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

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

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3: Things People Say That I Wish They Didn’t Say

For the last two weeks, I’ve been writing about my experiences with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, and panic attacks. On week 1, I shared with you a brief outline of the progression of these disorders over the course of my life, and last week, I wrote about the things I think people need to know about those of us who suffer from them. It’s important that I clarify again the point that, while each person’s experiences with these disorders is different, we do share many experiences, feelings and thoughts. That is why I feel comfortable speaking broadly on the topic and speaking “for” all of us as a whole. Of course, I always welcome input from readers who agree or disagree.

This weeks’ post has been a little tougher to write. Why? Because this week I’m writing about the things that people say to and about those of us who suffer with GAD and panic attacks that I wish people didn’t say to and about us. Frankly, there are too many to include in one post. The tough part about this week has been narrowing those things down to a manageable number–five seems to be the magical one in this case. So, without further ado, here are…

Five Things People Say To People Who Suffer With GAD and Panic Attacks That I Wish They Didn’t Say

“You’re okay.” or…”You’re going to be okay.” or…”Everything is okay.”

Actually, no. We’re not okay. Everything is not okay. And, when we’re in the middle of a panic attack or an anxious day, it’s next to impossible for us to believe that we’re going to be okay. We know that you think you’re saying something that will help, and honestly, we want it to be true. But, remember that by nature, our panic attacks and anxieties are not rational. During the throes of one, thinking rationally is virtually impossible. Our bodies are flooded with adrenaline in the most massive “fight or flight” response you could ever imagine. Think of it this way: when someone is having a panic attack, their body is reacting in the most primal way it can. It is reacting in the way that has kept the human species alive over hundreds of thousands of years in the face of other animals far stronger than we, and cataclysmic events that rendered other species extinct. It is as if we are being chased by an animal capable of devouring us and shredding our bodies limb from limb. If we don’t run far and fast, we will die. Only…there is no REAL danger present at that moment. We know that in our rational minds, but our bodies cannot respond accordingly. It is frightening…no, it is terrifying. We just don’t feel like we will be okay.

“Just relax.”

If only! Most people who suffer with GAD, panic attacks, and panic disorder find relaxation to be, at best, difficult to attain. We would love to lie on a sun-drenched beach, eyes closed, listening to the waves roll ashore; forgetting all the cares of the world for at least a little while. But, as we lie there, we worry. We worry about skin cancer from sun exposure. We worry about the kids playing in the ocean whose parents don’t seem to be paying close attention. We worry that while we lie there and relax, something back home is going dreadfully, terribly wrong and we’re not there to stop it (as if we could). Believe it or not, sometimes just the act of TRYING to relax makes us more anxious than we already were. Speaking personally, the more still and quiet I am, the more time I have to think; and thinking is rarely relaxing. As much as we want to, and as much as we know we should, most of us who suffer with GAD and panic attacks simply cannot “just relax.”

“Take some deep breaths.”

I don’t know about you, but I breathe constantly. Okay, that was a little sarcastic, but you get my point. Yes, taking deep breaths does work to slow the heart rate, lower the blood pressure, and to some extent, calm the nerves. But, just like the act of trying to relax, focusing on breathing makes some of us (myself included) even more nervous and anxious than we already are; and being reminded to breathe deeply makes it that much worse. We are breathing, and we are taking as many deep breaths as possible, as often as possible. Give us time. Our breathing will slow, even if you don’t remind us that it needs to.

“Pray about it.” or…”God doesn’t give us anything we can’t bear.”

I have many well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ who have said these things to me so many times. If you only knew how many times I’ve prayed about it. If you only knew how many times I’ve asked God to deliver me from this panic, anxiety, worry, and fear. I dare say that I’ve prayed about this more than I’ve prayed about anything else in my entire life. As far as God not giving us anything more than we are able to bear: respectfully, that is a terrible misconstruction and misinterpretation of that particular passage of Scripture. What the Bible actually says is:

“No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13 NKJV

This has nothing to do with the situations and circumstances in life that befall us. What Paul refers to in this passage specifically deals with righteous living; with not being able to withstand the temptations that come to us–those which are common to us all. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks are not temptations. They are very real conditions which affect millions of people–Christians and non-Christians alike.

“You’re not trying to get better.”

This one really gets to me. How do you know I’m not trying? Furthermore, if you think I’m not trying, what exactly would “trying” look like to you? The problem with GAD and panic attacks, just like the problem with many illnesses and disorders, is that not all treatments work for everyone. Some treatments work better than others. Some treatments don’t work at all, and some treatments work a little, but not a lot. For some of us, trying is what we’ve been doing the entire time we’ve been suffering, and we still haven’t found what works best. There are even some of us who have tried everything known to help without any results at all. “Trying to get better” looks different for all of us, and to folks who don’t suffer, our best efforts might not looks like any effort at all. But, we really are trying. I don’t know anyone with either GAD, panic attacks, or both who WANTS to continue having them.

I’m not a big believer in policing the things that people say and I am a big believer in free speech and the free exchange of ideas. But, I would caution folks to be careful in choosing their words when talking to people who suffer with GAD and panic attacks. Sometimes even the most innocent words hurt the most because they call into question our ability to control our own lives even more than we already question it ourselves. All I ask, all any of us ask, is that you just be there for us; to support us, to comfort us. Sometimes–most of the time, actually–no words are required for that.

Coming up:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Where do we go from here?