mental health

Seeing And Being Seen: My Story Of Survival And Healing

Me as a young girl

Me as a young girl

Earlier this year I decided to write what I thought would be a “how therapy helped me become a better therapist” story. Over the years, I’ve been in and out of therapy to help me manage my anxiety and depression. I created what I thought was a vulnerable, open piece that shared how my own therapy helped me learn to cope with trauma and how each of the therapists I’d worked with led me to insights that help me be a better therapist today.

I submitted the piece to colleagues who have a contributor’s blog on their website, The Practice of Being Seen. Although I felt I’d been open, honest and vulnerable, I was told that the piece didn’t go deep enough into my story. I think one of the comments they had was, “We want to know about you, not your therapists.”

I went back to the computer and started again. After multiple edits and rewrites, it turns out that the story I needed to tell was a much different, much more personal story — the story of being the survivor of childhood sexual abuse. You might wonder, “Why anyone would want to share that story? Isn’t that too much to share with the world?” That’s precisely why I needed to tell it.

I recently had the honor and pleasure of attending a talk by author, speaker, researcher, social worker extraordinaire Brené Brown who said, “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we write our own stories, we write the ending.” I knew then it was time for me to write my own ending.

When we hold our stories so close that they rarely see the light of day, the story remains the same. For me, avoiding the story created a negative feedback loop. For years I felt damaged by the abuse, because all I could feel was the shame of what happened. Avoiding what happened, and the feelings associated with it left me feeling disconnected from me and those around me. I needed to retell my story from a place of strength.

Writing my story, A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Journey Into Seeing and Being Seen, has been a difficult, raw and extremely empowering experience. As Anne Lamott writes, “It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life.”

Let me know your thoughts and if you’re ready, start writing your own story.

 

My Struggle With Anxiety

Suffering from anxiety can make you feel alone

This blog post was featured in the November editions of the Severna Park Voice.

Dealing with mental health issues can be hard. You often feel alone, isolated — like no one understands what you’re going through. The reality is, a lot of people struggle. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that in 2014, 18.1 percent of all adults in the United States suffered from some type of mental illness. I thought that I’d share my own experience with anxiety to let you know that you are not alone.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life. Up until my late 40s, I didn’t call it anxiety. I called it stress, or I’d say I was overwhelmed. So what if the same things got me stressed and overwhelmed, over and over again? Later, as I learned more about anxiety, I understood that those things that made me anxious were called triggers.

Some of my triggers included:

  • Holidays
  • Traveling to unknown places
  • Staying somewhere that wasn’t home
  • When things didn’t go the way I expected
  • When I felt like I was failing, or couldn’t figure something out
  • Unplanned events, like being asked to go somewhere at the last minute
  • Being with a group of people I didn’t know very well
  • Making phone calls

I could probably think of more examples, but you get the idea. When I wasn’t in control, when things weren’t “perfect,” I got anxious. Anxiety presented itself in ways I thought were just a part of my personality. I got really cranky leading up to things that made me anxious, like those listed above. I snapped at my family. I became obsessed with the details — everything had to be “just so” to make me feel somewhat at ease. I avoided situations and events that felt threatening. I’m pretty sure I lost some friends when my kids were little, because I was happier being at home where I could handle any emergency than I was hanging out with them. Later, when the kids were older, I felt uneasy when they weren’t at home. I’d also make my husband call for pizza or answer the phone.

I realize now that anxiety had a greater impact on my life than I was willing to recognize. If someone had asked me examine how anxiety or stress was affecting my day-to-day experiences, I might have gotten help sooner!

Managing Anxiety Day-To-Day

I’ve worked with counselors on and off throughout my life, and it’s been very helpful. (Yes, lots of counselors also get counseling.) These days, my anxiety usually pops up when I have significant transitions in my life. Counseling helped me identify my triggers, so I can start paying attention and begin to relax my body before the anxiety kicks into full gear. In addition to counseling, I also read a lot and learned about anxiety — what causes it, how it presents itself both physically and emotionally, and how to manage it better.

Being aware of the here and now reduces anxiety

Here are some strategies that have helped me manage my anxiety:

  • Using grounding techniques to refocus myself when situations make me anxious
  • Practicing mindful meditations
  • Taking care of myself and recognizing my needs
  • Being more present in the moment instead of worrying about the past or future
  • Practicing self-compassion

My struggle with anxiety pushed me to learn about more about it — the causes, how it shows up in my clients’ lives, and how to help those who grapple with anxiety manage it more effectively. Providing a calm, non-judgmental space for my clients to share their story is the first step.

Managing Anxiety Is An Ongoing Process

Anxiety is a normal response to threats, so it doesn’t just disappear. Different situations will continue to trigger my anxiety, so I have to keep working at managing it. The good news is, I’m more aware of the impact of anxiety when I let it take control, and I recognize what is happening. Now, anxiety no longer rules my life. It’s taken a backseat, where it belongs.

If you’d like help managing your anxiety or stress, call me at 410-339-1979 for a free 15-minute phone consultation.

Photos by Mike Wilson and Averie Woodard from Unsplash.com.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979.