The Power of a Changed Perspective

Written by: Natalie Dormady, contributing writer.  Follow more of her story on her Instagram, @littlearthlings.  

The other day, I went for a walk. I enjoy taking walks in the middle of the afternoon when the sun is at its highest and its warmest. Each time I set out on a walk I find myself feeling grateful to live near a path that leads to both a field and a forest. As the field came into view, my eyes were met with a bright yellow, almost as if the grass had been spray painted. I walked closer to the field only to recognize that the yellow was coming from dandelions. Hundreds and thousands of them all huddled together like they were trying to imitate the sun. I remember feeling happy – like this odd sense of uncontrollable happiness – all from these dandelions. In the midst of this joy, a couple walked past me, and I overheard the woman say, ‘thank goodness I don’t have to pull out all those weeds.’

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My perspective has changed throughout my recovery journey, particularly in the moments of discomfort and difficulty. When I was struggling with the eating disorder, my perspective on situations became very black and white. It was very much a one-way road with no other possible routes. If I were to be standing in front of that field filled with dandelions at the height of the disorder, I would have sounded like the woman who I passed.  I would have only seen weeds and that would be that. I don’t even think I, my true self, had a perspective of my own while I was struggling. The eating disorder’s point of view had instead climbed into the driver’s seat.

I’ve been learning a lot about perspective from drawing as well. For example, the other day I was trying to draw waves. I became fixated on getting them to look like they were all going in the same direction. The lines needed to be perfectly aligned. I quickly became frustrated with the tiniest of details. I had been working on these waves for so long that I forgot about the rest of the drawing.

There was a moment when I got up to let my dog outside. When I returned, I took a moment to look at the drawing from standing up.  Seeing the picture from farther away, rather than scrutinizing it from inches in front of my face, I realized that the waves would be more effective going in all different directions. I wouldn’t have seen this if I hadn’t taken a literal step back and looked at it from a different angle.

I often zoom in so close that I lose sight of the overall picture. It’s sort of like an iceberg. Zooming in and focusing on one tiny detail only exposes you to the tip of the iceberg and you miss the immensity that is its existence. But if you take the time to zoom out and see the whole picture (or in this case, the whole iceberg), you discover something you never even knew existed – you develop a new perspective. I find myself remembering this when I’m faced with an obstacle. There is always another way to look at the situation. I just have to take a step back, breathe, and remember that this is an opportunity to learn and grow.

With time, my point of view, Natalie’s point of view, is finding her way back into the driver’s seat. I’ve found that I am learning to appreciate the uncomfortable days and the tough situations (well, more than I used to) because I now see them as an opportunity to learn or grow. Granted, it may not always seem like that at the moment. Sometimes all I can see in the moment is the ugly and that’s okay. But it’s slowly getting easier to take a step back and collect my thoughts, only to I find that I am capable of seeing things in a new light. I may not be able to see them right away, but they’re there once I give the clouds time to pass.

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“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

-Wayne Dyer

Changing the way we think is definitely a practice that gets stronger with time and patience, and that’s okay. It’s okay to struggle to see a situation any different but remember that there is a chance to. I hope that when you see dandelions the next time, instead of weeds you’ll see them as little flowers or small suns. I hope they can bring you joy.

 

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There is Beauty in the Waves

Written by: Zoe Speirs, contributing writer.  Follow more of her journey on her Instagram, @boporecoverywarrior.   

I was recently on holiday, sitting on a beach in a bikini, eating fresh fruit and drinking a cocktail after swimming in the Pacific Ocean with my best friend. I’ve always been a water baby after living in Spain my whole childhood – something that I, unfortunately, let slip due to my eating disorder – but being in the ocean felt like home. I let the salty water wash over me, the waves carry me across the surface, the sand sink in between my toes, my hair tangle and feel my face warm under the sun’s rays. In that exact moment, I felt at home: in mind and body. I was so at peace with who I was, enjoying every precious moment of that beautiful day. Being completely present in that exact moment, not scrutinizing my body for not being as small as it used to be; not picking my body apart for not being smooth and flawless; not completely objectifying my body as something for others to view. I was, for the first time since pre-eating disorder, completely in tune with the mermaid I was; the real, pre-diet culture influenced Zoe.

I then got out the ocean, and just like a parasite, that little voice in the back of my head returned: you’re huge compared to these beautiful women, your legs are covered in cellulite, your hair looks a mess, you’re repulsive, Luckily, I am at the stage of my eating disorder and body dysmorphia recovery where these thoughts don’t weigh me down as they used to, albeit still challenging to not let them take over. In that exact moment, the moment where these unhelpful thoughts crept in, I was knocked over by a huge wave and dragged across the sand. And then it hit me: recovery from mental illness is just like the waves; the beach; the ocean.

Bobbing away in the ocean, keeping afloat effortlessly is like your best days in recovery – that feeling of being invincible, of conquering one of the hardest things possible. Then a single wave crashes into you and knocks you sideways – very much the way a slip up in recovery hits you. You feel like you’ve been dragged straight back to shore, all your hard work gone. I know I’ve been there, where my eating has slipped up and I feel like I am back at square one.

Breathe. Even when you’re back at shore, take a moment to stand on the beach, feel the sand on your feet, the sun on your face, the smell of the salty water, the sound of the waves, the happy people enjoying the ocean or basking in the sun. Breathe. Did that single wave detract from the beauty of it all? Did that single slip up negate the beauty that comes with recovery? Yes, it’s uncomfortable, frustrating and at times incredibly painful, but the bigger picture is still wonderful. Recovery isn’t all smooth sailing – it’s not even about riding the waves; it’s about letting yourself experience the whole journey. Allowing yourself to see that although recovery is not smooth sailing, it is beautiful nevertheless.

If you happen to stumble upon a slip-up, take a step back and see how there is beauty even in the waves that drag you back to shore. Breathe deeply and admire the whole beach and the wide expanse of the magnificent ocean that’s filled with life. Putting your slip up into perspective is one of the most grounding and reassuring things you can do because despite the wave being uncomfortable, the whole experience is worth it. You were able to swim out into the ocean and past the waves once, and now you’re even stronger, you can do it again – you may as well bask in the knowledge that that feeling of freedom and contentment is attainable. Don’t just hone in on the wave, zoom out and see the whole ocean in all its beauty.

 

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Bee’s #myunpolishedjourney Story

#myunpolishedjourney stories are stories individuals share about their journey with mental illness and recovery. Interested in sharing? Email us at info@unpolishedjourney.org.

Tell me a little about yourself. 

My name is Bee, and I am 21 years old. I am hoping to return to education in September to study Psychology after taking some time off to focus on my mental health and to truly start to put my all into recovery. I love reading, writing poetry, spending time with the people I love, and spending time advocating and talking about what I am passionate about (which is a big part of @madetobebee). I’ve also recently started doing yoga and incorporating more activity and exercise into my life, which I am doing gradually and carefully due to living with chronic illness (fibromyalgia). But so far, I am enjoying it!

What has your mental health journey been like?

I was trying to find one word to sum up my mental health journey, but it’s not possible. I have felt the most shattering depression and hopelessness imaginable, but also the most overwhelming happiness and joy that I would not trade for anything. I first started experiencing mental health difficulties when I was 11 years old and just starting secondary school. I remember feeling all of these heightened, intense emotions and not knowing how to deal with them or what to call them. It wouldn’t be until 8 years later that I would be diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. And so I turned to self-harm, which became my coping mechanism when all of the emotions became too much – that is, until last year.

For around a year now, I have been clean from those kinds of behaviours as my emotions and moods have become much more regulated by taking a break from education and focusing on my mental health. Leaving University was an incredibly hard decision for me, and one that I was pretty much forced to make; I was in a dark, dark place and was phoning crisis numbers practically every other day. I was holding on as hard as I could for the people around me – but I was falling, deep and fast.

I ended up coming home for Christmas break early and was put under Home Treatment care with a crisis team, as an alternative to hospitalisation. At first, nurses were coming out to see me every day or every other day to make sure I was still here and to monitor my mental health. This saved my life. I’m here now, and I aim to do my best to help others in similar places because I want to show them that living with a mental illness is entirely possible.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in pursuing recovery?

I’ve always compared myself to other people – which isn’t a surprise, considering that’s what we are all encouraged to do. We’re never good enough, pretty enough, funny enough, thin enough. We’re never enough – we are always told we have to strive for more. This has been one of the hardest things for me to overcome; in fact, I’m still learning how to. It’s a process, and that’s okay. At the start of my recovery, I was constantly comparing myself to my friends and the people around me. “They’ve all nearly finished university, and now I’m a dropout. I have no job, I have nothing. I’m a failure.”

But now I know that’s not true. Sometimes my mind tricks me into believing it’s true. But most of the time, I can talk myself down from it. I left education to focus on myself and my mental health. I’ve come so far in my own mental health journey and recovery, which you might not be able to see on paper, but that’s not important. What’s important is how I feel, and the progress I’m making. I’m hopefully returning to education later this year, which, yes, is later than my friends. But that’s not important either. We shouldn’t compare our journey’s to others. All lives and all journies look different: that’s the beautiful thing about them. I’m not a failure, I did what is best for me – and that self-awareness is something I’m incredibly thankful to have developed and will continue to use to my advantage. I will access the help I am deserving of instead of believing I am not worthy, I will pace myself and take breaks when I need to, and, most of all, I will be kind to myself. And if I do not achieve this all of the time, that’s okay. We are doing our best, and that’s all that we can ever do.

What helps you maintain recovery?

Writing has been a massive help to me. I love poetry; listening to spoken word, reading poetry, and writing it. It helps me release a lot of emotions I may have been suppressing, and I can come to terms with them in a way that I find productive and helpful. Listening to and reading poetry also reminds me that I am not alone in my pain, or my struggles, because it helps unite me with others that are experiencing similar things in words. Using our energy for things that make us feel whole and happy is something we should always make time for.

What advice do you have for someone in the early stages of recovery?

I know that this is difficult, and believing that things can possibly be different is harder than anyone can ever imagine. I know that sometimes it is easier to live in darkness than to risk finding light and losing it. But you are worthy of living a life of love, and hope, and happiness, and joy with meaningful relationships. One with the kind of good moments that make things worth holding on to. Yes, there will be sadness too. But the love, the hope, the good moments we bank, we can use them. We can hold on to them. So know that it’s okay to feel and express all of the feelings. Recovery and healing are not linear. There is no right or wrong way to heal. Go at your own pace – it isn’t a race. Take as much time as you need to focus on yourself, on your mental health and wellbeing. Prioritise it. Don’t ever feel guilty for learning to put it, and yourself, first. You are important, you always have been and will continue to be. It’s time you know that.

Activist Spotlight: Michelle

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hi, My name is Michelle. I am 25 years old and I’m from Chicago! I LOVE music, gummie candies, working out, traveling the world and going to festivals/shows/events (especially those supporting friends).

What kind of activism are you doing in your community in regards to mental health?

I am working on creating accessibility to mental health resources and creative art outlets to underserved people of color (POC) in Chicago. Good health is about more than one’s physical being and everyone should have access to these resources.

What inspired you to take action in the world of mental health?

I have a family history of mental health issues and as a result, am passionate about mental health advocacy. I was always empathetic to those who were living with mental issues but grew even more passionate in college. During that time, I was in need of support and my own paths to coping and healing. It was then I began to realize the lack of resources specific to POC, which was largely due to the lack of representation of POC in the mental health community.

I started doing more and more research and realized that cultural stigma and general lack of understanding kept POC from receiving the help they needed. In the POC community, we are taught to work through our problems and not to share them. Nobody has time to stop and think about their mental wellbeing or seek out the appropriate resources.

In my time spent volunteering, I realized that something needed to be done for the younger POC community. I think the more education on mental health topics and issues, the better. Once the right education and the right coping mechanisms are instilled, mental wellbeing will look different in POC communities.

How can our community support you and your work moving forward?

Continue to support your friends, check in on them and see how they’re doing. Talk it out and be soundboards for each other. Healing starts with talking it out with the people around you!

How can people contact you if they would like to connect with you or support you further?

Follow us @thecornerstorechicago on Instagram, email at thecornerstorechicago@gmail.com, or check out our website www.thecornerstorechicago.com.

Thank you, Unpolished Journey, for creating a safe space!

Baylee’s #myunpolishedjourney Story

#myunpolishedjourney stories are stories individuals share about their journey with mental illness and recovery.  Interested in sharing?  Email us at info@unpolishedjourney.org.  

Tell us a little about yourself.

Hello hello! I’m Baylee, and I am 27 years old. I grew up in a friendly suburban town just outside of Chicago up until my early twenties; I then made the big move to the city with my dad. Five years later and I’m happily still living here with my boyfriend and my 15-year-old dog. I enjoy arts and crafts, trivia, outdoor patios with friends, thrifting, collecting mugs, and anything nature-related!

Currently, my life is very quiet, very simple. I like to start my day by arriving; even if it’s just a mental reminder that I am here and that I am present. My day-to-day is being a mental health advocate; practicing self-care, writing, storytelling, collaborating with like-minded/hearted people and strengthening the light that’s being shed on mental illness. My life today looks very different than it did six months ago before I left my 9 to 5 full-time career, but I know that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be; helping, sharing and giving mental illness the transparency it deserves.

What has your mental health journey been like?

My mental health journey has been a beautiful messy scribble of loops, zig-zags, twists, turns, dips and peaks. I was 20 years old when I first experienced symptoms related to an anxiety disorder. I went to every doctor I could, trying to find out what was “wrong” with me and what was causing these strange sensations, thoughts and feelings. I was told by a mental health professional that I had an anxiety disorder, but I was so resistant to a mental illness diagnosis. I couldn’t accept that my mind was causing my body to respond – it just didn’t make sense to me. It didn’t make sense that I was just a girl going into her senior year of college and now was a housebound agoraphobic who couldn’t leave her home without having a crippling panic attack.

I don’t blame myself for the fear. My whole life had been turned upside down and all I wanted was to be right side up again, but that resistance was prolonging a very necessary journey of unearthing long-since buried feelings and a painful past. The day I finally waved the white flag and accepted the fact that I had anxiety was the day my healing journey began. That was seven years ago. Since then my life has become about learning; who I am, what I’m capable of, how to take care of myself, how to advocate for myself, how to say no, when to say yes and managing a mental illness before it tries to manage me. I’ve established this deep connection with myself and an understanding of what it means to show up to each moment as you are. I’m still learning, I’ll always be learning.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced in pursuing recovery?

The biggest obstacle in my recovery is and probably will always be trying to stay hopeful when I have a string of bad days or even weeks. Every dip feels like the first. Every pause feels like eternity. It’s hard to think outside of a painful moment and remember a time when you didn’t feel uncomfortable or anxious or sad. It’s hard to instill faith that it will pass and the hard moment won’t last a lifetime, even when it feels like it may. The hard moments are where the growth happens, the appreciation is reborn and the strength that sits silently on our shoulder steps in and carries you through. It’s all a part of the process but believing that truth can be very difficult when you’re so deep in it.

What helps you maintain recovery?

What helps me maintain recovery are words; whether spoken or written. Talking to my therapist, my boyfriend, my family or friends has saved me countless times. Living with OCD can at times make sitting with myself a very scary and lonely place. Reaching out and asking for support or to be heard has been instrumental in my recovery. Writing has always been that independent outlet for me. Absolving my thoughts onto paper or into my Instagram, @anxietysupport, has always been so therapeutic for me. It’s two-fold in that I’m no longer holding onto everything internally, and I’m also able to hopefully help others who read what I say and can relate. It’s that beauty in sharing that I love so much. I’ve had a connection with words since I was little and without them, there would be only silence. Filling that silence with raw, authentic moments has been crucial in my recovery.

What advice do you have for someone in the early stages of recovery?

My advice for someone in the early stages of recovery is just to be. Be still. Be you. Be sad. Be happy. Be anxious. Be anything that you are feeling. Don’t get caught up in the doing or the fixing; just be. Healing comes in the absence of resistance. Remember that you are exactly where you need to be; even if it’s painful and confusing. Nothing is expected of you except to show up as you are. Never hesitate to reach out to your people. Never underestimate the power of a good cry, some nachos and your couch. Never underestimate you! Self-care over everything.