Braving the Wilderness

I recently picked up a book off my shelf that had been sitting there collecting dust over the last six months. You see, I’m not an avid reader, albeit wishfully I was, therefore I buy all these books that I admire and read great reviews about, but I never read the actual book.

I’ve been going to therapy twice a month over the last four years and we often discuss different types of self-help or inspirational books and it feels as though every session I walk out thinking, ‘I need to read more – It will be good for me.’ So, why didn’t I pick up that book for all these months? I could come up with several different excuses, but who cares. Instead, I will share, over this beautiful four-day holiday weekend, I woke up feeling grateful, made some coffee, opened my window and listened to the rain, put on some piano peaceful music, grabbed my glasses and that beautifully covered wilderness book off my dusty bookshelf. It is the perfect morning setup.

Let me just say, when I do read – I highlight my favorite quotes and inspirational sayings, and the more sticky notes you see on the side, means it was a damn good book. I will tell you, Braving the Wilderness is a damn good book. I’m a fan of Brené Brown and her writing/research. She’s truly inspirational. This book is about The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. I want to share just a few of my favorites from this one and how it resonates with me:

True Belonging – is a spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

“I don’t think there is anything lonelier than being with people and feeling alone.”

I rarely feel lonely, however, I am often alone. There is a big difference between the two. I hear people often say, “…but being alone is lonely.” Not necessarily. I value my alone time. If anything, I feel my loneliness most when I’m in a room surrounded with people.  Why’s that? Well, I believe that maybe we don’t feel that connection to the people or the place we are at. At home, when I’m alone – I’m always connected. Connected to all my efforts, projects, memories, cleanliness, smells, music, and my kids. It’s my happy place. However, sometimes we may go someplace we’ve never been or meet new people for the first time – it’s likely the connection may not be there. We are humans, naturally, we want to feel connected, to something – anything. It’s inevitable.

“Loneliness tells us that we need social interaction-something as critical to our well-being as food and water.” yet, “…we feel shame around being lonely – as if it means there’s something wrong with us.”

There are times where I’ve felt lonely at an event full of people, but I cannot pinpoint why I feel that way as I am enjoying myself and having great conversations with family and friends. I’m aware of it at the moment. I don’t feel sad or ashamed of it – I just wonder why that is. If anything, I want to find a way to get connected. I use my awareness as an opportunity to find that connection so that if/when I may return – I will have the memories, the new friends, the sounds and smells I missed most from it in hopes that I will feel connected next time. Sometimes It doesn’t always work out that way though and that’s okay too. Do you ever feel this way?

“I will leave you with this. There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty. Someone, somewhere, will say, “Don’t do it. You don’t have what it takes to survive the wilderness.” This is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, “I am the wilderness.”

Are we mindful enough of our Children’s Mental Health needs?

Mental Health Writers' Guild

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I am fairly confident that if I were (as I have below) to quote the lyrics of this popular Whitney Huston song, most folk would recognise them and a lot of you would even know what song it was part of.

I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier.

And indeed they are beautiful words and convey a beautiful message don’t they?  But the question is, are they – is the message they convey – a reality for our children?  Especially when it comes to their Mental Health?  In fact – I would suggest – that even the song itself conveys a certain scepticism.  Check out the next few lines for example…

Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be
Everybody…

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How I handled My Son’s Anxiety Attack

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My seven year old son is in the first grade and struggles with anxiety. He is typically quiet and  not the emotional type. He gets along with almost everyone and enjoys going to school.

A few months ago, I overslept and was running late taking the kids to school. I could sense a little panic in my son’s behavior but I didn’t think too much into it. When we arrived at their school ten minutes late, my son refused to get out of the car. I was running late for work myself and was in a rush to get the kids to their classrooms. I could see his scared face and body tense up so I parked my car and walked him up to his classroom.

Thirty minutes later, my son, his teacher, the principle and myself are sitting outside his classroom trying to get him to relax and walk into his classroom. I have never seen this side of him before. This was more than just being shy – this was an anxiety attack. I recognized his symptoms and behaviors and have seen them in myself. He wasn’t crying or throwing a tantrum or screaming because he just didn’t want to go to class. His body was shaking very badly, he just stood there moving his hands in front of his face back and forth, trying to breathe and work up the courage to walk into his classroom. Eventually, I was forced to leave and let the teachers handle the situation. I felt like utter shit walking away. (Worst. Parent. Ever.) I wanted to take him home and talk to him about what he was thinking and what his fears were. It was an extremely difficult moment for me, as a parent.

After this incident, I did my very best to leave the house early and always arrive a few minutes early so he could get to his class on time. Well, just last week we left the house at our usual early time and hit traffic. There was a horrible car accident and I knew we were going to be late for school. Because I was sitting in traffic, I had some time to come up with a plan to help my son face his fear. I kept quiet about the time and the fact that we were going to be late until he asked me in concern if we were going to be late. I said that we were and that I was going to be there by his side to help him get into his classroom.

Now, lets get back to this awesome plan. I had to make this as distracting and fun as possible. Sure, it may sound ridiculous but it was all I could come up with in such a short time. Right after he asked me if we were going to be late, I mentioned the movie Inside Out. I asked him to tell me the five emotions that the movie talked about: Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness and Joy he responded. I said, “Great! Right now, in this moment Fear is taking over all the other emotions in your mind and trying to stop you from going into your classroom. Lets tell Fear to step aside for a moment so you can handle this yourself. BUT – don’t tell him to go away!! We need Fear. We don’t want to hurt his feelings and never see him again. He’s an emotion we can’t and don’t necessarily want to get rid of.” My son laughed and said, “Okay mom.”. I looked in the rear view mirror and could see him in deep thought as if he was actually picturing the emotions in his head just like in the movie. It was cute.

Perhaps I went a little too far, but I was having fun with this scenario so I kept going:

  • Me: Korbin, tell me what Disgust is saying right now.
  • Korbin: I hope we don’t have carrots for lunch today! Gross!

  • Me: haha Great! Now what is Anger telling you?
  • Korbin: Stupid traffic! People need to learn how to drive better!

  • Me: No kidding! Now, what about Sadness?

  • Korbin: I hope everyone in the car accident is OK. (so sweet, right?! Gahh)

  • Me: I was thinking the same thing! Now, what about Joy?

  • Korbin: Ummm, Recess is going to so much fun!

“Awesome, now lets remember to tell Fear that it’s all going to be okay. I’ll be with you every step of the way”, I said. He seemed incredibly distracted at this point, so far my plan has been working. Of course, it helped that his big sister was very engaged as well.

We pull up to the school, I parked and walked my son to his classroom while trying to remain positive and discussing such Fear. Korbin was giggling and basically looking at me like I’m crazy (lets face it, I was.) It came down to the moment of drop off, and he started to tense up and shake. I got down on his level and looked him in the eyes and said, “What do we tell Fear?” He replies, “Step aside!” then he grabs the door handle and walks into his classroom – just. like. that.
Wow. It actually fucking worked.

 

How I explained my mental health condition to my kids

Should I talk to my child about my mental illness?

Many parents who experience living with a mental health condition will often wonder if they should open up and talk to their children about mental illness. I know, because I was one of them. Perhaps you’re one of those parents as well.

I believe it is common for parents to question whether or not they should open up and discuss such a taboo subject to their little ones. They may view it as, “bad” or “wrong”. But, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. My first thought when deciding to open up about my condition was, “they are not going to view their mother as being a strong woman, they will see this “sickness” as a “weakness.” However, through recovery I learned that having an illness does not make us weak. In fact, managing and expressing our emotions or episodes in a healthy way makes us remarkably strong. I want my children to understand that. I want them to see my resiliency. So I decided to open up about my mental health condition.

Communication is the utmost important thing, and I find it extremely difficult to live with mild to severe symptoms around my kids and NOT tell them why or what is going on. Although, I believe it is not a bad thing to be open about our struggles, it is still very important to understand HOW to explain those struggles and condition to our children. I’ve always said, emotions are never bad or wrong, but how you express those emotions can be determined as good or bad. The same applies here. Our struggles are neither, right or wrong – good or bad, but how our children view our reactions to these struggles can be determined as good or bad.

If you are a parent, then you already know how curious little ones can be. They will continuously ask “Why?” until they feel they have the information they need – but sometimes it still doesn’t stop there. I admire curiosity and encourage my kids to always ask “Why?”, when it is appropriate, of course. With that said, I had to be mentally prepared for a million questions when opening up to my oldest child about my condition. Not only that, but be completely educated on the subject of my condition as well. Below I list an example of several questions my kids asked me when I opened up to them about my mood disorder, this may give some people an idea of what to expect.

The first thing I openly discuss with my children is our emotions. I truly believe that our emotions drive our behavior. It helps to explain these more complex topics to children when an example can be made that will relate to them. For example, there is a popular Disney movie that my kids love called Inside Out. This movie emphasizes our emotions and how our mind works at a level our children can understand. Therefore, I often reference scenes from the movie to help explain my situation a little better. I’m allowing myself to get on their level to help them better understand the minds like ours.

My oldest is nine years old. She also struggles with her emotions like I do. After discussing the importance of emotions and how it drives our behaviors, she brilliantly decided to come up with a code word for the both of us to use when we are struggling. I let her pick the word – “Congruent”. With the understanding that when this code word is said, we would stop what we are doing and take a deep breath. Collect our thoughts and emotions for a moment, then calmly discuss our feelings with one another before things escalate. For me, an example would be – receiving a triggering email from someone. Instead of having a breakdown or start screaming at my computer over it – I take a deep breath, look at my kids and simply explain the following: Mommy just received a rough email regarding something I need to work on and it has upset me a little. I am going to put my headphones in for a moment and take a few minutes to myself to collect my thoughts. This usually results with a response from my daughter, “Okay mommy, we’ve turned the TV down a bit so you can focus. It will be okay. I love you.” (Best.Kid.Ever, right?!)

The second thing I openly discuss with my children is the frequency and inconsistency of my mood swings and what I do to help myself through difficult times. My kids know that I attend therapy and take medications to help regulate my emotions, they may not understand the full extent of these things but they don’t need to at this age, in my opinion. With our code word in place, I explained that using the code word will help me tremendously, thus giving her the understanding that she plays a huge role in helping me feel better. I lightly discuss my coping skills such as putting my headphones in, listening to music, going for a walk, writing, or just having cuddles in bed with them. With this, they can see that I’m handling my intense emotions in a healthy way.

Inclusion is important. I want my kids to feel as though they are apart of something that I know will be helpful for them. After I openly discuss my mood disorder, I ask my kids if they have any questions. I encourage them to open up to me about what they are thinking and how they are feeling on the topic while reassuring them that they are in a safe space with no judgements. After answering any questions they may have for me, I turn the conversation around a bit and ask them what I, “Mommy”, can do for them when they are going through a tough time. This allows me to understand their needs as well. It goes both ways and it’s extremely important to understand that as a parent.

For me personally, I tried to answer their questions to the best of my ability. I think it’s important to not overload their brains with too much information regarding a complex subject. Here are a few questions my children asked me when I opened up to them about my mental health condition:

Questions

My personal responses
Why do you feel sad though? Sometimes I feel sad when I see something that brings up a bad memory. Or when someone says something that hurts my feelings.
Why are you not happy when you’re around us – don’t we cheer you up? You absolutely do cheer me up and make me very happy. Sometimes things on TV or my phone can put me in a bad mood and that doesn’t have anything to do with you. Spending time with you and cuddling up with you is very helpful for me.
What kind of things do you talk about in therapy? I talk about emotions, work, school and set some personal goals for myself. My therapist likes to help me achieve these goals.
Being alone is lonely, can’t we just all play together? Being alone and being lonely are two completely different things. I enjoy being alone. It helps me to collect my thoughts and think clearly. I rarely ever feel lonely. After I collect my thoughts, I would absolutely love to play a game together.
Do we stress you out? Being a parent has its stressful moments but in general, no – you do not stress me out. If anything, you help me in many ways you don’t ever realize.
Do I have a mental illness? I don’t believe so, no. Not everyone has a mental illness.
Should I go to therapy too? I don’t see the need for you to go, however if that’s something you would like to look into then I will fully support that decision.
Daddy gets sad sometimes, should he go to therapy too? Therapy doesn’t work for everyone. If daddy has a great support system (which it sounds like he does) then he may not want or need to go to therapy and that’s perfectly OK.
Is this a secret? Do other people know about this? It’s absolutely not a secret. The people I am closest with do know about my mood swings. I prefer to discuss it with people if it’s necessary but i’m not ashamed of the struggles I face.
Are you getting better? With my friends, family, support systems like therapy, and YOU – I am getting better.
Why do you have to take medicine for it? I don’t have to take medicine for it, but I choose to because it helps make my moods or emotions less intense. Medicine doesn’t make my emotions go away but they are just there to help keep me a little balanced.

Since explaining my mental health condition with my kids, I have noticed an increase in comfortability when discussing their emotions and feelings with me. I’m surprised by their new level of emotional intelligence and how well they are handling this condition I live with. Overall, it definitely brought us closer together as a family.

How are you?

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU ASKED SOMEONE HOW THEY WERE DOING? DID YOU GENUINELY MEAN IT? DID YOU TAKE THE TIME TO LISTEN?

Many may not realize that in the moments of battling a mental illness (or any illness), these three words can make a huge impact on the day of the minds like ours (yes, I had to throw that in there). One year ago I made a commitment to myself to be sure to ask those around me how they are doing, at least one person – every.single.day. Strangers, friends, family members, and coworkers. However, it’s important to not only ask the question but to mean it genuinely. LISTEN. Watch their body language, their facial expressions, their words, their tone. It says it all.

The reactions I receive when asking this question are somewhat surprising to me. In my personal experience, the responses go one of two ways:

The first and most common reaction go something like this: Good, thanks. – Simple and quick.

The other reaction I also find common is: I did this and this today, I’ve been really busy. – Thinking I asked them what they did today or what they are currently doing, not realizing that I just asked how they are feeling.

Nowadays, a lot of conversations are unfortunately in the form of texting, and social media has taken over to show off to the world how crappy or happy we are, therefore, many won’t ask how others are truly feeling, they think they can see and understand it all through technology. OR, we are wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t take the time to ask others how THEY are feeling (I’ve been there!), OR maybe we feel as though expressing our feelings is a sign of weakness or burdensome to others (It’s really not). Either way, the question, “How are you?” is often used in passing, yet not being taken serious enough, in my opinion.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO PICK UP THE PHONE AND ASK SOMEONE HOW THEY ARE DOING.

The reason why I say this is because, as someone who lives with a mental health condition and has faced many difficult times, including the feeling of being completely alone – I really just needed someone to ask me to how I was doing in a deep way that made me feel as though they genuinely cared. This past week I have experienced a lot of emotional and physical pain. I believe some people could tell. I have voiced my feelings to a few, but not one person has genuinely asked me how I was doing…until today. My sister. Gahh – I love her sweet heart. She must have sensed something all the way from Texas because out of the blue I received a message asking me if I’m okay. It immediately put a smile on my face. (Thank you, sis!)

A couple weeks ago about 300 people were laid off from our company due to closed facilities. It was a difficult time for everyone was affected by it. One of the gentlemen that were given an end date with the company sat near me and although we were not close I still wanted to ensure he was okay. I went into his office and asked him how he was doing. His response went something like this, Oh you know – trying to get my tasks done today, I’m swamped.

I responded with, “Okay, let me ask again. HOW ARE YOU? Are you doing okay?”

The look on his face was a look of shock as though he had never heard the question before. He sat back in his chair and said, “I’m stressed out. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I have options, but I need to think about which option I will take. It’s sad. Thank you so much for asking.” I sensed appreciation in his tone after our heartfelt conversation.

You see, when someone you know is in a hospital bed bleeding or with other signs of a visible injury or illness, people will run to their bedside in panic or worry asking with sincerity if they are okay. What about our invisible illnesses?

Last year, my mentee was admitted to the psychiatric hospital for self-harm. She was 15 years old. I had spent many days with her, picking her up from school, having her over for sleepovers and movie nights, and enjoyed weekends exploring and going to the movies. She was such a bright young girl, and I loved bonding with her. I received a phone call from her mother one evening stating that she was “contemplating” on taking her daughter to the hospital. I immediately advised that she admit her or I would. She needed help and was apparently suffering. I asked her mom for the information of which hospital she was admitted to, and her mom responded in shock, “Why?”. I said, “because I am going to visit her. I can meet you there if you’d like?”

The point of my short story is that her mother never showed up to visit. From my understanding, she never even called her. Her daughter was in the hospital for 5 days. When I appeared at the hospital to visit her, this young girl was completely shocked and cried as she grabbed onto me. I asked her why she was crying and she told me, she had never had a visitor before (it wasn’t her first attempt). In fact, most of her roommates hadn’t either. We sat in her room, and I listened to her talk for a couple hours. I gave her the best advice I could about coping skills and reassured her that she wasn’t alone. I learned so much that day, especially the importance of empathy.
Did you know about 8.3 million people have had suicidal thoughts in the past year? It is important to reach out and ask others how they are doing. You could save a life with one simple question and take the time to listen, and when you do, remember this:

THEIR FEELINGS ARE THEIR FEELINGS. THEY MATTER. THEY ARE VALID AND ACCURATE TO THEM. DO NOT DISMISS, DISAGREE OR TELL THEM THEY SHOULDN’T FEEL THE WAY THEY DO.

This is so important to understand. This goes for all circumstances, not just hurting people with a mental illness. For everyone.

I’ll end it with this – How are YOU doing? Respond below or email me if you need someone to talk to. Help is always out there.

-Minds Like Ours, Kayla Fae

Story of a brick

Such a great read! Thank you for sharing your story.

Seeking the Feather Things

Several years ago I bought an engraved brick to put with other alumni at my old school Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, FL. I was recently back and got to see my brick. I wrote a story for the school newspaper Eagle News. This is that story.
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Story of a Brick 
by Bridget Regan Kolek
You’ve probably passed it.  It’s a few over from the second bench in front of the Cohen Center main doors. Let me back up, my name is Bridget. Not to boast, but when I went to FGCU I was kind of a big deal. FGCU was my life. I served on Student Government for 3 years as Civic Engagement Director, helped start Students Against Hunger and Homelessness, worked at Alico Arena, was a chemistry supplemental instructor, played viola in the school orchestra all while getting a 3.8 GPA in biology. I won…

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What we look at vs. what we see

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It’s true what they say, you can’t fully love someone until you love yourself first. The more I fall in love with myself and who I am as a person – the more I love my kids. I used to look at my kids and smile but now I can see them. I can see them in slow motion – I see their beauty, their smiles, their laugh, their joy, their curiosity, their creativity, their desire to learn and grow – I see a reflection of myself. I have learned to really appreciate and value every millisecond I have with them. It’s a beautiful thing. Recovery changed my life. My diagnosis was a blessing in disguise.  Without all of it, I would have never felt the way I do in this very moment, holding my kids. 💞

Love yourself first and see the beauty that is all around you.

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see” – Henry David Thoreau

100 Things I Learned In Recovery

Here are 100 things I learned in recovery 

  1. My passion for Mental Health
  2. Mental illness doesn’t define us
  3. Self-Reliance
  4. It’s okay to not be okay
  5. There are no good or bad emotions, but there are good and bad ways of expressing emotions.
  6. Resiliency
  7. Self-Compassion is a priority
  8. Self-Awareness is key
  9. Coping skills that best work for me
  10. We don’t owe anyone an explanation for self-care.
  11. Beauty lives in our differences
  12. Dialectical Behavior Therapy
  13. Mindfulness
  14. The more I loved myself – the more I fell in love with my kids
  15. Not to feel guilty for self-care
  16. Patience and understanding for othersLove Yourself
  17. Recovery comes first
  18. How to stand up for myself and fight against stigma
  19. Things will always work out – do not give up
  20. We are not broken, weak or worthless
  21. It’s never too late to become the person you want to be
  22. The present moment is all you ever have
  23. Who my true friends are
  24. My story has helped make a difference
  25. Internal vs. external Locus of Control
  26. I found myself more at peace
  27. I am Brave
  28. Courageousness
  29. I’m an introvert and value my alone time
  30. To let go of my past mistakes; they do not define me
  31. I am emotionally intelligent
  32. Gained more self-esteem
  33. Judgments are a confession of character
  34. Happiness is found within
  35. Self-Confidence is the best outfit; fucking own it
  36. Mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of
  37. Self-love is the most important love
  38. I am a stronger and healthier mother to my two kids
  39. Without the dark and stormy days, we can’t learn to appreciate the good days
  40. The Minds Like Ours are beautiful
  41. Our feelings are valid; don’t justify them or seek approval – they are YOUR feelings.
  42. Our behavior is driven by our emotions
  43. Helping others makes me feel good – we rise by lifting others
  44. Your worth is not defined by someone loving or not loving you
  45. My worst days in recovery are by far better than the best days in my manic episodes
  46. A bad day doesn’t equal a bad life
  47. The words, “Fuck it” do come in handy every once in a while.
  48. You are not a burden
  49. You have to learn to love yourself before you can fully love someone else.
  50. Do not be afraid to walk away from toxic relationships/friendships
  51. Embrace the sadness
  52. It’s okay to be different
  53. Be patient with yourself
  54. Recovery isn’t strictly about being “happy”, it is about learning to become whole.
  55. The bad things people say about you are actually reflections of what they think of themselves, not you.
  56. I am unique
  57. Ultimately it’s only your opinion of yourself that matters. Do what makes YOU happy.
  58. The art of meaningful conversations
  59. Stigma’s three components are: Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination
  60. EMDR therapy
  61. Step outside your comfort zone – you might actually have fun
  62. You are worth much more than you think
  63. It all starts with willingness
  64. I am a fighter, survivor and a warrior – so are you
  65. Be acutely aware of your thoughts
  66. No, we can’t just fucking “Get over it”
  67. Good things take timerecovery123
  68. Expect nothing – appreciate everything
  69. How beautiful it is to be alive
  70. How to live less out of habit and more out of intent
  71. We are the directors of our own mindset
  72. Strength
  73. Life’s a bitch sometimes
  74. Mental illness is not a choice, but RECOVERY is
  75. If you make friends with yourself, you will never be alone
  76. I no longer want to compete with anyone but myself – I hope we all make it
  77. Hold on to hope
  78. Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do
  79. How not to lose myself in the process of loving someone else
  80. How to magnify your strengths, not your weaknesses
  81. We can’t fix ourselves by breaking someone else
  82. My appreciation for music
  83. We are exactly where we need to be
  84. BREATHEEEE!
  85. Protect yourself with ADA
  86. How to maintain a balanced life – parenting, career and education
  87. I am emotionally sensitive- my emotions are more intense than the average person and that’s ok
  88. Face your fears – It’s fucking liberating!
  89. Be gentle with yourself
  90. Your time is important – spend it on things you are passionate about
  91. Make time for yourself
  92. The part you play is sacred – you are priceless
  93. How to manage impulsiveness
  94. See the value in our stories
  95. Trust your intuition
  96. Everyone carries a piece of the puzzle; start a conversation
  97. Your speed in recovery doesn’t matter; forward is forward
  98. Life gives you challenges that you can overcome; be strong
  99. Emotional awareness means recognizing, respecting and accepting your feelings as they happen.
  100. How to discover who I truly am; gained a huge sense of self.