Let’s Talk Tuesday | The War Within

The War Within (1)

Now, I’m fairly used to dealing with the emotional roller coaster that comes along with facing life issues. I’ve been dealing with my mom’s heart condition since I was 14, dealt with family deaths, and a number of other things in while growing up. It wasn’t until my senior year of undergrad that I started to realize a change in the emotions I was feeling and my state of mind. That wasn’t enough for me to seek help though, and I continued to try to climb out of the depths of my sadness and feelings of edginess for most of my last semester. Finally, after a bout of tears accompanied by hyperventilation and overwhelming fear (over something minor), I sought help under the advisement of one of my mentors. It was determined that I had indeed suffered an anxiety attack. At that point I was officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder accompanied by depression.

It’s been a little over a year since my “official” diagnosis, and I find myself struggling to manage my mental health. Honestly, it seems as though the anxiety is about 10 times worse than it has ever been. I’ve been on different medications, but once you’re so used to being keyed up all of the time, it’s really difficult to function when you aren’t. Surely that sounds absolutely crazy, but in reality I’m so used to being anxious and worried about every little thing that when I am on the meds and I’m not anxious, I feel as though something is not right. However, at some point when I’m no longer taking medicine to help me be mellow, I always find myself back in the trenches trying to dig myself out of a dark whole.

So what do I mean by that? Well, allow me to explain. When I am not on meds, I worry A LOT and about every little thing. Of course it’s normal to worry a little, but I worry about things that might not even happen, that have already happened, things that are completely out of my control. Need an example? I’m currently worrying about what I’ll have for dinner tonight although I am fully aware that while there isn’t a ton of food at the house, I can at least eat a pack of Ramen. It’s 9:30 in the morning, and that’s not the only thing plaguing my mind. Basically, I’m an irrational worrier. This likely wouldn’t be as much of an issue if it didn’t, 1) trigger me to have breakdowns when I’m overwhelmed by my thoughts, and 2) didn’t cause me to dive into states of depression that sometimes make me feel suicidal.

Most of the time what happens is I worry so much about so many things that are out of my control that I start to get sad, overwhelmed, and unresponsive (lack of motivation/action). This is a huge issue when you are a student because you have an obligation to get your assignments completed and to study. The saddest part of it all is that yes, I feel that way and literally don’t have the push to get things done though I usually want nothing more than to tackle whatever it is that’s holding my mind captive. Essentially, it’s a war with me and in my own head.

Admittedly, I need to work on maintaining a stable schedule and treatment routine because that can make a huge difference. And while I don’t have insurance (the ACA didn’t save all of the millennials), there are resources out there dedicated to helping those in need that are on limited incomes. The help is and always has been there, but I had to take the first step and admit that I needed help so that I could seek it. Treatment will be ongoing for the rest of my life. This is not something that will just magically go away in a few weeks, or months, or years. It may not always be as severe and overwhelming to manage, but I will always deal with it and I will always be in a silent war with myself.

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Let’s Talk Tuesday | Keep Moving

Keep Moving

“Life is like riding a bicycle – In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ~Albert Einstein

In a previous post (or two), I mentioned the importance of recognizing the difference between moving on and quitting. Oddly, after writing that, I came across this quote in my journal.

Life is very much like a bicycle… It takes you on journeys and down different paths. They can be straight, curvy, narrow, wide, smooth, or rough; but, they all get you to a destination in the end. It’s important to remember that, just like when you’re riding a bike, you should maintain balance in your life. When you fall off balance, you can find yourself detouring from your journey and going down the wrong path. Recognizing that is vital to growth and self-awareness.

When I moved to East Tennessee last year, I was working in a field that I love even though it was not in my field of study. I felt that I would be able to do work that I loved while getting my degree, and at the time that was most important. However, as the year progressed, I realized that my position wasn’t meeting my needs or fulfilling my values. But, for the sake of not quitting I decided that I would keep going. By the end of the academic year I was beaten down, picked apart, and mentally the unhealthiest I have ever been to date.  I was ready to go back and endure another year after summer break though. Not because it was best for me or my journey, but because I didn’t want to quit.

It was when I started interning in Nashville that I realized what it was like to 1) work in my field and see results 2) enjoy all aspects of my work and 3) be valued for the work that I am doing. I then began to consider the possibility of not going back to East Tennessee. My MPH program can be finished completely online, my family lives in the Nashville area, my support system would be closer, my mental state improved. Even after considering all of these things, I was planning to return to finish school no matter how unhappy I would be.

About halfway through the summer I was offered an opportunity to work full-time continuing the work that I had started for my internship. The excitement I felt was unreal! To continue working in my field before completion of my degree while still making time to complete my degree just felt like a natural step in my journey. It was as if I had taken a turn from a curvy, rocky path, to a smooth straight path, and it was at that point that I realized that moving back to the Nashville area (to work or regardless) is not me quitting or giving up. Me moving back is actually a forward progression that puts me back into stride on my journey to success.

In leaving East Tennessee, I can see that I was not offering anyone any value by returning to be miserable and unproductive. Realistically there was nothing for me to quit because I don’t feel like I left anything unfinished behind. My choice to leave was me getting rebalanced in my life journey and putting my bicycle back on the path to success. That city, school, and job were a temporary part of my journey that was meant to teach me and get me on the right track.

Just remember that just because you are walking away from something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re quitting. Maybe you’re just trying to keep moving so that you don’t lose your balance.

Let’s Talk Tuesday | What my mid 20s has taught me so far

What my mid 20s has taught me so far

The past year has been full of both good and bad change. I moved away from everything that I know and love and experienced a new place and new people; I rediscovered my career passion; and, I began working my first job in a “professional” setting igniting my actual career beginning. Along the way I have changed a ton, and have not only gotten understanding about lessons shared, but also learned a few of my own.


1.Rid your life of toxic people.

For years I have tried to hold on to familial and non-familial relationships because I felt like certain people “had” to be in my life. Whether that need was based off of familial connection or just how long they had been a part of my life.

I used to feel the need to call and/or text people because I felt that family should be in my life, even when they made no effort to contact me. Well, now when people cause me undue stress, treat me poorly, or don’t acknowledge my existence until convenient I’ve learned to sever ties with them. Communication with them is done on an as needed basis. No phone numbers, no Facebook friendship, nothing.

I’ve learned that sometimes you have to remove people from your life for your own sanity and mental health purposes. If they do not have enough regard to treat and communicate with you in a respectful way or can only acknowledge you when it’s convenient, then why should they be a part of your life?

2Learn to appreciate what YOU have to contribute in a professional setting.

As I delve into my career and continue on my professional and academic journeys, I find it more and more valuable to recognize and appreciate the skills and talents that I have to offer in the professional world.

I think it’s particularly easy to fall into a place where you don’t think you are good enough when you are fresh out of college and moving into the realm of your career. Diving in headfirst to an environment where you are likely the youngest, most inexperienced in the room can be quite intimidating. The best thing to do though is to take a deep breath, evaluate your skill set, and appreciate it.

Of course we all want to be better; we all want to be the best, in fact. However, you have to learn to accept and appreciate what have because if you don’t, you will 1) never know when you’ve become better, and 2) never learn to appreciate what you have to offer in life.

3Admit that you need help, and seek it when you do.

During undergrad I suffered from bouts of anxiety and depression, though I didn’t finally admit it and seek help until about a month before graduation. By that point, I wasn’t suffering from recurring intermittent bouts, but more like one really long ongoing bout.

I grew up in a family where these types of mental health problems were never discussed, often chalked up to laziness, and almost always referred to as something that could be prayed away. Needless to say, when I started having abnormal feelings and thoughts I wasn’t open to discussing them or even admitting that anything was wrong. When I finally sought help though, it was because I had no other choice.

It’s important not to wait until things become awful to seek the help you need. I speak particularly from the standpoint of mental health, but please understand that this applies to many other facets as well. If you’re stressed, depressed, anxious, or have declining grades, or need financial assistance, ANYTHING. Seek help when you need it.

4Do things that you enjoy!

Reading books, planning and journaling, cooking, traveling… These are all pastimes that I started to neglect during the rigors of my undergraduate experience. Now that I am a graduate student (and an actual adult, lol), I have learned that no matter how busy and overwhelming my life may become I have to find time to do things that I love.

Living is about experiences, and all of your experiences CANNOT be about your academic and professional goals, etc. Find time to do things that make you happy! Have lunch with a friend, plan a day trip with a friend, go on a cruise, or just sit down and read a good book. Live my friends and find enjoyment in things other than your career.

1. (4)Self-awareness is key.

Throughout undergrad, when I started grad school, and even at my job people comment on my self-awareness and how it will take me far in life. I used to wonder what that meant, or how it was possible that being in touch with who I am was such a wonderful thing. Then I started meeting people who are not as self-aware as I am, and I understood.

Self-awareness is defined as: conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires.

There is something eye opening about really evaluating your character, the way you feel in certain situations or about certain things, what drives you to do the things that you do, and truly discovering what you desire in life. You may surprise yourself, but I think a huge part of embracing where you are and where you are going in life is learning more about who you are.

 

Let’s Talk Tuesday | Following my dreams or wasting my time?

I have spent my entire life wanting to be a physician. I want to save lives, help people, make a difference, and live a life where I can experience science first hand every single day. To me pursuing my goals and dreams has always been a priority; and, it still is. At 24 years old, I have never experienced life without “school”. To some that seems ludicrous, however, to me it’s not only normal but completely okay. Learning is something I could never be tired of doing. I absorb knowledge like a sponge taking in water. It’s what keeps me going and helps me maintain my status as a know-it-all.

I’m getting older though, and many of my friends from both high school and college are now getting married and starting families. At times I can’t help but think that maybe I’m wasting my time trying to pursue a dream that still seems so far away from me.

Following my dreams or wasting my time-Yes, I am aware that I shouldn’t be comparing myself to everyone around me, but really, how can I not? It can be frustrating to be the person in the room with such heightened ambition and desire to do so many different things. It can also be frustrating to be the woman in the room who desperately wants a family and also wants to achieve the heightened career and academic goals. Often I find myself asking if one desire is worth more than the other. Will I grow to resent my family if I seek that over my career? Will I grow to resent my career if I choose it over having a family? Should I be aiming to have both?

I don’t know the answer though I often wish I did. The only thing that I can do is continue to take it one step at a time. I can only hope that I’ll be lucky enough to have a mate that is both ambitious like me and understanding of my ambition. I never want my husband or my family to feel like they are on the back burner. I also don’t want to feel I am putting the one thing that’s such a large part of my being aside either. One day, I will be Gabriell Gassaway, MD, MPH. When that day comes I’d like to think that I will see it as the fruition of me following my dreams, not me wasting my time.

Let’s Talk Tuesday | Everything Happens for a Reason

in reverieAlways remember that everything happens for a reason. A year ago I packed up my life and moved to East Tennessee; 5 hours away from everything I have ever known and loved. I got accepted into graduate school and was offered an assistantship that covered tuition and served as employment throughout the school year. At the time it was the best thing that could happen, and I was elated.

I spent much of my first semester after the move adjusting to the difference in cultural climate and trying to learn how to live on my own for the first time. It was seriously a challenge. In addition to those things I was of course in my first graduate level courses, still trying to manage my mom’s care back home, and dealing with a less than exemplary work experience. About midways through the fall semester, the height of my hell began. My mom was admitted into the hospital and it seemed like she would NEVER get out. Her health had taken a turn for the worse. I missed about two weeks of school, and from that point forward, my experience never seemed to be positive again.

My grades that semester were not those that represented a student that works as hard as I do. Nor did they represent me and what I aim to achieve. That sent me into a spiral of emotions that led me to want to move back home and rethink my entire situation. But I made the decision to return in the spring because I don’t quit. That’s what I tell myself…

As the spring semester began, I had this bit of self-doubt that had taken root in my being. I didn’t feel good enough, I didn’t feel smart enough, nothing I did was worthy in my opinion. To make it worse I wasn’t getting positive feedback in many areas of my life and I was continuously feeling picked apart and knocked down in my endeavors. At the time, classes were going well. I was spending all of my waking time making sure that they were. Even though, I wasn’t giving myself the credit for that and felt as though I needed to work harder, more.

Spring break came. Then it went. That’s when my house of cards began to tumble down. The stress of not feeling good enough turned into anxiety that I needed to do better and then finally into depression because nothing I did was good enough. The A’s that I’d been holding on to all semester became blurry as I tried to fight off the dark clouds of depression that were closing in on me, and I almost lost the battle. It became increasingly difficult to function normally and I found myself unable to leave my apartment, unable to find the energy to cook, unable to motivate myself to complete assignments. I was completely overwhelmed.

At some point during this time, I’d seen an email about an internship in Nashville and decided that I should at least apply. The worst they could say is no.  But if they said yes, at least I would be able to get out of the mountains and my misery for the summer. To my surprise, they said yes. Not only did they accept me to the internship, they placed me on a special project that aligns well with my background and current studies. It was like a light at the end of an extremely dark and scary tunnel.

Fast forward to now. I’m transitioning from being an intern to being a full-time employee. My beloved belongings are here in Middle Tennessee with me, and I won’t be going back to that job that was driving me crazy, nor the town that made me uneasy.

A few things that moving away taught me:

  1. Sometimes you can’t force yourself to stay in a situation for the sake of a single goal; you can meet your goals without making yourself miserable in the process.
  2. Every negative situation yields a positive lesson; it feels awful right now, but you will look back and realize that you changed for the better because of it.
  3. You are always good enough; even when your subconscious is telling you something different.
  4. EVERYTHING happens for a reason; the sadness, heartache, and bad experiences will be worth it in the grand scheme of things. Just keep going.
  5. Moving on isn’t quitting; there is a difference between quitting and removing yourself from a situation that’s unhealthy. Sometimes you need to move on, and that’s not the same as just giving up.

I never would have imagined being where I am right now a few years ago or even last year. And though it isn’t what I imagined, I know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. The past year, was undoubtedly one of the toughest I have ever experienced. While I’m sad to have had such poor experiences, sad to have lost hair, and sad to have doubted myself so much, I can say I am surely grateful for all that has come of my misery. I am gainfully employed and still a student, and back in a city that I can at least be comfortable and surrounded by people that love me.

Gabriell Anna

Let’s Talk Tuesday | Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

KnightsTavern.org-394For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to be one thing: a doctor. It started out with me wanting to be a neurosurgeon, which transformed to a desire to practice cardiology, and soon led me to an interest in doing research. My dream has literally always been to save lives. Along the way though, I somehow lost sight of the why and started focusing on the why not.

Coming from a first-generation family I had very little (basically no) knowledge of what it would take for me to achieve my goal of becoming a physician. In my mind it was as easy as 1-2-3. But when it came time to head off to college, I was so focused on just getting in and staying afloat that I lost sight of asking questions that directly pertained to my interest in further studies beyond undergrad. Because of that, I started my pre-medical education quite late in the game and it overwhelmed me and brought tons of doubt into my mind. It was not until I met one specific pre-professional advisor that I began to feel as though I had given up too soon. She reminded me that it would not be an easy journey and that she knew that I am capable, but that I too needed to realize and embrace that I am capable of being successful on this journey

I continued taking my courses and even added a general science major to my first major (exercise science). However, as I continued in the programs life circumstances occurred and my performance suffered. After so many years of wanting something I suddenly felt my dream slipping from my grasp and I frantically started looking for an alternative option as my senior year approached.

Fast forward to now, I am studying public health and still working to accomplish my goal of working to save lives. To be honest, public health is a population based field and thus saves lives on a broader scope than the individual focus of clinical medicine. So why am I not satisfied? Every day I find myself wondering if I could have gotten into medical school, or if I should still try to pursue medical school. Without even trying, I pushed aside the one thing I wanted to do my entire life for fear that I am not good enough based on the opinions of others along the way in addition to a few negative experiences along the way.

My advice to you: do not allow ANYONE to influence how you feel about you, your abilities, your appearance, nothing. Keep working for what you want out of life. If you wake up daily asking yourself if you should have done something or if you should do something, then I encourage you to try to do it. “Nothing beats a fail but a try.” At least if you try and fail, you will not regret not knowing for the rest of your life.

As much as I love public health and can truly say that I do not regret the choice to study it, I also know this is not the end of my journey. To make the type of impact that I hope to make, it is going to take the effort of me working to reach my true professional goal. I know that it will not be easy or quick; but, I am 100% sure that it will be worth it. I want to be a physician and I want to save lives. I put it on the back burner once, but know this: I will not do that again. I have my eyes on the prize.

A Mother’s Love

Today is a day that has been set aside to celebrate the women that have truly birthed the world: mothers. I am lucky enough to have many influential women in my life that most definitely serve as mother figures, but most importantly, I am blessed to still have my mom in my life. My mother is a woman of strength and courage, of love and kindness…MothersDayQuote2_thgesa I have watched her overcome many an obstacle with grace and gratitude, and I can only tell you that I am in awe of the woman that she is.

My mother has been battling heart disease since I was 14 years old. I thought I was something then, but looking back ten years, I was a baby. I was terrified about all the things going on at the time. In and out of the hospital, staying here and there, worrying that the only person I truly trust in the world may be gone. But you know what, my mom encouraged me and reminded me that I too am strong, and that no matter what happened, she would always be with me. Mommy has fought and fought that battle for 10 years. She’s beat odds. She’s surpassed the statistics. She’s seen me graduate high school, college, and helped me move for graduate school. I know that it’s not always easy for her to keep on fighting, but every day she keeps pushing forward. That is what I call strength.

In the fall of 2015, just after I moved away from “home” with mom for the first time, she got REALLY ill and ended up in the hospital. They told her that her condition has become advanced and it was time to look at some other options (Ventricular assist device/heart pump and/or transplant). We were both terrified to say the least. In the hospital, no other family support around. Just me and my mom with the biggest, most stressful decision in the world to be made. At first my mom said she was done and that this would just have to be the end for her because she wasn’t going to let them keep cutting her open again and again. Of course I was upset for my own selfish reasons, but eventually I agreed. A heart transplant is nothing I can force on her. She’s an adult. Eventually though, after much consideration, my mom decided she wasn’t going to let this beat her. And she hasn’t. Turns out surgery is not a necessity yet, but should it be in the future, I think the mom has a different outlook. As terrifying as it all is, she continues to face it with courage and grace.

As I continue to grow as a woman, I realize that my mom is literally the best friend I will ever have. She shows me an unconditional love that I can get absolutely no place else. I am so grateful to her for never allowing my disobedience, poor decisions, mental health issues, or anything else that I do affect the love that she has for me. There have been times when I was so stressed at night and couldn’t sleep that I called her just to feel like she was with me. She provided me with comfort and compassion. When I didn’t feel like getting out of bed because I felt like dark clouds had taken over my brain, she was ready to jump on a Greyhound to get here to do whatever I needed. My mother is the most considerate woman I know. She has literally gone without to make sure that I had a tiny piece of the world at my feet, and God only knows how appreciative I am for every sacrifice she’s ever made.

I try my best to share my love and appreciation with my mommy as often as I can because she is the most important person in my life. But today… today I wanted to share a tiny bit that importance with the world. There’s something about a mother’s love that is completely different than any other love, and there is no love that can surpass it. Mommy, you are the best. Happy Mother’s Day.

Gabriell Anna

Let’s Talk Tuesday | Finding Your Happiness

the happiestpeople don't have everything they just make the bestof everything (1)As the spring weather begins to emerge I find myself catching glimpses of an older version of myself who was always happy and carefree regardless of what was going on. I miss the younger
me who hadn’t totally faced the burdens that sometimes
come with life. There was a time that I spent time writing poetry
and music, singing, learning instruments, laughing and spending time with friends, learning how to code, doing photography… I LOVED doing these things. They made me smile. But what happened and why do I not do any of them anymore?

In high school I was pretty active in these things, but it was then that I noticed a shift. My situation at home began to shift and grades became my main focus as I knew my GPA and academic capabilities were the only hope I had at obtaining a college degree. I started focusing more and more on what I needed to do to become “successful”, and less and less on the things that make me happy and keep me sane. Slowly the writing came to a stop, singing became a part of my past, and once I got to college the photography and music came to a complete halt. I’ve been out of high school for 5 years and I haven’t picked up an instrument or sang a serious note since my senior year. I haven’t taken a picture outside of a selfie or snapshot in 4 years.

As I approach the end of my first year of graduate school, I’m realizing that I’ve come to a place in my life where I don’t even know what truly makes me happy because I’ve spent so long focusing on becoming a successful professional. Not saying there is anything wrong with becoming a successful professional, however, I think it’s important to realize that in order to be truly happy, there needs to be a balance. There’s something to be happy about and appreciate everyday. We all have to do a better job at finding that for ourselves each day.

For instance, today I decided to wear heels/wedges to work/school. It’s something that I never do because when I was growing up I got tons of crap for it since I’m on the taller side of the spectrum. But I LOVE shoes and I have so many in my closet that I never wear. I make up all these reasons as to why when really none of those things are important. This morning I made it up in my mind that I didn’t care what anyone had to say about me wearing my heels, and I proceeded to wear them right out of my apartment.

The confidence that it brought me to wear those shoes out today… no one will ever know. Sometimes it’s really the small things that bring us joy. I know that me wearing those shoes is not the same as me picking up one of my old activities, but it’s definitely a step. As I move forward I challenge myself and you all as well, to seek out what truly makes you happy. I challenge you to grow and embrace your happiness because you deserve to smile everyday; even on the bad days.

Besos – Gabriell Anna

Road Trip to Charlotte Vlog

So only my close circle knew this, but I’m revamping my brand, and with that comes new and improved YouTube videos! I don’t have a schedule yet because my schoolwork comes first, but here’s a peek from me and Randall’s adventure yesterday. Watch it, like it, and subscribe!

Facing Your Truth | Be Honest With Yourself First

Image made with Canva.

Image made with Canva.

In a reflection of an episode of Being Mary Jane, I recall her saying, “People don’t really want to hear your truth, even when they ask how you’re doing.” This rings so true in my opinion. On a daily basis we walk around exchanging the phrase “how are you?” with the catch all answer “fine” and think nothing of it. Honestly, when you ask someone how they are, how interested are you really in  the ups and downs of their life. Do you really want to hear that they just had a family death and are struggling with it? Are you prepared to show compassion if they tell you they’re dealing with depression? For that matter, have you considered how YOU would answer if you were being truthful about how you really are?

Initially it seemed a good idea to address how as a society we just have no interest in how people are truly faring in life, but then as I thought more, I realized that we can’t truly be honest with each other until we learn to be honest with ourselves.

The past 5 months or so have been particularly rough for me. I moved away from home for graduate school while still trying to be a sole support system for my chronically ill mother and working as a graduate assistant in a pretty demanding office. I decided not to disclose my struggle because I was trying to be strong and pretend that I could handle it all. I wasn’t being honest with myself at all about my well-being.  In my lack of honesty with myself, I now realize I did more harm than good because I effectively shut people out and didn’t allow them the opportunity to be there for me when I most needed it.

How can I expect others to truly care about my well-being and what I’m going through if I don’t even have the gall to acknowledge my struggles myself? For some reason as a society we have gotten away from the fact that vulnerability is an acceptable emotion to have. It’s okay to be vulnerable and let other people know that you’re struggling and not okay. It’s okay to not be okay. And when we all learn to accept that life can’t always be “fine”, I think we’ll  be moving in the right direction.