How to Have a Midlife Crisis in 10 Easy Steps

I’ve never been overly concerned about my age, or aging in general.

It’s true. A lot of people have something of a rude awakening when they turn 30. Not me. I was fine with it–it was just another year in my life. The same was true at 40. So, for me anyway, age and aging hasn’t really been much of an issue.

Until now…

Over the last few months, something has changed with me. My mind isn’t processing things the way it used to. Specifically, it’s not dealing well with the now undeniable truth that I am getting older. My normally nimble cerebral cortex has become a cloddish, lumbering, sometimes even doddering lump, completely disoriented by what’s happening around it.

Most days lately, I just don’t feel like me anymore.

I don’t think it’s necessarily my age, though. I turned 48 in November–not really one of those milestone ages. But, even before my birthday I had begun to notice that something just wasn’t right. I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin, a fact I found terribly disconcerting because I’d only started feeling comfortable in it about 10 years ago.

Yes, something definitely changed this year, and I’m now more aware of my age, and of the aging process, than I’ve ever been. And now, unlike before, it bothers me.

A few weeks ago, I found myself standing in front of the bathroom mirror, looking at a face I thought I knew, but one much less familiar to me. It was at that particular moment when it dawned on me–an idea I’d always eschewed as an excuse for bad behavior was coming to fruition in my own brain. . .

I’m having a midlife crisis.

It was a bit of a whirlwind. So many thoughts and emotions cropped up all at once and without warning. It felt something like that scene in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles when Steve Martin and John Candy have no idea they’re driving the wrong way down the interstate until they’re face-to-face with two semis barreling toward them. Their car goes between the trucks, both of them scream bloody murder, lightning flashes, sparks fly, Martin becomes a skeleton, and Candy becomes Satan. . .

Yeah, it felt something like that.

But, like I said before, it’s not just my age. And in that moment it wasn’t just my furrowed brow, the crow’s feet next to my eyes, my receding hairline, the hair in my nose, the out-of-control J.R. Ewing eyebrows. No, it wasn’t any one of those things. It was and is all of those things, and so many more things, some of which I can identify and some I just can’t. Yep…I’m definitely having a midlife crisis.

I wasn’t at all prepared for this, and I am an extremely detail-oriented person who likes to plan for things. I don’t do anything without a plan, but this…no, there was definitely no plan for this, and that bothers me as much as the fact that it’s happening.

I began to ask myself some serious questions: how does one go about having a successful midlife crisis? How long should I plan on this crisis lasting? What will life look like on the other side of this crisis? These are all worthwhile questions, but regrettably I found, questions for which there are no answers–at least not easy ones anyway.

I can remember hearing people talking about men having midlife crises when I was a kid. Most of those men ended up cheating on their wives, buying expensive cars, or getting some sort of plastic surgery. That’s all well and good, but for me there are a few problems with that:

  1. I’m not married, and even if I were I don’t think I could bring myself to cheat.
  2. I just bought a used Toyota Camry–I can’t afford a Corvette.
  3. I didn’t even want them to operate on me to repair a broken arm; do you seriously think I’d let someone peel my face off my skull just to stretch it back?!

No, those things just are going to work. It looks like I’m just going to have to muddle through the crisis as best I can without all of those accouterments. I will just have to settle for a plain vanilla midlife crisis. Sorta boring, but on the bright side, I won’t cost as much.

So, I’ve compiled a list of 10 easy steps to help you have a successful (and economically friendly) midlife crisis:

1. Become middle aged (this might actually be the hardest step of all…)
2. Lose hair in places you want it, grow hair in places you don’t
3. Start waking up at least once a night to use the restroom
4. Stop sleeping when it’s bedtime, start sleeping when it’s not
5. Have mysterious pains on/in various parts of your body
6. Get at least one new medicine from your doctor when you go for a check up (and require a pill-keeper to organize them)
7. Have at least one new test run during or after each doctor visit
8. Listen to your doctor say, “You’re at that age when…”
9. Make the self-help section your first stop in your local bookstore
10. Become acutely aware of all the ways your life has not turned out at all like you planned it

 While I am purposely presenting this with a bit of levity, it is very much a front burner issue for me right now. All of those 10 things have happened or are happening to me even now. Standing in front of the mirror that day, I was flooded with a sudden awareness of the passing of time. I’m getting older; I’m changing; people I care about are getting older and changing; the world is changing–nothing looks even remotely familiar to me anymore, and it scares the hell out of me.

Being the predominately left brained person I am, I started doing some research on midlife crises, their causes and implications for men. I didn’t find a lot of answers to my questions, but I did find a lot of confirmation for the way I’m feeling now.

In a 2018 article titled “Midlife Crises Affecting Men and Families” by Dr. Lynn Margolies, in mid-life, “We are faced with loss — loss of youth, previous roles and opportunities. Midlife transition often is associated with a shift in our sense of time, leading us to reflect on our lives so far, decisions we’ve made, and the future.” This is an uncannily accurate description–at least for what I’m experiencing now. I am keenly aware of the things I’ve lost, the passage of time, and I constantly second guess decisions I’ve made or am faced with.

Although midlife crises happen in both men and women, men experience them much differently than women. For men in mid-life she writes, “Men in midlife crises feel hopelessly trapped in an identity or lifestyle they experience as constraining, fueled by an acute awareness of time passing. Finding themselves in a life that feels empty and inauthentic, they feel pressure to break out, and may desperately grasp at a chance for vitality and pleasure.”

Empty. Needing to break out. That pretty much sums it up.

But, this is serious business. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, men are over 3 times more likely to commit suicide. In 2017, there were, on average, 129 suicides per day in the U.S., and men accounted for almost 70% of those. Suicide rates were highest among middle aged white men.

Let me be clear, I’ve never been suicidal and I’m not now; but, I can understand why these thoughts, emotions, and massive changes that I’m experiencing now could lead someone to consider taking his own life. Despite how they are portrayed in the media, they are, at times, overwhelming and not curable with an affair or a new car.

1,300 words into this blog post, six months into this midlife crisis of mine, and I still don’t have any answers to the big question. . .

What the hell am I supposed to do with this?

The truth is, I don’t know if there is an answer. All of the literature I’ve read assures me that this is only temporary; that it will pass; and that, for the vast majority of people, midlife crises are followed by what Dr. Margolies describes as, “an upward trend in life satisfaction.”

God, I hope she’s right?

So….what say you? Can you relate? What’s your experience with midlife crisis (or midlife in general) been like? My hope is to start a meaningful conversation about a serious issue that is, all too often, ridiculed.


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!


Works Cited

Margolies, Lynn. “Midlife Crises Affecting Men and Families.” Psych Central, 8 Oct. 2018, https://psychcentral.com/lib/midlife-crises-affecting-men-and-families/.

“Suicide Statistics.” AFSP, 16 Apr. 2019, https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/.

Not Dying Was Easy. Surviving Was the Hard Part – 17 Years Ago Today

17 years ago today my life changed forever. What follows is that story…

Not Dying Was Easy—Surviving Was the Hard Part

I wonder sometimes what might have been if I’d taken my normal route home; if I’d swerved faster; if I’d not been driving on the spare; but, I didn’t, I couldn’t, and
I was, and everything in the world changed because of it.  

“What time is it?” I asked. Everything was dark, but I knew someone was in the room with me. I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids felt like they were made of lead, and what little light penetrated them was so bright that it hurt.

“It’s 4:30.” It was my mom’s voice. “You were in surgery for about seven hours,” she continued. “Do you remember me telling you about it when they brought you back to the room?” She asked. What she said didn’t make any sense. The last I remembered it was about one in the morning. How could I have been in surgery seven hours if it was only 4:30?

“4:30 in the morning?” I quizzed her—I was too confused to say more. 

“No. It’s 4:30 in the afternoon.” She was standing next to my bed and had her hand on my right arm. She wasn’t crying, but I could hear the worry in her voice. With her blocking the light from the open door, I was able to open my eyes enough to see her standing there. My brain was foggy, but I understood now what she meant.

“What did they do to me? I don’t remember if you told me.” I heard her take a deep breath and clear her throat. “Shit,” I thought to myself, “my arm is gone!”

“Mom, did they take my arm? Just tell me,” I said in a more demanding tone.

She squeezed my right arm, “Shhhh. I’m going to tell you, but you can’t scream in here.” I guess moms never stop being moms, even when their babies are hurt.

She told me that the surgeon spend the first two hours of the operation suctioning “bone dust” out of my arm. Every bone in my left arm from my shoulder to my wrist was shattered, and I literally had no elbow left. They implanted two titanium plates, sixteen screws, and a six inch titanium rod was inserted into the radius. The incision started in the middle of my upper arm and extended to about three inches above my wrist. She also told me that my left lung and kidney were both bruised, that there was extensive bruising on my torso and left leg, and that I had a concussion. 

“You have a long recovery ahead of you,” she said as she wiped the streaming tears from my face. “The doctors say probably a year or more until you’re fully recovered. But, you didn’t die, and that’s a miracle.” Not dying was the easy part—surviving was going to be the real trick.

Less than twenty-four hours earlier I was on my way home from my family’s Christmas celebration. I had dinner planned that evening with a friend whom I had not seen in some time. I was running a little later than I’d hoped and was driving above the speed limit. I never saw the small piece of metal in the middle of the highway, and the next thing I knew, I was struggling to stay in one lane. I pulled off the road. I got out and walked around to the passenger’s side of the car. BLOWOUT! The right front tire was completely shredded. Now I would be late for sure.

I opened the trunk to get the jack and spare tire. It was full of boxes and when I finally reached the spare tire, I discovered it was nothing more than the “donut” that car manufacturers included with new cars. My frustration growing by the minute, I unpacked it and the jack and went to work. As I tried to maneuver the jack under the car, I realized that where I pulled off the road was uneven and that the right side of the car was resting on a small hill. There was no room for the jack to fit. I tried it under the front bumper, but it was too small and wouldn’t hold sturdily to the car there. 

Thankfully, an old man passing along the road saw the trouble I was having, stopped and offered to help. I rode with him to his home not far away to get a big jack like I’d seen in mechanics’ shops. He told me that was the only way we’d get the car lifted to change the tire.

As we returned to the car, I saw my sister’s green Ford Expedition pulled over near it. She, my mother, and my niece were headed to Dallas for shopping and happened to notice mom’s disabled and abandoned car. As the old man put the toy spare tire on the car, I stood and talked to them. 

My mother tried her hardest to convince me to turn around and go back to her house. She was worried about me driving on the toy spare. I promised I would be careful and that I would go first thing the next morning and get a new tire. I pulled back onto the highway and headed for Dallas. 

As I reached the Stemmons/Highway 183 split, I noticed a small, gold-colored sedan traveling almost parallel with me for some time. Somewhere between the Walnut Hill and Royal Lane exits, the little car swerved and collided with my right front quarter panel. The impact wasn’t that hard, but the little toy spare couldn’t handle its force. I was stranded. 

I stepped out of my car and noticed that another car was stopped just behind mine. A young woman was behind the wheel. I motioned for her to wait and began walking toward her. She was driving a brand new silver Lexus with the dealer tags still on it. I walked up to her passenger window. I leaned in and asked if we could use her phone to call 911. She said we could and handed me the phone. I made the call and reported the accident.

“Do you know where Frankford Road is?” the Good Samaritan asked. I leaned into the window again and began to tell her how to get to Frankford. Then I heard the noise. . . like metal grinding followed by a gunshot. I looked up just in time to see the front end of an eighteen wheeler barreling toward us. Before my brain could process what was happening, the truck slammed into the back of the Lexus. Then, darkness.

photos of two wrecked vehicles On the left, the car I was standing next to. On the right, the truck that hit us.

I felt myself get hit, first from the right and then from the left. Everything moved in slow motion. There was no light and no sound, but I was not unconscious. I was keenly aware of what was happening, but at the same time there was nothing. It’s not true what they say–my life didn’t pass before my eyes–nothing did–it was just dark, and still, and deafeningly quiet. I never lost consciousness. I knew when my body was thrown into the air and I knew when I came crashing to the ground with a thud. 

In just a few seconds my brain assessed that I was still alive–I could feel my heart beating and I could hear myself breathing. I was hurt–badly, and I was still in the middle of the freeway. “Jason, get your ass up before you get hit again!” I don’t know if the voice I heard was my own, my mind, a guardian angel, or some other celestial sentry charged with saving my life. Whoever. . .whatever it was, I trusted it and picked myself up off the pavement.

My glasses were gone, but the rest of my clothing seemed intact: shoes, check; pants, check; belt, check; shirt, check. But, something was not right. I only felt one arm. I looked down at my left side. The arm was there, but I could not feel it attached to my body anywhere. I began to panic, thinking that the only thing holding my arm off the ground was my shirt sleeve. I heard myself scream in terror, “NO!” Almost simultaneously I realized the fingers on my left hand were moving. I couldn’t feel them moving, but I saw them moving. Left arm, check.

Traffic was completely stopped. I walked toward the right shoulder where I could see the back of the truck peeking over the ledge of the deep ditch between the freeway and service road. It was burning and people were rushing around from side to side. 

It was then that my head cleared and all of my senses returned. The smell of rubber and diesel burning filled the air and irritated my eyes and the inside of my nose and throat. The entire left side of my body, from shoulder to knee, felt like someone had smacked me as hard as he could with a baseball bat. It was an intense, burning and aching pain. I grabbed my left arm with my right hand and bent it at the elbow. I could feel the bones moving freely under my skin. As I brought my arm to my abdomen, I could hear them moving. It was a nauseating grinding and cracking sound.

“Somebody help me!” I screamed for my life. Until that point I don’t think anyone knew I was there. A man who was standing nearby ran to me. He grabbed my shoulders, and a lightning bolt of pain shot through me. I nearly collapsed, but the man caught me and sat me down on the pavement and leaned my back against the metal guardrail.

“Where are you hurt?” he asked calmly.

“I think my arm is broken,” I said, now writhing in excruciating pain. “No, I know it is, but what about my pupils? Are my pupils dilated?” I don’t know why I asked about my pupils, but I asked at least three times before the man assured me that my pupils looked fine. 

Before long, paramedics, firemen, and police officers descended on the scene. As they attended to me, I noticed a familiar voice. I opened my eyes and squinted. Through the strobe of red and blue lights and the smoke from the truck, now completely engulfed in flames, I was able to make out a familiar face. “Ben Roberts?” I asked. Ben was a friend from high school whose parents were the youth leaders at my church. I had not seen him in over ten years.

After a moment he recognized me, too. “Jason Walker?” He asked. “What are you doing here?”

I grabbed his hand and squeezed as tightly as I could. “Don’t let me die, Ben. Please.” I began to cry—the first tears I’d shed during the entire time. Ben assured me I was not going to die, but was honest and told me that I had significant injuries and that they needed to get me to the hospital quickly. I asked him to ride with me in the ambulance and he agreed.

It was surprisingly quiet and calm on the ride to the emergency room. Ben asked me to tell him exactly what happened. I told him the whole story: the first of about ten repetitions of it that night. Then, I took Ben’s hand again and asked him to pray with me. He agreed and proceeded to ask God to protect and heal me, and to give me peace and comfort. I did begin to feel peace—finally, peace. When he finished, I asked him to call my mother and tell her what happened. He reached her on her cell phone and told her where she would need to meet us. I could hear her crying on the other end of the call and Ben assured her that everything would be alright.

We finally arrived at the Parkland Memorial Hospital Emergency Room. Ben and the other paramedic wheeled me in on the stretcher and we were met almost immediately by a nurse who jotted down the vital signs Ben gave her. After they transferred me to a hospital gurney, Ben told me that he had to leave, but that my mom should be there soon and that he would check in with me the next day. I thanked him again and closed my eyes as he walked away.

There were what seemed like hundreds of people milling about in the hallway, and from time to time I would hear blood-curdling screams coming from down the hall. Since the accident happened, time had stopped. My watch was gone and I couldn’t see a clock. I had no concept of how long I laid there on that gurney in the hallway waiting. Waiting for someone to help me; to give me something for the horrific pain I was in; to tell me I could go home and get me out of that hellish place. 

Home. Five days later I was on my way, but not to my home. I was being released from the hospital and was headed to my mother’s home. I couldn’t take care of myself at all. On December 30th, the day I left the hospital, my left arm was still tightly wrapped in bandages. A drain tube and bag still collected the blood and puss which constantly oozed from the wound. I couldn’t take a shower or bath. I couldn’t dress myself. I could eat, but only if it was something which could be easily manipulated with my right hand alone. I was helpless, and if it hadn’t been for the wretched physical pain I was in, I would have felt that way. I had a fabulous apartment full of nice things which I’d worked hard to get, and something inside of me knew I’d never be back there again.

The first two weeks after I arrived at my mom’s house were spent in bed in various stages of consciousness and alternating between hydrocodone for the pain and Phenergan for the nausea that it caused. During the day, while Mom was at work, my sister would come and stay with me. Every other day for those two weeks, Eric, a friend from high school who still lived in town, came to help me get cleaned up. The entire situation was demoralizing and humiliating. I was ready to get out of bed, get moving, and get back to my life, but that wasn’t going to happen for months.

At the end of January, my doctor, who I had been seeing once a week since I left the hospital, released me to begin physical and occupational therapy. In the beginning I went three days a week. It was the hardest work I’d ever done. Even the simplest tasks wracked my body. My therapist began each session by having me lie on the floor. I held on to one end of a Theraband, and she held the other while I stretched my left arm as far across my bod as I could. The goal was to touch my right shoulder with my left hand—it took almost three weeks before I could do it. Each time I tried my weakened body would tremble, sweat would pour from every pore on my body, I would be as short of breath as if I’d run a marathon, and I cried like a brokenhearted schoolgirl. 

During those days, victories were small, and they were few and far between. Tying my shoes, spreading peanut butter on bread, combing my hair, and shaving were cause for celebration. But, there were many days when victory was nowhere to be found. After one particularly difficult session, I called my mom at work. “Mom,” I said, sobbing, “why didn’t you just tell them to cut my arm off.” I was sitting in the floor of the bathroom where I’d collapsed trying to get into a hot shower, the only thing that seemed to help my arm. The physical anguish was bad enough, but nothing compared to the unbearable sadness I felt the day I sat in my mother’s living room and watched most of the things I owned being sold to complete strangers for pennies on the dollar. There was no victory in that.

My adult life up to the point of my accident had been largely directionless. I played around at college for almost ten years before giving up and going to work full time. I had a good job, but not a career, and certainly not what I felt was my true calling. During the nearly nine months I was recovering, I had a lot of time to think, to reevaluate my life, and to consider my options. In an odd way, the same accident which turned my world upside down had also cleared my head about life. I finally had an appreciation for what I’d heard people say all my life—it’s too short to waste a minute. 

I was released to go back to work in early September of 2004, and I secured a job at Southern Methodist University that November. I was responsible for the operation of the Information Commons in the Hammon Arts Library. It was a dramatic cut in pay and responsibility from the job I had before my accident, but every day I was surrounded by people who valued education and hard work, including my boss, the library director. He knew my story and knew my goals. In November of 2006, after two successful and empowering years, I sat in his office and tearfully handed him my letter of resignation. I had finally saved the necessary money and was headed back to school full time. I was scared to death about what his reaction might be.

“Jason, I think this is wonderful, and I’m so happy for you,” he said with an enormous smile on his face. Not only was he gracious and encouraging, as usual, he gave me the biggest surprise of my life when about a month later, just before Christmas, a package arrived for me. It was a brand new computer with the latest software installed. It was from him. There was a note inside which read, “You are greater than your past. Love always, Tim.” I was overwhelmed.

Many things about the accident and the two years which followed it overwhelmed me. The worst thing that ever happened to me turned out to also be the best thing. Coming literally within inches of losing my life saved my life. Working to regain the ability to use my arm for the most menial tasks taught me that those things are not to be taken for granted. And, the day I walked across the stage at Texas Tech University, all of the pain and all of the heartache seemed somehow worth it.

In the end, surviving was the hard part. But, I could, I did, and everything in the world was better because of it.

 

5 (+1) Tips To Reduce Anxiety on the First Day of School (with COVID-era upate)

It’s that time again…

Back to School!

The first day of school is just around the corner (already here in some places), and for students, parents, and teachers alike, knowing that first day of school is coming can produce a lot anxiety and sometimes enough stress to make you sick!

But it doesn’t have to be that way…

jason walker wearing shirt and tie standing in front of projector screen

Mr. Walker on his very first first day of school as a teacher!

When I was still in the classroom teaching, I dreaded the first day of school. I never felt prepared and I always felt like I was going to crash and burn as soon as the first bell rang!

No matter what I did, the first day of school always seemed to be the most daunting day of the entire school year.

I remember my first day teaching in my first year teaching. I didn’t sleep at all the night before, and when I finally got out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to get ready to go, I thought the world was going to end. I had major anxiety: dizziness, upset stomach, cold sweats, headache, racing heart, shortness of breath…

You name the symptom and I had it!!

But, somehow I got through that first day, and the other 175 days that came after it. Somehow, I always got through the first day of school every year, and I was always glad I did.

And, believe me when I tell you that if I did it, YOU CAN, TOO!

Here are 5 Tips to Reduce Anxiety on the 1st Day of School:

1. Don’t stress about being prepared — you won’t be!

It didn’t matter how much time I spent on lesson plans, setting up my classroom, gathering materials, cleaning, making copies….I never had everything done on the morning of the first day of school. And, guess what? You won’t either!

But, the great part about that is that, it’s OK! Your students will probably be too worn out from summer and overwhelmed themselves to notice. Not being 100% prepared on the first day will not permanently damage any of your students. So, give yourself a break. You will get it done…another day!

2. Make sure that you are well-rested.

Notice I didn’t say, “get plenty of sleep the night before”…right?

If you’re anything like me, you just can’t sleep when you’re nervous. And, if you’re like me, you’re going to be nervous the night before the first day of school. If you don’t sleep 8 hours, DON’T PANIC! There are ways to mitigate the damage.

Take a good nap during the afternoon before. Hey, who doesn’t love a nap? At least your body will get some rest that day.

Don’t do anything major on the day before the first day of school. I once had a colleague who ran a charity 5K every year right before school started. Several of them happened on the day before. I really don’t recommend this.

Use the day before the first day to let your body rest. Don’t do anything stressful–especially anything like preparing for the next day. Take it easy. Watch a good movie. Have a good meal. Spend time with your family.

RELAX!

3. Give yourself plenty of time.

One of the biggest mistakes that a lot of people make, not just teachers, is not giving themselves enough time in the morning. Being in a rush, even if you’re not running late, creates more even more anxiety.

If it normally takes you an hour to get ready in the mornings, give yourself an hour and a half on the first day.

If your commute is 30 minutes, give yourself 45.

If you know there will be a line at the copy machine–do your copying several days ahead, or better yet, do an activity on the first day that doesn’t require making a bunch of copies.

Whatever you need to do, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to get there and get down to work. No one ever made a difference by being in a rush!

4. Eat something–ANYTHING, even if you don’t feel like it.

You remember what grandma used to say: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

Well, guess what? She was right!

There have been numerous studies that have shown students who don’t eat a good breakfast in the morning before school don’t perform as well. The same thing is true for teachers.

If you go to school hungry, even if you don’t realize you’re hungry because your nerves are on edge, you simply won’t perform well. You know what I’m talking about. You’ll end up with a headache, upset stomach, lethargy, and you’ll be a bear to your students in the class period before lunch!

Even if you don’t feel like it, be sure to eat something. Some crackers and cheese, or peanut butter; a piece of toast and cheese…eat something with some protein and carbs so that you’re full and have plenty of energy.

5. Remember, there is only ONE first day of school!

This is maybe my favorite one of all!

Whatever happens; however terrible (or terrific) the first day of school is, remember: there is, and will ever be, ONLY ONE first day of school. You will get through it. The last bell will ring. The students will go home, and you will, too.

Yes, the first day is stressful. Yes, you will be nervous and anxious and excited and worried and thrilled and all of the other emotions at the same time. And, yes, at the end of it you will be exhausted…but, it will be over, and it will be the only one of the year.

Remember that while you read the note little Johnny’s mom wrote to you complaining that she has to spend her money on “school supplies for other kids.” She’ll only write it once!

And, just for you, my readers….

BONUS TIP…..BREATHE!!!

That’s right. Whatever you do, don’t forget to breath.

In through the nose for four seconds. Hold two seconds. Out through the mouth four seconds.

Purposely slowing your breathing accomplishes three things:
1. It lowers the heart rate.
2. It lowers the blood pressure.
3. It ensures that your brain and body are getting enough oxygen.

All of those things reduce anxiety.

2020 Update: The First Day in the COVID-19 Era

If you had told me last year at this time that in one year’s time I’d not only be teaching fully online, but also taking classes fully online; and if you would have told me that almost six months would have passed since I would’ve eaten inside a restaurant; and if you would have told me that millions of people around the world would be dead from a virus that, until February, I (like most other Americans) had never hear of — I would have probably laughed in your face and told you that you were crazy.

But, I am, it has been, there are, and that’s the way we begin school in the COVID-19 era…

I wish I had a magic wand to fix this. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a crystal ball to tell you when it would all end. But, I don’t have either of those things. In fact, since transparency is the name of the game here on the Anxiety Diaries, I’m going to be complete transparent and tell you that I’m not handling this well at all. I’ve taken some major steps back in my battle with depression and anxiety. Thankfully, I’m attending school and teaching at a university that has seen fit to allow students and professors to decide what works best for them and I can do everything online for now. But, if that weren’t the case, I don’t know if I’d still be teaching or going to school at all.

For millions of teachers and students around the country, the first day of school is just around the corner, or has already started, and they’re back, in the buildings, in some Twilight Zone existence featuring masks, keeping six feet apart, not touching, constantly washing or sanatizing hands, and in some cases separated by plexiglass bariers attached to their desks. Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t have written it better for a movie. If that’s you, and if you’re anxious and nervous and not sure about any of it, here’s what I suggest:

  1. Educate yourself. Make sure that you are up to date on the latest information about and recommendations for staying healthy in the midst of a pandemic.
  2. Enforce boundaries. You know what you’re comfortable with. Don’t let people guilt you into doing something you don’t feel safe doing: if you don’t want to hug, don’t; if you don’t want to shake hands, don’t; if you don’t want to eat lunch at a full table, don’t. Do what you need to do to be calm.
  3. Take time for yourself. Don’t allow yourself to get inundated like you normally do during the school year. Leave some free time in your schedule to decompress–you’ll need it.
  4. BREATHE! This is always most important. Don’t forget to breathe!!!

As cliched and trite as it sounds right now, we will get through this. It’s going to take time, but we will. And, I firmly believe that when we do we will be better for it.

So, those are my tips for getting through the anxiety and stress of the first day of school, even in this COVID-19 era. Be well. Be safe. Be happy.


Tell me what you think. In the comments below leave your thoughts, share your experiences, offer other tips that have helped you. Or, just offer a word of encouragement for all the teachers and students heading back to school in the next few days! Click on “Leave a reply,” enter your name and email (don’t worry, I’m not going to spam you or sell your email address), and then write away.

And, as always, if you’ve found this post helpful, please be sure to like and share!!

Have a great year, everyone!

Much love!
jason walker's signature

Changes — They Are a-Comin’!

Change is good, right?!

I started this blog almost 10 years ago when I was in the midst of one of the worst periods of anxiety and depression that I’d ever experienced. In the beginning, the blog was a way for me to get my thoughts out of my head and on to “paper” — well, virtual/electronic paper, anyway.

Before long, people started reading my thoughts…people I didn’t even know! They started reading and then they started commenting and sending me emails thanking me. These people I didn’t know, people who also struggled with anxiety and depression, were writing back thanking me for being honest and transparent.

It helped them realize they weren’t alone.

So, my mission became even more important. I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless. I wanted to be their champion–a fellow struggler who was doing his best to get better.

Somewhere along the way, I got lost. My blog morphed into an unrecognizable mish-mash of posts with no consistent topic and no clear focus.

It’s time to change that!

wooden blocks with letters spelling the word change

Change is good, right?!

Over the last several months, I’ve come to realize that I am in a unique position to help people. I’m not a physician or a licensed counselor. But, I know about anxiety and depression. I know how harmful and destructive they can be. I can speak openly and honestly to people who are struggling like me. And maybe, just maybe…I can help.

 

In the next couple of weeks, you’re going to see a lot of change here–a whole lot of change.

I’m getting back to my roots. I’m getting back to the whole reason I started the blog in the first place. I’m going to write about anxiety, depression, my struggles, my triumphs, my failures…I’m writing about it all.

What does that mean for you?

Well, hopefully you’ll stick around and keep reading!

While my focus will be to help people with anxiety and depression find their voice and find an advocate, I think that the content I post here can and will be helpful to anyone who reads.

You can still read some of my “old” stuff.

I will be archiving my old posts that don’t really fit into the new blog mold, and don’t fit with the focus of the blog. I’ll create an archive page and you can go there and find sort of a Best of the Redneck Sophisticate. Poems, short stories, random thoughts and musings. They’ll be there for you.

Who knows? Someday I might start another blog where I just write whatever comes into little brain. But, that’s down the road.

For now, I need to get focused so that I can accomplish the things I want to accomplish to help other people. I hope you’ll stick with me because….I don’t know what I’d do without you!

Have any thoughts, questions, comments begging me not to change…or, hey, even some encouragement? Please use the comments section below!

Much love! Jason 🙂

 

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 8: Making Amends and Knowing When It’s Time to Stop Apologizing

In traditional 12 Step recovery programs, two of the steps are dedicated to righting the wrongs that have been done–or at least acknowledging them, apologizing for them, and, if possible, making some sort of reparation (not necessarily monetarily) for them.

Step Eight: Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step Nine: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

-12 Steps of AA

I don’t know a lot about the 12 Steps, but in my mind, these two would be near the top in importance (you can correct me if I’m wrong and you’re familiar with the program).

This last week, since my complete failure at returning to the classroom in a new district, I have been on something of an apology tour. I apologized first to my family, then the principal who offered me the job, then to a new colleague who’d been helping me, then to friends who’d vouched for me as references, then to some generous friends who’d offered direct support and encouragement, and finally, to all of you. I truly felt it was necessary to make all of these apologies.

What’s the difference between apologizing and making amends, and why is making amends so important?

Although I’ve sort of equated making amends with apologizing, truly making amends is far more than offering an apology. Just look at the word a-MENDS…you can see the difference in the very word itself. When we make amends, we MEND something that has been torn or broken–we fix it–or, we at least try to fix it. An apology, however sincere, can’t really mend something that is broken. It offers, at best, a temporary reprieve from the hurt that has been caused.

According to SoberNation.com:

Making amends is an integral part of personal growth and healing. It is so imperative to make amends with those people whom you have wronged that it is outlined, clearly, in Alcoholics Anonymous. Steps eight and nine of the Twelve Steps specifically call for amends.

The Difference Between Making Amends and Making Apologies

I won’t go into the different types of amends here, although I do suggest reading the article quoted and linked above, which explains them in detail. I’m writing about them now because it’s time for me to start making them to the people I’ve hurt.

It’s important to know when to STOP apologizing.

I am deeply sorry for any pain my actions have caused. But, it’s not enough to be sorry anymore. Now, I need to fix it. I need to make amends.

There are a few people I need to make direct amends to, and I am in the process of doing that. But, there are many more people for whom making amends will mean getting well, getting healthy, and moving on. For those people, seeing me stand on my own without their constant support will be the only real amends.

I suspect that for all of us who suffer from anxiety/panic disorder and/or depression and OCD, there are many people to whom we owe amends. I encourage you to sit down and think about those people. Stop apologizing and start making amends.


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!


Previous Posts in this Series:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 5
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 6
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 7

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 7: Sometimes We Fail

Sometimes, we fail.

When I started this series over a year ago, I made a commitment to total transparency. Share everything (that is appropriate to share), hide nothing. Because only when we are totally honest with ourselves, with the people who love and care for us, and with the people who are helping us, can we totally heal. This post honors that commitment.

It’s been a long, difficult four days.

As most of you who regularly read this blog or follow me on social media know, I was to have started new hire orientation at a new school district on Monday. I was excited. It was going to be a huge step forward for me both financially and professionally. You’ve probably notice by now that I’m writing in the past tense…

I thought I was ready. I thought I could power through my anxiety and make it work. I was wrong.

By Sunday night, I was a complete nervous wreck. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I tossed and turned, and was up and down all night long. I finally drifted off into a fitful sleep around 4 a.m. My alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. I got up and got myself ready. By the time I needed to leave, I was in a full-blown panic attack, and I couldn’t get it to stop. But, I got in the car and headed out anyway–thinking, hoping, praying that I would settle down and be able to do it. I couldn’t.

I won’t belabor this story. The long and short of it is that I walked away from what likely would’ve been the best job I’ve ever had–certainly the best teaching job I’ve ever had. My anxiety. My panic. It won this time. So, this week, I found myself back at square one.

What does this mean for me? Where do I go from here?

The short answer is, I’m not sure.

The school district has the option and the right to place a sanction on my teaching certificate, and it could be suspended for a year. My hope is that with a note from my doctor and counselor, they will elect not to sanction me. But, if they do, then I will understand and accept that decision.

I don’t know what the future holds for me with regards to teaching. For now, I have to focus on the present. I have to focus on getting better. I have to focus on healing.

I’m still going to start work on my PhD in a few weeks. And, I’ll have to find a job working from home for the time being. I do have some longer term plans which I will share with you later. But, for now, what matters is the present moment and getting better.

I know some of you will be disappointed. Some of you may even be angry or feel betrayed in some way. Believe me, I understand that, too. I’m alternating back and forth between considering myself a total failure who shouldn’t be trusted and considering myself smart for recognizing a potential disaster (entering a classroom in a state of panic is not good) and doing what I could to avert that disaster, even if it meant damaging my immediate situation.

I only ask one thing of you: don’t give up on me. I’m in the fight of my life and I need people around me who love me, care for me, and support me, even if they don’t understand me. I’m human. I’m flawed. Sometimes, despite my best intentions, I fail.

Sometimes we all do.

More later.


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!


Previous Posts in this Series:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 5
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 6

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 6: The Myth of Safety

In my previous posts in this series (links available at the end of this post), I’ve written a lot about many of the facets of my struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. But, one of the things I haven’t yet addressed is one of the myths that people who suffer with anxiety and panic attacks believe: the myth of safety.

As I’ve told you before, when I’m feeling anxious or having a panic attack, my first and strongest instinct is to flee the situation or the place I’m in, whether or not either has anything directly to do with the anxiety or panic. Even the most benign situations like sitting in a restaurant having a leisurely Sunday dinner with my family has ended with me getting up and leaving the table, either temporarily or permanently.

In those moments of panic, no matter when or where they are, I don’t feel safe. In my mind, getting out of that situation or space is the only safe thing to do. Once upon a time, home was the only safe place to be; and my family members were the only safe people I knew. When I felt panicked, I had to get home, or at the very least, I had to get near some family member. But, then, something awful happened.

Humans live through their myths and only endure their realities.

Robert Anton Wilson

After years of running when panic struck, panic followed me home! I started having panic attacks in my house and around my family; and worse than that, when I felt anxious away from home, running home didn’t fix it. The myth of safety that I’d constructed crumbled and I realized the truth…

There are no safe spaces and there are no safe people.

One of the things I’m struggling with on this road to wellness is rewriting the narrative in my head. Learning that the story I told myself for years is just that, a story; and learning that I am and must be my own safe person, and that whatever space I’m in is a safe space because I am in control of my thoughts, my emotions, and my reactions to whatever physical response my brain and body team up to produce. I’ll tell you that it’s not easy, but it can (and must) be done.

But, how does one go about completely rewriting that narrative that has existed for so long–in my case, for nearly 40 years? The answer is as practical as the answer I give my students when they ask what they need to do to revise and edit their writing: take out the words that don’t work and replace them with the ones that do!

Those of us who suffer with anxiety and panic attacks must retrain our brains to throw out all of the narrative that turned out to be a myth and to rewrite a new work, an autobiography, a true story of who we are and who we are meant to be.

For me, that means actually saying the new words out loud (or if the situation requires, internally):

  • This is anxiety. You know it is because you’ve experienced it before.
  • You are OK. You are not having a heart attack or a stroke. You are having a panic attack.
  • BREATHE! This will pass soon. Just let it be what it is, and let it run its course.
  • DON’T RUN!!! You are in control of this situation. No one else offers anymore safety than you. Nowhere else will be safer for you. DON’T RUN!

Not everyone requires that active level of verbal reinforcement, but most probably do–at least until we’ve retrained our brains and rewritten the narrative. Like I said, it’s’ not easy. It takes time and effort, and it won’t happen overnight. But, I believe it will happen. (Resource: The Power of Positive Self-Talk)

Talk to yourself like you would talk to someone you love.

In the end, it’s important to remember that, as adults, our individual safety and security rests solely in our own hands. We must learn that whatever space we are in is a safe space because we are in control and we are our own safe people.


I hope these posts are helpful to you, whomever you may be. If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression, there is hope to be found. You can call the Panic Disorder Information Hotline at 800-64-PANIC (72642). (The page links to more information about anxiety and panic disorders.)

As always, if you or someone you know is suffering from any sort of mental illness or disorder, please reach out for help because there is help to be found!

Please share this post! Even if you don’t suffer, or don’t think you know anyone who does, you might just reach someone you didn’t even know and offer them HOPE! Thank you!!


Previous Posts in this Series:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 5

Lessons from Star Wars–“You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned”: How Self-Perception Can Change Everything

One of the things I struggle with most in my life–one of the things I think we all struggle with–is self-perception. It’s not necessarily that the way we perceive ourselves is bad or negative, but a lot of the time, I think they way we perceive ourselves is, quite simply, inaccurate. That is something we must all learn…or, unlearn…

Let us now turn to the greatest teaching tool in all of history–Star Wars…

When Luke Skywalker first began his journey toward becoming a Jedi Knight, his self-perception was largely informed by the things his Uncle Owen Lars had told him about himself, about his history, and about his family. Those things weren’t necessarily false, but they certainly were not the whole truth.

What people tell us, and what we tell ourselves doesn’t have to be false to be untrue.

Yoda, the only surviving Jedi Master taught Luke to “unlearn what you have learned.” To see himself and his destiny for who he and what it truly is.

Upon his arrival on Dagobah to begin training with Yoda, Luke had come quite a long way since Obi Wan Kenobi took him from his home on Tatooine. But, he still had in his mind that he was just that simple farm boy; no one of much significance in the universe; always faced with the things he was unable to do.

Then, Yoda, the last living Jedi Master spoke words to Luke that would change both his outlook and the outcome of his destiny.

 

 

 

You must unlearn what you have learned.

With those words, Yoda started Luke down the pathway that would eventually lead to his defeating the Emperor and redeeming the soul of his father, Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader), himself a case study in how self-perception can radically change the course of life.

So, what does that have to do with me and you and the universe outside of George Lucas’s imagination? Well, just like Luke, we must unlearn what we have learnedWe must stop believing all of the negative things that we’ve been told and that we tell ourselves and learn what the truth really is.

I am Darth Vader.

For a lot of years I fancied myself strong and ruthless. I thought that was a good thing. Strong and ruthless people don’t get hurt. They’re impervious to injury and damage. Strong and ruthless people can withstand any assault.

Darth Vader, the Dark Lord of the Sith. Strong. Ruthless. Evil. But, in truth, a tragic and pathetic character who believed things about himself that were not true.

But, something else that strong and ruthless people do is hurt others who they see as a threat–because really, they aren’t that strong.

When movie-goers were first introduced to Darth Vader, he seemed to be the ultimate villain. All bad. Evil. Sinister. Strong and ruthlessIt was only later that we learned the truth. Darth Vader was a sad and tragic character who spent the better part of his life believing things about himself that someone else told him.

And that was me.

I hurt people out of weakness, not out of strength. I burned bridges to avoid getting hurt and only hurt myself more in the process. I separated myself to avoid being cast aside and left alone. And the irony in that is rich.

We are ruthless because it’s easier than being vulnerable. But, in the end, our ruthlessness turns inward, and the people destroyed are, well…ourselves.

I’m actually a worried, fussy protocol droid.

When I finally figured out that strong and ruthless were not necessarily a good way to go, that left me a little lost. My self-perception and my identity were so wrapped up in those beliefs that I didn’t have anything to replace them.

C-3PO, human cyborg relations. Worried. Fussy. But, ultimately the consummate helper and hero.

Then I realized my true nature (not necessarily my true identity).

I am C-3PO, human cyborg relations.

Who I really am is a sort of worried and fussy guy who like things in order and sees his main mission in life as that of providing help and assistance to people who need it–and maybe a little comic relief along the way.

Now, you may be thinking, “Jason, I don’t want to be like C-3PO. He was always finding his way into trouble at the hands of R2-D2 who seemed to revel in the act of getting him there.”

Well, that would be understandable if that’s who he really was. But, it’s not. Yes, C-3PO did end up in a lot of precarious situations, but he always came out on top. And, most of the time, he was a big part of saving the day.

He made people’s lives easier. And that is not a bad person (or droid) to want to be.

Put down the mirror. It is not your friend.

I’m sure you’ve heard someone at some point in life say something like you’d better go take a good look in the mirror young man/lady. I know that I sure did. But, I have some advice for you…

DON’T DO THAT!!!

When you look in a mirror, what do you see? You see yourself the way other people see you. That is the sort of self-perception we should try to get away from, not lean in to.

Real change in self-perception comes from looking at yourself from the inside out. It comes from shedding all of the lies and half-truths you’ve been told by other people and by yourself, and seeing yourself for who you truly are. Once you do that, then you can change that perception and begin to change your life.

Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that I believe myself to be an expert on this subject. Far from it! I’m still changing my self-perception…daily. And it’s some of the hardest work I’ve ever done. Sure, I’m C-3PO now, but maybe some day I’ll be Luke, or Obi-Wan, or Yoda. Who knows?

The point is that self-perception, how we see ourselves, plays a huge role in both our outlook on, and the outcome of our lives. Self-perception changes everything…

It can change good to bad.
It can change bad to good.
It can change worthy to worthless.
It can change worthless to worthy.

 

SELF-PERCEPTION CHANGES EVERYTHING!

Take a good look at yourself. What do you see? Who do you see? Do you see the person you or someone else has always told you that you are, or do you see the truth?

Find it. Find you. Let is change your life!

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, part 5: A Road to Wellness (Here We Go)

In my last post, I wrote that I would be starting an intensive outpatient treatment program for anxiety and depression soon.

Soon has come!

I began the program on Monday, and completed the third day yesterday. One of the rules of the program is that I not discuss treatment outside of the group–with anyone. So, for the last couple of days I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about my experiences while staying true to that requirement–I want to work the program exactly as designed. I think I’ve figured it out.

In the journal that I keep (it’s true, I don’t write EVERYTHING here!), I write down takeaways each day. Most of them don’t relate specifically to treatment, but instead are my own thoughts and impressions. I will be sharing some of those with you, and I’ll also try to give you a general sense of my personal progression. I think that’s fair, and it honors the spirit of the rule.


First: Why am I writing anything at all about what I’m doing?

When I first started this blog, it was a place for me to keep my thoughts and feelings during a particularly dark time in my life. I was, at that time, nearly housebound with anxiety. I rarely went anywhere, and when I did, I stayed away from as many people as possible.

TAKE AWAY #1: ISOLATING BEHAVIORS ARE VERY COMMON WITH PEOPLE WHO SUFFER FROM ANXIETY AND/OR DEPRESSION. I’VE BECOME VERY GOOD AT ISOLATING AND AT JUSTIFYING THAT ISOLATION.

It was only a very short time before I discovered that there are many more people out in the world like me than I ever would have believed. People who suffer like me, or people who love and care for people who suffer like me began reading my blog and commenting. Just knowing that there were other people who felt the things I felt helped me more than you can imagine.

So, I write about this because of that! Maybe there is someone reading who is suffering; and maybe that someone who is suffering will feel just a little better knowing that they are not alone.


Stepping out of the tiny world-box I had created for myself…

I’m not going to lie–this week has been TOUGH!

When I arrived on Monday, the first day, I was a wreck. On a scale of 1 to 10, my anxiety was at about 412! I was experiencing every, single physical symptom that come with my anxiety and panic attacks all at once!

Dizziness
Feeling like I was outside myself
Rapid heart rate
Weakness
Trembling and shaking
Stomach cramps and nausea
Headache
Muscle tension
The desire to get up and run away

Yes, for real…all of those AT ONCE!!

I didn’t think I was going to make it through the intake process, much less the entire four hour treatment time. But, with the help of some really good and caring folks, I did. It wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t feel good. I was exhausted by the end of the day, but I stayed.

Day 2, Wednesday, didn’t go so well…

I don’t know why Wednesday was such a bad day, but it was. All of those symptoms you see above…yeah, they were magnified by a factor of about 100. I only made it through about an hour and then I left–I had to go. I wasn’t doing myself any good being there…

Or, at least that’s what I told myself as I was leaving.

I came home, got in bed, and slept for about four hours Wednesday afternoon.

TAKE AWAY #2: FLEEING/RUNNING AWAY FROM SITUATIONS THAT CAUSE ANXIETY (AVOIDANCE) IS MY GO-TO REACTION. THE MINUTE THINGS BECOME UNCOMFORTABLE, I RUN. THAT IS NOT ON THE ROAD TO WELLNESS–AVOIDANCE IS AN EXIT RAMP OFF THAT ROAD!

Day 3, Thursday, was a better day…

On the way to Tyler I was doing some serious rationalization–talking myself into quitting and “trying to get better another way” (because that has worked so well up until now). Twice I turned on my left blinked ready to make a u-turn and go home.

Twice I turned it off and stayed on the road.

It wasn’t an easy day. But, I stayed. I wanted to leave. I came up with some pretty good reasons to leave. But, I stayed. I left the group twice. Once I even picked up my stuff and took it with me. But, I stayed. I stayed and I finished the day. I didn’t feel good. It was difficult. I was exhausted…

But, I stayed.

TAKE AWAY #3: EVENTUALLY THE TERROR PASSES. MAYBE I DON’T FEEL GREAT ONCE IT DOES, BUT THE TERROR OF THE PANIC ATTACK PASSES AND I CAN KEEP GOING. LEARNING TO RIDE IT OUT; TO BE PATIENT AND WAIT FOR IT TO PASS WILL BE A BIG KEY TO GETTING WELL.


I learned a lot in a short amount of time–mostly about myself…

TAKE AWAY #4: MINDFULNESS. LEARNING TO HAVE THE THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS THAT COME, WITHOUT JUDGING, IS VITAL TO WELLNESS. THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS ARE WHAT THEY ARE. THE ONLY SIGNIFICANCE THEY HAVE IS THE SIGNIFICANCE I (WE) GIVE THEM. LEARN NOT TO JUDGE AND ANALYZE EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT AND FEELING.

TAKE AWAY #5: FILTERS. LIFE AND REALITY AREN’T ALWAYS PLEASANT. THINGS HAPPEN, EVENTS TAKE PLACE THAT CAN SIGNIFICANTLY IMPACT OUR LIVES. BUT, HOW WE REACT TO THEM DEPEND LARGELY ON HOW I (WE) FILTER THEM THROUGH MY (OUR) OWN THOUGHTS AND BELIEFS ABOUT MYSELF (OURSELVES). THE THINGS I (WE) TELL MYSELF (OURSELVES) ABOUT MYSELF (OURSELVES) PLAY A HUGE ROLE IN HOW I (WE) REACT. CHANGING THAT FILTER IS WHERE WELLNESS BEGINS.

There is room for change in every area (except reality), but before thoughts, emotions, symptoms, or reactions change, we MUST change the filter. We can’t continue to believe the same things about ourselves and expect change anywhere else!

TAKE AWAY #6: FEARS. HUMANS COME INTO THE WORLD WITH ONLY TWO FEARS–FALLING AND LOUD NOISES. ALL OF THE REST OF THEM ARE LEARNED


The whole truth and nothing but…

It’s only week one. I’m not going to boast about breakthroughs because, as yet, there hasn’t been what I’d consider a breakthrough. But, I have learned some important things, mostly about myself. The theme for week one: I STAYED.

I’m going to try a couple of more “adventures” — you know, like going to Wal-Mart and not bolting out after ten minutes — this weekend. I’ll post about those on Instagram. Do you follow me there? You should….I am unclenobody (don’t ask, I don’t remember why…click the name and then click “follow”).


As always…

If you, or someone you know or love, is suffering from a mental health problem, I urge you to reach out and seek treatment, or offer your support and help for your loved one who is suffering. Below are a few numbers to call for help in finding resources near you.

Please like and share this post…you never know who you could help!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800.273.8255 (TALK)

Veterans Crisis Line – 800.273.8255 (Press option 1)

Treatment Referral Hotline – 877.726.4727

For more resources: www.mentalhealth.gov

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Where Do We Go from Here?

I started this series of posts a long time ago. In fact, I posted parts 1, 2, and 3 (you can click on the numbers to read them) over a year ago. I had every intention of writing this fourth part back then, but a funny thing happened on the way to writing it…I went back to work as a teacher!

If you read it, then you may recall that in part 1 I wrote that anxiety had robbed me of a promising teaching career that was still in its infancy at the time. That was true–I did think that at the time. But, about two weeks after I wrote part 3, I got a call from a school district nearby asking me to come in for an interview. I went and interviewed first with the principal, another English teacher, and the counselor. Before I got home from that interview, the principal called me back and asked me to come and meet the superintendent the next day. I did so, and before I got out of the parking lot, the principal called again to offer me the job. I was amazed.

In the interest of total honesty and transparency, I will admit to you that, in that moment (and many moments yet to come) I had my doubts about whether or not I could really do it. After all, the last time I had stepped in a classroom had been a year and a half earlier, and the bout of anxiety I was enduring was better, but still pretty bad. I was worried.

I won’t belabor this story except to tell you that I did it. I made it through the whole school year. It was difficult, and there were days that were very bad. I did miss days because of my anxiety, and I wasn’t able to be as big a part of the school community as I would have liked. I told my mom late in the school year that every day had been a battle, and that was true. Every day of the school year had been a battle to one degree or another. But, just as there were days that were very bad, there were also days that were very good.

I was fortunate to have an amazing group of students to work with. From day 1, they were welcoming, friendly, respectful, and willing to learn. It is true that no school is perfect because no person or group of people is perfect, but while not perfect, my students were capable and willing to work–and I asked them to work hard. In the end, the most important lesson of the year was the one that they taught me during the last days of school–I wrote about that lesson here.

My kids and me! Well, mostly the top of my bald head, but I’m not the important one in the picture.

Now, I’m preparing to move on to another school district and meet another group of students. And, again, in the interest of total honesty and transparency, I will admit to you that I am scared.

The last few weeks since school was out have been difficult. For some reason or another (with anxiety one almost never knows for sure), my anxiety has peaked again. The best and only theory I can come up with is that I’ve broken the routine I was in for 10 months; and sometimes my mind and body don’t respond well to a broken routine.

And this brings us to the central question of this post: Where do we go from here?

I’m tired. I’m worn out. I’m physically and mentally exhausted from, literally half my life being caught in the ebb and flow of my anxiety disorder. I have to find a way out of it–or, at least find a way to deal with it so that individual panic attacks don’t become strings of panic attacks, and that strings of panic attacks don’t become months- or years-long episodes of debilitating anxiety. I just can’t do that anymore–not and have any hope of a meaningful life or career. So, I’m taking what for me will be a big step…

In two weeks I will enter the Intensive Outpatient Treatment Program for Anxiety Disorders at UT Health East Texas. This program provides people like me who suffer with anxiety and depression with skills and techniques designed to help us cope with this disorder. It is not typical group counseling. I won’t be sitting around in a circle with a bunch of other people talking about my problems–not that there is anything wrong with that; it’s just not the way this program is designed. Instead, I will be in an educational environment three days a week, learning.

Hey! I’m a pretty good student these days…this could be great!

I have high hopes. I’ve tried cognitive approaches before, but have never been able to maintain the discipline and focus necessary to make them effective. Since this program is guided, I will be accountable to someone other than myself. I think that will make the difference. Hopefully, by the time school starts, I will be in a better place–a place where I can, at the very least, not worry so much about all of the what if’s.

That’s a lot about where do I go from here…what about the we?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that, too. I’ve been thinking about it because WE in this country still focus more on the mental part of mental health than we do the health part.

We must get to a place where we recognize mental health as part, a BIG part, of our overall health as human beings. We must focus more of our attention and resources on the research and treatment of mental health issues, rather than continuing to sweep them under the rug or hide them out of the way in shame.

The statistics detailing the number of people suffering from some mental health issue are staggering. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:

  • Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
  • Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
  • Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
  • 6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
  • 18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.

The costs associated with lack of treatment are equally incredible:

  • Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.
  • Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.
  • Individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions.17 Adults in the U.S. living with serious mental illness die on average 25 years earlier than others, largely due to treatable medical conditions.
  • Over one-third (37%) of students with a mental health condition age 14­–21 and older who are served by special education drop out—the highest dropout rate of any disability group.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.,20 the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10–14 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15–24.
  • More than 90% of children who die by suicide have a mental health condition.
  • Each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide.

(You can read the full report by clicking here.)

Just think about that for a minute. Mood disorders are the 3rd most common cause of hospitalization in adults aged 18-44; suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for people aged 10-14 and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 15-24. Why should we even have statistics for suicide in people who are that young?!

We’re better than this. We have to be better than this. We are the wealthiest country in the world–the wealthiest country in the history of the world, and yet, we cannot seem to find a way to allocate enough resources to adequately research and treat mental health issues.

The budget proposed by President Trump earlier this year dramatically cut federal spending on mental health services. Likewise, the House Republican plan left the lion’s share of responsibility for those services to the states, which according to a report in U.S. News:

…would mean a cut of about $1.4 trillion over 10 years from projected spending. States would face hard choices over competing priorities like mental health or addiction treatment, nursing home costs or prenatal care for low-income women.

Fair-minded and caring people can make the argument that federal spending and debt is so out-of-control that it must be curbed before it is too late to do anything about. I don’t disagree. However, when a health issue becomes a burden to the economy–and mental health certainly has–a smarter, long-term strategy would be to allocate a level of funding that can do some good.

Regrettably, this, like so many other issues which should not be mired in partisan politics, has become mired in partisan politics. What that means is that most people who suffer from some mental health issue will, most likely, not get the treatment they need because it is either not available in their area (rural areas are hit especially hard by this crisis), or they simply cannot afford the services. Even people with health insurance are often left untreated because their plans do not cover treatment adequately or at all.

I am, by nature, not a very politically active person. I certainly have my beliefs and opinions, and from time to time I will offer them, but in general, I try to stay away from politic activism. But, I’m not sure I can stay away from this issue much longer. It is one that, for obvious reasons, I’m very passionate about. While I don’t have a lot of time to spend on it, I can certainly make my voice heard, and try to bring attention to it. I would hope you would consider doing the same.

Mental health issues touch almost every one of us on some level. Either we suffer ourselves, or we have friends or family members who do. That is what makes it imperative that we become more vocal and advocate for adequate mental health services. That is what makes it imperative that we stop sweeping the issue under the rug out of shame and fear.

We can do better.

We must do better!


If you, or someone you know or love, is suffering from a mental health problem, I urge you to reach out and seek treatment, or offer your support and help for your loved one who is suffering. Below are a few numbers to call for help in finding resources near you.

Please like and share this post…you never know who you could help!

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – 800.273.8255 (TALK)

Veterans Crisis Line – 800.273.8255 (Press option 1)

Treatment Referral Hotline – 877.726.4727

For more resources: www.mentalhealth.gov