By Beth Allen
While I was initially confronting my anxiety, I was told to try meditation. I got to a point where I meditated for five to ten minutes per day, and I found that it was extremely helpful for my relaxation. My sleep improved and I felt a lot better. However, as time went on and AP tests approached, I found it hard to prioritize anything that wasn’t essential. Thus, I stopped meditating every day. Now, looking back, my mental health did suffer a lot. I was a lot more stressed on a daily basis. After one NAMI meeting, I decided to prioritize meditation again. I came back to my dorm and meditated for ten minutes. I cannot put into words how good that felt. I used the link to the calming music and set a ten minute timer. Before starting my meditation, I was worried about an upcoming essay for my French class. After that alarm went off, I felt like all of my stress has melted away. It was absolutely amazing. The next day, I felt the strong urge to not take the time for myself and meditate for ten minutes. After all, there were several other things that I thought were more important. So, I compromised and did only five minutes of meditation. It still felt amazing. I plan on doing this for a week and seeing how my worldview and sleep are affected. I have had a lot of trouble sleeping in the past, so I hope that this will be able to help me sleep better. Also, with exams and due dates approaching, it is more important than ever to consider my mental health and find ways to diminish stress. Even if I am taking time for myself, I need to remind myself that taking time to relax will improve my mood and make me more productive.
As it starts getting colder and gloomier here in Wisconsin, seasonal depression may start to affect some people. One method of treatment that is becoming more popular is light therapy, or phototherapy. This type of therapy involves a light box that mimics outdoor light which is lacking in the winter. Although it will not completely relieve you of your symptoms of SAD, light therapy affects the hormones melatonin and serotonin which help regulate mood and sleep. This method works best if it is used consistently and in the morning to mimic the sun rising.
However, a light box isn’t the only way to get a dose of sunlight in the winter months. Try going for a morning walk! Not only will it give you that much needed vitamin D, it will also get you up and out of bed so you can start your day. If the cold is too much for you, eating breakfast by the window is another alternative and a good way to get some sun exposure.
Wisconsin’s long winters can be tough and may feel like they will never end, but summer always rolls back around eventually. Until then we should do our best to get what sunlight we can!
Stigma sucks. It is a mindset so strong that even those who advocate for, educate on behalf of, and support those with mental illnesses; even those with a best friend, a parent, a sibling with a mental illness; and even those who suffer from a mental illness themselves often still carry around some amount of stigma. This doesn’t have to mean that you believe someone else is lesser because of their mental illness, or that their illness doesn’t matter, stigma also manifests itself in the person who feels embarrassed to ask for help, the person who acts uncomfortable when their friend needs to vent about their struggles, and the person who cancels plans because their “stomach hurts,” not because they’re anxious. These actions aren’t inherently bad, but they occur because of stigma and unintentionally promote it by silencing the conversation. These three occurrences could have started a conversation with a parent, a friend, a peer. They could have been conversations that opened someone’s eyes, got someone help, or caused the spread of conversation, which is the best way to reduce stigma. We need to start talking to each other and work through the discomfort because eventually, the more conversations we have, the more acceptable talking about mental illness can be.
Have you ever felt like you’ve just been going through the motions of recovery? Sure, you haven’t relapsed, but you still don’t feel “fully healed.” You made it through the bulk of recovery, but there are still aspects of your disorder lingering in the background. Aspects that you want gone, but haven’t tried too terribly hard to let go of. If your anything like me, sometimes I feel like I’m coasting in recovery.
My treatment began years ago at the beginning of high school––I spent countless hours with therapists, psychiatrists, dieticians, and physicians and made many improvements over the next year or two. Fast forward to now, I feel SO much better mentally, physically and emotionally (don’t get me wrong!), but my obsessive compulsiveness and eating disorder haven’t completely vanished and I don’t know if they ever will.
This summer, I’d had enough of just coasting through recovery and felt the urge to challenge myself. I practiced ordering French fries every once and awhile instead of always picking the “healthier” side option. I started to opt for walks instead of grueling work outs on days when my body needed extra rest. I started honoring my hunger cues more honestly, sometimes having two breakfasts or another helping at dinner. Although these may seem like little, hardly significant changes, they have been so incredibly empowering. They were just what I needed to reestablish that I am in control of my life, not my eating disorder.
So, if you feel a force compelling you to make some changes, face some fears, and grow––listen. You may be just as amazed as me with the result.
Exams are one of the most stressful aspects of college. Here are a few of my tips when buckling down to prepare for an exam:
1) Take study breaks! Studies show that taking breaks can improve your focus and attention.
2) Get enough sleep! When you get more sleep, you consolidate memories more, especially exam material. There is loads of research on this, it is pretty fascinating.
3) Space out your learning. Although it may be difficult to start studying early for an exam, it is extremely helpful. This way you can stress less and form memories (of class material in this case) that will last much longer.
4) Study with other people. It is always helpful to say things out loud and work through problems with other people. You can bounce ideas off of each other and work together in a team environment. Studying is a lot more fun this way too!
5) Take five minutes to relax right before your exam. Don't cram minutes before the exam, it only stresses you out further. You won't learn concepts immediately before an exam, so just relax and be confident! Remembering to do these things helps me keep my mind healthy, especially throughout finals week. Your mental health is of the utmost importance!
Music has always played a role in my life. I would find my experiences and myself in the lyrics and would get lost in the melodies. As I got older, I realized how much of an impact music truly had on me. Music was the one thing that understood how I felt when no one else did. We all know struggling with mental illness can be hard as it is, but for me, music aided in relieving the pain. So for this post, in hopes of helping those who need an escape from their mind, I made a list of songs that relate to what many of us are feeling in the darkness and in healing.
Also, I’d love to hear what you guys listen to or if you have any recommendations! Enjoy.
In My Blood –Shaun Mendes
Fight Song –Rachel Platten
Unwell –Matchbox Twenty
Move Along –All American Rejects
Car Radio –Twenty One Pilots Holding On To You –Twenty One Pilots
Learn To Let Go –Kesha
1-800-273-8255 –Logic/Alessia Cara/Khalid
Soundtrack 2 My Life –Kid Cudi
Pursuit of Happiness –Kid Cudi
Breathe Me –Sia
Warrior –Demi Lovato
Skyscraper –Demi Lovato
The Middle –Jimmy Eat World
Demons –Imagine Dragons
Superheroes –The Script
Oh My Soul –Casting Crowns
Monster –Eminem and Rihanna
Fix You –Coldplay
Be Still –The Fray
Rise Up –Andra Day
Death And All His Friends –Coldplay
The Cure –Lady Gaga
Brave –Sara Bareilles
Scars To Your Beautiful –Alessia Cara
Human –Christina Perri
Who Says –Selena Gomez
Unsteady –X Ambassadors
*Note: I made this playlist on Spotify so you can find it by searching “Natalie Hammer” and/or “NAMI Blog Post Playlist”
By Kelly Weldon, NAMI-UW WiChat Coordinator
The pharmaceutical companies would have you believe that anti-depressants and anti-anxiolytics are magic pills that will instantly cure your mental ailments (my frustration with Big Pharma is shining through). As great as that would be, it’s generally a much more complicated story. My current medication offers me emotional stability and allows me to productively challenge my irrational thoughts, but before any big improvement in my mental health I walked a long and winding road littered with various prescription receipts. I share my experiences with SSRIs and SNRIs to be real about how difficult it can be to find a medication that works, but also that it can be worth the perseverance.
Escitalopram (Lexapro): I started seeing a counselor at the beginning of my junior year of high school and was quickly diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I went to therapy for a few months without any mention of medication, but it soon became a topic of conversation. I was hesitant of a prescription because that would have somehow confirmed I was sick or broken (not an accurate thought, but another blog post for another time). After deliberation about the pros and cons with my parents and my partner, I was prescribed my first medication for GAD. At first, it was everything Big Pharma would have you believe about SSRIs: I noticed stability in my mood and success when working on my CBT assignments. I was on this medication for about a year before the side effects became too much to ignore (right before college, yay!). The weirdest side effect I experienced was throwing up after meals, which was frustrating for someone who gets hungry easily.
Venlafaxine (Effexor): My doctor decided to switch me to venlafaxine right before I left for Madison. To be honest, I don’t really remember how it affected my anxiety, but I don’t think it was effective. I probably didn’t think much of it at the time because moving away was such a huge and stressful transition in my life. I was on it for about a month before the hives set in, where one morning I woke up at 6 am to a body covered in giant red blotches. I called my mom, who told me to call a nurse, who told me if my throat wasn’t swelling shut I should just pop some Benadryl. Which is what I did. For two months. I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me earlier that I was having an allergic reaction to my medication, but it probably didn’t help that all the doctors I went to said it was probably mold or laundry detergent. Finally, I went to an allergist who immediately told me to get off my medication. In those previous two months, however, I lived with blotchy, itchy skin, painful joints, and constant aches.
Fluoxetine (Prozac): I tried this prescription at the end of winter break and I didn’t notice any change for a couple of weeks. Eventually, I seemed to be stabilizing and was adjusting to school. I had even gotten a babysitting job 30 minutes away via bus! This is also when I started to notice how nauseous I was getting on the rides to and from my dorm, and then sick I would feel after elevator rides. Just little movements could make me sick for an hour afterwards and I do not deal with nausea well, so it was back to the drawing board again.
Buspirone (Buspar): By the time I got around to buspirone, I was frustrated and nervous. My doctor emailed me that I was running out of options, so something had to work soon. I did not want to hear that I might have to deal without medication, because this meant full-blown GAD again. Instead, I dutifully tried this medication as well. It did not work. I had never experienced depression before, but boy did I get a full taste of it this go around. With all my medications, I never noticed the side effects right away, as it always took time for me to come to the realization that I was inducing these side effects. I realized it this time around when having a conversation with my partner in his dorm room about how I was feeling so depressed that I wanted to die. Vocalizing this freaked us both out, and we concluded that I needed to stop this medication, which also meant I was going to have to send another email to my doctor.
Citalopram (Celexa): Low and behold, I finally found a medication that worked! My doctor was hesitant to prescribe citalopram to me because it has the same active chemical as escitalopram (my first medication). I love organic chemistry (I know, unpopular opinion), so I’ll just give a short overview. Citalopram is a mixture of two stereoisomers (R-citalopram and S-citalopram), while escitalopram only contains one stereoisomer (S-citalopram), which is the active molecule in both drugs. As enantiomers, S-citalopram and R-citalopram have the same chemical structure, but the spatial arrangement of the atoms is different. This can affect how the chemical interacts with different receptors in the brain, like a key fits into a lock. I have no idea why one had a ton of side effects and the other was my solution. It’s crazy and it’s weird, but the body is cool and complicated, so there are probably many interactions in the brain.
I have been on citalopram since the very end of my freshman year of college and it has allowed me to gain control over my anxiety. I know I painted a grim picture of doctor’s visits, new prescriptions, and side effects, but it was to get to this point! I finally can put in the work to combat my GAD and feel stable. I know that finding something that works can be incredibly frustrating, especially when advertisements tell us that medication offers a quick fix, but there is probably something out there for you. Furthermore, I know medication isn’t for everyone and I wouldn’t be where I am today without other coping strategies as well. One of my biggest regrets was trying to figure out medication without actively going to therapy. I probably could have dealt with my side effects and my anxiety more effectively if I had attempted multiple strategies at once. Regardless, wherever you are in your journey to recovery and whatever you are doing, you are not alone in your struggles and perseverance can pay off. There is hope.
By Maddie Noreika, NAMI-UW Volunteer Coordinator
Just Relax. You need to lighten up. Learn to have some fun…Over time, these sentences became some of the worst things people could say to me, and unfortunately I heard them often and no one realized how much they affected me. My freshmen year of college I attended UW-Milwaukee. At first I was so excited and I was ready to take on the world. Things changed quickly and throughout the entire semester I did not make a single valuable friendship, I struggled to get involved on campus, and I only buried myself in my school work. I just figured it was the freshmen jitters and that I would eventually fall into my place. I pulled out straight As, which was a first for me, but I still felt unsatisfied. During winter break, the thought of going back to Milwaukee made me want to hurl, so I did what I thought was best and moved back home. I transferred to the two year college in my town which only made me feel more unsatisfied and extremely embarrassed. Once again, I didn’t make a single friend, and I only buried myself in school work and work. I made the dean’s list that semester, but I felt zero satisfaction in what I was doing. The only thing during my second semester that kept me going was that I stood a chance of getting accepted into UW-Madison.
Throughout my entire freshmen year of college I was going through what I thought was just a bad spell of major anxiety and depression, but I thought it was just something I would get over and that my problems were not significant enough to reach out for help. My family constantly told me that coming back home was not a good choice for me, and that I was not the most pleasant to be around because of my mood swings, and that I had very selfish tendencies. Those tendencies came from not knowing how to process my feelings, and not having anyone to talk to that could completely understand. I was completely lost in my own world, and I struggled with showing empathy toward others. I couldn’t wrap my head around this idea that my mental health was not in a good place, and I didn’t have any coping mechanisms to handle what I was going through. I kept telling myself that everything would be better when I got to UW and that all of my problems regarding my mental health would just suddenly vanish into thin air.
I got accepted and I couldn’t wait to embark on my new journey. The journey that would solve all of my problems. I was going to come to UW, get perfect grades, make lots of friends and get into the business school to pursue a business degree. I instantly made a bunch of friends, I got involved in campus orgs, I had a job, and I was starting to establish myself. It happened so quickly and I thought that all the moves I was making were the right ones in order to live the “average college life”. Then I got my first midterm grades back and I was not happy with the outcome and realized that UW was much harder academically than where I came from. This was a trigger for me and I instantly felt too stupid to be at such a wonderful school. It would keep me up at night, and I became so wrapped up in wanting to be the best, that I wasn’t even studying properly or concentrating in a productive way. As the semester went on, I realized I hated my classes, and that my grades weren’t going to be perfect. As I struggled with this, I had long in-depth conversations with my mom about it. She had to remind me repeatedly that my GPA did not define me, and that this one semester would not define my overall success at UW. Although she was a great supporter in getting through my struggles, nothing she said made me feel better.
During the spring semester I realized that business was not for me and that I needed to make a change. I changed my major to pursue a double major in Political Science and Social Welfare. I loved my classes and I instantly saw my grades improve. I made fewer commitments with campus involvement which allowed me to study hard, and spend time with my friends without feeling guilty about it. I was content for the first time since I had started university. As things started to look up for me, I unfortunately started to feel anxious that what I was doing was not enough. I would obsess over what I needed to accomplish to get into good graduate schools, and I was only a SOPHOMORE. I thought that if I did not have the exact plans in place I would never succeed. Again, I would sit up at night and research schools and universities and “plan my life.” It never made me feel better, just tired. It eventually got so bad that I couldn’t go a day without calling myself a failure, or thinking about how other people were so much further ahead in life than me. I found that my relationships with the new friends that I had made during the year were becoming a bit strained and that I was feeling irritable almost 24/7. Eventually I hit a point and had a panic attack. That was my lowest point and I only went back up from there.
During the summer I went through the same intense anxiety and depression that I was clearly facing during my first two years of college and I had another panic attack. I was so exhausted and my family really tried to simplify my feelings by telling me “to relax” and to “think positive.” This only made it worse because I found that I couldn’t do those things easily and I thought that I would be stuck this way forever. Something that was clearly continuing to heighten my anxiety. I then did something that completely changed my life. I spent a portion of the summer working with highschoolers that struggled with severe mental illnesses. It put so much into perspective for me. It made me realize that if these kids are brave enough to face their feelings and challenges and openly talk about their mental health, then I was capable of that too. Until that moment, I would have never guessed that having a simple conversation with my doctor about my mental health would open up a whole new approach to how I think about my mental health.
This journey has come with plenty of challenges such as crippling anxiety, severe insomnia, keeping up with my personal hygiene, and suicidal thoughts. BUT it has also come with plenty of rewards such as my huge list of coping mechanisms, a stronger relationships with my friends, a safety plan for when/if I have suicidal thoughts. I've given a lot more attention to my self care and realized that I am not always able to take on every opportunity that may come my way. I've realized I can openly talk about my experiences, I can express my needs to others in a clear precise manner, and I can also recognize when I need to step away from reality to take care of myself. I have recognized that just because I am on medication, and see a therapist, and do other things to cope with my mental health, not every day is going to be a good day and that some days are going to be harder than others. I’ve also learned to not let people invalidate my feelings, because no matter how absurd my reasoning behind it is, I am allowed to feel how I feel, at least for a short period of time. Overall, this journey has taught me that I am capable of self-love and that no matter how hard it might be to see sometimes, I can love who I am and I will only continue to love who I am. I am beautiful, I am smart, I deserve my dreams, and I deserve to feel strong and be free of self-doubt.
By Natalie Hammer, NAMI-UW Ambassador
To anyone struggling with mental illness:
You will have good and bad days. Even on your worst days, please know there are better days ahead. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. You are capable of conquering this. Keep holding on. This does NOT define who you are. You are not crazy. You are strong. You are a fighter. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Especially your mind—don’t believe everything you think. And if all you did today was hold yourself together, I am proud of you. Take each day one step at a time. You will be okay.
Above all else, please know this: you are loved and you are cared for.
Author’s Note: Although this post is short, it has incredible significance. Every now and then, we need a reminder of these words of encouragement, as we go through the ups and downs mental illness and life have to throw our way. Stay strong and keep the faith in your healing.
By Laura Klatt, NAMI-UW Ambassador
Hey all! I’d like to apologize for my radio silence. The reason therefore? I’ve been in treatment out West in Denver, Colorado since late February. I struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, OCD, depression, and panic disorder. I’d like to dedicate this post to the experience(s) I’ve had over the course of my UW career with treatment, medical leaves of absence, mental health, and putting your own well-being first.
I’ve had to take a medical leave of absence every year for the past three years...for at least one semester of each academic calendar, sometimes two. It’s been a challenging pattern: I usually arrive in the fall ready to go, with a support team of therapist, psychiatrist, and general practitioner in place (not to mention support groups- HEY WiChat!)...and then I deteriorate over the course of the semester to the point at which I physically and mentally cannot. I just cannot….cannot take care of myself, cannot feed myself, cannot maintain relationships, cannot control my panic attacks, cannot keep up with extracurricular commitments, cannot do anything but panic, write A-level papers, and panic some more. How in the world I manage to function academically in the face of serious physical and mental debilitation is a stunning enigma. However, my concentration and memory were suffering as my body and the rest of my mind lost stamina, and eventually, the forecast for my academic record was beginning to teeter on precarious footing...nothing had happened yet, but I was definitely in the danger zone, which pushed me into some safety danger zones as well.
Medical and mental health treatment has saved my life several times over the past eight years. I felt a ton of shame and a mountain of shock the first time I was asked to leave UW-Madison during my freshman year. I had left high school for periods in the past, but that was different. College was supposed to be the promised land- the answer to my illness, the cure, the safety zone. College was not supposed to be the place where I got sicker and where my mental health became more unstable. I was supposed to thrive, not die! I was supposed to love my life, not want to kill myself! Needless to say, I was confused. But my confusion had no bearing on the situation- reality was as reality was, and rehabilitation was necessary. The next two times I left, including this last one, were less of a shock. My life had become, as I said before, a pattern of arrive, decline, withdraw, seek treatment. But my mental space was different each time. I’m writing this post not to glorify my illness or prove how “good” I was at being sick, but to show that growth can happen even in the most unexpected and unideal of circumstances.
I have learned so much more from my life experiences than I have in the lecture halls and discussion classrooms of UW-Madison. Just being a human, having a very human experience, has taught me about compassion, resilience, love, connection, and confronting fear. Most of all, it has taught me that putting emphasis on one’s physical and mental wellbeing is far from selfish. I learned that I cannot help others, I cannot connect with others, I cannot be involved in anything that matters or makes a difference, unless I take care of myself first. And that’s what I’ve been learning to do these past years. That’s what I’m learning to do now!
Bottom line: taking time off to heal is not a failure. Taking time off REPEATEDLY is not a failure. Healing is a blessing. Taking time to heal is a success, a truly mature and responsible action. There is no selfishness here, only proper self-love and self-care.