Meditation Is Good For the….LOOK! A SQUIRREL!!

In an effort to help myself with my ever-present anxiety, I have started meditating. I’m trying to do it every day–that’s the goal. I’m mostly succeeding at that. I’ve missed a couple of days, but not too many. I try to do it first thing in the morning before I get moving and before my brain really starts to do its thing. But, even early in the morning, it’s tough.

I’m a thinker.

No, not that kind of a thinker. I’d never sit around naked on a rock and think. But, I do think about a lot of things all the timeThey’re not all bad or negative things. A lot of the time I’m thinking about good things: ideas for writing, ideas for teaching, music (I have this little orchestra and choir that lives in my brain). So, not all of my thoughts are negative.

It’s not the manner or tone of my thoughts that plagues me while trying to meditate, though. It’s just the sheer volume of them, and the speed at which they come to me. Often I can’t keep up myself. If I get an idea that’s worthy of exploration, I need to stop what I’m doing and write it down. Otherwise…it’s gone and there comes a new one!

But, that is counterproductive when attempting to meditate. The goal of meditation is to center oneself, to focus, to breathe, to relax. The goal is to clear one’s mind of thoughts, and to just be in the moment.

Or so I thought…

My niece, who’s been meditating for much longer than me, posted an interesting thought on her Instagram story the other day. I’m not quoting directly, but in essence she said not to be concerned at not being able to completely clear the mind of thoughts. Rather, to let those thoughts come and then go. And, she’s not alone in that sentiment.

In a post entitled “Meditation isn’t about suppressing your thoughts and emotions,” JD Andre writes:

When you meditate, you strengthen awareness of everything that appears in consciousness: thoughts, emotions, urges, sensations, etc. You develop the skill of noticing it all without getting caught up in it (without indulging it).

On the other hand, suppress is defined as “forcibly put an end to; prevent.” Meditation is the opposite of that definition — when you meditate, you aren’t trying to forcibly end or prevent anything. To the contrary, you accept it all non-judgmentally.

Put another way, meditation is embracing whatever is happening in the present moment. The distinction is that meditating isn’t wallowing in thoughts and emotions. Nor is it dwelling on — or analyzing — them.

Well, that’s a relief! No, seriously, that’s a REAL RELIEF!!

It’s good to know that I don’t have to get caught up in this idea that in order to achieve successful meditation I have to clear my mind of all thoughts. Honestly, I don’t even know how I would go about doing that. I don’t know how anyone would go about doing that. Is it even healthy to try?

And, so I’ll take my 12 minutes a day (don’t ask why 12…it’s just the number that came to me) and I will close my eyes, relax my entire body, focus on the present moment, breathe deeply and slowly, and I will let whatever thoughts come to me come. And I won’t worry about them. And I won’t stress over them. And I won’t consider myself a failure because I couldn’t get rid of them.

Man, oh man….this making myself a better person isn’t easy!

My question to you is this: do you meditate regularly? If so, what do you do? Do you struggle with racing thoughts like I do? I’m really curious to know. Please comment below and talk to me about your experiences.

Until later…

Namaste.

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

Getting All Third-Persony About It

Sorry for the delay in posts the last week or so. I’ve been a little busy trying to start my life all over again, ‘n’ stuff.

(A quick note to new readers: anytime you see words underlined or in a different color, you can click on them to read something related to the current post. Okay, carry on..)

There’s a part of me that is really glad things happened the way they did, you know? The whole situation forced me to take a genuine look at the guy I see in the mirror every morning (that would be me in case you were wondering) and decide if I care enough aboutthird person him to fix things, or if I should just let him keep treading water.

I decided to help him out…

Is it weird that I just spent half a paragraph referring to myself in the third person? Not as weird as you might think. Many times, when I’m in the midst of a panic attack, or just a particularly anxious moment, I get the feeling that I’m outside of my body observing what is going on, but completely unable to control it. I’ve been assured by many people, some of them trained professionals, that this is not at all abnormal for people who suffer with anxiety and depression.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in third person recently.

The-more-you-knowInteresting factoid: referring to oneself in the third person is called ILLEISM. 🙂 See, this blog is not only entertaining, but educational. 

If I’m being totally honest and transparent (everybody’s using that word lately, so I thought I should, too) then I must say that, while my life has not been direction-less, it has certainly been leaning toward the chaotic side of the universe. I mean, I’m sort of a jack of all trades and master of several, but not all in a way. In my brain that translates to I kinda don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. And, THAT….causes a lot of problems.

What I really, Really, REALLY want to be is a writer. The problem with that is that I also really, REALLY like to eat and drive and have electricity in my apartment. So, until someone recognizes my genius, I’ll need another job. But then my wanderlust kicks in and I get bored and frustrated; and then my anxiety kicks in and I get scared and terrified, and here I am–staring at myself in the mirror and getting all third-persony about it.

Have you ever had a moment in your life when you just wanted to scream, WHAT THE HELL??!!

This is one of those moments for me. It’s a moment that never seems to pass by no matter how many minutes, or hours, or days, or weeks pass. It’s a moment when everything I touch seems to turn to crap no matter how hard I try for gold. It’s a moment when I have to keep telling myself that crap is GREAT fertilizer and so I keep throwing seeds down on top of the crap trusting that something beautiful will come out of it.

Okay, I’m not crazy about where that metaphor was going, so I’m gonna cut it off before it gets too weird!

Seriously, though, have you ever had one of those moments? Are you having one now? Do you have a magic trick that makes those moments go by faster?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then take a couple of minutes to post a comment and tell me about it. I’d love to hear about your third-persony moments. Who knows, maybe we share something in common? But, even if you decide not to comment, would you do me a favor? Would you please take a second to LIKE and SHARE this post in case someone you know might be staring at him/herself in the mirror? I surely would appreciate it!