Category Archives: Insecurity

I’m more than I appear

One of the challenges that accompanies my depression is that I often tell myself, and believe, lies. Among those is that a man will choose me based only on my appearance.

I don’t know where I got that from. I know it’s not true.

But when things go wrong in romance, I often trot out that lie and use it to flog myself. When my boyfriend broke up with me earlier this year, I did just that.

It’s a silly reaction, and not only because I know it’s untrue. I also tend to like my appearance. I could recite my flaws for you the same as any woman (or man, I suppose), but when I look in the mirror, I’m happy with what I see.

I’ve never been a fashionista or particularly savvy with makeup, but I have long believed that when you feel good, you look good (regardless of what you actually look like). And so when a girl friend invited me to join her for a mall makeover just weeks after the breakup, I quickly said yes.

The resulting makeover gave us fodder for a Jezebel column (the plan all along), but it was also an educational pick-me-up. One of my best friends was particularly thrilled with the results, I think because she recognizes that your outward appearance can reflect how you feel inside.

Mall Makeovers

Carla Jean’s Beauty Routine: My daily routine combines a bit of Southern expectation with a more relaxed attitude toward appearances. I usually apply BB cream, mascara and lip gloss at a minimum. On days when my reporting job requires me to meet with prominent people, I usually go for a full—but natural-looking—face. I’ve also become comfortable walking around town in sweaty workout clothes and no makeup, in large part because I’m a yoga teacher on the side. Read more “Mall Makeovers: Going Cruelty-Free in Birmingham, Alabama” at Jezebel

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We all have something to offer

I’m in the process of becoming trained as a yoga teacher, and the nine-month-long training includes writing a number of papers. I’ll post them here because, well, that’s what I do. The sixth writing assignment was a reflection on the book “Teaching People, Not Poses: 12 Principles for Teaching Yoga with Integrity” by Jay Fields. This is my favorite book we’ve read in all of training.

When I’m uncomfortable or unconfident in a situation, I tend to quickly fall back on my rule-following habits. Rather than bringing personality or my opinions and experience to a situation, I’ll stick to the letter of the law. That’s a crutch that helps me through these circumstances, but it’s often not the most effective way to function.

That’s especially so when editing a piece of copy or teaching a class full of students. I’m in those situations because I’ve got expertise to share, and sticking to what I’ve been taught and nothing more means giving my writers and students less than my all. Jay Fields’ “Teaching People Not Poses: 12 Principles for Teaching Yoga with Integrity” is a wake-up call, a reminder that I’m not an automaton going through a series of pre-set motions.

Throughout this slim book, Fields reminded me that I have something to offer. That’s why my journalism students and magazine interns stay in touch with me for months or years after our professional relationships end. I’m confident that I’ve given them instruction and encouragement that will help them build careers. As I begin to add yoga to my teaching repertoire, I’ll best serve my students by remembering that they, too, will return to me because I have something to offer–and that “something” is more than a series of poses. If all they wanted was an effective workout, there are plenty of yoga videos and smartphone apps to guide a student through a satisfactory practice.

I know already that’s a reminder I’ll need to revisit as I become a yoga teacher. I’m prone to let my Type-A tendencies take over and forget that there’s more to learn than a set of pre-established rules. I expect to keep Fields’ book close at hand to help me find my voice as a yoga teacher.

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Filed under Autobiography, Insecurity, Yoga

GUEST POST: Coping privately while living publicly

In recent weeks, I have been  featuring a series of guest posts about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. My hope is to convey how many people face these challenges by providing a platform for others to share their stories. Today’s post is by Blake Ells, a writer, radio man, rock ‘n’ roll fan and publicist based in Birmingham, Ala. Learn more about him at or follow him on Twitter @blakeells. 
Should I write this? Should I not? The only thing that prevents me from sharing my story is that you’ve probably heard it. Having begun radio at 17 and being quickly propelled to eight-hour daily shifts on one of the largest sports radio stations in the country by the age of 22, I’ve never had much of a private life.

When I came home on July 1, 2008, and found half my things gone with no explanation, it was paralyzing. I didn’t eat for about 36 hours, but I still had to go to work, be on air, try to tell jokes. One of our co-hosts was on vacation that week, and I was having to fill that role. The starvation nearly made me pass out on air, and I was told I had to get someone to run the board long enough for me to go force something in my stomach. Coping with my wife leaving me was debilitating.

I lost 60 pounds over the next six weeks. I left my house to go to work daily, and I came straight home, daily. The first time I tried to leave for another reason, I had a panic attack that literally brought me to my knees.

I saw a doctor, but only with the intent of finally trying to solve a lifelong reflux disorder (which I still have). As I sat in the office, I saw a poster on the wall that listed ways to self-diagnose depression. “Not sleeping? Not eating?” Yeah. Yeah. All of those. So I told him, and he said, “I’m not particularly worried about your weird reflux thing because you’ve lived with that your entire life. I’m worried about your crippling depression.”

Over the next two years or so, I’d unravel the mystery of why I lost half of my silverware, I’d lose what I thought was my dream job and I’d have my house hit by the April 27, 2011, tornado. I stopped taking the pills (I was on Lexapro) because I was having to take on so many part-time jobs and side hustles to pay the bills I had been abandoned with that I couldn’t even stop to notice anything irregular about my own well-being. So no, I’ve probably not ever really recovered. But I’ve learned how to cope with it now on my own, and it’s not as frightening.

In a lot of ways, I was also hesitant to share this because at its core, it isn’t quite as dramatic of a personal triumph as some others. But the story is my own. Being surrounded by people and knowing that you’re able to entertain folks doesn’t mean you can’t feel alone. I still do. Often.

Would you be willing to share your experience with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-health illness? Email me at cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom. I’d love to share your experience as a guest post.

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GUEST POST: Be gentle with yourself

This week (or for as long as I have volunteers), I’m featuring a series of guest posts about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. My hope is to convey how many people face these challenges by providing a platform for others to share their stories. Today’s post is by Kristen Nielsen Donnelly, a researcher, teacher and PhD candidate at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. A transplanted Philadelphian, she researches women and religion, deeply misses proper coffee and can be reached on Twitter at @klndonnelly

Five days.

I looked at the clock blinking in the dark. 4:05 a.m. My roommate was asleep, had been for hours. Me? I couldn’t sleep. Wasn’t able to and hadn’t been able to for five days. I couldn’t shut my brain off, couldn’t stop the building fear that everything was going to fall apart that had no logical explanation behind it.

I had always been … shall we say, intense. Throughout childhood and adolescence, I had carried this need to keep busy, creating lengthy projects for myself like copying song lyrics into endless notebooks so that I would never have to be alone with my own thoughts. I feared falling asleep; those moments between the light going off and actually falling asleep were torture and a therapist had told me to start talking out loud to put myself to sleep. And that worked. Until I went to college and couldn’t talk. And the creeping fear of failure and panic that I couldn’t shake and hadn’t been able to shake, had only barely been able to keep at bay, erupted.

And I hadn’t slept for five days.

I laid awake analyzing every moment of the day, the week, the year, my life. I cried thinking of interactions I had had with people years previously, feeling shame at how I reacted or did not react. I convinced myself that no one would ever love me. I mean, how could they with all these apparent and concrete flaws? I berated myself for not being “enough:” not being disciplined enough, not being skinny enough, not being friendly enough. You name it, I felt it.

It was paralyzing.

I had contemplated suicide several times during my adolescence, actually creating a plan only once. I ended up confessing to my mother that I just wanted “the voices” to stop. Alarmed, she took me to a therapist who told her I was suffering adolescent angst and would grow out of it.

But the voices were really my voice. My own self-shaming voice which never shut up and by the time I hit day five of sleeplessness that October of freshman year, I knew I had to find a way to shut it up.

Once the dawn began creeping through the windows that final morning, I crept down to my resident director’s room, figuring that she could at least tell me what doctor to go to who could give me sleeping pills or something. I needed my brain to stop whirring and I needed to sleep. Through tears and hiccups, I told her a lot of what I just told you. She lovingly made me tea and let me sit in her living room until the local doctor’s office opened. She made an appointment for me that afternoon and drove me to it, telling me the whole time that I was brave.

I did not feel brave.

I felt broken.

I had been raised to be strong, you see. A true product of the Northeastern Corridor, I had absorbed the cultural message that strength meant never letting them see you cry.

That day was the start of a journey to understanding that as one of the most damaging lessons we ever learn.

The doctor in that sleepy Kentucky town was lovely. He listened and asked some gentle questions. At the end, he looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You have an anxiety disorder. Your brain doesn’t work properly and you’re actually unable to handle stress. This isn’t your fault and you’re not broken. You just need some medicine to help you. There is no shame in that. In fact, taking the pill is brave.”

That was 13 years ago this autumn. Since then, I’ve been on a fairly high dose of Zoloft every day. I’ve had a few foolhardy attempts at taking myself off of it. That didn’t go so well. It’s gone hand in hand with therapy at times, and that therapy has gone hand in hand with learning to let others into my pain. To learn to vocalize the fears instead of letting them fester, to learn to give myself grace and to extend it to others, to learn that tears can be holy and to learn that brokenness is usually the root of strength.

My mental health is in balance right now, but a tenuous balance at best. Keeping that balance is a daily struggle and will be forever, I have learned. I have coping mechanisms–podcasts have replaced talking myself to sleep, for instance–and the people I do life with know my journey because, honestly, the pill isn’t enough on its own. They know that I can’t always process stress well and that I tend to take personal interactions personally. Bless them, they put up with a lot. I hope I’m worth it.

Several years ago, I had a period of intense personal trauma and a friend took me out for coffee. As I poured out the eruption of anxiety in my head, she grabbed my hand as tears filled her eyes. “That’s a lot, darling. Be gentle with yourself as you wade through it. Be gentle.”

So that is my plea to you, reader. If some of my story rings true, be gentle with yourself. If none of it does, then I hope you will be gentle with yourself in whatever battle you’re fighting. Be gentle. Fighting for your health does not include beating yourself up. You do what you can each day and at the end of it, take a deep breath and realize that tomorrow is a new day where the battle may be easier. It may be harder, true. But the day after may be easier. And if you can find hope in that, then be gentle.

Would you be willing to share your experience with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-health illness? Email me at cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom. I’d love to share your experience as a guest post.

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GUEST POST: It’s OK to not be OK

This week (or for as long as I have volunteers), I’m featuring a series of guest posts about depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses. My hope is to convey how many people face these challenges by providing a platform for others to share their stories. Today’s post is by Jessilyn Justice. Jessilyn is a copy editor at Alabama Media Group, a regular contributor to Venn Magazine and Birmingham magazine and, most importantly, a dear friend.

This November will mark 11 years since I attempted suicide. I was in seventh grade, barely 13 and so lonely despite my friendships that I thought it would be easier to swallow an entire bottle of Tylenol than face my schoolmates. 

I’d struggled with darkness for probably two or three years before that night. For someone so talkative, there would be days at a time where I wouldn’t say anything at all, taking in my surroundings and evaluating how much I believed everyone else liked me.
All I remember from that night was the stomach ache from hell and waking up in the hospital with my mom helping me drink barium for the CAT-scan, regaling me with tales of Curious George having to drink it so they could see the puzzle piece he ate.
The hospital diagnosed it as a ruptured cyst, and I don’t think I came clean to my parents until four or five years later.
By all outside appearances, I shouldn’t struggle with depression: I have a strong family life, good friends, a job in the career I want to pursue, but that doesn’t stop the anguish of not having the fortitude to climb out of bed in the morning to face the world again.
I cut myself for five years, hiding the wounds under clothes, though the scars are still visible to this day. When I was 18, I got a tattoo meaning “for I have been set free, liberated, unchained and unleashed,” and then I snapped rubber bands against it to the point where it swelled.
I’ve been in and out of this routine, in and out of counselors’ offices and the church pews.
I have a hard time seeing what other people see and me, and that’s when the darkness starts to edge its way back in. All through college, I was afraid to admit my struggles, afraid my ultra-Christian university would judge me for backsliding into a story that was supposed to be a testimony for how God can heal. I was so afraid that as a Christian, I shouldn’t be experiencing depression, that if I truly believed in what I said I believed, that God would grant me this magical peace and happiness about my life. I was afraid to admit to the darkness, fearful of the judgement of other Christians.
But then I discovered that talking about it helps, that there are many people — close friends, even — who’ve experienced the same thing. Depression attacks people in different ways, and having honest conversations about it can only lead to you conquering your own battle.
Someone close to me told me something revolutionary a few months ago: “It’s OK to not be OK.” It’s OK to admit you’re struggling, it’s OK to admit you hate your life. It’s not OK to be rude and take it out those around you, blaming them for your situation. But it is OK to look at your life, identify your unhappiness and seek ways to be healthy.
Would you be willing to share your experience with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-health illness? Email me at cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom. I’d love to share your experience as a guest post.

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I am depressed and I’m happy

I burst into tears as I answered the intake questions for UAB psychiatry. “I’m sad, and I’m having trouble getting up off the bathroom floor to work, and I think maybe I need help—and maybe the fact that I’m crying is proof,” I said. The man on the other end of the line quickly identified a psychologist he thought would be a good fit and scheduled my appointment.

I had been self-identifying my depression for 16 years before I placed that call, and before my first appointment ended, my therapist affirmed my diagnosis. “It sounds to me like you have a family history of depression, likely caused by a chemical imbalance but exacerbated by circumstances. I also think you have seasonal affective disorder. Does this sound right to you?” I loved that she gave me space to disagree, but I didn’t need to. Her words—and the treatment that followed—offered freedom.

In the years since, I’ve been on a small but important personal mission to help break through the stigma associated with mental-health issues. It’s hard to say what would have been different if I had sought help earlier. I’m not 100 percent confident in saying that the stigma was all that held me back. But I’ve always been scared to admit imperfection, even when flaws are beyond my control.

I’ve learned that things I thought were simply part of my personality were actually symptoms I didn’t have to live with. (Did you know it’s not normal to cry at least monthly for no apparent reason? I didn’t.) Taking a small, daily dose of an anti-depressant isn’t a big deal; as one friend noted, if I were diabetic I wouldn’t aim to get off of insulin. That shift in perspective is significant, and the symptoms of depression seem to show up when I lose perspective. Twice-monthly therapy appointments have helped me build healthy coping skills. Rather than believe the lies I tell myself, I’ve learned to articulate them to a friend. Although I still face insecurities (hi, I’m human), I know how to deal and don’t let them define me. When I hear how ridiculous it sounds, negative self talk loses its power.

Sertraline and therapy have been a regular part of my life for the past two years, and people find it difficult to believe I am actually depressed. My therapist says I’m in remission, for lack of a better term. Friends say it takes strength to admit when you need help. Although I agree, I wouldn’t have phrased it that way at the time. I simply knew I couldn’t walk through my depression alone.

Depression can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be. Let people into your life, and ask for help when and if you’re able.

Would you be willing to share your experience with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-health illness? Email me at cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom. I’d love to share your experience as a guest post.


Oasis Counseling

UAB Psychiatry

Alabama Psychiatric Services

National Alliance on Mental Illness


Filed under Autobiography, Insecurity

Write, write, write, write

I’m not being the best friend right now–and that’s hard for me. I love being able to swing by a friend’s house when she calls and says dinner’s on, or enjoy a mid-week girls’ night with another while her husband is out of town. But right now, I’ve got to hunker down and write.

My manuscript is due on April 7. It’s hard to believe! And there’s still plenty of work to do (isn’t how these things always go?). But I’m excited to be racing toward the finish. I’ve left the “I can’t do this!” phase, am growing increasingly comfortable in the “I can probably do this” phase, hope to soon move into “I can do this!” and can’t wait to get to “I’ve done it!”

In the meantime, I’m still allowing myself a few minutes here and there to write personal projects–including my semi-regular blog posts for Church Street Coffee and Books, where I’m documenting my journey as a first-time author.

The countdown is on: My manuscript is due to my editor three weeks from yesterday.
Although it’s been 11 months since he verbally accepted my proposal and nearly nine months since I received the signed contract, these final days are proving the most intense part of the book-writing process. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised; writers, like people in a number of other fields, are renowned for their procrastination tactics. Just earlier today, a former newspaper columnist told me she enjoyed having written, past tense.

Read more “Keep Calm and Get Over Yourself” at

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Filed under Autobiography, Bits & Pieces, Books, Insecurity, Journalism, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio

You’re going to hear me roar

It’s hard to silence my inner critic.

I know I’m not alone in that struggle; based on conversations with friends, it’s a common challenge for writers, editors and introverts (and I’m betting many other groups of which I’m not a part!). But even though I’m not alone, it remains difficult.

That’s been especially true as I’ve worked on my first book, which is due to my editor in April. I’m learning that it’s key to turn to others who can remind me that I’m not alone and I can do this.

Sometimes we all need a pep talk, and I’m fortunate to have so many people willing to offer it. I wrote about one of my most recent in my latest post for Postscript, Church Street Coffee and Books’ blog.

I thought I hadn’t written a single word of my book. Piles of research overwhelmed me, and I knew I had plenty of information to get started. But with my manuscript deadline hovering six months away, I honestly believed I was starting from word one.

Earlier this week I asked a friend and fellow author to deliver a pep talk over coffee. I had been feeling down about the entire book writing enterprise, and I was in danger of spiraling into “lying to myself territory.” This is ground I’ve tread often as a writer, as an introvert, as someone diagnosed with depression. But one of the greatest things I’ve learned is to ask for help when those lies start to look believable.

Read more “Overwhelmed? You Might Be Doing Better than You Think” at

Today’s title comes from “Roar” by Katy Perry. I never thought I’d quote a Katy Perry tune on here, but my roommate was just watching this video and besides, it’s a catchy song.


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Standing on a darkened stage, stumbling through the lines

I was diagnosed with depression earlier this year. Although it took a series of tough events before I decided to seek help, I’ve been self diagnosing since I was 14. When I told my therapist that I should have done something about this at least 10 years ago, she very kindly responded, “You’re here now. We’ll deal with it now.”

I’ve come a long way in the seven months since I received that diagnosis, with the help of therapy, medication, friendship and a growing belief that it’s OK that I’m not perfect. But it’s still hard for me to think about the worst days of this year, when I would email a coworker from my spot on the office bathroom floor and tell her I was crying and needed her to come get me. I knew I was broken.

I wasn’t so good at asking for help the first time I realized depression might be an issue. Although this year was set off by some challenging familial, relational and career circumstances, it hasn’t always been so. (Remember, depression is a clinical condition, not just sadness.) During my freshman year of high school, I was down after my cheerleading squad lost a competition, and it took a long time for my mood to lift. My closest friends didn’t understand, which left me feeling bereft. I would wake up far too early, and then spend the hours until school lying in bed, watching infomercials.

Looking back, I can see that both the transition to high school and seasonal affective disorder were at play. Children don’t have such perspective. And, OK, neither do I when I’m in the throes of my worst moments.

But this year, I’ve started to learn how to cope. I’ve learned to ask for help, and I’ve learned to identify when I’m viewing life through depression rather than reality. Sometimes an issue will seem so big that it’s overwhelming; I have people in my life who will remind me that challenges are surmountable, and that they’re walking through them with me. I’ve always been determined and a perfectionist. Now, I’m balancing those (generally very good) traits with a healthy dose of reality.

When I told an insightful friend about my diagnosis and how life has improved since, he offered one of the most encouraging, profound compliments I’ve ever received. “My expectations for you just increased,” he said. “If you’ve achieved so much while depressed, what else are you capable of?”

I know this: I’m capable of sharing my story with others. Depression is common and often easily treatable, but some people still hold a stigma associated with it and other mental-health issues. Therapy and medication have done wonders for me; my therapist said I just needed a little support. As a coworker said, “You wouldn’t expect a diabetic to go off insulin. That makes up for what his body doesn’t produce. So if you need antidepressants to do the same, what’s wrong with that?” I can’t predict whether I’ll need this medication and a psychologist forever, but I can encourage others to seek the help they need.

Day three’s #bloglikecrazy prompt was to write something risky. I think it’s riskier not to share these challenges. Today’s subject line comes from one of my favorite songs, Nickel Creek’s “Reasons Why.”


Filed under #bloglikecrazy, Autobiography, Insecurity

Head full of doubt, road full of promise

Today I had one of those moments when you realize you’re becoming your parents. I usually love those; I’m perfectly content as an almost-perfect hybrid of my homebody mom and dreamer dad. But I’m afraid even my dad would be disappointed by today’s epiphany.

I don’t recall specifically how we got there, but this afternoon my boss, a coworker and I were in my boss’ office, listening to her stories of visiting the Czech Republic and Slovakia. As she rhapsodized about towns frozen in time and picturesque scenery that seemed straight off a set for Cinderella, I suddenly realized: I may never see these things myself. I may never travel outside of my own country. I may have already become my parents.

My dad, in particular, is bothered by his lack of travel experience. I barely remember a family trip to the Birmingham International Airport when I was just a tiny thing. Daddy was off to Michigan for a church mission trip, and I stood at the window, waving goodbye.

For the longest time, that was the most exotic trip I could recall my dad taking. Last year he accepted a new job that required him to spend two weeks in Denver for training. He was nervous about the cold and not particularly excited about the trip. But Mom was thinking of flying out for a long weekend to visit, and I did my best to convince them that this was the best idea they’d had in a long time. I’ve been to and through Colorado several times, and a long weekend in Telluride was one of the most magical experiences of my still-young life. (Plus, that dry cold really is different. Even to this Alabama-born, Florida-raised girl, it wasn’t so bad.) Mom and Dad listened to my advice, and sure enough they had a wonderful weekend.

Earlier this year, he was flying back west for more training. It was a week or so after I spent a day in Washington, D.C., and Dad just happened to have a layover in Dulles International Airport. It didn’t take much to persuade him to leave the airport, take public transit to the National Mall and at least spend a few minutes taking in the nation’s capitol. He agreed that a glimpse of D.C. was worth returning to airport security.

There’s so much my dad still wants to see. He’s never even been to New York City to visit my younger sister. But with a mortgage, bills and a kid still in high school (for seven more months), travel hasn’t been in the cards.

And though I take after my mom’s homebody tendencies–I’ll spend part of my upcoming vacation sitting on my couch with a stack of books–there’s so much world out there that I want to experience. It costs money, though, so much more than I have been able to set aside for such an occasion. My travels have taken me to New York, Seattle, San Diego and Telluride, but save for a few hours in Cozumel, those trips may not take me beyond our nation’s borders.

My mental to-save-for list is too long for my liking. The rainy day fund will never be big enough to make me feel secure. I suppose that’s life for a worrier. But I also hope to save for a car to eventually replace my ’99 sedan. One day I might like to buy a house. Or a couch. I may someday get married, and I don’t expect Mom and Dad to spring for that occasion. I’m not going to begin saving for college funds for unborn children from an unmet husband, but I will say it seems sometimes that the list of reasons to save could stretch out endlessly.

So where does a trip to Europe fit in? How do I make my way to Bali, and the little town my friend Jamie insists would be my southeastern Asia spot? Will I ever visit friends in Africa? Even if I muster the courage to spend weeks in Mexico, trying to understand the conditions that lead people to risk everything to immigrate to the United States, legally or not, would I have the means to do so?

As with anything in life, it’s easier to accept failure than to try and risk success. But if I’m going to tackle any of my dream list, I’ve got to make squirelling money away a higher priority. I’ve taken a month off of eating out, and that may be a start. But there’s so much happening in this city, and so much that’s free or cheap, that I’ve got no excuse for not trying a little harder. I think it would make my mom and daddy proud.


Filed under Autobiography, Insecurity, Travel