Thursday, April 21, 2016

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". . . Thank you for taking the time to explain all of the craziness to all of us!" 

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". . . your post really provided me with hope for the future . . . Thank you so much!"

 Welcome to Unhinged & Empowered!

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

My name is Stephanie Carroll and I am the founder of Unhinged & Empowered.

While I was a Navy Wife, on many occasions I wondered, am I going crazy? Am I coming unhinged?

Checking the oven twenty times just to be sure it is off - screaming at the top of your lungs when your only car breaks down - checking your email sixteen times in two minutes - locked out of the house with no one to call - being ALONE.

Sometimes when you are trying to make it work with a service member, you just feel like you are going insane, like you are weak and pathetic, but what I learned after ten years of surviving as a Navy Wife, is that, really it's all perfectly normal. More importantly, I realized that breaking down doesn't make us weak - the fact that we are sticking it out despite the break downs, the fact that we wipe away our tears and keep on going - is why we are some of the strongest women in the world.

But, when I first became a Navy Girlfriend and then a Navy Wife, I didn't have anyone to reassure me of my sanity, and boy does thinking you're going crazy make a girl come unhinged!

o I created this website in 2012 to share what I and others have learned, so that you may have the reassurance that you're not going crazy but are actually one of the strongest women in the world!


"God Bless you for this! I'm a Navy girlfriend and every day I wonder what I got myself into. This helps a lot. Thanks! I'll definitely be coming back!"

What We Stand For
Through this community we share the moments that make us feel unhinged and accept them as normal and even as signs of strength, thus empowering ourselves and others. This community is about focusing on the positive and supporting one another regardless of our situations, whether we are wives, girlfriends, spouses, partners, male, female, from this country or that country. We join here in acceptance and understanding. 


"I just wanted to say thank you . . . I am struggling a lot because I only know two other wives/girlfriends and they're both in different branches. I feel incredibly alone, and after Googling Navy girlfriends and reading this post I realized that I'm not. So sincerely and from the bottom of my heart, thank you."


How We Have Grown!
I started this site on my own, but certain experiences made me decide to make it something more, to take it to the next level. 

There is a strong anti-wife stigma and stereotype in the military. This has lead to an underlying pressure for military members and their wives to believe that other Navy Wives are bad people and treat them as such. In addition to seeing this stigma develop in person, I also watched as the power of the internet spread it like a brush fire. I've seen it on negative blogs, forums, and of course on social media. So many Navy Wives treat one another with judgement, cruelty, and rejection instead of recognizing that we are in this together and could support one another through understanding, encouragement, and camaraderie.

 Patrick Haney via photopin cc
This lead me to create the U&E Facebook Forum, a place where the readers of this site can come together in a place where they can give and expect understanding, encouragement, and acceptance - not just wives but girlfriends too.

That was my next realization. Navy Girlfriends were treated with even more rejection and cruelty than wives. They had no voice and no place to seek advice. That is when I started writing my Navy Girlfriend Guide series and encouraged Navy Girlfriends in addition to Navy Wives to write for the site as contributors.

Prior to this, I had also realized that I don't know everything, so I sought out others' to get involved and share their perspectives and advice. I became we and eventually we became international, welcoming writers from the US, UK, and Canada. Our experiences as Navy Wives and Girlfriends transcends borders, and we joined together forming a camaraderie across the globe.

"This is incredibly helpful info I didn't know how to ask for, but is great! 47days into a deployment as a Navy Girlfriend is making me feel like a basket-case sometimes because there's so much that I don't know. This will help with my curiosity and need for knowledge. Questions that I don't want to bother my man with right now. Thank you, thank you!"

Get Involved!
We want to be more than just a website or a blog. We want to form a community of strength and empowerment. So please, get involved, share using the site's comment feature, or visit the Facebook Forum. We also have a Facebook Page, which is used more as a notification of new posts rather than discussion - show your support and learn about new posts by liking us!  

If you are interested in writing for us, hop on over to the guest poster guidelines page and find out how you can share your experiences too.

Remember, we are some of the strongest women in the world, but together we are even stronger. We can accept that's it's okay to come unhinged because together we are empowered.

". . . Thank you for this. You have really helped me see things differently." 

When New Posts Come Out

I post in-depth posts that require a lot of research and writing time, so new posts come out from me at the beginning of the month. My contributing writers come and go as their schedules permit but when they are writing for the blog, their posts come out throughout the month. When I don't have other writers, posts only come out at the beginning of each month.

 "Thanks Stephanie. Always words of wisdom."

Learn More About Stephanie!

Become a VIP and learn all about my experiences as a novelist, how I became an author, what I'm working on next, and get free historical goodies including a newspaper article on Victorian hair styles and pictures of the bizarre Victorian furniture featured in my novel A White Room!

Or check out my website www.stephaniecarroll.net.

OPSEC
This site adheres to the rules and regulations of Operational Security or OPSEC, and comments are monitored to do the same. In everything we write, we are always keeping the safety of our Sailors in mind and thank you for doing the same.



Confession: How I'm Coping with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

The First Bird Back by Lulu Lovering via Flickr cc.
My Confessional Series Explained. 
March 30, 2016

Inspired by Confessional Poetry I’ve decided to start my own confession series although I don’t do poetry, so I’ll just be dishin’ it. I am not an open person. Most people who know me know very little about me. 

I am guarded because I am terrified not to be. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to open up, and to all people, I’ve decided to open up to all of you.

Why? Because maybe some of the secrets I’m keeping are similar to some of the secrets you are keeping and maybe by sharing, I can somehow be of some help.

Deep breath, okay . . . here I go . . .

How I'm Coping with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

So last time in Confession: I was Recently Diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder, I explained that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I talked about what exactly that is and how it feels to have an episode, but now I’m going to tell you how I’m coping with it.


This is written based on my personal experiences. What is discussed here should not be considered a medical opinion of any sort.

Therapy
As I said last time, I was diagnosed by a therapist/psychologist, and I continued to see my therapist for about ten months. You can find lots and lots of general coping techniques online and in books, and I do recommend checking those out, but the therapist helped me dissect my values and thought patterns and approach my anxiety with techniques tailored specifically for me.

Therapy is a strongly recommended part of dealing with an anxiety disorder. It's recommended to try it before trying medications, and it's also suggested to use along medications. It's also something that many people are often hesitant about because they are afraid of what it says about them to be seeing a therapist. 

I felt this way myself and it took things getting pretty bad before I went. After having gone though, I can say two things: one, it's really easy to keep therapy a secret, and two, appearing sane is not worth being miserable.

God
More Good Foundation via Flickr cc.
Shortly after my diagnosis I was researching anxiety, and I found an article that basically said people with anxiety don’t trust God. Now, I actually don’t believe that at all, but when I read it, it was like a slap in the face. Whether it was true or not in general, it was true for me. I realized that over the past decade, one by one, I had stopped trusting in the Bible, in prayer, in church, in believers, and in God and Jesus.  

After crying on my knees for a while, I then created a plan to reconnect with and trust in God again. It was a slow progression starting with prayer and researching my questions regarding religion and spirituality for a couple of weeks and then finding a church and eventually joining a Bible study group and volunteering. This was a gradual progression over several months. 

Reaching out to God might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, this was an important part of my progress because by redirecting my life back to God, I changed certain values that were causing me to have anxiety. 

For example, I had been putting my work and personal goals first in my life, but when I achieved them I felt no sense of satisfaction or self-worth, and I was constantly anxious about an overwhelming sense of purposelessness. By refocusing on God, and by putting Him first in my life, I realized what was really important and by trusting in God, I have less fear in general.

These two books really helped me with that process:

Books on Anxiety
From the start, I did a lot of research. I researched anxiety on Google and my therapist recommended some books, and I found the following particularly helpful:

This book is awesome because it’s designed to let you create your own personal plan to cope with and manage your anxiety. It provides explanations of negative thought patterns and ways to deal with them. It has worksheets to help you think through irrational fears and come up with solutions to problems that seemed unsolvable. It’s really useful for a variety of struggles, not just anxiety.

This book is nice because it focuses on anxiety and provides in-depth and targeted solutions.

A huge part of anxiety is self-esteem because being afraid all the time means you don’t have confidence in yourself.

Meditation/Mindfulness
I have found a lot of benefit from practicing mindfulness and mindfulness meditation. 

Freedom by Lauren McKinnon via Flickr cc.
Quick definitions: Mindfulness is simply the practice of observing your own thoughts. Human beings are thinking machines, and we think without realizing what we are thinking all the time, like we are on autopilot. This is how anxiety can feed upon itself, through negative and fearful thoughts that you don’t even realize you have. 

With mindfulness, you practice paying attention to your thoughts, so you can be aware and then stop those negative patterns. It’s not as easy as just deciding to do it though. It requires practice through . . . 

Mindful meditation is taking the time to sit and practice being aware of your thoughts. This is how you gain the skill of being aware of your thoughts at other times. This is also the common first step in traditional eastern meditation, and that’s where the study and practice of mindfulness originates from. Psychologists did a whole bunch of experiments and found out how helpful it is for a variety of mental struggles. 

Eastern meditation also encourages gaining the ability to stop thinking all together and living in the present moment plus other beliefs and philosophies that are too extensive for this post. 

Mindful meditation is my number one tool for combating my anxious episodes. When I realize I'm having one I go and do a mindful meditation practice. The ones I do from Mindfulness:An Eight Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams, DannyPenman are only like five minutes or less. I got the audio book so I can listen to the guided meditations. 

Here's why it works. Two issues create an anxiety episode for me, first negative, fearful, and irrational thoughts start cycling in my mind (the steroid hamster). Then, those thoughts trigger my fight or flight response over and over, and my body is pumped full of adrenaline, which causes my heart and mind to race. Meditation combats both of these problems. By focusing on my breath (a common basic of meditation) I can actually relax my body and end the fight or flight response. Then I can focus on my thoughts and uncover whatever it is that is causing that stimulus. Hamster intervention. 

Another great book I found on meditation and mindfulness is The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle.

Anti-Depressants   
Happy by Luciano Zanardo via Flickr cc.
All of the stuff I discussed above really helped and continues to help with my anxiety, but after more than six months of trying, I still felt like anxiety was winning every single day. I knew techniques but once I had an episode, I couldn’t get control. In the moment, I would think: “I’m having an episode, I need to—” but then that thought would fly out of my head and be replaced with all the unstoppable steroid hamster thoughts.

I had all the normal fears about anti-depressants: Will it make me a drone? Will it make me too happy, and I’ll do something crazy? Will I have to be on it forever?

When I finally did take it, the results were surprising. It worked! I feel better, not only happier and less stressed but also normal. I just feel like me when I’ve been happy in the past, except for the first time in my life, that happiness doesn’t seem so fleeting. My husband agrees that I don't seem off or different, just normal.

Was my anxiety cured? No. It’s for life baby! Anti-depressants don’t cure anxiety, but they make it easier to cope with. Before, I struggled with stopping in the middle of an episode but ever since taking the anti-depressants, I can stop and say, “Hey, this is anxiety. I’m going to go meditate.” I still have anxious episodes, but when I do it doesn’t affect me as badly or cause me to stress out the way I used to. It’s helping. 

So How Am I Coping? 
Happy by Paula Satijn via Flickr cc.
The type of anxiety I have isn’t something that gets cured. It’s something I will have to manage for the rest of my life. Some days I don’t succeed, but with everything that I’m doing I’m having more and more success than ever before, and more importantly, for the first time in years I feel like my life is getting back on track, back where things feel right and I’m not afraid, worrying, or feeling like something is wrong all the time. 

Sure I’ll always have to work on it, but so far learning how to has made my life better in more ways than one (getting back to God, reevaluating life values, learning how to relax, etc.), and I think it’s going to keep getting better, and I’m pretty happy about that.  

Did you find this useful? Get a little more support from the U&E Quarterly Newsletter. Only Four Emails a Year.



About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
  
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

Learn more at www.stephaniecarroll.net and connect with me @CarrollBooks on Twitter, Facebook, or on Pinterest!

Learn all about my journey becoming a Navy Wife Author with my Quarterly Author Newsletter! Only Four Emails a Year!




Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Confession: I've Been Diagnosed with an Anxiety Disorder


My Confessional Series Explained. 
March 30, 2016


It’s the type of poetry Sylvia Plath was known for, and it involved the author revealing extreme or traumatic experiences, things that were considered taboo to talk about or things that had been kept secret by the writer.

I’ve decided to start my own confession series, but I don’t do poetry, so I’ll just be dishin’ it. The fact of the matter is that most people who know me know little about me. I am guarded because I am terrified of being vulnerable.  

Perhaps, this is true of most people—maybe it’s not unique. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to open up, and to all people, I’ve decided to open up to all of you. This is my Confession Series.  

Why? Because maybe some of the secrets I’m keeping are similar to some of the secrets you are keeping and maybe by sharing, my secrets can somehow make yours a little easier to bear.

Deep breath, my stomach is full of butterflies . . . this is honestly me exposing myself with my most personal struggles, things I never reveal to people . . . okay . . . here I go . . . 


Confession: I was recently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Panic Anxiety 301 by Alessandra via Flickr cc.
Yes, we’ve all heard of it, but it’s more than what most people think. Most people associate anxiety with panic attacks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a panic attack. What I have is more . . . well, general.

Don’t freak out if any of this sounds familiar to you. Everyone has normal levels of anxiety, so we’ve all experienced it. That doesn’t mean we all have anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders are only diagnosed when anxiety becomes so overwhelming it interferes with daily life for a prolonged period of time.

This is written based on my personal experiences. What is discussed here should not be considered a medical opinion of any sort.

Here’s a quick clarification of the types of anxiety, so it’s clear what I’m dealing with and not dealing with. People can have anxiety about something specific Phobic Anxiety or have something happen to them that causes a specific anxiety Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They can have compulsions, as in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or they can have panic attacks in response to physical sensations, which is a Panic Disorder. Finally, they can have fear about almost anything in general hence Generalized Anxiety Disorder and of course any combination of one or more.

Finding Out I Had a Problem

Some people get anxiety in response to something that happened to them and others are prone to it due to their personality – the latter is my case. I’ve kind of always had anxious tendencies; however, I didn’t know that these were abnormal, and they aren't necessarily, not until they become a problem. The only thing is when you have always had anxious tendencies, it's not obvious that something is wrong when it gets out of control. You just keep living with it.

Stress by Bernard Goldback via Flickr cc.
It didn’t happen overnight either. I had been struggling for years with this feeling like something was wrong, and I spent about a year being tense and frustrated, feeling like I couldn’t handle day to day responsibilities. Every day, I pushed through feeling like I was barely making it, like I might explode by the end of the day every day, and when I just barely survived, I had to start all over the next day.

I actually thought I might be depressed, but something about what I was experiencing didn’t seem like depression, so I found other explanations related to stress because that’s the main result of anxiety is constant stress. I was unhappy and something was corroding important areas of my life like my work and my relationships.

Finally, in June 2015, I went to a psychologist who diagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I’ve been working on learning how to manage it ever since. Unfortunately, this type of anxiety isn’t one that you can get rid of or be cured of. It’s for life baby!

It kind of makes sense because the characters I write about struggle with mental illness and feelings that are related to if not actual reflections of anxiety, especially in A White Room, but also to some extent in my next novel The Binding of Saint Barbara

What’s It Like?

It’s not as obvious as you would think. It’s not like panic attacks, so it’s hard to recognize when I’m having it. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve had an episode until it’s finally over and then I look back and hit myself in the head for not seeing it. Other times, I realize it but can’t do anything about it because that’s part of what it does to me—it makes me freeze.

I’m sure others experience it differently, but for me, I feel stuck. It’s not that I can’t move or unable to think—it’s that I am unable to make decisions or take mental action. This frozenness means that I struggle to get work done or to get anything done. I’ll get stuck on something even if I know it’s not productive or not going well, and I'll get more and more wound up because I know something is wrong but I can't stop it. A lot of times I’ll flutter around trying to settle on what I’m doing, overwhelmed with this sense of urgency to do something, but I am too overwhelmed to actually do anything. Or I just feel this stress building and building until I snap at someone or something. Sorry husband.


There is a mental aspect and a physical aspect to this. The mental aspect is that my anxieties, worries, and fears have taken over my mind, and it’s like a hamster on a wheel, a super hamster injected with super steroids. You can’t stop that hamster!

The physical aspect is the fight, flight, or freeze response. You’ve probably heard about fight or flight, and not freeze, but you actually are familiar with it. It’s what a deer does when threatened, also possums, and apparently anxious writers. So while my mind is racing, my body is also gearing up to be eaten by a lion or . . . what eats possums? Polar Bears! Okay moving on, so my heart starts pumping, blood is rushing, my body is tensing, and I need to do something, but I can’t do anything.

This might not sound like end of the world stuff and it’s not. It might even sound like something you’ve experienced yourself, but the big difference is that I and others in similar situations can experience it throughout the day, every day, for months or years, and in response to everyday things that shouldn’t cause such a response. 

Possum by Glen_e_Wilson via Flickr cc.
Also, unlike the deer or possum who get over it and move on with their lives, generalized anxiety hops from one fear to the next, so this mental and physical stress meant to last only a short period of time can last for hours upon hours. Even if I eliminate the original fear that caused the stress response, I won’t eliminate the anxiety because it will just latch onto another fear.

The long term effects are not only problematic physically but also mentally, emotionally, and socially.

So How Am I Coping?
Find out next week with my next Confession.

Did you find this useful? Get a little more support from the U&E Quarterly Newsletter. Only Four Emails a Year.



About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author
Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
  
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

Learn more at www.stephaniecarroll.net and connect with me @CarrollBooks on Twitter, Facebook, or on Pinterest!

Learn all about my journey becoming a Navy Wife Author with my Quarterly Author Newsletter! Only Four Emails a Year!




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