depression · Mental Health · podcast · sexual abuse

Episode 28: Be the Person You Always Needed

Episode 28: Be the Person You Always Needed

Alyssa Scolari: [00:00:00] Hey, everyone just popping on before we get into today's discussion with Sophia to let you know that we did it. We smashed the 3000 downloads goal on the light after trauma podcast. So to celebrate as promised we are having our very first giveaway. So this giveaway is actually a replica of an exact painting that I have framed in my bedroom.

So part of trauma recovery, especially if you are in recovery from sexual abuse is learning to love our bodies and be fully in touch with all of its parts. We are letting go of shame. We are accepting ourselves, loving ourselves and finding beauty in our bodies. Thus the first giveaway, we have a beautiful abstract painting with very bright colors.

It is a vulva portrait, all about self-love and body positivity. The artist is,, her name is Katie Lloyd. She has an Etsy shop and her Instagram handle is Yoni Art by Katie Lloyd, you can find her on Instagram. If you just go onto my Instagram, which is Alyssa_Scolari_LPC. You also can see pictures of the artwork where you, and you will have the opportunity to win.

We are going to be calling a winner this Friday, February 12th. So, what do you need to do to win? It's very simple. All you need to do is leave a in review on the podcast. You can do that on any platform, Apple podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, et cetera. And then simply email me or direct message me on any type of social media.

And let me know that you would like to be entered. I also should mention that the dimensions for the artwork are 12 inches by 10 inches and the frame, because you will see in the picture that it has a frame around it that is not included, but this picture is absolutely beautiful. And if it's not your style, not your thing.

No worries. Because for every thousand downloads that we get, I will be doing another giveaway. So stay tuned.

What's up everybody. Welcome to another fabulous episode of the Light After Trauma podcast. I am your host Alyssa Scolari. It is February. We are recording this in January, but it will be February by the time this comes out and I have to say, January has already been quite a month for this podcast in terms of breaking records.

I honestly just can't thank you all enough. In the month of January, we have had already well over a thousand downloads, and that is in the four months of the podcasts launch. We had, averaged around like 300, 400 downloads throughout the month. So to head into 2021 with downloads in the thousands is just like extremely humbling.

So thank you. Thank you. Thank you. A thousand times over for all of the support, I love this podcast. It has been, I think, truly one of the gifts that I didn't even know I was giving myself when I started the podcast. I thought that if five people could hear me, then I was doing something good.

And what I didn't realize is that I was helping myself just as much as I'm helping other people. So again, just thank you for all of the support. I have with us today. Sofia Zapiola. I said it right? All right, I'm on a roll. So Sofia is the founder of Active and Anxious, which is a blog and wellness account focused on mental health awareness.

She holds a BA in psychology from the University of Minnesota and is a trained crisis counselor through Crisis Text Line. She has been featured in Self magazine and was a guest panelist for the University of Minnesota Medical School, where she spoke to the first year class on trauma informed care by sharing her own experiences with depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

She hopes to de-stigmatize mental illness and improve the accessibility of mental health treatment and show others that they are not alone. So without further ado. Hello, Sofia. Welcome.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:04:56] Hi, thanks so much for having me.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:05:00] To the listeners out there, I found Sofia on Instagram and I've been following her for a little while and I just love, I love your work. I love the work that you're doing. So can you talk a little bit about how like just the roots of Active and Anxious and where that came from?

Sofia Zapiola: [00:05:20] Totally. So I guess it stems back to, I was 12 years old when I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression. And I didn't really know what that meant. I'm lucky in that my mom has a psychology background. And so she understood what that meant at least but I started Googling all things related to anxiety and depression.

And one thing I was Googling was celebrities with generalized anxiety disorder. I wanted to see some sort of depiction in the media and the closest I could find was that Brittany Spears had bipolar disorder. And so I just felt really alone. I didn't know anyone else that was going through what I was going through.

At least not my age or someone relatable or accessible to me. And as I grew up and just learned more about anxiety, depression, as my friends started get diagnosed later in life. I realized that this is something that most people, when they first get diagnosed, they feel really alone. And so when I was 22, I decided to be the person that I needed back when I was 12 and start this Instagram account, that kind of models itself after lifestyle influencers, in terms of the pretty pictures and these long captions and everything, but was talking about mental health awareness and my experiences.

And it just grew from there. And the response has been really positive, which is awesome. And I'm just really grateful that I'm able to do this work and be the person that I needed back then.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:06:50] I love that you say that because that's something that I say to my patients all of the time to the people that I see in therapy. And that's something that I also try to say to myself is that I need to be the person that I needed. And so for you to, come in hot, You're in your early twenties, right?

Sofia Zapiola: [00:07:08] I'm 24 right now. Yeah.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:07:10] Oh, you are a rock star. So to be in your early twenties and to have this level of understanding of mental health and this fire in you to de-stigmatize, which I think is exactly what your page does. You're very candid. And when I say your page, I meant your Instagram page, but just like Active and Anxious as a whole, that's what you do.

You're very candid. You're very open. So what, in 12 years you've developed into this person. I know that may seem like a long time, but to be 24. And to just have the understanding that you have is incredible.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:07:53] I think a lot of it stems back to just my mom was a licensed therapist in Argentina. She doesn't practice in the U S she works more in social work. She did some work in child welfare, but just overall this psychology background, she works with a lot of people who deal with severe mental illness. And so she knew exactly what to do when her daughter was diagnosed with things, she knew to take her daughter in, to see a therapist when I was showing certain signs of depression and anxiety that other parents may not have been able to recognize if they didn't have that background. And so because of that, I was able to work with a lot of different therapists as I was growing up.

And I became really interested in psychology and studied that in college. Just cause I was so passionate about mental health and just learning more about it and being able to educate others, I became a crisis counselor and I almost just became that person that people knew as oh, if I have questions about mental health or if my friend or my partner is struggling and I don't know how to help them, like I can ask Sofia.

And so I don't want to say it became my identity because it's definitely not my entire identity, but it was just like a part of me was. The person that knew things about mental health. And, but it's the culmination of all those experiences I had with therapists growing up, being able to study at this amazing psychology program in Minnesota, working as a crisis counselor, since I was 18 years old, just all together, created this like perfect storm where I don't feel like the ultimate expert because I don't have a PhD in it or anything like that. But if anything, I feel like some people are able to relate to that more because I'm honestly just like this somewhat normal person that has one foot in the field, so to speak.

But when I talk about it, it's very candid. It's very sort of layman's terms. If that makes sense.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:09:57] Yes. The way that you speak about it in all of your posts. And one of the things that I love the most about your account, and I am going to link her social media handles in the show notes and in the Facebook page, her handle is Active and Anxious. And one of the things I love the most about the posts is that you don't just touch on anxiety and depression. You touch on everything that is in between that can trigger anxiety and depression. You touch on boundaries, setting boundaries with family members like around the holidays. You've talked about body positivity, body image. You've talked about your, so your process of you are fairly recently diagnosed with diabetes, correct?

Sofia Zapiola: [00:10:55] Yes. So I. Let's see as diagnosed with pre-diabetes in fall of 2018, just like right after I graduated college and then full type two diabetes, whatnot in that following February. So February, 2019, and that was honestly a process full of guilt and shame because you don't expect to be 22 and have type two diabetes.

I was exercising four times a week. I didn't have the healthiest diet, but I had the same diet as like most college students do. And it was just, I almost went into the spiral of like guilt and shame. And the people that knew, had this advice for me, that just always felt so condescending in terms of telling me what I should do in terms of my diet or exercise.

I ended up posting about it because it was the same thing as before I was searching, like people with type two diabetes on Instagram. And all I was finding was either weight loss accounts or nutritionists, like trying to reach people with type two diabetes. And so it was so scary to say, like

I

Alyssa Scolari: [00:12:03] can'teven imagine.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:12:03] I'm 22 years old and I have this disease that you associate with old people and like negative health outcomes and all these things. But I was getting messages from people being like me too. You and I literally have no one to talk to you about it because I tried to talk to my friends and family that don't have it. And it just, their advice just comes off as condescending.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:12:25] Yeah. Yes. There is such a stigma around type two diabetes that actually people aren't talking about that I don't truly think even hit home for me until you started sharing it. And I was like, Oh crap. Yeah, people really do have that horrible stigma. And when you talk about the guilt and shame, how did you manage to, I don't want to say pull yourself out of that because I don't know if we can pull ourselves out of guilt and shame as much as we can, push ourselves through it.

So how did you manage to do that?

Sofia Zapiola: [00:13:00] The two things that I can think of that I think made the most difference where number one, I did a lot of research and discovered that it was basically genetic. It was more a matter of when I was going to get diabetes and not if, and so stemming from that, I made a list of good things that like came out of this diagnosis.

So I think the statistic is that like one in three adults is pre-diabetic, but very few of them actually know it. And so I said, I know about this and I know about this early, so I can make sure that I'm taking, whatever precautions or procedures that I need to so that this isn't like a huge surprise and a lot more severe when I'm older.

I'm lucky to know that I have it. I'm lucky to have healthcare that allowed me to get tested for it at this age, I'm lucky to have continuous health care so that I can consult with a physician continuously. And so just realizing this is not the end and this is also not all my fault. And I don't mean to push all of the blame off because it's so much more nuanced than that, but just realizing that this could be a more sort of positive thing in my life. And it still is pretty hard. Like more of my friends now know that I have diabetes. I like am much more candid about mentioning it a lot of times though, people assume it's type one until I specify. And so they'll ask me questions about things that are specific to type one diabetes.

I'm like, I can't answer that. But hopefully just cause I think my generation, like more and more people are going to get diagnosed. And so I think it's going to be similar to my experience with anxiety where, like I found out about it five, 10 years before my peers did. So if I have the advantage of knowing early, then at least I can do something to help all the people that come later.

So maybe they don't have that same sort of spiral of guilt and shame.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:15:10] Yeah, exactly. Did you find that...so just going back to, when you said that you had lots of people reaching out to you that were like, me too, this happened to me too. I was diagnosed with this as well, and I have nobody to talk to did that also help to bring you out of the guilt and the shame.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:15:29] I think so, even if it's more, just a thing of, if I'm going to deal with this, it's helping people .That's ultimately all I can ask for, I tend to always focus on the positive. I learned a long time ago that focusing on the negative or complaining just does not work for me. And it's not the type of lifestyle that I want to lead, but being able to have those reassurances and especially when I make those really scary posts that I'm like, who is going to see this?

What are they going to think about this, to be able to see that. There are people that saw it and it really made a difference for them. And it really resonated with them is what I'm truly hoping to achieve.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:16:14] Yeah, you are vulnerable in ways that are so helpful to others. And it's incredible that you are able to do that and you have this personal and professional experience, which I think really makes you like a powerhouse in this field. And so you are, you work for the Crisis Text Line.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:16:43] I used to volunteer for them. I stopped at one point in college where my mental health was getting really bad. So I felt that I wasn't able to help others. And so I went through the training when I was 18 years old and my first semester of college, it was a 40 hour training. And then I volunteered consistently for about two years.

And so I think if I look at the statistics, it's, I'd had like more than 200 conversations with people that texted in crisis. And so that was super fulfilling and also just really it opened my eyes in terms of people love to gatekeep what a crisis should be, or what qualifies as a crisis and Crisis Textline is very much, if it's a crisis to you, it's a crisis to us.

And, I think that maybe your situation objectively isn't as bad as another one that doesn't mean it's not valid. That doesn't mean that you don't deserve to share your feelings and get support. And so just being able to talk to people that are going through things that might seem very small to others, but being able to see how this is like this thing that might seem small to us is truly blowing up their lives was I think really great in terms of my general understanding of how we all deal with mental health and how mental health treatment, and needs to be able to address all sorts of issues.

And also just to be able to de-stigmatize all sorts of issues and not just the things that you objectively look at and go, Oh, that's terrible.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:18:23] Yes, that is one of the most profound statements. And to the listeners out there, I encourage you to hit pause. Go back 30 seconds and listen to it again, hit pause, go back 30 seconds and listen to it again, because that is one of the most validating statements that we can tell ourselves. And we can tell others because I think that there's like this objective understanding of what it is to be in a crisis.

And I don't even know where that comes from, perhaps just like society. And we tend to beat ourselves up. And judge others as well as a result of this idea that only certain things qualify as a crisis. Whereas a crisis is different. It's more about perception and less about reality and more about emotions.

And it's, if somebody is in a crisis, death or crisis, and that's valid and. I don't know, part of me wonders that if we all had that understanding and that like piece of knowledge, that just because this may not be a crisis for you doesn't mean it's not a crisis for me and vice versa, maybe life would be just a little bit less difficult.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:19:38] I think it kind of connects to PTSD and how that has historically been treated and continues to evolve. Cause like it came from Shell Shock Syndrome. So it was associated with veterans and people who had been in combat situations. And now I think there's more of a wide understanding of people that have been through situations of like violence or assault that weren't associated with war can also have PTSD.

I still have friends that have gone through, sexual abuse and have doctors tell them like, Oh, you can't have PTSD it's just for veterans. But at that point, I think that's on the doctor. That's not on society as a whole.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:20:19] Absolutely. I lose my mind when people say that these days I'm like, hold up, sit down. Let's talk.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:20:25] But I think just people beginning to realize that you can have an overall, like great life and just little events that you may not have thought anything of at the time can affect you years later and give you post-traumatic stress symptoms is what I tend to call it. If I don't want to label it as like PTSD as a whole.

And so I see a lot of people that struggle with guilt because they don't understand why they're depressed because they've had a really great life. And I think that translates over as well, because I also, like I had a very privileged upbringing. I have parents that are incredibly understanding of my mental health issues and that doesn't necessarily mean that I didn't have situations during my childhood that were invalidating or somewhat traumatizing that I didn't really realize until later. And so as more and more people begin to realize that you don't need to have this big catastrophic thing happen to you for your sort of post-traumatic stress to be valid, or just to justify taking care of yourself and doing healing activities that you might associate with PTSD.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:21:35] Yeah, absolutely. And you also are in recovery from PTSD as well, correct?

Sofia Zapiola: [00:21:42] Yes. So I was sexually assaulted when I was 18 years old in college. I did not realize it until I was 20. So about a year and a half later. And I did get pretty significant treatment for it. I did EMDR, which I highly recommend. I have a post on my blog all about my experience with it because people ask me all the time what it was like, or if it was worth it.

And so I totally say yes, I think that was a major turning point for me in terms of, I used to not be able to go to the grocery store. Without, if someone got too close to me, I would freak out and have to leave, which when coronavirus started, I was like, finally, everyone understands what it's like to be me and get anxious when people stand too close to the group.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:22:26] Six feet apart!

Sofia Zapiola: [00:22:28] Exactly. And so after EMDR, I was really able to detach from that thing of being terrified of just everything around me, but there are still just times nowadays where people get too close to me, people touch me and I'm not expecting it. And it just sorta sets me off. Sometimes it's one day things will set me off another day I'll be totally fine with it. And so it's a process and I feel like I'm lucky that I'm past what I would consider, like a turning point where it's not really interfering with my life on a daily basis, but it definitely has been an entire process.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:23:05] It's such a process. It can be a lifelong process I think, you know depending and it's just that concept of what you say of like how some days are okay. And some days you're not, I think that's really important as well for people to understand in PTSD recovery or post traumatic stress symptoms, which is that just because it's okay to be touching somebody one day doesn't mean it's going to be okay every day. It's like this roller coaster for sure.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:23:39] And it also just the way that it affects your relationships, for the rest of your life. In terms of, I spent a lot of time in group therapy and something we just touch on so much is if you're making new friendships or new romantic relationships, it's at what point do you tell them.

Like, how do you explain this? How do you explain that? Like one day I may be totally cool with being intimate and the next day I'm not, or I think I'm okay. And then in the middle, I have to say, you know what, like I can't today or whatnot. And so it's just even if you think that you're over it, these things come up that you realize like, Oh, my life is forever different because of, my PTSD essentially.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:24:27] happened. Yeah, absolutely. Especially when it comes to being in a romantic relationship or being intimate that's absolutely what it's like. It's funny that you should mention this because I think in the episode that we have that just aired, episode 26 ,was an episode that I did with my husband, where we talk about from his perspective, you know what it's like for him to be married to somebody who has complex PTSD.

I have a history of childhood and adult sexual abuse and those moments were real. Those moments happen. There are some moments where I'm like, okay, I am comfortable with you. Even non-sexual touch, holding my hands. And then there are moments where he will go to hold my hand thinking this is okay because I grabbed her hand earlier and I'm gone like gone, don't touch me.

Your brain is forever changed. And that's not to say that recovery isn't possible because you've come so far from where you are, you were 18 when you said your sexual assault come so far. And it sounds like the group therapy was particularly helpful for you.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:25:44] Definitely. I think it all stumps to what I'm trying to do and seeing that you're not alone, but just having a space where you can talk about these things and just realize like other people deal with this and honestly, get advice from people because they'll say here's how I explain it to my partner and they seem to understand and take it really well, or just getting support and validation.

If you're saying like, I try to explain this to a new like potential partner and it did not go the way that I expected. And to be able to have people tell you that, like you're not overreacting. Like it's okay to expect that people are able to respect your boundaries and what you need in that moment.

And so I'm just overall a big fan of community and I don't necessarily think people need to share what has happened to them in order to be valid or to truly heal. I think everyone's process is completely different, but since I am comfortable sharing, I figured that's something I can do. And I think it does also help my healing to just be able to get it out instead of before.

I would just think all day this particular thing about mental health and I feel like people don't understand, and instead I can write about it, I can ask other people about it and. Yeah, just overall has really helped me.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:27:08] Yeah. There's so much power. For some of us, like you said, not all of us in speaking, like actually speaking out loud and I feel the same way that when I talk about this stuff, it helps me heal and feel so much less alone, which is really the whole point of what you're doing, which is to let people know.

And it's also the whole point of this podcast as well, which is to let people know that they are not alone. And also that there is hope. There is hope for them. And that's one of the questions that I have for you is you have such positive vibes and such a positive outlook. And one of the things that you said earlier was, I decided a while ago that staying stuck in like the negative thought patterns, just wasn't going to work for me. So you tend to do that cognitive reframing and you take the best out of what's given to you. Are there some days where it's so hard to do that?

Sofia Zapiola: [00:28:21] It's been enough training where nowadays I recognize them immediately. And if I have an anxious thought or I'm thinking like, Oh, nobody likes me. I'm able to stop myself and say, okay, what is the evidence to support that? And normally there is none. And so I can say, or something that I used to like to say whenever, how it's some sort of inconvenience.

I was like, Oh, I just want to die. And that's not true at all. I did not want to die. I did not have any sort of suicidal ideation, but it was just like, what I really meant was I wish the world would pause right now. I wish I hadn't done that. I wish I could take a break. And so I started instead saying if I caught myself saying something like that, I stop and be like, no, that's not what I want.

What I would like is for everything to pause. Or, for that not to have happened or whatnot. And also just something that, I don't know if it's as common now it is, but like in college, a lot of my friends were saying like, it was a common thing to be like, Oh, I'm trash. And then you like point to a trash can.

And you're like, Oh, that's me. And I couldn't not get behind that because even if you're joking, Your mind starts to believe it. And that's also something that I did is I used to have really bad self-esteem. And one thing that I did, one of many was just one day decided that I was like the best or at least was going to act like it.

Even if I didn't believe in myself and I'm a Leo, so that was a lot easier for me to do than it might be for other people. But just one day I I thought I was being obnoxious, but everybody else was like, yes, queen. Like they were totally behind it. And so I'm like, Oh, people really like me. I really do think that I'm awesome.

And so I highly recommend, I just, even if you don't believe it yourself, just putting out those kind of "I am the best at what I do."

Alyssa Scolari: [00:30:16] Yes.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:30:17] Whatever affirmations you need.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:30:20] Yes, there is something to be said for affirmations, even if you don't believe them. And I can't even believe these words are coming out of my mouth because six years ago, if you had said the word affirmation to me, I would have rolled my eyes so hard and been like, Ooh, No, but there's something. There's something to be said for it.

It's that whole concept of fake it till you make it. I may feel like I'm trash, but I'm actually not going to say that. That's not really what this is. I'm going to put out there that I am competent. I am great. I am worthy. I am loved people care about me. I feel like I do that all the time with this podcast.

I, like when I first started this podcast, I was like, who am I? I'm like, I'm some lady from New Jersey who is talking about trauma, but then when I started to get feedback, I'm like, Oh, maybe I do know what I'm talking about. So I could totally relate to that.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:31:23] I think it also another part of my life, which I equate to having boundaries, but it's much easier to do as an adult, but I am very intentional about the people that I spend time with. It's also a lot easier for me to do as a solo entrepreneur. So I don't necessarily need to deal with coworkers that I am not fond of or have negative attitudes or whatnot.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:31:48] It's the best.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:31:50] But even, even when I was like, was an employee or what not just what I could control in terms of it doesn't mean you need to cut everyone out who like is negative, but just in terms of who are you spending time with. Who are you making plans with. Who are you continuously communicating with.

And if those aren't people that like make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, when you see them, then maybe reevaluate it. And so being positive is a lot easier to do because the people around me are generally positive. And even if they're not, or even if they say things that are triggering for me, I'm able to have conversations with them to respectfully say, I feel this way when this happens and maybe that wasn't your intention, but I just wanted to let you know.

And overall, I think that's just improved my life and everything about it really.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:32:52] That is a golden nugget of advice for, and in fact, this conversation is really, so much about different ways to protect yourself and your peace and that's absolutely surrounding ourselves with people who will hype you up, who will listen to you, and who will respect your boundaries. That's another thing that you are amazing at educating people on is the concept of boundaries.

I really do feel that there are many people out there that. And I also feel that this is a cultural thing where some cultural, like in some cultures, boundaries are not at all acceptable. And I think you're really good at teaching the importance of boundaries and being able to use them as a way to protect ourselves our mental health.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:33:48] I would credit that both to just growing up with my mom who had this whole background. Yeah. And not only psychology, but she used to teach a lot of classes on parenting and to survivors of domestic violence. And so I learned about domestic violence and emotional abuse and manipulation from a very young age.

And so I was able to recognize that when other people may not be able to recognize that something is emotional abuse, because it's just what they've always known. And then also, I think just growing up in the time of sort of social media and people sharing online, I think a lot of what I've learned about setting boundaries and what I deserve, I got from Twitter and Tumblr. And so it's interesting because I honestly think sometimes that I learned more from like websites than I did from like my college education or at least more kind of stuff that's applicable to my daily life in terms of I don't think about the amygdala on a daily basis. Whereas that's something I might have talked about in class much more often, but just being able to get opinions and advice from people all over with all sorts of different life experiences. So I wasn't limited to just what my culture was or what I had grown up with. And I think it also just makes me a lot more understanding that everyone's background is different.

And so In terms of harm reduction, like things that we may see as really negative or really negative actions that people take are actually informed by environments that they grew up in and just perspectives that they have that are different and not necessarily correct, but it just helps you understand other people better.

And I don't mean to say that to excuse like heinous behavior, but just when people do something that you might consider a betrayal or just as harming you, being able to understand where they might be coming from and why their intentions may not have been like what you interpreted them as. If that makes sense.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:36:06] No, that makes perfect sense. And I think that's really helpful as well. I think that's very helpful for people to hear. It's certainly helpful for me to hear it because sometimes I tend to, especially after sometimes I find that for those of us who, have extensive trauma and have been for lack of a better word, wronged by people. We tend to jump right to assuming what the intentions of others are. So I think that's very useful advice. I know I totally did that slash still do it. Sometimes I have to work on being like, all right, slow your role. So I think that's really helpful.

So you are in Minnesota. You live in Minnesota. And what would you say is like the long-term goal for you? So as an entrepreneur, like where do you see yourself?

Sofia Zapiola: [00:37:02] This is so funny. Cause I was talking to my mom about this morning, about how I literally do not have long-term plans. I used to be the person that had her entire life planned out and I realized that I did that so that I did not have to cope with the present and essentially what happened is I was in college.

I had this entire sort of five-year plan for myself. I was going to go to graduate school at first, I was going to do aPsyD. And then I worked in a research lab with graduate students and they were studying executive functioning, but they were not...phD takes a lot out of you. They were not functioning, so I said maybe not.

So I was like, okay, I'm going to go immediately to get my master's and all these things. And I just was so depressed and so anxious that I ended up after a fall semester, I came home for winter break and I enrolled in intensive outpatient program for behavioral health. So I stayed home for the beginning of that semester.

I took two online classes because I still needed my student health insurance, but I had no clue if I was going to return back to Minnesota, or finish my degree or what I was going to do. I was applying to transfer to colleges closer to home because I'm from California originally. And so I had this plan and suddenly I had no plan suddenly I had no clue what the future looked like.

And that was really hard for me. And I just realized that I can't plan. And so at this point I have goals. Some of them I have ideas of how I'm going to reach them, but no, like specific plans and things have always tended to work out for me. So I just keep believing that things are gonna work out for me and things will come when they do, but it is just rough to decide do I see myself living in Minnesota for the longterm, if not, where would I live? Because I'm also thinking about going to grad school either for, to become a therapist or licensed clinician or for a master of public administration to do more like administration of sort of social services or mental health treatment or whatnot.

I wouldn't even know what state to prepare to get my licensure. And because I have honestly, no clue, I will say that like my favorite place is Santa Barbara and I could totally see myself like moving there if not retiring there, but I really don't know in the meantime, what that looks like.

I'm just working on building my business and just building a life that I'm happy and fulfilled by. And the goals tend to come when I'm ready for them.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:39:46] Yep. I'm such a big believer in that. It's like that saying "You make plans and God laughs" and it's, God, the universe , whatever one may believe in, if one believes in anything, we make plans for ourselves and they never work out anyway. But it's also in the spirit of cognitive reframing, which you are extremely great at it's also exciting because I can definitely relate to that. That's where are you going to go? What are we going to do from here? And it's I don't know. I'm just going to see where tomorrow takes me. And then the next day after that. And we'll just see, because for all of us, I think all of our possibilities are endless and that's not a bad thing.

Once we let our anxiety go and realize we can pretty much do whatever we want in this world, it becomes so exciting. You have a million opportunities ahead.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:40:43] Yeah, I know it's. At the same time, it's a little bit overwhelming or just, I don't know, to see things happening. Like I have friends who are buying houses are getting married and I'm absolutely so excited for them. And that is what they wanted, but I have no clue when that will happen for me.

But at this point it's not really something that's a priority in my life. And so yeah. Sometimes people get annoyed that I really cannot like give them timelines. And, but really the only person that like is allowed to get annoyed, that I don't have a timeline is myself and I'm not annoyed.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:41:22] Exactly. As long as you're not annoyed, then that's okay. That's all that matters. That's all that matters. And I did want to ask, you said that you had received EMDR, could you just give a brief explanation to the listeners out there who might not know what EMDR is and how it helped you? Cause this is huge in the trauma fields.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:41:47] I normally explain it in layman's terms or whatnot, which may mean that my analogies or whatnot are not exactly correct, but I think they're close enough. And this is something I was introduced to because of my mom. So she actually did it a year or two before, and she said, I think this could really help you.

And then also just in my group therapy situations, there were people that had done it. So essentially, you work with a therapist trained in EMDR and they use what's called bilateral stimulation, which often is them holding two fingers in front of your face and then moving it from the left to the right.

And you're following it with your eyes. So it feels right. You're watching a tennis game. If you can't do that with your eyes, sometimes they'll tap your right knee and left knee, like essentially it's like right side of your body, left side your body being stimulated. And you're thinking about the traumatic event as this happens.

And so I believe the idea is that, like it, the thing about trauma and why it continues to trigger us after the fact is that our brain is not able to process it. Like it would any other interaction or memory. And so it almost just forces you to process it. So it's not triggering anymore. And it's really rough.

I did it over winter break in three weeks, meaning that I was having sessions like twice a week. I can't remember exactly how many hours I did o it total, but it was a lot. And it was, my therapist told me to treat it like as having surgery. So I took a lot of naps. I could not drive myself to my appointments because I was just too exhausted after the fact to drive myself home. I had some really bad depression after the first couple sessions which kind of makes sense, because I was forcing myself to confront all of this trauma that I had tried to avoid for so long. But then you reach a break point, you keep doing the thinking about this situation that was like, while doing the bilateral stimulation until it's not triggering anymore.

The other thing you can do is re-imagine it. And so it's funny. I had a situation where I was being sexually harassed by boys in my seventh grade class. And I was really frustrated by the teacher not doing anything about it. My therapist asked me, who is someone that would have done something about it that was in your life.

At that point, I was like my field hockey coach. Like she would not have stood up for that at all. So now if I think back to that memory, like I think of my field hockey coach, like coming into the classroom and being like...which did not happen. And that's a huge part of what EMDR is supposed to do.

I don't think it's necessarily supposed to record new memories, but like being able to reframe things and that's essentially how it helped me.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:44:50] It almost sounds, and I am not trained in EMDR, but it sounds like it's just the most intensive therapy because it is forcing you like here you are processing everything fast paced, double time. But at the end of it, it's ultimately very healing.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:45:09] And it's hard because in terms of treatments for PTSD, there aren't a lot. And the ones that are widely known are really hard. It's mostly like exposure therapy, which is also very hard on the patient. And I'm very lucky in terms that I had a break from school. I didn't have anything to do for three weeks.

I had parents that could drive me to and from my appointments. And so it may not be necessarily the right choice for everyone. And it.Is brutal when it's happening, but like the way that my life after the fact, in terms of like before there were days where I could not leave my apartment, cause I was too scared of what would happen if I went outside and that didn't happen and I was having less nightmares and flashbacks.

And it also just helped me heal some traumatizing things that I had not recognized as trauma. So like I went into my sexual assault when I was 18, but then as we were digging deeper, we realized like, Oh, this situation from seventh grade is also affecting me. And so you also go chronologically.

So by the time you maybe get to the things that are more freshest in your memory, or in my case, like the most serious I had already worked through a lot. So it was easier to get through those by starting from when I was younger, but yeah, it can be really helpful, but just honestly, any treatment for PTSD is going to be rough.

Working through mental illness is just hard. I don't think people necessarily realize that it takes a lot more energy to work through things than to just sit with them. Like it's a lot easier to just, even though it's really inconvenient to be depressed. It's a lot easier to sit there in your depression and like actively work through your thoughts and develop like coping mechanisms and try coping mechanisms that you didn't necessarily want to try and things like that.

And so doing things like EMDR, like the intensive outpatient program that I did , honestly so much, energy, so exhausting, but ultimately so worth it.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:47:12] Ultimately lifesaving because It's ultimately what allows you to thrive and what will help you to have really healthy relationships in the future? Yeah, it's very hard. I'm glad that you pointed that out because it is whew...I'm terrified of EMDR. I have not done it for my PTSD because I'm like, I don't know if I'll make it, but I know there are people that do it all the time.

I just happened to be much more hesitant about it. But I just think that you have an incredible story. You are incredibly uplifting and empowering and intelligent. And I can't wait to see where life takes you. We don't know where it's taken you, but I know it's taking you somewhere good. I know that.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:47:59] Yeah, overall I'm excited. And hopefully for me as someone who like does struggle with imposter syndrome and like other things that I think we all struggle with, like being able to hear like you are making a difference. I hope other people listening to this, realize that if you think "Oh, who am I to be doing this?"

Or whatever things imposter syndrome is telling you, I don't go out into the world being like, people are going to give me praise, but then when it comes, I'm like, Oh yeah, I am doing that.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:48:28] Yes. Yes. Let's normalize imposter syndrome because I think that we all have it at times, but that doesn't mean that we're not doing good things in this world. So I cannot thank you enough for coming on the show today. If people want to follow you, because do you have any other socials aside from Instagram?

Do you haveTikTok as well?

Sofia Zapiola: [00:48:55] I have a personal one, it's not mental health focused.

I do occasionally do mental...I did an antidepressants as a sexy Halloween costumes, a Tik TOK that was pretty well received. But those, I normally just post on my Instagram because that's where I put everything. The hard part is I have personal accounts.

I have this mental health account. I have my business accounts. I have a lot of social media.

Alyssa Scolari: [00:49:24] Oh, wow. Okay. So where's the best place for people to follow you? And is Instagram @activeandanxious is that?

Sofia Zapiola: [00:49:34] Yes, for mental health content. It's definitely @activeandanxious on Instagram and the blog is http://activeandanxious.com/

Alyssa Scolari: [00:49:42] Perfect. I will link all of that for the listeners out there. Thank you very much for coming on.

Sofia Zapiola: [00:49:49] Thank you so much for having me. This was so fun.

blog · COVID-19 · depression · Mental Health · trauma

Missing Those ~Precedented Times~

If I hear the phrase “unprecedented times” one more time…..

Now let me just preface the remainder of this post by saying that I am eternally grateful that my loved ones have not yet lost their lives to coronavirus, and therefore, my intention is not to come off as inconsiderate or selfish when I say the following:

UGH! I miss going out to eat. Especially Zahavs (to die for) in Philly. My husband and I went on our first date there, celebrated our engagement there, and continue to go there every year on our anniversary, with the exception of last year and most likely this year due to Covid. What I wouldn’t give to be able to hop on a train and head into the city, where I can stroll carefree from one historic monument to the next, enjoying the sights and sounds and, most importantly, the delectable cuisine!

I won’t sit here and go through all of the things that I miss, because it’s not news to anybody. I know we are all on the same boat when it comes to missing our pre-covid lives. But what I will say is this: Being stuck inside has forced me to re-evaluate what I’m doing to take care of myself. If you had asked me a few years ago, I would tell you that self care was going out for an expensive date or a pricey spa day. I would tell you that self care is being able to hop on a plane and go to your favorite vacation spot whenever you want. Or I might tell you that self-care is forcing yourself to wake up at 5 AM so you can get to the gym even though you only got three hours of sleep the entire night.  

Some part of me always believed that self care should have an emphasis on spending money or looking a certain way. But I didn’t have an opportunity to do any of that this past year. I had to actually stay in my house and figure out how I was going to take care of myself, because going on vacations or strolling the mall or hitting the gym excessively was not an option for me. Looking back, I see now that those things weren’t truly self care at all. The only purpose that all of those things served was to be a giant distraction for the painful feelings that were surfacing as a result of my PTSD.

With all of that being said, I thought I might take a moment to share on the blog some of what I’ve been doing to keep myself sane over the last year. It has nothing to do with spending big bucks or trying to make my body meet some impossible standard. Ready? Let’s go!

1. Puzzles. Don’t you roll your eyes at me! I hated puzzles up until this year. You know why I hated them? They forced me to be still and process all of the intense feelings that were coming up. Since quarantine, I have completed about ten 1000-piece puzzles. When I’m having some big feelings, I shut all of my technology down and I work on my puzzle. It keeps my hands busy, and keeps my brain distracted while allowing space to process my emotions at the same time. I highly recommend!

2. Painting. Again with the eye rolls?! I’m telling you, it works! I have zero artistic talent, and that’s putting it nicely. But a few months ago, one of my clients introduced me to “Canvas by Numbers”, which has been so satisfying to work on! Not only do all of the colors soothe my soul, but just like with puzzles, it keeps my hands busy and keeps me focused, while also allowing me to process other things.

3. Epsom salt. People who struggle with anxiety and depression tend to have lower magnesium levels, which can be found in Epsom salt. Magnesium is best absorbed through the skin, and there are now different types of Epsom salts that are infused with essential oils (which is really the icing on the cake if you ask me). If you are not a person who enjoys taking baths, I have also found it to be extremely soothing to put some Epsom salt in a cup and bring it in the shower with you. You can scoop it out with your hands and rub it into your body, using it as an exfoliant. It certainly helps with aches and sore muscles, but also with anxiety and depression. It’s one of those instant fixes for me when I’m really depressed or dissociated.

4. Essential oil diffuser. When I am dissociated or anxious, I need all of my senses on deck to pull me out of the funk that I am in. So my diffuser doesn’t just give off incredible scents, but it’s also a 3-D light-up diffuser. I found it on Amazon! Between the amazing smells from the essential oils and the pretty lights, I find this to be a very grounding tool for me. 

5. Movement. And I don’t mean exercise, although this can include exercise if you would like it to. If you have a yoga mat, roll it out and sit on it. Do some light stretches, some neck rolls, some lower back stretches, and even give yourself a foot massage. There are parts of the feet that are directly connected to your organs (more on that later), which is partially why some spots on your feet are more tender than other spots. There are a million free videos on the internet with guided stretches if you need a bit of assistance. The goal here is not to lose weight or change your body. It is simply to allow the emotions that are stuck inside of you to start moving through you.

6. Animals. Do you have a fish? A cat? A dog? A bearded dragon? Whatever you may have, interact with him/her/them. Yes, even your fish. Feed your fish, clean the tank, walk your dog, etc. When I force myself to put my phone down and play with my dogs, it often pulls me out of my depression and brings some laughter into my days.

This self-care list is drastically different from the list I would have given you two years ago. One of the most important differences between what I did back then and what I do now is that my current self care tools are all about moving through the feelings instead of trying to avoid the feelings. If you’re struggling in these (dare I say it?!) ~unprecedented times~, I hope that this list can help you make a giant leap towards taking better care of yourself. You one thousand percent deserve it!

blog · depression · Mental Health · trauma

Depression Stole 28, But It Won’t Steal 29

My birthday (January 6th) always falls during a weird time of the year. The madness of the holidays has just passed and everyone is trying to get back into their work/school flow. Growing up I’ve had countless people mention that it must be tough having a birthday right after the holidays because people are always so tired of parties and presents and celebrations by the time my special day rolls around. Luckily for me, my parents never made me feel like my birthday was any less important because it falls just after the holiday season. My parents have always encouraged me to celebrate myself on my special day.

But last year was different. Depression reared its ugly head and I simply couldn’t celebrate my birthday. It was all I could do just to breathe. I dreaded the days leading up to my birthday, so much so that I actually changed the settings on my social media so that no one would be able to see it was my birthday and thus, wouldn’t reach out to me. And to those who did wish me a happy birthday, I could barely muster up the strength to text them back and thank them.

When I look back at my birthday last year, I feel so much sadness for myself. I wish I could tell my newly-turned-28 year old self that I deserve to be loved by others. If I could change things, I wouldn’t have shut my phone off that day. I would have packed on all the self-care instead of all of the self destruction and isolation. While my year on earth as a 28 year old woman was the most difficult year to date, it has turned me into a self-care warrior, which made my 29th birthday so much more enjoyable.

This year, I took the time to celebrate myself on my birthday. When I opened my eyes on January 6th, I wasn’t filled with dread. Instead, I was filled with excitement! I ate a great breakfast, did some neurofeedback (more on that later), and cozied up in a fresh pair of my favorite pjs. I sat on the couch under a pile of blankets and worked on a giant puzzle. I ended the night with an awesome boxing session, a healing epsom salt bath, and of course, dessert!!! I truly enjoyed every second of my day, wrapping myself in love and self care and appreciation for who I am and the resiliency I have shown over the last year.

It has taken so much sadness, anxiety, anger, grief, rage, and pain to be able to get to a place where I could celebrate myself on my birthday. Time after time this past year, I had to take a leap without knowing where I’d land, hoping for the best. I quit my job in the middle of a global pandemic, praying I’d be able to make it on my own. I stopped making myself so readily available for people to keep myself from burning out, not knowing if in doing so, I would end up being abandoned by everyone (spoiler alert: I wasn’t!). I gave up chronic dieting and put my faith in a nutritionist who had me eating ice cream every night to start normalizing “bad foods” (again, there are no bad foods). In my 28th year, I found the balance between letting go and holding on, between surrendering to the things I truly can’t/don’t want to control and fighting like hell for my voice to be heard. And most healing of all, I walked away from a cancerous relationship that was sucking the life out of me (not my husband, Dave’s a good guy!).

And here I am at 29, happy. Of course I have bad days. Horrendous days. Days where I want to rip my hair out and scream at the top of my lungs. Days where the tears don’t stop coming and I blow through an entire tissue box in 6 hours. But that’s what living is. It’s showing up for your emotions – all of them. It’s allowing yourself to feel all of it instead of numbing out with drugs/food/sex and self-destruction.

A few days before my birthday, I had a long talk with one of my best friends. God blessed me with her beautiful friendship over ten years ago. I believe wholeheartedly that she was hand-picked to come into my life at the exact moment that she did, because I’m not too sure where I would be without her unconditional love and support. This Wonder Woman has been with me my through my highest of highs and my lowest of lows, even though there were periods of time where we spent years living on different continents, in different states, etc. While we were on the phone recently, I found myself expressing how I am feeling about turning 29. I told her that these days, even in my worst moments, I still love myself. I’m still thankful for the very air that I breathe (even if I have to breathe it through a damn mask).

Days later, I received a birthday gift from her in the mail. It was a subscription to Vellabox, which is a candle company (my days are incomplete unless I have a candle lit somewhere nearby). In the box, there happened to be this card with a quote on it, which is randomly selected and placed in each box before it ships out. Tears filled my eyes as I read it, because it so beautifully sums up the lesson that I’ve learned over the last year. The card read:

“Our memories are gifts that show us life, even through the toughest times, is worth living.” – Chrissie Pinney

So cheers to 29, for I am far more alive than I’ve ever been before.