The Horror Genre: An Antidote for Anxiety

HAPPY TUESDAY, EVERYONE!

I hope you are doing okay and staying healthy (both mentally and physically).  I am still dealing with my symptoms related to COVID-19, as well as maintaining my self-isolation, so I wanted to share with you one of my favorite techniques for managing anxiety.

I struggle with Major Depressive Disorder, Discouraged Borderline Personality Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Complex PTSD.  Mental health management is a huge passion of mine, and I am constantly sharing the benefits of alternative forms of therapy, such as bibliotherapy and art therapy.

But there is one technique in particular that has helped me the most with managing my OCD and PTSD related anxiety: the horror genre.

I have long been a fan of horror in all formats (books, TV, movies, music, comics, etc), and recently I have been exploring the positive effects of horror on anxiety.  I find that I am constantly struggling with managing my anxiety, but the one time that it seems to fade is when I am watching a horror movie/TV show, or reading a scary book.  The horror genre tends to use more of your brain’s thinking capacity, and by instilling feelings of dread and anxiety through its stories, it provides an outlet for you to express your anxiety and release bodily tension.  Many times I feel worn out after watching a horror movie because I spend the entire time exerting my anxious emotions, but I also feel relieved at the end – like how crying often feels.

If you are currently struggling with stress or anxiety, why not try to watch some of my suggestions below with your full attention and see how you feel!  I am listing my top favorite horror films since these are easily accessible to watch on many streaming platforms, and can provide a good distraction during these unsettling times.

(Of course, this may not be appropriate for you if you are extremely sensitive to violence, which can worsen your anxiety – so please do proceed with caution)

MY TOP 5 HORROR FILMS

1) THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (2003)

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In this remake of the horror classic, a group of young travelers — including Erin (Jessica Biel), Andy (Mike Vogel) and Morgan (Jonathan Tucker) — comes across an isolated rural home while driving through Texas. Unfortunately for them, the decrepit house is the residence of a family of deranged backwoods killers, most notably a hulking masked brute known as Leatherface (Andrew Bryniarski), who begins to hunt the stranded youths down. Will any of the friends survive the nightmarish ordeal?

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My #1 favorite horror movie is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake from 2003.  I am choosing the remake because it is scarier (in my opinion) and all-consuming.  However, you can try the original film if you would like.  It is a bit different, but still offers an intense feeling of dread.

(GORE AND VIOLENCE WARNING – Proceed with caution)    

2) THE EXORCIST

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One of the most profitable horror movies ever made, this tale of an exorcism is based loosely on actual events. When young Regan (Linda Blair) starts acting odd — levitating, speaking in tongues — her worried mother (Ellen Burstyn) seeks medical help, only to hit a dead end. A local priest (Jason Miller), however, thinks the girl may be seized by the devil. The priest makes a request to perform an exorcism, and the church sends in an expert (Max von Sydow) to help with the difficult job.

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The Exorcist is still one of the scariest horror movies I have ever seen, and it is sure to bring out the chills in you.  I am particularly sensitive to horror that involves satanic possession, so if this is a sensitive area for you as well, please proceed with caution!

3) TERRIFIER

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A maniacal clown terrorizes three young women and anyone else in his way on Halloween night.

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This movie is an excellent mix of demonic clowns and gore that doesn’t hold back!  I found myself cringing throughout this entire film, while amazed at how far it went.  If you are afraid of clowns and sensitive to gore, then this pick may just be the most intense one for you.

(HUGE Violence/Gore Warning)

4) MISERY

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After a serious car crash, novelist Paul Sheldon (James Caan) is rescued by former nurse Annie Wilkes (Kathy Bates), who claims to be his biggest fan. Annie brings him to her remote cabin to recover, where her obsession takes a dark turn when she discovers Sheldon is killing off her favorite character from his novels. As Sheldon devises plans for escape, Annie grows increasingly controlling, even violent, as she forces the author to shape his writing to suit her twisted fantasies.

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Misery is the first Stephen King book that I ever read, and its movie is still one of my favorites.  It is definitely an isolating, psychological horror that will make you feel more than uncomfortable, but it is also appropriate for the times we are living in now.  Also, if you get the chance, read the book!  It is quite different from the film and provides a completely different experience.

5) HEREDITARY

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When the matriarch of the Graham family passes away, her daughter and grandchildren begin to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry, trying to outrun the sinister fate they have inherited.

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Hereditary is a highly original horror that requires your full attention.  There are so many sinister little details throughout it that add to the overall dread of the film.  It does have some gore in it, but it is mostly psychological.  When you have your full attention on this movie, you will experience how the dread builds up within you and explodes by the end.

BONUS GIFT

Shudder is a streaming service that exclusively features horror and thriller movies, shorts, and TV shows (many of which are created specifically for the channel!) 

Due to the current circumstances in the world, Shudder is offering a FREE 30 day trial with the code “SHUTIN”

Be sure to take advantage of this offer to explore well-known horror as well as unknown gems.  This is a great way to explore horror on your own to find out what you like!  I will make another post tomorrow highlighting some of my favorite gems from Shudder.  

(I am not an affiliate for Shudder, I’m just a huge fan of what they do)

Much love,

Ashley

Update: I am Symptomatic for Covid-19

HAPPY MONDAY, EVERYONE!

I really hope that all of you are doing okay and are staying healthy.

Over the weekend, I became symptomatic for covid-19, and I have been in isolation to try and protect others.  This has become an even scarier time for me, and I know how hard it must be on all of you as well.  Please know that I am here for you if any of you need someone to talk to. ❤

I just wanted to check in with everyone and see how you all are doing, and to start up a conversation about what you are doing to protect your mental health.  Reading continues to be my safe haven, and it has been my biggest comfort throughout this time.

SO, LET’S KEEP EACH OTHER COMPANY IN ISOLATION!

What are you currently doing for your mental health, and how you are holding up?  Share with me in the comments!

Much love,

Ashley

How to Use This ‘Emotion Chart’ to Pick Your Next Quarantine Read

Books have always been a safe haven for me.  Ever since I was young, I have found solace in and healing through reading.  My healing experience with reading has led me to become a huge advocate for Bibliotherapy (the use of books as therapeutic tools).  I am so excited to share this easily accessible form of therapy with you!  Now is an excellent time to practice using books as therapy if you are self-isolating, and reading is something that you can share with anyone (including little ones) in your home.

If you would like to practice Bibliotherapy with your loved ones, use the steps below in a group format to create meaningful connections and discussion!  Even if you are not in the space house, you can video chat, text, or talk on the phone to create that connection.  If you have young children, you can guide their reading by helping them identify their emotions and asking them questions about their book as you read together.

5 STEPS FOR PRACTICING BIBLIOTHERAPY

1) IDENTIFY YOUR EMOTIONS

The first step to practicing bibliotherapy is identifying your emotions.  When you identify the emotions you are experiencing, you can better understand what you are hoping to get out of reading books as a therapeutic process, while increasing your emotional intelligence.  (This is also a great practice to help little ones learn to communicate and identify their emotions)

For example, if you are feeling sad, maybe you want to feel uplifted and inspired through reading.  Or, maybe you want to sit with your feeling of sadness and read a book that will amplify this emotion.

Use this handy emotion wheel to better identify your feelings!

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2) DETERMINE WHAT EMOTION(S) YOU WOULD LIKE TO AMPLIFY

Now, choose any emotion(s) that you would like to increase.  For example, maybe you want to increase feelings of contentment and peace, or you want to explore anxiety or anger.  Knowing what emotions you desire will help guide your reading choices.

(You can use the emotion wheel for this step as well!)

Tip: Horror and thriller novels are excellent reading sources for amplifying and releasing anxiety

3) CHOOSE A GENRE

Determining the genre you would like to explore is your next course of action.  Create a list of genres that you associate with the emotion(s) you would like to increase to narrow down your reading choices.

Here is a list of the most common book genres:

  1. Fantasy
  2. Adventure
  3. Romance
  4. Contemporary
  5. Dystopian
  6. Mystery
  7. Horror
  8. Thriller
  9. Paranormal
  10. Historical fiction
  11. Science Fiction
  12. Memoir
  13. Cooking
  14. Art
  15. Self-help / Personal
  16. Development
  17. Motivational
  18. Health
  19. History
  20. Travel
  21. Guide / How-to
  22. Families & Relationships
  23. Humor
  24. Children’s

4) CHOOSE A BOOK

Locate in your personal library any books that are in the genres you have chosen.  If you have a Kindle, you can also go to the Kindle store on Amazon.com and type in “Free (genre) Books” – inserting your desired genre into your search.  Numerous authors are offering their books for free right now, and this is a great way to find some new reads!

5) BEGIN READING AND DOCUMENT YOUR EMOTIONS THROUGHOUT THE PROCESS

As you read, keep a journal and write (or draw) about what the book is making you feel, and how your emotions might be changing or amplifying as you read, as well as any thoughts or insights you are having as you read.  If you have others at home with you, you can also discuss your experience with them in a group format.  Make this a fun process, and allow yourself to be completely absorbed into your book!  (If you are practicing this with little ones, you can use art or toys to express thoughts and emotions about what you are reading – you can even make it a show and tell process!)

Reading is such a great way to expand your imagination and increase your sense of connection and wellbeing.  In our world, we have become so busy that reading is often put on the back burner.  Use this time as a gift to dive into the beauty of the literary world and make meaningful connections with loved ones – and with yourself. I hope that these steps will help you to take full advantage of the healing power of books!

5 Ways to Protect Your Mental Health During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Hello, Everyone,

I know that you are probably being bogged down with articles about the Coronavirus pandemic in one way or another, but I wanted to reach out and provide you with some of my personal help if you are struggling with mental illness during this time.

I am currently being quarantined at home, and numerous members of my family have chronic health conditions that make them part of the more at risk population for contracting Coronavirus. The hysteria that I am seeing in the world, particularly close to home, is frightening and it makes it hard to protect my mental health while dealing with a situation that we really don’t know that much about.

It can be so hard to focus on taking care of our mental health in the midst of a worldwide crisis, but there are little things that you can do to protect yourself through these troubling times. Therefore, I wanted to provide you with some of my tips for protecting yourself while staying informed as we learn more about this pandemic.

My Top 5 Tips to Protecting Your Mental Health During the Corona Virus Pandemic

  1. Limit your exposure to the media

Many of us are stuck at home due to self-isolation or quarantine, and it is so tempting to follow the media to have a connection to this global issue and the world at large. However, with so many media sources bogging us down, we are at risk of experiencing a mental health crisis – particularly if we struggle with anxiety and depression.

I personally struggle with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Complex PTSD, and I have noticed how activated I have become within the past week. The more I have followed the Coronavirus pandemic on Facebook and my local news channels, the more my anxiety has increased. I have also been experiencing more PTSD related symptoms (such as panic attacks, jumpiness, irritation, and flashbacks) due to my heightened anxiety.

Rather than continuing to follow the non-stop media, I have chosen to limit my access and have filled my time with other activities, such as reading the haul of library books I have checked out that I can’t return because all of the libraries are closed in my area (oh darn).

2. Avoid reading and engaging in comments on social media

One thing that has been particularly activating for me even more than reading articles in the media has been reading the comment sections, especially on Facebook. I have seen people be downright cruel to one another and begin fights that are so unnecessary. If you are sensitive to the hostility of others, than I would advise you to refrain from reading the comment sections on articles as they seem to be getting more and more political.

3. Follow only official reports of the Coronavirus in your area

While I am advising you to limit your access to the media, it is important to keep up on information regarding the Coronavirus in your area for safety purposes. Many areas have official health organizations that are posting regular updates, or you can view global updates here. This information will allow you to stay up to date with important emergency information, but you won’t be overloaded with unnecessary political articles or opinion pieces.

These updates by official health organizations will also provide you with realistic information on how to prepare for the Coronavirus so that you will be prepared if you do contract it.

4. Keep yourself busy and stay connected

This is especially important if you are currently self-isolating! If you have kids at home, create a daily schedule to help keep all of you busy to prevent anxiety and boredom. Scholastic just released a new website with “learn at home” activities to help you keep your kids busy, and they are free to access!

Also, why not use the time to do some things around your house that you haven’t had time to do? This can include cleaning or chores, but what about binging that TV show you’ve been wanting to watch, or starting a craft or playing a game either alone or with anyone who is in your home?

Seeing this extra time off in a positive light can help you to fight the fear that is surrounding this pandemic. I would also advise you to stay in contact with loved ones through any digital means necessary as connection can be so important to maintain social support.

5. Create a “crisis kit” (if you don’t have one) and use it to help you self-soothe

Creating a crisis kit is my #1 go to when it comes to mental health. A crisis kit is essentially a kit that includes things that make you happy or help you to relax and self-soothe when you find that your mental health is declining. For instance, my kit includes various crafts that I like to partake in (such as cross-stitch for my OCD), silly putty, stuffed animals, and a notebook full of my favorite TV shows, movies, books, and songs, as well as information on how to access them.

Your crisis kit can include anything that brings you joy, and I would advise that if you don’t know where to start, simply start by grabbing a notebook and writing down anything that makes you happy. This is a great practice that will help you release anxiety immediately, as well as provide you with a long-term resource to remind you of what brings you joy.

I hope that these tips will bring you some peace of mind through this pandemic. Please know that I am here for you, so please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Much love,

Ashley Nestler, MSW

How are you coping with your mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic? Share your thoughts below! Let’s stay connected.

Subscription Review: The Body Love Box – March 2020

HAPPY THURSDAY, EVERYONE!

I am super excited to share with you a subscription box that I am just IN LOVE with!  This box is called The Body Love Box and it is all about body positivity and size inclusivity.  I am a huge advocate for body inclusivity and fighting weight stigma, so I found this box to be an extremely important step in the right direction.

I received the March 2020 box to review, so please enjoy reading about my experience below!

Much love,

Ashley

The Body Love Box is the friendly, fat-positive, body-positive, intersectional and LGBTQIAP+-affirming monthly subscription box that improves your body image and pays a living wage to marginalized artists who contribute their work to the box. Your monthly goodie and resource kit includes 5-7 full-size items each month like pins, zines, etc.

  • Improve your body image and learn more about body acceptance and liberation
  • Get exclusive Body Love Box-only artwork and products
  • Support a living wage for fat and marginalized artists with every box
  • Explore Health at Every Size and intuitive eating
  • 5-7 full-size items each month
Join Now
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The Body Love Box comes in a lovely eco-friendly box with a sticker of the logo on the top.  I don’t think that I can fully express how much I adore the logo! ❤  I also really appreciate the eco-friendly nature of this subscription.  With all of the waste present in our world, every earth-friendly effort is needed.

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Upon opening the box, I was met with a card that featured this beautiful quote.  I thought that the quote set a great first impression, and it immediately filled me with happiness!

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On the opposite side of the card was this month’s theme along with a list of everything included in the box.  March’s theme was “Sleep is Self Care”, which I found to be a really beneficial topic.  I think that we are often told that we are lazy if we allow ourselves to “sleep too much”, but sleep IS such an important aspect of our self-care.

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After folding back the tissue paper, I was met with beautiful packaging and the first item in the box – a satin pillowcase!  I adore how luxurious this pillowcase is, and I have already slept with it on my pillow.  It definitely makes me feel like I’m spoiling myself!

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The next item was this unscented heating/cooling pad!  I love the handmade care that has gone into this item, and I have already used it.  It has helped so much with my menstrual cramps.

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Also included was this bookmark with a quote that I absolutely love.  I appreciate all of the body-positive quotes that are present throughout this box.

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This month’s featured artist was Shelby Bergen!  An art print of her work titled “Sleepy Fats” was included, as well as an exclusive interview.  I think that this art print is absolutely adorable, and I loved getting to know more about Shelby.

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This set of zen coloring pages and rainbow pencils was also included, and I loved how some of the coloring pages were stickers!  Coloring is one of my favorite activities and I thought that this coloring set went so well with a cozy, sleep themed box.

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Journaling is such an important part of self-care, and I love how an exclusive journal prompt is included in this box that relates back to self- and body-love.  This added to the self-care element of the box, and I appreciated the included activity about re-creating the Mona Lisa with yourself!  Lindley (the box’s owner) puts so much thought and care into her box, and the whole unboxing experience feels so intimate.

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Also included in the box was this card highlighting why obtaining a weight during any circumstance is so unimportant and potentially harmful.  This card really highlights the Health at Every Size approach, and I love how I can keep this in my wallet and show it to any medical professional that wants to check my weight.  Weight shaming in the medical system is absolutely awful, and I really appreciate having this as a resource!

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Lastly, I really appreciated how this box came with information on PCOS (a condition that I am actually currently being tested for!) and a sheet with things to ask yourself before giving up.  I struggle with depression, and I am currently struggling with a major depressive episode, so I found this sheet to be very helpful.  Connecting weight stigma and discrimination to physical and mental health is so important because they are all connected.  I applaud The Body Love Box for highlighting this connection!

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Overall, I can’t recommend The Body Love Box enough!  I adore how it helps support artists by providing them with a living wage, while also helping to increase body positivity and providing information on issues that affect plus-size women.  Lindley puts so much thought and care into her box, and it really shows.  I feel like this subscription is a true hug in a box, and it is a perfect addition to your self-care routine.

USE CODE “FATISFINE” FOR 10% OFF OF YOUR FIRST BOX!

Join Now

How Criticizing My Emotions in Childhood Created an ‘Emotional Storm’ Inside Me

When I was growing up, I was labeled as a “shy” and “sensitive” child. I would cry often, and I would be criticized for it, which contributed to my quiet demeanor. Whenever I would express anger, I was told I wasn’t allowed to be mad, or that being angry was wrong. I learned that sadness and anger were “bad” emotions, and whenever I experienced either emotion, I felt ashamed as though something was wrong with me for feeling them. Throughout my life, I learned to internalize my sadness and anger, which has led to chronic self-harm and digestion issues. Soon into adolescence, the inability to express sadness or anger led me to lose the ability to express any emotion properly — even feelings such as happiness. In my life, I have also experienced relationships where my feelings were invalidated and gaslighting was a factor, which only contributed to my internalization of emotions and my distrust of my emotional experience.

By suppressing my feelings, I have found there is an emotional storm inside of me that is constantly brewing. I struggle with chronic irritation that feels like I am being burned from the inside out. Sometimes, this emotion turns into outbursts that affect those whom I love most, but most of the time, I don’t know how to express the emotions I am feeling and I come off with a flat affect. I am seen by others as a “calm” individual, and it is hard to find people who will take me seriously when I say I am angry because I don’t outwardly express my anger. I struggle with translating my inner emotional experience, and this has been a constant issue throughout my mental health recovery because I am labeled as “high functioning” simply because I hide my inner feelings from the world. I was also able to handle a high-stress lifestyle until I reached the point of mental breakdown. Because I present so well on the outside, I am often overlooked by my treatment team and the people in my life. Since they cannot see the storm inside of me until I reach the point of mental breakdown, I find I am often alone and misunderstood. My knee-jerk reaction when someone asks me how I am is to say “I’m fine” or “I’m good” because I have internalized those as the appropriate responses based on my childhood experiences, but also because I don’t know how to put words to what I am experiencing. This makes me feel like I am screaming on the inside, and there is no one who can save me.

When I was younger, I was made fun of for being “shy” and “sensitive,” but both labels have followed me into adulthood. Being criticized for being quiet and sensitive just adds to my subconscious process of internalizing my emotions and hiding my inner experience from the world due to my fear of criticism and accompanying feelings of shame. I am frequently working through this in therapy, but each day is exhausting because of the storm of emotions I have to work through.

It is important to understand how we respond to children can impact their development and their adult lives, as my childhood did. Telling a child they are “too sensitive” can cause them to begin to internalize their emotions because they equate being told they are “too sensitive” with “emotions are bad.” Even when I don’t outwardly express my sadness or anger, I immediately feel intense shame whenever I have those feelings in my inner experience. It took me a long time to start to be able to identify the emotions I feel on the inside, and sometimes they become so strong I don’t know how to label them or handle them, which has contributed to my self-harm and substance abuse. Words can deeply impact a person, especially a child, and if we change the way we perceive and talk to children, we can help them learn to process and translate their emotions and create more productive and positive relationships with others. All emotions are valid, and while the experience of some emotions may be unpleasant for those involved, no one has the right to discredit how anyone is feeling.

The Underdiagnosed (and Misunderstood) Type of Borderline Personality Disorder

                Borderline Personality Disorder is a frequently overgeneralized condition.  Stereotypically, individuals with BPD are seen as impulsive and moody with outbursts of anger; however, while impulsivity and intense emotions are possible symptoms of BPD, they are not applicable to all.  There are 256 possible representations of BPD, and stereotyping individuals with the disorder marginalizes those who exhibit these “stereotypical” symptoms.  It also further silences those who do not present in a way that is seen as “typical” of BPD. 

                There are four types of Borderline Personality Disorder: Discouraged, Impulsive, Petulant, and Self-Destructive.  I am a survivor of the underdiagnosed and often misunderstood Discouraged (or quiet) Borderline Personality Disorder.  My struggle with this disorder has been deeply internal and invisible to those around me, including medical professionals.  Due to the invisible way that this disorder presents itself, I have been misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed for numerous years.  It has only been within the last few months of treatment that I have been able to fully explore and understand myself and how this disorder affects me. 

                My experience with Discouraged Borderline Personality Disorder is that I often have extreme emotions, but they are an internal experience.  On the outside, I present as though I am calm and collected.  Ever since I was a child, I have been criticized for being too sensitive when showing any emotion, and I learned to internalize my feelings.  It is because of this that instead of lashing out or expressing my intense emotions, I turn my attention towards myself, which leads to self-harm, self-punishment, and extreme self-criticism.  My self-punishment has contributed to my struggle with multiple eating disorders, as well as my unstable self-image and poor self-esteem.  Most days it feels like I am at war with myself because I am constantly fighting my emotions, my sensitivity to criticism, and my self-hating thoughts.  But on the outside, I present as a high achiever, I appear calm and confident, and when I experience strong emotions, I turn them towards myself so that I won’t be criticized for expressing them, which is something that I have learned throughout my childhood.  I also experience instability and intensity in my relationships with others because I struggle with idolizing and villainizing individuals on a moment to moment basis, particularly in romantic relationships. 

Upon being diagnosed with Discouraged (Quiet) Borderline Personality Disorder and undergoing Dialectical Behavior Therapy, I find that I am better able to identify when I am experiencing strong mood swings as well as villainizing and idolizing others, but I have also found that I will beat myself up when I experience these symptoms because I am afraid of hurting others and being criticized or rejected.  Living with Discouraged (Quiet) Borderline Personality Disorder is a daily, silent battle that I face, and it makes it harder knowing that those around me don’t see my struggle and that explaining it to them is near impossible.  As a social worker, I have experienced the stigma that surrounds BPD in the mental health field, and how often those who are seeking help for BPD are overlooked, misunderstood, and/or criticized.  My personal experience has informed my practice with individuals who struggle with BPD, but there is still so much that is misunderstood about this disorder, and the individuals it affects. 

Now, I’d like to play a game with you.  Imagine you have been diagnosed with Diabetes and are seeking treatment; however, when you seek out different doctors to try and find one who will treat you, you are met with professionals who either refuse to work with you based on the fact that you have Diabetes, or they assume that you have Type One Diabetes when you actually have Type Two Diabetes and overgeneralize your symptoms without considering your personal story or case.   

Now, let’s translate this story to someone who is seeking treatment for BPD in a field that often overgeneralizes and stigmatizes the disorder.  Imagine how triggering this criticism of BPD is for sufferers when a fear of rejection and criticism is one of the symptoms of BPD and amplifies this emotion of fear.  Finding help and understanding is so difficult when many professionals are not educated on the causes or types of BPD, and many adhere to the stereotypical, manipulative image that is present of individuals who struggle with the disorder.

If you struggle with BPD, I implore you to share your story and to educate others on your experience so that we can increase understanding and empathy.  If you don’t struggle with BPD, but also don’t know very much about it and/or work in the mental health field, then please do listen to the stories of those who struggle with BPD and increase your understanding.  It only takes one person to make a meaningful change…and the change of further understanding can save a life

The Use of Counted Cross Stitch in Therapy for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Art therapy was established in 1942 by Adrian Hill, who found painting and drawing soothing while healing from tuberculosis (Team, 2016). Since then, art therapy has grown as a profession and has been utilized in the treatment of anxiety, depression, PTSD, cancer, eating disorders, and numerous other conditions. Art therapy is no longer limited to only painting or drawing as various other forms of visual art are utilized in this form of therapy – such as sculpting or collage making. The beauty about art therapy is that it allows individuals to express themselves in a non-verbal format, and the process of creating art has a soothing effect.

Throughout my personal healing, I found art therapy to be effective in helping me to soothe my anxiety and impulses, while also helping me to express emotions that I couldn’t verbalize. I have always been an artistic individual, and I found respite in drawing and painting to help me work through my emotions.

As I progressed through my recovery of Major Depressive Disorder, Complex PTSD, and Quiet Borderline Personality Disorder, I discovered that I also suffer from a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which goes hand in hand with my anxiety. I am often disturbed by intrusive sexually explicit or violent imagery, and I have to actively push the imagery out of my mind. The way I have adapted to dealing with these images is to count the syllables I hear in dialogue on the radio or TV to help me push the imagery away; however, I also experience jitters and dread when the syllables I count end on an odd number. Throughout my life I thought that everyone experienced this same phenomenon, and it was only through therapy that I realized that it is a product of mental illness. This constant battle in my mind prohibits me from being able to watch TV or listen to the radio without doing something else while I am watching or listening, such as performing a craft. The jitters I feel as a product of the intrusive imagery in my mind become so intense that I can’t sit still and I can’t concentrate on what I am watching or listening because I become obsessed with counting syllables. My mind is often a mess, and I experience extreme fatigue from the battle I am always fighting with myself.

My obsession with counting has always been a way that I subconsciously kept my anxiety in check, and it wasn’t until I was diagnosed with OCD that I realized a way that I adapted this obsession into something productive was through my love of counted cross stitch.

Counted cross stitch, much like counting syllables, requires you to count squares on a piece of fabric according to a pattern so that you embroider the fabric in a way that creates a picture made from thread. It requires a high level of mindfulness because you need to keep your place when counting the stitches on a piece of fabric to work out the pattern. I have always loved cross stitch and practice it while watching TV or listening to the radio, but it was only through therapy that I discovered that practicing cross stitch was a subconscious way that my brain adapted my counting obsession into something productive. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and like my mind is going in circles over counting syllables, I have found that cross stitch not only helps me with my counting obsession, but it makes me feel accomplished when I complete one of my embroidered works of art.

I have used my experience with utilizing cross stitch as therapy for my OCD to help others who struggle with OCD or anxiety find respite in art therapy through the needle arts. Cross stitch is wonderful for use in the counting form of OCD, but crocheting and knitting are also effective because they require the same level of mindfulness and counting when completing a pattern. While crochet, knitting, and cross stitch are all excellent in art therapy because they providing a soothing effect, they are excellent in the treatment of OCD to help individuals deal with their impulses in a productive and positive manner.

For so long I have suffered because of the war inside of my mind that I experience from my counting OCD, but through cross stitch and the needlearts I have found a sense of purpose and accomplishment in my disorder that I never did before. Art therapy utilizing any form of art creates purpose in the midst of mental illness, and it is an affordable and accessible level of care that can be practiced alone or in a therapeutic setting.

If you suffer from any form of anxiety or stress, I challenge you to try to regularly incorporate art making of any kind into your daily routine and see what difference it makes in your life. Art therapy has been a huge factor in helping me cope with my mental illness and find purpose in my life, and I am positive that you will feel the same way. While I still struggle with my mental illnesses every day, art has made it that much easier to cope.

References

Team, G. T. E. (2016). Art Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/art-therapy.

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