How to Journal for Mental Health

When I first started going to Al-Anon, AA for families of alcoholics, someone suggested the idea of journaling. Going to these group sessions was my first step in healing, which my addict boyfriend preferred because they wouldn’t tell me to leave him. I was trying to do anything to pull me out of this spiral I was stuck in, so I greedily took in all advice they gave me.

When one of the ladies mentioned how much journaling was helping her with her husband, I was intrigued. Wasn’t that something for kids and professionals? Why would I keep a journal now? After the meeting, I pulled her aside and asked her to explain why she was journaling and how it was helping.

For the next month, every night, I tried my hand at journaling. It quickly became clear that I had no idea what to do. I would often stare at the blank page, begging my mind to pour out something profound. It wasn’t until I went to my first therapy session that I really learned how to journal.

1a. The first step is to decide how you want to go about writing. Some people prefer to type on a keyboard, while others prefer to write by hand. For me, I find my computer to distracting. I’m so much more likely to forget to journal at all and waste my time on Facebook instead. I also like to doodle as I go, because sometimes words just don’t do my thoughts justice. While I could still do this on a computer, it’s nowhere near as fun for me. But what matters is that you find a way to journal that fits you.

1b. If you decide to get a book, I recommend you find a journal that fits your style. If the book is plain or doesn’t fit your needs, you won’t use it. Are you the kind of person that doodles and writes all over the page? If so, a dotted or blank journal might be best for you. If you prefer to keep things organized, then a lined book my work best for you. Next, find one that looks “cute” or “stylish.” Having an eye-catching journal will make it easier for you to notice it. If it blends in with the rest of your environment, you may forget about it altogether.

2. Pick a time to write. This may be right when you wake up before you go to sleep, or on your lunch break. Doing something at the same time every day will make the habit more likely to stick. I pick before bed because I find it a relaxing way to get all of my worries out so I can sleep.

3. Pick your writing space. This could be at your computer, on a pillow beside your bed, or at a park near your work. Where ever it is, make sure that you can have a relaxing moment during the time you’ve picked to write. Bonus tip, keep your journal in this space. If that’s not ideal, keep it in a bag that you will take with you to this space. It’s all about habit and routine.

4. Now write! This is the most important step in the whole process. It’s also the hardest when you first start out. Something I tried was writing about nothing. Write about what you see, hear, feel, etc. It’s a skill that you have to practice, so don’t stress if it’s not easy at first. It will get easier with time.

5. Repeat the previous steps as you need to. If something feels like it’s not working for you, then change it. This is all about your experience and your comfort. Make changes as you need them, write more than once a day or maybe every other day. The important thing is to find something that helps you with your mental health.

6. If you’re also going to therapy, it can sometimes be useful to read these entries to your therapist to give them an unfiltered look into your mind. This can help both of you get to the root of any problems you have and help you get further down the path of healing.

With or without a therapist, journaling is an effective tool to relax, reflex, and grow. It’s one of the easiest ways to get all of your anger, fears, and worries out of your system while still having a log, you can look back on to reflect on your thoughts.
What system works best for you, and how has journaling helped you? Let me know in the comments below.

When they reach out to you for help…

Normally on Wednesday’s I do a book review, however something more important came up yesterday that I thought we should discuss instead.

Trigger warning: Suicide

Around 3pm yesterday I got a Facebook message that I pray I never get again. “I’m going to kill myself. You were awesome.” My heart stopped, I couldn’t breath, and all I wanted to do was save my friend.

I was at work when this happened, and I’m so grateful that my bosses understood what I was going though. They let me hide in the office until I could make sure he was safe and sound.

But I realized, as I was going through the steps to find my friend, that not everyone knows what to do when they get a text like that. So I thought I would give you a step by step guide on how to handle suicide attempts.

1. Breath! You are not responsible for another person’s life and you can’t help anyone if you’re in the middle of a crisis. This is a step I always forget to do, which was made very clear as I had a full blown panic attack in the middle of the restaurant.

2. Try to figure out where they are. If you can get them to answer you stay on the line with them as long as you can. Get them talking and figure out where they are. If you have to call other people and work together to find them.

3. Get help to them. Rather it’s you or an ambulance, get help to them ASAP. If you know for a fact you can talk them down and it’s safe for you to go, do so. But if there is any chance you won’t make it in time please call 911 first. In my case, my friend would not answer his phone. It took me a while to figure out where he was at, but as soon as I did I got police on the way.

4. Don’t worry about them being mad at you. I would rather you be mad than dead. They will get over it because they know that you just want them to be safe.

5. Breath! Once you’ve followed all of the above steps and you know they are safe please take time to take care of yourself. The thought of losing someone is traumatizing and you need to take care of yourself as soon as you can.

6. Follow up with them. Check in as soon as you can, make sure they are okay, and offer support. Recommend therapy options in a nonjudgmental way. Let them know that your still there for them and that you don’t think any less of them. This is a hard thing for everyone involved and everything said should be from a place of love.

I hope this helps you in the off chance you ever get that phone call or text. I pray that you don’t, but I understand that the world just doesn’t work like that sometimes.

If you’re feeling suicidal and you need help but don’t feel safe calling friends or family please call your local emergency services or suicide hotline. There is always someone who can help.

Episode Three: What are antidepressants?

So you may or may not have noticed but I haven’t really posted anything on here in almost three weeks… That’s because I’ve been allowing myself to adjust to this new medication my doctor has put me on. Going from no medication at all to trying one or two new ones can knock you on your butt for a few weeks, but it’s worth it in the long run! Last week’s episode of The Gift of Dysfunction goes into why that is and what exactly antidepressants are.

Episode Two: What is Autophobia?

On today’s episode of The Gift of Dysfunction I talk about a phobia that I’ve struggled with for a long time, autophobia, the fear of being alone. This anxiety disorder is the irrational fear of being alone, unloved, and or unwanted.

I started showing symptoms of this phobia as a teenager, never wanting to fully be alone and clinging to my boyfriend as much as possible. As I got older this lead me into abusive relationships, bad situations, and someone being a workaholic. Through a lot of hard work I’ve gotten a hundred times better than I used to be, but I still have a ways to go before I’m done with this phobia for good.

If you think you might, or know someone who might, have autophobia please encourage them or yourself to speak to a therapist and get help today!

Your First Therapy Visit

As I drove around the area of my therapist’s office for the first time, I felt my anxiety rising, not like it wasn’t already high before. I hadn’t slept at all in the past few days and eating this morning as not an option. After finally finding a place to park the tide of nausea rolled over me, this was it. I was going to walk in there, talk to this woman I had never met before, and let her see my soul. This wasn’t the first time I had gone to a therapist, but the last one had left a scar on my heart. The last one had pushed me to far, asked for too much, and wanted me to convert to her belief system. What if this new therapist was the same way? What if she asked me to do things that I was not mentally able to do? I doubt it, she came highly recommended by someone I trust, but what if. 

Once I walked into the waiting room, I could tell this wasn’t like your normal office. Where was the receptionist? Where were the blinding white light? In their place I was met with Marvel superheroes, a mini fridge full of soda, two giant couches, coloring books, and the history channel. Wendy stepped out of one of the three offices and greet me with a huge welcoming smile. “Alexandria? Give me just a moment, feel free to color or grab a drink and I’ll be right with you.” 

What to expect the very first time

Okay, so I’ve been to a few different therapists in my time and for the most part it’s all the same on the first day. They bring you in, run you through the things they are legally required to report, and then ask you a series of yes or no questions to gauge how they can best help you. But my god, is it terrifying! The thought of letting someone into your mind, to see everything you’ve even done, leaves you just waiting for them to shut you out and send you away forever. I have some news for you though, that’s very unlikely. Any therapist that knows what they’re doing will not shut you out, make you feel crazy, or judge you. It’s literally their job not too. So just take three deep breaths for me and allow the healing to begin. 

  1. They legally must protect you and others. 

We who go to therapy tell our therapists some weird and messed up things. We have a lot to work through, and they are the best people to help you work through it! But there is always a fear that once you let the dirty laundry out of your mouth someone is going to air it. Legally, they can’t except in a few extreme cases. If you say you are going to kill yourself or hurt someone else, not as in “I want to die” or “I want them to die”, but you have a plan in your mind about how you are going to do it. They legally must try and talk you out of it and if they fail, they must call the cops. Trust me, it’s for your own good.  

The other thing they must report is child abuse and neglect, but only if you see it first-hand. So, if you’re a child saying that your dad abused you, or an adult saying your wife abused your kids, they must report it. They must put the child’s safety before everything else. The reports will always be anonymous to help keep you safe, but they don’t have much of a choice in the matter.

In some places your insurance can ask for a copy of your therapy notes, which you can always ask for as well. If your therapist is like mine, they won’t learn any of your dark secrets this way. It will just be what you may or may not be diagnosed with and where you are along the therapy path. None of these things happen very often, but they do happen, and we have laws in place to help protect you and your loved ones from any kind of harm. 

  1. They may decide they can’t help you. 

Not every therapist works for everyone. My last therapist had a ton of high reviews and was super sweet, but she couldn’t help me work out my issues in a way I felt safe. Sometimes this just happens. Any good therapist knows this and will sometimes see it before you do. Yeah, they want to make money, but your mental recovery is way more important. At some point they, or you, may decide that you need a different approach to your healing. If they feel like they aren’t helping you, they may refer you to someone in their network that can. However, if you feel like you don’t like them let your therapist know! Tell them what you aren’t liking and what you need from them, they will either change their approach or help you find someone who fits your needs. Therapists are here to help you, you’ve already told them you dark secrets, what’s wrong with opening up a little more? 

  1. They will not start off with “So tell me about your mother.” 

I’m sure you’ve seen it in every movie or T.V. show that talks about therapy. Someone walks into this dark and boring looking office, lays down on this huge leather couch, and the therapist very dryly says “So tell me about you mother.” That doesn’t happen. I have issues with my mom, and no one has ever said that sentence to me. Instead they ask you a list of yes or no questions, like “Have you ever wanted to, planned to, or tried to kill yourself? Have you ever planned to or tried to hurt someone else? Are you in a relationship? Do you have any kids?” so on and so forth. This is to try and get a better understanding of what might be, going on in your life. Afterwards they will start off each session with “How was your week?” or “How was your day?” but not in a just being polite kind of way. They actually want to know how you’ve been and if anything as come up for you. They actually care about what’s going on in your life because they want you to get better.  

  1. Their office will be unique. 

Just like every house looks different, so does every office. Each therapist will design his or her office to fit the needs of the clients they are seeing, and to add a person flare. One office I was in had a rocking chair, more toys than I have ever seen, and the walls were covered with painting of animals and nature. The next was covered in painting of stunning women with blank canvases and paints hiding in the corner. Yes, every one of them had a couch, but it was a big, soft, comfy couch. No leather in sight! These people spend most of their time in this space, and they want it to feel like home. 

  1. They won’t throw drugs at you and send you home. 

No therapist wants to put you on drugs, they can be addictive and don’t always help.  You must be on the exact right amount of medication for your exact level of mental illness in order for your medication to do what it needs to do. Since that is different for everyone it takes a ton of work to find perfect amount for you, then you still have to keep going to therapy and keep changing your dosage all the time as you go through life. It’s exhausting for everyone and is super time consuming. A good therapist will only recommend medication if either one of you feel like you are too unstable for therapy, work, relationships, etc. While medication can be a life saver, it’s not for everyone and this is a decision you guys will make together. 

  1. Therapy hurts, a lot 

I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t like going to therapy. I’ve been going off and on for the past 10 years to different kinds of counseling and therapy… I still have a ton of work to do and I still dread it every week. Now, you may not have as dark of a past as I do, so it may be a lot easier for you. Or you may have a bipolar disorder or BPD, which means you’re going to be going for a very long time. You may also enjoy it; I know at times I do. There are sessions where I spend the whole time laughing and enjoying myself, and there are sessions where I’m overwhelmed with anxiety and falling apart for the rest of the day. This is part of healing. I like to say that therapy is like paying someone to rip out your soul, do a full biopsy, scrub it with bleach, and then try to shove it back in while making you do jumping jacks. It hurts, it’s uncomfortable, and it makes you wonder why you ever wanted to fix yourself anyways. But just like going to the gym makes you want to die; you will be stronger and healthier because of it.  

I may have been scared to death to meet my new therapist yesterday, and I may be scare to death to go back next week, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I will give anything to feel like myself, to have my own identity, and to be stable every day. The only place I’m going to find myself, is in my therapist’s office. If you haven’t gone before, please try it, at least for a little while. If you had a bad therapist who told you that you were beyond help, find a new one who wants nothing more than to see your soul grow. It takes a lot of courage to admit you need help and even more to go and get it. For those of you who are thinking about going to therapy for the first time, I’m proud of you for being aware enough to realize you need a little extra help. So, make that phone call, go to that appointment, and grow to be the best version of yourself that you can be.