Beautiful silhouette of mother and baby playing with toys

There’s only so many times you can be told you’re not good enough before you absolutely cannot hear anything else. The kids who didn’t want to be my friend in primary school because they thought I was a loser and “smelled funny.” The family member who told me I had to like the same music as everyone else or I’d get bullied in high school (spoiler alert, it made no difference whatsoever). The teacher who said I couldn’t play the clarinet because I didn’t have the memory ability. The math teacher who told me I didn’t need to bother trying too hard, I just wasn’t the type to understand math. The girls who said it was OK to be their friend, but not at school, not where people could see. The kids who laughed at me when my Nan died and I cried on the school bus.

All my life, I’ve behaved how other people think I should, because I’ve been terrified of more people telling me I’m “substandard” as a human being and the result is my oftentimes debilitating anxiety disorder. If I couldn’t keep everyone in my life content with my existence, I fell apart and ended up damaging either them or myself emotionally. I’m sure this is a scenario that sounds all too familiar to a lot of us:

Twenty people: “You’re a great person!”
One person: “You’re an awful person!”
Me: I must be an awful person.

For every family member or caring friend that told me I was worthy of my place on this earth, there have always been voices that call out from the dark, reminding me, actually, there’s not a lot I have to offer. It doesn’t matter if those things were actually said, or if they were remnants of memories long passed. And therein lies the utter devastation of an anxiety disorder. The spiral of “what if someone really thinks that?” picks up speed very quickly and before long, I cannot distinguish between what I’ve convinced myself is true and what is not. The long-term effects of bullying are only recently outlined to me since I’ve become a parent and have been forced to look at myself objectively. Why have I never challenged the negative? Why do I just accept I don’t seem to be perceived as a good person?

Weeks before my wedding, my husband and I endured some trying times and people taking advantage of us. It hit us both hard, but still I let the cycle continue. I believed as long as others were happy, it didn’t matter.

While going through an episode of grief so consuming I’d spend hours staring at walls, I was emotionally unavailable to everyone, even my husband. Right there and then, the people who trotted off out of my life should have been a big red flag for how I was allowing myself to be treated, but I continued to ignore the pale, rotten grass under my feet, thinking it was just as green over the enormous fence. I mirrored other people with ease, seamlessly adapting my personality based on what shape hole I was supposed to be fitting in and then I would wonder why I’d spend hours of the day fighting anxiety attacks. Why did I say that? Perhaps I shouldn’t have laughed at that point. Should I have said more? It comes full circle and the “what if” maelstrom thunders back into play.

But I have a message that is clear.

If you deal with social anxiety on any level, especially based on how you’ve been treated in the past, it is not forever. I assumed I’d be like this forever, constantly alienating myself and others from the dynamics of human relationships. I was lucky enough to have a few exceptions in my life (husband and a loyal friend or two), so I should just be OK with that. I was wrong. One day — some day — I believe something will happen that will shake our own beliefs about ourselves down to the core and it’ll change everything.

For me, it was my son. At the time, he was less than two years old and saying only a handful of words to go with his standard issue toddler whines and grunts. I’d recently been ejected from another person’s life because I “wasn’t good enough,” and my little boy, in his barely legible language, asked where this person was.

All at once, I saw his life tied closely to mine. People bonding with him through me and then breaking his heart because I was all too desperate to make connections with people. At the time, I believed I’d doomed him to years of feeling left out, but now, more than six months later, I can look back at recognize that experience was the catalyst. All my life I’ve been terrified of having no friends like in school, because it felt so horrible and lonely and so I’ve had no standards when it comes to trying to make and retain friends. Behaviors that made me uncomfortable, not speaking the same language in terms of morality and outlook — I’d just ignore how my gut felt and try to fit in. That’s not good enough for me anymore.

Let me make myself abundantly clear. No one can tell me what I deserve. Neither I, nor you, are required by anyone or anything to put on an appearance. You may not feel this way now, but I promise one day you will. Maybe you’ll start clambering out of the fog with medical intervention. Maybe someone will come into your life and make you realize that you, in all your glory, are enough.

You. Are. Enough.

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It was early September while I was on my hour-long bus commute to work. I have a pretty lovely view for half of it. A long lake with plenty of forest surrounding it, kayakers and paddle boaters out for their early morning practice rows. I do a lot of pondering while staring out the window on the bus, and on this particular day, I was thinking about how I’ve lived in Halifax for 5 years and I really don’t have a lot of friends. It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s not that I don’t get the opportunities to make friends. I just, suck at it. It terrifies me.

All I’ve wanted for years is to have a group of friends I’m comfortable being around. Comfortable inviting to do things, or just to hang out and have a conversation with. Friends with whom I don’t have to contemplate every word I type in a text message in fear it will be interpreted wrong, or I’ll come off the wrong way or they’ll think I’m weird, rude or stupid. I know I’m not rude or stupid. Weird, I can admit to, but how do I know how someone else is perceiving me? Do they know I’m fumbling my words and having trouble making conversation because I’m anxious? Do they notice my constant touching of my face and awkward gestures because trying to talk to someone new can be absolutely unbearable for me? If they did, how would it make them feel? How would it make me feel if I knew they knew?

This is the mind of someone with social anxiety. Not everyone’s brain is the same, but this is mine. So, while gazing out the window, ignoring all other passengers on the bus, I thought to myself, I can’t be the only one. I know I’m not the only one. If only I could meet people who know how I feel. Maybe then I could make connections without the constant fear of judgment and rejection. I already knew this to be true because my best friend has social anxiety as well.

This friend is Alyssa. Alyssa and I have known each other for a lot longer than we’ve been such close friends. For both of us, it takes a long time to become comfortable enough around another person to open up and really let them in. Alyssa’s fiancé was my manager at a previous job and through him, we became friends. Alyssa, our boyfriends and I would get together to have some drinks. After a few nights, Alyssa and I came to the conclusion we had one major thing in common: social anxiety. It still took over a year of only being comfortable around one another while drinking before our friendship blossomed.

It was from this that we became each other’s “security blankets” for stuff we wouldn’t have the confidence to do on our own. I was able to send texts and overanalyze them and explain my thought process to her. All the while knowing Alyssa wouldn’t judge me because she understood. I think it’s this flourishing friendship that made me realize how great a support group would be. Having the ability to be around people you know feel the same can give a much-needed sense of ease in social situations. Being able to vocalize how I feel without fearing judgment and rejection is therapeutic for me.

Upon the realization of my epiphany, of course, the first thing I did was text Alyssa and ask her what she thought about helping me start a group for people with anxiety. A group to get together, share issues and help each other, while simultaneously maybe making some friends along the way. Of course, she offered her assistance without hesitation

We started the group on September 12, 2016. It’s now April 12, 2017, and we have nearly 200 members in our group. We’ve held various meets and have met a plethora of amazing people. Starting this group has truly changed me for the better and every time we host a meet, I notice my anxiety getting better, and I hope it can do the same for those who attend.

Thank you to all who join us on this journey to a healthy mind and healthy social life. It’s possible for everyone, don’t ever think you don’t deserve to have good people around you.

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Thinkstock photo via g-stockstudio.


You stare, petrified, at that shoebox full of receipts a day before tax day. Or that mountain of dirty laundry the day before traveling. Or that growing pile of bills that are due tomorrow. And you think, “I can’t even.”

So, you go back to reading that book, or bingeing on Netflix, or head right back to your comfy bed in the middle of the afternoon — hoping to distract yourself. It’s not working. You’re not organizing. You’re not doing laundry or paying bills, and you’re certainly not sleeping. You’re thinking. And all you can hear in the deep, echoing canyon of your racing anxious mind is, “Do it! Do it! Do it!”

“Doing it is easier than thinking about doing it.” This is what I tell my sketch and solo show writing students. They often admit waiting until an hour before class to put their ideas on paper. They want the first attempt to be perfect. Don’t we all? And they think about how no one will care about their ideas. And they think about how impossible it’s going to be to create a perfect first draft instead of just going with the flow and “vomiting out” that first draft. But let’s be real – you don’t have to think too hard to vomit out some ideas.

Full disclosure: I knew I wanted to write a piece about “thinking vs. doing” and I spent a good week thinking about writing it instead of what I am doing right now, which is writing it. I think.

Now, here’s how it relates to my social anxiety disorder. I stare at that invite to a fabulous party and I think about what will happen if I attend that party:
“Will I know anyone? And will I even want to talk to them? What if they’re boring or I have nothing to say?”
“Will I not know anyone and get forced into conversation by an extroverted stranger?”
“Will I show up to the party, realize I made a big mistake and spend half the time in the bathroom thinking of ways to excuse myself from the party?

Then I think about what will happen if I don’t go to the party:
“Will I miss an opportunity to meet a new person who might become a new friend or business associate?”
“Will I miss out on a much-needed good time?”
“Will the person who invited me hate me forever for not attending?”

My anxiety grows. So, I sit and stare at the invite and just think and think and think until I’m back to reading that book, or Netflix bingeing, or just throwing the blankets over my head and turning off the world in the middle of the afternoon.

And then I bite the bullet and I do it. I reply “attending” … and I attend … and … it’s not nearly as awful as I had imagined! Doing it was actually easier (and certainly more fun) than thinking about doing it.

In addition to teaching, I’m also a solo show performer – a natural choice for someone with social anxiety. I’ve had two different solo shows playing across the US and UK pretty consistently over the past 4 years. But last year around this time, I hit a major depression bump. Leaving the house was hard. Writing was impossible, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how I would be depressed like this for the rest of my life. I had nothing to write. No one would care anyway. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I’d do next, because the more I don’t do something the more depressed and anxious I get. So I knew I had to do something or else I’d once again be caught up in the really fun cycle of anxiety and self-sabotage I don’t recommend to anyone.

Then I thought, “Wait. I’m an improviser and a storyteller. What if I just forget about writing something, show up at a theater and make a show happen on the spot?” The idea seemed simple and terrifying, so I booked dates a month down the line. Wait, what?! I just did something. Now I was accountable to the theater and myself. Crap! The more I thought about the show, the more I realized I did have to write something. As fun as it might be to just “show up” and make something happen, I knew I had to have at least some pre-written content to work off of.

I opened a blank document one dreary morning and typed, “Show Up.” That was it. Hey, I had a title! Now I had to actually write the darn thing. After about five hours of anxiously thinking about it and not writing it, I came back to the doc, terrified, and wrote a few ideas and jokes. And before I knew it, it was midnight. I’d forgotten to eat dinner and forgotten to make that phone call and forgotten about that trashy reality TV show I planned to watch. But, I had pages and pages of random ideas. I’d improvise a show based on the life experiences of the audience and share my life story in the process of getting their story. The next morning, I had something to look forward to – reading and rewriting what I had written. And it wasn’t too bad, so I wrote and wrote some more. I stopped thinking about it and editing myself and my ideas and I just did it. I put those words on the page. And I didn’t hate it. Doing it proved to be easier than thinking about it. Knowing I had something to do helped me stop thinking. It’s like that party – as long as I showed up and did something at the party like talk to a stranger, help clean up empty cups or stay out of the bathroom, I was fine. Party down!

Cut to now. I’ve performed “Show Up” for the last six months over a dozen times in NYC, gotten great reviews, and submitted it to festivals. In the next four months, I’m doing the show over 40 times in the US and the UK. I’m still showing up and making something happen on the spot, but I’m also boldly and truthfully opening up about my social anxiety and depression. I’m telling other people’s stories. And I’m reaching people who struggle with the same thing. And I’m enlightening people who don’t understand why their friend never goes to their parties. I’m no longer doing it for me, but for them. I feel like I have a mission and a purpose.

Doing it turned out to be much easier than thinking about it. Doing it took my mind off of the anxiety that crippled me from thinking about it. Doing it is doing something for others.

But now I have something else to do — getting people who are anxious about leaving the house to see a show, to actually leave the house to see a show about people who are anxious about leaving the house. But, no use thinking about that right now. I gotta get back to that stack of bills…

For more information about Peter Michael Marino and “Show Up,” please visit www.showuptheshow.com

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Image via Alicia Levy/www.joopashoots.com.


We walk among you. We look like you, talk like you and try our best to act like you. Our one wish is that you don’t notice we’re different. We are the socially anxious, low self-esteem brigade.

Truth is we’re probably not that different, but we have no way of telling. We’re too busy analyzing everything we said, did, wanted to say but were too scared, or posted on social media. And that’s before we get to analyzing the things people have said to us. Truly, it’s exhausting.

We come in all shapes, sizes, genders and identifications. Some of us have even mastered the art of appearing confident in certain situations. It’s like acting a part constantly, but we do it to try to feel like one of you. Many of us have jobs, relationships and even friends. Well, I say “friends” — this is where we come to our first problem.

We have no idea what you think of us. Truth be told, we’re a bit scared to find out. It doesn’t matter if you’ve known us 20 minutes or 20 years, we don’t know how you feel about us. You’re important to us though, every single one of you. In fact, the only thing we’re sure of is you mean more to us than we do to you.

Logically we know that may not be true. We are analytical people after all. But social anxiety doesn’t listen to logic, and neither does the self-esteem monster. That’s predominantly where social anxiety comes from, the deep-seated certainty that we’re just not quite good enough.

Every detail of our interactions will be mulled over, analyzed, broken down into so many pieces it can never be made whole again. The words you used, your tone of voice, your expression and the things you didn’t say (you can tell a lot about a person from the things they omit). If the interaction is online, we’ll even analyze the emoji. Please don’t think we’re judging. We’re just trying to understand.

Ironically, we’re good friends to have. Many of us are used as advisors by almost everyone we know. We tend to be great at solving other people’s personal problems, we’re often called intuitive and empathetic. We should be, after all, we’ve been studying you and trying to figure out how you work our whole lives. The blind spots only appear in relation to how people see us.

We’re deeply loyal as well. Getting to a point where we can converse with someone in relative comfort is a mammoth task for us. If we get to that point with you, you have our loyalty for life. Seriously, there is very little you can do to stop us from wanting to see the best in you. We’ll even make excuses for you if you treat us badly. The self-esteem monster will tell us it’s all we deserve, then it will remind us that if we say anything, you won’t want to talk to us any more and we’ll be alone.

Don’t think that means we forget anything though. We will probably instantly forgive poor treatment, being ignored or slighted or even insulted. But we won’t forget. The self-esteem monster wouldn’t allow it. Outwardly, we’ll tell ourselves you’re busy, you didn’t think, you didn’t mean it to sound like that. The self-esteem monster knows better. It knows we are getting what we deserve, and it will remind us if we ever get too cocky.

That’s another thing about us low self-esteem and high anxiety types: we crave human connection. External validation is important to us. All we want is to be important to the people who are important to us. To feel like part of a group. To be thought about. To be wanted rather than tolerated.

For the most part, we’re a kind bunch. We know better than anyone else what it feels like to be scared, unsure, hurting or lost. We never want anyone else to feel like that, and we certainly couldn’t live with being responsible for it. We know what a small act of kindness can mean.

Admittedly, we’re not always easy to be friends with. We have a tendency to need reassurance. We don’t believe it but we need it. If we make plans with you we will probably have to endlessly check the details, time, travel and what to expect. We need to know who will be there, what we’re doing and how long it will last. If you change things unexpectedly, there is a good chance we will suddenly be unable to attend. We will obviously beat ourselves (hopefully only metaphorically) for cancelling, but psyching ourselves up for a change in plans is just too traumatic.

Physical contact is another huge issue. If you are one of our chosen few, the ones we feel most comfortable with (clue, if we’ve started a conversation with you without looking like we’re going to throw up, you’re in that group), chances are we will crave affection. It’s easier to read a hug than a conversation. Your body language speaks volumes, and it all goes back to the human connection. However, if you’re not part of that set, then the very thought of physical contact can send us running for the hills. Proceed carefully.

How can you tell if we are part of your group? There’s no single answer I’m afraid. We’re masters of disguise. Some of us will be the quiet, nervous looking ones. They’re the easiest to spot. But some of us have built strategies involving apparent extroversion.

Are we worth it? Honestly, I don’t know – did you expect me to? – but I hope you’ll think we are. We’re kind, helpful, fiercely loyal and generous with our time, attention and affection. But we can be kind of high maintenance. If you take the time you may also find some of us are funny, intelligent and interesting as well.

So, how should you deal with a socially anxious, low self-esteem friend? Firstly, no confrontation. If you think one of your circle fits the criteria, give us the opportunity to tell you, but don’t force it. Many of us will open up about our issues in a safe environment, but some of us aren’t there yet.

Secondly, keep in touch. It is incredibly difficult for us to make the first contact, even if we’ve known you for years. We worry about being annoying or our contact being unwanted. Something as simple as sending a text or online message can involve hours of stress. If you haven’t heard from us for a while a quick, “hi, how’s life?” can brighten our day enormously. Especially if you really listen to the answer. And try to be consistent. If you say you will call, text or email, do it.

Finally, be explicitly reassuring. Let us know we are important. Say things like, “I’m glad we’re friends,” or “I like having you in my life,” or “I like XYZ about you.” Actually, do that more for everyone you know — everyone could do with feeling a little more appreciated. We might not believe you, but we’ll cherish it nonetheless.

There you have it. Our secrets are out. If you read this far, we thank you.

Editor’s note: Despite the use of “we” in this piece, it reflects an individual’s experience with social anxiety — social anxiety is different in each person.

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I am a bubbly, outgoing woman. I’m deeply introverted but interested in the world around me and others. In recent years, I developed something that is harder to overcome than my extreme introversion or my moderate shyness: social anxiety.

Who knew you could actually have social anxiety when you are an outgoing person? I didn’t. To realize many of my panic attacks were becoming aligned with the need to socialize with others was a shock. To notice I had withdrawn from almost all of my social circles, even those associated with my Christian worship which were incredibly important to me, was awakening.

I believe my social anxiety developed because I was vulnerable.

There was the car accident that caused spinal damage. It made feel unreliable because sometimes I needed to cancel plans due to feeling unwell from the exhaustion and pain.  Being unreliable like this is not something I am comfortable with. I feel an immense sense of guilt for letting people down. I have become isolated because it is impossible for me to predict how I will feel at any particular time, so it is easier to not make plans.

Add in a dose of depression and anxiety that has fed off the above and I had a “perfect storm.” The physical and mental pain became overwhelming to the point I could no longer even work at a job I had loved with such a passion I could never have imagined doing anything else. I became depressed to the point I could not imaging living anymore.

It has become hard to continue being bubbly and outgoing, but I am not someone who is comfortable showing or discussing negative feelings with people face to face. Due to this, I became vulnerable, hiding behind my friendly nature and putting up a mask to hide the mental and physical pain. The more the mental pain built, the easier it was to ignore the aching of my body, to push that pain to the sidelines.

Eventually the mask started to get too heavy to hold up. It started slipping and the cracks began to show. No longer could I hide behind a smile, there was no energy left to pretend. I became vulnerable, showing those around me I was hurting.

The problem with being vulnerable is not everyone will care. This could be because they are not very empathetic people and think you should pull yourself together. Or maybe because they are too busy with something happening in their own life that they simply do not notice. Or maybe it’s because they don’t understand or know what to say and instead choose to say nothing at all. Being vulnerable and being ignored causes a great degree of anxiety and pain for me.

Being vulnerable and feeling ignored made me deeply anxious. It made me feel like people chose to not see me. It made me question if I had value within my social circles. I was frightened and exhausted, tired of pretending to be fine, ignored and lonely. I have isolated myself because it is easier than disappointing others or making them feel uncomfortable when I don’t have the energy to wear my mask. I believe it is safer this way, so I can protect myself from the unknown.

I became socially anxious to keep myself safe.

But it is time for me to move forward.

Social anxiety has helped me to protect myself from being hurt, but it has also caused me a great deal of loss. I have lost most of my social connections and feel lonely and isolated. It has fed my low self-esteem and convinced me I am worthless and unworthy of meaningful relationships.

But it is not all bad. My social anxiety and its subsequent losses have also taught me some good things too. I have learned there are some friends who hear you when you are silent and will follow you as you withdraw. These people may be few, but they are a quality of friend that is hard to find.

I have also learned I can enjoy being by myself. This is even essential for my own health and recovery. Being around groups of people is exhausting for me, sometimes it feels as though they are drawing energy from me. I really cherish the quiet times once I get into my car and lock myself into a solitary space for a few hours.

Social anxiety is a comfort blanket for me, a maladaptive coping mechanism I learned when I needed to protect myself. But I am hopeful with patience and time, I can reintegrate back into society and find the bubbly, outgoing woman I used to be. I hope I will find more people who can cope with the person behind the mask who sometimes needs comfort and empathy.

Being vulnerable in a world that is often uncaring is strength, not weakness. I need to stop avoiding participating in life.

This post originally appeared on The Art of Broken

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There are a number of different types of anxiety disorders – generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social phobia, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The reasons people experience anxiety are endless – family history, personality, traumatic events and ongoing stressful situations. The list goes on.

So, what is it like living with anxiety? Or more specifically, social anxiety? Well I can’t speak for everyone with an anxiety disorder, but this is what it’s like for me.

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety in 2015. It wasn’t until I found a decent psychologist that it was actually found to be social anxiety — an anxiety disorder that specifically relates to a fear of most social situations. According to the psychologist I’ve had anxiety and depression for a number of years, dating back to when I started high school.

For me the anxiety developed as a result of a few things.

1. My personality and family history – I am a complete perfectionist. I always have been. I never really saw it as an issue until it was explained to me how closely linked it was with my anxiety.

2. Other mental health issues – my anxiety goes hand in hand with depression. Which, if you happen to experience either one or even both, is a bloody huge struggle.

3. Prolonged stressful environments – hello relationship breakdowns, being cheated on, simultaneous trust issues and having your parents move state. There is tons more things I could mention here, but that’d be a whole other blog post.

Back to the point of this post – what is it like living with social anxiety?

For me, this changes day to day. Sometimes my anxiety levels are so bad I attempt to avoid every single social situation I can. This makes things like going to work, going to the supermarket or even talking to my housemate extremely difficult. And sometimes the anxiety is barely there.

My anxiety has definitely been tested at the moment. I’ve just moved to a new town, started a new job and had to learn what it’s like to be away from your main support network. It’s hard, especially when you are terrified of most social situations.

There can be bad days.

On the bad days I can have as many as 10 panic attacks in a day. This may not seem like a huge number, but for someone with anxiety it can be pretty scary.

On the bad days my heart rate sits at an increased rate. I sweat a lot. I constantly fidget. I find it hard to concentrate on anything else except the negative thoughts going on in my head – things like, “Don’t ask that question, they’ll think you are dumb,” or “Why are people staring at me? Did I do something wrong?”

On the bad days I second guess everything. I worry about needing to get my work done, but procrastinate because I can’t start anything as I’m terrified it will be wrong. I’m scared to ask questions to my managers or colleagues because I fear I’ll be judged.

On the bad days I can text loved ones multiple times if they don’t reply. I need the constant reassurance from my boyfriend that he loves me and needs me. My mind races if the response to a text or an email is not instantaneous.

“Has something happened?”

“Why won’t they reply?”

“What did I do wrong?”

I essentially shut down and yet from the outside I seem fine — unless you notice the fidgeting, the inability to sit still, the need to be doing something with my hands at all times. Despite the fear inside there is constantly a smile on the outside.

But then there can be good days.

The good days are managing to go have brunch with friends, or go out for drinks. It is being able to socialize in general.

The good days are the days without panic attacks, sweaty hands, a heart that beats too quickly. It is the smile I can believe. Being able to concentrate on work and not having an underlying fear I am going to muck things up.

The good days are not second guessing everything or everyone. They are the days without the nagging voice inside my head, the questions going over and over again.

At the moment, I definitely wouldn’t say my weeks are an equal split between the good and bad days – it is definitely more 70 percent bad, 30 percent good. But what I am trying to say is that it is possible to have both. People who have mental illnesses can struggle to see out the other side, and I can say this honestly because I have been there. With the correct treatments and help there is the chance to get better and to somewhat function day to day.

The correct treatment for me may be different from someone else who deals with these challenges. I personally rely on both my amazing psychologist and antidepressants. I also have a strong support network, I journal, I exercise and I meditate. I have tried to find balance.

I think if you are someone who also experiences a mental illness it is important to remember it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it is a messy and scary storm. What helps is putting one foot in front of another and having tactics to deal with the bad day.

Follow this journey on Tea and Toasties.

If you are in Australia and experiencing a personal crisis, you can call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636 or visit lifeline.org.au or beyondblue.com.au.

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