What is this blog about?

Hello and welcome to the official blog for the podcast The Gift of Dysfunction podcast. This is a podcast all about mental health, with stories and tips to help you feel a little less alone. I, Alexandria Fitzgerald, mostly talk about Executive Dysfunction and my other mental illnesses. However, no mental health issue is off the table.

This blog serves as a space for me to update y’all on the podcasts progress, share a text version for our deaf friends, and include stories that may not get told otherwise. Our first episode, “What is Executive Dysfunction Anyways?” will be up this Friday, January 3rd. Be sure to follow us on Spotify and be one of the first to tune in!

Wednesday Book Review: The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

By Edward B, Burger and Michael Starbird

GoodReads.com BookMooch.com

My Rating: 3.8/5

Trigger Warnings: None

This book was given to me as a gift from my Grandmother, with the hope that I would find some wisdom in it. She is also a huge book fan, and knowing how hard I’ve been working on getting my mental health together, she thought this may be a good book for me. Be warned, this is not your average “self-help” book. The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking is a philosophical approach to learning and success. It’s not really about mental health. However, the 5 principles that they teach in this book could easily be used in therapy, school, work, relationships, and anything else to improve your life.

In this book, Burger and Starbird, two college professors, explain precisely how geniuses like Albert Einstein, Issac Newton, and Bill Gates came up with their life-changing ideas. It’s not because they were born gifted, or they were given a leg up, they got there by merely thinking more effectively.

Through deep understanding, failure, questioning, reviewing, changing, and pure stubbornness, they created “mind-boggling” ideas. These ways of thinking are sometimes shunned in our society, making it hard for us to reach out and grab our true potential. Luckily, with a few simple changes in our lives, we can unlock the future we are looking for.

Now, this is not going to be a “do as I say and you will make a million dollars” kind of book. They do not expect you to follow this shiny gold road that they have painted for you. They are to teach you ways to learn from your own mistakes and encourage you to be your own teacher.

The only real issue I have with this book is that it’s a slightly dull read. It is written like a lecture, and some of the examples used are a little dry. While there are bits of humor and a ton of fascinating information, but this book was not written for the ADHD mind. The authors are here to educate, not motivate, and uplift. They do their job well, and I really did enjoy the book, but I did space out a few times while reading it.

I will say I have yet to read anything like it. Their approach to life long learning is something I was needing to read this week, and I’m so glad Nana gave me this book. If you get the chance, I highly recommend giving this a read and trying out the exercises inside. It just may help you come up with the next world-changing idea.

How to Journal for Mental Health

When I first started going to Al-Anon, AA for families of alcoholics, someone suggested the idea of journaling. Going to these group sessions was my first step in healing, which my addict boyfriend preferred because they wouldn’t tell me to leave him. I was trying to do anything to pull me out of this spiral I was stuck in, so I greedily took in all advice they gave me.

When one of the ladies mentioned how much journaling was helping her with her husband, I was intrigued. Wasn’t that something for kids and professionals? Why would I keep a journal now? After the meeting, I pulled her aside and asked her to explain why she was journaling and how it was helping.

For the next month, every night, I tried my hand at journaling. It quickly became clear that I had no idea what to do. I would often stare at the blank page, begging my mind to pour out something profound. It wasn’t until I went to my first therapy session that I really learned how to journal.

1a. The first step is to decide how you want to go about writing. Some people prefer to type on a keyboard, while others prefer to write by hand. For me, I find my computer to distracting. I’m so much more likely to forget to journal at all and waste my time on Facebook instead. I also like to doodle as I go, because sometimes words just don’t do my thoughts justice. While I could still do this on a computer, it’s nowhere near as fun for me. But what matters is that you find a way to journal that fits you.

1b. If you decide to get a book, I recommend you find a journal that fits your style. If the book is plain or doesn’t fit your needs, you won’t use it. Are you the kind of person that doodles and writes all over the page? If so, a dotted or blank journal might be best for you. If you prefer to keep things organized, then a lined book my work best for you. Next, find one that looks “cute” or “stylish.” Having an eye-catching journal will make it easier for you to notice it. If it blends in with the rest of your environment, you may forget about it altogether.

2. Pick a time to write. This may be right when you wake up before you go to sleep, or on your lunch break. Doing something at the same time every day will make the habit more likely to stick. I pick before bed because I find it a relaxing way to get all of my worries out so I can sleep.

3. Pick your writing space. This could be at your computer, on a pillow beside your bed, or at a park near your work. Where ever it is, make sure that you can have a relaxing moment during the time you’ve picked to write. Bonus tip, keep your journal in this space. If that’s not ideal, keep it in a bag that you will take with you to this space. It’s all about habit and routine.

4. Now write! This is the most important step in the whole process. It’s also the hardest when you first start out. Something I tried was writing about nothing. Write about what you see, hear, feel, etc. It’s a skill that you have to practice, so don’t stress if it’s not easy at first. It will get easier with time.

5. Repeat the previous steps as you need to. If something feels like it’s not working for you, then change it. This is all about your experience and your comfort. Make changes as you need them, write more than once a day or maybe every other day. The important thing is to find something that helps you with your mental health.

6. If you’re also going to therapy, it can sometimes be useful to read these entries to your therapist to give them an unfiltered look into your mind. This can help both of you get to the root of any problems you have and help you get further down the path of healing.

With or without a therapist, journaling is an effective tool to relax, reflex, and grow. It’s one of the easiest ways to get all of your anger, fears, and worries out of your system while still having a log, you can look back on to reflect on your thoughts.
What system works best for you, and how has journaling helped you? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday Book Review: Conversations By Catherine Cobbins

This book review is going to be a little different than I normally do them because this isn’t a book I found by wandering around the library. In fact, I didn’t even find it at a book store.

Many years ago, when I first started looking into healing myself, I started taking trips to the River Market every Saturday morning. The River Market is a cute indoor/outdoor market place along the Arkansas River in Downtown Little Rock. During some parts of the year the outside area will house a farmers market every Saturday morning, and I never missed it.

Often the market stalls would fill up quickly, so smaller sellers would have to line their stands up outside of the market place and even sometimes never the park that was below. I would often walk these trails, listening to podcasts, and eating small fruits I had picked out from one of the larger stands. On one of these walks, I met a woman named Catherine Cobbins. She was selling her first-ever poetry book Conversations: A Coffee Table Book. I’ve always had a weak spot for self-publishers and poets, which meant that no matter what I was going home with a copy of her story.

Mrs. Cobbins was a joyful woman, her greeting and smile as I walked up to her stand warmed my heart. I spoke to her of my own dreams of becoming an author and she enthusiastically encouraged me to keep practicing. After I bought her book she hand wrote a note for me stating “May my words push you forward.” And oh how they did.

Now you might be wondering, why would I review a book that no one can buy? Because luckily for us, she’s still writing. So please don’t be discouraged when I tell you that you can’t currently buy it. A little bird told me that Mrs. Cobbins has more wonderful words in the works and I’m excited to see what she does in the future! Until then, you can check out her podcast, blog, or Instagram so that maybe she can move you like she does me.

This book, Conversations is one that’s been on my bookcase for some time. I have often looked at her words for inspiration when writers’ block hit. While she is a very religious author, and I’m not, I still find her message and story very comforting. This book is clearly the first print. Some of the pages are off-center, some typos remain, and some of the pictures are not clear. However, it’s that kind of charm that made me buy the book to begin with. Perfection is overrated and sometimes the best works can be overlooked due to small things like that.

This collection of 31 poems speaks of many hard topics. She speaks of God, sex, love, heartbreak, addiction, and self love. She speaks of freedom, and what the means from the eyes of a black woman. She talks of marriage, faith, and everything in between. My favorite poem in this collection speaks of a false king who mistaken answered to a call that wasn’t meant for him.

Oh, I’m sorry I thought you were the King. Because when I called you answered. I was confused. I was thrown off by your bright colored clothes and your stature.

-Queen’s Call: Catherine Cobbins

If you have some free time I highly recommend checking Catherine Cobbins out. She is a very passionate woman with an amazing heart. I am so glad that I found her in that Farmer’s Market all those years ago.

Episode Six: Why should you take a break?

As I said in my last post, I needed a break. Life is stressful enough without COVID-19 knocking on your door. In today’s episode I go a little bit more into why I needed a break and I talk a little bit about the benefits of taking one yourself.

While you can hear the storm thundering in the background, and I can’t stay on topic to save my life, this episode is to serve as a reminder to all that sometimes you just need to slow down. After you give this episode a listen please leave a comment sharing what ways you make time for small breaks in your life.

Wednesday Book Review: Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Trigger Warnings: Mentions rape once, give no details.

Regardless of how you feel about J.K. Rowling, which in my case varies daily, sometimes you can find nuggets of gold in her writing. While I don’t agree with her on a fundamental level, I will tend to still read her books if I can find them used or at the library. My thoughts are, she’s already made enough money to never need again, so if I can find something of use in her words I will. So when I found this short book at my local library I decided to go ahead and give it a shot. I am so glad that I did.

Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling is another short read I’ve decided to review for you guys. (For those of who have ADHD short reads are sometimes the best.) This book is a speech Rowling delivered to a Harvard Graduating class, which was then published to help raise money for her charity Lumos. I love reading inspiring speeches and this one touched on a few amazing topics that I think everyone should hear.

First J.K. Rowling talks about the lesson of failure and how it can teach you about yourself. Seven years after her own graduation she was a jobless, single mother, doing the best she could to keep from being homeless. Her marriage had exploded and she was living a life of poverty that she had never understood before. 

“I was the biggest failure I knew.”

But from this failure, she found hope in herself. She realized just how strong-willed she was and how many friends she actually had. During this time, she also decided that she would finally become the famous author we know today.

The next lesson she teaches us is the importance of imagination. Not in the sense of creating a world of wizards, but of imagination that comes in the form of empathy. Before Harry Potter, she worked for a company called Amnesty International.

“Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have.”

During her time with Amnesty, she witnessed hundreds of cases of torture, kidnapping, and rape. She saw the darkest part of humanity, but she also saw the brightest. She realized that humans have this amazing gift, this power to imagine someone else’s pain, even though they had never been through the same pain themselves.

I love the passion in her speech and the power behind her words. I’m so glad that they decided to publish this and that I got the chance to read it! I found this book inspiring and plan to read it again the next time I feel like a failure.

Time for a Come Back

Sometime in March, right when all of this COVID 19 stuff started to really hit Arkansas I had minor melt down. I has a lease that was about to run out, friends and family who could die from this disease, and a job in the food industry. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be working or even able to have a stable roof over my head. That with a mixture of my therapy getting deeper and deeper into my PTSD caused me to be overwhelmed with everything.

The easy solution to this was to cut out “unnecessary” things to reduce my personal work load and ease my stress in any areas that I could. Which meant that I had to give up my beloved podcast for a short amount of time. On March 14th I made a tweet about what was going on and then just kind of disappeared while I tried to get my life back together. Luckily I was able to keep my job, find a new place to stay, and I have yet to lose any loved ones to this pandemic.

With the recent BLM marches, and a little bit of a push from friends and family, I have decided it’s time to get back to work! The Gift Of Dysfunction will have a new episode, all on the mental benefits of taking a break, coming out next Friday, July 3rd. In addition, Ive decided it’s time to bring back The Empathy Bug.

The Empathy Bug was my first podcast, and it was dedicated to bringing empathy into the world. The problem was I didn’t have a clear picture of how to do that and I kind of burnt myself out before I really even got started. With the current events going on in America I had an idea. Why not use that platform to educate those on past and current events that have caused suffering. In order to truly understand what a person is going through you have to know where they are coming from, learning their story is the easiest way to do that.

As a white woman who can’t go out to protests because of my mental illnesses, there are a few things I feel like it’s my duty to do in order to help give a voice to those who are begging to be heard. One, is to vote… But that’s obvious. The second, is to speak out in daily life. And the third, is to use what ever platforms I have to give a voice to the stories that are swept over and ignored. I’m going to try and do just that with The Empathy Bug, and if I can help just one person understand why we need a change in our system I will have done my job.

But, I know that’s not why you follow this blog. This podcast and blog is about mental health, and while the world around you does greatly affect that, it’s not something that everyone wants to think about when learning how to cope. So I promise that outside of this post explaining my actions I will not cross the topics again. Anyone who wants to hear me stand on my soap box and preach about basic human rights is more than welcome to tune in on July 10th when I relaunch my old podcast.

Thank you all so much for sticking with me while I was gone these past few months. This break has given me time to clear my head and really get a grasp on what I want to do with my podcasting career and my future. I love you all and I will see you next week.

When they reach out to you for help…

Normally on Wednesday’s I do a book review, however something more important came up yesterday that I thought we should discuss instead.

Trigger warning: Suicide

Around 3pm yesterday I got a Facebook message that I pray I never get again. “I’m going to kill myself. You were awesome.” My heart stopped, I couldn’t breath, and all I wanted to do was save my friend.

I was at work when this happened, and I’m so grateful that my bosses understood what I was going though. They let me hide in the office until I could make sure he was safe and sound.

But I realized, as I was going through the steps to find my friend, that not everyone knows what to do when they get a text like that. So I thought I would give you a step by step guide on how to handle suicide attempts.

1. Breath! You are not responsible for another person’s life and you can’t help anyone if you’re in the middle of a crisis. This is a step I always forget to do, which was made very clear as I had a full blown panic attack in the middle of the restaurant.

2. Try to figure out where they are. If you can get them to answer you stay on the line with them as long as you can. Get them talking and figure out where they are. If you have to call other people and work together to find them.

3. Get help to them. Rather it’s you or an ambulance, get help to them ASAP. If you know for a fact you can talk them down and it’s safe for you to go, do so. But if there is any chance you won’t make it in time please call 911 first. In my case, my friend would not answer his phone. It took me a while to figure out where he was at, but as soon as I did I got police on the way.

4. Don’t worry about them being mad at you. I would rather you be mad than dead. They will get over it because they know that you just want them to be safe.

5. Breath! Once you’ve followed all of the above steps and you know they are safe please take time to take care of yourself. The thought of losing someone is traumatizing and you need to take care of yourself as soon as you can.

6. Follow up with them. Check in as soon as you can, make sure they are okay, and offer support. Recommend therapy options in a nonjudgmental way. Let them know that your still there for them and that you don’t think any less of them. This is a hard thing for everyone involved and everything said should be from a place of love.

I hope this helps you in the off chance you ever get that phone call or text. I pray that you don’t, but I understand that the world just doesn’t work like that sometimes.

If you’re feeling suicidal and you need help but don’t feel safe calling friends or family please call your local emergency services or suicide hotline. There is always someone who can help.


Episode Five: What is PTSD?

Trigger Warning: This episode mentions suicide and rape.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been struggling with depression and mental illness. I honestly thought it was normal for everyone to want to die all the time, because it seemed to me like everyone in my life was unhappy. It wasn’t until I got out into the real world that I truly started to understand just how insane my life was.

Around the age of 23 I was diagnosed with PTSD, among other things. It was here that I started realizing how much of my daily life was being effected by trauma I had gone through. It was here that my healing journey began.

In this episode of The Gift of Dysfunction I’m going to explain a little bit more about the trauma I went through, as well as what exactly PTSD is. This was not an easy episode for me to record so I do apologize if I’m all over the place. Regardless, give it a listen and let me know what you think!

Wednesday Book Review: In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It by Lauren Graham

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Triggers: None

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It is a cute little read, and I mean little. This book is only 45 pages long, but that doesn’t mean it’s not holding a powerful message. This isn’t your normal self-help book. She’s not trying to teach you a million ways to make your life better or to tell you that you’re not trying hard enough. She’s just a woman who’s sharing her story in the hope that it makes yours just a little bit easier.

Lauren Graham, the actress from Gilmore Girls, shares with us a small bit of her life story to help us see that worrying about it doesn’t help anything. Lauren started her acting career in High School, getting a few minor roles, as well as the lead role in their performance of Hello, Dolly!. However, in her Senior year the worry monster took over and she started to lose her spark.

She became so worried about what role she had and what the crowd saw that she forgot to get lost in her acting and to enjoy the job she was doing. This monster followed her all the way onto Broadway, where she was played Miss Adelaide (my favorite character) in Guys and Dolls. Even here, living her dream, she felt out of place.

Because of this, her acting suffered. She wasn’t doing a bad job, but she wasn’t giving it her all either. She was so worried about every little detail that she wasn’t truly playing her role. Then one day she decided not to care anymore.

“Once I stopped worrying so much about pleasing others, once I decided to let myself off the hook, I realized I could fly.”

Her story continues on, but the message stays the same. If you’re to busy worrying about how you’re living your life, you won’t actually get to live it! And I love how openly and honestly she talks about her journey to this nugget of truth.

The only problem I had with this book was that her writing style and humor confused me a little. There were a few times where I didn’t quite understand what she was trying to say and I had to reread it. This didn’t take away from the story at all, just made it a little harder for me to read.

Regardless, I loved this book! Lauren writes with an upbeat, whimsical tone that truly sends the message home. I recommend this book for anyone who worries just a little too much.

Wednesday Book Review: Unfu*k Yourself By Gary John Bishop

Hey guys, I’m back with Wednesday Book Reviews! I took a little bit of time off because I was still getting used to this new medication and I wanted to give myself some time to adjust. I’m finally stable enough that I can actually get some writing done and I’m so excited! So here we go, my review of Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Book Triggers: None

Unfu*k Yourself is a self-help book that is made to help you “Get out of your head and into your life.” Warning, this book is not for every. Gary himself even warns that “If you’re easily offended, stop reading now”. He very brutally and honestly tells you to accept the fact that you are not a victim of circumstance, but your mindset. As much as my past wants me to argue with this, he may be right. My sister and I had the same childhood, deal with some same issues, and have the same problems with our parents. I can’t talk to my mom without having a breakdown and she calls her almost weekly. The only difference between us is the mindset we had growing up.

My first impression of this book was that I wasn’t going to like it. That it was going to sound like everyone else in my life that doesn’t understand mental illness. That he was gonna say “Just be happy” and move on. I was wrong. While this book is about getting over yourself Gary knows that it’s not always the easiest thing to do. He often says that sometimes his advice is easier said than done and that you have to start small at first. “try breaking the task down into smaller declarations of willingness to ‘stand up,’ ‘get out of bed,’ ‘open my email,’ etc.” 

The first question Gary asks you is, are you willing? Are you willing to change your life? Are you willing to be stuck at this same dead-end job? Are you willing to be in this toxic relationship? According to this book, our life is the way it is because we are willing to live with it, and that’s okay. I love that while he’s trying to push you to change, he also understands that sometimes you just aren’t willing to. He knows that our mental illness and outside influences get in the way of us living the life we want. All he expects of you in this book is to admit what control of your life you do have and do your best to grab the wheel.

Next, he reminds us that our life is the way it is because of our mindset. We are made to win, but we don’t always win the prize we want. If we think we are bad at relationships and we are unworthy of love, our mind will cause us to act in ways to prove that to be true. The same can be said for our careers, our finances, our health, etc. We can change the prize by changing the way we think.

Unf*ck Yourself has to be one of the most honest self-help books I’ve read in a long time. It made me uncomfortable, angry and motivated all at once. Many times throughout this book I wanted to argue with him. I wanted to tell him he was wrong and I can’t help the way that I am, but I realized he was right. “By defending your circumstances as they are right now, you are actually making a case for being where you are. Give it up.”

Gary doesn’t expect you to get past your issues overnight. He just tells you that if you don’t try it will never change, and he’s not wrong. The progress I’ve made in my healing is purely because I decided I didn’t like the way I was acting, where my life was, and who I was around. The only way you can get better is by deciding you’re ready to take the steps to get better. This book is a brutal reminder of that.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is in the middle of their healing journey. This is not a book for those who are still in denial or just not really ready for change. This book is not about being positive every day, it’s about accepting that life sucks and doing what you need to do regardless. So buy this book, read it until you throw it across the room, then pick it up and read it again.