You Won’t Be the Same

It’s been one year since my episode of major depression. In honor of this year of growth, I wrote a poem of sorts. To those of you who are struggling right now, there is light right around the corner and my wish is that this poem can give you hope. – Diana

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“After having an episode, you won’t be the same,”

They say.

“Where’s the hope?”

I say.

It’s been one year since I had an episode of depression,

The sleepless nights, crying,

Staying home and skipping sessions.

For so long I feared this feeling might creep back in,

It might take me over,

It might hurt badly again.

Although it did creep back in slowly but surely,

I’m smarter now

And can see all the signs early.

And the best part is I learned a valuable lesson from this,

I can choose, believe it or not,

My own happiness.

Although my body and brain don’t always match up,

I now know the power of my mind

If I decide to make it up.

Trust me, this year I felt depression again

But this time, I knew her better

I called her a friend.

I leaned into her and tried to understand,

I let myself feel,

And I gave myself a hand.

I didn’t berate myself or make it out to be bad,

For having this “friend”

Who made me feel sad.

After spending some time with her, I let her go

She no longer served me,

I knew I had to grow

I chose to be happy and I chose to believe

That all things that happen

Are the best that can happen to me.

I cannot choose or alter my chemical balance,

Nor can I control my thoughts,

But I get to choose my reactions

I’ve learned this lesson in one year’s time

Imagine the evolution,

What I can learn in nine

I used to think little of myself and was very sick,

Then I did a 180

So now I’m celebrating big

“After having an episode, you won’t be the same”

They say.

“You’re absolutely right.”

I say with a smile.

I Found it Again

That angry voice…the voice that drove me to threaten a stranger in the middle of a busy city street.

It has been awhile since I’ve been so closely acquainted with this voice, and I have not missed it. As a matter of fact, I almost forgot it was in me.

Fight or Flight?

I chose fight. I usually do. But I think there’s a middle ground and I desperately wish to be there. Fighting – truly fighting – it hurts my heart. It feels like I am going against myself. Even though this is true, I still find it damn near impossible not to give in to that fight in me that demands to be seen, heard, and felt. It’s big. Monstrous even. Someone once told me that the reason my emotions are so strong is because they’re bottled up in such a little girl. I may look little but if you saw the look in my eyes when I am fighting, you wouldn’t recognize me. I hardly recognize me…which is why it’s so upsetting.

What went down:

SO this dude honks at me as I’m trying to cross the street right outside my gym. He honked because he was trying to parallel park and I was in his way while I looked to my left for oncoming traffic. Upon hearing the honk, I turned to my right and saw his car with the reverse lights on. So I stepped out of the street and back onto the sidewalk to give him space. I watched him park and then looked to see who the honker was through the front window…and guess what I saw? A man flipping me off. A grown ass man flipping me off for not seeing him trying to park where I was standing. This ignited a roaring fire in me. It was almost as if I was observing myself act, but it was all in the hands of my fiery fight.

I gave him the finger back and kept walking to my car. Furious, I saw my coworker across the street and made a big and loud deal about this dude who gave me the finger. The dude steps out of his car and asked what I was saying. I told him that I’m telling my coworker how rude he was. He started swearing at me, so I called him some names and used some strong wording to tell him how terrible he was and to threaten him if he kept up with this. He was still talking shit, so I marched back into the gym and told my boyfriend what was happening. He sprinted outside and talked to the dude. Eventually, my boyfriend incredibly got the dude to come into our building and apologize to me. It was such a strange experience, but it left me feeling completely depleted, and so upset with myself for letting it go that far.

Yes, you heard me, I am UPSET WITH MYSELF.

I should be mad at this stranger. I should be thankful he apologized. But all I can feel is shame at how I acted. And I keep going back and replaying the details, wondering if I’d handle it any differently given a second chance. I just don’t know if I would…when this angry, vicious fighter in me knocks on my door and welcomes herself in, she takes over. It just didn’t feel like “me”.

But at the end of the day, it was me.

I have to live with how I handled things. And maybe it’s ok that I acted the way I acted. Maybe it’s ok that things escalated the way they did. Maybe that had to happen for that dude to learn a lesson and prevent some future event that could have been much worse. Maybe this was the final straw for me in keeping my own peace and starving that angry ball of energy in me. I really hope it was.

Long story short…

I’m fed up with getting angry over things I cannot control. I desperately want to be more in control of myself when it comes to situations like this. I still feel bad about what happened but I’m trying my best to proceed forward. It’s not easy for me, but I hope to have a different story for you soon. One where I master this angry side of me.

I may have found that voice again, but I promise you her days are numbered.

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Men & Mental Health: A Story Untold

Erich Wenzel has serious insight into empathy and mental health. As the founder of Feeding Curiosity, a website and podcast, he speaks with people of all ages and background exploring the precarity of human experience at the same time challenging ourselves to think, question, and synthesize, wherever your curiosity takes you. 

In this article, Erich writes about his own path to maintain mental health and offers excellent advice on how to interrupt negative patterns and how to push past socially ingrained messages to men that they should hide their feelings and “suck it up”. I highly recommend visiting his site after reading, and check out the podcast we did together – link at bottom of page. Another thing you don’t want to miss – Erich’s poem he wrote about his experience with negativity called Digging the Hole. Enjoy!

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When the idea to start Feeding Curiosity came to me, I would have never imagined that one of the core components would be highlighting how to manage mental health. On average, I’m a calm and enthusiastic person and don’t have many wild swings in how I deal with the stress of my life. 

Diagnosis or not, mental health matters

Here’s the thing…even when you don’t have any diagnosed condition, we still have to pay attention to our mental health. I can remember a period in high school where I was digging myself into a hole mentally. In that headspace, I would look at those around me and see all the ways that I wasn’t like them. I was so busy telling myself what I was not that I couldn’t think about what I could be. It was like digging a hole that you’re standing in.

I’m a nerd – Shovel

I’m not athletic – Shovel

I’m always going to be alone – Shovel

I distinctly remember sitting alone and just beating myself up mentally. There was no way I could have done anything good for myself. I could talk my way into why I didn’t deserve anything good.

Sharing felt like a burden on others

What was worse is how I had thought about dealing with pain. I wanted to be there for those I cared about. I wanted them to share what they were dealing with because I wanted to help. But for me, I would never share anything about my negative spiraling thoughts. Sharing how I was feeling felt like a burden on those around me and those I cared about.

How boys are socialized into men

Being a male comes with cultural baggage in how you’re supposed to act. You’re supposed to suck it up, and you’re not allowed to feel. We’ve all heard it, and we know it. These signals are ingrained into how boys are socialized into men. This culminated in the view that I could not share my internalized pain with anyone. I’ve come to view this similarly to an infected wound. The longer you wait, it begins to fester and grow. When you don’t have an outlet for what bothers you, it feeds off itself.

Did I seek professional help? Nope. I can’t tell you exactly what changed. I remember realizing that what I had been doing was a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I kept acting and thinking this way, what I thought was going to happen would happen.

Everyone’s mental state is unique

It wasn’t until years later that I can look back on these experiences and contextualize them within a framework of mental health. I approach the idea of mental health similar to that of a high watermark. What stresses one person out compared to another varies wildly. Like any other attribute, it is specific to your temperament and experiences. We think of the standard expression of depression as pulling into one’s self. Some people like myself can, for the most part, function normally, but on the inside was an endless stream of negativity far worse than anyone would ever say to me.

Get out of your head and into your body

It wasn’t until I started working out regularly that I began to grasp any concept of mental health. Initially, this may seem counter-intuitive, but what working out has taught me is that I can do things that a younger me would never have thought possible only because I tried before saying I couldn’t. I had to let myself start over and not judge myself on others progress. We all are starting at different levels. We all have a day one but another person’s day one might be years ago. We often forget that everything is built on consistency and on yesterday. Working out has become a playground to test me physically and mentally. It is about pushing yourself a little farther than what you thought was possible. 

When you feel your mind is cluttered with ideas bouncing around or weighing on you. One way to interrupt your thoughts is getting out of your head and into your body.

I’m not saying go run a marathon or lifting heavyweight. Find something you enjoy. You’re more likely to reinforce the habit if it is easy to keep doing it. 

Engineering the mind

As I’ve learned more about health, I’ve become more and more interested in psychology. It’s about understanding the inner world – our psyche. As an engineer, I see the discipline as seeking to understand and explain the world. Engineers are the intersection of theory and application. Why can’t we do the same for our minds? 

Mindfulness is a break for your brain

Over the last year, I’ve become interested in mindfulness and the idea of developing the awareness to be present. At first, I pushed back against mindfulness because I am so on the go. I love my routine and slowing down even a little bit made me feel lazy. I always thought I should DO something. 

But I now know that always doing and being busy isn’t optimal. You need a break for your brain. What I needed was a legitimate reason to make a change. What made me take it seriously came in the form of break-up. It is through pain and hardship that we learn about ourselves. 

Historically, I deal with trauma as I did in high school; internalize the pain. I ask myself what I could have done when there was nothing to do. I tried everything I could and in the end, burnt myself out. 

Interrupt the pattern

In the fashion of pattern interrupt like we can use working out, I used meditation. I used the app Headspace. My only rule was that I had to do a minimum of 10 minutes a day for a month. The first three days were hard without any noticeable impact. But around day seven, I had a shift in attention and a new space seemed to be there that I hadn’t noticed before. In the beginning, I think it is useful to not be judgmental on yourself when starting mindfulness. If you are like me, you’re going to have racing thoughts and be twitchy. It’ll feel like you’re not making any progress. This is where the consistency comes in.

Meditation is workout for your brain

In the modern world, we are bombarded with stimuli, so when we have effectively removed all of those even for as little as five minutes, the silence is deafening. The practice of mindfulness is a workout for your brain. In the same fashion, we test ourselves physically in the gym you test inner self with a method of mindfulness. The person who first attempts running will find themselves out of breath quickly, or their muscles will be sore. The mind reacts similarly when exploring your thoughts; you will find resistance.

You are an inside fighter

Where I am in my life is very different than the boy I described. In many ways looking back on my perception of myself and where I fit into life is notably different. I’ve accomplished goals the younger me would have never thought possible. I’m the host of a podcast, and I wrote this article sharing my experiences with the world. I believe we can cultivate empathy, and realizing that we all have invisible battles in our heads is essential. We are all inside fighters whether you know it or not. 

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Erich’s Recommendations:

  • Find your patterns – When you start having a negative cycle figure out a way to break the loop.
    • Go on a walk, take a shower, do jumping jacks,
    • Get out of your head and into your body
  • If you want to try mindfulness there are many great apps to work with:
    • As I mentioned, I used Headspace initially, but have since used Sam Harriss’ Waking Up
  • If you’re not ready to get into mindfulness, try reconnecting with the breath:
    • Scientifically this is called diaphragmatic breathing
      • Wherever you start with an inhale for 5 seconds, pushing your belly button out.
      • Hold for one second
      • Exhale over 5 seconds, pulling your belly button to your spine. 
      • Start with three breaths in this way
    • This is a great way to calm your nerves or if you need a quick pattern interrupt.

Erich Wenzel has a degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. He works as a Test Engineer for a third-party testing facility in the certification, inspection, and testing (CIT) industry for the last five years. While pursuing his degree, Erich has worked full-time at his position allowing for a unique perspective of one foot in the engineering and academic world.

Outside of the working world, he became interested in the optimization of the human body. He is asking the question, “What can I do to allow myself to function better in any aspect?” Erich has a deep fascination with how the body works from strength and flexibility to psychology — seeing his routine and life as an experiment.

About Feeding Curiosity:

Feeding Curiosity is a website and podcast built on two principles. First, we explore the precarity of human experience. We all have a story to tell, and no matter who you are, we can learn from you. Second, we challenge ourselves and others to think, question, and synthesize, wherever your curiosity takes you. 

When Feeding Curiosity was expanding outward to capture more stories, Diana was one of the first people I wanted to reach out to understand her story. When we had our conversation, we had not talked about what she would share during the interview. Her openness in describing the trials she has been through was enlightening.

Listen to our conversation: 

#24 – Diana Fornaris: Boxing and Finding Yourself

https://feedingcuriosity.net/podcast/diana-fornaris

Similar Episodes:

#42 – Rachel Thomas: The Collateral Damage of Addiction

https://feedingcuriosity.net/podcast/rachel-thomas

#45 – Ben Kapolnek: Invisible Battles

https://feedingcuriosity.net/podcast/ben-kapolnek

6 Ways I Practice Self Care

Love yourself hard! <3


It is of utmost importance that you care for yourself. No one will care for you like you can. It has been a long journey for me with my own self-care – my whole life I have been somewhat of a people pleaser. I now feel I am stronger and my self-care practice has seen me through some serious mental health battles. My techniques might not be for everyone, but I think it’s important we talk about this. Let me know what you do for self care! Here’s what I do:

1. Take a bath

Taking a bath is such a simple joy for me. I regard it as my most sacred alone time – nothing can get to me while I’m in that space. I light candles, I meditate, I read, I do nothing…it’s about taking time to myself to recenter and feel warm to my core. I take them year round and about 3-5x/week. That may seem like a lot to some, but this is #1 on my list for a reason. It’s my most useful method to get myself feeling right and a higher water bill is worth having good mental health in my book!

2. Cook a healthy meal

I don’t look forward to cooking meals…I just don’t. I would prefer to eat out every meal if I had the money and stomach for it…but I know how much better I feel when I cook for my boyfriend and I. And when I’m mentally at my worst, cooking is the last thing I want to do…so I make a point when I’m feeling good to cook for myself because it perpetuates my habit of cooking when I’m not feeling good…it also helps me from getting to that low point in the first place. Food is medicine.

3. Write it down

Writing is cathartic for me. Sometimes I need to get my thoughts aired out of my own head, and writing serves as a nice outlet for that. I write when I’m angry or having a pervasive thought that just won’t go away. I also write when I have good ideas! Writing has helped me cope with my mental illness, and I appreciate this opportunity to be able to share my experiences with you – sometimes it’s embarrassing to share so much but it helps me feel less alone so I thank you for reading and supporting me in this major practice of self care.

4. Take medicine on time

When I was first diagnosed with bipolar, I was angry that I now had to take medicine daily. I was haphazardly taking my doses at off times, never the same time every day. After going through a month-long episode of major depression, I swore to myself I would take my meds on time and I haven’t wavered since. 8:30am and 8:30pm every day. I’m not perfect – sometimes I take it a few hours off if I’m out and about but taking my meds at the same time every day has helped me so much with consistency. It’s proven that medicine is more effective when taken at proper intervals.

5. Work out every. single. day.

I thought I could get away with working out 3-5x per week. But once I made the commitment to work out daily, my mood changed drastically. My mind feels sharper and more positive now because of it. But for me, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing – even 15 minutes of movement is better than none. That’s how I choose to look at it so I’m not so hard on myself if I can’t spend an hour working out.

6. Say no

This has been and continues to be one of the most challenging forms of self- care for me. And honestly, it is also one of the most important. I used to say yes to everything. I would let others dictate how my life went just to please them…and at the time it pleased me so much to please them! But now I see the value in choosing carefully how I want to spend my time. No to plans, no to tasks, no to going out when I don’t want to…it’s been empowering to say no to others and yes to myself.

Boxing for the Brain

I created this workout to incorporate boxing. If you don’t have gloves or a bag to hit, shadow boxing is just as effective. What I love about boxing is it’s not only great for the body but also helps heal the mind by improving concentration and focus. Let me know how this goes for you. Comment below or message me, I’m always looking for feedback. Enjoy!

Equipment needed: jump rope (optional), 2-5 lb. hand weights, sturdy surface like a bench or chair, mat, gloves & heavy bag (optional)

Time: 35-50 minutes

Difficulty level: as hard as you want it to be

1. Warm up: 3 minute round on the jump rope (if no rope, just bounce and circle hands like you’re jumping rope)

2. Stretch: pick your favorite stretches in all the major spots – neck, arms, back, legs

3. Using 2-5 lb. hand weights, complete 25 jumping jacks, 25 jabs, and 25 crosses

4. 10 burpees- add a jab cross at the start position of every burpee before your hit the ground

5. 10 tricep dips off elevated sturdy surface, 10 push-ups, 15 squat jumps

6. Set a timer for 3 minutes and shadow box using hand weights, If you’re new to boxing just focus on the jab, cross, and footwork. If you’re more experienced, add in defense, hooks, and uppercuts as well. Try to keep your hands up, stay moving, breathe when you punch, and always keep one hand protecting the chin. Last 30 seconds burn it out by going as hard and fast as you can.

7. 10 tricep dips, 10 push-ups, 15 squat jumps

8. Gloves on if you have them and set a 3 minute timer for a round on the heavy bag. If there is no bag available to you, shadow box without weights for a 3 minute round. For this round, be sure to hit at least 50 jabs and 50 crosses or if you’re more experienced, be sure to hit at least 100 of any punch you’d like to throw. If you’d like an extra challenge, try and hit this combo as many times as possible: jab, cross, slip, cross, slip, slip, jab, cross, jab, slip, jab. In numbers, that’s 12 slip 2 slip slip 121 slip 1

9. 10 tricep dips, 10 push-ups, 15 squat jumps

10. Burnout on the bag (or with hand weights): 30 seconds of nonstop jabs and crosses. Max speed and power – give it all you got here!

11. Abs: On mat, complete 15 v-ups, 15 bicycle crunches, 15 seated twists, 1 minute plank hold. Complete 3 rounds of this.

Done!

7 Myths About Living With Bipolar

Let me tell you what it’s really like…

Myth #1: You can tell when a person has bipolar.

Living with bipolar is not as different or as out of control as you may think. Sure there are parts of bipolar that are more extreme and emotional, but for the most part living with bipolar is not that outwardly apparent. I remember first getting back to work after my diagnosis and thinking about how everyone will notice I’m bipolar now…untrue. In fact most people were surprised when I told them. I know this is not the case for everyone, but what I’m trying to say is it’s not always so easy to tell that someone has a mental illness.

Myth #2: Bipolar is easy to control once you are diagnosed.

It is better knowing you have bipolar so you can be more aware of moods, but by no means is it easy to control. For me at this point in my life, it’s mainly about battling intrusive thoughts. And when I say intrusive, I mean thoughts that feel like they’re knocking on my mind’s door and demanding my attention. I find myself on a daily basis juggling a few different negative and pervasive thoughts that can easily take over my mood if I don’t catch them. Over the past couple of years I’ve gotten so much better at handling these thoughts, but still to this day I struggle with my inner voice.

Myth #3: People with bipolar aren’t as good at cooperating, living, and working with others.

When I’m around people is when I feel most at ease. I love people so much and I enjoy connecting with them, which is why my job is so perfect. I am constantly around people and it gets me out of my own mind and into the moment. Working with others is easy for me and I prefer it to being alone. And just because I am good at it doesn’t mean everyone with bipolar is. Having bipolar is independent from the ability to be with other people. For example, I know many people who do not have bipolar who are terrible with people.

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The thing it, I can’t always be around others. No one can – it’s not healthy. Alone time is vital, but it’s difficult to face my mind’s tornado of thoughts so I avoid being alone. Within the last year or so meditation has helped calm me so much and I now feel much more comfortable alone. I do not think I could live by myself at this point in my life, though.

Myth #4: Once diagnosed with bipolar, that will be the primary focus of your life.

Focusing on bipolar has helped my life tremendously, but it is not the primary focus. The majority of the time, I am mentally healthy. With bipolar, you can experience an episode (lasting 2 weeks or more) of depression or mania. But when I’m mentally healthy, which is the majority of the time, I feel more in control of my thoughts and mood. But even when I’m healthy, I struggle almost daily with pervasive thoughts. These thoughts can range. “Why can’t I control my mood better?” “I am not capable of doing a good job at (xyz).” “(Person) must be mad at me for something I did.” “How could I let this happen again?”

These thoughts are often untrue and biased by my inner critic. I am continuing to work on letting these thoughts pass without engaging them. My technique these days is to literally drop the thought like it’s hot lava as soon as I become aware of it and focus my attention back to what I was doing. It’s something that I live with and must face daily but it’s not my whole life.

Myth #5: Bipolar is all in your head.

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I sometimes feel silly talking so much about thoughts because they are not tangible. To be fair, bipolar is not tangible. But just because you can’t touch something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist (ex. arthritis, endometriosis, radio waves, oxygen, God, I could keep going). You can’t see bipolar, but it’s real and thoughts truly do influence not only mood but how your body feels. When feeling manic, my body feels super energized and almost invincible. I feel taller, I feel stronger and I feel light on my feet. When I’m depressed, I feel like I’m carrying around a huge bag of sand, I’m tired, agitated, and uncomfortable. There are both physical, chemical and mental factors that work together to make bipolar.

**Go back to the first sentence under Myth #5…stigmas like this make people feel silly talking about real shit sometimes. I’m done feeling silly!

Myth #6: Bipolar can be controlled naturally without medication.

I’m talking specifically about bipolar I disorder here because there are variances on the mood spectrum of course and I don’t want to make a blanket statement about medicine because that would be unfair and untrue. Bipolar is a medical illness that requires medical attention to address the imbalance in your body. Medication is necessary to relieve symptoms and heal. If someone was having an asthma attack, you wouldn’t say “just take deep breaths, you don’t need your inhaler” or to someone with diabetes “you’ll be fine, you don’t need insulin”. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard online or when I mention depression, “have you tried essential oils? or try meditating! or try yoga, it worked for me!” To those of you with mental illness who have heard that, remember that these people are not dealing with a mental illness and have not a clue to what works for your body and with your diagnosis. There’s nothing wrong with any of the above mentioned, but in place of medicine? For me that would be disastrous. Without medicine, I honest to God don’t know where I’d be right now. The medicine I take (Lamictal and Lithium) have improved my quality of life tremendously and I am able to work and be a productive human like I want to because of it.

IMPORTANT: Medication is not the only factor here – medicine and therapy are what did the trick for me and many others that I know who are living a healthy life with bipolar.

Image result for lithium bottle

This being said, I know many people who are anti-medicine and I understand that sentiment to an extent because nowadays medicine is over-prescribed and we all know it. But when it comes to treating a medical illness, a proper doctor who takes the time to get to know you and taking medicine is necessary. If you have bipolar I disorder and are not taking medication, I’d love to hear ways in which you stay healthy and how it works for you.

Myth #7: People with bipolar are unpredictable and shouldn’t be trusted.

Naturally I do like to switch things up a lot, but that doesn’t make me unpredictable or out of control. When it comes to trust, I think those closest to me can agree that I could be trusted with the government’s deepest darkest secrets if I had to be. Just because a person has bipolar doesn’t mean they are untrustworthy. Trust is a part of your character, bipolar is not. Bipolar symptoms should not be confused with who a person is.

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I wanted to talk to you about this because I think it’s important to end stigmas and realize how misunderstood bipolar is. But more than that it’s important to realize that my life is not that different than yours just because I have bipolar. Everybody must deal with their own struggles; no one is immune to the perils of life.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Comment below and let me know what your life is like with or without bipolar. Let’s talk about it.

If you’d like help dealing with your own inner critic, message me and we can talk about ways to heal.

With love,
Diana

Finding Peace Amidst Anxiety

How does one find peace in our chaotic world? The answer lies within.

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Thanks for reading this week! Today I wanted to talk about finding peace and strength within yourself. My wonderful soon to be sister-in-law Joanna shares her story with you on her journey toward managing anxiety through yoga and meditation. Whether you deal with anxiety on a daily basis or have only experienced anxiety from time to time, I definitely think you’ll be able to relate to her story. And if you’ve never tried yoga or meditation, I HIGHLY recommend it. I included links to my favorite yoga & meditation media at the very end of this page. Comment below or message me so we can talk more about this and lift each other up!

PEACE.

As I sit here and write this, I never thought it would be what fuels my life and helps me with my anxiety. Ask me the same question 10 years ago, even 5 years! I would have answered you right there that what helps me with my anxiety is buying and doing things to distract myself from the every day. I would have said that it was easier to cover up the buzzing in my head with things that make me feel happier, but only for a moment or two. However, that brief glimpse of happiness was extremely costly. The more I indulged in it, the less happy I was and the less peace I had in my life. The journey to overcoming anxiety has taken a lot of reflection on my part. I have been struggling with it my entire life and still do. I still have good days and bad days where I feel like I get sucked into this cycle of self-pity. No one told me that yoga was going to be not only extremely emotionally investing, but also the most rewarding tool for me to overcome anxiety. I can now, with the help of yoga and meditation, move past those moments both big and small and define my inner peace.

Minimalism

I began my journey of self-motivation and realization a couple of years ago when overcoming a milestone in my life. The idea of yoga was just a passing thought at the time. While browsing YouTube for something that would help me heal and push me past some of the darkness in my life, I discovered minimalism. I quickly came to find that minimalism was a way for me to truly connect and get in touch with myself. It was a way of letting go of the physical clutter as well as the spiritual clutter in my mind. It forced me to look after myself and my body, not the physical stuff that I filled my life with.

Letting go of “things”

I realized that I cared more for the upkeep of my personal items than I did for myself, both in body and mind. I needed to purge the emotional attachment to physical things and open up my mind to healing from anxiety. The more I let go of those things, the more I realized I was revealing my inner turmoil. I had no tools at the time to cope with the raw anxiety left out in the open, and I did not want to take the time to work on myself because that was harder for me than looking after my knickknacks. The hunt for more information about minimalism helped me find yoga. I had access to videos of thousands of other people with similar situations and experiences with anxiety in their lives. They were successful in using yoga as a tool to cope with their inner struggle for peace; peace as a result of living with oneself and focusing on oneself without distractions, limitations, or the negativity of everyday life. I decided that it was something I would finally do for myself.

Focusing on the present moment

I got a glimpse of the peace that I had striven for on my way home from my 1st yoga class a little over 2 years ago. As soon as I got in the car, I quickly realized that I was thinking of nothing! The buzzing sounds, the background noise, the anxiety in my chest and the constant inner dialogue were all gone. I had forgotten how it felt to smile from deep down inside about absolutely nothing. It was a short-lived glimpse, but nevertheless it happened. Not two seconds later, I had my first thought about what needed to get done at home; but overall the rest of my day was calmer and more even tempered in my mind. More and more, I have come to realize that yoga is a way to get past the surface grime built up on my soul. Once I start to move my body and engage my breath, I feel my body and only that. I no longer focus on the things around me and become aware of the things that are important now. Not in the future, not tomorrow, not yesterday, now!

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Managing anxiety takes effort

I have come to terms with the fact that this will still be a work in progress, but I now feel that I have the tools to work through my anxiety. Now I always look forward to my momentary glimpses of peace.

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Joanna’s favorite YouTube yoga channel:

YogaTX – I love her energy and insight into the poses and she does a good job providing modifications

Diana’s favorite YouTube yoga channel:

Yoga with Adriene – I love her positivity and message. Every time I do one of her yoga videos I feel instantly less stressed out.

Joanna’s favorite meditation app:

Headspace – Free to use and gives you a 10 day beginner’s course. Can keep using basic version for free or pay $95.88 for unlimited access subscription.

Diana’s favorite meditation app:

Calm – Try 7 days for free, then keep basic version free or upgrade to Calm Premium for $59.99/year – this is the best value. I use it I felt like it was a lot of $$ at first for an app but it’s worth it. It helped me get my life back on track when I was at my most depressed

A Car Accident Waiting to Happen

Impatience totaled my car, patience brought the broken pieces together

Scene of accident

The past week has been an eventful one. My sister and her husband visited me from out of town which was so much fun, I got sick with a nasty cold (like, who gets a cold in the summer?), and my car has been having problems so bad I may need to get a new one – still waiting to hear from the auto shop. The bottom line is, the universe has been testing me and my ability to handle a lot all at once.

Mental illness or not, patience can be difficult

Talk to me 3 or 4 years ago, and this kind of week would have sent me into a tailspin. I have grown so much more patient with myself and in stressful situations since being diagnosed with bipolar. It’s almost as if my diagnosis was a hard left hook to the ribs forcing me to stop ignoring and fight with all I have to face my tougher and more persistent emotions. If you have been recently diagnosed with a mental illness, patience may seem like a far cry from your reality. Even if you don’t have a mental illness, patience is something that demands to be cultivated every single day no matter who you are or what your story is.

I got a story to tell

It was the summer of 2016 and I was working at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital. It was a Thursday, so I worked the late shift and got done around 8pm. I was absolutely itching to get back home. Not only did I have to clean up the house for a friend who was flying in from out of town the next day but I also just wanted to be in my bed ASAP. As soon as 8pm hit, I booked it out of there. I hopped into my Nissan Altima and floored it out of the parking lot. It was getting darker outside, but it was a clear, blue day. My typical commute home from the hospital was about 20 minutes give or take. As soon as I got on the highway, I was flying. I remember looking at the speedometer which read a hearty 95 mph. I was cruising and blasting music like I always did, getting a rush from speeding.

Going 95mph is fun…for a second

I was in the left lane of traffic when I came upon a car that was going the speed limit (55mph) and wouldn’t move over for me. In a fit of impatient anger, I zoomed around the “slow poke” car at top speed. Because the highway was super curvy and we were rounding a bend, I lost control of the car and started spinning out. I spun and I spun, three times around, until I finally crashed into the Jersey wall hard at a speed of about 60 mph. The airbag popped in my face and I distinctly remember I smelled something burning. My car was obliterated by the concrete wall and I could hardly open my door. I screamed and cried and realized quickly that I was situated in the left lane of traffic hidden around a bend, making it difficult for oncoming traffic to see me from a distance and move over. Plus there was no real shoulder on the left side of the road. I knew I needed to cross the road to be safe but how could I cross a 3 lane highway from a place that I could hardly see oncoming traffic? I was so scared someone was going to hit me and my car, so I pushed myself out of the broken, jammed door and waved my arms frantically to get help. A middle aged woman pulled over, picked me up and waited for 30 minutes with me on the right shoulder of the highway until the police and my boyfriend arrived. She had the patience when I did not. I am eternally grateful for this guardian angel.

Need for speed
Car selfie taken 1 week before accident – distracted driving was my shit in ’16

I had an insatiable need for speed at the time, which was only strengthened by the fact that I loved saving time and cutting corners in any way I could (literally). It was always about getting to the next thing as quickly as possible. I had no patience when it came to driving. I had very little patience for myself. Looking back on it, I wish I could have done something differently, wish I had slowed down or not gotten so mad at the slower driver. But in a way, I’m so glad it happened. It was the universe giving me a blaring sign to slow down and be more patient. I didn’t listen right then and there, but it was the first of many instances where my patience was tested and I failed miserably. It took time for me to recognize my inability to handle stress and my growing need to cultivate patience.

Triggered

Patience is hard, especially when something happens that triggers an emotional response in us. I still struggle with car problems to this day and when the issues arose this past week with my current car, I felt that impatience and fear rising in me. I accepted it but pushed it to the side to make way for my newfound patience and I’m honestly proud of myself for rising to the occasion. I am finally recognizing ways in which I can practice this patience – daily commute, listening before speaking, grocery store lines, etc. I frequently reflect on my guardian angel and admire how patient she was with me, even though she had a family she wanted to get home to that night. She keeps me motivated when I’m feeling impatient.

Learn from my mistake

Growing up, I’d hear many adults say, “Patience is a virtue”, but I never truly understood the importance of this phrase until recently. I had to learn the hard way, but my hope is that if you’re reading this maybe you can avoid a potential car accident, injury, conflict, etc. by learning from my mistake. Or maybe you can use your patience to help out a stranger who needs help in a car accident…

Will you pass or fail the patience test?

My best advice to anyone who could use some patience is this: look at each frustrating experience you have as a patience test from the universe. You can either choose to pass or choose to fail, there’s no in between – but the choice is yours. I urge you to choose to pass. Passing the test means choosing patience because you care about yourself. Do better than I did back in summer ’16. It will not only be better for everyone around you, but it will magnify your inner peace.

Fall in Love with Cardio

This workout is guaranteed to take your cardio routine from blah to bangin’

I have a sensitive lower back, so running is not always the best cardio option for me…I know many others feel the same way. I designed this program to get your heart rate soaring and to be different than a typical bout on a cardio machine at the gym. It won’t take you too long! Take 30 seconds – 1 minute of rest in between steps. And don’t forget that music to help power you through!

Total time: 25-40 minutes

Equipment needed: 2-5 lb. handweights, 8-20 lb. slam medicine ball

Note: Stretch out before and after to stay loose and prevent injury! See below for exercise index if unfamiliar with a term.

Cardio Killa

  1. 30 seconds of each move: high knees, butt kicks, skaters, burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers.
  2. 10 overhead ball slams x 15 jump squats x 10 walking lunges each leg. Complete 3 rounds.
  3. 10 side to side slams x 25 weighted jumping jacks x plank hold for 30 seconds. Complete 3 rounds.
  4. 25 front raise jumping jacks with weights x 20 seated twists with medicine ball x 20 mountain climbers with hands on medicine ball. Complete 2 rounds.
  5. Repeat step #1

Exercise index:

Burpees:

  1. Begin in a standing position.
  2. Move into a squat position with your hands on the ground either side of your feet. (count 1)
  3. Kick your feet back into a plank position, while keeping your arms extended. (count 2)
  4. Immediately return your feet into squat position. (count 3)
  5. Stand up from the squat position (count 4)

Overhead ball slams:

  1. Hold medicine ball over your head with two hands
  2. Throw medicine ball into the ground directly in front of you as hard as you can, ending in a squat posiiton
  3. Pick up medicine ball and bring overhead to return to start

Side to side ball slams:

  1. Hold medicine ball over your head with two hands
  2. Slam ball into the ground directly to the left side of you
  3. Without moving feet, pick up ball and bring it over your head in a U shape and slam into the ground directly to the right side of you.
  4. You should feel this in your core

Front raise jumping jacks:

  1. Begin with feet together and hands by your side
  2. As you jump feet out, bring arms straight out in front of you stopping around shoulder height
  3. As you jump in, hands come back down to return to start position.

With love always,

Diana

Healing from Body Dysmorphia: A Journey, Not a Destination

This week, I wanted to share with you a story from Lavena Johanson, a great friend of mine who I met 2 years ago and has been a boxing client of mine ever since. Lavena is a cellist who works all over as a commanding performer and consummate musician. As good as she can play music, Lavena is amazingly strong and can box like nobody’s business.

Similarly, her words are beautiful and important. Read on to hear her true story of dealing with body dysmorphia. I hope her words can inspire you, educate you and give you a sense of hope in your own journey toward mental health, like it did for me.

Lavena’s Story

I don’t remember the last time I was truly happy with my body. As long as I can remember, I’ve weighed more than I wanted to, or more than I sensed from others was okay, but it didn’t really start to bother me until a certain boyfriend in high school told me I should lose weight. I was 15 turning 16 and he was a senior. I was so impressed by the idea that he would take me to prom and I felt a lot of pressure to “look good” for him. My mom had bought me this red strapless dress that I loved at first sight, but couldn’t quite fit into. But instead of thinking, “well, I guess we should see if they have the next size up” I completely assumed it was my own failure and resolved to do something about it. Because I needed to lose weight anyway, right? I was so desperate for this guy to validate my attractiveness (which at the time was the only way I felt like I had any value as a person)…and I couldn’t see at the time that he was so not worth it.

The Red Dress

First I tried to starve myself, but I was not good at being hungry. I had read that purging was not only gross but not effective, so I didn’t even try that. But I did decide to drastically reduce my food intake, and I also decided to give exercise a serious try for the first time in my life. The idea of needing to fit into the red dress for prom truly became an obsession for me. I am so thankful fitness trackers had not been invented yet. Every morning I tried on the red dress to see if I was making any progress. I exercised every chance I could, and if I couldn’t I just tried to fidget as much as possible so I was still moving. I was not eating enough, and I remember that all I could think about was food. It was horrible. I had decided that after prom was over, I could eat as much as I wanted of whatever I wanted.

Food Became an Obsession

One week before the big day, I was on my way home from a big competition with my string quartet and was upset that we hadn’t placed. Someone had bought a package of Oreos for us all to share on the ride home, and I ate a lot of them. Then I completely freaked out. I thought I had ruined everything. So I essentially punished myself with more exercise and less food to hopefully make up for my (as I saw it at the time), TOTAL failure. I was able to fit into the dress on the day, and had fun at my first prom but also felt uncomfortable because the dress was so tight (oh, and I was wearing a corset underneath) and also none of my friends were there because I was one of the only sophomores. The next day I called my boyfriend and told him about all the work I had put in to fit into the dress. I think I knew deep down that something was wrong and I wanted his reaction to validate that. But instead he said,

“But you lost weight, right?”

“Yeah…”

“So that’s good!”

As much as I knew at the time that was a messed up reaction to what I had just admitted to him, my self-worth was so low and I hated my body so much that I felt like he must be right. Losing weight, no matter the circumstances, was good. Because when I lost weight, I became more attractive to others, I could fit into clothes I wanted to wear, and most importantly, hang on to this fleeting hope that I might be able to see myself as worthy of love and validation.

As a side note, I went to prom two other times with friends, wearing dresses that actually fit (no corsets!), and I had WAY more fun.

I Thought I was Bigger Than I Was

It never occurred to me that the way I viewed my body had a name. I went to a therapist while finishing my Master’s degree who told me about body dysmorphia, and showed me how it was manifesting in me. She made it clear that I hated my body so much that I assumed it took up more space than it really did, that I thought I was bigger than I really was. This idea blew my mind. But I didn’t really get a chance to explore it further – that therapist left and I had more pressing issues come up that I focused on with the new therapist I was assigned to. It would be years before I would come back to the issue in therapy, because I thought this was how I was supposed to feel. If I looked at my body in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw, isn’t the answer to do something about it? Also, I thought it was normal for women to hate their bodies? Although I never felt like it made sense when other women hated theirs, even if I tried to pick apart their flaws I always came away feeling like what they had was better than what I had. I also assumed that when people looked at me they saw what I saw, and that they would think it was weird if I wasn’t dissatisfied with my body.

“Why Are You Doing This?”

The turning point for me was actually a few months after I had started training with Diana. She is an awesome, encouraging trainer, and I was really loving learning to box (which I had never done before). One day she asked me (in a very motivational personal trainer kind of way), “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS???” And the answer that popped into my head was, “Because I hate my body.” This shocked me. It shouldn’t have, but it did. I mistakenly thought my relationship with my body wasn’t that bad. Sure, I didn’t LIKE my body, but that’s normal, right? That moment showed me I was fooling myself. I had a problem and I needed to get help, now. So I went back to therapy and spent a whole year focused on my body dysmorphia – how to deal with it, how to recognize it, how to accept it and live a healthy life with it.

Accepting and Embracing Body Dysmorphia

The most helpful thing she told me is that it was not going to go away. That would be a battle that I could not win. What I can do is learn how to accept its presence in my life, learn how to recognize which thoughts were rational and which thoughts were irrational, and learn which behaviors were feeding the dysmorphia and which ones were actually healthy. It took a really long time, and I still struggle with it now. But I know my head is a much healthier place than it has ever been.

Mental Health is a Journey, not a Destination

I can honestly say that I am grateful for my body, and I am amazed every day at what it can do for me. I don’t always feel like I love it, but I no longer hate it. I no longer feel like it defines my worth. I no longer feel ashamed of it, instead I feel lucky to have it. Sometimes I slip up, and what I said at the beginning of this post is unfortunately still true. But I feel like it’s important to share what it’s like to be in a state of progress as opposed to at the end of a journey – my struggle with this has not been conquered. But I take it one day at a time, and I have more good days now than I ever have in my entire life.