Love, friendships, jealousy and envy

Welcome to the final Free to Spiel guest feature scheduled for a little while, written by the lovely Saoirse (who also wrote a piece about intergenerational trauma last week – click here to read it!). This time, Saoirse has written all about her experiences of love, friendship, jealousy and envy.

No matter whether you’re in a relationship or not, or if you’re looking for love or embracing the single life, this guest feature is 100% one to read!

It was like my inner child had met hers

Back in 2015, I moved to London and started a graduate programme in audit.

It was during my first week there that I met one of my best friends, at one of the many after-work drinks events. We were both involved in separate conversations when she overheard me mention to someone that I had just come out of a long-term relationship. She promptly turned around and grabbed me, exclaiming that she had also just come out of a long-term relationship.

We quickly became best friends – similar to children at school: sitting beside one another in accounting class (the bane of life), stealing her stationery, and writing one another notes. It was like my inner child had met hers; we met, shook hands and decided we were going to be firm friends. There was no going back from there.

Our stories were quite similar. Both of us had just come out of the only relationships we had experienced in life, which had started back at school. We also wanted the same ultimate end goal and held the belief that if it all worked out with our respective childhood sweethearts, then it was meant to be.

We were soon inseparable, enjoying weekend activity days that involved running around London doing anything and everything. We were always laughing, and it soon became strange if we went a day without messaging or talking in some capacity.

We entered single life together, making the same mistakes – although at this time in life I definitely took this lifestyle to a more extreme level. I was not one to dabble with only a toe dipped in, but rather adopt a ‘go big or go home’ attitude and later regret it with subsequent mental torture; something I gladly own now for all it taught me.

Then it all changed.

I was both over the moon for her and grieving for myself

Aligned for our friendship to-date, our stories took two separate paths. She found her way back to her childhood sweetheart (and still today they are without a doubt my favourite couple), whilst I found myself to be lost. The more lost I felt, the more a conditioned wound of abandonment grew.

As it is with most new relationships, they spent more time together, and talking every day stopped being the norm for us. I was both over the moon for her and grieving for myself, which is where the envy began to fester.

Fester is a great word.

However, rather than becoming curious about this sense of envy, I bottled and shoved it down. As with everything that gets bottled down, it just continued festering (great word).

I did not focus on the wound that was there, and I did not focus on the fact that I was operating from a place of scarcity – in the sense that she had something, whilst I did not.

Richard Smith has published Envy Theory and Research, a comprehensive study of the theoretical and empirical work on Envy. He views envy as a disconnect from one’s own possessions, as well as a resentment of those who appear to have what we want. Essentially it builds a scarcity mindset. We start constantly looking at what others have and questioning why we can’t have it too. Without becoming curious about the emotion, it continued to show up, and I made my choices based on that mindset.

I chose to go back to my previous relationship time and time again, even though each time it sang louder that we were not meant to be together and how toxic it was becoming. Every time we did break up, I was heavy drinking and partying, attaching myself to any boy that showed an interest.

This was all without questioning what I actually wanted.

My friend was one of the few people who came forth to question my choices at the time. Our friendship frayed as a result. I wasn’t able to confront what I was doing, even though I knew in my body that the choices I was making were inflicting hurt.

We started to no longer be aligned, despite having the exact same story to begin with. What actually caused this misalignment was the two of us having two different mindsets: I lived in a lack mindset, and she lived in an abundant mindset (PS. don’t worry, it is a happy ending; she’s s never getting rid of me).

Whilst unaware of it, [women] are competing for limited resources

Jealousy and envy are similar emotions but vary slightly in psychology. Jealousy usually involves a third party as a rival, whilst envy views someone else as having what you want.

There has been a wider breadth of research that focuses on jealousy within relationships versus envy in the collective society, and it is in my opinion that the female collective is one area we need to look at most; there is an abundance of intergenerational trauma.

For years, females have been positioned to see acquiring a husband as a scarcity of competition. Then, when we eventually moved into the workforce the same thing occurred, with females poised against one another due to there being a limited number of high-powered roles. The beauty and fashion industry also uses this in their marketing campaigns: ‘Successful women choose X brand’.

With the categorisation of two types of women pitted against each other, how could jealousy not develop?

Evolutionary psychologists refer to this competition as the process of natural selection. Whilst unaware of it, we are competing for limited resources – with natural selection and our biological evolution focusing our genetics on reproduction and hierarchy status (S.E. Hill and D.M. Buss, 2008).

“…the more we deny the shadow, the more it grows”

Envy still shows up in my life, but from different angles now.

Such is the journey; we might heal one area, but it can then present itself somewhere else. Mine now shows up in other women who have chosen to move into the psychology realm. Daniella Moyles is someone who I admire and is a role model of mine, but at times I will openly admit that it can take the ego/shadow form of envy.

One such time was with her book ‘Jump’. In March, I had begun to collect and piece together ‘Wise Words and Bad Life Choices’ blog posts and chapter ideas…and then she released the book. My shadow saw this as ‘she’s so ahead of me’ and ‘she can achieve these things due to her established following’.

However, the difference now is that as well as questioning it, I shine a bright light on the feeling that arises and break it down. (Also, I really recommend Jump; it’s a truly fantastic book, particularly if you’re an Irish girl in your 20s/30s).

The women I admire, which my shadow might pop over and say hello to in terms of envy, have helped me re-frame my mindset to one of abundance. They are not people with something I haven’t got, but rather strengthen my subconscious belief that it is possible to receive what I want.

Society, the media and consumerism are all poised towards highlighting what you do not have, in the hopes that you will turn to buying and consuming to fill the void of validation. Instead, try focusing on finding your values. What actually matters to you? Question where the envy comes from. Is this something I want, or have I been conditioned to feel scarce if I don’t have it?

If it aligns, then change your mindset and allow those who have achieved what you want to be your impetus for improvement. We can simultaneously be happy for our best friends who enter new relationships whilst also grieving what once was, and that is okay. But make sure to let their relationships help us grow towards the love that we want. We can put out a similar offering to the world that others have – after all, we are all inherently different and so it is never going to be the exact same. There is a shadow with all light.

The sun rising causes shadows to fall across the land. The moon and the sea, both come hand in hand; however, the more we deny the shadow, the more it grows. Shine that light directly on the shame and it will reduce. Be vulnerable with yourself and others as to where it comes from, as it is there that the shame will not survive and instead, will become something beautiful.

Brené Brown is correct in Daring Greatly, in saying that in order to dare and achieve what you want, you have to be willing to look shame in the eyes and conquer it with vulnerability.

On a final happy note. In writing this, it has made me ponder that I met my friend when we were both thinking it is meant to be if it all works out in the end with the childhood loves. My initial focus did not work out. The thing I am most proud and happy about, however, is that we made it through to the other side, and I know that we are meant to be friends no matter how often we see/speak to each other.

In fact, in the last two years, we have only seen each other twice, and each time it is like no time has passed at all, which is one of the truest measures of friendship. This comes from knowing that I have love and abundance, no matter what others might have that I have not achieved as of yet.

Thank you Saoirse, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram.

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Fear and career: a little rhyme

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by Saoirse, creator of @science.and.magick on Instagram. In this feature, Saoirse opens up about how her initial career choices were founded upon fear – a feeling that has been passed on from family members and ancestors as a result of intergenerational trauma.

Whilst stressful at the time, Saoirse’s experience of unemployment at the start of COVID ended up being of significant benefit. It allowed her the time to re-evaluate and embark upon a career path she actually desires; she is now studying towards a masters degree in psychology!

“…around 85% of the global workforce dislike their job

Fear and career, I love a little rhyme.

My first career choice was fully guided by fear. Fear of security, fear of fitting in, fear of rejection and fear of expressing what I actually desired. According to a Gallup poll in 2017, it has been estimated that around 85% of the global workforce dislike their job. I was most definitely one of them.

When I was in my final year of school, I had no clue what I wanted to do. I knew I was lucky, in that certain subjects have always come easy to me. Our exams were also mostly based on a memory game rather than critical evaluation and individuality, and I was lucky enough to have a strong memory.

I was able to ‘work the system’, but I did not want to. I did not want to go straight to University, as I had zero clue as to what I wanted to do in life. Like many people at 18 years old, I questioned everything with very little actual life experience. How are we meant to put all our eggs in one basket at that key time, and confidently state that X is the career path we want?

As I received strong academic results, I was repeatedly told by my teachers, parents, extended family members and neighbours that I was throwing my life away if I didn’t use my brain. There was never any discussion around whether, say, taking a gap year might possibly be the right choice.

“I could change what ‘career’ meant to me and create a more fulfilling one”

My parents were heavily conditioned by societal pressures. They thought that if you did not attend University, then it meant you were ‘wasting’ yourself. So I put down options, lasting for 3 months at University before dropping out. What followed next was a year of shame.

My Mum would constantly bring it up. I felt shame when my friends would invite me out on their University nights out, as if they were moving on with their lives and I was being left behind.

This year was less a time of growth, and more a time of increased shame conditioning to just do what others expected of me. I returned to University the following year to complete a Business degree, choosing the subjects I knew I could do best in, versus what I actually wanted to study. This led me to choosing to study accounting in my final year of University, before going on to pursue it as a career.

At no point have I ever enjoyed accounting or audit, but I knew it was safe and I knew the fear of shame. However, at the start of COVID-19, I found myself unemployed. I went into fear mode and began helplessly looking for a new job that would fill and numb this scary emotion and experience.

Luckily, COVID-19 had other plans and the unemployment continued. It gave me time and space to separate what was mine and what was inherited. To think about how I could change what ‘career’ meant to me and create a more fulfilling one.

“I had to push through the fear of security and live in the growth potential of ‘what if it all works out’”

I’ve also recently learned that anxiety and shame that can be passed down through noncoding DNA, which alters your chemicals so that when placed in certain experiences, it enacts the same reaction that your parent and ancestors felt before you.

My Mum had always wanted to be an artist, and has recently begun to draw and paint again which makes me incredibly happy as she’s really talented. I used to keep her paintings that were hidden away, in my room when I was a child. It’s interesting to think why she kept them hidden away. I think what it was trying to teach me at the time has now come full circle.

When my Mum was 15 years old, she asked if she could do Art for the Leaving Certificate. The nuns told my Granny, and together they decided that science was much better placed and that it was safer to become a nurse. ‘Safer’ in terms of it being more likely to guarantee a steady income and the ability to have a family, which at the time in Ireland was the perception of ‘success’.

My Granny had been raised by nuns, after her parents tragically died. She chose her career not out of choice, but out of survival mode. I do not know the story of her own mother. But I know that going back two generations, career was built around fear and self-preservation rather than joy.

To add to this, my parents had had a difficult separation. Money was not something that was in abundance, and therefore this fear of security began to foster. My Mum pushed us all to get a career that was safe and had regular income potential. I know this came from a place of love, but I stopped thinking of pushing through fear and those growth opportunities, instead becoming conditioned to form an attachment to security.

All of these experiences are linked to epigenetics: how behaviours and the environment can affect the way your genes work. Fear and stressors can be part of that. I do not know if that is what happened here, or perhaps it was just environmental perceptions of shame. But the point comes to the fact that we have the power to change what occurs across generations.

Epigenetic changes are reversible; they never change the sequence but are just tags that may latch on. We can create new images and experiences and encode these to allow for more enriching experiences and help reverse stress patterns.

It also highlights the need to look at generational trauma. Is there a pattern as to how your parents/grandparents responded to stress and anxiety? When I told my Mum that I was going back to University to do a Psychology Masters and have a complete change in career path, her initial reaction came from fear.

Questions came in left, right and centre. Had I thought about the future, and what were the career prospects? She has always encouraged us to have the next five years planned out, but having worked five years in a career that I knew did not provide me with value or purpose, I knew it was time to set the boundary. I had to choose myself. I had to push through the fear of security and live in the growth potential of ‘what if it all works out’.

“Fear and career no longer go together

Glennon Doyle’s affirmation: “We can do hard things” is one that I often come back to. I try to do the hard things that generations before me were unable to do due to their own pressures and fears.

I try to always live in my own integrity. I still work in a job that I do not particularly like, but it is completely reframed in my mind. The job does not define me; instead, I use it to allow myself to move towards my goals and intentions. I study in the mornings and evenings for my masters. I visualise the career and life that I want, and I know it is achievable.

Fear and career no longer go together.

Thank you Saoirse, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@science.and.magick).

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Seeking positivity in every situation

Trigger warning: mention of anxiety.

This Free to Spiel has been written by Callum, founder of Handmade Minds (@handmademinds on Instagram). In the piece, Callum speaks about how his tendency to bring positivity to every situation has helped manage his grief following his Mum’s passing last summer. Losing a loved one is never easy, and so I can’t thank Callum enough for opening up and sharing his personal story on Free to Spiel today.

I have been able to drive myself forward and push myself out of my comfort zones

My name is Callum. I am a Devon born and London living professional. I currently work full time and am also the Founder of Handmade Minds: a brand dedicated to improving mindfulness, so that people can live more positive and happier lives through meditative practices and affirmations.

I have always been a positive person and have tried to bring positivity to every situation. However, things have often held me back.

I suffer from anxiety, like many of us in today’s chaotic world. I have recently come across the term high functioning anxiety, and I think that defines it quite well. Whether it was giving speeches through college and university, being in new situations, or now my high intensity sales role, anxiety has always been a big part in my life.

Despite all of this, I have been able to drive myself forward and push myself out of my comfort zones. This ultimately led me to have a keen interest in self-development, mindfulness and positivity.

However, last year I came across a big mountain that I found myself needing to climb over.

Losing my Mum last year provoked a turning point

In July 2020, my Mum sadly passed away after 4 years of strength fighting against heart problems. Like so many people in the last 18 months, I lost someone I loved.

Her death took a huge toll on me and is something that I continue to go through as I write this. One thing that it has taught me is that beauty and positivity can be found in the most surprising places.

It has changed my perspective on life in so many ways. But it also reminded me of the importance of looking after yourself and adopting habits that will bring positivity to your life, and those around you.

I now aim to dedicate a portion of my day, each day to doing something that will bring me presence, positivity and/or relaxation. This usually includes running, candle meditation, reading or yoga. All of these activities are great ways to clear my mind and bring positivity and presence to my daily life.

In both my family and friendship groups, we often share ideas and are constantly looking to support each other. I think most of us, if not all of us realise the importance of spreading positivity and looking after ourselves.

Losing my Mum last year provoked a turning point and has been the driving force behind everything I have done for Handmade Minds, in the hope of spreading positivity – like the amazing work that Free to Spiel does!

“…find something that aligns with your beliefs, resonates with you and you will ultimately enjoy

I believe people have seen a huge difference between last year and now. They’ve said considering everything that has happened, I am in a positive place. There is still a long way to go over that mountain though, but with the right attitude, support systems and strategies in place, it is more than achievable!

My biggest top tip is that whatever you decide to spend your time on, whatever your preferred strategy is, just be consistent and keep it simple. Consistent habits will grow overtime and have a compounding effect. You can try to do a million and one things, but this could actually end up causing you more stress than before, ultimately ending up leaving you deflated and less positive.

So my advice is, find something that aligns with your beliefs, resonates with you and you will ultimately enjoy. Then, be consistent. Whether that is two times a week or once a day, consistency is key. You will see the compounding effects over time and see a drastic positive change in yourself.

I think another thing that I would like to add is regarding help. It might not be completely on topic; however, I think it is important to mention. I believe that we should normalise asking for help and support. If you aren’t in a positive place right now, don’t be afraid to ask your friends, your family or your loved ones for help. They might have tips for you, or they might be able to give you that little push and little snippet of motivation to help you along your journey to wherever you see yourself going.

Thank you Callum, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@handmademinds).

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Building my own ship to emerge from the stormy sea

Trigger warning: discussion of depression.

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by Amy, founder of the My Honest Mentality blog and Instagram page. Amy bravely opens up about her year-long battle with depression back in 2019, and how a series of events in her personal life ended up being the turning point she needed. Over to you, Amy:

“I often speak about my younger self as if she is a separate person”

My name is Amy, I’m a 22-year-old from the UK who just so happens to be the face behind My Honest Mentality.

My Honest Mentality is not only a blog, but also an Insta blog where I share the nitty-gritty parts of mental health, with the hope that someone out there feels heard, seen and supported.

The journey to sharing my most vulnerable moments with the internet began properly in 2019; although I started my blog in 2016, I didn’t start oversharing with my readers for another 3 years.

I often speak about my younger self as if she is a separate person – and well, she is. Younger me was shy, anxious, insecure and struggling, but 22-year-old me is semi-confident, loves herself and focuses on all those small wins that used to go unnoticed. I went from being my biggest bully to my #1 fan, so let’s talk about how I got there. 

“I remember feeling that something had to change, but I didn’t have the energy to change it”

2019 is a year I don’t speak about without crying, but I also think it’s important to share both your wins and losses on the internet – not everyone posts about their losses, which creates this false idea that nobody is losing apart from you.

2019 was a year where I experienced the worst mental health yet.

I didn’t leave my bed, see my friends or even wash my hair. It was a year where I gained a lot of weight, learned to hate my body rather than love it, and discovered that sometimes people you think have good intentions for you actually have a hidden agenda.

I remember feeling that something had to change, but I didn’t have the energy to change it. I want to make it clear that I am not religious nor am I particularly spiritual, but I truly believe that the universe saw me going through something so difficult and dealt me something I thought was just another bad strike of luck…but which I would later find out was the change I needed.

I think sometimes you have to build your own ship to come out of the stormy sea

I moved back home for summer, was preparing to move into my final year where I had decided to live alone, and then went through a breakup.

This was all very daunting at the time, as whilst I had been physically present in 2019, I was mentally absent. I was going from relying on other people to prop me up to standing alone.

Guess what? It turned out to be the best thing I could have ever done; it was my turning point.

I moved out of a grotty student flat that had caused me a lot of anxiety, to a lovely studio. I broke away from people who drained me of energy, and I gave that energy to someone who deserved it more: me! I started to better myself by doing things FOR myself and BY myself. I started to see friends more, I went on dates by myself and I achieved for myself. 

It was so utterly terrifying to leave my comfort zone, but it showed me that comfort isn’t always good. In 2019, my comfort zone was confined to my room and Netflix as a form of escapism and once I left that comfort, my life changed.

A lot of people say that you just have to ride it out, but I think sometimes you have to build your own ship to come out of the stormy sea. In my year of self-development after a year of depression, I put my all into my degree and achieved a 1st class honours.

I began to celebrate all the small wins, and most importantly I started to cheer myself on. I decided that I would allow myself to have bad days, but I also decided that I would do everything in my power to never return to the me that luckily found a way out of 2019. 

“my light is not only back, but also burns brighter than before”

I often refer to 2019 as the worst year of my life – and many of my loved ones agree.

My mum always says that it was as though I had been drained of all energy that led to me becoming a shell of myself, almost like the spark that had always burned brightly inside of me had been stamped out.

We regularly talk about how far I’ve come, even with the added pressure of a pandemic. My mum believes that my light is not only back, but also burns brighter than before. Even my best friends say that it was like I had a cultural reset, almost as if I had to reach rock bottom in order to bloom – something I truly believe. 

I set up My Honest Mentality to create a safe space where people can come free from judgement to be heard, seen and supported. I want to make sure that people have something to relate to and a story where they could see that sometimes life can hand you a bad card, but there is always a way out.

Whenever anyone asks me if I have any tips on how to adopt a positive mindset, I always answer with the same 4 points:

  1. Talk to people
  2. Change the way you talk to yourself (after a while, you will begin to believe yourself) 
  3. Remember that every situation is temporary
  4. Allow yourself to feel and celebrate every small win. Celebrating small wins helps you take on those small tasks that can seem so grand when you are struggling mentally.

I am here to tell you that things always have the potential to get better, your feelings are valid, and you are allowed to be your own #1 fan. I encourage you to be your biggest supporter because when you are, things change, and change is the one thing you can always count on in a time of struggle.

So, be your biggest fan always!

Thank you Amy, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram and can visit her blog (

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Leaving the corporate life for meaningful connections

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by my pal, JP (you can find him on IG here). We met a few years ago at a work event, and I can’t even begin to tell you how infectious his positive energy is!

In the feature, JP opens up about how leading a life of luxury and indulgence whilst working in the corporate sector came to an end when he admitted the truth about his true purpose in life. Since then, he has had a huge career change moving into the charity sector (but not before travelling around the world for 2 years), building strong relationships and networks and developing communities across south London.

Thanks for sharing your Free to Spiel story, JP…over to you!

“…my purpose in life is to connect with people, build relationships and bring people together

From a very early age, I realised that my purpose in life is to connect with people, build relationships and bring people together. This has been reinforced by the diversity of my friendships, the depth of interactions with people and the quality of my relationships. It has been underpinned by an understanding and ethos of ‘same same, but different’ – essentially we are all the same when we strip away our possessions.

Furthermore, I’m driven by my inner magnetism for knowledge not in books but in people, by a natural joy and ability to connect with others from all over the world and have a laugh regardless of perceived barriers such as language, age and wealth. 

In terms of defining who I am when it comes to labels, segments and titles, then I am a south Londoner, marketer, community developer, traveller, songwriter, Liverpool supporter, sweetcorn lover, expert tea maker, son, husband and father.

The following is a video about my role helping communities during COVID-19:

my morals and true self were being compromised (to put it politely) and replaced by greed, envy and lust”

When I was in my mid-20s, I was referred to a counsellor as a result of leading an overindulgent lifestyle afforded by a well-paid job in marketing.

I had been enjoying all the trappings of fancy hotels, restaurants and living a life – all of which had a detrimental effect on how I treated my body, women to an extent and relationships with those who cared about me.

Over the course of six counselling sessions, I was able to admit the truth I had known deep down for some time, about how my morals and true self were being compromised (to put it politely) and replaced by greed, envy and lust – basically the seven deadly sins.

This started my journey out of the corporate world and into the charity sector, swapping the rat race for profit, for a career focused on developing and supporting people and communities. It still took me two years to finally leave that job (I worked with nice people and had bills) and when I did I packed my bags and went travelling around the world for nearly two years. Travelling was probably the best decision of my life, and it’s an experience I feel very privileged to have had.

It also made me realise that counselling is a valid option, and shouldn’t be something to be embarrassed about. I would also say that having a nice, down to earth and non-judgmental counsellor is key. There are some who haven’t got a clue how to talk or listen to people; swerve them quickly, you’ll know within 2 minutes of meeting them!

I’m well aware that it’s better to share, but you have to want to share in the first place

So there’s pre-travelling Jonathan, and post travelling Jonathan (aka JP). For some reason I thought it’d be cool to change my name a bit, plus JP (my initials) is so much easier to say than Jonathan by people whose first language isn’t English.

As a result of this, people fall into two groups: people who have known me most of my life call me Jonathan, and those who refer to me as JP have met me since 2014. I kind of let it run, even after getting back home. 

Asides from telling and recollecting endless travel stories and near death experiences, I don’t think there is too much difference in myself – other than getting older and becoming better at knowing when to have that last drink before it’s too late and you’re out out (NB: this is the British term for going out for a big night of drinking, such as to a club).

I think this is mainly down to the fact that I’ve always kept the down times in house, always overcome my own battles without needing anyone else. It’s something I’ve learnt to do from a very early age, and good or bad it has kept me in good stead and given me strength to overcome challenges. I have shared these times with certain people at times, like close friends, my mum, and even a random counsellor when it gets bad; I’m well aware that it’s better to share, but you have to want to share in the first place.

This means that the majority people only see my positive, caring, think-he-is-funny and adventurous side, which is cool for the most part – although it does mean that people always assume that I’ll be alright, will always land on my feet and that I live a life where everything is okay. However, truth be told, no-one is always fine, and there have been times when this positive perception has had a negative effect, such as when I was unemployed or going through self-inflicted relationship drama.

Now being older though, I have started to share my feelings more. I also channel how I feel into songwriting, which has been beneficial, but also at the same time makes me feel a little more vulnerable as I’m letting my guard down. I guess it’s one of those battles for balance and inner peace in life – but either way, I’m lucky to have people in my life who genuinely care for me. 

Genuine positivity is found in action and reactions […] not in the safety of a well-worn path or in the shadows of others’ words

There are endless positive quotes that people can reel off and post on social media, but until you actually practice what you preach, it’s just nice words with no real value – short term stimulation before you need another hit to cheer you up.

Genuine positivity is found in action and reactions, through experiencing the ups and downs in life and not in the safety of a well-worn path or in the shadows created by the words of others. To find your own positivity, you need to live life and trust your soul.

The key for me when it comes to being and staying positive is found through building resilience, practising gratitude, and always putting things into perspective. You have to focus on what you have and remember that one moment should not define your whole story – or even whole day for that matter. Being grateful for what you have is a proven way of being able to remain positive and find balance. The sooner you can align that with your life, the more fulfilled you will become.

Obviously this is all easier said than done, and we must acknowledge and allow space for all the hypocrisy, pressures, artificial intelligence and classical conditioning of modern society as well. Positivity is often defined by how people react to what you do have, the speed of your acquisitions, the ease and comfort in conformity and how we are influenced by intense, constant offline and online marketing techniques.

So basically, be grateful, manage expectations and don’t be too hard on yourself!

Thank you JP, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@jp_thesongwriter) or

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Saying goodbye to my fears, doubts and insecurities

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by the fantastic Janie, creator of @theselflovelist on Instagram. In her piece, Janie talks about certain life experiences, from bullying to breakups, and how they have played a huge role in her self-love journey.

My favourite bit is where Janie writes: “I tell myself that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes, as long as you go back and fix it” – I had never thought about it that way before!

“…my attitude towards myself and the world has changed drastically since I was a kid”

I grew up with no self-esteem.

My parents always told me that I was amazing and could do anything I set my mind to, but then I went to school.

A bigger girl, our school uniform was this hideous yellow shirt and brown trousers, and we weren’t allowed to have our hair down. I felt self-conscious the second I stepped through those doors.

I was bullied, which continued into secondary school; oddly, I was bullied for wearing makeup and for actually trying to look attractive. The bullying was so much so that I stopped wearing makeup. Even now, wearing makeup makes me feel awful – as if I’m not being myself or that people are going to look at me and laugh, so I don’t wear it. I paint my nails every now and then, but it’s only to stop me from biting them.

Whilst my attitude towards myself and the world has changed drastically since I was a kid, and I’ve grown up a lot since school, a lot more has happened that hasn’t exactly helped. This includes my confidence being affected by relationships, studying the wrong subjects, moving to different places across the country, and job roles that aren’t exactly designed for young girls who struggle with people being mad at them.

“…when pushed, I roll with it rather than getting buried by fears, doubts and insecurities.

I haven’t exactly had a ‘moment of change,’ a point in time where I’ve realised and permanently stuck to the idea that I’m actually worth something and can do anything right. However, what I have had is moments where I feel like I’ve broken through the wall and can see myself more clearly. These are the moments where I grow.

A lot of the time I feel like a tower that’s made up of stories. Not all of the stories are happy or pretty, but they pile up to something significant and keep going – even now, they continue to pile up.

The first of these stories was my first proper breakup, which happened about 2 weeks before prom, though I had been thinking about ending it for a while. My girlfriend and I had already co-ordinated outfits and I’d bought the tickets. However, during a sleepover with some of my friends, they started talking about how I wasn’t alone in wanting to end things. It was at this point that something clicked in my brain, and I broke up with her on the spot via email.

This breakup was the first courageous thing I had ever done. Doing it over email may sound mean, but it was mutual and we’re still friends to this day, so I guess you can say it worked out. That night also proved that I’m a strong, impulsive person, and that when pushed, I roll with it rather than getting buried by fears, doubts and insecurities.

Since then, I’ve experienced more and more moments of pushing myself to be brave and say how I feel, rather than worrying about disappointing that other person or that I’m going to regret whatever comes out of my mouth. I know that I’ll always regret not saying something, and that it’s always better to know that you tried rather than keeping your mouth closed and being left wondering ‘what if?’.

“I tell myself that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes, as long as you go back and fix it.”

I’ve never really decided once and for all that I want to change, as I actually love who I am. I choose to fight against my doubts and insecurities, instead focusing on the parts of myself that are truly great.

As for the parts that aren’t? I remind myself that nobody is perfect, and that I’m still growing and learning. I tell myself that it’s okay to make mistakes sometimes, as long as you go back and fix it. I still have days where I feel as if I’m drowning in negativity, but I actually come out of those days feeling more positive and motivated to keep going.

I’m still self-conscious, but I fight against it every day. I love my body, even if it’s not ‘perfect’: I have cellulite, a round stomach, jiggly thighs and stretch marks, and I get spots a lot. When I say makeup makes me feel awful, I mean it –  it makes me feel like I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. It makes me feel hidden, which I never want to feel like.

I’m still fighting to stay positive and keep on a good path, which is why I have created ‘the self-love list’ and write down everything I want to do to be fully confident in myself.

My tips are helping others as well, with my main piece of advice being for people to write their thoughts down. I find that having thoughts just floating around in my brain weighs me down ridiculously, to the point that I sometimes develop a headache. When you write your thoughts down on paper though, it feels achievable – as if one day you’ll be able to draw a line through them and know that you’ve succeeded.

My second tip is to always remind yourself that the bad things you hear about yourself in your head or out loud aren’t you. After all, you decide who you are; I recommend choosing the good bits, as there are way more of those than the bad bits!

Thank you Janie, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@theselflovelist).

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A journey of not fitting in

Trigger warning: mention of drugs and alcohol abuse, car accidents, depression, anxiety, panic attacks & suicidal ideation.

This guest feature has been written by Tori, creator of Tori Therapies on Instagram (you can also visit her website by clicking here). Tori’s incredibly raw story is one of change, disruption and toxic relationships as a youth, and how all of these elements continued to influence her into adulthood – that is, until she sought help from both traditional and non-traditional sources.

I don’t remember receiving much nurturing from anyone

My journey has been one of not fitting in.

So many things changed in my life: moving areas, schools and friends, and even different relationships in my mum’s life – none of which were ever discussed with me.

I wasn’t able to say goodbye to my friends when we moved, and my animals would be given away without a word.

I had a whole second family on my Dad’s side, and I don’t remember receiving much nurturing from anyone.

I always had to act a certain way to please everyone; otherwise I would get in trouble.

When I was 12 years old, I was sent to boarding school to be out of my mum’s way. There were countless arguments and bad words said to me about both my dad and I – so much so that I was often scared to see him because of what my mum had said.

“[I was] suffering from depression and unable to make sense of the world”

I built high walls around me as protection, and I stopped letting people in.

I started using drugs and alcohol to take me away from this world. I would even put myself in dangerous situations, all whilst the arguments between my mum and I got worse, and our relationship became increasingly toxic.

All of this carried on over the years. I would play out the same patterns in my life at home, in relationships, and at work. I managed to hold down jobs but would change them frequently. I was also involved in 5 car accidents between the ages of 13 and 28 years old, caused by both myself and others behind the wheel on the various occasions.

Suffering from depression and unable to make sense of the world, things took a turn when I was 28 years old. My mind was so lost – I was experiencing a breakdown with panic attacks, disabling depression and anxiety. I eventually went to the doctors, as I didn’t know what else to do.

I was put on medication and waited for CBT and physiotherapy, which took a few months. Whilst the medication helped with the dark thoughts I was having, it was numbing me out, and I would still have panic attack-inducing flashbacks.

I finally felt in control of my life and my emotions

One day, I realised that I needed to change my life if I wanted to start feeling better. So, I broke off the relationship I was in and moved back to my mum’s until I bought a house and found a less stressful job.

Around the same time, I picked up my old notes from my counselling and holistic therapy training, and I started meditating and doing yoga and breathwork, as well as walking in nature. I also underwent paid therapy for a while.

I started to build better relationships over time. I had a heart-to-heart with my dad about things, and we have been great ever since.

Life started to look up: I didn’t need my medication, I felt like I could breathe, and I was no longer having panic attacks.

After lots of journaling and deep self-reflection (as well as attending a 2-year shamanic practitioners course, which supported me to let go of more layers and study psychology), I was feeling the best I had ever felt. I finally felt in control of my life and my emotions, and I began to realise that I had a choice as to how I wanted to live my life.

I started dreaming about the life I wanted, which is the same life that I have now manifested. I live in a quiet place, surrounded by nature and the sea. I love myself, I am in a loving relationship, and we have a dog, all living off the land together. I support others who are struggling, and I’m so honoured to be a part of other peoples’ journeys towards recovery. Most of all, I receive life’s ups and downs with compassion and acceptance.

People are amazed by my transformation. I always hear them telling me that I look so good and happy, and that it’s so nice to see me enjoying life and being present with them. A few of my close friends who knew what was going on at the time are so proud that I didn’t give up, and I have even supported some of them since.

“Make sure to find a way to let go of your conditioning and live the life you want”

My top tip is to make sure you don’t give up.

If you aren’t happy with your life, or something in your life, then it can be changed. Yes it takes time and dedication, but there are many tools out there – it’s a matter of finding the ones that best work for you. 

Here are some of my quick happiness tools:

  1. Go outside in nature 
  2. Walk barefoot
  3. Dance and sing
  4. Go swimming outside, or take a cold shower
  5. Scream and shake out any strong emotions

Remember, life is a gift. Make sure to find a way to let go of your conditioning and live the life you want – after all, it’s what you are here for, so enjoy it!

Thank you Tori, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@toritherapies), or by visiting her website.

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From people pleaser to self-assured

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by the lovely Katie, creator of @present_in_the_present on Instagram. In the piece, Katie talks about how in the past, she would use conversation to prevent being seen as awkward or boring. However, since embarking upon a journey of personal growth, Katie has transformed into being confident, mindful and grateful!

“…confidence is knowing who you are, following what you believe in, and being able to be yourself

When I was young, I was incredibly shy – my parents used to have to bring me to parties early so that I wouldn’t have to walk into a room full of people.

As I grew older, I became the opposite, making conversation with everyone and anyone. A lot of my friends over the years have said, “You’re so good at making conversation with new people,” but for a long time this was actually just a way to hide my inner shyness. By making conversation, I was avoiding my fear of silence, which I thought would make me appear awkward and boring.

Since embarking on my self-growth journey over the past few years, I’ve realised that confidence is so much more than being able to hold a conversation. I have stopped trying to impress other people and started to be myself and embrace silence. 

I’ve also stopped moulding myself around the person that I’m speaking to, which I used to do a lot. I’ve learned that confidence is knowing who you are, following what you believe in, and being able to be yourself – regardless of who you’re speaking to or what situation you find yourself in.

This has also helped me overcome my people pleasing tendencies – I no longer remain mute or give someone a dishonest response for the sake of saying what I believe they want to hear.

I always remind myself that I want people to be transparent with me, and vice versa. I’m sure both my friends and family would agree that I now say things ‘as they are,’ and that I can be relied upon for honest advice (even if it is too honest sometimes…!).

“By practising gratitude, I have trained my mind to always look for the good in situations

When it comes to positivity, I’ve generally always been a positive person.

When I was younger, I wasn’t allowed to be moody or miserable regularly – something that I now really appreciate! As an adult, the biggest contributor to my positive mentality has been writing and thinking about what I’m grateful for in life, which I do on a daily basis.

By practising gratitude, I have trained my mind to always look for the good in situations. It has also stopped me from adopting a victim mentality and complaining about the things that I have the power to change.

This isn’t to say that I’ve always expressed myself as a positive person on the exterior. In the past, so many people have told me that I have a strong case of ‘resting b**tch face,’ so now I actively try to smile regularly and speak enthusiastically. Since becoming more mindful about how I present myself and communicate with other people, I’ve definitely seen a huge shift in my relationships.

I’ve also made sure to set boundaries with people and really evaluate who I spend a lot of time with, which has been life changing. If you spend a lot of time with people who are pessimistic or make you feel rubbish about yourself, then it’s time to say BYE BYE – as difficult as this can be. Put yourself first and only allow people who have good vibes and energy come near you!

Thank you Katie, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@present_in_the_present).

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The problem with glamorizing burnout

Trigger warning: mention of burnout

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by Jasmine Rowland: radio presenter, journalist, CEO…the list go on!! You only have to see a few photos on Jasmine’s IG page to realise how much of a busybody she is, which is why I’m super grateful that today’s piece is all about her experiences of burnout, the need to achieve balance, and some valuable top tips to help prevent burnout phases!

“In all honesty, I do have a problem with glamorizing burnout”

‘Burnout’ is a term used to describe a state of stress and exhaustion, which can often leave a person completely deprived of energy.

To say that I’m completely unfamiliar with the state of burnout would be a lie. I try to be as honest as possible in what I write and speak about, and so I want to reiterate that as much as speaking out about this may help others, it will equally benefit myself. 

There are a lot of myths surrounding productivity, a major one being that business equates to a productive lifestyle. However, it’s so important to have balance – when we deny ourselves of that, we become at-risk of experiencing burnout.

In all honesty, I do have a problem with glamorizing burnout; periods of time when I associate the idea that I’ve completed an acceptable amount of work and hence, have reached the state as a result of productivity.

These are thoughts I want to change though, as burnout periods are something that I know have been affecting my physical health just as much as my mental. These periods affect my day-to-day life, coming home completely drained only to pass out on the sofa, or not being able to sleep because of being bombarded with thoughts like “I could be doing this,” or “I should be doing that”

“…put your mental wellbeing first – even if it means saying ‘no’

Taking action against burnout is the most important thing we can do to be kind to ourselves.

Prevention of burnout starts with not just scheduling ‘me time,’ but acknowledging what ‘me time’ is. Essentially, it’s the notion of completely unplugging, taking a moment out of any work and placing yourself as top priority.

In one of my severe burnout periods last year, I took myself to the countryside for a day out; the outcomes of this spontaneous trip left me feeling refreshed and recharged.

Something I’ve also come to realise is that I’m not aware of my limits; I become so disillusioned by work that I don’t acknowledge the point where it would benefit me to switch off. Scheduling ‘x’ number of hours is something I have started doing to help me combat these periods – not switching off when the work is done, but when I have surpassed the number of hours I have set for my day.

Here are some other ideas to help avoid burnout periods:

  1. Exercise helps dedicate the ‘me time’ you need whilst energizing and stimulating the brain for the day.
  2. Drop the perfectionist attitude, and allow for mistakes and the days where you may not get as much work completed as others.
  3. Talk to those around you, whether it’s friends or family. In the hardest of my burnout experiences this year, I opened up to my housemates about the problem and this significantly helped me get back on track whilst knowing that I had support when I needed it.
  4. Give yourself a break – switch off your phone and stop checking those e-mails.

Ultimately, you need to take control by setting rules for yourself and put your mental wellbeing first – even if it means saying ‘no’. 

Thank you Jasmine, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@jasminerowland_).

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Are you ready to face yourself?

Trigger warning: mention of burnout & self-loathing.

This guest feature has been written by Kelly Stone Cramer, founder of Happiness Recharge (she’s also on Instagram and publishes self-care reminders and positive affirmations on the regular – make sure to check it out). Kelly has very kindly agreed to let me re-post one of the blog entries from her website about facing ourselves: something that many of us are reluctant to do, but which brings a whole load of benefits when we do!

“I was scared to death that what I’d find would change my life in a way I might not be able to handle”

Facing who you are is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself. When you do so, you know completely who you are, who you want to be, and how you want to improve, which is hopefully an even better version of who you are today. We are always evolving. Accepting this evolution is how we create an improved world filled with equality for all.

Maybe facing who you are sounds easy because you’ve done it already, perhaps even multiple times. If that’s the case, great job; keep it up. If you haven’t yet peered beneath your several layers, which can be endless, perhaps facing yourself sounds too scary or because you don’t know how to start.

This was true for me. I didn’t know how or where to start, nor did I know that on the other side of doing so, there was a greater life to be lived. And I was scared to death that what I’d find would change my life in a way I might not be able to handle.

“Those momentary glimpses […] gave me the fuel to keep going with my transformation toward who I wanted to be”

Nearly a decade ago now, I was living a life I loathed. I didn’t like who I was. I was a people pleaser, afraid to go after the life I wanted. I lived in fear of disappointing those around me. At the time, being uncomfortable in my own skin caused so much internal anxiety, that to be seen or heard made it painful to be in group settings. 

I remember hitting my breaking point; it was when I had momentary glimpses of who I truly was. The good things about me gave me strength and something to build upon, but my weak points made me realize there was work to be done if I truly wanted to become a better version of myself.

Those momentary glimpses of who I truly was gave me the fuel to keep going with my transformation toward who I wanted to be. Do you know who I found? I found someone who was finally ready to be strong, empowered, and independent. This process didn’t happen overnight, but I did experience a huge immediate shift as soon as I was willing to face and accept everything I was.

Now, I am grateful for all the hard work of facing my weaknesses which gave me the motivation to change. When I first began to walk with my strength, it was a little like how a baby deer finds its legs. Today my legs are as strong as they’ve ever been and it’s all thanks to facing my own truth of who I was and am.

Facing who you really are [isn’t]…leaving the familiar, it’s unveiling it and showing you the truth of what lies within” 

There are many layers that make up who you are, but today, I am going to reference just two. They are big ones; ones that helped lead me toward my own inner strength. I hope they help you find or amplify your inner strength.


The first layer of facing who you are is about acknowledging your physical form. You are a human in a body that is strong but not invincible. You need to prioritize, advocate, and protect yourself just as you would a child for whom you were the sole caregiver.

In my past people-pleasing ways, I remember putting everyone’s needs and wants before my own. Even when my energy was operating on fumes, I didn’t know how to say no because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. I didn’t know that prioritizing my need to rest would prevent me from becoming resentful and bitter at those around me. I didn’t know it was solely my responsibility to speak up for what I needed to maintain balance in my life. 

At my breaking point, I was also burnt out physically. Facing this layer was my physical wake-up call to take care of my body. My body’s burnout gave me an aha! moment. An obvious truth occurred to me that someday, my body would not exist, and it was up to me to do right by my body to feel my best while I was still alive. As humans, we are so good about being in denial about our own end. And with all our stimulating distractions in the world, it’s no wonder. But knowing and keeping this fact close to our awareness can help act as a reminder to prioritize self-care to live the best life possible. 

Once I began to put my self-care first, I learned that when fully recharged I was able to be at my best in all areas of my life. This new habit I was aiming to adopt was challenging at first. 

At the very same time I’d made up my mind to put self-care first, the flood gates of people asking me for things seemed to break fully open. Sometimes life can test you the most when you’re going through self-disciplinary change. But I held my ground and made self-care a priority for the sake of my body. And after a while, it became easier. Today, it is second nature. So much so, I didn’t want to keep this benefit to myself, hence why I’m sharing these words with you now.


The second layer of who you are is your collective life experiences with others. While we all have the ability to live in our own heads, we don’t reside on this earth alone. The truth is, our interactions with others heavily influence who we are.

As a collective, we have a tendency in our culture to value the quantity of what we can accomplish versus slowing down to have more quality in our lives. It takes a courageous person to make a change to go against the grain to prioritize self-care to live a slower and better-balanced life. 

Think for a moment about your past experiences with others. How many times, while rushing through life, have you stopped to slow down and reflect to better process what you’re going through? The mind needs time to transmute experiences to process and proceed to your best ability. It’s like cleaning a messy space and clearing a path so you can easily move forward. 

The most powerful tools that helped me face who I was were just two simple things: a pen and paper. Writing out my thoughts helped me process all of the different external experiences as well as my personal reflections (see my reflect-ception article for more on this topic). 

This practice of journaling is still a powerful tool I use today to keep my mind devoid of a messy chaotic world to move forward while also helping me to stay close to my truth of who I am and who I want to evolve into. It helped me conquer my original fear of losing who I was, and allowed me to realize that I could handle any personal evolutionary change that came my way. 

Change on any level can be hard. It’s leaving the familiar and walking toward the unknown. Facing who you really are is a lot like that, except it’s not leaving the familiar, it’s unveiling it and showing you the truth of what lies within.  

Ultimately, the real authentic-you doesn’t have to be separated from your awareness. When you look beneath these two layers of your life and face who you are, you will be able to build on a solid foundation of yourself. And on that foundation, you can repair and build yourself into the person you always wanted to be.

May you evolve to be a self-care champion, advocating for what you need to maintain balance and growth. 

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”  – Buddha

Thank you Kelly, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram, email or by visiting her website.

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‘Enmeshment’: a lesser-known type of trauma

Trigger warning: mention of trauma & mental health stigma.

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by the creator of @roses_bruises. Her wonderful page is dedicated to talking about everything mental health-related, from self-love and empathy to CBT and erasing the stigma – make sure to check it out after reading her story.

I’d also like to thank the author for this piece on a more personal note, as I found it to be extremely relatable in terms of my own family experiences growing up…you really do learn something new every day!

To those who haven’t experienced trauma, I hope you never do

I play a few roles in society: a mental health advocate, a daughter, a sister, a student, and a dedicated social service worker. These roles have shaped me into the resilient person I am today.

I am not perfect or all-knowing, and I will never pretend that I am.

I share a story dear to my heart in hopes of connecting with others who have experienced similar situations of ‘enmeshment’ that have influenced trauma – a type of trauma that does not receive enough attention, but should because it leads to intergenerational trauma. I am sure many will relate because of past and present trauma.

To those who haven’t experienced trauma, I hope you never do and hope that this article broadens your insight on enmeshment and its powerful impact on emotions.

[My dad]would tell my sisters and I to stop laughing and sometimes become mad because of our happiness

Enmeshment can occur in any relationship between two or more people whose personal boundaries are unclear or non-existent. The extent and type of enmeshment vary according to each individual’s situation.

In my case, my dad became embedded on such a psychological level that the feelings of my sisters and I were silenced, and privacy did not exist because of the way our dad invaded our emotions.

Now, you may be wondering, what’s so traumatic about that?

You see, enmeshment silences one’s emotions, and emotions are intimate to each of us. Emotions foster independence, resiliency, humility, courage, and self-reflection. Each of these characteristics influence our personality and relationship with others and the world.

Here are a few moments where my sisters and I remember facing enmeshment the most. We would be sitting at the dinner table laughing and enjoying each other’s company, but my dad didn’t like the laughter. I always figured he didn’t want the laughter because of his unhealed childhood trauma. He would tell my sisters and I to stop laughing and sometimes become mad because of our happiness.

Our laughter slowly became silent over time, and we gradually started staying in our rooms more and more. During all of this, my mother’s voice became silent because of having a controlling husband. Seeing the lack of love in their relationship, love was another emotion we were not allowed to feel.

Let me clarify, I don’t blame either of my parents because the stigma of mental health is real in our culture and seeking assistance for their trauma was never allowed. I don’t even believe there is a term equivalent for trauma in our culture – something that displays a major concern within itself.

Without emotions, we lose who we are at the core

As my sisters and I matured, we had to fight the layers of psychological warfare (and still are fighting on a daily basis) and remind ourselves and each other that we are worthy of love and happiness. We learned to validate and protect our emotions and our peace.

Emotions play an essential role in our everyday thinking process and behavior; they are an internal and external expressive component. I imagine emotions as human fuel that allow us to take action, survive, and make decisions.

Without our emotions, we become codependent on what others are feeling, and submerge in their emotion, and within their emotions lies their thinking pattern and behavior. Without emotions, we lose who we are at the core.

So, here are a few important tips to remember when it comes to your feeling:

  • Validate your emotions, both unhealthy and healthy. Learn how to manage the unhealthy ones and embrace the healthy ones. This doesn’t mean ignore anger or shame, it means to learn what makes you angry and learn what makes you ashamed so you can get a better insight to who you are as a person.
  • You decide who to share your emotions with because they are intimate to you as a human being. Your support system will understand your emotions and perhaps empathize with you, whereas the haters will feed off your emotions to persuade you to act in a certain manner.
  • You control your emotions. Do not let anyone tell you what to feel and when to feel it or tell you that your emotions or emotions are invalid. People like those are toxic and do not deserve your worth because they want to manipulate you and take control of you.
  • You can feel more than one emotion at a time. Humans do not have limitations, and neither do emotions. There is a spectrum of emotions, and you get to feel whatever emotion or emotions you want to feel when you want and need to feel them.

Healing takes time, so be patient and kind with yourself and feel any and all emotions you need to feel.

Thank you to the author, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with her via Instagram (@roses_bruises).

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Improving my life, one goal at a time

This guest feature has been written by Sharmayne, creator of @timeformetimetobefree. In it, she opens up about her internal battle caused by having a “perfect” life on the outside (partner, kids, house and friends), yet still feeling discontent on a deeper level – something that led her to start making goals and holding herself accountable. Sharmayne’s piece is really valuable, as it highlights the positive impact than even the “smallest” of goals can have!

“…if I wasn’t happy with my life in this wonderful environment, then the issue must be with me

I was unhappy, that’s how it all started. I was unhappy, unhealthy and disappointed in life. My anxieties had become a hidden burden on my shoulders. I was stressed, tired and unfulfilled. I was becoming envious and jaded about small things that others had. I was angry that other people were happy, and I wasn’t. I was bitter and resentful and all my relationships around me were becoming strained. 

I was fast becoming a person I didn’t want to be.

I was nearing my mid-30s with a loving family, fulfilling profession in healthcare and a home. Our family had enough money, friends and material items – yet I still wasn’t happy. I realised that if I wasn’t happy with my life in this wonderful environment, then the issue must be with me. It was a sobering realisation.

I had done everything I was supposed to do. I had completed a university degree and went straight into my first job. I met a handsome and caring partner, had two delightful children, bought a house and got married. 

I continued to push prioritising myself and my health further down the to-do list. My own happiness was sacrificed for school runs, hosting barbecues and laundry. 

I wanted to do something for myself

I had aspirations and resolutions every year, but they never eventuated. I would make excuses to feel better about failing, but they just made me feel guilty that another year had passed with no self-improvement.

I wasn’t being the best Mum, partner or person I could be. I was silently struggling with myself.

Some people have a “lightning strike” moment – some profound event that shocks them into re-evaluating their lives, their surroundings and themselves. I didn’t have that, but rather I had just got to the point where I made an active decision to be a happier, mentally healthier and more involved person. 

I wanted to do something for myself.

“I am more patient, kind and starting to value the life I lead”

So, I started a simple Instagram page to document my goals, triumphs and trials – something tangible that could hold me accountable in 2021.   

I also decided to start writing goals. I started with small manageable ones, like drinking more water, meditating and reading books – behaviours and habits I wanted to form as part of my life. Seemingly insignificant, but what would have a wider impact on my life.

I also made long-term goals that would facilitate my own growth and prosperity towards becoming a more positive person. 

Communicating my goals and sharing with others has helped me be more mindful of what I am trying to achieve and why. I am slowly becoming a more thoughtful and sincere person – I feel better within myself and the choices I am making. 

I have also noticed a change in how I treat both myself and others – I am more patient, kind and starting to value the life I lead.

Hopefully I will continue on this track and continue making more mindful choices for myself and my family.

Thank you Sharmayne, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@timeformetimetobefree)

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Instagram: the freedom to express myself and heal

Trigger warning: mention of anxiety, body image issues & mental exhaustion

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by Simran. In the feature, Simran talks about her struggles with body image and anxiety over the years, and how Instagram has been used as a tool for good during the pandemic. I hope you enjoy reading Simran’s feature as much as I did!

“…life continued, my mental health worsened and I eventually reached to the point of exhaustion”

For most of my life I’ve struggled with body image issues and anxiety. However, when looking back I realise that I wasn’t always the uncomfortable-in-my-own-skin type of person; I may have always been an introvert, but I used to be the confident-and-comfortable-with-myself type. 

It was at school that I became very, VERY conscious of my body and developed anxiety. Over the next few years, life continued, my mental health worsened and I eventually reached to the point of exhaustion.

At my lowest point, I decided that I would not let this continue – I decided to bring about change. 

I had developed a coping mechanism that worked best for me

I started concentrating on things that empowered me, only associating with people who were good for my mental health and focusing on all things positive.

Slowly, I observed changes in myself – changes that were very small, but there nonetheless. They were all I needed to continue with my journey. Of course, there were some bad days, but I knew how to manage them as I had developed a coping mechanism that worked best for me.

By the time I graduated high school, I was already in a better place. After much stress and sleepless nights, I was accepted into a nursing school. The experience was hectic, but I was satisfied that I was going in the right direction. Nursing school also made me face my fears – ones that had been holding me back previously – and helped me become more fearless and capable.

I may be starting from zero again, but I’ve done it before and I can do it again

2020 was a very hard year for me, as it brought a lot of negativity back in my life.

My college closed and the whole of India went into lockdown. Things that once seemed interesting suddenly became less-so. My mental health gradually deteriorated and in December I crossed my limit of exhaustion.

I was in a grey area where I wanted to reach the bright side, but the dark side was engulfing me.

Frustrated, I decided to document my journey on Instagram. I chose it as a safe place where I can post my thoughts anonymously (because I don’t have enough courage to reveal my identity), and it has proven to be a great mental exercise for me. Writing has helped me in more ways than I can imagine, and I can finally say that I’m doing well. I may be starting from zero again, but I’ve done it before, and I can do it again.

I once used to be a girl who would overthink everything, scared of judgement and always trying to please everyone. I am no longer that girl. One thing that I have learned from my journey is that people come and go – only you stay with yourself till the end. Never be scared of anyone else’s judgement, just be you and love yourself unapologetically.

Take things easy – one day at a time”

For anyone going through a similar experience are looking to adopt a more positive mindset, I humbly ask you to be consistent on your journey.

Here are my top tips:

  • Don’t lose hope on your bad days and embrace your authenticity on your good days. 
  • When life seems to shatter, pick yourself up and start again. 
  • When things seem to spiral out of control, be kind and give yourself time. 
  • Take things easy – one day at a time. 
  • Cut off people who bring bad and negative energy to the table. 
  • Do things that make you happy and live life your way.
  • There will be good and bad days; what matters is that your spirit does not give up.
  • Always believe in yourself – you CAN and WILL do it. Never let anyone, not even yourself, tell you otherwise.

Thank you Simran, for sharing your story!

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Lowest points in life = greatest learning opportunities

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by Renee, one of the founders of The Mindful Hour (@mindfulhourtherapy). In it, Renee opens up about how her undergraduate degree experiences (both personal and academic) led to a greater understanding of human suffering, and how we can start perceiving it in a different light.

Once you finish reading Renee’s story, make sure to check out Emily’s (fellow co-founder of The Mindful Hour) story here

A big part of my enjoyment […] was hearing patients’ stories and being in absolute awe of their resilience

I’m currently finishing my last term in my Counselling Psychology Masters program at the University of Toronto. 

My journey of pursuing a career in psychotherapy began when I was enrolled in a Bachelor of Science program majoring in kinesiology (the study of human movement) at the University of Waterloo. In the program, one of my prerequisite classes was ‘Introduction to Psychology’, which sparked my initial interest in the field.

As I progressed and learned more psychological theories in that class, I quickly decided to pursue a minor in psychology. I credit much of this change to having an incredibly passionate professor, who helped me discover my own passion in psychology. 

Throughout my second to fourth year, my job as a kinesiologist student at a physical therapy clinic greatly contributed to my switch to majoring in psychology and committing to a career as a psychotherapist. A big part of my enjoyment in this position during these two years was hearing patients’ stories and being in absolute awe of their resilience – despite the mental and physical suffering they endured.

Midway through these two years – and after many “Therapist Renee” jokes being exchanged between my patients, supervisors and friends – I started to truly consider embarking on a career as a therapist.

The people around me supported this pursuit; however, what really pushed me was my patients’ full, authentic encouragement. This ultimately led me to where I am today, at the final steps of completing my masters and getting ready to open a psychotherapy clinic with one of my dear friends.

Naturally, as I progressed through my studies I reflected upon the theories I had been learning. This process helped me understand my behaviours and perception of the world, as well as of those around me.

I realized that the lowest points in my life had also been my greatest learning opportunities

I faced tremendous difficulties during the first three years of my undergraduate degree.

I found that the toll of living on my own, being ostracized by friends and roommates, and managing a long distance relationship had become overwhelming. With these many different emotions, I found myself feeling what I imagine many others around me felt: unbearable loneliness.

This was not to mention the fact that pursuing a major in kinesiology and a minor in psychology really forced me to revisit painful memories from my younger brother’s illness and death, which occurred in my early adolescent years.

During many of these difficult moments, I found myself constantly asking: “I want to understand why he/she/I am acting like this, or thinking like this, or just generally, what was the greater reasoning behind all of this?”.

At the same time, I was becoming more curious and interested in learning more about the driving forces behind the behaviors of myself and those around me. I also found myself in awe of how resilient we as human beings are in the face of suffering.

When looking back on my past experiences, I realized that the lowest points in my life had also been my greatest learning opportunities; they pushed me to reflect on my own life, re-evaluate what my needs were, and learn to live a more gratifying life. 

Negative emotions […] tell us important information about ourselves, the things we need and the actions we must take”

I want it to be known that throughout our lifetimes, there will inevitably be moments of difficulty and suffering. It’s important to keep in mind that it’s okay: these are all natural human experiences.

Negative emotions like sadness, anger, guilt and even shame are natural – they tell us important information about ourselves, the things we need and the actions we must take in order to create positive changes in our lives.

While the rational side of our brain is important, the emotional part is just as important; emotions help create meaning and better understand ourselves. We can lead richer and fuller lives that are filled with contentment, with gratifying experiences that promote positivity, resilience and acceptance of difficult experiences.

It is as Aristotle once said: the whole is greater than the sum of its partsIf we are able to understand that suffering is natural in human experience and see the greater meaning behind it, then we can build a more meaningful and gratifying life. In turn, the suffering we encounter may begin to stay for a shorter period of time, with faster goodbyes. We may even learn to build a friendship with it, be less afraid of it, and greet it as an old friend when it stops by next time.

Thank you Renee, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@mindfulhourtherapy).

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Self-sabotage aka hell on Earth

Trigger warning: mention of depression, self-sabotage & disordered eating.

This guest feature has been written by Mandy Waryasz, founder of Inherent Worth and someone on a mission to help others live their best lives: “Here to create and share better media that empowers people to live their life in shameless authenticity”. In this feature, Mandy opens up about her self-sabotaging past and how a healing programme was what she needed to overcome her self-doubt and be able to create, connect, express and love with ease.

“…why do I keep f*cking it up?”

Back to the drawing board again. Why the hell can’t I just get it together and stick to my plan for change? I know what I want: I want to be committed. I want to focus on my art. I want to lose 10 pounds. I want to eat healthier. I want to be committed to caring about myself! 

…If this is all good for me then why do I keep f*cking it up? 

Depression from not being enough, distracting myself from my reality, and confusion on what the hell to do about it seemed to plague my every attempt to change.

No matter how committed I was at the start, in my head I’d be thinking, “Maybe I’m not good enough for a better life.”  What sucked the most was that when going through my history, there was strong evidence to support this thought.

*Shakes etcher-sketch, sits on bed, cries, rinse, repeat.*

I knew I wasn’t living, but I wasn’t exactly dying either

I was in my early 20’s and feeling like I wasn’t headed in the direction that I wanted. Externally, life looked great, but on the inside I couldn’t have been farther from the person I wanted to be. People saw me as the one who got things done, the one who didn’t make mistakes, the one who was naturally good at things, the one who was so goddamn chill all the time (LO-f*cking-L).

If I had known that at the time, then I would have died from hysteria on the spot. In my reality and in my head, I was timid, terrified of really being seen, afraid of trying, afraid of failure, afraid of being found out for who I truly was or for even trying to be that person. 

On the outside it was all good, but on the inside I was a girl in a deep-rooted identity crisis with no end in sight. 

My exhaustion from trying was hitting its max and honestly I felt out of options.  This cyclical nature of sabotage continued to happen because that’s all I knew.  It went something like this: try, find some success, act as if I was undeserving of said success, talk sh*t to myself, live in fear of failure, fail, try, fail, cry, overwhelming sadness, desperation, cry, try again….wash, rinse, and REPEAT.  

Giving up felt like a great solution. Why try to fully be myself when it was easier to just exist and not try at all? I had no idea what to do. I knew I wasn’t living, but I wasn’t exactly dying either. This seemingly endless purgatory felt like living hell. 

I was shattered when I learned that I was the one holding myself back from my own happiness

Depressed, exhausted, and out of ideas, I reached out for help. I was 23 when I joined a personal healing program; a gamble, but I felt I had nowhere else to turn. 

On my first call, a fire lit inside me and I joined on the spot. I was scared and unsure what lay ahead, why I felt called to it, and honestly how the f*ck I’d be able to pay for it. That being said, I felt a wave of calm come over me like I never had before. There might finally be a solution to my suffering, a light at the end of a long dark sad-ass tunnel. Is this what living felt like? 

The course was messy, confusing, and vulnerable. I was shattered when I learned that I was the one holding myself back from my own happiness and keeping myself small (I will need a whole other blog post to even begin to dive into this…).

I learned how to be with myself. How to care for myself.  How to show up.  How to navigate through past negative experiences that were keeping me from feeling satisfied in my present.   

I had a taste of this new reality and there was no way in hell I was going back. From then on, I was committed. To learning. To loving. To living. 

“I was allowing myself to exist to live in a state of love and presence”

Although healing from my past was heavy, I felt a relief in my life that I never had before. I was finally here, existing, from a place of wholeness; not desperation or lack. Not trying, not progressing from a place of fear and not needing anything.  I was allowing myself to exist to live in a state of love and presence. It was once I began to be present, get curious and start navigating my reality from a place of love and fullness that everything around me began to shift (it felt just as magical and unbelievable as it sounds…I know). 

It wasn’t until I began looking within myself through the guided perspective of others that answers started to click for me. A healthy and fulfilling way of life that seemed so intangible for me at the start, began to slowly seep its way into my focus. Creating, connecting, expressing and loving all became natural to me in due time and all contributed to the thriving reality I feel today. This is my greatest achievement. 

It is my hope that from this feature you take the initiative to get intimate with your deeper self. There is no way to thrive externally if you aren’t at peace internally. You might ‘get the things’, but you’ll never feel truly satisfied. 

Lean into your fear. Lean into your expansion.

Lean into your discomfort and your joy. Get crystal clear on what is actually going on under the surface. 

Ask why and get curious. Allow yourself to speak. 

Wishing you the best in your journey. Stay tuned and stay curious. 

Thank you Mandy, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@inherent_worth). Also, make sure to sign up for Inherent Worth updates on the site Lots of cool stuff coming up!

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Grateful to have a life, grateful to be alive

Trigger warning: mention of anxiety, depression & attempted suicide

This guest feature has been written by Cheska, creator of @delicatepickleworld on Instagram (make sure to check out her page for some adorable quotes & affirmations!). In the feature, Cheska talks about her empathic tendency to absorb other people’s energy, and how with the help of her counsellor she’s started paving the way towards leading a more positive life!

“I was in the bath about to end my life when something clicked

Growing up, I always felt different.

I always reacted differently to other people in average daily situations. I was always so aware of everything going on around me, and I have always felt so connected to people and what they’re thinking or feeling – so much so that I tended to take their feelings (good and bad) and make them my own, so that they didn’t feel alone.

I have always been very sensitive and extremely anxious, and it took me until the age of 23 to finally seek professional help for past traumas and everyday anxiety and depression.  I have had so many ups and downs in life, with the past year and a half being my lowest point.

However, without a doubt there was definitely a turning point.

It’s very hard to define or explain, with the only way I can think of is that I was in the bath about to end my life when something clicked. I don’t know what it was, but something inside and around me happened – it was almost like the world had shifted and I knew what to do now.

Whilst I still have a long way to go and lots of work to do, that moment certainly changed my life, as traumatic and upsetting as it was. That moment showed me so much, and now my approach to life is changing for the better. 

“I am grateful to have a life, I am grateful to be alive”

I am still on my journey and trying to figure things out for myself, but the few things I have learnt have impacted me in ways I never imagined.

The past few months I have found myself in situations I did not like, but that I had absolutely no control over. With hard work with my counsellor and self-reflection, I have found that if I can train my mind to focus on what I can control in that situation, then the outcome of my day changes.

For example, I don’t like where I am, but I am not able to go where I want; so instead, I focus on cleaning, listening to my favourite songs and having a self-care day. These activities instantly put me in a more positive mindset and make me feel like I can accomplish more.

I also believe that the key to a more positive mindset is knowing it’s normal and okay to be negative sometimes – not every thought has to be positive, but it’s all about finding the balance between knowing it’s okay to be negative and trying to be more positive when you feel yourself going into a spiral.

I had isolated myself when I was in a more negative headspace and wanted to be invisible, so the people close to me didn’t know about it at all. But I guess if anything, people now say that I am more open and vulnerable (in a good way), and that I allow my experiences to help me in my journey and share them to help other people in their journeys. Some people have noticed that I am okay now – even when I am not okay, I am okay.

I am grateful to have a life, I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful that each day I am able to wake up and have a choice and opportunities to improve my life and trust the universe to take me where I need to be.

A big thank you to Cheska, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with her via Instagram (@delicatepickleworld) and by visiting her YouTube channel.

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The final end to my narcissistic abusive relationship

Trigger warning: in-depth detail about physical, emotional & mental abuse, childhood trauma and recovery

This Free to Spiel guest feature by Trauma Abuse Coach & NLP Practitioner Kellie Ann Terrones (@silentscarshealing) is definitely one to read. In the feature, Kellie Ann sheds light on the truth about physical, emotional and mental abuse, sharing her story in order to help others. A bit she wrote that really struck a chord with me is: “It’s not love, please see the difference and make a plan, be smart and be safe.” – it’s truly heartbreaking how so many people experience abuse in their lifetime, and so I’d like to give my thanks to Kellie Ann for sharing her story on Free to Spiel today:

He would say that I needed him, which I believed

Growing up, I was always told that I did not have an opinion. This turned me into a very shy girl, letting people walk all over me and just going with whatever anyone else wanted to do, afraid to speak my mind.

Despite this, I thought I was strong for the most part. When I saw other women in abusive relationships, I didn’t understand what was so hard – why didn’t they just leave?

That is, until I was the one in an abusive relationship.

During our marriage, I didn’t speak up, I did what I was asked and told to do, and I became complacent. It was all about him. Daily instances of gas-lighting always left me questioning my own sanity instead of his honesty. He would create scenarios where I was spinning out of control with the details and then swoop in to save the day. He would say that I needed him, which I believed. Not only that, but he went in and out of jail multiple times throughout our marriage.

One time he convinced me to pay for a vacation, saying that he would get a job and that it would be so nice to get away together.  We went on this vacation after I paid, and then he left me by myself for 3 days – the reason he gave was that he went to visit his son, who he hadn’t seen in years.

I was willing to give up on myself and my family in order to save him

Why did I stay? I honestly can’t say, I just knew that all of the manipulation, lies and love bombs meant that I had nothing. I was reduced to nothing with nowhere to go. I felt ashamed and fearful for my both kids and I. In abusive relationships, you make excuses and prepare yourself to let everything else go.  I was willing to give up on myself and my family in order to save him.

Things went from bad to worse and the days became terrifying. I remember asking myself what I had done to deserve it. Being thrown around like a rag doll just sort of became my normal. I’d hide bruises from my co-workers and kids. I would smile even though I was so lost. No-one ever knew by looking at me that I was being violated and abused behind closed doors.

One day I told him to leave and go live with his parents, which he agreed to. I changed all the locks on the little studio I managed to get, with his help again. A restraining order was issued, but that was all the police could do. I stayed in a scared state for years because he continued to stalk me. He knew I wouldn’t leave him, as I was not strong enough at that time – even though I always thought I was.

There was one night that changed it all, when it was finally more frightening to stay than to leave.

“I begged for my life that night. I wondered if I were to die and who would take care of my children if I did”

I drove home to my studio one evening, to find that my door was open. As I went in, I found everything in a mess, with little pieces of duct tape on the walls and furniture. I saw that under my bed were two feet sticking out – Lord, I was so scared. I looked under the bed and there he was! 

I screamed and ran down the stairs with him on my heels. He screamed at me to get off the phone as he only wanted to talk. My first instinct was to call my friend and let him believe I was calling the police, which is what I did. After calling her, I tried to walk away but he grabbed me by my waist and threw me to the ground. It all happened so fast, he was on top of me and just hitting me in the face, stomach and chest so hard with his closed fists.

I remember looking at the house to the left of me and seeing that the neighbors were watching, but they never came out to help me. I don’t know how long this went on for, but I begged for my life that night. I wondered if I were to die and who would take care of my children if I did.

My friend then showed up and yelled at him to get off me. All of a sudden he stopped hitting me and walked away calmly as if he hadn’t done anything wrong.

I ended up in ER – my head was bloody, and my face was bruised and twice the size because of swelling. The police took pictures of the cuts and bruises on my head, face, chest and down my body, asking a lot of questions and telling me that they couldn’t find him anywhere. They did, however, find a small alleyway at the side of my place where he had been sleeping and stalking my every move.

I thank God that my kids were not there that night.

“…my own inner strength came through – a strength I didn’t know I had

I had learned to disassociate from a lot of trauma during this relationship, but that night was the turning point…I was DONE! I couldn’t take this anymore: losing friends and jobs, not seeing my kids, being beaten up. His mother said I deserved it because I didn’t obey him and do what he asked, which made me laugh and more determined to get away.

I look back on that night and think that if I had not run out of the house into the night for potential witnesses or not called my friend, then he would have killed me. 

As bad as it sounds, that night saved my kids and me.

The events of that night traumatized my son so much that he is still in therapy; he thought it was his job to help me but he couldn’t. All this time I had been blind to what my kids were witnessing, but my eyes finally opened, and I realized that I NEEDED to be strong for them.

So, I got out and decided to be that strong person, showing my boys that you can overcome anything. That is not the end of the story, but it is the end of he and I for the most part. He did stalk the kids and I for a few months during his trial and our divorce, and still broke into my new house, but I was stronger by this point. He was still trying to manipulate me into getting his own way, but my own inner strength came through – a strength I didn’t know I had.  

“…feeling utterly lost and alone during my recovery […] was also the feeling that had set me free”

Recovery after abuse is finding yourself again and trying to understand what the fractures are in your foundation that made you so easily manipulated. From the very start of my recovery journey, I was determined that no matter how hard it was or how long it took, I would survive it.

Still, despite the kindness of friends and even strangers I could not help feeling utterly lost and alone during my recovery – but this was also the feeling that had set me free. I found my strength with the hope that it would lead me to a place of peace. I was no longer afraid to look into myself deeply and face whatever it was that I needed to heal. 

I discovered that my fractures had stemmed from early childhood – I always hated it when people blamed their childhood, but it’s true and we need to break the cycle for the sake of ourselves, our kids and our kids’ kids. I had always been told that I was not good enough, that my opinion didn’t matter, not to speak, that no-one would love me. I had to work really hard to build myself back up and believe my worth. You can too – YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

Somewhere along the way, I let go. I released all of the painful memories, the names he had called me, the shards of him buried deep in my brain. I stopped believing the things he had made me think about myself and started to see how extraordinarily and breathtakingly beautiful life is.

“There is love beyond what “you think” or what you have been made to think is love

It’s taken me 10 years to finally feel safe again, but I have found (and continue to find) peace. Each day I am closer to it than I was yesterday. I am a work in progress, but I am full to the brim with gratitude and joy. I want to peacefully part with the contents of the last chapter. The end of this relationship was the catalyst for a wealth of positive changes in my life; it was a symbol.

Most importantly, it was an act of self-love.

It was a realization that abuse does not help you grow. I have found love and friendship beyond measure since and know that I am worthy of it all.

To all of you who are or know someone in this type of situation, then maybe this can help: there is love beyond what “you think” or what you have been made to think is love. It’s incredible! I am a survivor of domestic violence. My prior abuse does not define me but has reshaped me.

I no longer let negative vibes into my life, I find the positive in every situation and I reach out to others who need help. I no longer put up with bullsh*t and can see right through it. Some men in particular still think they can walk all over me as I’m still sweet and want to trust, but I know the warning signs and red flags. Whilst I still feel the fear and shame of domestic violence isolating, I am more open and vocal.

Although it sounds cliché, loving yourself and who you are is the first step. Self-love is hard to do but necessary. Also, speak your truth even if your voice shakes and you lose people – find your inner strength. Knowing that you are worth every good thing in your life is a process that doesn’t happen overnight, and unfortunately sometimes it takes a tragedy to wake us up.

I choose to share my story so that people know that I’ve been there, I know what the devil looks like, I know the words, the looks and the manipulation. I do all of this because I want women to understand how beautiful and worthy they are.

Thank you Kellie Ann, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@silentscarshealing).

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Letting my imagination lead the way

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by Emily, one of the founders of The Mindful Hour (@mindfulhourtherapy on Instagram). Emily discusses how she couldn’t wait to finish her degree, but when the time came she felt directionless – that is, until a certain conversation at her graduation ceremony. I really loved reading Emily’s feature (some of what she has written gave me GOOSEBUMPS), and I’m sure you will too!

“Exactly two years ago, I decided to take a big leap of faith”

Exactly two years ago, I decided to take a big leap of faith: I packed up my bags and moved away from home for the first time, to a brand new city.

This brings us right to today, where you’ll currently find me completing a masters degree in Counselling Psychology at the University of Toronto in the Great White North (aka Canada).

With that being said, I’m also working part-time as an intern therapist at a private clinic here in Toronto. Although you’ll find me going through the winds of life here in the 6ix, my roots are grounded in Montreal, Canada, the second largest French-speaking city in the world.

That’s the general gist of my formal spiel but really, most people just know me as the girl who’s always hungry. 

l left […] with my makeshift diploma, my head held high and nowhere to go, but with the world as my oyster

My turning point was when I was doing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and hating it. I couldn’t wait to be done and get out into the real world, a world where I wasn’t buried in brain physiology or stormed with Freud’s take on my deepest subconscious.

When I think back to that period of my life, all that comes to mind is lonely. I was surrounded by a supportive family and a loving partner but yet, I felt alone.

Out of my 3 years there, the most significant interaction I had was with the individual sitting next to me at my graduation ceremony, telling me about all her med school plans. I was genuinely happy for her and thought to myself “wow it must be really exciting to look forward to your own future“.

She seemed like she had it all figured out, so naturally I pretended like I did too. I went on and on about these potential academic plans and career goals I had in the field of psychology, all of which were fictional. I was a fraud, but at least no-one else knew that.

And then it hit me: why not me?

Why couldn’t I be the one who was genuinely excited for my future and all the places I would go, as Dr. Seuss once read to me? I couldn’t answer my own question because there was no answer – there was no reason why it couldn’t be like that for me too.

At the start of my convocation day, I was just another cattle from the herd of academia, craving her three seconds of fame as she’d be ushered across the stage before the next one was up. But at the end of that day, l left the convocation hall with my makeshift diploma, my head held high and nowhere to go, but with the world as my oyster.

And you, kind soul sitting next to me that day, I am eternally grateful, for you were my turning point.

“…discontent is the nagging of our imagination trying to tell us that something more is meant for us

So here I am today, after finding my way to the truth that was hidden somewhere in between the fine lines of the fictional life I had imagined for myself. When it comes to tips, let me try my best to get my point across without writing a novel. 

Each and every one of us is a new experiment, bringing into this world something that has never existed before.

As Glennon Doyle once put it: we spend some time feeling discontent, but this mere discontent is the nagging of our imagination trying to tell us that something more is meant for us.

Discontent is nothing but evidence that our imagination has yet to give up on us.

If we want to hear the voice of our imagination, then we have to speak the language it understands. Lucky for us, our native tongue is that of our imagination.

So forget your training, put aside the excuses for just a moment, and let your imagination lead the way.

Thank you Emily, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@mindfulhourtherapy).

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Investing in relationships with myself and others

This Free to Spiel guest feature has been written by Christal VanEtten, founder of ‘The Superghoul’ (@youglowghoul on Instagram). In the feature, Christal discusses the impact that a military upbringing had upon her identity, and how walking away from a particularly unhealthy relationship led to a self-discovery journey that continues to this day!

“I never knew who I was”

My name is Christal and I’m a content creator and digital marketing manager. I’m a third culture kid, born in Yokosuka, Japan and raised on bases as the daughter of a Marine. I was an only child, a sheltered one at that.

I considered myself lucky though. Most of the military families moved every two years – away from Japan – but I was able to spend most of my developmental years there and call it home. I think this constant change made it difficult for me to want to invest in relationships, as everything felt short-lived. In-turn, I developed a constantly-active sense of belonging and would adapt to different social situations.

Because of this, I never knew who I was.

I never gave myself the chance to come into my own (personality, style – the works). This put me in various roles on the spectrum of people: I’ve been a bully, I’ve made friendships toxic, I’ve experienced a significant loss, and I’ve been in relationships that were abusive to me.

“I’ve grown more with each year that passes”

I’m both terrified and inspired by the self-reflection that constantly replays in my mind.

It wasn’t until age 19 that I became capable of doing perspective checks and processing experiences – both good and bad. I’ve grown more with each year that passes, and now I’m understanding how important it is to be authentic, compassionate and empathetic…and so much more. Of course I’m still learning, but I don’t recognize the girl I was when I was 16, or the woman I was at 22.

The turning point was being in a relationship that was incredibly unhealthy – I knew that if I stayed, then the cycle of pain, forgiveness, and exhaustion would continue. At one point, overwhelmed and tired of it all, I put my foot down and moved on. It felt like I could breathe again and the possibilities felt endless. I told myself that if I could get through what I just did, then things would only go up from there, to new heights. 

My main piece of advice is: try your best not to camp out in shame of your past selves. The person you were in the past is the reason why you’re where you are now, and the person you’re becoming is only going to take you further. If this is something you struggle with, then I recommend getting a self-care or self-love journal. The experience is awkward at first, but you’ll be amazed by the impact of this kind of self-reflecting.

Thank you Christal, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@youglowghoul).

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Creativity: an outlet for my chronic pain

Trigger warning: mention of anxiety, depression & chronic pain

This feature has been written by Tripat Riyait, founder of Inspire Calm (@inspire.calm on Instagram). In the feature, Tripat opens up about her chronic pain conditions (fibromyalgia, hypermobility & hypersensitivity) and the negative impact they have had upon her mental health in the past. However, since discovering her creative side and using it as a healing outlet, Tripat has completely changed her outlook on life and now works to help others do the same!

I was told that I had an incurable, chronic condition that would only get worse over time

I’ve suffered with pain in my back and legs since being a toddler. The pain was constant throughout my childhood and – despite my Doctor telling me they were growing pains – remained even after I stopped growing.

Although I was diagnosed with insomnia and clinical depression and anxiety when I was 20 years old, I wasn’t told why I was in constant, widespread pain until years later.

The diagnosis came when I was living in London and working as an andrologist (a male fertility scientist) whilst studying through the Open University. The pain became so severe and widespread, to the point that I was suffering from constant headaches, spinal pain and costochondritis, which is inflammation of the muscles surrounding the rib cage.

I thought that finally having a diagnosis would mean I’d be able to fix it all and stop feeling pain all the time. Instead, I was told that I had an incurable, chronic condition that would only get worse over time – I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, hypermobility and hypersensitivity. I was put on a lot of different medications to try to “manage” the symptoms.

Depressed and incurable, I spiralled.

“Whenever I did anything creative, it would become like a mindfulness session”

I tried to stay working in London for as long as possible, but eventually I left and moved back home with my parents. This felt like a leap backwards, as I could see everyone moving forward with their lives whilst I just felt more depressed, lonely and self-pitying.

Although I left London so that I could get better, the pain didn’t improve – nor did my mental health. I was convinced that I would never be rid of the pain, yet I continued to try to find treatments.

I continued having monthly massages (which I’ve had for most of my adult life) and started to use Bowen and Perrin treatment, DoTerra essential oils and crystals – as well as trying to practice mindfulness. However, having the belief that my health would only get worse and that nothing could cure me decreased any chance of the treatments working.

As my job back in London had been so niche, I struggled to get back into the field. I began working as a tutor to pass the time and afford all of my treatments, which did not make me happy at all. I found the pain would get so much worse when I had to work because I was so miserable and negative, talking to myself in such horrible ways: “I have an old lady body”, “My body hates me”, “I want a new nervous system, mine’s sh*t!” and “I am a waste of space”.

The only time I would feel positive towards myself would be when I was knitting, drawing, baking, writing poetry and anything else creative I could find to do. After I moved back in with my parents, I started going to a Botanical Illustrations class with my mum, where I discovered my knack for it.

I thoroughly enjoyed drawing and connecting with nature, and I would lose myself in it. This would happen whenever I did anything creative, it would become like a mindfulness session. I would forget all about the pain and negative thoughts, I would also feel so proud of myself and see that there was so much I could do, that I am capable of many great things.

However, during a flare I would find it so difficult to do anything creative, I felt so unworthy of anything fun or positive. But these were the times that I would have benefited from these hobbies, when I most needed my focus to change. I now know how much of an impact these hobbies had – when I didn’t do anything creative, my pain levels and mood would worsen.

I found connecting with [people] so fundamental to my healing journey

When lockdown started, I finally realised I couldn’t go on without someone to talk to and so found a counsellor. She helped me become receptive to the idea that I can actually heal, and that my moods and the negative self-talk were only increasing the pain I was feeling.

I also started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for depression caused by perfectionism during this time; I had to wait for over two years for this, but it was definitely worth it. I can see how trying to be so perfect was affecting every area of my life, including the creativity within me.

It is so liberating to be able to walk away from a task when I start to feel overwhelmed or tired, instead of forcing myself to complete it and it still not being good enough, then flaring up and being bedridden for days after.

During lockdown I also made much more of an effort to exercise gently, as I couldn’t receive any treatment. I came across Sarah Harvey on YouTube, who has created yoga videos for people with fibromyalgia and related conditions. The Self Healers’ Society is the group she created for healing women, as part of which she ran a 21-day meditation course. I found connecting with everyone in the group so fundamental to my healing journey. There was a lot of positivity and I instantly felt comfortable sharing with them. I shared my poetry for the first time ever and felt immense joy when I was told how my words helped people.

“I have a voice that people want to hear

My thoughts on healing started to change and – even though at the end of lockdown I was unable to put any weight on my feet for almost 6 weeks – I began to believe that healing is possible.

I started believing that I can get rid of the pain I have suffered from for the entirety of my life. I can live a normal life again, have a job I love, socialise and move forward instead of being stagnant. I’ve learned to meditate properly, journal and use positive affirmations and intentions. I’ve found my purpose, which is to help people suffering from mental health and chronic conditions to use creativity as a way of helping them heal – just as I had done.

Finding my purpose was a big piece of my healing puzzle. I started my business, Inspire Calm, to help teach people how to utilise their creativity to facilitate healing and organise their homes without stress and perfection! I felt motivated for the first time in years.

However, I also realised that over time my confidence had all but disappeared. In starting my business, I have been forced to overcome a lot of fears, kicking the healing up several notches in a very short time span. Through this process, I started to gain a better understand my worth – I have so much to share that can actually help others: I have a voice that people want to hear and knowledge from my own life experiences.

More recently, I have been running an 8-week course (called “Inspire Calm: a Scarf for the Soul”) – during which I teach the benefits of knitting on chronic and mental health. I really let my creativity run wild for this, and even designed a scarf pattern especially for the course. I want people to be able to make the informed choice to get creative when they flare and have bad days and facilitate their own healing journey.

I am now much happier and was recently informed that I have healed clinical depression in 6 months! I am no longer angry and irritable all the time. I exercise, meditate and use affirmations daily. I also make sure to do something creative everyday.

I feel like I am finally becoming the person I was always meant to be.

Thank you Tripat, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@inspire.calm) and by visiting her website.

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How mindfulness saved my life

Trigger warning: mention of anxiety, extreme burnout & suicidal thoughts

This Free to Spiel guest feature, written by Mindfulness Coach Jon Barbieri (@jonbarbierimc), is longer than the others but definitely worth a read!

Jon shares his story of being an introvert whilst working in a corporate environment, and how his attempts to compensate eventually led to extreme burnout. Since discovering the root cause behind his need to achieve professional perfection, Jon has transformed his life through the practice of mindfulness – and now coaches other people to do the same!

“Considering ourselves as victims is a choice”

Hi, I’m Jon, 41 years old, and until some years ago I was one of the many who considered Mindfulness to be some sort of hippy-weird placebo for the troubles and worries we all face in life.

I mean, life is hard, work is difficult, money is too fast to go out and too slow to come in, people are liars, cheaters and backstabbers. Poor me, victim of a horrible society and modern times, right?

Actually, no.

Don’t get me wrong, we live in difficult times. Fast rhythms, keeping a job you need but don’t like, dependency upon money and social media likes, and lots and lots of judgement basically lead to physical and mental exhaustion.

However, considering ourselves as victims is a choice – something I’ve learned the hard way.

I forgot to mention that I’m a transgender man.

“The ‘issue’ of being introverted in a [corporate] environment”

I’ve always considered myself a ‘lucky’ transgender. Despite starting my journey relatively late, at 26 years of age, I had a supportive family and was inventive enough to speed through the whole process (as much as it was possible to speed up this procedure in early-2000s Italy).

At the end of 2009, after a little less than 3 years, I had my chosen name on my ID card, a flat chest and a beard. During this time, I powered through working multiple jobs and volunteering in the local LGBT association.

Without the stigma of presenting female documents, I was hired with indeterminate contract. The job wasn’t really something I’d even thought about, but hey, a job is a job. My parents had raised me with the adamant principle that you need to grab onto and never let go of a job that pays, so I guessed that was it – I was a Logistics Manager. The company I worked for was demanding, with no time for volunteering; just work, work, work.

In 2015, I moved from Italy to Luxembourg for a job in a large company that allowed me to live a much more comfortable life than the one I was living in Italy, with the additional benefits of an extremely interesting profession.

After settling in, I realized that all in all I wasn’t doing too bad; I was living in a civilized country with a great salary and stimulating job.

Typical to the modern corporate environment, my role was full of pressure from bosses, peers, customers – and of course the pressures I imposed on myself. On top of it, there was also the ‘issue’ of being introverted in an environment where you don’t achieve results based on how hard you work, but according to how good you can sell yourself… in retrospect, how could it have not gone wrong?

I soon started detaching from the reality of being present with my family, partner and colleagues

I was pushing myself really hard in trying to do the best I could for the company – no compromises on quality nor quantity. After all, if this approach had worked for a major thing like my gender transition, then surely it would also do wonders in a work environment?

I was so focused on my thoughts that I soon started detaching from the reality of being present with my family, partner and colleagues. I didn’t care if everyone was going for drinks after work because I wanted to spend time with my family, but when I was at home I couldn’t stop thinking about my job: ‘Have I done this?’, ‘Have I called that guy for that meeting?’, ‘Have I notified the customers about that?’.

An inner voice in my head was constantly reminding me that I wasn’t good as my extroverted, smiling colleagues – but if I can’t be the most charismatic, then I can for sure be the most productive one.

So I pushed even harder, with no compromises whatsoever, no possibility of mistakes and no mercy. Without even realizing it, I became some sort of Gollum clinched not to a ring, but to the unachievable idea of ‘perfection’ written in stone in my mind. No need to say that my reactions, as the fallen Hobbit, were driven by an underlying fear that was pushing me to communicate less and less and in a progressively annoyed way.

But worthy of what? Why did I feel this need? Why did I feel constantly judged?

I could clearly perceive my mind as a separate entity from my body. I was seeing myself giving answers and reacting in a way that seemed beyond my control, like I was in a cinema watching an embarrassing movie about myself. And at every embarrassing part, the voice in my head was reminding me how big a failure I was; an awkward and unlikable hypocrite who can demand things from others but isn’t even able to control himself.

It got so bad that even my colleagues became my enemies. I was living in constant anxiety for everything.

“While my colleagues were being promoted, I was not even able to pull myself together.

One day, I simply wasn’t able to enter the office. I was on the bus and visualizing the office doors, when I started hyperventilating and losing the ground under my feet. I was terrified. Being a hypochondriac (of course), I thought that I was having a stroke – a mass that was pressing on my organs. Of course, this made me panic even more… I skipped my bus stop and continued the ride until it stopped at the end of the line.

That was it. It was time to admit that I was fully burnout, and probably had been for years.

At the time, it was inconceivable for me to take stress-related sick leave. There was no such thing; I thought that people who took sick leave due to stress were just lazy morons. But then I thought to myself: why am I experiencing so much stress to the point that I’m sick? How can it be false if it’s happening to me?

After this point, my whole belief system started to crumble…

My doctor put me on sick leave for a month, saying that at the end of it I should either be much better or quit my job. If the issue was that I couldn’t manage working in that company, then I should find another one (and I’m supposedly the one without emotional intelligence…!).

I didn’t have much choice but to quit, which led me to think that I was a failure – while my colleagues were being promoted, I was not even able to pull myself together. I was a victim of the corporate system; it was the system that gave me anxiety attacks. I thought to myself: “Why can’t the others simply work at my standards?”, “Why do I need to feel excluded from the team just because I don’t want to spend any more time with my colleagues after work?”, “Why do they make fun of me, calling me ‘angry puppy’ or ‘weirdo’?” and “Why do they talk about me behind my back?”

I needed to understand why I was acting this way in order to control my actions

After a good month of staying at home drowning in self-pity and weed, my doctor suggested that I visit a psychiatrist to find a solution to this unhealthy situation. Through Google, I found a psych who accepted me relatively quickly. At the end of two sessions, where I was rumbling and he was silently listening, he prescribed me drugs.

Having some family experience in the field of drug treatment for psychiatric purposes I asked for more information about the specific drug he had prescribed me. He answered me that it was an anti-epilepsy drug, ending his sentence with an ominous “meh, I think it should be fine for you”.

I’m sorry, but I didn’t like the ‘should’ part of this sentence. Thanks, but no thanks.

Back to square one.

Based on my readings (and my beliefs), I needed to understand why I was acting this way in order to control my actions. I didn’t want to use drugs, so it was time to move to Psychology.

I managed to find a great Psychologist; she was calm, her voice was soothing and most importantly she was interacting with me and being straight forward. We started working on the root of my problems, where this need for me to adhere to strict rules was coming from, when I started behaving this way and why.

I realized that I had had this problem since before I could even remember. At the end of every session, I was feeling calm and like I was starting to understand the cause. Logic dictates that if you understand the cause, then you can fix it.

Wrong again.

After a couple of months, I started feeling even more anxious: “Am I just wasting time and money?”, “Why she is not able to fix me?”, “I gave her trust and shared my most embarrassing stories and feelings, so why do I still feel like I’m not in control?” and “I want to be in control of my body and my life!”.

I sat in the movie theatre watching myself have what can only be described as a tantrum with my Psychologist. I barked everything I had in my mind to her, with no control whatsoever. I would ran out of her office feeling like dumbest and most horrible person on Earth. Every time I had one of my outbursts, I would feel so ashamed of myself afterwards.

I was sure of one thing: I needed to learn how to control myself before I started work again

I never had the courage to go back to that amazing psychologist. I was spiraling so fast and so deep that on more than one occasion I even visualized throwing myself off a balcony. It would have been a quick way to end my suffering, but luckily I decided against it.

To keep my mind busy, I decided to fill my days with reading and taking the time to heal before going back to work; I was sure of one thing: I needed to learn how to control myself before I started work again.

I started looking up techniques to help manage my anxiety, and in one of the many sleepless night spent watching random TED talks on YouTube, a guided meditation video popped up. The teacher was Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a Lama and Meditation Master with not only an extended knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism, but also of western science and psychology.

In my head – so grasped around the concept of science and processes – he represented the perfect bridge to help me seek the ‘enlightenment’ I so desperately needed.

I started understanding that my lack of control was driven by my detachment from the present. As there was a scientific explanation behind this statement, my silly mind was able to accept this concept without labeling it as ‘hippy crap’.

I narrowed down my readings to the topic that I now know is Mindfulness, but even more importantly, I started to ‘release and let go’ of my thoughts.

“[The process of mindfulness] simply became part of my mind”

It was extremely difficult at the beginning, with lots of failures and the usual frustration that happens when you try with all your effort to accomplish and see results overnight. However, over time this process started to become easier, until it simply became part of my mind.

I was able to stop the constant chain of thoughts in the background and, paradoxically, thinking became clearer.

I started replacing TV with walks in nature, during which I was not bombarded by thousands of negative thoughts, but simply enjoying the colours, animals and landscape. These sensations became my anchor, allowing me to be in control of my thoughts, and therefore my feelings.

After spending more than a year in solitude, healing and training my mind with meditation and lots of studying, I felt ready to go back to the world. I decided to take the opportunity to reflect upon what I really wanted to do.

As I mentioned, growing up I had been always told that you don’t have to like your job – as long as it brings in as much money as possible. I’ve been a sales rep, problem solver and trainer in the past, but none of these jobs had ever given me the satisfaction I was looking for.

I wanted to at least try following my dreams, but what were my dreams? The difference this time around was that instead of going crazy with worries about poverty and anxiety, I started thinking about my life and writing down when I had been the most satisfied with myself. I realized that this was when I had been volunteering for the transgender association back in Italy.

I then thought “OK, that’s nice, but volunteering doesn’t make a living by definition. Keep thinking. What are your fondest memories at work?”. I cherished the moment where I was a mentor and a trainer – it was the idea of helping someone else and seeing them smile that gave me the biggest sense of accomplishment.

Opening the door to the present also freed me from my past

During a meditative walk it simply popped in my head: ‘If being a helper gives me joy, then I should be a helper… or something close to it!’

I realized that as learning Mindfulness changed my life so much, then maybe I could help other people facing similar struggles. You only have to spend 10 minutes on social media to notice how many people are as sad, exhausted, frustrated and angry as I had been in the past.

I thought: “Yes, I want to teach Mindfulness. I want to see people feeling better, I want to see people smile. That’s what makes me happy“.

Opening the door to the present also freed me from my past. I don’t feel the burden of my errors anymore; rather I cherish all the experiences and lessons that my errors and successes have offered me.

With a light heart and smile, I now look at my future, ready to do my part in changing the world – one present moment at a time.

Thank you Jon, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@jonbarbierimc).

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Tracheotomy since 05/19

Trigger warning: mention of life-threatening accident

I’m SO grateful to the author of this guest feature, Zoe (@zoejena_), for sharing her inspiring story on Free to Spiel. Despite being involved in a life-threatening accident that closed the Canada-US border and led to her living with a trach for almost 2 years since, Zoe has always remained positive and never given up. I love how her Instagram post captions always end with something like “Keep smiling.. why not? ;)” and am so happy to be sharing her story today!

I am extremely lucky to be here today

Hello! My name is Zoe and I’m a teenager from Canada. I’m very excited to share not only my life story, but also some inspiration and positivity to brighten your day. 

In May 2019, I was in a life-threatening accident that will forever change my life.

I crushed and broke nearly everything in my throat, leaving me with no possible way to breathe through my nose or mouth. My oxygen started to drop rapidly and with each passing second I got closer to never breathing again.

I was given an emergency procedure called a tracheostomy, which saved my life. A trach is a small breathing tube that was inserted into my neck, and I have continued to live with for the past 20+ months; it is my only way to get air into my lungs because of my obstructed airway.

My injuries were so rare and severe that they had to shut down the border as I was rushed from Canada into the United States of America. I was then taken to The Children’s Hospital of Michigan, which is one of the best pediatric hospitals in America. This is where I underwent several surgeries and stayed over a month in the ICU and ward.

I am extremely lucky to be here today and I will forever be grateful for the EMS, doctors and nurses who saved my life.

“There was not a chance in a million years that I would ever give in”

This event has had a large impact on my life and those close to me. It has taught me a lot about the importance of family and friends, and about being grateful for the little things in life that bring us happiness. 

I’ve always been a relatively smiley and positive person, so when the accident happened and as I sat in my hospital bed, I guess I just thought to myself: “it is what it is”. I can’t change what’s happening to me right now, so why not make the most of it?

As I look back on the hard days, I don’t remember much, only the times I made the best of it. When you spend too much time worrying about the bad things in life and the “what if”, you often lose sight of the little good things that are right in front of you.

A concept I had was that I had two options:

  • Option 1: I could be angry and depressed at the universe for making this happen, making me not be able to breathe, making me miss out on special activities, not be able to hang out with friends, miss out on my teen years, have constant surgeries, and so much more.
  • Option 2 (which I took): Take the experience as a challenge. There was not a chance in a million years that I would ever give in; I refused to let the hard days win. Life isn’t supposed to be easy; you will have bumps along the road. But if you keep pushing through, these experiences are what define you as a person and continue to make you stronger.

“No-one expects you to smile and be happy every hour of every single day”

Another big thing you need to remember, which I’m always encouraging everyone to do, is to keep smiling and always stay positive (I know that can be easier said than done).

Some days it’s okay to not be okay. No-one expects you to smile and be happy every hour of every single day – after all, we’re all human and so stumble across very negative emotions, whether they are sadness, anger, etc.

When you feel those strong emotions coming through, then let them out. Keeping them inside for long periods of time will only negatively affect you and stop you from continuing on as your best self. On those types of days, I sit back, take a deep breath and remind myself of why I keep going. I think about future goals and plans I want to achieve, and take a moment to reflect.   

Self-care is also very important, but as I understand from personal experience, is very easy to push aside. Sometimes when you’re too busy doing other things or trying to keep up with social media, it’s very easy to lose track of yourself.

That’s why it’s good to find simple activities and hobbies that you can do to regain control and take a step back from the overwhelming real world. Some of my interests that help clear my head space include reading, baking, music, drawing, yoga and even just taking a moment to have a good stretch.

Thank you Zoe, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@zoejena_).

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Everything will get better

Trigger warning: mention of self-hate, depression, anxiety & suicidal thoughts

This guest feature has been written by the creator of The Feeling Good Place (@thefeelinggoodplace), who started the page to help others learn to love themselves and live healthier lifestyles. In this feature, the author discusses their mental health struggles over the years, and how a certain realisation about life changed everything!

“I always felt ashamed and embarrassed about [my mental health struggles]”

I know what it’s like to wake up every morning wishing you hadn’t, and to hate everything about you and your life. That’s why I strive to help others realize how important they are and how beautiful this life really is.

I’ve had many of my own struggles with depression and anxiety. I always felt ashamed and embarrassed about them because they were never talked about. However, as I began to learn more about mental health I discovered that everyone struggles with mental health in some way or another – it’s so normal and isn’t anything to be ashamed of!

“All that really matters in life is how happy you are”

The turning point was when I finally realized you only live ONCE. I only get to experience this life one time, and I don’t want to waste it being unhappy with myself and my life.

I realized that I don’t have everything, but all that really matters in life is how happy you are. From that point on, I started taking better care of myself and investing more time in doing the things I enjoyed.

As I developed ways to help me cope with my anxiety and depression, my life got so much better and I became a much happier person. Adopting a positive mindset and learning to love myself has helped all areas of my life; I’m more productive and confident, happier and kinder.

I know that a lot of people who struggle with mental health feel hopeless and don’t think things will get better. However, as someone who was once one of those people I can tell you that everything WILL GET BETTER!

Top tips for people seeking a more positive mindset

1. Don’t ignore your feelings

Negative feelings will not go away by you just ignoring and distracting yourself from them. You need to spend a few minutes thinking about what is causing these thoughts, and how you can deal with them.

2. Make time for YOU!

Dedicate some time each day (or even a whole day) to yourself, to spend doing something you enjoy and makes you feel good! You deserve to take a break from everything that’s going on around you and focus on yourself.

If you never place yourself as top priority, then you will always put other people and things first, and will never be able to fully love yourself.

3. Reminders

This can be anything. You could put sticky notes with positive affirmations up, follow positive accounts on social media, or find a motivational quote and put it in a visible place (e.g. on your mirror or set as your phone background).

When you’re having a bad day, sometimes all you need is a reminder that everything’s okay, and that you’ve got this!

Thank you to the author, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with them via Instagram (@thefeelinggoodplace).

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From angry and aggressive to calm and content

Trigger warning: mention of early trauma, anxiety, PTSD and panic disorder.

This guest feature has been written by Life Coach and trainee Counsellor Hollie (@holzrandlesome). In the piece, Hollie opens up about how unresolved early trauma majorly impacted her mental health for years, and the positive influence that counselling has had ever since she decided to reach out for help. Continue reading to discover Hollie’s story and some fantastic top tips!

“I carried around so much anger, despair and sadness in life”

After living most of my life feeling very lost and angry, in the summer of 2014 (after suddenly having panic attacks and not being able to leave the house) I was diagnosed with general anxiety, PTSD and panic disorder.

My turning point was understanding, with the help of counselling, that I had bottled up my early trauma and not dealt with it correctly. The result was that I carried around so much anger, despair and sadness in life – something that I didn’t want to do anymore. I wanted to feel happiness and fulfillment and knew that if I wanted to create this life, then I would have to change my attitude and mindset.

I like who I am now, and I’m proud of the person I’ve become. It’s all because of hard work and the power of positive thinking. 

People who knew me back then can’t believe the change since; they have seen me go from someone so angry and aggressive to calm and content. Those I’ve met more recently tell me that they can’t imagine me being this other person.

My top tips for a more positive life

  • If it won’t bother you in 6 months, then don’t let it bother you now (this is my top tip, which I live by daily).
  • Understand other people’s perspectives – if they are negative towards you, then it’s usually a reflection of what they’re going through. Try not to get offended by other people’s problems. 
  • Smile! I smile at anyone and everyone; just passing that on and seeing someone smile back is such a lovely feeling.
  • Don’t compare, as it’s a non-negotiable for positivity (“Comparison is the thief of joy”).
  • Be kind to yourself – you’re not perfect (no-one is!) and so you shouldn’t hold yourself up to an impossible standard. 
  • A bad minute doesn’t mean a bad day…it is just a bad minute in a wonderful day!

Thank you Hollie, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@holzrandlesome).

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How my disability depressed, defined and saved me

Trigger warning: mention of depression, anxiety & wishing to die

This guest feature has been written by Brianne, creator of The Healing Archive. She talks about her experiences of having a physical disability, from being subjected to mean remarks, to building up her own self-love through helping others online. This is a really special guest feature, as it really highlights how we should all embrace – not mock – people’s differences, and that we could all benefit from a little more compassion! Here’s Brianne’s feature:

“I wasn’t different or odd or broken, but I was lucky, first and foremost

­From my birth and onward, I was told that I was lucky. Even though I had a dramatic and painful start to life — consisting of a lack of oxygen and the result thereof being a disability called ‘cerebral palsy’ — I had a life, and a few months of it were spent in blissful ignorance of what my birth had brought forward, exactly.

My inability to sit up as a baby, to walk and form my mouth to voice what I wanted to as a toddler, had led to a diagnosis of a physical disability caused by the brain damage I’d obtained when I was born. I was lucky to have parents who didn’t shy away from immersing me in a world where everyone’s first priority was having me succeed in a world that wasn’t adjusted to me (yet), and as a young girl I grew familiar with doctors, therapy, those black beds in examination rooms, the type of wooden toys every single waiting room had.

It was my mother, as well. Whenever she pulled me out of school for another doctor’s appointment, we’d get McDonald’s together and it’d be our secret so I wouldn’t upset my older siblings. She always tried to turn something so bleak into something fun.

And it was my Dad, who drove two hours just to be there for his daughter whenever she needed him. My family and the way they cared for me, led me to believe I wasn’t different or odd or broken, but I was lucky, first and foremost.

“[The teachers would] tell my parents that perhaps the special ed school across the city would be a better fit

I only recently discovered what my disability meant for my parents when I was young. The thing is, inevitably: people take what they see, and judge it based on how they perceive it.

When the schools my parents wanted to enroll me in looked at me, they saw a young girl with trembling knees and a strange pull at the muscles surrounding her lips when she spoke. I drew outside of the lines and had bulky orthopedic shoes that looked heavier than myself, and I rode a tricycle because balance was one of the many things I struggled with.

When a school considered me, they didn’t actually consider me. They’d study me, and watch me be the complete opposite of the kind of child they were used to welcoming, and they’d tell my parents that perhaps the special ed school across the city would be a better fit.

My mother, in particular, fought for me. She wanted me close to home in a school with my brother and sister, sure, but she also knew what I was capable of.

I might’ve had trembling legs stuck in gigantic orthopedic shoes, but I ran around the house with them when I was playing with my family. And even though my speech wasn’t great, I had entire stories to tell that proved the vastness and large detailed schemes of my imagination, and my deep understanding of the world even at such an age. I drew outside of the lines, but I drew carefully, as best as my spastic hands could manage.

Most of all, my mother knew of my unwavering perseverance. I tried and tried and tried again until it worked, even if it didn’t look right to the ‘normal’ people around me. My satisfaction was always of great importance to me, so she persevered and pressed until one day I was standing in the middle of a Montessori school classroom with my hand clutched in hers and twenty kids eager to play with me, and have me sit at their table, and learn my name.

“I didn’t even know the name of my disability, but now I had to”

My personality at that time and the years following it was shaped after the environment I grew up in. The world I knew as a child wanted me to be obedient, and to answer when asked a question, and to play when grown-ups asked me to while they scribbled words I didn’t understand on a clipboard and later conversed with my parents while I counted cars outside. I made friends, only because they approached me. They were always more social than I was, but they made me feel comfortable because they were protective, and that protectiveness was something familiar I always tended to seek after.

I was always safe. But then I got confronted with myself, and my disability in particular, when high school came along. I got scared of being bullied, and spent lots of sleepless nights worrying about what those high school kids would say if they saw me talk and move and even breathe.

I didn’t know what I would say if they asked me why, because I’d have no answer. I never learned about my disability as much as I kind of went along with it, but for the first time I wondered if that was because I didn’t have to know, or because I didn’t want to. I didn’t even know the name of my disability, but now I had to.

I didn’t end up getting bullied at school. There was a time outside of a fast food joint when a group of teenage boys — years older than I was — banged their fists against the windows and laughed as they pointed at my orthopedic shoes, and a group of girls I didn’t know cornered me at a bus stop once as they laughed and mocked me (and plenty of occurrences alike), but it was never at school.

Still, none of these occurrences were exactly ineffective. I got anxious about going out in public, school included, because there was always the possibility of being cornered again, or filmed, or mocked from a distance. I started resenting my disability, and myself for being disabled, and it affected everything: relationships, grades, hobbies.

And when people asked me what college I was planning to attend, or when I’d start taking driving lessons, I’d shrug and turn away, even though I knew that I never wanted to do anything ever again until the day I was lucky enough to die.

My problem was that I didn’t want to live a life where I was the person I was. Even though I’m religious, I found myself hoping that reincarnation was a real thing, so that I could die young and awake as anyone else, someone with gentler hands and normal legs.

“I do know this: self-love isn’t a sudden change

My turning point was the internet. I started writing pieces that were so positive and happy-go-lucky that they kind of sickened me, but people from all over the world reached out to me and thanked me for them as if I had any idea what I was talking about.

Not to mention that it was easy making friends online, where I was free to say what I wanted and be whoever I wanted to be without feeling strained and embarrassed of myself. At one point, when my social media accounts grew, when I discovered that designing mock-up internet and app pages was actually fun and that I had ideas and thoughts that carried weight for complete strangers, I thought to myself: Maybe now is not a great time to die anyway” and “Maybe I have more to do“.

Most of all, I grew comfortable talking about what made me uncomfortable. I used my disability to educate the people who were willing to listen, sought out books with main characters that had my disability, and spoke with the authors about how it felt and how we experienced things that are normal for anyone else but terrible for us, and I found joy in it. So much, even, that I started making plans again.

Photo by guest writer

My mindset changed because I was able to talk about it and mock it and annoy it by being the exact opposite of it. When I thought, “I’m scared of going to college. I don’t want to,” I’d almost literally reply to it and say “Going into new situations might become a less terrifying idea if you eliminate the generalizations for yourself and instead stay open to the possibilities of who you might find there. Not everyone in this new environment will be as judgmental and ‘normal’ as you’re afraid of. People aren’t scary, they’re just multidimensional.” And then I’d publish that exact thought on the spot and people would share it, again, again and again.

To be honest, I don’t think I’m ‘there’ yet, but I do know this: self-love isn’t a sudden change, nor is it a switch that turns off and on whenever you please, nor is it a destination to arrive at. It’s a process that repeats itself every day again. I think I’ve stopped waiting for it to find me, but have started to craft it with my bare hands.

I’ve known self-love when someone complimented my pants and I, unprompted and proudly, showed them my leg braces that fit underneath. I’ve known self-love when my grades started corresponding with my growing confidence again. I’ve known self-love when I sat on a blue boat somewhere in a random city and took the prettiest and clearest photograph I’ve ever taken.

I’ve known self-love when I stuck all my art, shaky lines and all, to my bedroom wall and stared at it and prided myself on it. I’ve known it, I’ve tasted it, I’ve felt it— and although the absence tends to weigh heavily upon me at times, I trust that I’ll be able to craft self-love in moments like those, and each moment that comes before and after, again and again and again, for the rest of this life that I now don’t really mind living.

Photo by guest writer

Thank you Brianne, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@healingarchive).

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The cost of perfection

Trigger warning: mention of burnout

This guest feature has been written by the lovely Cat Masou (@catcalmingcorner). She has very kindly shared her personal story about how her pursuit for perfection in every aspect of her life ended up causing burnout – something that she has been working through ever since. Also featured is some extremely valuable advice for others who are struggling to cope with being a perfectionist, so make sure to check her piece out below!

“I held myself to the highest standard”

From an outside perspective, I display a resume of the perfect daughter, student and wife.

I grew up volunteering, working hard, focusing on my academics and working out 5 days a week.

In 2015, I began my master’s degree and achieved a 3.9 GPA.

In 2019 I graduated, married the love of my life and began the process of registering as a Psychologist.

I was the type of person who put 150% in everything that I did.

On paper, everything looked perfect. And that was exactly how I wanted it to be… perfect. I held myself to the highest standard, that I always had to be perfect in every aspect of my life. But perfection, or rather the idea of perfection, became an obsession of mine.

What happens when you put an unrealistic perspective that you must cook homemade meals every day, have a spotless house, a regular gym schedule while studying, working and making time for friends and family? 

Well, you get burnt out.

I had to learn the hard way that this idea of perfection comes at a cost. And that cost was my own mental and physical health. Ironic isn’t it? The specialist in mental health is struggling with her own mental health. The one who spends hours listening to others and validating their feelings couldn’t accept the fact that she was burnt out.

In denial of all the warning signs, I continued… I kept pushing for perfection until it broke me.

“This is the problem with perfectionism, we can’t say no”

The summer of 2020 was when everything hit.

In the middle of a pandemic, I witnessed the impact that this year had on many individual’s mental health. This led to an increase in my workload. A dramatic increase I would say, but instead of setting boundaries, I kept taking on more and more work. 

This is the problem with perfectionism, we can’t say no. We want to please everyone around us even if the cost is more than we can handle.

My workload got to a point where I would spend 10 hours a day talking to my clients online. No food, no stretch breaks, just meeting after meeting. Looking at it now, of course this is a disaster waiting to happen, but at the time I couldn’t say no. 

By August, I couldn’t handle it anymore. My anxiety had skyrocketed, I began having panic attacks at night. My body was always in physical pain, to the point where I started showing some odd symptoms of an infection. I saw my doctor three times that month and was given three different antibiotics, but my symptoms weren’t getting better. The lab results showed that I was clear every time, and yet I still was in pain.

It is crazy how your mental and physical health are connected. When your mental health is struggling, your body struggles too. Your energy drops, your heart rate increase, your muscles feel tense and everything aches.

My body was telling me I needed to stop, yet I found it so hard to listen. How could this be happening to me? Why can’t I gain control? I’m the mental health expert, so why can’t I get it together? I knew exactly what I would advise a client in my situation, but I was struggling to follow my own advice. I kept pushing until I physically couldn’t and that was when I realized I had to stop.

Photo by guest writer

“I was learning to be okay with not doing everything at once”

I had to take a break from everything and do some self-digging. Why did I need to achieve perfection? Was I scared of disappointment? Did I find myself less valuable if I wasn’t perfect? Is my worth based on the opinions of others? These were some hard questions I had to ask myself.

I began understanding myself better, and through that, I began changing my behaviours. I always say the first step in change is awareness, and I was building that awareness. I was learning to be okay with not doing everything at once. I was learning to forgive myself when I didn’t accomplish my goal. I was learning to listen to my body when it felt tired and to simply stop.

More so, I was fortunate that I had the most amazing support system throughout these hard months. My husband has stuck by my side, he showed me that I am loved on both my good days and my not so good days, and for that I am extremely grateful.

“Taking care of my mental health is a continuous journey”

Fast forward 6 months later, and here I am in January 2021. I’ve slowed down, set boundaries and began advocating for myself. But this is only the beginning of my journey. Some days are amazing, some days are hard and both of those are okay.

Taking care of my mental health is a continuous journey. It means being proud of my accomplishment, showing myself kindness, understanding my triggers and reminding myself that: I am human, and it is okay to make mistakes. Part of my mental health journey has meant making time for things I love, like drawing, which I keep myself accountable for by posting it on Instagram. Honestly, this has made such a change in my life and made me more accountable to practice what I preach.

If you are struggling with the pressure of being perfect all the time, then I understand – you are not alone.

If you feel stuck building healthy coping strategies in your life, then remember this: you have developed 10-70+ years of bad habits, and this takes time to change. Be patient and take every step forward or backwards as a learning opportunity.

Thank you Cat, for sharing your story! Readers can connect with the author via Instagram (@catcalmingcorner).

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Deciding that I deserve more in life

Trigger warning: mention of anxiety.

This guest feature has been written by Emily, creator of @life_supp0rt on Instagram. In this wonderful feature, Emily discusses how she went from not letting herself be happy to realising her own self-worth, and the positive difference it’s made ever since! Over to you, Emily:

Before vs. After

Hi, my name is Emily! I used to be a bit different than I am now – like most people are before they turn their life around and learn to have a more positive outlook.

I was much more negative and pessimistic about everything before, and I had a hard time letting myself be happy. I struggled a lot with anxiety and that was difficult because it made it harder to focus in school and made my life much more complicated.

I went through a rough patch in middle school that really made me realize how important it is to be positive, to learn to be thankful for everything you have and to appreciate the little things in life. It certainly wasn’t easy but it’s more than possible!

My turning point that inspired me to become more positive happened when I was in high school. I had recently gotten out of a toxic relationship and decided that I deserved more in life than what I was letting myself have.

I started reading quotes and books about mental health and supporting my friends through their struggles as well. I found positive ways to impact the world that were also healthy for me. I discovered that I felt much better about myself and was becoming more positive as I surrounded myself with positive people and things. It was a very rewarding experience and feeling to have!

Since this turning point, people have told me that I seem happier (which I am). I’m more comfortable with myself and the person I am. Although I still deal with anxiety, I’ve found coping mechanisms that work really well so that it doesn’t impact my health.

6 ways to become more positive

I have so, so SO many top tips:

  • The main one I would say is to do what you love, do what makes you happy.
  • Hang in there, it gets better.
  • Music was a life saver for me.
  • Make sure to smile – even when you don’t feel like it.
  • Learn that you can trust some people.
  • You are beautifully amazing just the way you are.

I get it, you’re not alone. I promise you that you can turn your life around.

Thank you Emily, for sharing your story! Readers are invited to connect with Emily via DM on Instagram (@life_supp0rt) for coping mechanisms, or simply if they need to talk.

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