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When The Caged Bird Sings

** I started writing this post a few weeks ago yet am just now getting around to finishing & posting it. I took a break in the middle of writing it, and perusal got distracted and started something else. Typical me. Thus, the first part below was from a few weeks ago. Enjoy! **

My oh my, it's been a minute since i've posted hasn't it? How is it already November? How does time move so fast in times you want space, and so slow in times you want movement. What a wild ride. Anyways, i've been mulling over ideas of what to write about for this next entry for a few weeks now. Not only is this blog a project for a class, therefore I have to keep it updated, but I also genuinely want to keep it updated and maintained for my own self-care and inspiration. Writing and sharing my writing is something that warms me, yet also frightens me, in the most cosmic and complicated way. I take after my dad in the sense that I love to read, listen and explore information that inspires and moves me, and then turn around and share it all with anyone and everyone willing to listen. My mom is also a singer/songwriter who is constantly finding inspiration from the small moments in life and finding a way to turn it into a metaphor or story for a new song. I guess you could say the apple of abstract thought doesn't fall far from the tree. This is a space meant for my own reflections and thoughts to live while also being a space to share some of the magical experiences and information that I stumble upon with others. Also, the class that inspired this blog is "Body, Mind & Nature"- therefore a lot of the concepts on this blog tend to intertwine these three concepts while also exploring concepts from all aspects of Mental Health & Counseling. So, to preface and warn, this may be a long one. Partly because I haven't posted in a while and have a lot of catching up to do, but also because this entry will take some time to explain (and i've never been a woman of few words.) To start, these past couple weeks have felt uncomfortably heavy and overwhelming. Part of the reason is chemical- I am not ashamed to admit that I take a mild SSRI anti-anxiety medication. I started taking it about a year ago when I was having panic attacks and slowly falling through the cracks of academia (and life in general.) I unintentionally stopped taking my meds about a month ago merely because I couldn't find where I put them. At first I didn't think it was a big deal to go a few days without them and thought surely i'd find them eventually. Then another week or so went by and I just kind of forgot to even care about it- I had been feeling really good and doing really well in all aspects of my personal and professional life so I thought eh, whatever, I probably don't need them anymore anyways. Ha. That was wrong. As much as I want to sit here and say that i'm in total control of my anxiety, clearly i'm not. I noticed a major difference when I stopped taking them. Part of my anxiety stems from being a grad student (a grad student who strongly dislikes paperwork, deadlines, grades, assignments, lectures..actually pretty much everything that makes up school.) Thus, being a student is everything but relaxing. It was around the time of midterms in school when I first started seeing small signs of my anxiety coming back. Overly emotional, avoidant, apathetic, constantly over-thinking, numbing and distracting myself with things that don't normally serve me, low energy yet restless sleeps. All of it. But the red flag didn't wave until I had a panic attack while driving to Boone from Asheville one morning a few weeks ago. This was the first panic attack i've had in months, and if you've ever had them you know they are extremely unpleasant and terrifying (especially while operating a car.) I had a presentation I had to give and was already running late and still had a two hour drive ahead of me. When i'm feeling anxious, driving (especially on busy highways), and feeling like i'm about to get in trouble by authority figures, are two of my biggest triggers. Thus, I freaked. Thankfully I made it down the busy interstate part of my drive safely, but as soon as I got off the first small town exit I immediately pulled over and began having a full on panic attack. Heart racing, vision going in and out of blurry-blackness, sweating, feeling like I could pass out or throw up. It's a horrible feeling. Thankfully a dear friend of mine was awake and able to answer my call when I called her. She talked me through some breathing exercises and stayed on the phone with me until I felt calm enough to call my professor. At this point I knew I was going to miss our appointment to give my presentation and that I had to let her know what happened. I called her, and for the most part she was supportive and compassionate, but as to be expected she felt a sense of urgency to voice her concern about this happening and suggested that maybe I wasn't ready to continue with school at this point if the commute and expectations were effecting my health.

Absolutely terrified and still in a panic I blurted out that I hadn't been taking my anxiety meds and that maybe that could be a factor. She agreed, and went on to explain how dangerous it can be to go off any medication without a doctors approval because it can shock the system (which clearly I was experiencing first hand). Since this is the first time i've ever been on medication, and truly didn't even think the one I was on was anything that strong or serious, I genuinely had no idea the risk I was taking. Anxiety is a very new thing for me. Perhaps i've had some form of it my whole life, but it hasn't been until recently that i've actually been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and have also experienced terrifying experiences like panic attacks to the point where medication seemed necessary to keep me safe in instances like driving.

I've been so ashamed of this part of myself for a while because I feel like people shy away from discussing anxiety and it's almost looked down upon. I think some don't like discussing matters like anxiety because they see it as a weakness or an excuse. To some extent I can understand the excuse part, but for those of us who've experienced a panic attack you wouldn't wish that feeling on your worst enemy. I also think some people just genuinely don't understand anxiety. I mean, if someone has truly never experienced feelings of anxiousness then major kudos, you must be drinking that good water. However I have a hard time believing it. Even those individuals who live in harmony presently are probably in that state because they've known the feelings of disturbance to that desired harmony. Truthfully I don't think our Western society gives enough permission for individuals to feel "allowed" to feel (or talk openly) about emotions that even remotely resemble pain or struggle. We're supposed to be "strong, courageous, unbreakable" - but guess what, the real strength is in owning our truths and accepting those not so pleasant sides of ourselves. I'll simmer down and step off my soapbox now, but this is a matter I feel strongly passionate about and will probably come back to in a future blogpost. Moving on..

Whatever the matter, anxiety tends to start in the mind yet travel and control the body. It's terrifying and fascinating all in the same breath. Regardless, it's a part of me i've recently had to accept and nurture. Too many years of avoiding our shadow sides only leads to more disturbance and imbalance. Moral of my story: I learned that unless a trained medical professional tells me to ween off medication that helps control this darkness, I won't take that risk again. I share that backstory only as a preface to what i'm really getting at. Emotions and feelings are INTENSE. Some can control them better than others, but if you're a highly sensitive, empathetic, imaginative, over-thinking, prone to anxiety individual like me (with many other wonderful qualities but for the sake of this entry I share these less flattering ones intentionally) then our emotional reactivity and perspective of situations can be so different from those who operate on a totally different frequency. During those weeks where life was already weighing heavy from school, internship, social complications and work stresses, AND not being on the medication that helps calm that, I spiraled. The smallest thing made me feel like the world got a little bit darker. I physically felt sick, and wasn't taking the proper actions to make it any better. I was irritable and would either talk so fast to try to explain my thoughts that i'd literally exhaust myself and those listening, or i'd just lash out and become overly sensitive and emotionally reactive for no just reason. I finally got back on my meds, but even so they aren't the absolute end-all cure for all uncomfortable feelings. They stabilize and bring me some balance by helping to increase the levels of serotonin in my brain, yet if something occurs in my life that's genuinely shocking or upsetting i'm still going to feel it. So, even though things were starting to slowly come back together, I got some news that definitely shocked me concerning somebody who has become a significant part of my life. I thought I was finally on the other side of an emotional setback, then with new news stirring I began to hibernate and sulk all over again. Thankfully I have some really amazing friends. A very dear and loved friend of mine, who is equally as inspired by Glennon Doyle as I am, came over one night (when all I wanted to do was lay on my couch and watch Netflix) and shared with me an excerpt from Glennon's novel, "Love Warrior". She essentially shared this little tidbit:

This metaphor stuck with me. Not only do I admire and look up to Glennon Doyle in so many ways, but I just felt so validated by this. No, i'm not crazy. No, i'm not weak, overly emotional, dramatic, ridiculous, annoying, selfish, overly-exaggerative etc and many more that i've been called over the years. I'm just of a different breed, a different "species" almost. I'm a sensitive human, and while that gives me the ability to do the professional work I do in mental health counseling and in art, it also gave me a very fragile armor in this often intense, brutal world. And i'm not alone. There are SO MANY people like this, more than I think we even could calculate because so many are too shy and scared to share their truths and emotions. However, being sensitive, or even someone with anxiety, is not a "disease" or a reason to feel shame or that you are lesser than. It's a time to notice that maybe you are just picking up on the "toxins" of this society that others may not feel- and it's making you completely loose sight of yourself. And when you loose sight of yourself you tend to loose sight of those things and people who matter most to you.

This past Monday I was driving down to Boone for class, per usual, but was feeling extremely bummed for various reasons. The majority of that solo drive I was either crying or listening to uplifting podcasts and music to try to brighten my mood. I finally arrived to class and checked my email as I usually do when I first arrive. A little miracle showed up in my email that morning that completely shifted the negative energy I had been previously feeling. A few weeks prior I discovered Glennon Doyle was doing a talk in Charlotte this coming weekend. Not only was I eager to buy tickets and jump on this amazing opportunity to see one of my biggest inspirations live, especially since i've been so recently uplifted by her words, but the weekend she was speaking was also the weekend following my moms birthday. Thus I thought this would be the perfect thing for my mom and I to do together for her birthday. Unfortunately by the time we went to buy tickets it was already sold out. For some reason I decided to take a leap of faith and track down the contact information of Glennon's event manager to send her a personal email basically asking for a miracle. I explained in the email how much Glennon has inspired me and how I wanted nothing more than to share the experience of seeing her live with my mom for her birthday. I asked in the email if there was any way we could possibly secure two extra tickets to this sold out show, and I was even willing to buy them (regardless of the fact i'm a broke grad student who can barely afford gas.) I sent the email weeks ago, yet never heard back. Until that Monday morning. When I checked my email I had a reply from Glennon's manager. It simply stated, "Enjoy the show and tell your mom happy birthday" while including a link to two FREE tickets to the show. It was not even two days prior that my friend had shared the excerpt about the canary from Glennon's book with me, and so something about receiving this news literally lit up my whole being. As much as I wanted to keep it a surprise I immediately called my mom to tell her. She was elated, and I was elated that everything somehow came together to give my mom this gift for her birthday. It felt like something was happening to remind me "hey, life isn't always easy, but the things that are supposed to work out will do so. TRUST THE PROCESS." That night I felt inspired to send the above canary video to one of my professors who has also become somewhat of a mentor to me. As mentioned earlier I've always had anxiety and felt insecure around "authority figures"- especially when it comes to academia or professional endeavors. However this specific professor has always seemed to understand me in ways that many others have misunderstood. I'm honestly not the most ideal student when it comes to logistics. I'm terrible with keeping up with paperwork and assignments, tend to overlook details and important instructions, get easily distracted and am forgetful, and also tend to need things explained multiple times in order for me to truly grasp what's being asked of me. All of this plays a major role in why I don't tend to feel comfortable around academic authority. I've always felt a few steps behind and in need of more attention and explanation than majority of my peers. It still absolutely shocks me that I even made it into grad school honestly- I've felt like the black sheep since day one. However this specific professor has supported me since the beginning and has also helped me to see my strengths, like art, instead of focusing on where i'm "lacking." She sees the power in creativity, and reminds me constantly to turn to that source as a way to understand and navigate the bigger picture. When I shared this canary metaphor with her she instantly could connect, which came as no surprise. Not only did she relate, but she began to expand on this concept. She shared with me her connection with hummingbirds and how they've played a role in her personal life as symbolic creatures that have guided and comforted her. She and I have shared many conversations about the power of animal spirit symbolism and the power behind their teachings and metaphors, mostly derived from indigenous cultures, dream mythology, ancient folklore or simply genuine intuition. She shared with me a vision that was coming up for her of a hummingbird being protected, or perhaps nurtured, by a canary. I took this image and ran with it for the next couple days, creating these sketches:

In the following days I also noticed a blue jay that kept lingering around my porch. I had never seen it around before but was obviously heightened to pay attention since I had already been on this bird inspiration kick. I finally looked up the symbolism of birds and found this simple, yet profound, response: Bird spirit is the perfect symbol for freedom and perspective. Because they fly high into the sky, Lightworkers often tell us that they are messengers of the Gods who provide humans with a bridge between the mundane and spiritual life.

Here's a little sketch that was inspired by the blue jay visit:

The intention behind this post is to show a bit of my personal evolution of cultivating inspiration from external resources (like Glennon Doyle's metaphor), my own personal story of my journey with anxiety, nature (via the bird teachings) and art. Mind, body & nature. I've made it a goal throughout my graduate experience to continuously focus on natural and inspiring inspirations to help me better understand my own mental health identity as well as the bigger picture of mental health as it relates to the human psyche as a whole. I fully support that amidst the chaos of this ever evolving technological, information era we humans are constantly battling to connect with our innate humanness. To feel emotions is natural, yet so often suppressed by our mostly Western ideology that showing emotion equals showing weakness. This I DO NOT support. Owning, understanding and accepting our anxieties, sadness, pains, confusions and insecurities is a strength. The cycles found in nature is a beautiful model of how all living things must sometimes wither in order to later blossom. We're imperfectly perfect, and meant to sometimes wither in the "darkness" only to bloom and feel rejuvenated by the "light." Perhaps for you this "light" is creativity, relationship, love, or abundance. Or maybe something more literal like a warm, sunny day, a home-cooked meal, a hug from a loved one, or a hot bath. Whatever it may be for you personally, the mind-body connection to nature is SO strong and insightful. Perhaps take a moment to evaluate your own life and explore the symbols or omens that nature offers as guidance. Don't be afraid to explore those recurring dreams or the animals that keep showing up in your day-to-day living. Or perhaps a word, number, sound, feeling that keeps tapping your shoulder. When you begin to tap in and open up to the gifts provided by Mother Nature a whole lot of magic tends to happen. Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read my words. If it resonates, please feel free to reach out and share your story! And if it doesn't, that's absolutely okay. We're all navigating our own lives in our own ways and it isn't always supposed to look or feel the same. However, if you've made it this far in this post and don't quite follow what i've been sharing then I applaud you for staying open-minded and curious. That's all that matters. Lots of love and gratitude. Darcy

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