Simone Biles: Her Own Champion Advocate

Like millions of others, I was shocked when Simone Biles pulled out of the Olympic team finals. My first reaction was WAIT… WHAT?? How can she do that? She’s the GOAT! I’ve never seen a gymnast stop competing, especially during the Olympics—unless they were physically injured.

WOAH. STOP. TIME OUT.

Simone’s issues were mental, not physical. Her mental block was REAL. Just because you can’t see it on the outside, like a broken bone or a bleeding cut, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

Simone had the fortitude to know she must speak up and take herself out of the competition. She wasn’t in the right headspace. It wasn’t something she could simply snap out of. She didn’t trust her mind and body to work together to keep herself safe. As heartbreaking it would be to drop out, as much as she was aware she’d get backlash for doing so—she knew she had to.

She said that morning during practice she had a bit of the “twisties.” It sounds like a cute term, but it’s far from cute. The twisties is a phenomenon that happens when suddenly a gymnast is no longer able to do a twisting skill she’s done thousands of times before. Her body isn’t cooperating and her brain loses track of where she is in the air. This could lead to a devastating or life-threatening injury.

Simone was her own best advocate.

I read an article that said something similar happened to Simone in 2013. She was 16, competing in the U.S. Classic. She fell off the uneven bars. She missed all of her connections on the balance beam. She hurt her ankle during a floor routine. Before she could go through with her vault routine, her coach pulled her out of the competition.

This time it was Simone pulling herself out. She had the experience and awareness to know when to set boundaries to keep herself safe.

This type of self-awareness applies to all of us. It’s important to know when to ask for help, to advocate for ourselves. This could be if someone is depressed, experiencing high anxiety or panic attacks, or has thoughts of hurting themselves.

It’s not easy to open up—especially if it’s a problem with mental health. I know. It’s downright HARD. It took me twenty years to admit I had anxiety and panic attacks. I never wanted to talk about it, in fear of people thinking I was “crazy,” that I could just stop it, or that there was nothing “really” wrong with me.

Stigma is powerful.

I respect Simone for knowing when enough was enough. And by her doing so, it further opens the conversation of mental wellness and normalizing mental health conditions as equally important as physical ones.

Simone is the Greatest of All Time. She is a CHAMPION.

In more ways than one.

What I Noticed While Talking to Teens About Mental Illness

Teen Mental Health

Last week I spoke to teens about mental health, like I’ve done dozens of times before. But this time it felt different. This was my first set of presentations since early 2020, before COVID-19 lockdowns.

I’m a speaker for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I present NAMI’s Ending the Silence program to middle grade and high school students. My co-presenter and I talk about the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice those signs in themselves or a friend. We speak openly about anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders, and suicide.

So last week, instead of being inside a classroom with students and their teacher, we talked to them via Zoom. The presentations went great and I was so thankful to have the opportunity to meet with them. Technology can be wonderful!

But there’s nothing like actually being there with the kids, looking them in the eye, feeling that emotional connection and energy.

On Zoom, some of the students preferred not to be seen. Their cameras were on, but instead of a bunch of faces, I saw ceilings, bedroom walls, or a silhouette of a person. But that’s fine, I get it. It’s high school.

Even if I couldn’t see them, I knew they were there, listening. When I give these presentations, I never know who needs to hear what I say that day.

Through my computer screen, I could sense the kids were stressed and frustrated. Most likely some of them were anxious and depressed. There’s no doubt that distance learning this past year has taken an immense toll on students (parents and teachers too, of course).

At the end of our presentation, my co-presenter and I open it up to questions. We let the kids know they can ask us anything at all. We’re open books. Sometimes there’s only silence. Which again, I totally get. Mental illness is hard to talk about. Kids don’t want to be thought of as different. They don’t want their peers to think they might be struggling with a mental health condition.

A question at the end of one of our sessions last week broke my heart. Through an anonymous direct message, a student asked: If someone is thinking of attempting suicide, but isn’t really planning to do it, does that person still need to get help?

Our answer: YES. Talk to a trusted adult. A parent, teacher, school counselor, family friend, adult-age sibling. Tell someone you trust so you can get the help you need.

Another student wrote: How do you get help without your parents knowing?

Our answer: It’s hard to do that for a minor. Talk to an adult you trust. If that person can’t help, go to another. And another. And another. Until you get the help you need.

I pray they’re getting help. It’s rewarding to know that at least we opened the conversation.

While the stigma surrounding mental illness is beginning to weaken, there’s still a long way to go. My hope is that with future generations, mental health conditions can be spoken about as easily as physical diseases.

Keep talking about it.

The goal is to end the silence.

How an NFL Team is Kicking the Stigma

Hurt | By Darius Leonard

It inspires me so much when athletes, celebrities, and famous people speak out about their struggles with mental health. It’s comforting to know that despite living with a mental illness, there’s hope to live a productive and successful life.

Athletes are thought of as tough, strong, powerful. Resilient. Which is why it can be super difficult for them (especially men) to speak out about a mental health issue.

But mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter how physically strong someone is or how much money they have.

Anyone can be affected by mental illness.

National Football League player Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts, says he suffers from anxiety and depression. In a personal essay for The Players’ Tribune, Darius talks about losing his brother eight years ago and how the pain is still so deep.

“If you look at me and you see a Cinderella story, or a superhero, or the Maniac, or whatever, just know that underneath the helmet is a real person who is still working through some real pain.”

Colts Kicking The Stigma Initiative

Darius gets support from Colts owner Jim Orsay, his family, and the Colts organization. They started an initiative called “Kicking the Stigma,” bringing awareness to mental health and providing support for mental health services in Indiana. The program is part of a larger NFL initiative, “My Cause, My Cleats.”

Jim Orsay says, “‘Kicking the Stigma’ is our commitment to eradicating and getting this environment changed. We need to find ways to get people to feel safe and not to feel judged or persecuted when they’re trying to seek help.”

Absolutely. The more we speak out about mental illness, the weaker the stigma becomes.

Thank you, Darius, for sharing your story. It’s not easy to talk about a mental health condition. And thank you Colts, for shining the spotlight on mental health.

Mental illness is not anyone’s fault. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. There is medical help available.

You are NOT Alone stock illustration. Illustration of diary - 169511383

Why I Haven’t Felt Like Writing During COVID-19

I honestly thought I’d be blogging a ton since COVID-19 began. Writing is therapeutic to me, so it makes sense that I’d be penning my emotions as quickly as they’ve been changing—every day, sometimes every hour.

But I haven’t been in the mood to write. I know it’s not a big deal, it really doesn’t matter. But then why does it bother me? Why do I feel guilty for not being able to gush my thoughts out during this global pandemic?

Expressing my feelings in writing is an overwhelming task that I just haven’t wanted to tackle.

In mid-March, when this got all-too real and we were on lockdown, I was paralyzed by fear and uncertainty, barely able to process what was going on. Maybe my history of anxiety and panic disorder made it worse. Or maybe this is what everyone was feeling.

I kept thinking how strange it was that the entire world was totally united by this ravaging disease.

When a community goes through a disaster (such as my city of Thousand Oaks, CA did during a mass shooting and devastating wildfires), the rest of society feels terrible about it. People you don’t even know are praying for you and your town.

But this is so different. Every single person in the world has been affected by the pandemic. Not in my wildest dreams would I ever believe that our lives would abruptly halt.

Life as we know it, ceased to exist.

Drastic measures—like quarantine, social distancing, and wearing masks—have helped us save each other from this deadly virus. Which truly is, a beautiful thing. Staying home, not just for our own health and safety, but for the health and lives of people we don’t even know.

I’ve finally figured out why I haven’t wanted to write about the virus. Writing is too personal. I’ve looked for ways to escape reality, not delve into it.

So instead, I’ve chosen things that feed my soul, that are good for my mental health. Like…

  • Revising a manuscript. I know, this is writing. BUT, it’s middle grade fiction and is a wonderful escape from reality
  • Yoga in my family room or back yard
  • Video chatting with friends
  • Cooking with my daughters
  • Playing board games with my family
  • Taking lots of hikes in the mountains (until the state and national parks were closed), walking in the neighborhood
  • Riding our exercise bike
  • Deep breathing and meditating
  • Painting my nails
  • Gardening
  • Reading books and magazines
  • Painting my daughter’s bedroom, which motivated me to now paint our master bathroom
  • Decluttering. I’ve done a bit, much more ahead

I’m doing my best to cope. It’s amazing how many emotions have been swirling around, different from day to day. Scared, frustrated, angry, sad, and stressed.

But I’ve also found joy and happiness in this “new normal.” For the most part, life is simpler, quieter, less frazzled. Time to slow down and appreciate life.

I know I’m not alone. We’re in this together and we WILL get through it. And you know what? I do feel better that I’ve written this down.

Take care, and stay safe and healthy,

Jenny

We ALL Have Mental Health: Let’s Talk About It

Image result for images for mental illness awareness week

It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week and tomorrow, October 10, is World Mental Health Day.

So let’s talk about it!

Yesterday I had a wonderful opportunity to speak to a group of elementary, middle school, and high school counselors about mental illness. I’m a presenter for Ending the Silence, a mental health awareness program by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

An area we focused on is the importance of awareness not only among students, but parents and school staff as well. It takes a village. The mental health conversation must be open.

One of the middle school counselors told me something that at first, surprised me. She said the number of students she sees for social and emotional issues (anxiety, depression, etc.) FAR surpass those she counsels for academic reasons. Years ago, it was the exact opposite. And this is middle grade.

I suppose this really isn’t so surprising. It seems as if each generation is more stressed than the previous one. Millennials are known as the anxious generation. Gen Z (ages 15-21) has reported the worst mental health of any generation, according to the APA. Some of the reasons? Social media, gun violence, political climate, immigration, sexual harassment.

I’m passionate about spreading awareness to young people. The more that people talk about mental illness, the weaker the stigma is. The hope is that stigma will lessen with each future generation.

May is Mental Health Awareness month! Let’s all reduce the stigma of anxiety disorders! How? By talking about yours and not being scared to get or ask for help! We are so passionate about the subject that we have a FEARLESS collection of treasures that GiveBack to a local organization helping people with anxiety disorders!

Adolescents need to know they are not alone, that others feel the same pressures. That it’s okay to admit they’re not okay, and it’s absolutely fine (and healthy) to talk about it. They need to know there’s medical help available. The sooner they get help, the better.

When I speak to students during Ending the Silence, we discuss the warning signs of mental illness and what to do if they notice the symptoms in themselves or a friend. We talk about anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, OCD, eating disorders, and suicide.

Suicide is the focus of this year’s World Mental Health Day. According to the World Health Organization:

Every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide.

The conversation on mental health and mental illness needs to be open. Talk about it. Share. Know that you are NOT alone. There is help available. There is hope.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Lifeline at (800)273-8255. Or text HOME to 741741.

Speak out. Together, we can end stigma.

Hope: A Reason to Persist

To me, this quote has many layers.

The first thing I think of is “Never Give Up.” If you hit a roadblock, find a way to get around it. My husband often reminds me to be persistent, not give up so easily. I don’t like to hear this (or admit I’m not trying hard enough), but he’s totally right. Whatever the issue may be, I find that when I keep moving, reaching farther than I thought I would or could, it usually turns out to be a rewarding experience. Not always. But if I push as hard as I can and exhaust all options, even if it doesn’t work out, I feel better about myself. Because I gave it my all. Persistence pays!

This quote also reminds me of my own mental health journey. When I was a young girl, I had terrifying symptoms I never told anyone about. I didn’t know how to describe them, and certainly didn’t think anyone would understand. I felt hopeless. I didn’t want people to think I was weird or different. So I kept it a secret. For twenty years!

When I finally went to a doctor for help, he told me I was having panic attacks. He diagnosed me with agoraphobia and panic disorder. This might sound strange, but my first reaction was happiness. Of course I didn’t want to have an anxiety disorder. But I was extremely relieved that the awful symptoms I’d had for so long actually had a name. Not only that, but others had this too… millions of people. And, there was treatment available. I could be helped. It was unbelievable!

I was filled to the brim with HOPE.

25 Inspiring Hope Quotes #Hope Quotes #Inspiring Quotes

This month is National Suicide Prevention Month. I’m thinking of friends who are struggling with depression. I’m remembering people in my community who have died by suicide. My friend’s brother. My daughter’s classmate from high school. My dad’s work colleague. I’m thinking of how hopeless they must have felt, being in the deepest, darkest place filled with total despair. I’m thinking of their families, who will never stop struggling to cope with the loss of their loved one.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, or any other mental illness, please know that there is medical help available. You are NOT alone. Reach out for help.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line: Text HOME to 741741

There is hope. There is always HOPE.

Pain is real but so it hope. Work to know all of what is real (true) and what is fake (false) in life.

Images courtesy of Pinterest

Mental Health and Me, Featured on Thrive Global

Image result for images of a pad of paper and coffee cup
Image courtesy of Pixabay

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.

You can read the Thrive Global article here.

It’s hard to believe it’s already the middle of August. My favorite season is just around the corner, yay! But I’m savoring each day of summer, aware that it is fleeting.

Take care, Jenny

15 Best End of Summer Quotes - Beautiful Quotes About the Last Days of Summer
Image courtesy of Pinterest

Summer Girl

Courtesy of Pinterest

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.

Happy Summer!

messy ponytail with a scarf on the beach
Courtesy of Pinterest

What I Would Tell My Younger Self About Mental Health

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.

Image result for images for talk about mental health
Image courtesy of here

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.

Don’t ever forget, you are NOT alone.

Courtesy of The Child Mind Institute