Life

DARE: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks (Review)

“The only way out is through.” That’s one of the many positive affirmations given to the reader in this book and it’s the one that stuck with me the most. Last year was probably one of the worst of my life professionally. I was in constant conflict with my managers, always having to look over my shoulder in professional settings and my anxiety was at all-time high. I saw a therapist for a little over six months but my insurance was no longer accepted at the facility. I was out of options and too anxious to try and get to know another therapist. That’s when I found DARE by Barry McDonagh. Social Media keeps me in touch with people from all parts of my life and a friend from high school was posting excerpts of the chapters of this book and I knew I had to read it. Everything on his Instagram stories felt like it was talking directly to me. After doing more research, I found out that author and founder of the program DARE, Barry McDonagh also suffered from debilitating anxiety. Knowing this made me feel less alone and less suspicious about opening my mind to his new suggestions. He had applied his program to his own anxiety and it had worked so I took a chance and hoped it would work for my own.

The book introduces something called the Dare Response, which is a new way to view your relationship with your anxiety. The key points of the response are defuse, allow, run toward, and engage. Defuse shows the mind that you are not in any real danger when you take on a blasé approach to anxiety, “Who cares”, “So what” are phrases that the author uses to allow anxiety to take on a smaller form rather than feel unstoppable. By using the act of diffusion, it replaces worry with power of the situation when anxiety makes you feel powerless. Allow is the means of letting the anxiety come as it wants to. Resistance can make anxiety seem bigger than it is. By allowing anxiety to just come and flow naturally through you, it takes away the fear of what could happen or what is happening to you. You have the control of the outcome. A funny line from this step’s section for me was when McDonagh says to sit down your anxiety and invite it in for tea. The visual created in my brain was exactly what I needed to see that I was in control of my anxiety and my anxiety didn’t control me. I was the one calling the shots and deciding what, when and where anxiety can appear. Run towards is the next step. McDonagh suggests that by running toward your anxiety you can change the perspective of it. He explains that fear and excitement are often the same and when the mind readjusts the feeling toward anxiety, it can reduce its power and change the way the brain views anxiety. A negative can quickly become a positive and instead of looking for the “boogeyman” over your shoulder, you can embrace the present world around you. The final step is to engage. Engage in something that takes up your full attention so the anxious feelings can no longer reel you back in. This felt like the most important step because it encouraged me to focus on my life and stay in the present versus stay in my head with the fearful anxiety. Furthermore, the book details ways to apply the response to several different aspects of anxiety such as panic attacks, health anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and fear of being abnormal. Each section details how to apply the response to the situation but also provides thoughtful insight on his experience with the situation or the experiences of others that he helped. I found several different scenarios relatable and have returned back to these chapters for guidance and help.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Self-help books aren’t for everyone but this method got me through a time in my life where I feared there would be no way out. Applying the DARE response to my life allowed me the confidence I needed to take back control of my anxious mind. While I still have issues with health anxiety from time to time, I have since gotten a new job and thanks to the DARE response I am able to contribute my experience with an open mind and heart to my position and have had a very successful three months at my firm because of that. I think any kind of positive outlet can help mental health issues and I would suggest this book to anyone who wants to reach with themselves and learn to navigate ways to better themselves.

Setback happen

Last week disappointed me greatly. I have been trying to stick to a weekly schedule for posting but my mind just went blank. My mood has been all over the place and my muse had nothing to give. However, I’m back this week to explain where my head is and hopefully give a little insight to anyone who has experienced a setback. My current mind state isn’t a total setback but I have definitely felt an unpleasant shift from where I was before. I will get better though.

Just like exercise and healthy habits for the body, the same applies to the mind. Since January, I have been over-the-moon happy professionally. I am learning every day, I am in a positive environment and in turn I am flourishing in my new position. My work life was a main point in my anxiety and mood levels so since that’s been good, I have been slacking on the maintenance that I worked so hard in the months before I was settled into this job. Well, that has to change.

The past two weeks have been up and down for me. One day, I feel okay and the next I find myself plummeting. The anxiety isn’t as prominent as it used to be when I’d hit these speed bumps but the negative mindset is roaring up like an engine at NASCAR race. Knowing my mind, if I leave that alone too long it’s going to trigger every other dark emotion that comes with it; anxiety, self-hatred and just overall terrible behavior. I am a very empathic person and I find myself easily affected by the emotions of others. If the environment that I’m in is blah, it’s very contagious for someone like me. Admittedly, it makes me feel highly vulnerable being such an emotional being because no matter how much logic I’ve tried to apply to situations, it doesn’t always prevent this embarrassing snowball effect.

In situations prior to my therapy sessions and DARE Response application, my symptoms would manifest physically with a vengeance. I would get dizzy, tired faster, and feel lethargic. When I feel any physical symptoms I turn to breathing exercises, lots of water consumption, ice on each of my cheeks, and DARE audio if it’s truly inconsolable. Each of these combined with the DARE Response of taking anxiety head on has allowed me to be in power of my reaction versus my reaction having power over me. I am no longer a prisoner to anxiety but rather have accepted that anxiety is like an old friend that needs a piggy back ride along the way. I am bigger, faster and stronger and am merely allowing it to tag along. “The only way out is through,” A positive affirmation that I picked up from Dare and have turned to a lot for hard times. I’ve learned when you run from something it gets bigger than you but when you face it head on it minimizes like a bully on the playground. For anyone further interested in the DARE response books, I’ll link the amazon page here but I am also going to be reviewing the book and my experience with it further tomorrow.

All in all, it has been a shitty few weeks in my brain but I am doubling down on all the things that keep me focused. I am attempting to sleep earlier, eat a little better, drink as much water as my body will allow and be more consistent on my 5 minute daily journal. Nothing is going to stop me from maintaining a healthy brain, not even myself.


Annual Nostalgia.

St. Patrick’s Day was one of the many holidays that took the face of what tradition means to me. Every year, my mother’s family and ours would share the Americanized meal of corn beef and cabbage with soda bread, and our green “beer”. As a child, all of this felt so regular. It was just something that was supposed to happen. It wasn’t until the tradition was gone that I realized just how special the time was. Since the loss of my Grandparents in 2009 and 2015, every holiday feels a little emptier without them. The further I age, the more I appreciate each memory because it has shaped me into the woman I am today but it also given me guidance for the future family I’ll have someday.

While I’m sad to not have my Grandparents around, I am so very thankful for the foundation they helped build in me as a person. I miss them every day but this year I find that gratitude is overriding the sadness. Without them I wouldn’t have the personal standard set to reignite the tradition into the next generation. With my pending marriage so close, I am looking ahead towards a lot of things in my life. I hope that I am able to have the same traditions and many new ones with my future wife and our children. I want to create a family based on the same amount of unconditional love I had growing up and leave my children with the same gratitude for the fond memories that we’ve made together.

Thank you Gram and Pop, I miss you every day but it’s your example that has given me the hope I need for my future. I hope to make both of you proud in the next chapter of my life. Both my wife-to-be and I have felt your impact and are much better people for it. Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all who celebrate. May all family traditions carry on for you and yours through every holiday that passes each year and may your family get to relish in all of their special times together.

What’s Normal?

By definition normal is conforming to a standard; the usual, typical or expected. Normal could also be defined to gage a state of condition. Normal by definition is pretty clear cut when it’s applied in the right way. However, normal in society starts to get these patchy gray areas of falsified perfection which can be problematic for people’s self-esteem and mental health. Society places a lot of pressure on what’s normal and what isn’t. There’s a certain size you’re supposed to be, a certain way you’re supposed to act, a certain standard you’re meant to uphold. In the age of social media, we are setting ourselves up for disaster finding any kind of measuring stick in what we see online. It’s a horrible feeling to scroll past these things and feel like you’re the outcast in the room. Normal is a relative term. Other than the actual written definition, the term normal is what you make it.

In my journey through mental health and life overall, I have found that it’s important to find a normal that works for me and accept it fully. I first discovered the term radical acceptance in therapy and applying this term to self-love has been truly beneficial. Leaning into the positive aspects of my life has been helpful to my process. In my radical acceptance of myself it’s given me a place to feel grounded and no longer distracted by social media, corporate environments or women/men around me. I am now the decision maker for my normal. My normal is curvy, my normal is comfortably dressed, my normal wears little to no makeup, my normal curses like a sailor, and that’s okay because I have finally come to terms that I am enough. Three words have been the gatekeeper to my process of acceptance and fully loving myself. Like everyone else, I have bad days but I hold onto tight to those words and repeat them as many times as I need to, to remember my mission.

I challenge all of you to figure out your normal. What’s it look like? What’s it sound like? What’s it feel like? There is no right or wrong answer to the question, there is just is the radical acceptance that no matter what you come up with, you are enough.

“You are dust and to dust you shall return.” (Ash Wednesday Reflection)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life. … For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. “
– John 3:16

Ash Wednesday celebrates the beginning of the Lent season, the season in which Catholics use to as a spiritual clean-up for themselves where they give up vices and spend more time and money in charitable ways. Every year around this time in the Catholic calendar, I am catapulted into deep reflection. I try to get ashes every year and spend at least this day in church but somehow I always find myself incredibly uncomfortable in the surroundings that used to feel like home to me.

I was raised Roman Catholic. I made all of my sacraments with dutiful dedication and love, allowing my moral values to be defined in this faith. I was taught right from wrong with the Ten Commandments and still find the little voice in the back of my mind referencing the ancient scroll in our religious history. So, what do you do when the very foundation of everything you believe in doesn’t believe in you? The Catholic Church has publicly denounced the LGBTQ community saying that the way these people choose to lead their lives is sinful and against God and the idea of two people of the same-sex marrying each other will never happen. While I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people who have never projected such hate in my or my relationship’s direction, it still doesn’t make the idea any less unsettling.

For the last decade, the spiritual struggle has been really real. Where do I fit in? Where do I belong? Does my moral values still stand in spite of who I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my time on earth with? I have a lot of painful questions left unanswered. I believe in the kingdom of heaven but the small fear that says I won’t make it is always hovering over my heart. It’s a tough subject for me to speak about but it’s one I struggle with, especially on days like Ash Wednesday. God gave up his only son to free us from sins yet here I am totally defying the rule book set forth. It’s a really huge eternal struggle and something I think I will continue to work through and endure especially with my wedding at the end of the year and ultimately having kids. Ideally, I would love to continue my sacraments into a blessed marriage and eventually pass along my faith to my children. However, with the current ideology it’s going to prove to be a difficult religious journey.

I want to continue to follow this faith blind, I want to continue to feel blessed by God in the ways I was taught he does this. But, I also want to find a comfortable and safe place in religion where my potential family and I can grow as a unit and individuals without scrutiny for the elements that make us a family. I know this isn’t truly mental health based but I also wanted to share my feelings on this topic in hopes that there are some other LGBTQ Catholics or anyone who feels ostracized from their religion that feels the same as I do. Identity is ever changing and sometimes pieces of the puzzle that make you can be really confusing and heartbreaking. Just know that no matter what, you’re not alone.

Therapy on my own terms

Mental Health is a slippery slope to navigate in general. But, when it comes to treatment it gets even trickier. No one case is the same so what works for somebody else may not necessarily work for you and guess what? That’s okay! There are many different positive ways to deal with mental health and no one way is right or wrong.

As a child and teenager, I was always the awkward kid; the bullied, quiet, keep to herself kind of girl. My mother for many years thought therapy was the answer for me to help me deal with issues but each experience ended up crazier than the next. I had guidance counselors who deemed me crazy, I had multiple therapists blame my parents, and I had some dude who could easily be mistaken for the janitor of the building. Each interaction did more harm than good and every time she further suggested it, I found myself more in a reclusive state. I wasn’t ready to talk to a stranger about my problems. I wanted to handle things by keeping myself close to family, friends, and people I trusted. For years, I denounced therapy because each time felt like more of a burden than the issues I was dealing with. Talking to people I trusted was hard enough, talking to a stranger felt impossible.

However as an adult that changed for me. I was working for a job that kept me stressed every day. I was learning but I wasn’t happy. The work culture was toxic and nonproductive and it started to take a drastic toll on my mental health. I could feel the weight of my anxiety for the first time since getting let go from college and I knew if I didn’t do something about it, I was going to be in bigger trouble than just the stress was causing me. I found myself a therapist close to my job and that luckily took my insurance. The fear for the first appointment was intense. What would I talk about? What would she think? Would she tell me I’m crazy? Worse, would she blame my parents like everyone else did? I had a ton of anxiety about the appointment but I pushed myself to try. I was tired of exhausting my venting sessions with my inner circle. I needed an unbiased opinion so therapy was the best option.

The first appointment completed shattered my fears. The woman I saw reassured me that I wasn’t crazy, that everything I was going through was a lot more common than I believed and I would be okay. For a few months, it felt as if I was talking to a friend or an oracle who had a lot more advice to offer and a much bigger ear to lend than most people. I spent six months in therapy before they no longer accepted my insurance. Despite, its untimely end I know I’m better for it. Having the time to talk to a trained professional and obtain tools I didn’t know how to use prior was a great help to me. With the combination of the tools given to me in therapy and the self-help outlets I’ve found, I manage my anxiety a lot better than I ever have.

At the end of the day, I was going to get anywhere without the will to do it. The first step to getting a hold on any situation is actually wanting to. I came to a point in my life where I could no longer be stubborn and blame past bad experiences on why I couldn’t help myself in the now. I took the bull by the horns and did therapy on my own terms and I am much better for it today. You control your recovery entirely. It’s very important to do the positive things you want to do in an effort for a calmer and peaceful life. 

Nervous Child in the City

I am born and raised in New York, the borough of Queens to be exact. While Queens was not as chaotic as Manhattan, I still consider my upbringing to be Urban. We played Manhunt in the street, we ran through sprinklers on the concrete, and backyards were foreign lands. As kids, we lived off the main avenue so we saw all types of things we probably shouldn’t have. Everything felt normal to me as a child because I was protected. I had an active father and a cousin living with us who would rid us of any bad thing or person if needed. I felt untouchable. However, as I got older things started to happen that made me a lot more self-aware.

The big turning point for me was September 11, 2001. I was in the 7th grade and thankfully home from school that day. I remember sleeping in and being woken by my father to let me know that the world was changed as we knew it. Two planes had driven into the Twin Towers and the entire United States watched as New York City burned. For the first time in my life, I felt fear in my home. Regardless of how big and strong the men in my family were, no one was going to fight this. We were officially overpowered and processing that at 12 years old felt impossible. We all slept in my parents’ bedroom that night, I laid awake staring at the ceiling because there was no distraction available that was going to change that day. Fast forward to present day and I’ve traveled the same path so many did that day for almost ten years now. Each day I’ve worked in Manhattan, I’ve always carried that in the back of my mind.

Living in a big city with popular landmarks, overcrowding, and some of the best tourist cultures will always make you susceptible to danger and it’s a fact that I’ve come to terms with. Traveling in this city can sometimes feel like you’re navigating the most dangerous of places but it can also feel like the biggest playhouse. It’s all about point of view. A lot of times I find myself wrapped up in the negative. It’s easy to feel that with the news and social media on a nonstop loop. It produces a case of the ‘what ifs’ and keeps me trapped in my mind with worry. The solution isn’t consistent enough for me to really produce one for anyone. Some days I’m above the worry and other days, I feel consumed by it making traveling on the trains and busses feel like a weight on me.

Does anyone else feel this in a major city? Or even smaller suburb areas? I hate to downplay New York because it gets a bad rap already but the truth is inevitable. As someone who suffers from anxiety living in a city like mine can be very scary and nerve-wracking. I’d love to hear some feedback on other cities and how people deal with their fears.