People mean well–I know they do. But sometimes, when I’m in the middle of a panic attack or an anxious day, people say things that I wish they wouldn’t say. Here are five of the most common ones. Remember, sometimes the best way to help is just to sit quietly and be there!
Anger and outrage can be helpful or harmful. It all depends on whether we manage them or let them manage us. In this video, I talk about some ways to overcome anger and outrage and to channel them to be effective and not affected.
Not all tension is bad. In fact, leaning in to healthy tension can help us grow, improve, and make a bigger impact on our world.
If you enjoy these videos, or any of the blog posts, please give a like, a comment, and most importantly, share them with your friends. Thanks!
What is toxicity and how does it effect our lives? Are there really “toxic people,” or are there people who live in toxic situations and have toxic lives? Most importantly, how can we leave toxicity behind to improve our own outlook and experience? This video offers some perspective on those questions and on the idea of toxicity in our lives.
It’s taken me a long time to write this post. I actually started it almost two weeks ago; but, for various reasons, not the least of which has been my own up-and-down battle with anxiety and stress, it’s taken until today to finish.
Better late than never, I suppose…
It’s been quite a while since I’ve written here on the blog, which is odd when you think about it. There’s so much anxiety and stress wrapped up in our current situation with the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic–you’d think I would have a lot to say about it. And, I do, but until now I haven’t been able to come up with the words I need to say it. Who knows if this post will even accomplish that. But, I’m going to try.
So, on that note, let’s talk about…
When I teach my students about myths, I’m very careful to make sure they understand that, in the context of literature, the word myth does not carry with it the negative connotation that we endow it with in modern speech. While myths as stories are fictional, they are, for the most part, based in genuinely held beliefs and are used to explain the inexplicable in nature. That’s why I’ve purposely chosen the term to describe the phenomenon I’m writing about today.
In the late spring of 2009, I began having severe panic attacks again. As I’ve written about previously, although my anxiety is persistent at some level on a daily basis, from time to time, I go through what I refer to as malignant periods–periods where my anxiety is severe and acute. That spring was one of those times. As usual, I had (and still have) no idea what precipitated their onset. Quite literally, I had a panic attack when I got off the elevator at work one morning, went home a few minutes later, and never went back. That marked the beginning of what was an almost year long battle.
As with all of my previous malignant periods, I sought what I believed to be the safety of my home and my family. They were my safe place and safe people. But, as time went on, and as this period of severe panic and anxiety lingered, those safety nets got smaller and smaller until, by the end of that summer, I was essentially confined to my bedroom. I only left its confines to get food or use the restroom, and I certainly didn’t leave the house. Even then, I didn’t feel safe.
That’s why I refer to the myth of “safety.” I truly believed that I could and would be safe from my anxiety and panic in my own house and with my own family. In the beginning I felt safe; but as the panic attacks continued on, my world became smaller and smaller, until there was nothing left of it but my bed, my desk, and my television. The myth had been shattered. I realized that there was nowhere I could run and no one I could run to that would afford me real safety.
Fast forward…Spring 2020
Here’s the hard truth about Coronavirus (and almost all other viruses & bacteria): hiding from them won’t stop them. We can lock ourselves away from now until eternity and that virus will still be out there.
There are people who truly believe that if we all shut ourselves inside long enough that we can kill the virus–that we can starve it of enough places to land that it will become a non-entity. They believe that hiding away offers safety. That is a myth–a genuinely held belief that explains the inexplicable in nature.
Now, let me be careful to say that I am not suggesting that we simply go on about our lives as if nothing is wrong. That is foolishness. This virus is very real, it’s very deadly, and we need to take it seriously. We need to mitigate as much as possible to protect the most vulnerable members of our population. But, we also need to be realistic. Staying locked away forever won’t kill this virus. It doesn’t offer us the sort of “safety” we so desperately need right now.
OK, if I’m not really “safe”, what do I do with the fear?
This is a good time to remind you that I am not a psychiatrist, nor a psychologist, nor a trained counselor. I’m just a guy who has suffered from panic and anxiety since he was a little kid. But, over the years, I’ve learned some things that help me when my anxiety and panic are peaked out, and I’ll share them with you.
- Educate yourself. If your anxiety/panic are caused by something which you don’t know a lot about, but which presents at least some level of threat to you, educate yourself about that thing as much as you can. This is the case for many of us in our current situation. We don’t know enough about this virus yet, and we always fear what we don’t know. Find reputable resources for accurate information (I’ll provide some below). I don’t include media in this category, not because I think they’re purveyors of false information, but because I understand that they have paying advertisers to satisfy with maximum viewers and maximum clicks on stories.
- Avoid information overload. This one is tough for me because I’m an information junkie. I want as much information as I can get my hands on as quickly as I can get my hands on it. Unfortunately, that often leads to information overload which leads to increased anxiety and becomes a vicious cycle. Turn off the television. Back away from social media. Find something to do that offers you a break from reality. I’m not saying turn everything off and pretend nothing is happening, but give yourself a break from the onslaught of numbers and theories and arguments.
- Mind your physical health. One of the things I have learned about over the years of my struggle is the mind/body connection. It’s very real and it works both ways. Just as much as an unhealthy mind can lead to physical illness, an unhealthy body can contribute negatively to our overall mental health. It’s important to eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water (stay hydrated), exercise our bodies, and for heaven’s sake GET ENOUGH SLEEP!
- Isolate without being isolated. I know what you’re thinking — “Huh?” Just trust me here. We’re all being told how important it is to avoid being too close to crowds of people for long periods of time. We’ve learned this new term, “social distancing,” and it’s ubiquitous in our culture now. But, it’s important to remember that, as you isolate yourself in an effort to avoid exposure to Coronavirus (as much as that’s possible to do), it’s equally important not to isolate yourself from the rest of the world. Stay in contact with family and friends. Visit with them in person if possible, maintaining recommended protocols. Talk to them on the phone, via Skype or Zoom or FaceTime, etc. Most importantly, BE HONEST with yourself and with them. If you’re struggling, let someone know. Don’t struggle alone.
- Be realistic and don’t ask too much of yourself. We’re all glad (well, many of us anyway) that the restrictions are easing up–that we’re beginning to be able to get out and about more, and that there is some good news out there about the virus and progress being made toward vaccines, treatments, and just general knowledge about it. But, not everyone feels comfortable enough yet to get out and about. That is OK!! It’s important not to put a time table on your own ability to manage anxiety. Not everyone feels better at the same speed. If you’re still not comfortable getting out, then don’t push yourself. Set realistic goals that you can achieve. Don’t compare yourself to others.
- Seek professional help if you need it. This is an incredibly stressful time we’re living in. Truth be told, it’s probably the most stressful time most of us have ever lived in. For me, the only time I can compare it to is the days and weeks immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The sort of fear and stress we’re experiencing now can cause long-term mental health issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Panic Disorder; not to mention depression. These are all very real and very serious. If you think you might be suffering from any of these, it’s important to get professional help as quickly as possible. There are resources available to help. Don’t wait.
The reality of the situation…
The point I’m trying to make with this post (see, I told you I was still struggling for words) is that it’s important not to get caught up in a myth. While myths can help us process the brutality of reality, they can also generate a false sense of safety that ultimately works against us.
Oh, it’s very true that we can continue to make our world smaller and smaller, and we can continually limit contact with the outside more and more; but in the end, if we do that, we’re just damaging ourselves in a different way. I know this from personal experience, and that’s how I’ll end–where I began…
By the end of summer 2009, I was essentially confined to my bedroom. I didn’t leave the house for any reason, and people didn’t come to see me very often. My only contact with the outside world was my immediate family and Facebook. That isolation caused a lot of damage that took years to repair. I didn’t trust anyone. I felt paranoid of people’s motives. I worried constantly that I had some serious physical illness, and regardless how small I let my world become, I still didn’t feel safe.
I hope that something I’ve written here has made some sense to you or offered some encouragement or at least made you think a little. Be well. Be safe. And try to find some light!
If you’d like to read more about my history with anxiety and panic disorder, click the link below:
Mental Health Resources
- Centers for Disease Control — COVID-19 Information
- Centers for Disease Control — Coping With Stress During COVID-19
- The Mayo Clinic — COVID-19 and Your Mental Health
- Overcoming Information Overload
- The Mind-Body Connection
- The Relationship Between Mental & Physical Health
- The Long-Term Effects Social Distancing May Have on Mental Health
- 10 Signs You Need Mental Health Treatment
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!
If you are considering harming yourself or someone else, CALL 911!!
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
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.
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:
- I’m not married, and even if I were I don’t think I could bring myself to cheat.
- I just bought a used Toyota Camry–I can’t afford a Corvette.
- 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!
- If you or someone you know is in immediate danger to themselves or others, please call 9-1-1!
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
- Teen Line: 1-310-855-HOPE (4673) or 1-800-TLC-TEEN (1-800-852-8336)
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!!
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/.