Archive for August 2012

Clint Eastwood


[On the thirtieth of August, 2012, Clint Eastwood stood before the Republican National Convention and gave a speech. I write this at 1:30 in the morning on the thirty-first. I'm tired. I'm not all here. I'll probably read this tomorrow and wonder why I wrote certain parts, and I may regret some of it, but on the flip side you are getting raw and uncut me. Yeah, I edited for typos and I took out some of the bad words, and I rewrote the last paragraph once, but I'm letting the rest of this ride. I think I'm going to need some luck...but I'm not going to be afraid of taking a risk.]


Clint Eastwood stands up, shows us how old he is, tells some funny jokes, then basically says fuck politicians (you know, all those lawyers). This belongs to us.

Democrats call him names.
Republicans clap because they think he's not talking about them.

Then everyone goes out to vote, merrily, merrily, merrily falling off a cliff.

Clint Eastwood is my hero. He's too good to have had to stand up at a GOP rally. They don't deserve him. I don't know what kind of America would be good enough for a man like Clint Eastwood, but it's not the one we have, and it's not the one we're going to have with either of the two identical choices we have coming down the pipeline.

We had Obama, and it's time to try something new, but Romney isn't new. Romney is another champion of the same corporations who fund both parties. They don't care about us, they want us to fight each other, because the more we fight each other, and the longer we're not Americans but are Democrats and Republicans, the longer we'll have to mortgage a nation that belongs to the people, to us.

Clint gets it. The politically inclined don't see it because they're too busy painting the world in colors of "us" and "them" to stop and think that he may have been speaking of the WHOLE system.

I know the kind of America I want. It's not going to be gotten through the political system, through voting, through calling each other names just because we idolize an elephant or a donkey.

The kind of America I want can only be had through compassion, through helping others, through caring about something that doesn't involve tearing someone else down.

Sooner or later the moderates of America are going to have to stand up and tell the extremists to sit down and shut up. While the Left and Right pull us apart, we have families to raise, jobs to work, dreams to reach, pain to suffer. We don't have time for the games the news media, politicians, and their corporations play.

We have to live for ourselves, we have to take care of each other. There is no one else to help us, because we are all there is. You, me, our neighbors, our families, our friends, our co-workers. Even our bosses, and the CEOs of those corporations, and the lawyers and the politicians. Everyone, rich and poor, good and bad, legal and illegal.

How long can we live under the delusion that government will save us? That through government we can have what we want from life?

We are it. We are life. It's the people. Not the institution. It's the people. Not the conflict. It's the people. Not the parade that marches through town every four years to distract us from the real world.

Clint understood this, even as he had to pander to the establishment, to say a few nice things about the businessman running for office so he could use his national stage to say what HE wanted to say, not to the people standing, cheering him on, but to the people watching at home, the people who, instead of going to their Florida hotel rooms, would be waking up and going to work, or waking up and feeding their children and rushing them off to school, or waking up and trying to figure out a way to get their lives back on track.

What can we possibly do?

We can realize and accept that no matter what we do, we have the potential to impact others in profound ways. For better and for worse, everything we say and do, or even think, creates huge waves in life. When we open a door for someone, we change them. When we yell at someone, we change them. We can change someone forever with a simple kind word, or a harsh remark. We can instill in them hope, or we can reinforce their pessimism. It doesn't matter if it's in the real world or on a social network. If it's in person or anonymous.

What we human beings can do to and for each other should never be taken for granted. But as long as we look to man-made institutions for guidance, for help, and not to people themselves, we're never going to get what we want out of life.

We're never going to have security, because we'll always be divided. We'll never have wealth, because we'll never appreciate what we have. We'll never reach our dreams, because we'll only live for ourselves.

When November comes around, please, go and vote. It shows that you care. It shows that you have passion for this country, for this entire world. It doesn't matter which candidate you vote for, or why.

If you don't want to vote, if neither candidate is enough for you, you still show this same passion, you only express it differently.

But no matter what you do in November, don't let that be all you do. Say hello to strangers. Hold doors for people. Answer your telephone politely. Talk about what you love, not just of what you hate.Volunteer if you can. Donate to your favorite causes if you can. Support something, anything, it doesn't even matter what. Share something, give something, be something for someone else.

If enough people do these things, in four years our candidates will be better. In eight years they'll be better still. If we get going and don't stop, we'll change our political system. We'll change our entire government. Not by bashing each other with hateful rhetoric, but by setting positive examples.

Right now we're getting exactly what we have earned. The leaders of our nation reflect the people of our nation. Live in a way that would suggest we deserve more. Be the person you expect your leader to be.

How can you, I, or anyone else expect anything less from ourselves?

We're human beings, after all. We're creative and capable. Why keep playing the same old tired game, with all of the same unfair rules, when we can invent any game we want?

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Tao of Anxiety: Breathe and Control


Breathing is one of the most important things we do. We can go weeks without food, days without water, but if we stop breathing for even a few minutes, we can die.

For thousands of years Hindus and Yogis and countless other mystics have manipulated their breathing to reach a peaceful, enlightened state of mind. In the last few decades psychologists working with anxiety sufferers have realized that breathing plays a vital role in the physiology of panic attacks.

Breath control is not simply where East meets West. This is where psychology and mysticism become one.

Breathe...control

Panic attacks are serious business for anyone with anxiety. They can come out of no-where, striking when least expected. But most of the time panic attacks follow a pattern. I can predict my own panic attacks by watching factors like stress, sleep, diet, and physical activity.

When I'm overtired, after a long day of inactivity and eating sugary foods, I find that having a panic attack isn't just likely, it's normal. And because of panic's predictable nature, I have noticed another common factor involved.

My breathing habits play a lead role in the timing and severity of my panic attacks. When I breathe poorly, I'm more prone to a panic attack. When I breathe in the right way, I rarely get a panic attack. It's that simple.

Even when I'm living an unhealthy lifestyle, if I'm breathing the way I'm supposed to breathe, panic is held at bay. When I'm breathing poorly, the lifestyle factors that help create panic become huge problems.

~*~

Two interrelated elements influence panic attacks. The psychological and the physiological.

At panic's core are a series of physiological symptoms—a set of fight or flight responses triggered by the amygdala (the amygdala remembers negative emotional events that have happened to us, and triggers the fight or flight response to defend us when we experience a similar event in the future).

But it is the psychological, how we think, perceive, and react to our physical symptoms, which dictate whether the fight or flight mechanism will turn into a full-blown panic attack.

A racing heart and sweaty palms do not in and of themselves indicate a panic attack, only an abnormal fight or flight reaction. It is when our mind gets involved and we negatively interpret the racing heart and sweaty palms that a panic attack occurs.

The problem is that the fight or flight response is perfectly normal. When humans lived in the wild we had to react to threats quickly. But now that we live in our relatively safe modern society, we're still experiencing the amygdala's need to keep us safe, but lack the danger.

Having a panic attack is like getting all dressed up with nowhere to go. It's a primal response to normal situations.

It's easy to see the connection between stress or poor diets and panic attacks. But these things are long-term situations. It's hard to stop a panic attack that is just starting by immediately changing one's sleeping habits or diet. It's easier to go for a run or a walk and see an immediate result, but it's not always convenient.

Breathing works because it deals immediately with both the physiological and psychological triggers of panic. Breathing slows down the body, relieving physical stress, tension, and helping to dump the large amounts of adrenaline the body uses to defend itself or run away. And breathing calms the mind by slowing the thoughts, allowing the sufferer to focus on positive thoughts instead of the knee-jerk distortions often associated with panic.

~*~

Facts about breathing:

Deep breathing introduces large amounts of oxygen to the body, while removing large amounts of carbon dioxide, helping to balance the two (breathing shallowly often creates an imbalance, with more carbon dioxide than oxygen, and can lead to hyperventilating).

Because breathing deeply through the nose brings more oxygen to the brain, it is one of the best methods for relaxation. Sometimes it is the only method available.

Along with the skin, liver and kidneys, the lungs are one of the body's waste removal organs, ridding the body of carbon dioxide. But deep breathing also helps the function of the other organs, improving overall waste removal, cleansing the body. A cleaner body functions properly, decreasing stress and enabling the brain to work better.

The wrong way to breathe:

Shallow breathing is the leading cause of my own panic. I notice shallow breathing (not breathing deeply) in all of my attacks.

Though breathing is largely automatic, there is an efficient and an inefficient way to breathe. When we breathe through the mouth, trapping the air inside the chest, and even holding our breath when we tense up, we're inhibiting our body's ability to process oxygen and remove carbon dioxide. The brain depends heavily on receiving oxygen and getting rid of carbon dioxide, and when the lungs aren't working efficiently, neither is it.

The right way to breathe:

The efficient way to breathe is quite the opposite. Breathing through the nose, letting the lungs expand into the stomach, and keeping the breaths steady and consistent.

At the first sign of a panic attack I can often use my breathing to stop it in its tracks. Breathing deeply during the middle of an attack can lesson its symptoms and bring my body back to its normal state. Regular deep breathing exercises have been the number one factor in preventing my panic attacks altogether.

Breathing is meditation:

Meditation is simply sitting in a comfortable position and breathing deeply, evenly, and calming the body and mind.

Meditation puts my body in a deep state of relaxation. This helps slow my racing mind, allowing me to work through thoughts like “I'm going to die” and “I'm going insane.” Through deep breathing I have the ability to think clearly and confidently.

How I breathe:

There is no one right way to meditate.

Sometimes I lay on my back on a comfortable bed or couch, sit on the floor in a half lotus position (Indian style), or sit in a chair with my feet firmly on the floor. No matter where I sit or lay down, I keep my back straight and my shoulders relaxed.

I inhale and exhale through my nose. This allows a greater amount of oxygen to reach the brain, and helps me focus on pushing the air into my stomach.

When I inhale I do so slowly, sometimes going with what feels natural or counting to seven or ten (whatever is comfortable). I exhale with the same rhythm and pace as I inhale, slowly releasing the air in my lungs, letting my body relax. As air is released, I feel my limbs sinking with gravity.

When I inhale I do not do so with my chest. When humans breathe with their chest rising, they're breathing too shallowly to allow the maximum amount of air into their body per breath. Instead, I breathe into my abdomen, watching my stomach rise slowly as I exhale until it has a rounded, fat Buddha appearance—like I have a beer belly.

When I exhale I watch my stomach return to normal, perhaps even sucking it in a little as the last of my breath leaves my body. My chest never moves! My lungs expand down into my stomach, not against my rib cage.

Tips to breathing for a heightened state of relaxation:

Breathe naturally. Forcing yourself to breathe a certain way will only increase tension. Over time you'll readjust your habits, your breathing will become long and deep. Breathe what feels comfortably. There is such a thing as breathing too deeply.

Focus on your breath. This is a great meditative practice to get your thoughts off your mind, off your fears and distorted thought patterns. Observe your stomach rising and falling.

Don't be afraid to try breathing anywhere. Many people believe meditation can only be done in a quiet place, at a certain time of day, but reality is that meditation is most practical and effective when it's done, not when we're already relaxed, but when we need it the most! This can be at a busy store, at a party, a business meeting, sitting at a desk in a classroom, while exercising, or during a panic attack.

Perhaps the best advantage breathing has for anxiety sufferers is that it's not noticeable. People simply do not pay attention to each other's breathing habits, so breathing deeply is an unobtrusive practice. It is convenient in that it can be done anywhere, and no one will question us or judge us for it.

It is amazing that something so simple, which most of us take for granted—something every human being does all day, every day, even in our sleep—can have such a positive impact on panic.

But don't take my word for it. Research breathing's effects on the body and try it for yourself.




Further Reading:

Tao of Anxiety: Series



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Tao of Anxiety: Stigmatized


There are certain negative stigmas and stereotypes that some assume are true of anxiety sufferers. If we cannot work we are lazy. If we do not go to college we are goalless. If we have panic attacks we are crazy. We hear things like “Just get over it” or “It's not that bad!” and we are left feeling misunderstood and incapable of relating to others.

These hurt us. They slow our recovery. They reinforce our anxiety and phobias. I have always felt most unmotivated when being criticized.

And yet I have also found that, in the face of criticism, I have the best opportunity to reach out to others and bring them into an understanding of what I go through and what I'm doing to recover.

~*~

I have always been a self-conscious person, but I am most self-conscious of my anxiety. For years I looked to defend myself. I knew people were thinking I wasn't good enough, laughing at me behind my back. These projections were part of a pattern of distorted thinking. Even when someone complimented or encouraged me, I was irritated and offended because they seemed not to see my pain.

When I was eighteen I moved back in with my mom for the first time in six years.

My mother understood what it took to get over anxiety. She had gone through it and had recovered. At one time in her life she did not work or drive, and had regular panic attacks. When I moved back home with her at eighteen, she played hardball with me, pushing me to step outside my comfort zone, and I reacted very poorly to this because I didn't understand what I was going through, what it would take to get better.

My problem was that I was more comfortable in my state of anxiety than I was in growing as a human being. I was complacent and lacked motivation. Without motivation, getting over anxiety is almost impossible.

My mom didn't begin to grow until her life circumstances required her to (this worked for her, but shouldn't be thought of as a generalization; some find it easier to recover when they have help and support of family and friends, others do better when they're absolutely forced to, but most are somewhere between). When she found herself divorced, single, with no one else to rely on but herself, relying on herself became the easier thing to do.

I was in a completely different set of circumstances. I felt relatively safe. I was prepared to dig in and fight tooth and nail anyone who tried to make me grow up.

I was not ready because I had others to rely on, and when I was ready, I wanted to take things slow, to ease into exposure therapy, but my mother's idea was that the longer I took, the harder it would be.

There was a balancing act there. I had a need to do things slowly, safely, or not at all, and my mother had her need to have me recover as fast as possible. Her needs versus mine created a conflict that many people with anxiety face with their parents, lovers, spouses, doctors and friends.

Today I can peruse anxiety forums and groups on the internet and see the exact same pattern of behavior unfolding. I read people criticizing friends and loved ones, all for the same type of behavior I once criticized my mom for. Encouragement might as well be a slap in the face for many of us. The difference for me now is that I realize my mom wasn't out to get me. She was trying to help me the best she knew how, using what worked best for her.

~*~

I was looking to defend myself. That was who I was at the time, the role I was playing. And so I saw conflict in places it didn't exist.

I cried for help, then would tell the rescuer to go to hell.

And the more I fought people for looking down on me, the more they looked down on me. By using conflict, I could make stigma grow. If my mom ever thought I was lazy, I enforced that idea by acting like an inconsiderate jerk to her when she suggested I do something.

In the end lashing out wasn't working, and I had to find another way. In my early twenties I was studying anxiety and absorbing the information like a sponge, and I was studying Taoism, which promotes a balanced lifestyle, and an understanding that all things are connected. I realized that my actions could influence others in ways I didn't want or expect them to.

I also knew, from studying psychology, that people behaved the way they did because of inner motivations, fear being a prime factor. I looked at my behavior and discovered how my hostility toward their words caused them to intensify their hostility toward me, and if they had given me a compliment or encouragement, how my anger toward them could easily teach them not to give me support again.

Ignorance was where stigmas came from. If I knew I wasn't really lazy, but others were saying or insinuating that I was, then it was their ignorance. How could I work through this?

I put myself in their shoes. I sought to understand where their criticism came from.

My maternal grandmother's side of the family is a large one. And they grew up surviving. They started working young just to get by. They worked as if their very lives depended on it. My grandmother and her brothers and sisters worked themselves to the bone because it was all they knew to do.

Seeing that, it was easier to understand why they would look at me and not trust my “emotional” reasons for not holding a job. They had problems too, everyone does, but they buried them and went headlong into their work. Some even buried anxiety and depression, so they weren't unaware or immune to my experiences. They weren't necessarily stronger than me, they just had no one else to rely on but themselves, whereas I had them and others.

Once I thought about their feelings and motivations for what they did in life, I found I could draw strength from their struggle.

~*~

People like to see results and there was one thing I was not doing. I was not showing others what I was accomplishing. Being introverted, I work best alone and that was what I was doing with my anxiety, but I was missing out on the help I could get from my family, even if that help only came in the form of understanding and an end to criticism.

Much of what I do to heal isn't visible to the outside world. I primarily work with meditation, coping statements, deep breathing, and positive self talk, all things I can do on my own. No one is inside my head, and it's important not to assume people know what I'm thinking. The only way people would see that I was working hard was to show them, to talk about what I was doing, how I was doing it, and invite them to help me.

Some days I spent hours in my room meditating or visualizing overcoming a phobic situation only to be condemned by a family member for spending all day in my room. It was rough when I tried so hard and got no positive feedback for my effort. Sometimes it was easier to just give up and stop trying, but I couldn't rely on staying in my room, not interacting with my own family, and expect my situation to improve.

Obviously for any of this to have worked I had to be productive. In order to show others I was working hard I had to work hard. There have definitely been times where I wasn't motivated, and I had nothing to show.

And it was important that I kept the lines of communication open, not resting on my laurels, but staying proactive, especially when I felt I was going in the right direction. If communication stops, people will eventually drift back into their old habits, and the cycle will begin anew.

In the end it is hard to call someone lazy when you know how hard they're working. It is hard to call someone a coward when you see how many risks they are taking. And most people can and will appreciate being involved in the recovery process, especially family and friends who want nothing more than for the anxiety to go away.




Further Reading:

Tao of Anxiety: Series



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The Purpose of Life

I spoke with a friend on Sunday about art (drawing, specifically). We both used to draw in high school, were in art class together, and we both eventually quit.


We quit for the same reasons, mostly, boredom. I never had the attention span or passion to dedicate the required time to patiently make a piece of pencil art come to life. My friend moved on to photography and I moved on to writing.

During our conversation I said, “I like writing better because I can quit for six months and not have to worry about having to relearn it.” This wasn't planned, it was quite spontaneous, but it seemed to get right at the heart of why I had quit drawing.

I don't get rusty when I stop writing for an extended period of time. I can quit for months and jump back in like I had never stopped, and am usually better for it. I've done this with my guitar playing as well, where I've quit for a year, but when I started playing again I had a better understanding of what I was doing. The time off helps me organize all that I had already learned.

With art I never felt like I could do that. I was pretty good once, and I lamented Sunday that if I had drawn an hour or two a day for the last ten years I'd be really good. And I would be. My dad is a fantastic artist, but he put years into it. The ability runs in the family, but I chose at a young age to dedicate my creative talents to something else.

If I would take a week or two off from drawing, when I started again it always felt like I was starting over. This may be why I finally quit, because getting back into it was just too daunting. I had missed too much time, was too far off track. Partly this is due to a lack of passion. I don't doubt that for people who really love drawing, they can jump right back in no matter how much time has passed and it is probably for them what it was like for me with writing and guitar playing.

But the thing that really bugs me about all of this is that, in my opinion, I had, at least at one time, more potential for pencil art than I did for writing. Even today I think if I quit writing forever and started drawing again and put the time in, twenty years from now I would show more talent as an artist than I could ever dream of showing as a writer.

But I just hate drawing. I can leave off in the middle of a sentence when writing, eat lunch, and come back to it, but I never felt like I could do that with drawing. I couldn't take my time, I couldn't see what I was doing, I rushed myself always. If I screwed up I had to start over from the beginning. This was, looking back, obviously due to my own inexperience. I had a lot of raw talent but no skill. When I started writing, I enjoyed it too much to notice such things, and the skill came largely on its own, unforced.

If I screw up a word I can delete it. It's painless, and in fact cutting words out of a draft is, for me, more fun than putting them down in the first place.

I say all of this to point out a simple truth of human nature. Some of us are incredibly talented and gifted in certain areas, but that's not where we're meant to be. Our passions and talents don't always line up. It's like they say about politicians—the best man for the job would never take the job in the first place. And that analogy can be carried over into creativity. There have been really talented artists, writers, musicians, etc., who could have made it if they had given their lives over to their art, but instead decided to be doctors or pilots or whatever. And there are people who could have made the best doctors and pilots who decided to give up a steady paycheck and a stable lifestyle to paint, write, and make music.

Now isn't that strange? It's a good thing that, when we're born, we're not told what we'll grow up to be. A lot of people already hate what they're doing with their lives, how they're spending their time, because they don't have the courage or knowledge to get out and do exactly what they want to do, or they haven't allowed themselves the time to discover who they are, If our lives were determined arbitrarily or even genetically, I think there'd be even more misery in the world.

I could have been chosen to be anything, and I would despised it just for having to do it.

Which may be the main reason that I quit almost anything I start, for the simple fact that once I'm doing it for a while I almost feel like I have to keep doing it. If I don't have an appropriate level of passion to keep my interest, I'm gone. I go, not to greener pastures, but to different pastures.

And so I respect people who can focus on just one thing in life, and do that one thing year after year after year, but I don't envy them. I respect them because it's something I cannot do. I don't envy them what they've gained from it because I know I could never live such a focused life, and wouldn't deserve what a focused life offers.

There does seem to be a correlation between focus and success. Because I must live for me, I've done a lot to limit how success-oriented I am, for the simple fact that I know I'm never going to be able to work hard enough on just one thing. (So why torture myself for failing?)

That does not mean that I can't work hard on something I really love, but that I love far too many things to just pick the one. I've tied my own noose in a way, but I don't have to hang myself with it.

There's plenty in life an unfocused punk like me can achieve!

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Tao of Anxiety: The Making of an Anxiety Disorder

It is no wonder I am the way I am.

I was at risk for developing an anxiety disorder. I was an introverted and self-conscious child. My mother dealt with severe panic attacks. I was bullied. My father neglected me emotionally. As a teenager I was not encouraged to take risks or to do things for myself.

But remembering my childhood I cannot picture myself as afraid. Hesitant to warm up, yes, but rarely fearful and never phobic. I was strong, and strong-willed, holding up against the adversity of my young life.

Despite being introverted I would still seek the company of others. I showed innate leadership skills as a child, organizing the other kids in my neighborhood for forays into the nearby forests or for games of basketball and football. I was creative and motivated. I started a lawn watering and raking business, canvassing my neighborhood for “clients,” and I always sold the most for school sales. I looked forward to college and adulthood, growing up and being able drive and work.

I never struggled with who I was. My struggle had always been with the outside world. I was happy doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, whether by myself in my room, or with friends and my parents. But I was constantly buffeted by life. We moved every year, sometimes two or three times during a school year. I lost friends, and had to adapt to new environments even before I got used to old ones. My parent's marriage began to erode. By the time I was in fourth grade they were both working long hours. Often I wouldn't see them until six or seven at night, and when they were together, they fought. My mother, once a cornerstone of my life, burned out emotionally, and my father became even more aloof.

I finally stumbled in the face of this adversity. The daring brat slowly eroded and atrophied. The introverted recluse grew to take over. Adolescence was a reversion into a shell.

This period of my life began when I was 12 and I moved with my grandparents (my mother's parents) during the middle of sixth grade. I was escaping an intolerable school experience and my parent's melting marriage, but I was merely exchanging one struggle for another.

My mother, so adamant in my participating in sports and in Boy Scouts, was no longer there to push me to take risks, and my grandparents, two generations older than me and unable to relate to my needs did not offer the encouragement young teenagers need to grow into adulthood. Over the years they seesawed between showing me love and affection and verbal and emotional abuse.

I acted out against these negative life experiences. When I lived with my parents I dealt with my father's emotional absence with anti-social behavior—I was obnoxious and overbearing in class and on the playground, making myself an easy target for the other kids' teasing—and while I lived with my grandparents I reacted to their abuse through physical destruction, no doubt making the situation worse.

The table was set for my fall, but it would take something unrelated to my past to push me over the edge.

I was 14 when I had my first panic attack. I did not know what I was experiencing, and I wouldn't find out for another five years that the pain I felt had a name, a reason, but by then I had already developed generalized anxiety disorder, a panic disorder, and agoraphobia and social anxiety disorder because of my panic attacks.

My anxiety began with an illness. In February of the eighth grade I grew sick with the flu. Because my stomach hurt and I had thrown up several times the first night, I refused to drink water—making myself even sicker. I quickly dehydrated and for the next three days I was in agony, as if my body was eating itself alive.

I recovered after several days but for the rest of the school year I suffered from panic attacks almost every morning and at night. Food only upset my stomach so I refused to eat breakfast and lunch, losing thirty pounds in a month.

My once normally-functioning body was unable to cope with the stress of illness, dehydration, and malnourishment. Today I know that the attacks I experienced were due to my body's imbalance, but at that time I had no idea that what I was doing was hurting me.

The panic attacks I had in the first few months after my illness determined my social life for the next decade. It was a cause and effect relationship. Panic led to phobia as 1 leads to 2.

The first phobia I developed was an aversion to school. I found class constricting and claustrophobic. I was sometimes bullied, making elementary school a nightmare. In junior high I had friends and dealt with class the best I could, but those early morning panic attacks caused me to relate anxiety with going to school, something I had never enjoyed anyway.

My train of thought was simple: “If I have to go to school today, will I have another meltdown?”

If I thought for even a moment that I would feel a stomach ache or racing thoughts (or if I was already feeling them), I would try to avoid these uncomfortable sensations by not going to school. I began to set up a pattern of escapism that would dog me into adulthood.

Everything I did was to get out of doing things that made me feel emotionally exposed, because it was this feeling of discomfort that seemed to trigger my attacks. The more I got out of having to do things, and the more this relieved, temporarily, my anxiety, the more I began to connect the two in my mind. To me it wasn't my illness, my diet, my poor sleeping and other bad habits that caused my anxiety, it was school.

Then it was work. It was going to a friend's house. It was learning to drive. It was going out for sports. I had no idea that it was the stress of living an unhealthy lifestyle, not the social situations I was involved in, that sparked my fears. These situations were simply where and when the anxiety happened, not the cause.

I went out for football and baseball and quit both. I finished driver's education but I wasn't confident enough to buy a car or drive by myself. I grew nervous around telephones. I stopped eating school lunch—stopped eating in public.

I exaggerated every little neurotic and self-conscious flaw. Any shyness became a big deal. Everything revolved around having the next panic attack—and I didn't even know what I was going through, I had no word for it, I just knew it intuitively as fear. And I sought to be in a place where these attacks would not find me; safely tucked away in my room.

In the coming years it would be difficult for me to deal with life. I had no coping skills, no way of working through stress, and definitely no way to work through or to even understand my anxiety. I would go through cycles of getting stressed out and then breaking down emotionally. I quit school when I was 15, was able to finish, but then quit work when I was 18 (to later go back, rinse, and repeat).

Then my life changed again, this time in a way that would eventually lead me out of the emotional swamp I lived in.

I moved back with my mom, living with her for the first time in nearly six years. She helped me into counseling, and the therapist I saw knew exactly what he was doing. He introduced me to exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. He opened my eyes to what I was dealing with and gave me a road map out.

During that time I found something else to calm my anxiety and ease my panic attacks. The Tao Te Ching—my first introduction to Taoism. In this short, poetic philosophy I found a new way of looking at the world in which I wasn't against everything but one with it. Not fighting with life but flowing with it was a weight off my shoulders.

Both of these experiences built upon each other, and I was soon able to see life with a perspective I never had before. Much of the guilt and anger I lived with for so long melted away, and as when the sun peaks through the clouds, a brightness entered my life.

I'm still recovering from social anxiety disorder, but I no longer deal with agoraphobia or generalized anxiety, and my panic attacks are few and far between—and when I have one at all I calmly and comfortably let it pass.

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out if I hadn't gotten sick, or if I had consumed even a little water when I did. Would I have still developed anxiety if my grandparents or I had been better informed? Would it have changed anything if my mother, who dealt with her own panic attacks, was there to help me?

I was not at all thrilled by many events in my childhood, but I was happy with enough of it that looking back at the first 12 years of my life, I would have changed nothing. And I am not sure I would have changed what I experienced as a teenager, either, even the panic attacks.

My anxiety has been a great burden, but it has also been a blessing, and it has undoubtedly made me who I am today. I would not trade the knowledge I have gained through my difficult life for the chance to be “normal.”




Further Reading:

Tao of Anxiety: Series



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Prelude: Tao of Anxiety


I've been thinking a lot about anxiety lately. I've spent much of my time working on my phobias, incorporating exposure therapy and meditation into my evolving lifestyle. With this time spent on myself, I've had little time or passion to keep my stories going. 

I haven't let guilt to rear up (“why aren't you writing?”). Instead I sat on it, trusting that something would come along, something would pique my interest. And now something has.

This morning while I should have been meditating I was having an epiphany. I wanted to meditate, but my mind see-sawed between breath and thought. One idea came after another and by the time I was done thinking I had solved my problem of not having anything to write about.

Eureka!

Why don't I write about anxiety?

On a single sheet of paper I had written fourteen topics. Each topic was related to anxiety. In the next couple of months I hope to develop these ideas into a blog series: The Tao of Anxiety. I'm sort of revamping something I had been working on early last year, but condensing its size and scope to fit a more specific range of ideas (not to mention implementing more learned experience than I had eighteen months ago).

Each post will be from my personal perspective, my own experience. I've found in the past that some with anxiety can relate to my concepts, and have benefited from some of the ideas I have about social anxiety, phobias, and panic attacks. That was in the past, and today I sit here with, I hope, a better grasp on what helps me, what makes me worse, why I am the way I am, and what I can do to grow as a person.

Yet I won't be writing these posts for other people. I won't even be doing this for me. If you've read some of my previous “spiritual” posts, you'll understand when I say “I'll just be doing this.” I have no goal in mind except to do it, to observe the experience.

A little unorthodox and perhaps too spontaneous for our culture, but let's see where it takes us :)




Further Reading:

Tao of Anxiety: Series



Posted in | 8 Comments
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