Stop Comparing Your Child’s Anxiety to Mine!

Stop Comparing Your Child’s Anxiety to Mine!

The more openly I talk about my mental illness, the more that this issue seems to crop up, so I have decided I need to address it. Recently, I was talking to a mother whose child is a young teenager, living with several mental illnesses, including anxiety. She was asking my advice on how to help her daughter, which I just want to say, is incredibly admirable. She is seeking help for her child when many family members would be inclined to brush mental illness under a rug. Now, I’m definitely not a professional or licensed counsellor, but I understand that for some people, it’s easier to approach a friend for advice than a doctor, so I will give advice, if asked, based on MY experience with anxiety, and no one else’s.

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One of my biggest pieces of advice that I give parents is to be VERY structured with their children, and to encourage them to do the very thing that scares them over and over until it’s not scary anymore. For example, if a young girl is not behaving in school, and the parents and doctors agree that it is because of her anxiety, I don’t believe the answer is pulling her out of class every time she gets anxious. This only teaches her brain that there is something to fear. Instead, I always suggest that parents encourage their kids to sit in the discomfort of anxiety for as long as they can. Of course this is much more beneficial if you can be open with the child’s teacher about the situation, and if the child is seeing a therapist who can give them coping strategies for sitting in their anxiety.

Basically, don’t create a habit for your child of getting out of situations that scare them or trigger their anxiety. Anxiety will prey on that, and soon your child won’t even be able to leave their bed without fear. I understand that usually the idea of getting your child out of something that is hard for them seems like you’re on the right track, because when they are out of the situation, the anxiety dissipates. But here’s the thing, if every time your brain thinks it’s going to die for absolutely no intelligible reason (Which is basically what anxiety is) you run from that situation, your brain is going to think that it was right to be worried. If, however, you are able to stay in that situation and prove to your brain that there is nothing to be scared of, your anxiety levels will go down with time, because your brain learns that there is nothing to fear. #science #reversepsychology

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When I shared this advice with this mother, however, the words that came out of her mouth were ” You don’t understand though, her anxiety is BAD! It’s nothing like yours, you can control yours, she CAN’T!”

Wow. That hurts my heart. Not for the reasons you might think though. I’m not hurt because she’s saying that I don’t understand her daughters anxiety; she’s right, all anxiety is different and it’s experienced vastly differently by each person. I’m also not upset that she thinks my anxiety is under control; I’ve given her no reason to suspect otherwise, and she’s right, most of the time my anxiety is under control now.

No, I’m upset because she is crippling her daughter on the basis of what she sees another person doing. Let me explain.

By comparing her daughter’s experience as a 13 year old, just learning that she HAS anxiety, let alone how to cope with it, to someone who has been in therapy for 12 years, she is virtually writing off any success her daughter IS making because it’s not on par with how I live MY life.

I have spent YEARS going to therapists. Not to the same one… I think in total I have seen 7 therapists, but 12 years is a long time. Let’s compare shall we? That 13 year old Girl has literally only been ALIVE one year more than I’ve been in therapy. Not only have I frequently seen a therapist once a week for 12 years, but I have done TONS of work outside of therapy, things like reading books, journaling, meditating, reading more books, exposure therapy, having panic attacks in bathrooms on planes, reading even more books, doing more journalling, researching the newest tools, buying the newest tools and having them not work, reading more books… you get the idea. I have been EXTREMELY proactive about helping myself, and learning as much as I can about my brain and how it works. I’ve had to become incredibly self-aware, I’ve learned to stand up for myself when something is too much, but I’ve also learned that the only way to conquer a fear is often just to do the thing that scares you so many times that it doesn’t scare you anymore.

By comparing yourself or someone else to me, and what my life looks like now, you completely sell yourself or that person short because what you can’t see is all the work that went into BECOMING the person I am today.

To that end, let’s take a trip back in time shall we? WHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!! (imagine swirling around and around in a TIME VORTEX!!!!)

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Okay, that’s much cooler in movies, but I digress.

When I was 6 years old, I started having panic attacks. The teachers called it extreme separation anxiety, but we really didn’t understand what was going on. My mom had to volunteer almost all day. every day, at the school until 5th grade. It was A LOT. I couldn’t do sleepovers at friends houses because the panic attacks would come at night. I couldn’t go anywhere without my mom because I might have one, but even if my mom was there I still had them. We started going to doctors because we didn’t know what else to do and this issue was getting worse. Fast forward through LOTS of medical testing, I even swallowed that green goo that makes you light up like a christmas tree on the inside, because the doctors thought I might have some GI issue- (My panic attacks masquerade as a stomach bug or food poisoning or both,) and we were getting desperate.

I was back in my pediatricians office, at 15, still very confused and still with no answers. Why after lunch every day did I feel like I was going to die and would go to the school bathroom to cry for 10 minutes? Why did my heart race like it was going to explode? Why did I have inexplicable stomach issues at all times of the day and night, no matter what they cut from my diet or even if I didn’t eat at all. My doctor was looking over my extensive chart, and all of a sudden it was like a light bulb came on and he asked the question that forever changed my life “What does it feel like inside your body right before all of these things happen? Is there one feeling that always comes before all of this?” My answer was something like “Well yeah, my heart races, my head spins, and I feel super scared that it’s going to happen again.” That was the beginning of the answers for me, and it has been a very long road.

So back to my original point: When you compare your or your child’s mental health journey with mine, you are sabotaging yourself or your child right up front. It’s simply not fair. If you were learning to play tennis, would you compare yourself to Serena Williams? Of course not! (Not that I’m any mental health Serena Williams, but you get the point.) You would look at that Queen, say “Wow! She’s so good!” and then you would keep on practicing your own tennis game. Of course, you’re going to get frustrated sometimes, but really, even Serena can’t hit the ball in just the way you can and you can never hit like her. You’re different people for heaven sakes! And that’s my point.

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We are all in different levels, places, and spaces in our mental health journey. Why do we feel the need to compare? When you compare your child’s successes to mine, OF COURSE they won’t measure up, and they aren’t supposed to because they aren’t me. They are learning how to cope with their anxiety and live in their world. The best thing you can do is to provide them the tools they need to grow and learn. I’ll also do a separate post about learning to lean into your anxiety instead of running away from it, but the basic motto is this: Exposure therapy works. Don’t give your child excuses for why they can’t do something with anxiety, instead, give them the tools they need to be successful in whatever environment they are required to be in.

I guess, in the end, what I want people to know is this: Be patient with the journey that your loved ones with mental health issues are on. If you’re raising kids with anxiety, don’t coddle them, but do get them the help that they need. Don’t stop at “Good Enough,” because your children should be allowed to flourish, and sometimes, part of that is letting them experience the discomfort of training their brain.

See my next post for tips on how to train your brain to tolerate situations that make you anxious!

Cheers!

Kyra

*Artwork from Canva.com*

Celebrating Success

Celebrating Success

Hi All, I hope you’re enjoying your weekend, and that you’re getting the rest you need and deserve. This morning I want to write to you about Celebrating your Successes, and recognizing success when you see it. This is something I still struggle with and have been trying to be better about this year, and I hope you will join me in being mindful of your small successes!

When I first began my anxiety journey in high school, I didn’t really know what to do with myself. The whole world seemed SO scary that I couldn’t wrap my mind around anything but my fear. I was scared of going to school, I was scared of being home, and I was scared of my friends. I couldn’t understand that there would be a time when I would be able to do anything except cater to exactly what my anxiety wanted me to do.  However, one of the first things I learned to do in counseling was to celebrate when I had done something I previously couldn’t do. It has been a hard road, but here are some things I have learned about celebrating success.

First, I set my goals low to start. If I’m planning on doing something that scares me, I start with just the basic, bare minimum. For example, before the move to Tennessee, I was paralyzed with fear. For a long time as we prepared to move, I counted my day a success if I packed 1 box. Just one. Think about that for a minute; 24 hours, with all the things you own in your home, and moving in 4 months across the country, and yet my “Success” was packing a single box. It doesn’t seem like much to celebrate, but the fact is, I was still doing SOMETHING productive. And I celebrated each box that I packed. Before the day of the move, I decided that on that day, I would be proud of myself if I simply got into the moving truck. I could break down the instant I closed the door, and I could cry and scream and freak out the whole first day, but as long as I got into the truck and shut the door, I would count the day as a success. By celebrating small victories like this, I encouraged myself to keep trying.

The next step after you have met your low goals for awhile, is to up the ante a bit. Give yourself a slightly high goal to achieve. An example of this is staying the night at a friends. First, I would set my goal to just stay the night, no matter what. I could have a panic attack, freak out, throw up, or all of the above, but as long as I stayed until daylight, it was a success. Next, I would set a goal to stay the night, and also get (Insert number of hours) of sleep. It could be 1 hour, 3, or 10, depending on how I felt, but I would set that number and as long as I met those two requirements, I would count it as a success.

So what’s the point? I mean, this seems pretty silly right? Isn’t the point to stop yourself from having panic attacks or anxiety? The answer is yes, this IS silly, and yes, the point is to stop yourself from having panic attacks, but guess what? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if it’s taken 276 years to build Rome (Yes, I googled that thank you very much) then you’re not going to beat your anxiety in one day, sorry. Anyone who says differently is selling something. The point is, that you give yourself evidence that you can be successful. If you keep setting goals too high and failing, you will begin to feel that it is hopeless to try. But it’s not, you’re just shooting too big too fast.

Another important step for beating my anxiety is creating bundles of evidence. I know, what the heck does she mean “Bundles of Evidence.” Well, what do detectives do when they are trying to prove that someone is guilty? They create folders and folders of evidence to support their theory. I do the same thing. Whenever I start feeling anxious about something I start looking for evidence to support what I’m feeling. You do this too, you just don’t know it. “The last time I went to a party, I had a panic attack, so I’ll for sure have one this time!” “The last time I went to a counselor, they wanted to put me on medication, so I’m sure this one will too!” We do it every day! But the counter-curse (yes, I used a Harry Potter Reference) is equally as easy. You just have to build a pile of evidence to support your success! For example “The last time I had a panic attack at a party, I had drank too much alcohol. This time, I won’t do that, so I will be okay.” or even better “The last time I was on a plane, I DIDN’T have a Panic Attack, so I won’t have one this time.” That’s why celebrating successes are so important. Knowing that you had a successful flight, or meeting, or party last time, is evidence in your folder for why you can do something again. If you didn’t celebrate what you accomplished before, you won’t have any evidence to help you the next time.

Another way celebrating success has helped me is with my depression. I’m a very Type-A personality. I am WAY too hard on myself, or so my husband tells me on a daily basis. So often my depression hits me by telling me all of the things I didn’t get done, how everyone else is doing better at everyTHING else than I am, and that I shouldn’t even try, because it’s never going to amount to anything, (I’M never going to amount to anything) anyway. But, what my depression doesn’t know is that I have a secret weapon that I can use in advance to stop it in it’s tracks. When I celebrate my small successes, it gives me an arsenal of things I can look at that show me examples of when I DID get it right, or when I DID succeed at something I wanted to do! When depression sneaks up behind me and tries to ruin my day, I just slip in all the things that I’m doing well at, and it becomes a little easier to turn out the negative voices in my head and listen to experience instead!

So, before your next big thing, whatever it is that brings anxiety or depression to the forefront of your mind, make a list of all the successes you have made, and CELEBRATE THEM! Take yourself out to frozen yogurt, watch that movie you’ve been meaning to see, snuggle with your dog on the couch instead of writing that email. It’s okay to take time to celebrate the little things you do everyday. Because if you’re living with anxiety, depression, or any other type of mental illness just know, YOU’RE SUPERMAN/WOMAN and you’re going to do great things!

Let me know in the comments what you are doing to celebrate. I want to hear all about your successes! And know that I’m always here to reach out to if you need it!

Blessings,

Kyra

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Conquering the Air: How I went from Crying as I Boarded to (almost) Cool as a Cucumber

Conquering the Air: How I went from Crying as I Boarded to (almost) Cool as a Cucumber

How many people here are terrified of flying, raise your hands! (My hand shoots into the air!) Now, granted, I’m not afraid of the stuff that normal people are afraid of. I trust the plane, I trust the pilot, I’m not afraid of crashing, or of turbulence, or of the whole thing spontaneously combusting in mid-air… Whoops, probably scared some of you more there… sorry… Anyways, I’m not afraid of crashes. I’m afraid of being stuck inside a big flying cylinder with 200 people, and having an unexpected panic attack. Why? Because honestly? People judge. I don’t care what you say, when I’m next to a stranger on an airplane, and I’m sitting there sweating, and shaking, and freaking out, they look at me and 9 time out of 10, they’re thinking “What the heck is wrong with this woman!?!”

So when I moved to Tennessee and realized I would be flying a lot more than once every couple of years, and often by myself, I went into panic mode. We are talking, full on, called my mom, sitting on the bathroom floor, wailing, Panic. But then my always helpful good friend and counselor, Nancy Olsen, got ahold of me. See, the cool thing about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, (The type of therapy I’m in) is that it is based on evidence and training. So off on a grand adventure I went!

In counseling, Nancy and I came up with a plan for when I would fly. We created back-up plans to my back-up plans, and practiced seeing tiny improvements as successes. And that’s the important part. We decided that each time, I would set a small goal, and if I accomplished that goal, I would choose to see the whole trip as a success. To help me with these successes, I needed a few things; Zipper, Dramamine, prescription anti-anxiety meds, and my trusty flying backpack kit.

First, Zipper. Having Zipper flying with me gives me something to focus on besides my anxiety. I have to focus on taking care of him, and making sure his needs are met. I also have to make sure that I’m protecting him from evil rolling suitcases and those little club car things that race around everywhere in the terminal. Zipper is also trained to help me in a panic attack, by getting on my lap and laying on my chest. His weight is calming and helps me come down from an attack much faster. Also, if I get stranded somewhere, I don’t panic because I’m alone, since I have Zipper with me. Trust me, he’s worth his weight in Gold during layovers and delays.

Second, Meds. Now, I wrote a piece a few months back talking about medication, and how I’m not a huge fan, but I’m taking it now to help me through a rough patch in my life. Well, I consider planes to be an exception to the rule. Whatever will help me get through a plane ride without and anxiety attack is something to use. I don’t drink alcohol so meds are the next best thing. Obviously, all of these medications have been approved by my doctor, and you should always talk to a doctor before taking new medications. I get motion sick on top of having anxiety, so I usually take one dramamine about an hour before my flight is scheduled to depart. Then I have my prescription on hand to take if I feel an attack starting to come on.

Third, My trusty flying backpack kit. What is in my flying backpack kit you may ask? All of the distraction and entertainment I could ask for. Movies and puzzle games downloaded onto my ipad, actual physical puzzle games, headphones, a good book, a journal and pen, my favorite stuffed animal, and usually some kind of bready, salty, snack. This way no matter what, I have something fun to do.

Which leads me to the final piece of my plan. I get to do things on the plane that I never allow myself to do on the ground. I have one particular jigsaw puzzle game that I LOVE. It’s called Magic Puzzles and its soooo addicting. But to help myself look forward to flying, I’m only allowed to play that game when I’m on the plane. This is a great mind trick to play with yourself and I truly recommend it!

The first task that I had to complete was to get myself into the airport and onto a plane where I could practice. I highly recommend avoiding practicing completely by yourself like I did, but I was kind of forced into a situation where I had to fly alone on my first big trip. I was headed back to Tennessee, by myself. I got to the airport early, so that I could make sure nothing would go wrong enough to prevent me from boarding. I was determined to make this work, so into the airport I walked, with my head held high and Zipper prancing along beside me, like we owned the place. I truly believe confidence is everything, and if I believe I can do it, then I can.

I’m not going to say that it was easy, in fact my first solo trip was interrupted partway by an unexpected 13 hour layover in San Francisco, by myself, with no one to help me stay sane, so it was FAR FROM EASY. But I like to say that even though I cried my way through almost the whole 24 hours, it was a success. Why? Because I accomplished my small goal, of “Getting on the Plane.” Once I did that, it didn’t matter because I had chosen to set that goal as my measure for success. I also learned so much about Flying and airports on that trip that I didn’t know before. For example, don’t run for a flight if you only have 5 minutes, because the boarding doors will be closed already. Just find a ticket counter and have someone help you book a new flight.

I’m also very grateful for the Flight Staff on almost all of my flights. On that first flight, the attendant let me sit with her on her jump seat for most of the flight and talked to me because I was so nervous. They are also very helpful when it comes to getting Zipper where he needs to be and with stowing my luggage. They fly for a living, so if you are nervous, TELL THEM. They are usually really good about checking in with you and making sure you’re doing okay.

Finally, Practice makes perfect. Try to go on as many flights as you can, and see some incredible new places. Exposure therapy truly works, and the more you expose yourself to things that make you uncomfortable, the more you will find that they don’t scare you as much anymore.

I’m still nervous when flying, but I don’t cry as we take off anymore, and once I even fell asleep during the flight! So yay! It’s all about putting in the work and reaping the rewards!

Happy Flying!

Kyra

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Our little set up when we fly. My feet go on either side of him.

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Chill-ish as a cucumber!

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During our 13 hour Surprise Layover.

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Reap the Rewards! What a beautiful View!

 

Taming the Beast: Coping Mechanisms that help me Survive

Taming the Beast: Coping Mechanisms that help me Survive

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Survival. The one word can mean so many things. Usually, we consider survival to be the bare minimum. “At least she survived that horrific shark attack,” “He was fighting for survival in the woods for 5 weeks,” “I’m not trying to just survive, I’m trying to thrive!” Something a lot of people without mental illness take for granted is their ability to simply survive without trying. For those of us with Mental Illness, survival is a daily goal. I’ve often said to myself, or out loud, “I just have to survive today.” And I’ve meant it.

Survival is often a daily struggle for me, and while I don’t tend towards suicidal thoughts, many people with mental illness do, so surviving is a VERY real battle for them. Somedays, it’s all I can do to move from my bed to the couch. Sometimes, just staying awake once I wake up is hard. These are very few and far between days for me now, but they still happen. So how to I prevent these types of days? The answer lies in a whole lot of self-care, and coping mechanisms!

(Before I go any further, I would like to say that I currently see a counsellor for my anxiety and depression, and while these coping mechanisms below may work for me, they may not for you or for someone you know, and THAT’S OKAY! They also may take time to start working. My best advice to anyone struggling with mental illness (Or really just anyone at all) is to find a counsellor or therapist to help you. We all need a mental tune-up once and awhile and mental health professionals are great at tuning up your brain! I’m not a mental health professional, so please don’t sue me if one of these coping mechanisms doesn’t work for you. I have no money for you to take anyways!)

So here’s a breakdown of all of the different coping mechanisms I use to help me get through my days and be mostly productive:

Meditation: I haven’t been as good about doing this one lately, but it really does help. Meditation is all about being aware of your body, and noticing feelings and emotions without judgement. This is particularly good for people with mental illness because it teaches you both to listen to what your body is telling you, and helps you practice not labeling things you think or feel as good or bad, but simply as they are. I’m going to do a whole blog on this topic later, but it’s very important to see your mental illness as something apart from you, instead of you. It’s okay to be angry with your anxiety or frustrated that it’s back, but if you don’t define it as something other than yourself, it often feels like you are mad at yourself, which simply isn’t fair to you. It’s not your fault you have mental illness and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person if you do! Theres a great app for your phone that you can get called “Calm.” It has all kinds of meditations from beginners to advanced, and will guide you as you learn about meditation. To find out more about the app, click here.

Puzzles or Brain Teasers: For me, a big part of preventing a full blown panic attack is taking my mind completely off of whatever is causing my anxiety. A great way that I have found to do this is to engage in something that hold your brain’s focus, and makes you think. For this reason, I have lots of puzzles and brain teasers around my house and on my various pieces of tech. There’s a super useful one that I’ve found called Flexi Puzzle. It’s a string of cubes on an elastic that you have to manipulate to create over 80 patterns. I’ve been using it for a year now, and I still haven’t figured out all the patterns. I use it both before a panic attack and during to help my brain refocus and find something else to think about. It has about a 95% success rate for me, which is pretty incredible for a toy that costs $7.99 at Target! 

I also use a jigsaw puzzle app on my tablet called Magic Puzzles, that is great for when I’m on the plane. The puzzles are pretty tricky and engaging, and there are lots of different modes. I’ll link it here.

Exercise: Man, this is a big one. I hate exercising, going to the gym, or even looking at my yoga pants sometimes, but exercise really does help my anxiety and depression, so I do it anyway. Now, I’m going to say this really clearly: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, TELL SOMEONE THAT ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS EXERCISE AND THIER MENTAL ILLNESS WILL GO AWAY. That’s not how it works, but for some reason people think that exercise is like the Holy Grail of mental illness. IT’S NOT! For me, it helps take the edge off, but I still have anxiety and depression. Some people love exercising, and find that it truly is a miracle cure, and that’s awesome! But it’s just not that way for me unfortunately.

Exercising is helpful though, and I like to combine it with other fun things and use it as a way of self-care. For example, I love obstacle courses and challenges, so I like to go rock climbing or to an adventure park once in awhile. I like audio books, so I listen to them while I run, and Yoga is great for practicing mindfulness while doing something active. I would say, giving exercise a try is good for everyone. I’ve found it especially helpful during bouts of depression because it helps with the insomnia for my body to be tired at the end of the day. Whatever you chose to do, make sure you enjoy it at least a little bit, but also don’t over-do it. Listen to your body, and it will tell you what it needs.

Pets: If you follow me on facebook or Instagram, you know that I have a Trained Service Dog that goes with me to most places, especially when I travel, (More on service dogs in a later blog,) so the cuddles are pretty much endless when I need them, but for a lot of people, just having a pet is a great way to combat mental illness. For example, if my dog has to go out to potty, I HAVE to get out of bed and take him. Having something to take care of is a big help when you feel like you might have nothing to live for. If you have a pet, that’s awesome, but don’t feel like you have to own a pet to help your anxiety. There are lots of animal shelters who need volunteers, or services like dog walking for you to get your fix!

Breathing: Okay, this is the big one for me, and it should be for everyone honestly. Breathing exercises are some of the easiest and most effective ways of calming and centering yourself in any situation, after all, you always have your lungs with you, and unlike exercise, it’s not hard to do! The key is to find a breathing pattern that works for you. My personal pattern that I like the best is breathe in for a count of 6, hold for a count of 1, and breathe out for a count of 8. You can find all kinds of breathing patterns on line, but here’s a good link to get you started. It comes from Spire, which is a stone that is proven to decrease stress. You can read about it in the review I did of the stone here.

When ever I am in the middle of a situation that may make my anxiety act up, I begin my breathing pattern, and a lot of times, that’s all it takes for me to be able to calm down and go about my day. Not always though, and especially when you first start using breathing. Sometimes it just helps me maintain a non-crazy person appearance until I get to a place where dealing with a full-blown anxiety attack is something I can handle. For example, when I fly and have a panic attack, I use breathing to get me through until we land and I can find a bathroom to implode in. In short, keep breathing, it’s good for you!

The 5-Second Rule: This is my newest thing that I have started doing and it’s really helping me take on my day in the morning when anxiety and depression make me want to stay in bed and not participate. I’m going to post the link to the video here, but the gist of this technique is to count yourself down and go with your gut. In my case, when my alarm goes off in the morning, I open my eyes, and count 5-4-3-2-1, and shoot myself out of bed before I have time to think about it. It works on other places too. When I’m nervous about going into a building or a meeting, or when I’m afraid to speak up about something, I count in my head 5-4-3-2-1, and then I just do it! Without giving my brain time to talk me out of it. Seriously, watch the video, it’s good for you! (Then google Mel Robbins and get sucked down a motivational rabbit hole and fall in love with her as much as I have!)

And that’s all of them for now; I hope that you’ve found one of these ideas worth trying at least! Tell me what you use to cope in the comments and let me know what you want me to write about next! I’m going to try to be better about writing more (I know, I say that a lot!) but I want to know what you would like to read! Until next time!

Kyra