Diaphragmatic Breathing

I wrote about mindful meditation pretty recently (click here to read it), and to continue on with the topic, diaphragmatic breathing is essential in meditation. I’ve learned so many different techniques to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression in school so I feel it’s my duty to pass them on to you, too.

Diaphragmatic breathing can be done anywhere – in fact, this is the type of breathing the doctor suggests when a woman is in labor or in birthing classes. This technique only requires that wherever you do it, you’re comfortable, you can concentrate, and you can incorporate visualization. If you have all three of those things, you’re good to go.

I battle with panic attacks and sensory overload, and this breathing technique can help with them. I never realized that this is the type of breathing exercise I do when trying to come out of a panic attack, but it helps. It immediately calms me down; I can breathe again, my body gets less tense and numb, and my brain is thinking clearly again. That fight or flight response chills out a bit, too.

So I urge you to practice this type of breathing, especially if you battle with panic attacks. It helps so much. Here is a link describing it more in detail and guiding you through it so you can hopefully be more mindful of this breathing technique when you’re working through a panic attack.

Mindful Meditation

I’ve been taking a class in school on stress management and it’s honestly helped me realize a few things about myself: I’m more stressed than I ever realized, I need to practice self-care more, and I need to start meditating.

The first thing I used to think when I would see the word ‘meditation’ is monks and sitting down on a pillow and ‘om’. But it’s so much more than that. Meditation can be something like listening to music with no other distractions, or praying, or even a hobby, like gardening. These things help bring us down to a level where we can relax and feel less stress from the things going on around us.

There are different kinds of meditation, but mindfulness meditation is the one I feel the closest to. I am always trying to be mindful of what I’m doing in the moment, like when I’m writing; if I’m on my laptop, I try to be mindful of how my fingers are moving, and if I’m writing in my notebook, I am mindful of the way I write my f’s and g’s. I don’t know why I am mindful of those, but I guess it’s because I write them in an unconventional way compared to the other letters.

At the risk of teaching or treating this like a school paper, I want to explain how much mindfulness can help your mind, body, and soul.

Mindfulness helps relieve stress as we all know, but it also treats heart disease, lowers blood pressure, reduces chronic pain, improves sleep, and reduces anxiety levels. There’s a technique called mindful self-inquiry. It brings awareness to any of your stressed or anxious feelings and allows them to be. That doesn’t mean to let them control you. It means to let them happen. It makes you human. It’s how you react and how little control you let it have over your other emotions. The technique allows you to learn more about those feelings, and it helps you learn more about yourself too, basically gaining a new perspective of stressful or anxious situations.

I urge you to read more into mindful meditation and consider utilizing it into your daily life. Practicing this for even ten minutes can work, even if you’re busy throughout the day. It’s worth it to slow down, take a break, and meditate.

February 2020 Contributor: Kayla McKern

Trigger warning: self harm, suicide, substance abuse, panic attacks, bullying

This is really hard for me to write because people only know part of my story, and I was terrified to share it. But I was given the opportunity to share my story thanks to Ali! I also wanted to share my story in hopes of maybe helping at least one person out there struggling.

For the sake of saving time, I will not go into full detail about my life and the things that happened, but this is my story.

I grew up like any other kid in the 90s for the most part, but I was shy. I always felt like nobody wanted to be my friend. I would try my hardest to fit in and it just wouldn’t work. I never hung out with kids my own age, but I would try my very best to get along with them. I’ve been told that I have an “old soul.”

I would draw and paint, and I loved music. I was bullied a lot in school; I wore super thick glasses because I have very bad vision due to having meningitis when I was four months old. I was called “four eyes.” I started to gain weight and I was constantly bullied for it. I cannot express how many times I came home crying because of people making fun of me. They would call me “stupid” because I had a learning disability and I would have to be pulled out of class during a test or just to get help in my classes.

I would try my very best to “fit in” and to make friends, but it just wouldn’t happen. In 2001, my family and I moved out of my Grandpa’s trailer and moved to our current residence. Again, I tried my very best to make friends in my new school, but I was the new kid in school and I was shy. I would have a few acquaintances, but they all had friends of their own and it wasn’t until 2004 that I had a real best friend. I was 14 years old.

In grade school, sixth grade was the absolute worst for me. Kids would make fun of me because I had glasses, short hair with bad highlights, and I was overweight. That’s probably the first time that I discovered self harming. I felt like I was ugly and that I deserved to feel the pain. Sixth grade was the worst for me, but I worked hard at passing all of my classes, because all I wanted to do was get out of that place.

I started junior high, and things were still bad. I remember on the first day of school I was made fun of and then going home and self harming. In the next few weeks, I met my best friend Ali (who created this blog) through a mutual friend, and we instantly clicked because we were both in band and we loved music.

My best friend and music were the only things that made junior high tolerable. Then Ali had to leave for high school, as she was a grade year higher than me. Eighth grade was the worst because I didn’t really have any friends, just acquaintances. They would say hi to me and walk off to their own friends. I didn’t fit in with any group.

I hated middle school so much that I would purposely miss the bus, pretend I was sick, or hide behind the shed. My mom would have to work from 6pm to 6am and she would be too tired to bring me to school. My dad would already be at work. To be honest, I don’t know how my parents and I didn’t get in trouble for truancy or how I passed school.

I managed to get through eighth grade with my grades; I was determined to get out. Soon after, I was in high school and reunited with Ali again. She made school bearable and so did band class. We were both in marching band and concert band. Once she graduated, senior year was hell for me. I was alone and I didn’t have any real friends; they were all come and go. I struggled hard in school with trying to pass everything and preparing myself for college, but not knowing what I wanted to go to college for.

I, once again, focused on graduating high school. I graduated, and I worked hard for my diploma that I’m still proud of to this day. Then I started college, and it was easier, because I learned that I didn’t have to fit in and it wasn’t anything like public school. I could truly be myself and there were others who didn’t care about how I looked or the way I acted.

I started off as an English major, but after a semester and a half, I found out that I hated writing papers and it just wasn’t for me. I wanted to be an English major so that I could write for the papers, magazines, and even writing my own novels. I changed to a graphic design major. In 2011, I joined the Spirit of Northwestern marching band. Art and music were the only things that I was decent at. I’m not really good at anything else. I loved being an art major.

In 2012 is probably when my mental illness “unofficially” started. Things were getting rough for me and depression was creeping in on me, and the old demons from middle school came back telling me that I wasn’t good enough and that I was a failure. I went to the doctor and I was put on different depression meds, but not a single one worked for me.

I took a job handing out samples in a wholesale store in 2012. It was my decision to work for this company. At first, it was okay; my bosses were nice for the most part. As the months rolled by, things only got worse at the job. I was made fun of behind my back and in front. I was bullied by adults twenty years older than me. That’s when the self harm and the self hatred got worse. I would come home from work and I would cry my eyes out and self harm.

Then, I discovered sleeping pills, and they were the catalyst for my addictions. I would take them; anything to make me go to sleep and forget about what happened that day, but I became addicted to them. I became addicted to sleeping and not being awake just to be away from the pain for a little while. I then started mixing them with alcohol and became addicted to that.

In 2014, I tried to end my life. I wasn’t thinking about anybody or anything; the only thing I was thinking about was ending my life, to end the pain, and to just end it all and not exist in this world anymore. I took a handful of sleeping pills and laid in my bed waiting for my eyes to close forever. My mom came in to see me, but she didn’t know what happened, and I never told her. I was in and out of consciousness and somehow, I made it out alive.

To this day, I don’t know how I lived after that incident, and as I think about it today, there’s some unknown reason for me to be alive. The drinking got worse; I would drink until I passed out. Just about every day I would show up to school or work hungover. Nobody said anything, so I continued on my destructive path. I eventually quit my job and I tried to find work, but nobody was calling me for interviews and my depression was getting worse. I eventually got a job as a cashier at a grocery store and I hated it, but I pushed through and now I’ve been at the job for about six years. I found a therapist, and it was what I needed. I needed to speak with a professional about my mental illness and the demons that reside in my mind. Everything seemed okay at first, but things were only getting worse.

I was becoming a monster and I was harming those around me. I indirectly verbally harassed people that I loved, making horrible, nasty posts about them and called them names. I was turning into the one thing that had messed with me since I was a kid. I became a bully.

On April 28, 2015, I had to go to the hospital. I took some sleeping pills and drank. I felt like I was dying; my heart was pounding, I was shaking, and my body went cold. I honestly thought I was dying, but I later found out I was hyperventilating. I’ve had panic attacks before, but this was by far the worst one I’d ever had. It got to the point where I had to go to the emergency room.

It all came crashing down in that hospital room. I admitted to everything. I admitted to the day I tried to kill myself with the pills, the suicidal thoughts, the self harm, and the demons that reside in my mind from the past. It was all exposed like a nerve. I was placed under a close watch so that I wouldn’t do anything to myself or others or that I wouldn’t walk out. I didn’t know that admitting all of it would cause me to be put in a mental hospital.

I won’t go into full detail about the hospital stay, but it’s what I needed. I was diagnosed with bipolar depression, borderline personality disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Maybe this is why none of the antidepressants I was on weren’t working for me. I was released from the hospital, and as soon as I got out, I literally kissed the ground.

As soon as I got home, I had to adjust to life at home, work, and school. It was hard and my addictions and old ways of thinking were creeping back into my mind, but with therapy, I would banish those thoughts. In mid-2016, my therapist gave up on me. He told me to never come back. I was out of therapy for a while, but I started seeing a new therapist and I loved her. Eventually, my insurance costs were getting to the point where I couldn’t afford it anymore. A few months later I got new insurance, a new psychiatrist, and a new therapist. I absolutely loved them, but in 2018, I was admitted into another mental facility because things were getting to be too much for me. I had school, work, and my family life to deal with. All of it was taking a toll on my mental health. Luckily I was smart enough to sit in my advisor’s office and confess to him what was really going on.

I’m still very thankful to this day that he helped me out. He took me to my school’s on-campus therapist. I told them everything that was going on. They eventually deemed me unsafe to be by myself and I would later be admitted to another hospital. To this day, my advisor still checks in on me and asks me if I’m okay mentally.

In 2019, I discovered opioids such as hydrocodone and oxycodone. I would take them from family members who were seeing pain management doctors. I would mix these with alcohol. In June, I went on a cruise. My great aunt had oxycodone and I took at least 20 pills from her to feed my addiction. When we came back to the states, my Grandma and I had a huge fight. I called my therapist at the time and told her that I was starting to have suicidal thoughts. She said that she was on her way, but while she was driving, I did the unthinkable and I self harmed. It was the only thing I knew how to cope with everything going on.

As soon as my therapist arrived, she wanted me to go to the emergency room. From there, I was admitted into another hospital for my mental health and for rehab for opioids. I stayed a week to detox and to work on my emotional wellbeing. I was then released from there, and that’s when I would start going to NA meetings and meeting up with my sponsor.

As you are all reading this, on February 13, 2020, I will be seven months clean from alcohol and drugs and in July, hopefully, I will be one year sober from opioids and alcohol. Every day is still a struggle, and my mind wants me to go back to my old ways, but I know in my heart that I can’t do that. I can’t go back to my old ways and I have to keep pushing forward.

As I conclude this, I really hope that in some way, my story has inspired you in some way to seek help and to get the help that you or a loved one deserves. I want to thank Ali for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

If you are struggling, please seek help.

Thank you for reading my story!

Kayla McKern

“Shine A Light”

“Shine A Light” (September 22, 2010)

I am lost in this world with nowhere to go,

I took a wrong turn a long time ago.

The night sky envelopes me,

leaving me blind.

The right path seems so far away,

I need somewhere to go,

so shine a little light in my soul.