A guide to Therapies and finding the right one for you: Guest blog by the Worsley Centre

louisn1

(image: Quotir)

If you find yourself at a point in life where you think you might need to seek some professional help, then the decision as to which therapy is right for you can be a daunting one. At its worst, depression and anxiety related disorders can take away our ability to make rational, informed decisions, so how could you possibly know which one is right for you? 

There’s no definitive way of knowing, and even if you start one course of therapy, only to discover it isn’t for you, it’s important to remember it’s not a one-size-fits all decision. If you’re trying to take a long-term approach to taking care of your mental health, then you need to take the time and effort to find the appropriate course of treatment to meet your needs. 

So here’s a basic guide to some of the most common therapies, and how they might be able to help you (although it’s worth bearing in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list). 

Counselling 

This might sound like a catch-all term to describe all of the therapies below, but actually counselling is subtly different from other types of therapy. Counselling can often be a useful short term strategy to cope with events in our lives which can, quite understandably, cause mental health stresses. These can include bereavement, miscarriage, sudden redundancy, relationship problems or problems with infertility. Counselling sessions normally last for 6-12 weeks, though they can of course be tailored to every individual person’s needs. 

Psychotherapy 

Psychotherapy is primarily a talking therapy, but may also utilise art, writing, music or drama. Psychotherapy can help with a range of conditions, including anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder. This therapy aims to teach you to manage painful emotions and relationships more successfully. 

Psychotherapy basically involves talking with the patient, discussing strategies to solve problems and changing behaviour. 

It’s worth noting that most of the other therapies in this post are forms of psychotherapy. 

Psychodynamic therapy 

This is a form of psychotherapy which focuses less on the patient-therapy relationship. Patients are told to speak freely and openly about any issues that come to mind, whether it be fears, anxieties or desires. It is a more short-term incarnation of psychotherapy. It’s often used to treat people with serious depressive disorders, or who may struggle to forge meaningful relationships in their lives. 

Interpersonal Psychotherapy 

Interpersonal psychotherapy is a short-term form of psychotherapy treatment. It’s very structured, and includes a lot of homework and continuous assessment. It primarily looks at ways depression can be triggered by changes in relationships to others, such as bereavement, or relocation. 

It will usually start with a 1-3 week assessment of symptoms, as wells as social history and the patient’s relationships. The therapy aims to come up with treatment strategies to deal with problem areas in a patient’s life; over the course of the treatment the emphasis of these problem areas might change, as will the therapist’s strategies. IPT is a relatively young form of psychotherapy treatments. 

 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 

Cognitive behavioural therapy is a short-term form of psychotherapy which puts its focus on problem solving as a way of breaking certain thought patterns and modes of behaviour. It’s very much a therapy which focuses on the here and now, as opposed to trying to look for explanations of present day behaviour in past events. CBT has proven to be effective in the treatment of anxiety and panic disorders, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorder. 

CBT works on the concept that a person’s perception of a certain situation determines their and feelings, and hopefully break free of unhelpful patterns of behaviour. 

Mindful Based Cognitive Therapy 

This is another form of cognitive therapy which incorporates mindfulness strategies and breathing exercises into courses of treatment. Mindfulness techniques use breathing and meditation to place people in the present moment, and MBCT uses these techniques to encourage patients to deal with overwhelming or stressful situations.  Again, it aims to break unhelpful thought patterns which can lead to recurrent episodes of depression or anxiety. As well as mindfulness, patients are taught to understand the relationship between how you think and how you feel. 

Neuro-Linguistic Programming Therapy 

Neuro-linguistic programming focuses on behaviour modification techniques to help improve a client’s sense of self-awareness, confidence and communication skills. Again, it helps people to understand that the way they operate in the world is in turn affected by how they view of the world. 

It’s often used to treat phobias, help people deal with self-esteem problems, post-traumatic stress disorder and is designed to help patients understand the workings of their own mind. 

Couples and Family Therapy 

The title of this therapy is relatively self-explanatory, but basically it encourages individuals to resolve problems in the context of family units, or as part of a couple. This helps people to better understand their role within a group dynamic, and how their actions affect the other person within a family or couple. 

During the therapy, family members are encouraged to work together to solve a problem which may be directly affecting a family member, with each person encourage to express their thoughts and feelings in an open and supportive forum. Family and couples therapy is geared towards making different family members empathise with one another, understand each other’s point of view, and switch roles where necessary. 

The ultimate goal of family and couples therapy is restore healthy relationships. This branch of therapy essentially believes that family life is like being part of a system, which is only as strong as the individual within it. Family and couple therapy ultimately aims to restore balance to this system. 

These are, arguably, the most well-known and high-profile forms of therapy. As outlined at the beginning of this article, it’s not an exhaustive list; there are many more specific types of therapy which may prove to be the right one for you. It’s also worth mentioning that it’s perfectly normal to try a few of the therapies on this list, as it might take a few referrals before you find the right one for you. 

The Worsley Centre offers counselling and psychotherapy sessions for couples, individuals and groups in the Greater Manchester area. 

https://theworsleycentre.com/ 

 

An Increase in Anxiety: Panic attacks and Therapy thoughts.

panic1

(image: Your Tango)

Hi friends,

It has been a while since I’ve shared a personal blog and I want to be as honest as possible.

It has been a whirlwind of a time- I got married to my wonderful husband in July- we really had the best day, I have been editing and finishing writing my book Bring me to Light and I also started a new job at a charity in May- which has meant I have been blogging less. I love my new job however I am much busier!

This has meant an increase in my anxiety levels and panic attacks in the mornings at times, related to social anxiety. I worry about the day ahead and sometimes don’t feel able to leave home. I have been trying to combat this but its been really hard and is still ongoing for me.

I have had a lot of CBT and talking therapies but believe my anxiety to be trauma based re what happened to me 5 years ago, being sectioned and in hospital. As such, I would like to have EMDR therapy, a type of therapy that helps to process trauma through focusing on images and rapid eye movement. It is hard to describe but I believe this is what I need in order to keep my anxiety disorder under control- and get rid of most of it.

In the mean time I have been leaning on my support network and have been prescribed beta blockers for when the anxiety is at its highest. I have also been referred back to psychiatry in order to get a referral for EMDR.

Except…. my NHS borough don’t fund EMDR therapy so the only route in is via a service called IAPT. It may be that I have to go privately if the NHS standard of therapy is not good enough but there we are. There is still a 2 year waiting list to even have an assessment for therapy, but via IAPT it is quicker, so I hope I can get some form of help for me. The funding for mental health in the UK is atrocious and I hope this will improve….

Having the support of my parents, Rob and family has been hugely helpful to me and my new amazing colleagues who believe in me and have been very supportive.

But, it has been exhausting.

Panic attacks make me want to sleep, blank out and sometimes you can’t do that. You have to face the day and fight. That’s where the beta blocker meds come in for me right now as they calm the body down when you need to show up to something (deep breathing doesn’t do it for me). Usually, I feel better once I don’t react to the anxiety negatively and try to dig deep and push through, but its not easy.

This week, we are going on honeymoon in Italy and I am looking forward to a relaxed, sunshiney break by and in the pool, beach and spa with Rob and eating lots of delicious Italian food. A break is desperately needed and I hope I won’t have any panic attacks on holiday, but have a restful time!

Here’s hoping I will find something that will help ease the panic. I have tried so many things for so many years and it’s still here.

Eleanor x

 

Mental health and the juggling act: New Job, My book and Wedding. by Eleanor

bringmetolightbook

(image: Trigger Publishing)

Nearly a month ago, I started my new job at a big Jewish charity here in London. I work in a small but lovely team in PR and Communications- helping run social media, write and distribute press releases and copywriting. I am enjoying it but its totally different from my other work and I am far less immersed in the mental health world than I was a few months ago. It is a juggling act. Trying to keep up with changes and all that’s occurring though. Hopefully soon I will find time to write articles again for my friends at Metro.co.uk and Happiful.

This has brought its own challenges as I havn’t been blogging here as much either, due to writing my book. My book  ‘Bring me to Light’  will be released in the UK on November 5th and the USA shortly after, with Trigger Publishing. The title references going from darkness to light, as I have done with my bipolar and anxiety since I was 16. I have written most of it (50,000 words!) but my very kind editor has extended the deadline for it so I can write everything I need too, whilst also doing my day job and wedding planning (!). I am really excited to see a printed copy and to promote it later this year- the hard work will be worth it I hope. I also hope you enjoy reading it and thank you all for your ongoing support.

So, wedding planning, we are 5 weeks away now until I marry Rob, my fiance. It has come round so fast especially as we have had a year and few month’s engagement, I am counting down the days until I am under the Chuppah (Jewish marriage canopy) and we are officially married in presence of those we love! This week I had my final dress fitting and it was super emotional. I still can’t believe its happening. Rob’s dad is recovering slowly at home but his condition is still serious as he has cancer.

Naturally, you will be wondering- how am I staying sane with my bipolar with everything going on and with Robs dad not being well? Firstly, as we know, stressors can make bipolar worse and trigger episodes. At the moment, my main mood stabiliser Lithium keeps me very grounded and stable. Despite the stress, I am not dipping down into  deep depression as I would have done in the past. Yes-  there are times when I might feel stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted or tired and just want to sit in my pyjamas watching Made in Chelsea or First Dates. There are also times when I am too tired to cook or do laundry and need support with those. I am lucky to have a very supportive family who look out for me too.

My work colleagues have been super supportive when I have been overwhelmed or anxious and I am finding the flexibility of my work helpful too.  I am having less anxious days now I am working too due to exposure therapy and going out a little more (taking the bus and cabs and talking to new people).

For me, I really need self care time, time to switch off and unplug. As we go into Shabbat  now is the perfect time to read and be quiet, come off my phone and computer and just be. I really promote looking after you and taking time to sleep and rest for optimum mental health and to feel better again. Sometimes it can help to let others know how you’re feeling too.

I have two weeks to give in my first book manuscript and five til my wedding day. These are dreams I have had for years and I can’t quite believe they’re happening. Staying sane while planning a wedding without a planner can be hard but we have worked as a team. Having a good cry has really helped also at times, when things get too much! But generally happy, wonderful things so not to complain. Everything at once can get a lot for anyone. Life at the moment is hectic but I am pacing myself as much as possible.

If you would like to preorder my book, you can do so on Amazon or the Trigger website and I would love to know if you do :).

Thanks for being there for me and for supporting my work too. I hope we end the stigma against mental health by talking, sharing and explaining.

Love,

Eleanor xxx

How Horses can help Mental Health issues through Equine Therapy: Guest post by Lyle Murphy

horsetherapy

(image: Unsplash.com)

Modern medicine continues to reveal new complementary treatment methods that enhance the health care solutions we rely on every day. Equine assisted therapy is one of the most exciting and versatile treatment methods available. Research published in medical journals support the use of equine assisted therapy as an essential part of holistic mental health treatment for conditions as varied as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, and anorexia.

Despite longstanding success in using therapeutic horseback riding and other equine assisted therapy techniques in health care treatment, many people aren’t familiar with the benefits. This information is especially relevant for parents caring for children who have mental health problems. Read on to find out exactly how therapeutic riding can make a huge difference in a patient’s quality of life.

Understanding Equine Assisted Therapy 

Equine assisted therapy actually covers a wide range of activities and therapeutic techniques that leverage the unique dynamics between a patient and a horse. Treatment methods are supervised and directed by a medical professional, differentiated from recreational equine activity through a local ranch or social club.

Horseback riding has been shown to contribute to the development of improved coordination and balance, directly aiding the physical rehabilitation process. Additionally, activities like grooming and feeding can help to improve motor skills and problem solving. More advanced treatments may be performed under the direction of an equine therapy specialist.

Equine Assisted Therapy Treats Several Mental Health Issues 

This list is by no means an exhaustive account of all the medical conditions that can be treated with equine therapy. Instead, it provides a sense of the how broadly the treatment is already being utilized.

Across the country, equine therapy has already been incorporated into mental health treatment plans for adults dealing with:

       

  • Mood and behavioral disorders
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Trauma and grief
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Sex and gambling addictions

Holistic Mental Health Care Through Equine Therapy 

Successful engagement with a horse is a physical, social and emotional challenge. That’s why it’s such an ideal complementary treatment for patients dealing with mental health issues. By working through the demands of horsemanship under the guidance of an experience medical professional, patients are able to work to build better habits and develop strategies for managing their symptoms.

 

Identifying Emotional Triggers 

One of the most important benefits of equine assisted therapy is the relationship between a patient and their horse. Horses are extremely sensitive to human emotions, making it difficult to ride if a person’s emotions are running wild. The plus side is that this sensitivity can also be used to identify emotional triggers and help patients discover the root of their mental health issues.

Building Communication Skills 

Due to their sensitivity to emotion, herd animal social dynamics, and relatively high intelligence, horses are strong communicators. They can also be easily agitated, making it important for patients doing equine assisted therapy to practice keeping their emotions in check. These lessons in self-control help the patient build skills they will likely rely on for the rest of their lives.

horsetherapy2

(image: Unsplash.com)

Overcoming Physical Challenges 


Even the act of getting into a saddle requires are certain level of coordination. Unrefined motor skills are a very common symptom of a wide range of mental health problems. As a result, equine assisted therapy puts a focus on refining physical skills.

Gaining Confidence Through Goal Setting 

Ultimately, becoming a good horseback rider requires individuals to master a long list of skills. The step-by-step process of learning to ride also naturally provides a set of goal posts for patients to reach for and overcome. The opportunity to set goals and achieve them is an important part of the emotional development process and a key perk of equine assisted therapy.

Explore More Equine Assisted Therapy Benefits 

Another advantage of equine assisted therapy is that it offers patients an alternative, promoting holistic care. There is a time and place for medication, but  I believe that the current cultural climate pushes for treating most conditions with pills and often fails to take a more holistic approach.

About the Author:
Lyle Murphy is the founder of Alternative to Meds Center, a holistic medication tapering and addiction treatment facility in Sedona, AZ. Lyle has dedicated his life to holistic mental health.

Social Anxiety: How I stopped feeling nervous about talking to others. Guest blog by David Morin

 

socialanxiety1

(image: Yellow Co )

This is my story on how even when things look dark, there might be change just around the corner.

You see, I grew up deep inside the Swedish countryside as an only child. My parents were rather old when they had me, so people often assumed them to be my grandparents.

In school, I was an outcast. Because I had only socialised with adults, I had a hard time bonding with people my own age.

Naturally, this made me socially awkward and anxious in social settings, especially around strangers and large groups.

One time, a friend convinced me to join a party. When I finally showed up, I felt everyone’s eyes on me, like radar-tracking from all directions. I locked myself into the bathroom. Looking at the person in the mirror, I couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with him.

Later, I learned that my awkwardness and nervousness was much more common than I had first thought. It’s just that everyone hides their chaotic inner under a calm surface (just like I did).

I started studying behavioural science. As it turned out, social anxiety often starts small in life. But when we start avoiding social settings, our anxiety snowballs into a monster.

We can’t overnight break the shackles of social anxiety. But what we CAN do, is take small steps out of what we normally do.

I started doing things slightly out of the ordinary. Instead of looking down the ground, I forced myself to hold eye contact with people I walked by on the street, if only for a split second. After a few weeks, when that felt normal, I tried to hold it a bit longer, and maybe even smile.

My smiles were forced and awkward, and I probably looked like a weirdo. But over time, I could interact with people in a warm and relaxed manner.

Thanks to taking small steps and challenging myself a little every day, I became more confident as the years went by. Not just with other people but in life in general.

7 years ago, I started a blog where I teach people how to stop being nervous. That confirmed to me that I wasn’t lonely. We’re one big nervous family all in this together. So why not help each other?

I recently got the opportunity to leave all my friends and family in Sweden and move to New York City – a place where I knew no one. If I hadn’t had the confidence I have today, I would never have dared to do it.

Challenging my anxiety was my key to living life to the fullest.

But back then, in that Swedish forest, things looked dark. Thinking back to that time taught me a lesson:

Just because things are hard at the moment, doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. Life is ever-changing, and that’s what makes it so exciting.  

 

This blog was written by writer David Morin who used exposure therapy to help his own social anxiety and find recovery.

 

World Bipolar Day is Tomorrow!

worldbpday

Tomorrow, join in and learn what you can about bipolar disorder.

As many of you know, I have bipolar 1 disorder and when not on medication, have episodes of high mood- mania/ psychosis and low mood- severe depression. Thankfully I am in recovery but it affects so many people and is thought to run in families.

Remember you are not alone.

Bipolar UK-  https://www.bipolaruk.org/

Bipolar in USA: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/bipolar-disorder

How Walking and Audiobooks have helped my Anxiety and Depression: Guest blog by Tan at BooknerdTan

audiobooks1

(image: BetaNews)

For most of my life I have had relatively good mental health and considering the rather…’turbulent’ upbringing I had I’d say that was pretty much a miracle. All came to a head in June 2018.

I was in a job that was incredibly stressful for minimum wage, I had a toxic boyfriend who did nothing but make me feel worse about myself and I had an abuser resurface into my life completely unexpectedly. All this happening at once lead to some kind of mental breakdown and I couldn’t function for around 4 months. I couldn’t go out, I couldn’t go to work – I could barely eat or string a sentence together. Everything I heard was white noise, everything I saw was in slow motion and I was just completely numb.

I went to seek help with my doctor and was prescribed medication (which I am not currently taking as of the New Year) and was referred to Birmingham Healthy Minds service. This is a service which I cannot recommend enough – I was really scared of counselling after previously having a bad experience when I was younger, however I’m really glad I went ahead and gave this a go.

The best thing about this was that my counsellor was not passive (unlike my previous experience), in fact he gave me so much advice that will stay with me forever. I relied heavily on my friends during this time and they were an amazing help, but sometimes it is nice to offload some of your worries on to someone who is essentially a stranger. It allowed me to say things which I may not necessarily feel comfortable telling my family or friends.

Ever since I went and spoke to someone about my condition, I have been looking for the best ways in which to cope on a daily basis. The main way I keep my anxiety at bay is with a combination of walking and audiobooks. This has done wonders for my anxiety. I have always been a big book nerd; I read every day, manage to polish off on average 100 books a year and run my own book blog so it’s safe to say that I am a major bookworm!

I’ve constantly heard and read about exercise being an amazing coping mechanism for people dealing with depression. I have close family members who also suffer with depression and confirmed to me that exercise is one of the main things that relieves some of their symptoms. Having this information only told me one thing – get to exercising!

I live in a really pretty village so I decided to put my headphones in, pick an audiobook and walk. Walk until I couldn’t feel my legs. 3 hours later I came home and was elated. Body numb, blood pumping and feeling a tiny bit more positive than when I left the house.

My anxiety got to such a point that I wasn’t able to breathe properly. I was always taking short, sharp breaths and it never felt like I was in control which exacerbated my anxiety. Walking allowed me to think about and control my breathing therefore lowering my anxiety somewhat. Combining walking and my favourite hobby (devouring books) helped me so much more than I ever expected and am so thankful for it.

I recently wrote a blog post about how audiobooks helped me control my anxiety and was overwhelmed by the response it got when I shared it on my blog. Not only by the amount of people who are dealing with anxiety themselves, but how happy they were that they found the post and are willing to try it out to see if it helps them too. It’s that kind of response that reminds me of why I love blogging and sharing my experience! I hope someone read about my experience and it was able to help them.

Every day is still a learning curve but I’m definitely getting there. Going forward, I hope that everything I have learned in the past 9 months will aid me in keeping my anxiety and depression at bay and be able to handle it as best possible when/if it arises again with a vengeance.

I am always hopeful that if I ever feel the same way again, I will be able to see the signs a lot earlier, implement the coping mechanisms I’ve acquired and nip it in the bud before it manifests even further. I hope that somehow my experience can help someone else out there cope a little better and make them realise that it is possible to come out the other end even when you’re at your darkest.

 

This guest blog was written by UK book blogger and writer Tan at https://booknerdtan.wordpress.com/

The Anxiety Rollercoaster : Going beyond my Comfort Zone. by Eleanor

morganharper1

(image: Pinterest)

I don’t really know where to start with this blog except I have needed to write this one  for several weeks. As many of you know, I struggle with an anxiety disorder (alongside/ part of the bipolar) which when triggered can make life quite difficult. This includes things that anyone would find anxiety provoking, such as job interviews.

I have had to dig deep, leave the house and use every ounce of strength to attend face to face job interviews in the past few weeks. This is not an exaggeration. My body floods with adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) and I feel overwhelmed. All my energy becomes consumed around preparing for the interview, attending the interview or NOT attending the interview because I wake up in a panic not wanting to go out- and having to try and reschedule it. Which just adds more stress as I fear I will lose the chance to interview.

This is really hard for me. There is still such a stigma to mental health issues that disclosing it early on without someone knowing you fully, means you are still less likely to be hired. Having to reschedule an interview also floods me with fear that the employers will think I am just flaky, even if I say I am unwell.

I am very proud of my achievements in the past month. Last week, I went to an interview and did well- travelled alone, was fine throughout. I even got a second interview. However, I woke this morning at 7am in anxiety and am seeing if I can reschedule it.

Essentially, this is one big test of exposure therapy. Reaching outside my comfort zone and going out into the world to use my skills. Its scary and exhausting. But it can also be validating and exhilarating too.

Today I feel a bit of an exhausted, worried mess. However, I refuse to let my panic disorder beat me. Next week, I have some positive things happening too re work.

For anyone else going through this- you aren’t alone. I take medication on time, I have had years of therapy and I still have panic attacks at times and struggle with the debilitating anxiety. I am searching for a new form of therapy (maybe EMDR- rapid eye movement) as I am concerned that my disorder mimics some PTSD symptoms, although that will need to be determined by a psychiatrist . I went through a lot in 2014 when in hospital and just before in a manic state and when I came home after and got back to work.  I wonder if this is what is behind the panic.

This is an honest assessment of whats going on. Despite the anxiety attacks, I have been able to see some friends. I am also still writing my book – deadline fast approaching.

Thank you to all my online twitter ‘cheerleader’ friends who sent me so many messages of love and support, of cute animals and inspiring quotes. You helped give me the strength to go to my interview and be ok. And to my friends and family in ‘real life’ too.  

If you are also struggling, keep fighting. I am always here for you to talk too.

Love,

Eleanor x

 

4 Helpful Treatment Options for those who suffer from PTSD- Guest post by Rachelle Wilber

ptsd1

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious mental health condition that affects people who’ve experienced major trauma events. Common among military service members who’ve fought in combat zones, PTSD can also affect people who’ve lived through other terrifying episodes that have resulted in physical and/or mental harm. If you believe that you suffer from PTSD, you can work with a therapist and try any of these four different treatment methods to overcome the condition.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This type of therapy works to alter thought patterns that often cause people to relive the traumatic events in their minds. As Mayo Clinic states, the goal of cognitive behavioural therapy is to make you more aware of negative or inaccurate thoughts so that you can adopt a healthier perspective of challenging situations and respond in a better way. Undergoing this therapy may also help prevent relapses that could jeopardise your mental health.

Exposure Therapy

Your therapist may also try exposing you to things that trigger traumatic thoughts as a way to alleviate them. This is done in a safe way, and your mental health care provider will be there to help you process your thoughts and feelings and give you tools to overcome your anguish. You may be shown pictures, see writings or even revisit a place where the traumatic episode occurred. Gradually, these negative thoughts should lose their power and cause you less mental grief the more that you’re exposed to them.

Eye Movement Desensitizing and Reprocessing (EMDR)

Also known as EMDR therapy, this treatment method involves recalling distressing thoughts while a therapist’s fingers move in front of your face. You’ll be asked to follow these finger movements with your eyes while discussing your feelings, however, you generally won’t be required to talk about your thoughts in great detail.

Some therapists use foot or hand tapping or musical notes instead of finger movements in front of the face. This more active approach to therapy is intended to minimise the effects of bad thoughts.

Medication

Medication is sometimes prescribed by mental health professionals to work in conjunction with other types of therapy. Prozac, Zoloft and similar antidepressant medications are formulated to boost serotonin levels in the brain to alleviate negative thoughts and emotions. Your doctor may also prescribe Depakote to stabilize your moods. Prazosin often works well in stopping nightmares.

You don’t have to continue letting PTSD dominate a large part of your life. Seeking professional help and undergoing any of these therapies will likely give you positive results.

 

This article was written by freelance writer Rachelle Wilber from San Diego, California