Posted on Leave a comment

To The Younger Generations: Don’t Be Afraid to Talk About Your Feelings

Written by Gracie Dougherty

From a young age, we all are taught the disadvantages associated with making yourself vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary; you open yourself up emotionally and mentally at the risk of exposing yourself to pain or harm. Because of this, society has taught us to keep quiet. Society has told us to bottle up our emotions, because talking about your feelings shows vulnerability. Society has tricked us into thinking that this vulnerability equates to us being weak or fragile.

But here’s the thing: it’s just not true. Yes, sharing our emotions and feelings often makes us vulnerable. But we are not weak. We are not fragile. Showing vulnerability by opening yourself up shows strength. It shows resilience. And we all need to remember that. Feelings are not a bad thing to have, it is simply human nature and it is completely normal. We should not be afraid to talk about the emotions and feelings we endure every single day. As a society, we all need to work to eliminate the stigma associated with expressing our emotions.

Because of that stigma, it’s so difficult to talk about how we feel. It’s especially hard for those of us who are part of the younger generation. College and high school students, even younger ages, are scared to share our emotions. I know this first hand as I am one of these younger people who also has struggled with being vulnerable. I was so scared to tell my friends and family that I was struggling. I was terrified of the vulnerability and the stigmas associated with it. It took me a long time to come forward and seek the help that I so greatly needed. But when I did, a giant weight was lifted off of my shoulders.

Everyone who is struggling with something deserves to also have that weight off of their shoulders. Yes, it is so hard. The stigmas surrounding speaking up and being vulnerable make it a very terrifying situation for those of us who have our own mental obstacles. As a younger generation, we fear being made fun of or discriminated against by our peers or our friends. But in the end, our mental health and wellbeing is much more important. It should be made a priority- and the best, sometimes only, way to do that is by talking about it. Overcome the stigmas and speak up. I know how hard it is, but I also know that it is completely and entirely worth it. Don’t be afraid of showing your feelings and emotions- talk about it.

Posted on Leave a comment

How to Help Those Who Are Going Through the Same Things as You

Written by Gracie Dougherty

I have had my fair share of struggles with my own mental health. I like to think that I have been through enough that I am able to help those who have their own obstacles, so I always encourage others to come to me when they need to. Being there for people who are going through what I have is something that is important to me, and I always want to help them to the best of my abilities.

But sometimes, it can be hard. It’s often difficult to hear someone you love struggling with things that you also deal with. It can bring back painful memories of dark places and moments. If you can relate to what a friend is going, it can be hard to hold back your own feelings and stories.

Put your focus on them entirely. When a friend comes to you feeling depressed or anxious, for example, try not to flip the conversation on yourself. It may help them to hear your own stories and how you got through it, but try not to dive into your own current feelings and emotions because it can push them out. It may make you friend feel like their emotions are less important or less relevant than yours. It may be hard, but focus on them. Share your own experiences, but try not to overshare. Make sure the conversation is entirely focused on them.

Be there for them always. It only takes a couple seconds to answer a text. If you’re in a position where you can’t reply to their text or call, or you can’t meet up with them, let your friend know. Tell them you’ll be there for them as soon as you can. And when you are available, be there. Let them know that they have your full attention and that they can come to you anytime they need.

Let them know who they are. When a friend is struggling, remind them of this: They are important. They are loved. They are appreciated. They are recognized. They are strong, and smart, and brave, and powerful. They are admired and they are special. They are who they are- and that is ALWAYS enough. Remind yourself that you are these things as well.

When you are helping a friend, make sure that they know that you are there for them. Remember that both of your feelings, emotions, and struggles are valid and always relevant. It’s important that you don’t overshadow your friend; try to help them understand that though you have your own hardships, theirs are just as important to you. Try to constantly remind both yourself and your friend of who you are, which is always enough.

Posted on Leave a comment

Compliment the Person

Written by Ashley Nowak

“You look great!” “Your hair is so pretty.” “I love your outfit!” “Have you been working out?” While these are nice to hear, I think it is time we expand our compliment bank. We can make someone feel good about who they are as a person, instead of how they appear.

Here are some of the best compliments I’ve ever received:

When I was in high school I had a teacher who provided thoughtful feedback on all of my papers and projects. She once made a comment highlighting my creativity. This stuck with me and I really started to believe in my own creative thinking, which I believe has helped me to be more successful in my career and in life.

When I was pregnant last year, one of my students said, “you’re going to be a really good mom.” I almost cried right then and there. It was so sincere. At the time I’m not sure I understood why it meant so much, but as I reflect on it now, I think it is because it was based on me as a person and helped ease some of my subconscious fears of becoming a mother.

My husband often reminds me that I am a hard worker. He points out that I am always putting 100% effort into everything that I do. Most people will agree, it was so nice to hear when your hard work is recognized.

I am writing about these virtues not to boast; quite honestly I still really struggle with accepting compliments. I tell you about my favorite compliments because these are the ones that mean the most to me; they highlight who I am. If it’s not your norm, try complimenting a person’s personality or character. It emphasizes that what really matters, is who we are on the inside.

Posted on Leave a comment

Continuing the Paradigm Shift

Written by Ashley Nowak

It’s 2019 and I am grateful that we, as a society, have made huge strides in how we perceive and approach mental health. Through some legislation, activists on social media, and more accessible resources, discussing mental health is becoming more and more normalized.  It is imperative that we keep this momentum going for a full systemic paradigm shift.

It has (somehow) been thirteen years since I myself have been a high school student but as a high school teacher today, I am pleasantly surprised at some of the changes I have seen. When I was in high school, our counselors were seen as “those people who sit in their offices and help us sign up for classes and only talk to people with serious problems.” There was no mention of mental health our our health classes. And among my peers, we really didn’t talk about things like depression, anxiety, or eating disorders. It was taboo. Today, I am thankful to work in a school district where our counselors are actively working with all students in many aspects of their lives. There are posters around school encouraging students who are struggling to seek help. Our health teachers intentionally embed mental health components into their curriculum. And in general, students are more likely to discuss their mental and emotional state with each other and teachers. While this is all great, I do know that many districts are not this way. I also know that this shift cannot solely take place in schools. It is a complex issue and we all play a role in changing how we perceive and approach it.

No change occurs in silos. We are all responsible members in continuing the change: educators, counselors, administrators, doctors, nurses, parents, siblings, peers, therapists, and increasingly, social media. It has and will take the many institutions within our society to take active measures and ultimately unite with our common goal. One way continue the shift is to use a trauma-informed care mindset. For example, we change our thinking from, “why is he/she giving me such a hard time?” to “he/she must be having a really hard time.”  If we can perceive individuals through this lens, we can recognize the true barriers that stand in our way.

While I certainly do not have all the answers to the many challenging questions that revolve around this topic, I am certain that we need to keep up these conversations, shift our way of thinking, and fight to break any barriers that stand in our way. We have come so far, and with persistence we will continue to make progress on how we perceive and approach mental health. I am hopeful that in another thirteen years, the paradigm will have shifted completely. We will recognize mental health as completely normal and approach it with the care it deserves.

Posted on Leave a comment

Mental Health in Wisconsin Teens: let’s talk about it

Written By Ashley Nowak

This time of year can be tough. Holidays are over, it is frigid cold, and summer seems so far away. With these despairing thoughts, it is the perfect time to talk about mental health.

According to the Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior 2017 Survey (conducted by the Department of Public Instruction), 27% of Wisconsin high school students feel depressed, almost 40% suffer from anxiety, and 16.6% of students have self harmed. These numbers may be startling but they are our reality.

It may not be enjoyable but talking about it is super important. While it seems easier to suppress our own feelings or ignore the friend who has been acting different, doing this is only harder in the long run. Instead, I encourage you speak your truths out loud even if it seems uncomfortable. The more we talk about it, the more normal it becomes.  And while our statistics are for Wisconsin teens, this is not just a Wisconsin issue. This is an everyone issue. We all have our days, weeks, months, or even years when life seems too difficult and/or overwhelming. But if we don’t talk about it, our mental health concerns can turn from a light grey cloud to a dark looming storm.

So try picking up the phone, sending an email, or shooting a text. Check in with your friend, sibling, parent, or colleague. Talk about mental health. It is as normal as we make it.

Here are some ideas for conversations starters:

If you are the one struggling:

“It’s been a tough day/week/month/year, is it OK if I tell you about it?”

“This may be tough to hear, but I need to talk about [   ] .”

“This is hard for me to talk about, but I feel it is important that I tell you about my [    ]”

“I want to be honest about how I am feeling.…”

If you’re checking in with a friend:

“I just wanted to let you know I am here for you.”

“If you’re ever going through a difficult time, I hope you know I am always willing to listen.”

“Do you need someone to talk to?” or “Do you need someone to listen?”

“I care about you.”

Or list a specific thing you can do for that person and ask them if you can do that. Sometimes people do not know what they need until you offer it.

Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

Posted on Leave a comment

Be Kind To Yourself: a note on self-care

By Ashley Nowak

Ellen Degeneres famously says, “be kind to one another” at the end of her show.  I love this message. It takes minimal effort to smile at a neighbor, hold the door for a stranger or compliment a friend. While Ellen’s message is important, there’s another person we need to be kind to: ourselves.  

Self care is a buzzword going around right now and it deserves its hype. We need this reminder, especially in the winter and especially in Wisconsin. In the midst of grey clouds and frigid temperatures, don’t forget to take care of yourself.

What is self care?

Self care is allocating time for yourself and making yourself a priority. In doing so we aim to improve our mental health, decrease our stress, and/or grow as a person. It is not as easy as it sounds and is truly something to practice.

{What self care is not}

Make sure you are doing self care for the right reasons! Self care is not doing something for the sole purpose of wanting it on your snapchap or Insta. Self care is intended for you. If you’re trying to get the perfect pose or find the perfect filter, you’re missing the point. Take in the moment, whatever it is, and use the time to reflect on yourself and set your intentions.

How do I practice it?

Unfortunately, there is no magic recipe.  What works for one person may not work for another and what worked yesterday may not work today. But here is a quick list of things you might try:

  • Exercise – take the time to go for a jog, attend that yoga class, or pound out some squats.  There is scientific evidence that exercise can help relieve stress.
  • Breathe – seriously. Right now… take a deep breath. Unclench your jaw. There are some awesome apps out there, such as “Calm,” that can help with things like reducing stress and practicing gratitude.
  • Journal- whether you want to do free writing or prefer a more structured method, writing down your feelings and thoughts can be super helpful! I love my Start Where You Are journal.
  • Sleep – set a bedtime and stick to it. A good nights sleep can make all the difference.
  • Drink more water – guidelines currently recommend a minimum of ½ oz per pound per day. For example, someone weighing 150 lbs should drink at least 75 oz of water per day. Staying hydrated can keep us focused and improve our overall health.
  • Learn to say no – this one can be hard for us people-pleasers, but remember you need time for yourself too.
  • Surround yourself with positive people – if there are people in your life who are constantly bringing you down, reevaluate your relationship with them. Try to find people who bring out the best in you, not the stress in you!
  • Grab a cup of coffee – you honestly sometimes deserve to go to Starbucks or your favorite local coffee shop and just sip on your favorite brew. Take a few minutes to enjoy that latte.
  • Volunteering for something you care about – honestly, volunteering is the best feeling. It’s a win-win. Helping others can bring out the best in us.

All in all, {try to} stop comparing yourself to others. You are uniquely you and while you’re not perfect, remember that no one is. Even the smartest, prettiest/most handsome, coolest people we know struggle with things like self-doubt and stress. Set aside some time to be true to yourself and relish in knowing you are freaking awesome and completely deserve your moment.

Photo from: https://cplfoundation.org/this-above-all-to-thine-own-self-be-kind/rsz_be_kind_to_yourself/

Get to know the Author!

Ashley Nowak is a social studies teacher and active member of various committees. Ashley works specifically as a co-chair of her district’s Equity Committee, member of the Mental Health Steering Committee, a LINK Crew advisor, Students for Dialogue and Social Change advisor, and former Gay Straight Alliance advisor and track and field coach. For fun Ashley organizes a book club and runs 5ks and half marathons. Ashley also enjoys spending time with her husband and new baby boy.

Posted on Leave a comment

Winter is Coming

Winter is coming.

 

It’s in inevitable when you live in the Midwest. I have a love-hate relationship with it personally, but I’m learning to find the beauty in the white pine trees on my hour commute to work. Feeling bundled up just to go grocery shopping. Making sure you have enough gas to help fuel your car in the dead cold winter days.

 

Then comes the lack of Vitamin D. When I went to school at the University of Minnesota Duluth, my depression started. I didn’t want to get out of bed, I had a lack of motivation, I had panic attacks. I didn’t feel worthy. I would never wish these feelings upon anyone. I wish I knew what I know now about the resources and the positivity that surround taking care of your mental well-being.

 

I started seeing a therapist back in Duluth and she was the first person who I heard the phrase “you have depression” from. That was about 3-4 years ago now. It hit me like a s**t ton of bricks. That was in the month of March in 2015. Now, I have found ways to not let depression enter my life. Winter was always such a negative season to me after I was diagnosed. My therapist said that majority of Midwestern’s, especially up north, have seasonal depression. I was so uneducated about it at the time. I knew I wasn’t alone, but what are we supposed to do then? How do we take care of ourselves?

 

I started learning and educating myself more when the “self-care” movement started. I found that there are so many things we can do to help ourselves flourish even in the dead of winter. I purchased a salt lamp and it gives off radiant positive energy and softens up a room. I also keep a sun lamp on my desk at work for those days where we have not seen the sun in over 72 hours. I love essential oils and you can now find them anywhere. I keep a diffuser in our room, and I put oils in our humidifier. I also keep a diffuser on my desk at work as well.

I have learned to embrace the beauty of winter because well if I plan on living in the Midwest for the rest of my life why not enjoy it. After all, it is winter majority of the year. I am listening to the podcast Rise by Rachel Hollis and she talked about how everyone is busy. Everyone’s life is hectic in its own way. Why not take a moment to take up a new hobby for yourself? The only winter activity I liked was Hockey and I barely skated anymore. Why not learn something new that you have been trying to learn? That is my goal this winter is to try a new winter hobby or lace up those skates once again. Embrace the mess of life and enjoy the little things. Why am I rattling on and on about the winter season? Because it’s time we take back control of our lives and enjoy it! We were put on this earth for a reason and dammit, we might not know the reason yet and we might not find out for years, but in the meantime, we are not going to let seasonal depression take us down.

You can find great essential oil blends here.

 

For whatever reason, you are reading this, if you are dreading winter… well, it’s coming. Do something for yourself this season. Get that happy lamp, start that new hobby, get outside, or snuggle up on the couch with the book you’ve been dying to read. Watch the movie you keep saying you will go see. Drink that hot chocolate with whip cream on top.

 

Embrace this beautiful mess we call life.

 

Xoxo, Anna

Posted on Leave a comment

Life and Your Parents

Life is so confusing at times. I tend to write down ideas when they come to me and then just down my browser to continue with what I was doing. I had written this about my mom around Mother’s Day. Our parents, no matter how much of a pain they may be at times. Continually asking where you are (yes even at 23 a parent’s job never ends), telling you to wash the dishes, the list goes on. I mean I could write an entire blog post on that 😉 Anyway, no matter how much they may feel like a pain, it’s that unconditional love you have for them. Here is a letter dedicated to my mom in particular.

 

“This mother is dedicated to a pretty strong, badass mom of mine. Many of you may know her, but if you don’t… Here is why she is one of the people who shines the light on cloudy days.

 

My mom. My mom is selfless and most importantly displays the most unconditional love any mother ever could. At a young age, she met my dad, and they became friends. Little did she probably know, they would become high school sweethearts, fall in love, and start a family of two boys and a girl.

 

My mom. My mom is a teacher of over 25 years in the same district and shapes the mind of little ones each day. If you don’t know my mom, she has a smile that will make your frown turn upside-down. She has a laugh that you could probably hear miles away, but it is so contagious, it’s hard not to laugh with her.

 

My mom. My mom is someone who you can talk to, relate to, and understand life.

 

My mom. My mom usually spends Mother’s Day with my daddio, hiking, drinking wine, or finding some cute restaurant. This Mother’s Day, my daddio will be there in spirit. He will be looking down at her while she has another ‘first’ without them.”

 

For whatever reason you are reading this, hug those parents tight, no matter how much they text and call you during the day.

Posted on 2 Comments

Let’s Talk.

It’s the little things in life like having a mental health chat with your family at your favorite restaurant in town. Ever since I can remember, my mom and dad always brought us to Barker’s in our hometown, Hudson WI. This grew as a family staple. I remember one of the last times I went there with my mom and dad was when I got good grades in one of my last semesters in college. I texted them and said let’s celebrate! Barker’s Bar and Grill was always a place of celebration for our family. When my dad passed away they graciously brought food out to us and our extended family members and honestly is was one of the best ways to remember my dad. This last time we went to Barker’s we were celebrating a friend being in town and some of dad’s favorite foods (11/10 recommend the wings). When we sat down per usual we saw people we knew, recognized servers because we were regulars by now.  Through eating our delicious meal, we were chatting about suicide and family history. Talking about signs, medical records, etc. I know, not your usual family dinner talk, but hey… We have now made that a priority in our house. After we were done we were getting ready to pay when a server said that another server wanted to buy us dessert. We were shocked by the kindness and were amazed by her generosity. The server’s name was Kait. We went to high school together so I figured last week was dad’s one year angelversary.

2018-06-13 19.46.51

When the dessert came to our table, she brought it to us and expressed that she knew about how hard last weekend must have been for us. Then, without hesitation she spoke about how in a couple days will be 5 years since she attempted suicide (yep, I was on the verge of crying). This amazed me. The courage she had to speak up about her own story. With people she barely knew. This got me thinking. One. What a strong community I live it. Two. Look how much of an impact just one person had speaking about her story. Just think, if we talk more about suicide, impacts, and the resources around us, think about the impact that we could make. Thank you Kait, Barker’s, and my Hudson community.

 

Xoxo, Anna

Posted on 2 Comments

Letting Go

Sometimes in the midst of life, you turn another year older, and you sit in your room reflecting on the past 23 years. Where am I now? Where did I want to be by now? Sometimes it’s time to let go. Live a new life. Sounds scary… right? Sometimes I sit and get anxious thinking of all the projects I have taken on. Writing, being a mental health advocate, starting a non-profit. How come I was not born with all the natural talents of creative design, writing, athletic ability, the list literally could go on and on. Anxiety works in mysterious ways. Here is what I have learned.

 

  1. Shut anxiety out.

Leave the room you are in. Take a walk outside. A long breath. Literally breathe. Life was not intended for you to worry about all the little things.

  1. Embrace who you really are.

All my life I’ve had to work extra hard. ‘Things’ never came easy for me. I play hockey for 13 years and people always asked me ‘were you good’? and I always said. “I was never the best, but I loved the game.” There is a difference between being good and having passion towards something and truthfully, hockey showed me that. I love to write, but I am not a naturally born writer. I have had to practice, I still am! I am known to be too hard on myself even when my motto is you can always be better. You can always do better. There is so much to learn in life. About life. I’ll never stop learning and trying to be better.

  1. Find the good.

I dare you. Stop what you are doing right now and write down a gratitude list. 10 things you like about yourself. It’s harder than you thought, huh. Reality is it shouldn’t be. Love who you are! Find the good in life. In yourself. It’s all over, I promise.

  1. Take time to breathe.

Easier said than done, I know. With juggling a job, social life, and extra curriculars you feel like you don’t have time to breathe. We weren’t designed to busy bees. That’s a choice. Love what you do but remember it’s okay to stop and breathe. Believe me, I’m doing that as I write this.

  1. Lastly, let go.

Let go of the worry, the stress, the regret. Life is too damn short to be stressed and worn out.

 

For whatever reason you are reading this, love who you are, who you were made to be.

 

Xoxo, Anna