7-day self-care challenge image

Self-care” is one of pop psychology’s latest buzzwords, but my brand new, seven-day challenge is a guide full of helpful, practical content for readers from all walks of life.

If you have ever felt hopeless or believed all the bad things in your life are beyond redemption, if you have ever felt unworthy of being loved or accepted or feared what would happen if people found out your secrets, you will find this 7-Day Self-Care Challenge to be a comfort and a guide for a new kind of living. No matter your starting point, the tools in this quick self-care overview will help brave but wounded souls begin to answer the question, “Now what?” Recovery and self-care are possible. I know this because I have hit rock bottom and lived to tell about it. I believe my simple 7-day challenge will motivate others to not only seek the help they need, but also spark a discussion around the necessity of self-care in everyday life.

What is self-care?

Experts at the University of Kentucky define it like this:

“Self-care includes any intentional actions you take to care for your physical, mental and emotional health. Good self-care is a challenge for many people and it can be especially challenging for survivors of interpersonal violence and abuse. It can also be an important part of the healing process. Self-care is unique for everyone.”

How Does the Self-Care Challenge Work?

Each day, you’ll receive an email with a self-care challenge, including follow-up questions and a “Messy Grace Mantra.” You’ll also have access to a closed Facebook group where you can connect with and encourage others who are doing the self-care challenge, too. This is a great way to build community!

In short, you’ll have all the tools you need to make this challenge a success!

What’s in it for me?

  • Are you tired of feeling overwhelmed?
  • Are you struggling with addiction?
  • Does it seem impossible to tell others “no”?
  • Do disability or disease whisper lies that you are worthless?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, the 7-Day Self-Care Challenge will give you tips and tricks to take better care and control of your life. If you don’t take care of yourself, nobody else will!

via NoStigmas

Ready to start the challenge? Just click here!

Challenge Begins Monday 2/27/17!

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The most pivotal and liberating experience of my life was attending weekly psychotherapy for three years. Each session, I sat down with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, using a variety of techniques, to process and work through traumatic experiences from throughout my life. I also worked with a psychiatrist in the same practice to find the right combination of medications to treat my insomnia and mood imbalances. It was grueling — I won’t downplay that. There were days when I came home so spent that all I could do was lie on the couch for the rest of the night. But of all the challenges I faced, the biggest one was getting myself to the therapist’s couch in the first place.

Post-therapy, it is my firm belief that absolutely everyone could benefit from professional counseling at some point in his or her lives. Psychotherapy is a big universe — there are a myriad of techniques, types of practitioners and conditions that fall under this umbrella. But one thing they seem to have in common is that they are vastly misunderstood. I have known many people who missed out on precious years of living their fullest lives because something — a societal stigma or a personal misconception or fear — was keeping them out of that therapist’s office. What I seek to do here is to dispel some of the most common myths I have encountered regarding therapy, and to share the insights I have gleaned to replace them.

1. Truth: Your pain is important.

When I first sat down in my therapist’s office to work through the emotional abuse I had experienced growing up, I confessed that I felt ashamed for being there because so many people had been through so much worse. I cited the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. She explained that being the victim of an act of terrorism is one type of trauma, and being manipulated by someone (in my case, a parent) whose role in your life should be to protect and care for you is trauma, too. There is no issue too large or too small to seek help for.

via NoStigmas

2. Truth: It’s OK to go shrink-shopping.

You will be doing very difficult work — telling your therapist about the most painful things that have ever happened to you. The vulnerability can feel like an open wound. It is essential that you trust the person who is in that room with you, so that you will feel comfortable with the solutions they offer. Going back session after session is an accomplishment all on its own, sometimes a feat that requires willpower. So you must feel a rapport with your therapist in order to do it. You deserve that. If the first practitioner you visit doesn’t feel right to you, try another. Needing guidance in processing a difficult life event, or even suffering from a psychiatric condition, does not mean that your instincts are untrustworthy. On the contrary, seeking help is in itself a sign of wisdom.

3. Truth: They’ve heard it all before.

Try to take comfort in the fact that therapists have been educated and trained to assist people in exactly your situation, no matter what that situation may be. You are not “weird,” you are not “making it up” — you are not even unusual. Everyone I know who has sought therapy has felt an immense sense of validation and relief from the simple knowledge, imparted by their therapist, that their condition or issue is, in fact, common, that their feelings and reactions are normal, that so many others are in the same boat. And they will ask questions to help you delve beneath the surface of what you may be feeling that particular day, so that you can address the core issues and create fundamental change. They can help you, and you deserve to be helped.

4. Truth: No one is going to shove medication down your throat.

Among anyone I know who has been “on the fence” about therapy, this is one of the most common fears. Many people who seek therapy are simply looking for a professional perspective and have no diagnosable condition, and many diagnosable conditions are not automatically treated with medication. That said there is no shame whatsoever in taking medication when a mental health professional you trust says that you need it. In that case, you are acting responsibly by following their advice. In some cases, you may not even be on the medication long-term — just until the immediate crisis passes and you feel more stable. If you had an ear infection, you’d take antibiotics without a second thought. Psychiatric conditions are no different — they cannot be willed away, and medication can be an essential part of improving your quality of life. But decisions about your mental health care are ultimately up to you.

5. Truth: There may be financial assistance to pay for it.

Seeking therapy doesn’t mean you have to go broke. Many health insurance plans cover it, but you can also check with your local government to see if counseling can be fully or partially paid for based on your income. Many colleges offer reduced-cost counseling with therapists-in-training. For members of the military, there is, of course, the Veterans’ Administration, but outside of that, there are organizations such as The Headstrong Project, which are completely free and confidential. This is far from a comprehensive list, but it is a starting point if cost is one of the barriers between you and the help you deserve.

6. Truth: What you learn there is a life practice.

Therapy, for however long you go, will help you process that “first wave” of hurt –the worst of it, the part that is keeping you from living your life the way you want to. It won’t erase bad memories or keep them from ever coming back. This does not mean you have done something wrong or that therapy “didn’t work.” Therapy will give you a toolkit so that when those memories do return, you will be better equipped to handle them. And each time they do, their power will diminish.

Saying “I need help” and reaching out to get it are not easy things to do. But along with the previous thoughts, I offer the following: absolutely everyone I know, including myself, who has undergone psychotherapy has looked back on the moment they made that first phone call, to set up that first appointment, as one of the best decisions they ever made. As a watershed moment in their lives — for many, the first time they said to themselves, “I matter.”

This world is a difficult place.

Give yourself the tools to navigate it.

Give yourself that gift.

Pick up the phone.

You won’t regret it.

You matter.

Special thanks to Robin O. Anderson, LCSW, and Megan Lucas, MA, NCC, Provisionally Licensed Counselor, for their professional input.

You can follow along with this journey on Seeing and Speaking

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Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia Ltd

A few days ago, my boyfriend and I went from jokingly talking about him moving in with me to seriously talking about him moving in. The choice has been made and he is going to move in at the beginning of next month. While I’m excited for this to be happening, I’m also very scared.

I’ve lived with a boyfriend before but it didn’t go so well. He was under the impression my anxiety attacks had completely stopped and that it was my only problem. Back then, anxiety was the only thing I had been diagnosed with. Although, I knew I had depression and I knew something else was wrong with my brain. I just didn’t know what. When my mental illnesses began to surface and become extreme, he began to resent me and even hate me. He called me “crazy” and asked me, “Would you want to marry you? Look at you!” He said this while I was in the middle of a panic attack. Let’s just say, I’m a little scarred by the experience.

So, in an effort to make this relationship last, one that’s much healthier, happier, loving and caring than my last, I’m writing this to my lovely boyfriend. I’m sharing this with The Mighty community as well in case someone out there may be going through something similar but may not have the words to express themselves. It’s scary letting someone close to you when you have a mental illness.

For those of you wondering, I’ve been officially diagnosed with bipolar II disorder, an anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADD and major depression.

These are tips I think you should know before moving in with your significant other who has a mental illness:

1. Unless you also have a mental health condition, accept the fact you may not understand.

Mental illness is something confusing to both those who have it and those who are around the person. We do things that may not make sense to you but make perfect sense to us. It can be as simple as arranging something a certain way to how we function on a daily basis. We’ve developed our own coping mechanisms to help us and you may not understand. Unless we are harming ourselves, trust we know what’s best.

via NoStigmas

2. Be patient with us.

It takes a lot out of us to constantly be fighting a battle in our own minds. Even on our good days, we’re still continually fighting. Imagine having a separate voice in your head reminding you of things you hate or are ashamed of about yourself. Then, imagine weights being tied to your legs. It makes it hard to smile, it makes it hard to move.

3. Remember to comfort us.

Especially those of us with anxiety and PTSD. I’m like a little baby when I’m scared. I feel like everything is out to attack me, even you. You can tell me you care and want to help and I might still feel like you’re attacking me. I can’t help it, my fight or flight instincts are in overdrive and I don’t know what’s going on. Hold us, if we allow you to. If not, use comforting words and sit still by us. But please, don’t yell at us or raise your voice.

4. Sometimes we need tough love.

Everyone responds differently to things. I don’t respond well to tough love. However, there will come a day when you see the light sucked out of me. But, there’s a little flicker trying to turn into a flame. You’ll know when that day comes, I’ll be talking about “how pathetic I sound.” That’s when you encourage me to get off my ass and take control of my life again. Don’t try and force this moment to happen sooner than it should, that’ll only make it worse.

5. Remember we’re not lazy or crazy.

There will be days when we can’t get out of bed. There will be days when we have a panic attack. On the days when we’re in bed, be kind to us. Remember we’re exhausting all of our energy just to keep from ending it all. We’re trying to stay alive for you. We’re trying to survive. On days when we have panic attacks, remember we are still sane. We are completely aware of how “crazy” we sound and that’s partially why we’re panicking. If they’re anything like me, the physical aspects of a panic attack will scare you. We will rock back and forth, cry uncontrollably, shake our hands and hyperventilate. Hold us, let us know we are safe.

6. Remember we love you.

We love you more than anything. You are where part of our strength comes from, you’re the reason we keep fighting. We don’t want you to see us struggle and we don’t want to make you struggle along with us. We feel guilty, ashamed. Please remember who we were on our good days. The reasons why you love us. Because we’re doing all we can to stay alive for you.

I hope this helps someone going through a big change in their lives. Living with someone can be one of the best things in this world. Have each other’s backs.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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I really don’t know how I am feeling.

It’s a hard concept to understand. Not knowing how you really feel. Not knowing what emotion you are experiencing or have recently felt.

I know it is really difficult to understand, but it’s true. I really don’t know how I am feeling. There are often times when family members or friends want to know how I am, but I will honestly not know. It is at times like these when I reach for the safety blanket of “I’m fine thanks.” It’s easier than trying desperately to explain you have no idea how you are feeling. You’re in limbo. Not good not bad. Not happy not sad!

I really don’t know how I am feeling.

I have on occasion attempted to reveal this mixed-up feeling to people who have asked and I am usually met with blank stares or nervous laughs. The exception being those close friends of mine who also struggle with mental health issues. They understand instantly.

I guess that brings me to now. Right now, when I really have no idea how I am feeling, I keep telling everyone I am OK. However, if I’m honest, I’m not really sure I am. I’m not feeling “bad” — I know that much — but I’m not convinced I’m “good” either.

I’m feeling worried, anxious, panicky and a little stressed. Overthinking takes over most of my days and nights. Left to my own devices, I am daydreaming of the past, the future and stressing over every mistake or silly thing I have ever said or done. I’m finding it extremely difficult to concentrate or get the motivation to do anything.

Does this mean I am heading back down again? Down to the darkest depths I cannot be rescued from? Does it mean this was all a cruel trick and I am not actually getting better and never will?

Or does it simply mean I am going through a tough period of my illness? Is it something that will pass if I remain strong and fight my very hardest?

I really don’t know how I am feeling.

via NoStigmas

I expect the latter is the correct answer but it’s still extremely hard. This constant voice is telling me this is all a cruel trick and I am never really going to get better.

As I said before, it’s so so difficult to describe to people – even the most understanding of family members and friends. I suppose it may seem like I am lying. And I suppose in one way I am, but unless you live this I don’t think you will ever really understand how awful it feels.

For those of you who ask a friend or family member and receive the answer of “I’m OK” “I’m fine” or “I’m just tired,” I encourage you to dig a little deeper. This answer may not reflect the whole story. Ask them if they are sure they’re really OK. Let them know they can be honest with you and please know you don’t have to fix them. Just listening and trying your hardest to understand will mean the world to that person struggling.

For me, this is open post to let you know if you are having confused feelings, it’s OK. You are not alone. I have them too. I’m having them right now. But I am determined to keep talking and spreading awareness so there will be a time when we no longer have to be scared of the reaction of others when we are open and honest about our mixed-up, confusing feelings.

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Thinkstock photo via Archv.

Dear Alex,

I love you. But please don’t try to fix me. Just listen when I am hurting. Hold me when I am scared. Let me have my small joys when I am troubled. I know it is hard to feel helpless, but you are needed. You can’t do some of the things the medicine, doctors and therapists do, but you are much more important. I can list the things I want and don’t want to you if I am unable to make decisions. I trust you more than anyone and believe you will keep to my wishes. I know you didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t have a diagnosis when we got married. I had a psychotic break when we were married for seven years and it is over 20 now. I am so proud and happy we have been able to get through this and are managing well.


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