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What No One Tells You About Being a Therapist

A therapist’s office is intended to be a safe, warm space that allows for others to express and process patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s a place where people go to feel better. As a helping professional, I have the privilege of being part of the personal development and growth of my clients. I am deeply passionate about what I do, and I’ll be the first one to admit that I still get goosebumps whenever a client experiences an “Aha” moment. That being said, the mental health profession is not one without challenges.

According to the Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), it’s estimated that about 22% of adults in the city are diagnosed with Depressive Disorder, 16% of adult Philadelphians experience frequent mental stress, and 13.8% of teens experience suicidal ideation.

To paint a clearer picture, these statistics mean that in Philadelphia 1 in 5 adults are diagnosed with depressive disorder, and 1 in 7 high school students have reported seriously considering suicide. These startling numbers are not counting the undiagnosed or unreported cases. These rates have remained consistent within recent years, with the exception of a wild increase of opioid-related deaths and ER visits for drug overdoses. With the growing severity of the opioid epidemic in the United States, an already overwhelmed system seemingly only has so much wiggle room before it breaks.

Community Behavioral Health (CBH) is a non-profit corporation contracted by the City of Philadelphia to provide mental health and substance use services to Medicaid recipients in Philadelphia County. There are about 144 Community Behavioral Health organizations in Philadelphia, and I have worked for and with many of them. Although I love the work that I do with clients, working in community agencies has created an entirely new perspective on how therapists and participants are treated among the Community Behavioral Health system….. and I think we all deserve better.

I remember learning about proper ethics and counseling techniques in my graduate program, bright eyed as I geared myself up for a future as a helper. Looking back, it seems so naive for me to have thought that it would be easy. Admittedly, I often wish I could go back to school and pay closer attention to discussions on how to avoid burnout, but sometimes it seems that in the community behavioral health field, burnout is inevitable. Although it would not have changed my choice of profession, I wish I had been more prepared for the community mental health world.

Here’s what I wish I had known:

  1. There are not enough mental health therapists in the community behavioral health system. It seems as though a major theme within the therapist community is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a bogged down system. Community Behavioral Health has an incredible amount of participants in need of mental health care and not enough wo/manpower to provide the quality of care necessary to treat severe mental health symptoms. This means that the large number of participants receiving services are divided among the limited mental health professionals that exist, meaning higher burnout rates for therapists.
  2. There is a major focus on productivity. Full time therapists are given a certain number of clinical hours that they must provide per month, typically called productivity. For example, in my organization, the month of October held 160.63 available treatment hours. I need to achieve 66% of that, meaning I needed to provide at least 106 hours of therapy to meet productivity expectations. If I don’t, I risk being written up. So when we get into the nitty-gritty of things, my work performance is not determined by the quality of therapy I provide, but by the quantity of services I provide. Where I try to validate myself, it is sometimes hard to focus on my successes with clients when I am consistently reminded of “my numbers.” It also makes it more difficult to be understanding when clients cancel, which is often framed as one less hour toward productivity.
  3. Many organizations are turning to fee-for-service. Fee-for-service is pretty self-explanatory. In fee-for-service positions, therapists only get paid for the sessions they complete. This means that if a client does not show up, the therapist will either not get paid, or will get paid a small percentage of what they would have received. Oh, and fee-for-service therapists don’t get paid for the paperwork or outreach they do…. and let me tell you, in this field there is always a lot of paperwork and outreach to do.
  4. Community behavioral health is behind. Think about all of the ethical guidelines, evidence-based practices, and sensitivity training we learned about in school. Now, try to imagine trying to implement those practices in an organization that always seems 20 years behind the present status quo. This isn’t necessarily community behavioral health’s fault. It simply takes time to roll out new methods given the amount of education and training they require.
  5. Sometimes people don’t listen. I feel like I can talk about ethical treatment and appropriate care until I’m blue in the face, and it still doesn’t feel like I am heard. I often find myself thinking of therapists as the nurses of the mental health field– we have an incredible amount of knowledge, have spent years studying the subject, and care deeply about making sure our clients are receiving proper care… and it still feels like we are spinning our wheels just to be heard and respected.

And finally, none of this would matter if we didn’t care. Professionals typically don’t join the mental health field if they don’t care about the well being of others. This makes it even more frustrating when we can see that the overall focus is not on the quality of care we provide, but instead, on the success of the business. Although I can recognize that the business aspect is important, it just does not feel right to put the needs of the business before the needs of people. Helpers feel passionately about the injustices within social systems, because we care about the outcomes of the people we work with. It can be incredibly frustrating to see the above factors as barriers to doing what we love most– helping people.

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Half Marathon Training: Week 4

When I decided to train for a Half Marathon, I wanted to utilize training as a way to incorporate a more stable running routine into my lifestyle. I knew that the following helped: being outside, being around people, exploring the city, exercise, listening to music, taking deep breaths. With running, I could do all of these things at the same time. These simple pleasures coupled with the influx of endorphins are a major component of what keeps my brain from feeling like sluggish mush buried under 10 feet of black goop.

I failed to estimate the challenges of caring for sore muscles, using intense mental energy, attending to detail to avoid injury, REMEMBERING TO STRETCH. But the Buddha said if there is pleasure there must be pain, and so here we are- completing Week 4 of Half Marathon Training, noticing the pain, but focusing on the pleasure… and adding in some hard hitting speed and strength training to really squash that Week 3 plateau before heading into some serious recovery work.

Here’s what Week 4 looked like:

  • Sunday: Run 7 miles
  • Monday: Yoga
  • Tuesday: Stairs (a mile distance)
  • Wednesday: Arm Strength Training
  • Thursday: Yoga
  • Friday: Sprints
  • Saturday: REST

My most intense workouts for the week were stairs and sprints. I join many city residents at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, channeling my inner underdog to mindlessly run up and down the Rocky Steps.

These are the rear Art Museum steps

I usually do about 11-15 rounds of the steps, which usually equals about a mile of stairs. As for sprints, this cardio addition is just a way to increase overall pace. Similar to the speed workout in Week 3, Sprints include alternating between running and sprinting from block to block until I reach my distance goal.

Lesson of the Week: Acknowledge the pain, but focus on the pleasure. I love running for the improvements in mood that I have experience since adding regular exercise into my routine. I have been so thrilled with feeling both physically and mentally healthier that I sometimes fight the urge to push myself too far. Remembering that a major part of training for a half marathon is avoiding injury so I can actually do the half marathon has been the key for me to monitor my pain and take extra care of my body.

Which leads me to my question for the runners out there in Wellness Warrior World: What is your key to avoiding injury?

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10 Morning Hacks for the Non-Morning Person

I didn’t get the nickname “Little Bear” in college for no reason. In the morning it takes me about 1 hour, 1 cup of coffee, 1 giant plate of breakfast, and a whole lot of self-encouragement to start feeling like a human. In fact, I love my mother, but my biggest complaint about her parenting was that she talked to me in the morning- the horror!

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of being a morning person, and I actually find myself enjoying the quiet mornings to myself if I have a day off. It’s the pressure of having a schedule to keep that causes me to roll out of bed with my hair a mess and grunt to myself as I struggle to don my big girl garb and start the day. There just never seems to be enough time in the morning, and no matter how hard I try, I still find myself consistently running 5 minutes late. One might think that I could simply wake up earlier, but your girl loves her sleep. Therefore, I can offer these helpful tips that might help- excuse my French- unfuck your morning as well as they did mine.

  1. Pick out your clothes.
    • I tend to take this tip to the extreme. Every week as I am putting away my laundry, I put together my outfits for the entire week (or more if I’m feeling extra adventurous). This way, I can just pull something ready-to-wear from my closet. I’m not suggesting that anyone take things to that extreme, but it is a huge time saver to have an outfit prepared. I also notice that I always feel better if I’m wearing something I like, and I rarely create an outfit I like if I save the task for the busy morning.
  2. Prep your lunch.
    • I like to make this part of my nightly routine. Before I go to sleep, I’ll my lunchbox together, so I can just grab it out of the refrigerator before I leave in the morning. Not only does this save time in the morning, but it also gives me time to make sure I’m packing a healthy and well balanced lunch.
  3. Have a routine.
    • Part of making the morning easier is not thinking-just doing. Having a good routine in place can save time, increase productivity, and increase a sense of accomplishment. For those like me who used to forget her lunch, office keys, etc. at least once a week, it can help to ensure you’re not skipping over any important morning tasks.
  4. Say it with me: SLEEP WITH YOUR PHONE AWAY FROM YOUR BED.
    • There is truly not much to say here that I haven’t said already. If you want to catch up on my reasons behind religiously adopting this hack, you can read all about it here!
  5. Stretch in bed.
    • The hardest part of the morning for me is peeling myself away from my cuddly cat/sleeping buddy and unraveling my cozy blanket burrito. After doing research on stretches that can be done in bed, I found that not only did this satisfy my desire to stay in bed longer, but it helped my body feel more awake and motivated to get my morning routine going strong.
  6. Make your bed.
    • It may seem small, but making your bed can set the mood for the entire day. Starting off with completing a task can lead to a sense of accomplishment that can only snowball into a bigger form of motivation. Coming home to a tidy area can also decrease any residual stress from the work day.
  7. Save scrolling for later.
    • Anyone who has read my previous posts already know my view of social media and cell phones- if you allow it, your electronic device can be a giant waste of time. So, save the scrolling for later and minimize anything that might distract you from a productive morning. The memes will still be there after you’re all dressed and ready to start the day with, hopefully, time to spare.
  8. Look forward to food.
    • Okay, this one might me more tailored to me, but it works. I find it way easier to crawl out of bed if I know I’ve planned a breakfast I can look forward to. (Even better, I’ll meal prep it, so I can go straight to the rewarding part).
  9. Make your morning more enjoyable.
    • It may seem like common sense, but it’s easy to lose ourselves in the rush of getting ready for the day. We can’t forget about our needs. Whether it’s yoga, a morning walk, or reading a chapter, take a little bit of time and engage in an activity that will make your morning feel like yours! It doesn’t even have to be the same activity each day.
  10. Listen to music.
    • I. Love. Music. In my 28 years of existence, nothing has been able to captivate me as much as music. It has been, and probably always will be, a huge part of my life (but that’s a post for a different day). For me, and maybe for some of you also, there’s no better way to wake up the body than to start by waking up the soul.

Although weekday mornings are a struggle, I am really focusing on making them effective and productive. It simply makes me happier and more energetic when I feel good about my mornings. I am always trying to make Rise and Shine Time easier and less hectic, and I always love to hear feedback and start a conversation. What are some of your go-to morning hacks?

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Half Marathon Training: Week 2

Happy Monday, Warriors! Wow, did Week 2 really present some challenges that served as some pretty important reminders. Sunday rolled through just as I was coming out of a great, but busy, week. I completed all of my training days from Week 1 with complete success and felt prideful as I rewarded myself with a “Tourist Weekend.” While I love living in Philadelphia, I don’t often get time to partake in the famous attractions. Every so often (usually if a family member or friend is visiting), I allow myself to act as a tourist for an entire weekend and explore the hot staples of the city tourist-style (Though, you will never catch me riding a Segway).

Fueled by residual motivation from Week 1, I created an intense training plan for the week that included longer runs and harder speed training workouts. During my first run of the week, I made it half way to my distance goal when my entire body felt exhausted, and every fiber of my being felt one step away from a becoming real life example of a dramatization in a Life Alert commercial. As I slowed to a walk, I reflected on the prior week of nonstop movement and recreation. I remembered my top goal in beginning my overall wellness journey: GIVE YOUR BODY WHAT IT’S ASKING FOR. It was a not-so-gentle reminder to listen to my body, and my body needed some good old TLC (both physically and audibly, because come on– who can’t get down with a little No Scrubs blaring on a Sunday night???). With that in mind, I walked the remainder of my distance goal, went home, ripped up my plan, and spent the week going off script, tailoring each activity to what I felt that my body needed on a day-to-day basis.

Here is what it looked like:

  • Sunday: Run 3 miles, walk 1-2 miles. (I made this a mindful walk, meaning that I put my phone on airplane mode and listened to no music, taking in my environment and focusing on my experience).
  • Monday: Strength Training: Arms, Stretch
  • Tuesday: Run 1 mile at an easy pace, run 1 mile at race pace, walk 1 mile, run 1 mile at an easy pace
  • Wednesday: Yoga
  • Thursday: Strength Training: Abs and Back
  • Friday: Strength Training: Legs, Stretch
  • Saturday: REST

Lesson of the Week: Listen to your body. Training doesn’t have to mean pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion or injury. If your body is craving something slow and easy, give it just that. If your body is buzzing with energy, use it as fuel for harder workouts. I ran and worked out at a lesser intensity and still ended the week feeling stronger.

It’s your turn, peeps: How did you listen to your body this week?

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Wins of the Week

The burst of energy I woke up with this morning and the happy sunshine streaming through my office window can only mean one thing– It’s Friday! This week has been a rough mental health week, and although I am well aware of the triggers it can always feel like a slow crawl back to stability. That being said, if there is ever a week to focus on my Wins, this would be the one!

  • I finished a book. If anyone reading this has been struggled with any sort of mental health issue, you may know that concentration may be a huge challenge. As someone who read the last Harry Potter book in just over a day, part of me is heartbroken to say that it had been well over a year since I had been able to read an entire a book. It took about a month to finish this book by breaking down reading into smaller chunks of time, but I felt a sense of accomplishment.
  • I was able to delegate responsibility at work. At my organization, I manage a caseload of about 55 clients. I typically schedule 38-40 hours of individual therapy sessions per week, attend 5-7 meetings monthly, facilitate a group twice monthly that consists of 15 additional clients, and somehow squeeze in time for paperwork and outreach calls in between. Needless to say, all of my days are incredibly busy. I spoke to my supervisor about feeling overwhelmed and we agreed that it would be best to hand my group off to someone else who has a less established caseload to maintain. With my group facilitating nearing its end, I can already feel a little relief.
  • I didn’t feel like a bad employee for delegating. Typically, admitting that I do not have the energy to perform well at a task would lead me to believe that I’m bad at my job. I learned how to catch these thoughts in therapy, but this time I didn’t even need to catch myself because I didn’t have the thought. That’s progress, folks!
  • I painted for the first time in about 10 years. I used to paint all the time, more of a hobby than a coping skill. I was always a perfectionist when it came to creativity, but when I picked up a paint brush this week, I simply focused on playing with color however I was inspired to. I definitely felt rewarded and mindful and just…. emotionally better!

Honestly, to a certain extent, I’m just thankful for making it through the week without completely spontaneously combusting.

Now turning to you, Warriors! What have been your biggest wins of the week?

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Why I Stopped Sleeping With My Phone Next to my Bed

Sometimes our cell phones seem like an extension of ourselves. They are useful little boxes that remember our appointments, stay in contact with our friends, and share our memories with the touch of a button. It can be difficult to think of cell phones as what they are: a tool. So, I decided that if I don’t feel the need to sleep with a hammer next to my bed, I don’t feel the need to keep my cell phone there either. Here’s why:

Late night cell phone use can lead to lack of sleep.

We’ve all been there: we turn the lights off, settle into our blankets… and then scroll in Instagram for the next hour instead of closing our eyes for some well-deserved snoozing. Further than that, using cell phones in the dark can more intensely expose our eyes to blue lights, potentially causing damage in vision or interfere with our ability to fall asleep.

We are not yet aware of potential health risks.

While there has not been research that proves cell phone use causes cancer, we do know that cell phones emit small amounts of electromagnetic radiation, which can lead to tumor growth. However, since they are such small amounts, cell phones are safe to handle for individuals who are not more vulnerable to radiation. This being said, clear links between cell phone use and health risks are not yet clear—which makes me want to be more safe than sorry.

I wake up more easily in the morning.

I am not a morning person. In fact, I have been known to set my alarm early just to hit snooze for the next hour. A few months ago, I started sleeping with my phone across the room from my bed, and I initially felt resentful that this little music-making pile of metal was dragging my lazy bones out of bed on the first ring. It slowly became much easier to wake up in the morning at the first chime of my alarm.

My mind is clearer as I’m drifting off to dream world.

Incorporating an hour of phone-free time before bed each night has helped me make the space to check in with myself. Having the opportunity to read, journal, or simply reflect has allowed me the space to get any leftover thoughts from the day out of my head before putting my head onto the pillow.

Disconnecting from my phone on a regular basis has allowed me to use my time effectively. Although, I still find myself frustrated sometimes that I have to crawl out of bed to get the loud noises to stop. Overall, I’ve felt positive in my decision to start sleeping disconnected with my phone—and it seems that my brain and body are thankful, too!

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How to Overcome Regression Toward Goals

Picture this: It’s been a months-long streak of hitting wellness goals. You go to sleep at a normal time and sleep well, embrace a healthy diet that a few years ago you would have scoffed at, and actually find yourself LOVING engaging in regular exercise. And then, boom—you go on vacation, your car gets totaled by a deer, stress builds. Routine goes out the window, and it feels like all of the progress that was made is quickly crawling away from the fires that have engulfed your once safe little nest. 

The thing about fires is that they go out eventually. The flames may burn us, but we can avoid the spiral of negativity and douse the fire with water and positivity until we are left to lick our wounds and move forward. Most of us know how difficult it can be to get back on track when life happens.

Here are 5 powerful strategies to moving forward after hardship attempts to derail progress.

  1. Identify the root of the backslide
  • Before we can find a way back, we need to identify what contributed to our slide in the first place. This can include increased stress from life changes, self-defeating mindsets and behaviors, illness or injury, challenging or more frequent life events, and/or challenges in time management. For example, my car recently got totaled. Working out daily was impossible when I needed to spend my free time looking at cars, talking to my insurance, taking my car to various inspection sites. Attending to my car had to become my priority, given that I commute to work by driving.

2. Try a different approach

  • Maybe while you were exploring the root of the backslide, you discovered some real barriers to working toward goals. Maybe you’ve been planning to exercise in the mornings, but can’t go to sleep early enough? Maybe you’re finding difficulty keeping up with a healthy diet due to limited variety of fresh foods at the grocery story you go to. Achieving goals may require some changes in approach, and that’s okay! Methods are going to look different for everyone. It’s all about finding what works best for you and using that to your advantage.

3. Create a schedule

  • I love schedules. I mean it— I LOVE them. Nothing makes me feel more organized than having a plan—even if it’s just loosely followed. My Sunday routine includes sitting down and planning the week—exercises I want to focus on, meals I want to eat, self care activities I want to do, and other tasks or errands that need to be completed. I create a schedule based on what my week looks like and then try my best to stick with it—but life happens, so I’m always gentle and understanding if my schedule changes in small various ways as the week goes on.

4. Find accountability

  • Studies show that the more people that know about your goal, the more likely you are to work toward it. Working toward holding yourself accountable is monumental in achieving goals, but better yet, finding other people who can hold you accountable creates a whole new layer of support in actually doing what you say you’re going to do.

5. Be gentle with yourself

  • Imagine me shouting the following from the tallest rooftop: Embracing positivity toward self and challenges can make or break the ability to overcome obstacles. Understand that backslides happen. Working toward a goal will not always be a forward motion—sometimes it feels like two steps forward, one step back. Negativity and frustration toward self or circumstances can cause one to shut down and can be a deterrent to finding motivation to work through failure. If needed, go back to the basics until you start to feel your groove again.

As Wellness Warriors, it’s important to put more emphasis on the sense of accomplishment we have when achieving a goal and decrease the focus we may put on barriers. We can choose to interpret hardships as an opportunity to utilize healthy coping skills and celebrate our strength, resiliency, and power. 

Happy Tuesday, Wellness Warriors! Here’s to hoping that the schedule I have outlined for myself allows me the ability to port more consistently now that my car fiasco is resolved!

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Creating My Happy Place

This week, I had one goal: plan and create a mini oasis in my tiny, tiny backyard (or backcloset, as I say). This would be a place to read, meditate, drink wine, and relax. The ultimate self care corner!

This is what my little backyard space looked like before the project:

I started the week religiously geeking out over IKEA, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Walmart trying to map out the perfect outdoor space. Trying to find a way to utilize the small space was tough, but well worth the time spent brainstorming.

When the weekend rolled around, I started my Friday night with Goodwill in the suburbs. If I was going to take on designing a small, relaxing space, I was going to do so on a budget. If you’re near Philly, you know that the suburb thrift stores are where the goods are, and it truly did not let me down. I left feeling like I’d hit the jackpot, uplifted by that thrift store adrenaline rush. Here’s what I found (photobombed by a curious, handsome fluff):

Saturday morning, I got started bright and early at my happy place: IKEA. I spent two hours stuck in the euphoria that is Home Goods Heaven, and another two hours back and forth between Home Depot and Walmart.

I slowly hit a point where I was both satisfied with my purchases and anxious to get back home and out of the Saturday store scuffle that many people experience in the city (too many people for a considerable amount of time truly tests my patience!!).

When I got home I went to work building, organizing, making sure things were going perfect. That is, until a freak thunderstorm decided to rain all over my parade and all over my oasis.

When the rain cleared, I resumed my work. I set up my little hammock chair, placed my plants how I wanted them, and hung up lights. Here was the end result;

I am so happy with how it turned out! I got to sit outside last night and drink wine and relax. This is the PERFECT little self care space, where I can drink tea, meditate, listen to the birds. Although my mom thinks my back closet looks like a burial plot, and my brother-in-law joked about this being smaller than a prison cell, I am so happy with how it turned out! These are some snapshots from last night’s relaxation time during my first night of having my little oasis:

This post serves as my encouragement to design yourself a comfortable space where you can relax and recharge. And if you already have, please share! I’m always looking for interior and exterior design inspiration. Happy Sunday, y’all!!

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How Live Your True North Began

My History With Depression

In October 2018, my therapist diagnosed me with depression after spending months struggling with chronic unhappiness. Although I seemed content from the outside, I constantly struggled with irritability, sadness, and loneliness. I paid horrible attention to my daily needs, and I spent a great deal of time wrapping myself up like a blanket burrito to hide from the world. For me, depression felt like running underwater against the current. I forgot how to be myself and often ruminated on memories of laughing easily, completing tasks with ease, and surrounding myself with good people. 

I let depression hold me captive as I fantasized about my life instead of actually living it. When I did go out, I fought through intense anxiety and discomfort. Negative thoughts swirled in my brain and told me that I was not good enough. At work, I struggled with motivation to complete tasks, crying spells, and anxiety. To make matters worse, my unhelpful thoughts screamed, “You’re a mental health therapist! You’re not allowed to get depressed!” 

My Breaking Point 

I naively expected to pick myself up from my bootstraps and get better on my own. Realistically I knew that I could not help others if I did not help myself. I struggled to navigate the cognitive dissonance associated with being a therapist who needed therapy. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t manage my depression independently, and I felt like a fraud counseling others. Instead of acknowledging that I needed help, I pretended that I knew exactly what was wrong and exactly how to fix it.

On a Saturday in September, I finally reached my breaking point. That day at work, I ran late for a therapy session with a young client, which triggered the child’s parent to feel frustrated. Naturally, I expressed my apologies and explained the nature of the delay and resumed the therapy session. However, I could not stop ruminating on what happened. Her reaction caught me off guard and triggered intense anxiety about being bad at my job. I cried, trembled, and struggled with thoughts of not wanting to be here. After processing the event and my reaction with a friend, I finally accepted that I needed help.

Finding a Therapist

I first dabbled in therapy in college after experiencing difficulty transitioning to the new environment. My therapist at the time, a lovely woman with short, black hair and a soothing demeanor. However, I didn’t feel a close connection, and I struggled to fully engage with my therapist. I eventually worked through the transition on my own. Now, though, I felt emotions I didn’t understand and didn’t know how to overcome. 

Finding a therapist was relatively easy using both Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” tool and the phone number on the back of my insurance card. After finding a clinician who accepted my insurance, I sat with the phone number until I gained the courage to call schedule an appointment. My therapist, Ron, was a former baseball player who changed careers after suffering permanent spinal cord damage. He had a tall and lanky frame, and his wispy gray hair framed his strong facial features. His minimalistic office featured just a few artful pictures, a cluttered desk, and a long futon where I sat week after week.

Doing the Work

It took time, but Ron helped me understand that the only thing preventing me from overcoming depression was myself. Ron described a phenomenon called “Paralysis by Analysis,” where my negative overthinking prevented forward motion and decision making. We explored the onset of symptoms and events in my life that potentially contributed to unhelpful thinking styles. With Ron’s help I realized that simply attending therapy was not enough. If I wanted my life to change, I had to take what I learned in sessions and apply it outside of the office. 

First, I left a toxic roommate situation and moved into my own apartment. Then, I spent more time with family and friends, and I engaged in more overall self care. Even though the healthy habits I created helped, I still fought against the darkness. When I hung out with others, it told me I’d rather be home by myself, doing nothing, feeling hollow. I processed this feeling with Ron, who suggested following up with my primary care doctor.  “If depression is still keeping you from coping, then maybe you should explore medication,” he said.

Finding Relief

My heart initially sank at the thought of being prescribed medication. I worried about side effects, and I worried that medication with either not work or make things worse. I didn’t want to feel more emotionally stunted that I already felt. Nevertheless, I took Ron’s guidance and made an appointment with my doctor, who took the time and care to educate me and ease my concerns. In April 2019, I began taking Prozac once a day. 

After a few weeks, I noticed a lift in mood. The heavy water that I ran through began to evaporate. Prozac helped my brain maintain serotonin, which helped my mood, energy level, and quality of sleep. I actually trained my body to eat normal sized meals again, now that it felt hungry. Better yet, I happily found that my only side effect was mild dry mouth that disappeared after increasing my water intake.  

Maintaining the Progress

I needed to find a way to keep moving forward in my depression recovery. I started by noticing how I felt when I completed certain activities. If I did something that helped me feel better, I wrote it down in a list. By paying attention to the impact of my behaviors, I learned that eating healthy, being active, and engaging in artistic forms of self expression helped me to feel my best. These habits helped me become my happiest self. 

It takes anywhere from 18-240 days to form a habit and another 60 days for that habit to become an automatic behavior. I understood that I needed to focus on making these a bigger part of my lifestyle. I ate on a Paleo diet for several months in an attempt to reset my eating habits, I adhered to an exercise plan, and I made time for activities such as painting, drawing, and journaling. Furthermore, I frequently reminded myself that progress truly is an ongoing process that never ends, and positive self talk allowed me to more easily work through challenges. 

Sharing My Journey

When I created a blog, I intended it to serve as a space to document and record my personal growth. Sharing my story helped me to hold myself accountable and allowed me to change my lifestyle more consistently, and I quickly found that there is an entire community of wellness warriors out there trying to do the same thing. I hope to empower others to ask for help in finding balance and happiness. I recognize that I will never be done growing, and I want this space to grow with me. 

Above all, I learned that no one is immune to struggles with mental health, and we all get by with a little help from our friends. Live Your True North is a safe space for healing and self exploration.

I hope you choose to join me in living well, being myself, and living my True North.

Much Love, 

Kel

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Training for a Half Marathon: What NOT To Do

Completing the 2019 Philadelphia Half Marathon is one of my greatest accomplishments. The race took place on a chilly November morning, but the bike ride from my apartment to the event site filled my body with warmth. At the starting line, I observed the nervous, excited energy of myself and the other runners as we absorbed the crowd’s encouragements. When the horns went off and the movement began, I felt unstoppable.

I had spent two days perfecting a playlist full of songs that would help propel me to the finish line, but I soon found that I didn’t need music to keep me focused. The cheers from the crowd fueled me, and there was a motivating sense of community among the runners as we moved together toward the finish line. There were countless spectators lining the course with hilarious signs showcasing pun-filled motivational phrases like, “Run like Kanye is gonna give your medal to Beyonce,” and “Always give 100% …. Except when giving blood.”

The unstoppable feeling lasted until around mile 7. At that point, I had already ripped off several layers of warmer clothing and flung them into the sea of onlookers, never to be seen again (luckily large clothing donation boxes were scattered along the race route). The finish line grew closer, but my miles eventually grew slower. Each mile brought a new set of aches, and I’m sure my hips, knees, and feet were plotting ways to detach themselves from the rest of my body. As I struggled through next few miles, a harsh realization came over me: I had not adequately prepared for this.

Don’t get me wrong, I had been preparing to run the Philadelphia Half Marathon for about 8 months. I had researched methods of building endurance and how to avoid injury and created a weekly training schedule. As I progressed in training, I even posted weekly training updates to share how I trained for the race that you can read here. However, my adherence to my pre-determined schedule lasted about 4 weeks before I began to run off the tracks and train to the beat of my own drum.

In retrospect, sticking to my intended schedule would have been more of a priority. Training properly is necessary in allowing the body to adjust to performing at a greater intensity. A good training routine should include long rungs, rest days, cross training, and tapering miles. Although, I adhered to an appropriate regimen in the beginning, I royally failed at overall time management during my training. I made excuses and let things interfere of my training time. Instead of running several times per week, I performed just one long run once weekly. I didn’t adequately stretch, I failed to cross train effectively, and I didn’t pay attention to my diet. Needless to say, my training was lackluster.

Not properly training for my half marathon caused many challenges when it finally came to race day. During my long trek, the biggest problem was a pulled muscle in my groin area that had been taking a while to heal. It was the first thing that started to ache as I pounded the pavement. Eventually, my knees and my feet joined in the hurting. Although I gave my body a few brief rests at the hydration stations, eventually pausing to rest was no longer worth it to me. I couldn’t prolong finishing the race for longer than necessary. I forced myself to run, even at a snail’s pace. I no longer cared about my time or my form- I just knew that the sooner I crossed the finish line, the sooner I could sit down.

I was moving at a pace similar to a 104-year-old woman’s shuffle by the time the finish line entered my site. I bee-lined for the tiny woman dangling the slew of finisher medals from her arm. My gait resembling Frankenstein, I reached my claws forward to claim my shiny prize. I hobbled along and exited through a tent lined with mountains of snacks that I dove into gleefully. I ravenously gorged on bananas and granola bars as I basked in the glory of my achievement.

Despite the challenges I faced, I felt proud that I didn’t give up. I pushed myself, and it taught me that I am capable of so much more than I think I am. My adrenaline had me floating on Cloud Seventy while I navigated through the other exhausted runners. When I collected my bike from the lot, I realized that it was a miserable idea to use biking as my mode of transportation to a half marathon. After running over 13 miles, I now needed to ride another two miles back home. I gathered up the adrenaline I had left and pedaled like my life depended on it. That evening I celebrated my success with my family, but it didn’t take long for the physical and mental exertion to catch up with me.

My experience post-race can be likened to the “Lucky Penny” episode of How I met Your Mother. In the episode, Marshall is upset when a broken toe prevents him from running the New York Marathon, and his friend Barney mocks him by stating that running a marathon is easy even without training. When Marshall bets that Barney cannot finish the marathon, the gambling addict accepts. To everyone’s surprise, Barney finishes the race, adamant that it took little energy. Barney boasts confidently as he dons his medal, and then leaves after learning that marathon runners get to ride the subway for free that day. The scene flashes forward to Barney seemingly enjoying his free subway ride, but the audience quickly sees that Barney is unable to move his legs and, therefore, is stuck on the train.

Similarly, that evening my legs functioned so sorely that going down the stairs in my sister’s home was only bearable if I did it in slow motion, one step at a time. It seemed like each and every single muscle in my body ached, and the arches of my feet were so tight that it hurt to walk. I felt like I could have slept for a million years, which was an absolute outrage to my two-year-old nephew, who fully expected me to have enough energy to perform my auntly duties.

After putting my nephew to bed, I finally seized the opportunity to care for my body. My sister had given me epsom salt and bath bombs as a congratulatory gift, and her deep bath tub with high pressure jets was calling my name. As I prepared to sink in, I reflected on my journey.

There are many things I would have done differently. My body was counting on me to have its best interest, and in some ways I let it down. I had challenges focusing on my training, and I struggled to truly listen to my body. I think those held me back from performing to the fullest potential. Nevertheless, I learned so much about the sport of running and about myself. I learned that running is not easy, and it takes hard work and special care of the body to do it successfully. I also learned be confident and to trust that I can achieve my goals.

As the bathtub filled, my body vibrated with excitement like my muscles knew they were in for a treat. My body had worked hard, probably a little harder than it would have needed if I had trained properly. I made a promise to myself that if I wanted to continue running, I had to put honest work into training so I didn’t inadvertently kill myself in the process. I was already picturing google search phrases that might lead me to the rabbit holes of running how-to articles. I closed my eyes, stepped into the bath, and felt the heat of the water soothe my muscles. I sank down into the warm bath, and my body began to recover.

TLDR; train properly.