man! So, the business is launching in 2019 and I’ll find an additional outlet to showcase my work– either video or podcast. Probably video.

My original intention was to create an online magazine. Previous entries reflect that in the titles and style of writing. I’ve always wanted a magazine of my own, but lately, I’ve been wanting to make the site more personal. Maybe sharing my world with others won’t be the nightmare my anxiety makes it seem. My confidence diminishes when I stumble on an old acquaintance on Instagram, in my suggested connections, and look at their winning photos. The pics make me want to switch back to a personal account to hide my content. So, sometimes I do privatize my account and remove my blog link, only to switch back to “Joséphine, Writer” with my selfies and prose exposed again in a few minutes. Other times, I force myself not to keep the account public. I don’t think I need to hide in my shell anymore, but it can be hard not to. That’s a goal for 2019. Here are some more:

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Healing The Soul

It’s hard continuing this project without painting the entire picture of my healing journey.

I began seeing improvements in my mood after making the decision to create a wholesome and holistic healthcare plan. Therapy alone wasn’t so effective. Medication suppressed my emotions and had me seeing the world in grey. The emptiness in my heart was still ever so present. You know that painful hole we often feel in our heart? Or that cup we either fill up or empty out? Well, that’s the immaterial aspect of our existence and it is hurting. I wanted to tend to this wound. So, I chose to add spirituality to my plan. My counselor at the time was already encouraging me to take daily walks and get back to my yoga practice in order to incorporate exercise into the plan. Getting back into yoga was very hard and I was unsuccessful with that, but I managed to take daily walks. I have a close connection to the Divine– I’m going to use this term, along with Source, to refer to God– but back then, the relationship was dwindling because, for the past couple of years, my life seemed to constantly be falling apart. I was always depressed, closed-off, and lost. But because I had gone through surprising spiritual experiences in the past, I felt that the Divine was real and that without tending to my soul’s growth and its re-connection to Source, I’d continue feeling unfulfilled. Some may dismiss the existence of spirit because what we don’t see with the physical eye is hard to prove. I’m not trying to convince anyone, I’m only sharing my reality.

Soul’s Gotta Eat

The saying, “you can’t pour out of an empty cup” is a metaphor for one’s life-force, or soul. Giving time and energy to jobs, things we may not care for, worries, and people, drains our life force. If it doesn’t get replenished, one feels a sense of lack. It feels like a hole in the chest which we then try to desperately fill with material things and self-harming habits– even less obvious things sometimes. As you know, it doesn’t work long-term. Sometimes, it doesn’t work at all. For me, filling my cup looked like getting back into meditation, which I used to do on a daily basis as a teen. While meditation is now a trend sold as a tool to unwind, its real purpose is to meet the self and develop it. If a meditation practice is done on a regular basis despite one’s goal, spiritual self-development is the inevitable outcome.

As a teen, I had developed an energy healing meditation practice out of curiosity. It was fun, soothing, and it made me happy. I returned to it with stronger intentions this time. My intentions were set on overcoming specific problems within myself and healing from past hurt. I’d ask a question and wait for an answer. The scenario would replay, I’d react (usually tears), then the answer would come. Sometimes, it took a few sessions to heal one issue.

I also prayed. I wrote in a journal I called my prayer book and spoke to Source before going to sleep.
I asked for my depression and anxiety to lift, to find answers to
why this was happening, and I asked for solutions. I also wrote how I felt about the extra 30+ pounds on my body, shame, feeling like a loser, and reaching milestones later than others. I prayed for all those things to go away. Some of it was superficial, sure, but no matter. No one was going to judge me in the privacy of my pages.

When talk therapy began feeling like U-turns from my counselor’s hope-filled sessions back to depression, I switched to spiritual psychotherapy. Spiritual psychotherapy is still given by a licensed mental health professional, and they can combine traditional methods, like CBT. Toronto Psychotherapy Group states that spiritual psychotherapy:

“… incorporates a psychospiritual dimension also emphasizes the journey of the soul, or spirit – which may include the wish to strengthen a connection with a higher power… For some, the focus is not on a higher power or deity, but rather on accessing the wisdom of a higher self, the gifts of transpersonal awareness, or the power of intuition. Others seek to learn more about something that is currently sensed or felt but is as yet unworded or undefined. ”

Toronto Psychotherapy Group

We still talked, the new therapist and I, but we also did other things to connect to the Divine. If therapy isn’t affordable, there’s a plethora of self-help material online and in books!

Traditional therapies and medication aren’t the only ways to get better. If you find they aren’t giving you what you need, I suggest creating a plan that incorporates a mind-body-soul connection. It probably shouldn’t involve everything that I’ve done in my own plan. The plan should cater to your own soul’s needs. It can include exploration of new modalities, an open mind, and something you already love doing.

Reducing Anxiety Attacks

At the moment of an anxiety attack, your reasoning goes out the window. Thoughts race, and any attempt to catch up to them is as good as none. If you’re like me, you may experience shortness of breath as you watch the world tumble before you. Negative thoughts are hard to control during anxiety/panic attacks, but over time I’ve learned to incorporate certain techniques to lessen their impact. There’s no quick fix to get rid of frequent, intense levels of anxiety, but I believe in holistic practices that help us manage them so they become less frequent. (I have high levels of anxiety less frequently now, but it is easily triggered by financial worries, huge crowds, self-consciousness, and other triggers that get me worried about my future.) These tricks work by slowing down the whole process of an attack:

Deep Abdominal Breathing

Taking deep breaths helps reduce anxiety attacks by allowing you to be more present with your thoughts. For me, it’s as if I’m giving myself time to think about why I’m feeling this way, and it just allows me to calm down a bit. Here’s how to do it: Inhale deeply from your diaphragm as soon as you realize you’re having an anxiety attack, and exhale deeply. Do it on the spot discretely, in through the nose and out the same way.

A Gentle Pep Talk

You can repeat to yourself, in your mind,“I recognize this emotion, but I am not this emotion,” until you calm down. It might take a while before that happens, so be patient. Separating yourself from the feeling of anxiousness tricks your brain into observing the experience as something that is simply happening to you, and not something that is part of your identity. In other words, you are not an anxious person, but you are experiencing anxiety at the moment.

Take One Step at a Time

Last year I went through a major depressive episode spanning the length of that entire year.  Summer was rock-bottom, but to the advice of my counselor at the time, I pushed myself to start taking walks outside. Sometimes I would get seriously nervous about going, so I started telling myself I just needed to get downstairs to the building’s main entrance. I wouldn’t walk too far, and that was key for me. This method is for when you are too anxious to move and get yourself anywhere. If the task is broken down into small steps or miniature goals, you’ll find it easier to push through the anxiety.

Don’t Feel Guilty

I used to feel guilty about my sensitivity; actually, while my self-judgement isn’t as bad as it was before, feeling guilty is still something I need to work on. But everyone’s level of sensitivity to environments and situations is different. We also carry experiences from our past that may make us feel the way we do. It’s totally okay if you can’t handle being somewhere like an overcrowded bus, or a funeral, or a call centre while your friend can!

All that is important is that we manage our emotions.