It’s been a while! It feels good to be here, writing again. I’ve been devoting my time to another writing project, so I haven’t had much of a chance to be on the blog.
I want to say hello and share an article from Thrive Global I was recently featured in. They talked to me about my mental health advocacy and work with NAMI. I’m a speaker for NAMI’s in-school mental health awareness campaign, Ending the Silence.
There’s no doubt about it — the beach is my happy place. Maybe it’s because I’m from California, and the ocean has always been a big part of my life. Or maybe it’s just how the sea makes many people feel. Calm, relaxed, peaceful. A perfect place for fun and reflection.
Now that summer is in full swing, I’m doing my best to enjoy the longer, more carefree days. Like last night. My parents came over for dinner and we enjoyed a warm evening, eating outside at twilight. Big, puffy, blue hydrangeas from our garden were the centerpiece, along with flickering candles. I took a deep breath, tried to soak it all in.
For me, summer is a good time to take a break from my hectic days. I’m still busy… my husband and I own a business, bills must be paid, and domestic duties don’t end. But that doesn’t mean I can’t slow down a little and focus on mindfulness. Enjoy the gorgeous flowers in my yard (that I work so hard to grow!), jump in our pool like a kid, and yes, go to the beach.
Along with the seasons, life changes. Lately, I haven’t spent a lot of time on the blog or social media. Other business and writing projects are taking much of my time.
But it’s healthy, both physically and mentally, to take time out. A motivational speaker I admire takes a solid three week hiatus from social media every July-August. I like how he puts it, that it’s super important for him to be refreshed and rejuvenated so he can be fully present when he starts up again in the fall.
Right now I’m sitting in my office upstairs, the window wide open, a warm breeze flowing in. Neighbor kids are playing outside, gardeners are mowing. I’m listening to one of my favorite summer songs on my Spotify playlist: “Sittin’ Pretty” by Florida Georgia Line.
I better go finish my computer work, so maybe I can head to the beach tomorrow.
The Child Mind Institute has an awesome campaign that I love to follow. It’s promoted in May for Mental Health Awareness Month.
#MyYoungerSelf offers inspiring messages of hope. Celebrities, athletes, business people, and social influencers give short videos about their struggles, and what they would tell themselves as a child. They’re super open about their own journeys and stress that if you’re suffering from a mental illness, you are not alone. It’s okay.
Emma Stone speaks about her anxiety and panic disorder, Mayim Bialik talks about depression, Michael Phelps about ADHD, Barbara Corcoran about dyslexia, and so many more.
Today I watched a video from Alex Boniello, a Broadway actor, whose anxiety began in high school. He was in the cafeteria when he experienced such frightening symptoms, he thought he was having a heart attack. He had no idea it was anxiety and panic attacks.
This got me thinking… I totally relate to what Alex says. My panic attacks started around age 10. I didn’t know what was going on, why I had such frightening feelings. I was embarrassed and didn’t tell anyone. Now I know that stigma and shame kept me from saying anything. I finally got medical help in my early 30s for panic disorder.
That’s why I speak openly about mental health. I want to encourage people to talk about it, to reach out for help.
So, what would I tell my younger self?
Jenny, I know you’re scared and worried there’s something really, really wrong with you. You’re exhausted from keeping it a secret. You think no one else in this entire world could possibly understand what you’re going through. But millions of other people do understand! Because they’re going through the same thing.
The symptoms are terrifying, but you won’t die from them. Those horrible physical sensations and strange thoughts, like you’re living in a fog or dream, actually have a name: Anxiety and panic attacks. Panic disorder. You are not imagining it. It’s a real illness.
And something else… there is treatment, you don’t have to do this alone. There’s no magic cure, it’s not going to simply go away. You’ll always have to manage it, but you’ll feel a ton better than you do now. The road to recovery isn’t easy, but you’re going to do great.
I know you’re nervous about your friends finding out and you don’t want them to think you’re weird or treat you differently. They won’t.Having panic disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. Millions and millions of people struggle with their mental health. Talk about it and get help — the sooner the better.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to Maui for a business/pleasure trip. I was super excited and when I sat in my seat on the plane, I reveled in the fact that I could read my book for five hours straight if I wanted to, with little interruption. Life had been over-the-top busy, and I was more than grateful for the break. We were (and still are) in the middle of a major business renovation, plus other challenges that have added to our stress levels.
During the flight, I daydreamed about how wonderful it’d feel once we landed. Whenever we go to Hawaii, I always relax the minute we step off the plane. I breathe in the tropical air and bask in the warm breeze. That’s all it takes. It’s like a magical, calming elixir.
I had no reason to believe that this time would be different.
After a brief layover, we landed and took the shuttle to the car rental office. We’d never seen the line that long before. There were hundreds of tired and frustrated people, anxious to get to their hotels. Including us. Almost three hours later, we finally drove away.
We didn’t let the annoying car experience ruin the rest of our evening. We stayed in to barbecue steaks and enjoy some wine on the lanai. Tiki torches flickered in the night sky and balmy air felt like a comforter on a cold night. I was so relaxed. At least I thought I was.
The next morning took me by surprise. Normally I feel totally calm when we arrive, and for sure, by the next day. My worries melt away with the warm Hawaiian sun.
But I was still wound up, worrying about things back home. I couldn’t stop feeling jittery and nervous. There I was on this incredibly beautiful island, so uptight and unable to clear my mind.
I had no idea I was holding in so much anxiety.
I thought about how terrible that was for my body. It felt like I had been desensitized to stress… it had become a part of my life and I let it fester.
I knew I needed to concentrate on my mental health, give it my full attention.
Breathe… slowly… inhale for seven seconds, exhale for seven. Leave the worries behind. Enjoy this beauty. Focus on what’s happening right here, right now. Nothing more.
It was hard to decompress. But I didn’t want to lose one more minute to nervousness. I desperately wanted it gone. Leave me alone, anxiety!
Life goes at a much slower pace in Maui than in Los Angeles. First, there aren’t any freeways and not nearly as many people. But what I love most about Maui is “the island vibe” — hang loose, no worries. Everything will be okay. And more importantly, “the Aloha spirit” — living a life filled with love, compassion, kindness, and grace. And sharing that with others.
As I let myself indulge in the slower pace, I couldn’t help but feel better. Nothing compares to long walks on the beach with my husband, letting my feet sink into the soft golden sand, looking out at the turquoise-blue ocean. It sprinkled every day (liquid sunshine, as they call it in Hawaii), and the rainbows were spectacular. The colors were so bright and sharp, I’d swear there really were pots of gold at the end! We didn’t miss a sunset. It was like Mother Nature put on a fantastical show for us every single night.
Eventually I felt it — complete peace. And when I did, it was heavenly.
I made a promise to myself:
To not ever forget the delirious, delicious feeling of total calm. Of walking on the beach, sand in my toes, warm clear water splashing up on my legs. No worries. Just enjoying — no, better yet — treasuring each moment.
And when I feel stress creeping in, to practice deep breathing and use visual imagery to thwart off anxiety.
Now that we’ve been back home for a couple of weeks, I wish I could say I’m not stressed or anxious. That’s not true or realistic.
BUT… I can say I’m more mindful of how I feel, and am keeping my anxiety in check. I often remind myself to breathe in deep and exhale slowly, while imagining being right there, in my happy place.
I can’t get something out of my mind and I want to share it here with you.
I often write about my experiences as a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)’s in-school mental health awareness campaign, Ending the Silence. I visit high schools and talk to students about the signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend.
Two weeks ago, my co-presenter and I went to a local school and presented four Ending the Silence programs to 140 freshmen.
The kids always leave an impact on us, but this time it was especially insightful.
A little background… following the presentation, we have a question and answer session. Some classes are really quiet and it’s hard to get the teens to participate. I totally get it. Anxiety, depression, bipolar, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide are not easy topics to open up about. Especially in front of peers.
But that day, we had questions like these:
What do you do if you think an adult you know has a mental illness, but they refuse to listen to you, as you’re just a kid? How do you make them to go to the doctor for help?
How did you try to kill yourself? (directed to my co-presenter, who speaks very openly about her depression, OCD, PTSD, and suicide attempt)
How do you know if you really have depression? Because all teenagers are anxious or depressed. Aren’t they?
I often wonder if the kids ask questions from personal experience or if they’re simply curious. I never know what impact our words have on them. I never know who we’re going to reach.
When the presentation is over, a few students usually stay to talk with my co-presenter and me. I know it’s hard for them to do that. Some don’t want their friends to see that they’re going up to talk to us. Some are too embarrassed. It takes courage to talk about problems — especially mental health issues.
It’s scary to be vulnerable.
I’ll never forget the three who opened up to us that day two weeks ago.
There was a girl I noticed when I was in front of the class speaking. I can’t pinpoint why, but maybe because she looked like she was paying careful attention to what we said. She asked several questions during the Q&A, mostly about how to handle an adult with a mental illness. She walked up to my co-presenter and burst into tears. I didn’t hear what she said. I found out later that the girl’s dad has a mental illness and is abusing her.
At the same time my co-presenter was helping her, another girl came up to me. Her hands shook and tears streamed down her face, as she told me about her family situation. She said she has anxiety and panic attacks, and had a panic attack while I was speaking. She wanted to leave, but didn’t because she thought it’d be rude. I assured her it wouldn’t have been, and I completely understand. (I’m recovered from panic disorder and agoraphobia). We discussed how to talk about her problem with her mom, so she can get medical help. She gave me a big hug before she left.
Another girl came up to us, visibly shaking as she told us about her severe anxiety and panic attacks. She paced and it was hard for her to look us in the eye. She said her mom has anxiety too. They both haven’t seen a doctor because her mom says they don’t have enough money. We came up with some ways for her to bring up a conversation about mental health with her mom, and try to find a way to get help.
I never would’ve guessed that those teens are going through such serious, challenging times. It doesn’t show on their faces, on the surface.
That’s why I give the students this gentle reminder: Be kind. You never know what someone else is going through. Be there for each other.
I wish I would’ve known about mental health conditions when I was a teenager. If I had, I may have told someone about my frightening and strange panic attack symptoms. I could’ve received medical help much earlier than I did.
But I was embarrassed and didn’t want to be different. To me, it wasn’t an option to tell anyone. I dealt with it in silence for 20 years.
That’s the main reason I’m so passionate about speaking to youth about mental health. I want them to know that it’s okay not to be okay. Mental illness doesn’t mean you’re weak. You shouldn’t feel ashamed. It isn’t anyone’s fault. There is help available. You are not alone.
I volunteer with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) as a speaker for “Ending the Silence,” an in-school mental health awareness program. Yesterday I presented to about 70 high school seniors.
During the presentations, my co-presenter and I explain the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk openly about anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, bipolar, eating disorders, and suicide.
Yesterday I told the teens that when my doctor first diagnosed me with panic disorder and agoraphobia, I was actually happy. Not happy that I had it, but relieved that I finally knew what it was.
There’s an actual name for my terrifying symptoms!? Other people feel like this? (Yes, millions!) And there’s treatment for me? (YES!!)
It felt like I was validated. Those awful panic sensations I’d hidden for so long were REAL. I had a disorder in the brain and needed treatment. It wasn’t possible for me to “get over it” or “just calm down,” phrases I often reprimanded myself with.
That was the first step in my recovery.
When I present “Ending the Silence,” I keep in mind that I never know who I’m going to reach. But there are kids who need to be hearing what I have to say.
Yesterday after the presentation, several teens came up to my co-presenter and me. One student said her younger brother attempted suicide last year and she’s having a hard time with it. Another girl said her boyfriend gets panic attacks and she wants to know how to help him. She said his family doesn’t want to admit he has a mental health condition. The teens thanked us for listening and giving our input. Even though they still didn’t have a clear-cut path to fix their problems, they said it felt good to let it out and talk to someone who understands.
Which brings me back to the point… you never know what people are going through.
When I speak to the students and look out into the sea of faces, I often wonder what they’re thinking. And who I’m reaching that day. I’ll never really know.
I just heard a great message in the men’s locker room.
No, no, I wasn’t actually in there. I watched a new webisode series on my computer, called “Locker Room Talk.” It’s hosted by National Basketball Association star Kevin Love. Sponsored by Schick Hydro, the purpose of the videos is to raise awareness and funds for men’s mental health.
The five-minute videos are geared toward men, but of course, women can watch too! I loved each interview. Kevin and his guests are open and honest about dealing with their mental health issues.
Earlier this year, Kevin Love wrote an essay, opening up about his struggles with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. There was an outpouring of support on social media, and countless others were inspired to also speak out.
Kevin said, “People don’t talk about mental health enough. And men and boys are probably the farthest behind.”
Back to “Locker Room Talk”… The series has an initial trailer and three episodes. Kevin interviews Olympic gold-winning swimmer Michael Phelps, Kevin’s friend and teammate, Channing Frye, and basketball legend Paul Pierce, who played for the Boston Celtics.
Channing sat out the 2012-13 basketball season due to a heart diagnosis, an enlarged heart. He was able to return in 2013, but says he’s had severe anxiety about his condition, and his game.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness have been life-changers for Channing. He stresses the importance of talking about your problems. “Speaking your truth is liberating,” he said. “It’s okay to be vulnerable.”
Paul was brutally stabbed outside a nightclub in 2000, which led to anxiety and depression. He says he doesn’t like to be in crowds anymore, and it’s really hard for him to go to the mall, movies, or amusement parks. He says his mental illness affects not only himself, but his family too.
These four men are an inspiration. Let’s continue the conversation on mental health. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home, work, or in the locker room — just keep talking.
I’m excited that a piece I wrote for NAMI’s National Blog has been published! How stigma prevented me from receiving medical help for panic disorder. Please Click here to read.
(Note, this is not an excerpt)
Sometimes people ask how I was able to hide my panic attacks for 20 years. My first thought: I have no idea, I just did. I felt there was no other choice.
The reason, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time?
Growing up, I felt different than the other kids. I was sure they’d never understand the frightening symptoms I experienced. I didn’t want my friends, or even my family, to know. I didn’t want them to worry and think I was strange.
Most of the time I was fine. So why talk about it? I can handle this on my own.
Years later, I realized I didn’t need to handle it by myself. More importantly, I shouldn’t have.
I didn’t know there was help available. I thought I was alone.
Now I speak out about mental illness because I don’t want others to feel like I did. I want people to know there is hope. You are not alone.
I feel a bit rusty as I write this. I’ve been away from blogging, writing, and the regular routine for three weeks. Just a few days ago, my family and I returned home from our grand European adventure (it was incredible, more on that later).
Yesterday, while jet-lagged and bleary-eyed, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and saw a post from Miriam at Out an’ About. She mentioned World Mental Health Day.
Wait, what’s the date? Of course, tomorrow is October 10! How could I forget?
Miriam is in Australia and I’m in the western U.S., so my afternoon is her next day. I’m messed up with days, nights, and dates, from traveling. So thank you, Miriam, for the reminder!
I couldn’t let this day slip by without saying something about it. AND… this year’s theme focuses on young people and mental health.
I’m passionate about spreading mental health awareness, and in particular, to our youth. As a speaker for NAMI’s in-school program, “Ending the Silence,” I visit high schools and talk to students about mental health issues and what to do if they notice the symptoms in themselves or a friend.
Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14, but most cases are undetected and untreated (from the World Health Organization).
I can definitely relate to that fact.
I was about 10 when my panic attacks began. I didn’t have any idea what was wrong with me and never wanted to tell anyone. I didn’t want my friends or family to think I was weird, so I dealt with it as best I could, on my own. I kept my scary and strange symptoms a secret for 20 years before I got help.
I don’t want this to happen to other kids. That’s one reason I love presenting “Ending the Silence” to teens. Awareness and education are crucial.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. Adolescents need to know that it’s okay not to be okay. There is help available and there is hope.
This quote from NAMI is a great reminder to parents:
“Odds are, your children won’t go to a counselor when they feel something isn’t quite right. They’ll come to you. So please, stay open and believe them. Believing may save their lives.”
While the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to lessen, it remains strong.
This morning I read an essay co-written by Lady Gaga and the Director-General at the World Health Organization. Here’s what they said about the reality of stigma:
“Yet despite the universality of the issue, we struggle to talk about it openly or to offer adequate care or resources. Within families and communities, we often remain silenced by a shame that tells us that those with mental illness are somehow less worthy or at fault for their own suffering.”
I’m grateful that there is a World Mental Health Day, recognized each year on October 10. Mental illness is a global issue. It does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you live, what nationality you are, if you’re rich or poor… we all can be affected by mental illness.
World Mental Health Day encourages people to speak out about mental health and mental illness. But the conversation can’t stop after today.
I’m super excited because later this week, my husband, two daughters, and I are heading out to explore parts of the world we’ve never seen before. We’ll be visiting several European countries.
I feel blessed, and can’t wait to immerse myself in these other cultures. I’m looking forward to meeting new people and tasting each country’s delicious cuisine.
As happy as I am, this trip has been overwhelming to plan, and for the past few months, I’ve been nervous and anxious about so many things. It’s stressful for me to be thousands of miles away from friends and family, our business, and well… the familiar.
But when I sit on the plane, I’ll take a deep breath, knowing we’ve taken care of as much as we could, and it’ll all be fine. I’m going to be mindful and treasure every minute, because I know this grand adventure will pass much too quickly.
These upcoming experiences will become a part of me, and a part of our family. Special memories that will enrich our lives forever.
I can’t wait to share my travel stories with you, when I return in a few weeks.