Futures Past – One Small Step

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt Futures Past:  As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How close or far are you from that vision?

When I was a kid, I wanted to be the first female astronaut. I had read a lot about Amelia Earhart and admired her tenacity. I decided if she could fly, then I could somehow make it to outer space. I studied the constellations in the sky and read lots of books about space. I still remember watching the first man land on the moon. It was hard to make out what was going on because there was so much static on the television, and the whole thing didn’t seem real.

My dad worked for the space division at GE at the time and used to bring home lots of memorabilia, which further fueled my desire to become an astronaut. The other motivating factor for me was the drive I’d always had to be able to do anything that guys could do. My feminist tendencies started at an early age.

Don’t go searching the internet to see if I ever made it. The closest I ever got to a NASA space craft was visiting the Air and Space museum on multiple occasions when we lived near Washington, DC. You see, in my adult life I became extremely claustrophobic and was prone to panic attacks, and unfortunately I had trouble even riding a subway or boarding an airplane for many years.

Gradually I worked through my anxieties and did a lot of things I never thought I could do, like flying to Africa to work with a medical team. Nonetheless, I have completely lost my desire to go floating around in space in a vehicle the size of my bathroom.

The closest I can say that I’ve come to achieving my dream of becoming a space explorer is to say that rather than venturing into outer space, I have become an inner space explorer; both as a medical researcher searching for ways to heal the human body, and as a mental health blogger connecting with others who are on a quest to heal and understand the human mind.

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Bridging the Gap in Mental Health Care

Grand Canyon 2011 125I often wonder why more progress hasn’t been made in developing effective treatments and finding cures for illnesses that fall into the mental health category. For too many years these illnesses have been marginalized and treated more like character flaws than actual health conditions.

I did a web search today to learn about studies that are currently being conducted and found a rather large listing. ClinicalTrials.gov is “a web-based resource that provides patients, their family members, health care professionals, researchers, and the public with easy access to information on publicly and privately supported clinical studies on a wide range of diseases and conditions”.

As a researcher and mental health advocate, I think it is so important to become involved whenever possible and to assert one’s voice in order to accelerate the progress of finding cures and treatments for these illnesses.

Click on this link to search for studies.

Strapped to the Struggle Bus

Lately I have felt like I’ve been “strapped to the struggle bus” as my daughter would say. I blame it on the stresses of this time of year – post-holiday letdown, cold days and lack of sunlight, recent back-to-back road trips to visit my daughters, upheavals at work and less free-time because I am working towards my master’s degree. I started feeling down on myself about not doing a better job of managing my anxiety levels, thinking I should be beyond all that by now. The signs of my struggles can be subtle such as:

  • Waiting for the other shoe to drop when things are going well
  • Ruminating about minor things
  • Worrying about the future
  • Being unhappy with my appearance
  • Feeling panicky and trapped at work
  • Telling myself I wish things came easier for me, like it does for everyone else.

Fortunately I have lots of loving supportive people in my life to help me get through these times. As a few of my friends have told me, “you should go back and read some of your own posts…..” I am thankful for these reminders of how far I’ve come and what helps me get through these occasional bumps in the road.

I have many exciting changes in my life right now and I want to be able to relax and enjoy the ride rather than finding things to worry about.

I have re-posted the following post before, but it is my own personal favorite and a great reminder of the basic elements of maintaining my own mental health:

Mental Health Lessons learned from the Grand Canyon

I recently returned from an awe-inspiring 3-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.  For those of you who have known my struggles with anxiety in the past, you know that it was nothing less than a triumphant experience for me.   The gradual recovery from my fear of flying, heights, and dying (to name a few) over the years has turned this trip into a symbol of hope and gratitude for me.   I’ve always been one to push through my fears, and worked hard at not allowing them to keep me from doing things.  I’ve flown on a regular basis for work, vacations, and to see my daughters, and even gone to Africa on a medical mission trip.  What makes this trip different is that it represents a return to the girl I used to be – the one that didn’t think twice before undertaking an adventure.   It was my dear friend who suggested the trip, and we joked that as soon as she brought it up I said “yes”!   How wonderful it feels to be in a place where I am saying “yes” to things I’ve always wanted to do without the hesitation that anxiety brings.  I’m not saying that I never have moments of anxiety.  Sometimes simple, every day experiences can induce more panic than the big challenges.   That’s why I have learned to fully appreciate and enjoy any moment where fear is no longer an obstacle.

In the first few days after returning from my trip, I realized that this experience illustrated many lessons about how to handle the challenges of a mental health issue, which I would like to share.  Although some of them may seem cliche or obvious, anyone who has struggled with a mental illness knows how important it is to be reminded of them when things get tough.

Lesson #1 – Be Prepared and Seek Help from the Experts:  This one seems obvious but can be difficult when one’s judgment is clouded by a mental illness.  We were going to take the trip by ourselves but my other dear friend made the brilliant suggestion of going with an experienced tour group.  This was an excellent suggestion, as they brought the expertise that we lacked and provided the necessities that we would have overlooked.  Being prepared for our trip also included physical conditioning and nutrition, learning about the terrain, weather, camping, backpacking, and asking any questions that came to mind ahead of time.  This seems to be a weakness of mine, as I tend to go into things blindly.  I am so thankful my friends were on top of this and kept me well-informed.

When it comes to one’s mental health, the first step is finding and relying on a good professional to be your ‘tour guide” and provide you with the answers and tools you need to effectively deal with your issues.

Lesson #2 – Sometimes the Downhill is Harder than the Uphill:  This seems counterintuitive.  Prior to the trip, I had an argument with my husband, who had done the same hiking trip years earlier.  He insisted that the downhill would be harder than going uphill and I insisted that couldn’t be right.  I don’t often like to admit he is right, but was he ever!  After 7-1/2 miles of downhill, my legs and body were weary from using my muscles to balance myself with each step, and pacing became difficult as I felt I was being propelled forward.  Each step downward became harder, as I tried to lessen the impact and maintain my footing.  The uphill seemed much easier, as I could take my time getting my footing, without the strain of trying to keep my balance.

This is often true for those with mental health issues.  Once over a big uphill hurdle, it seems like the return to every day activities would be all downhill.   That is when it becomes evident that sometimes daily life requires more effort, as we strive to maintain our balance and prevent being propelled back into the stressors that can wear us down.

Lesson #3 – Take Care of Little Problems Before they Become Big:  Our wonderful tour guide’s wisdom came in handy with this one.   At the first indication of a blister, she had us stop hiking and tape the vulnerable areas to prevent further breakdown and discomfort.  This was true for any other aches and pains as well.  Resting, hydrating, wrapping our muscles were all key to making the trip more pleasant.

This is a tough lesson for those with mental health issues who often believe they should tough it out when symptoms begin to resurface, erroneously thinking it is a sign of weakness to ask for additional help.  Catching problems early and being willing to take medication, seek counseling, and support from others is key to preventing a painful crisis later on.

Lesson #4 – Don’t Carry Too Much Baggage:  I talked earlier about being prepared, and the three of us had a hard time figuring out the difference between bringing too much and too little.  Our tour guide assisted us with this, as we sat in the parking lot deciding what to put in our packs.  She gently but firmly coaxed us into leaving certain items behind, while affirming that other items would be of good use.  It was difficult for the three of us, who are known to over pack, but we were thankful not to have the extra 5 pounds after three days of hiking with the 30 lb.+ packs.  I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t wish I had some of those items at certain times during the trip, but I got by without them and the lighter load made it worth it.

Sometimes those with mental health issues need assistance in figuring out the things that are complicating their lives and contributing to the unnecessary baggage that weighs them down emotionally and/or physically.  Being able to leave some baggage behind in order to move forward is essential to the recovery process.

Lesson #5 – Stop to Enjoy the View:  When the hike became particularly grueling it was easy to lose sight of the magnitude of the scenes surrounding us.  Inevitably one of us would finally realize this and stop to take a look, prompting the rest of us to do so as well.   I didn’t have a camera with me and it became a joke about how I impatiently chided my friend about slowing things down to take pictures.   Now I am more than grateful to have those memories captured – not only because it made me stop to take in all of the smells, sounds, and views, but to see it through her eyes, when looking at the beautiful pictures.

When one is in recovery from a mental illness, it is easy to have tunnel vision and not want to stop and see the beauty of a blue sky, flower garden, or the friend in front of you.  Sometimes it takes a good friend to remind you to slow down.  Being able to do this enhances one’s recovery and is what makes it worth pursuing.

Lesson #6 – There is Something Bigger Than Me:   Some call it God, a higher power, mother nature, the great spirit, and/or many other terms over the years.  In those three days I came to realize that we are a small part of the vast beauty that exists in our world.  I’m glad to know that I am not the center of the universe, and that its existence is not dependent upon me.   One can allow little problems to seem so overwhelming that we become paralyzed and afraid to move forward.

It is nice to regain perspective and have the freedom to make choices and mistakes, knowing that life’s “imperfections” are what ultimately shape our world and make it more interesting.  Just as the Grand Canyon was carved over millions of years by the Colorado river, one never knows what beauty may later come from what was once perceived as a mistake.

Lesson #7 – Circumstances Can Make Friends of Strangers:  We had the pleasure of meeting a couple who was part of our tour group.  Prior to our trip, we checked them out using the latest social media tools, and assumed that we had nothing in common with them based on their profiles.  This theory was immediately proven wrong within the first few hours of meeting, when were all riding together in the tour guide’s SUV.   The woman and I started having a discussion about hormones and figured out we had both recently been diagnosed with underactive thyroid.  Soon we were all laughing and sharing stories.  Her husband, who was quiet in the presence of five women, handled us with a dry sense of humor, piping in with comments along the way.  We came to know and love our young, 24-year old free-spirited tour guide as well.  Since we’ve returned, we have exchanged e-mails and kept in touch, all drawn together by this incredible experience.

I love that about life.   Whether it is on a quiet subway ride to work or during the most grim moment of dealing with a mental illness in the hospital or a support group, with an open mind, one may meet someone who offers friendship and encouragement when it is needed the most.

Lesson #8 – One Person’s Failure is Another Person’s Victory:  There are many options to seeing the Grand Canyon.  Day trips, lookout points, challenging backpacking trips, alone or with tour groups.  It was amazing to see the variety of people who were there – old, young, disabled, different sizes and shapes; all there to challenge and enhance their lives with this incredible experience; all moving at their own paces.  I can’t imagine doing what some spoke of doing, going rim to rim to rim in one day, or being part of the long-distance running groups that skirted by us on the narrow paths, with sweat dripping down them.  Other’s couldn’t imagine doing what we did, preferring to go instead to an overlook to see the views.

For those who have mental health issues, it is easy to allow comparisons to others make one feel like a failure.  “Why can’t I do what they did?”  “Why is this so hard for me?”  The only person one can compare to is oneself.  Accepting setbacks as a part of recovery and moving forward from there is the key to recovery.  One day we may be able to do things with ease that another day may seem impossible, and sometimes it is necessary to reset our goals, settling for the day trip in order to see the view, rather than the 3 day trip.  It is easier to move forward when one accepts this rather than comparing to those around us, who have their own set of circumstances and challenges that may be completely different.

Lesson #9 – Remember the Joy, Forget the Agony:  By the end of our trip, we were exhausted and sore.  The last mile was bittersweet, as we took more frequent breaks to ease our muscle pain and take in our last breaths of the Canyon air and the panoramic view.  My recovery period seemed to be longer than my younger counterparts, and it took me a week to shake off the fatigue and muscle aches that now seemed like the only reminder of my trip.  In those first few days I couldn’t imagine how I had done it  or that I would ever want to do it again.  Yet one week later we found ourselves missing it terribly and wanting to go back for another trip.  I’m sure I will one day, based solely on the joy I experienced, pushing the aches, pains, and fatigue far to the back of my mind.

This is vital to one’s recovery as well.  Focusing on the joys experienced in life may seem bittersweet when one doesn’t feel like getting out of bed, pushed down by the pain of a mental illness.  Remembering these moments of joy when one is faced with doubt about the possibility of ever experiencing that again can be enough to motivate us to do what is necessary to get back on the path to recovery.

Lesson #10 – Hold on When the Wind Blows too Hard:  The most terrifying, yet exhilarating part of my trip was when we hiked out to Plateau Point to see the sunset.  This was to be the highlight of our trip, with promises of a pink and golden sky as the sun set over the huge rocks around us.  As we hiked the mile and a half to get there, it became apparent by the cloudy, overcast sky, that we were not even going to be able to see the sun.  The disappointment was palpable, yet we continued on, with the slightest hope that the clouds would dissipate into a miraculous shimmering, crimson sunset.  Instead, just as we got to the big lookout rock, there was a huge gust of wind, making it almost impossible to walk across it without bracing oneself.  Still, I was compelled to make it to the overlook railing.  I grabbed onto the railing just in time for another gust of wind that didn’t seem to let up.  I found myself grasping onto the railing, standing next to another young woman, and we instantly bonded over laughs of sheer joy and terror, as it became apparent we would not be able to let go until the wind subsided.

This became the defining moment of my trip.  Nature was in charge, not me, and all I could do was hold on and enjoy the moment.  My friends were not able to make it to the rail, and sat instead on the rock until they felt safe enough to move.  Their moment of terror was my moment of freedom.

It is good to be reminded that we are not always in control of the agenda.  Life has its own, and when it sweeps one up in a gust of wind, all one can do is hold on and enjoy the moment.

Lesson #11 – The Transition Back is Hard:  This is my least favorite lesson.  I wanted to believe my life had been transformed by this experience, and that I would be able to conquer anything now that I had tapped into my previously unknown reserves of courage.  Going back to work and facing personal stressors would be a breeze now – right?  Wrong!  This week seemed even harder, like jumping into an ice-cold swimming pool.  Going back to all of the stress and mundane tasks of life was no fun compared to such an incredible experience.  Rather than being renewed, I felt unmotivated.  It has been a week since we completed our hike, and I am just now getting my equalibrium.

Transitioning from various situations can be particularly challenging to those with mental health issues.  Incorporating some basic coping skills into one’s life as well as patience and understanding can help to make these transitions go a bit more smoothly.

The final Lesson

This is never more true than when one commits to maintaining his/her mental health.  There are times when one may forget or decide to stop doing what is necessary to maintain mental and emotional stability, ultimately finding themselves hitting bottom once again.   Surviving these setbacks is dependent upon one’s willingness to take the necessary steps to climb back out of the hole.  Going back to the basics such as seeking professional help, attending doctor’s appointments, utilizing medication if necessary, and taking care of one’s self are mandatory elements of this process and will lead to a more successful recovery.

I look forward to my next adventure.  Until then, I will make an effort to apply the lessons learned in the Grand Canyon to my every day life.

How to Handle a Setback

optimismIn my early days of recovery from the underlying anxiety that led to my eating disorder, I went through a program called TERRAP which was founded by  Dr. Arthur Hardy. One of the most helpful things about his program was that he provided tapes to listen to whenever I was feeling anxious.  I will always remember his philosophy about setbacks being an essential part of the recovery process.  As painful as they can be, setbacks help us grow stronger, if we can recognize how they provide the opportunity to learn from them.  Once I accepted the inevitability of taking a step backwards at times, I was able to see the important lessons setbacks had to offer.  This shift in mindset has had a lasting effect on me over the years, and I am much less afraid of slipping up now, because I know there are many options available to help me get through it and come out a stronger person.

Of course all of that being said, it doesn’t make it any more pleasant during an actual setback. Remember to be extra kind to yourself when it happens, and seek the support of those who love you during that time. Treat yourself the way you would a child who has taken a nasty spill – lots of hugs and nurturing can be a great antidote to the pain.

Why Do I Blog About Mental Health? – A 2-part Question

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Part A – I love to write

child-writing-credit-istock-91513956-630x420I am obsessed with writing I still remember my first diary that I kept tucked under my pillow.  I remember how it smelled, how it felt to put the tiny key into the shiny gold key hole, unlocking a space where I could write down all of the things that were swirling around in my head.  I remember thinking that my brain was like an attic, and every time I wrote it felt like I was sweeping up its dusty corners.  I felt like the little mermaid swimming into her secret world under water, safe from everything above the ocean’s surface.

sisters at beach

Writing gives me something to do with all the memories that pop up unexpectedly at inappropriate timesI have learned from experience it doesn’t pay to impulsively spout off a random story about my mom’s propensity to hear voices at the dinner table, when others are sharing their stories about family mealtime.  The awkward silence and puzzled looks on people’s faces quickly taught me to refrain from this type of sharing.

Writing is an acceptable way to deal with my obsessive thinkingMost days I wake up with a bunch of thoughts coming down the shoot, like chocolates on a conveyor belt.  I have found that it is easier to write them down than to engage in the many other unhealthy outlets that I have experimented with over the years.  There are the words I share here in my blog, and the ones I reserve for my journal.   Both venues provide an outlet to release the thoughts and feelings that visit themselves upon me every day.

Part B – Mental Health is Important

Mental illness impacts all of our lives – Since I have opened up and shared with people about the mental health issues in my family, many people have begun to share their experiences with me.  It turns out that at one time or another most people have experienced a mental health issue or have had a family member or close friend who has grappled with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar, alcohol or substance abuse, or any of the many other neurological imbalances that can affect the human brain.

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Relief from symptoms and recovery are possible – We can’t give up on searching for the best treatment options. These things are within our reach if we support organizations, legislation, research, and individuals’ efforts to seek optimal mental health.

em skatingBlogging provides a positive outlet to cope with my own personal experiences –  Although it has been many years since I had an eating disorder, the underlying issues of anxiety and depression must always be managed.  I still live with the scars left from living with my mom’s mental illness (schizophrenia), and still strive to learn from my daughter’s struggles with depression, a suicide attempt, and an eating disorder.  For some reason, my life has been defined in part by these experiences, and I want to maintain a positive outlook.

Blogging is a great way to connect with other people who feel passionate about mental healthI appreciate and celebrate all of the many wonderful mental health bloggers who open up their lives, hearts, and souls, giving a glimpse into the many facets of living with mental illness.

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CHEERS TO ALL OF THE MENTAL HEALTH BLOGGERS

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”

 

Its Not Just A Cold…or (Fill in the Blank)

coldThis week I have attempted to write a post on a few occasions but couldn’t quite motivate myself to follow through with the ideas that now lie dormant in my draft box.  I am suffering from Adenovirus aka, the virus responsible for the common cold.  In my case, it is a mild cold, even though I still feel like someone has shoved a bucket of slime up my nose and down my throat.  At its worst, Adenovirus can cause more serious issues such as croup, bronchitis, and pneumonia.  So I suppose I am lucky that my 5-day cold has resulted in a minor inconvenience this week and will pass quickly.  And while I was still able to experience some pleasure during my week, I can look back now and see how many ways in which it has slowed me down and caused me angst.  Here are a few of the more irritating symptoms:

large_insomniaInterruption of my sleep – Several times a night I awakened myself with snoring, coughing, sputtering, and just plain not being able to find a comfortable position.

Feelings of achiness and malaise – This made it very difficult to sit through the multitude of meetings without intermittently dozing off to sleep or shaking my leg uncontrollably from all of the Sudafed and caffeine I was hopped up on.

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Disruption of normal routine – I wanted to stay on my training schedule for the upcoming triathlon and started off great this week running and swimming like I’d never done before. By the end of the week, I opted for lying on the couch in a crumpled heap of sweat and exhaustion.

Labile mood – It has been a challenging week at work, with auditors here from two separate companies, each reminding me of the many ways in which I should be thinking about a career that requires less attention to detail.  My ability to remain assertive and composed vacillated greatly.  I have never been known for my ability to conceal my emotions, as my face involuntarily outs me whenever possible, and this week it betrayed me on several occasions.  I hate it when someone asks me if I am okay, and especially when it is an auditor!!

sandra bullock

Decline in appearance – This is the one that really gets to me – being told I look awful.  Yes, I heard that from a few people yesterday.  By the end of the week I lacked the energy and cosmetic skill to conceal the outward signs that my cold had inflicted upon me – the red nose, puffy eyes, flared up eczema, not to mention I didn’t have time to wash or blow dry my hair which wildly strayed from the pony tail I’d assembled earlier that morning.

Erratic eating habits – some people starve their cold, I prefer to continue shoving a variety of unhealthy foods into my mouth futily attempting to see if I can prompt my taste buds to wake up and start doing their job.

All of my symptoms elicited people’s empathetic responses – and I heard over and over, “why don’t you go home and rest”, “why are you here, you need to take care of yourself”, “what can I do for you?”

EmpathyI think you get the picture, but put that picture in a different frame and the reaction my be very different.  Let’s say instead of adenovirus, it is depression, an eating disorderbipolar, anxiety disorder or any other mental health issue that has caused this litany of symptoms.  Then how do we react to ourselves, and how do others react to us?  Let’s say instead of a few days of minor disruptions, it stretches into weeks, months, or years.  Society is much more tolerant of an illness it perceives to be out of our control than the ones that we are supposedly responsible for.  Perhaps I had some hand in getting a cold, a few too many late nights, a few too many sweaty jogs in the cold, and not taking care of myself.  Yet nobody told me I shouldn’t feel that way or that I should put mind over matter and cheer up.  In reality, we don’t have as much say in our health as we would like to, and we may have conditions that make us more susceptible to certain kinds of illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, etc.  Does having a mental illness make us any less worthy of care?

Let’s stop blaming ourselves and others when faced with a mental illness.  Let’s offer the same support, encouragement, and love that would lead anyone with an illness to seek the help needed to begin the healing process.  Nobody wishes to feel bad whether it is because of a common cold or a mood disorder.heart-symbol-vector-315085

NAMI | About Psychosocial Treatments

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The article below from the NAMI website contains some great tips about treatment options that can be used alone or in addition to medications, depending upon the nature of one’s mental illness.  Recovering from a mental illness takes time, effort, dedication, and as much support as possible to prevent one from becoming discouraged with the ups and downs of the process.  Don’t be afraid to try some of these suggestions, especially if you feel like you are stuck in a rut and unable to move forward.

NAMI | About Psychosocial Treatments.

Writing – the Key to Knowing Yourself

I love this Meme of the Week taken from a wonderful website called studiomothers.com.

Writing can be such a useful tool for anyone recovering from a mental illness.    Often we put so much energy into trying to appear “normal” and hiding our true selves that we no longer know what we want, think, or feel.  Taking a few moments out of your day to write can help to reveal important keys to recovery.

Mastering Worry

frying pan1I can’t believe I have gotten this far along in my blogging career without writing about worry.  In fact, I didn’t even have a worry category or tag until today (well, I will, right after I complete this blog).  This revelation is so monumental that I didn’t even worry about the skillet I left on the burner so that I could come into the living room to write it down.  It wasn’t until I was alerted by the smell of burning oil that I realized I had actually left a burner on and smoke was billowing from the kitchen.  Not to mention the fact that I am now going to be late for work.  Progress or cause for more worry??

Could it be that I have actually learned enough techniques that this part of my psyche has somehow taken a back seat to other more pressing issues, such as living in the moment?  And what happens if I stop worrying?  Will I burn the house down?  This thought is cause for great alarm!

I am worried that my capacity for worry is actually diminishing lately, as the pendulum swings into the other direction of complacency.  While others at work fret about meeting their deadlines and turning in their monthly reports, I find myself waiting until the last-minute just because I can.  Perhaps the fact that I work with a bunch of professional worriers has put it into perspective for me.  There is an ongoing debate we have at work about whether we were attracted to our jobs as clinical research professionals because we were a bit obsessive compulsive, or whether the job made us this way.  I think I know the answer to this question, having seen a procession of regular, non-worrying people come and go in our department, while the die-hard worriers have hung in there for the past 15+ years, clinging to our desperate need to control something!    We torture ourselves pouring over documents, only to have some auditor come in and find the one “i” that wasn’t dotted and the one “t” left uncrossed.  Research is the perfect breeding ground for someone who can never be satisfied with a job well down.  There are plenty of enforcers coming along behind us to let us know we have not achieved anything close to perfection.  I was stricken when my co-worker and I asked our boss which of us was the most anal retentive, and she said that it was neither because there were others in the department that were much more neurotic.  I was highly insulted and can’t tell you how many days I spent worrying about that one!

I wish I could say that I am now the master of all of my worries, but not so.   I still grapple with what seems to be a family legacy (from my father – thanks dad, didn’t see that one coming) each and every waking moment of my day.  Fortunately, before you decide to stop reading and give up hope, I can tell you that it has actually gotten better.  Yes, there are ways to put worry in its place.  You don’t have to be a prisoner to your worries any more.

Phobia_1So first, here are the worries that I have mastered: fear of flying, public speaking, social situations, heights, elevators, crowds, dying, going “crazy” (as I used to refer to it before I realized how demeaning this term was), gaining weight, going to hell, the future, my health, and many more, mostly related to what people think about me.  

Here are the worries I still have issues with:  worrying about my children, my grandchild, family and friends, going to prison (not sure what this one is about), getting fired, and looking stupid and/or making an ass of myself; playing cornhole, softball, bowling, volleyball, or any other sport that involves tossing a ball under-handed. 

me worryFor expediency sake, I have oversimplified both the magnitude of my worries and the recovery process.  Chronic worrying can be debilitating and zap one’s energy and zest for life.  There were times (and still sometimes are) when I felt like there was a part of my brain that was data-mining for something to worry about, and this led to a lot of misery.  It is much better now, thanks to a huge amount of effort on my part.

Here are some things that worked for me over the years:

  • Listening to Lucinda Bassett’s tapes, over and over again
  • Going to a support group for anxiety
  • Taking medication
  • Doing the four questions from The Work developed by Byron Katie
  • Having great friends with whom I can share my worries and laugh about them
  • Medication
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Counseling with a good, understanding therapist
  • Cognitive Behavioral Techniques
  • Attending workshops and seminars
  • Regular exercise
  • Limiting time spent with people who are negative
  • Creative expression – The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is a great method of tapping into one’s inner creativity
  • Developing a sense of humor -watching funny movies and reading books that make me laugh helps keep my mind occupied.  I enjoy reading/listening to books on tape by David SedarisHis lighthearted approach to the years he spent struggling with severe obsessive compulsive behaviors and tics brings a smile to my face every time I listen to him. 
  • Years of practicing all of the above

I will leave you with this MUST LISTEN TO song if you are like me and worry about being liked.  I’m still working on this one!

When I’m Cured

IMG_0426If you have ever had any type of mental health issue, you will know well the thought of what life will be like when you are “cured”.  Much like the person on a diet who imagines how much better things will be after losing 50 pounds, we can easily fall into the habit of deciding to start living life when certain conditions are met.  In fact, sometimes we get so caught up in this kind of magical thinking that we neglect to do the actual footwork needed in the moment.   Looking forward to a better day can be healthy and give us hope. It can also lead to denial and paralysis.   With the first hint of a set-back (like the dieter who eats the piece of chocolate cake) we may be tempted to mentally scrap the day, opting to start again tomorrow.

Recovery from any health issue requires patience and slowing down, as we experience first hand that there are certain things we cannot control.  Premature weight bearing on a broken leg can lead to further injury and delayed recovery.  When we are in tune with our bodies, they will let us know what is needed.  When a person is a struggling with a mental illness, the signals become distorted and it is difficult to trust one’s feelings.   This can result in a frenzy of activities that are subconsciously intended to numb us to the current moment such as excessive intake of alcohol, food, drugs, work, and other risky behaviors.  We become so proficient at running away from the pain that we create a vacuum in our souls.  This vacuum is rooted in the belief that we are not worthy of anything better.

Our most promising chance for recovery is in making the most of the present moment.  We will never reach perfection, and sometimes we will make a mess of things.  Regardless of how far away we feel we are from that “cure” and how much pain we may be in, being able to focus on the moment at hand without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future can bring a tiny glimmer of peace and hope.  We may not be able to control our thoughts, but allowing ourselves to become present in the moment, even for a brief second, will lead us to a greater level of truth.

Slowing down when we are tempted to go faster can provide us with a glimpse into the answers we are seeking.  When driving along in a speeding car, how likely are you to notice the buds on a tree in the spring or the wing span of a hawk amidst the white puffy clouds of a summer day?  Even if it means facing feelings of despair, there is great value in slowing down enough to acknowledge what is happening in the moment.  Sometimes the voice of desperation deep within our soul needs to be heard.  Acknowledging that voice can be a scary experience but can also be the catalyst for real growth.

Physical and spiritual growth cannot be reduced to mechanics. I’m all for getting the mechanics right, but spiritual growth is more than a procedure; it’s a wild search for God in the tangled jungle of our souls, a search which involves a volatile mix of messy reality, wild freedom, frustrating stuckness, increasing slowness, and a healthy dose of gratitude.”

– Mike Yaconelli