Overcoming Anger & Outrage (Video)

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.

Healthy Tension (Video)

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!

Leaving Toxicity Behind (Video)

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.

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish: Finding the Time and Tenacity to Get Well

Most people who suffer from anxiety and/or panic attacks (panic disorder) are the typical, tightly wound, Type a personality. Actually, all personality types have some level of tendency toward anxiety and stress about some thing according to Tanya J. Peterson, author of The Mindfulness Workbook For Anxiety. But, Type A’s are highly susceptible to the stressors that typically lead to anxiety and panic attacks.

I am somewhere in between a Type A and Type C personality (yes, there really is a Type C personality). I am highly driven and goal oriented, but I am also incredibly detail-oriented, a perfectionist, and fear criticism (all traits of Type C). Each of these personality types is susceptible to anxiety, panic, and depression.

This week during my session with my counselor, we talked a great deal about my fear of criticism and the way I react to seemingly insignificant triggers–blowing them out of proportion and treating them as if they’re the end of the world. I’ve been that way since I was a pretty young kid. I probably noticed it first around age 15 or 16.

While it’s impossible to say that these are the things that caused my anxiety and panic, it’s a pretty sure bet that they didn’t help minimize or prevent it. That’s why it is so important for people like me–for people like all of us who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks to take care of ourselves both physically and mentally.

But that’s not always easy to do….

Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

One of the things that I struggle with most is guilt. I feel guilty about many things; some of those things don’t even have anything to do with me–I just take them on as my own because…well, I guess I think I can worry about them better than someone else.

Because of those intense feelings of personal responsibility and guilt, I find it very difficult to take time out for myself. In fact, I’ve been thinking about this blog post for well over a week, but I couldn’t seem to bring myself to write it because there were so many other things that I “needed” to do.

The real problem with this is that when I get consumed with these feelings of guilt, I become completely ineffective, even in the things I feel responsible for. I shut down. I can’t get anything done at all, and that just intensifies that guilt all the more.

It is vital that we learn to take time for ourselves, even when it feels like the most selfish thing in the world to do!

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Improving your relationship with yourself by maintaining your physical and mental health makes you more resilient, helping you weather hard times and enjoy good ones” (NAMI.org, 2018).

We are the only people who really know what we need in the way of care. We must advocate for ourselves, and we must be willing to endure criticism that comes our way when we choose to take care of ourselves.

That starts with learning to say “NO.”

No is not a dirty word. We’ve just been made to believe that by a society that, once upon a time, valued a sense of community, but which has now morphed into an increasingly codependent society, completely unhealthy and devoid of any emotional boundaries.

Saying no doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you care enough to know when you’re too busy or too tired to really help.

Finding the Time and Tenacity to Get Well

I’m busy! We’re all busy! I don’t know anyone in my immediate circle of friends and family who isn’t going all day from sunup to sundown most days of the week. Finding a few minutes free during the day is hard enough, much less a few hours…and forget about a few days!

But, we must.

There is nothing more important to our mental health than our physical health. If our bodies are worn out and worn down; if they’re out of shape and out of sync with our lives then it is impossible to be mentally healthy.

Taking care of our physical bodies requires 3 important things:

  1. Healthy Food
  2. Water
  3. Adequate rest

I’ll write about food and water later, but for now I want to talk about rest.

Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep at night (NAMI, 2018). This can vary, of course, but as a general rule it’s true. I don’t know many people who get that much sleep at night, so NAMI also notes that a short nap (20-30 minutes) during the day can help us recharge if we didn’t get enough rest the night before.

Rest and relaxation are not optional! 

Maybe we can go for a while on 2 or 3 hours sleep. Maybe we can go for a while with never-ending schedules that have us meeting ourselves coming and going, but eventually we will wear outOur bodies will start to shut down and fail us. So, it’s important to find the time to rest and relax.

Be a pit bull!

As important as it is to find the time to rest and relax, it’s even more important to find the tenacity–to find that sense of dogged determination that leads us to do things we know that we need to do, but that the people around us tell us we just can’t do because it would be selfish.

HOGWASH! 

Don’t be a jerk about it, but be very clear that you need time to relax. Their problems, their issues, that work will still be there tomorrow and the world won’t end if it doesn’t get done today. Stand firm. Advocate for yourself!

If you don’t, who will?

Suggestions for Finding Time & Tenacity for Self-Care

  1. Schedule time to rest. No kidding, it’s as simple as that! Block out time on your calendar for rest and relaxation. Then, once you do, don’t book over it–EVER!
  2. Do things you enjoy doing on a regular basis. We all have things that we love to do. So…GO DO THEM! Just like rest, we need to block out time to do things that edify and enrich our lives. Schedule it if you must, but don’t book over it–EVER!
  3. Be assertive, but not aggressive. If you have someone who or something that is too demanding of your time, speak up for yourself. Don’t wait until you’re angry and resentful about it to say something. Rehearse what you’re going to say ahead of time (no, I’m serious), take that person aside, and tell them what you need and why you need it. If they care about you, they will understand. If not, then maybe you need to set some boundaries for that relationship.

Remember, it is not selfish to take care of yourself. In fact, it is the most natural human instinct we have. Unfortunately, our modern culture has beaten that instinct into submission, which has resulted in a society so wound up that we fight and argue about everything.

Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others! It is the right thing to do.

Until next time…

Love and light,
Jason

Tell me what you think. In the comments section below, share your thoughts about self-care. How do you practice it? What are some things you would suggest for others? Click in the “Leave a reply” box and leave your message there.


 

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!!

It’s Not ALWAYS Anxiety: Recognizing, Owning, and Dealing With “Real” Emotions and Symptoms

Sometimes it’s easy for those of us who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks to blame everything on anxiety. It’s easy for our friends, loved ones, and even our doctors, too. But, I want to let you in on a little secret. Are you ready?

It’s not always anxiety.

It’s true. Not every emotion and not every symptom we experience is a product of our anxiety. One of the most important keys to managing our health, both mental and physical, is knowing the difference between anxiety/panic and “real” emotions or symptoms.

man holding his head as if in painOf course, all of our symptoms and emotions are real. We’re not imagining any of them or making them up. When I use the word real I’m talking about emotions or symptoms brought on as a direct result of anxiety and/or panic vs. those that have their origins in an external pathological stimulus beyond our control.

I could think of a ton of examples of times when I’ve experienced emotions or symptoms that I wasn’t sure were “real” or driven by anxiety. This is especially true for people with panic attacks because, often, those attacks happen out of the blue and don’t seem to have any trigger.

But, it’s important that we know the difference and that we stand up for ourselves when we recognize the difference. There are three keys to that end…

  • Recognize “real” emotions and/or symptoms.
    This is a tough one because we (folks with anxiety and panic disorder) frequently have unexplained emotions and symptoms, especially when we’re in the midst of a panic attack. Every person is different, so there’s no one sure-fire method of determining whether your emotions or symptoms are driven by anxiety or are pathological in nature. That’s why it is so important to seek professional help. A trained counselor or psychologist can give you the tools you need to know yourself well enough to recognize the difference. That is really the foundation of this step–knowing yourself enough to know what looks, feels, sounds, and acts like anxiety and what doesn’t. I cannot stress enough how important it is to seek professional help!! It is vital to the healing process.
  • Own those “real” emotions and symptoms.
    When you know yourself well enough, you’ll know what’s real; and when you know what’s real, OWN IT! Don’t second guess yourself, and don’t let anyone else second guess you. Even people with anxiety get sick. And even people with anxiety get upset, angry, hurt, sad, happy, excited–our emotions are intact just like everyone else’s. There really are external stimuli which cause those feelings; and there really are germs and bugs out there that can make us sick. If you feel a real emotion, own it. Let yourself feel it. If you get sick, own it. Go to the doctor, get some medicine, and let yourself get well. Don’t ignore the real things!!
  • Deal with it.
    This is maybe the hardest step of all, because when I say deal with it, I mean deal with the people who doubt you when you tell them something you’re feeling is real. We know they mean well…..most of them anyway. But, they really don’t know best–YOU DO! Stand up for yourself and for your health. Don’t be aggressive, but be assertive.  If you need to speak with someone about something they said or did that caused emotional pain, be assertive and insist that they listen. If you need to see a doctor because you’re sick, be assertive (yes, even with the doctor if necessary) and insist that you see them. Deal with it–don’t let other people deal with it for you!!

I know. This is difficult. There are so many questions we ask ourselves, and so many answers we give ourselves that may or may not be right. But, it is nonetheless important.

Never make assumptions where your health is concerned. Never make apologies for your feelings. People who really love and care for you will either understand, or you might need to move them out of the way.

YOU MUST TAKE CARE OF YOU!!

Until next time…

Love and light,
Jason

Tell me what you think. In the comments section below, leave your thoughts and experiences about “real” emotions and symptoms vs. those produced by anxiety. Do you have specific ways of determining which is which? Tell us! Or, just leave a positive word of encouragement.


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!!

The Things We Say To Ourselves: 5 Negative Statements You Should Stop Saying Right Now

People with anxiety and depression are notoriously bad about saying terrible things about ourselves. Most of the time, we say those things to ourselves

Oftentimes we excuse this negative talk by saying we’re just being “realistic” or “trying not to get our hopes up” about something. But, the problem is that with every negative word we speak, we’re only exacerbating the cycle of emotions and reactions that put us in the positions we’re in.

About 10 years ago, just after I first started writing this blog, I wrote a post called “The ne’er-do-well.” Basically, it was 1,000 or so words of me comparing myself to my friends and then trashing myself for not being like them. The following is just one of the paragraphs:

It’s Homecoming weekend at my high school alma mater and many of the people I grew up with and graduated with have come back to town to see friends and family they don’t often see. I’m here because on occasion I get a notion in my head that this time will be different – that this time I will have something to say, something to offer in conversation beyond meaningless platitudes about how great someone looks or how lucky they are to have such a beautiful family. For some reason the thought creeps into my mind that this year someone will say I look good or ask about my fantastic new job or how my writing is coming along. Keep looking, though – that’s me in the corner over there looking into the crowd with nothing to say. After all, what is there for me to say when I am as disinterested in my life as any of them are? There’s no question to ask to which they don’t already know the answer. The job is just that – a job. I get paid ten dollars an hour to listen to people gripe about their $400 telephones that don’t work and then I get to tell them to take the battery out and put it back in so that, as if by magic, it works again; and for that one brief moment I am their hero! I am their champion because I fixed their phone and now they can play Brickbreaker while their kids practice soccer or gymnastics. What more do they need to know about my writing? I write thousands of words each week and no one reads them. No, the questions are not necessary because the answers are always the same.

Holy cow! Even reading that now, all these years later, gives me the creeps. And trust me when I tell you, that is one of the more benign paragraphs! Those are an example of some of the things I said to and about myself on a regular basis.

Negative self-talk is poison!

Studies have clearly demonstrated that negative self-talk can do serious damage. It leads to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. It can damage our ability to succeed at work or school. And, negative self-talk can have devastating impacts on our relationships with family, friends, and boy or girlfriends, partners, and spouses.

Here are a just a few of the potential effects of negative self talk according to this 2018 article on VeryWellMind.com:

  • Limited thinking. You tell yourself you can’t do something, and the more you hear it, the more you believe it.
  • Perfectionism. You begin to really believe that “great” isn’t as good as “perfect,” and that perfection is actually attainable. (In contrast, mere high achievers tend to do better than their perfectionistic counterparts because they generally less stressed and are happy with a job well-done rather than picking it apart and zeroing in on what could have been better.
  • Feelings of depression. Some research has shown that negative self-talk can lead to an exacerbation of feelings of depression. If left unchecked, this could be quite damaging.
  • Relationship challenges. Whether the constant self-criticism makes you seem needy and insecure or you turn your negative self-talk into more general negative habits that bother others, a lack of communication and even a “playful” amount of criticism can take a toll.​

Additionally, for those of us who suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, perpetual negative self-talk can lead directly to increased anxiety and even panic attacks through increased feelings of inadequacy.

In order to combat our anxiety, we must learn to 1) recognize negative self-talk, and 2) replace it with positive affirmations that build us up rather than tearing us down.

To help you combat negative self-talk in your own life, here are…

5 Negative Statements You Should Stop Saying Right Now

  1. I am not worthy/I am worthless. This is a LIEYou are absolutely worth every effort and every good thing that comes from those efforts. Simply by virtue of the fact that you are a living human being, you ARE worthy, you have worth, and you are worth the effort it will take to get better.
  2. I can’t do it. This is a LIE! You can do it! Whatever it is, you can certainly do it if you try; if you put in the work it takes to get it done. So what if you don’t succeed the first time? Who ever does? You can do it, you should do it, and you will do it.
  3. I can’t live without him/herThis is a LIE! Trust me when I tell you that you most certainly CAN live without him or her. One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in my life is to overcome my fear of being alone. Now, not only do I not mind being alone, most of the time I appreciate that quiet, alone time. As much as it may hurt in the beginning, you can live without him or her.
  4. I have to change who I am for people to like me. This is a LIE! Anyone who requires that you change who you are in order to be your friend is not your friend. Be proud of who you are. Here’s a secret: not everyone will like you! It’s another hard lesson I’ve had to learn, but it was liberating when I finally did. Surround yourself with people you care for and people who care for you just the way you areLet the others sort it out on their own. It’s OK that everyone doesn’t like you.
  5. I wish I’d never been born. If you say that to yourself, I want you to STOP right now, pick up a phone, and reach out to someone for help! I’m serious! If you think that you should’ve never been born, or that you don’t want to live anymore, or that you wish you would die, then you are at a point where you truly need help. There are some resources listed below, including the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, please use them! Or, call a trusted family member or friend, a pastor, a teacher–it doesn’t really matter who it is, just call someone you trust and let them help you find help!

There are millions more I could list, but these are a few of the things I’ve said to myself over the years. Most of them I don’t say at all anymore. One or two of them I still catch myself saying from time to time, but I immediately replace them with positive thoughts.

Next time, we will focus on the positive thoughts you can use to replace this negative poison in your life. Until then…

Love and light!
Jason

 

Tell me what you think! In the comments section below, talk to me about negative self-talk and how it has impacted you. Tell me how you’ve overcome it, or what you’re still struggling with. Or, just leave a positive word of encouragement. Just click “Leave a Reply” and write away!


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!!

 

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 2: The Things You Need to Know About GAD & Panic Attacks

Last week, I posted Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1: My Long & Complicated Relationship With Panic. In it, I gave a brief description of how and when I began experiencing the crippling effects of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Attacks. If you have not yet read part 1, reading it before you read this post might help with context.

What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)?

The Mayo Clinic defines GAD as “. . .excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that interfere with day-to-day activities.” People may develop “generalized anxiety disorder as a child or an adult. Generalized anxiety disorder has symptoms that are similar to panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other types of anxiety, but they are all different conditions.”

Symptoms of GAD include:

Persistent worrying or obsession about small or large concerns that’s out of proportion to the impact of the event
Inability to set aside or let go of a worry
Inability to relax, restlessness, and feeling keyed up or on edge
Difficulty concentrating, or the feeling that your mind “goes blank”
Worrying about excessively worrying
Distress about making decisions for fear of making the wrong decision
Carrying every option in a situation all the way out to its possible negative conclusion
Difficulty handling uncertainty or indecisiveness
Fatigue
Irritability
Muscle tension or muscle aches
Trembling, feeling twitchy
Being easily startled
Trouble sleeping
Sweating
Nausea, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome
Headaches

Symptoms in children and teens can manifest differently than adults and may include:

Performance at school or sporting events suffering
Difficulty being on time (punctuality)
Fear of earthquakes, nuclear war or other catastrophic events
Feeling overly anxious to fit in
Being a perfectionist
Tendency to redo tasks because they aren’t perfect the first time
Spending excessive time doing homework
Lacking confidence
Striving for approval
Requiring a lot of reassurance about performance

What are Panic Attacks?

The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as ” a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.” Further, they note that “Many people have just one or two panic attacks in their lifetimes, and the problem goes away, perhaps when a stressful situation ends. But if you’ve had recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and spent long periods in constant fear of another attack, you may have a condition called panic disorder. . .Although panic attacks themselves aren’t life-threatening, they can be frightening and significantly affect your quality of life.”

Panic attack symptoms vary widely from person to person, but they almost always come on suddenly and without warning, even at times when there does not seem to be anything that would trigger a panic attack. Many people, myself included, have been awakened in the middle of the night from a sound sleep having a panic attack. While symptoms are not the same from one person to the next, they can include:

Sense of impending doom or danger
Fear of loss of control or death
Rapid, pounding heart rate
Sweating
Trembling or shaking
Shortness of breath or tightness in your throat
Chills
Hot flashes
Nausea
Abdominal cramping
Chest pain
Headache
Dizziness, light-headedness or faintness
Numbness or tingling sensation
Feeling of unreality or detachment

I have experienced all of those symptoms over the years. Most of the time, my panic attacks have multiple symptoms at a time. They are incredibly frightening, embarrassing, and create a sense of helplessness and hopelessness that someone who doesn’t experience them simply cannot understand. They are exhausting, and after they end, I feel as though I could sleep for days. But, the worst part about panic attacks and panic disorder is the fear that they will happen again. That is why I, and so many other people who suffer from them, avoid situations where they might occur. That leads to isolation, loneliness, and depression. As I said in part 1, relationships with family, friends, significant others, and co-workers can be dramatically impacted by these conditions.

But, the symptoms of GAD, panic attacks (panic disorder) are not the only things you need to know. There are several more that those of us who suffer want those of you who don’t to know–not about the conditions, but about US!

We Are Not Crazy
People who suffer from GAD and panic attacks are not insane. In fact, on the whole, we are among the most sane, intelligent, and creative people you’ll ever meet. Leann Rimes, Johnny Depp, Kate Moss, Emma Stone, Joey Votto, Kim Basinger, Scarlett Johansson, and Adele are just a few of the people known to suffer from GAD, panic attacks, or both. Some psychologists and psychiatrists who’ve studied his writings believe that Abraham Lincoln also likely suffered from GAD. (from CalmClinic.com) While GAD and panic disorder are classified as mental/emotional in nature, the people who suffer from them are most certainly not mentally disturbed or insane. You don’t need to be afraid of us.

We Don’t Have A Switch To Turn It Off
Oh, that there were a switch that would allow us to turn off the worry, the fear, the panic, the racing thoughts–I don’t know that there is a price we wouldn’t be willing to pay. Unfortunately, that switch doesn’t exist. As much as we want to (as much as YOU may want us to), and as hard as we try, we can’t just turn it off. Many people with GAD and panic disorder have suffered with it since childhood; and while there may be times when we are perfectly fine, we always know that the panic could hit at any time. There are effective treatments for GAD and panic disorder which help many people who suffer with them, but they are just treatments, not cures. We will most likely always “have it.”

We Probably Can’t Tell You What We Are Afraid Of
I have a fairly sizeable list of phobias: heights, closed spaces, large crowds, etc. But, ask me during a panic attack what it is that I’m afraid of at that moment, and I probably won’t be able to tell you. The vast majority of my panic attacks are not triggered by any of the phobias I have. I can’t tell you what most of them are triggered by, and most of the people who I’ve talked to who suffer like me say the same thing. We can’t tell you what we are afraid of during a panic attack. All we know is that the fear is very real.

We Need You To Be Our Friend Even Though We Can’t Always Be Yours
This is, maybe, the hardest truth about GAD and panic attacks that I know of. Those of us who suffer need people around who care about us. We need people around who know what we’re going through and who still love us anyway. We need people around us who will continue to be our friends even though we are not always very good at being yours. This flies in the face of everything we’re ever told about friendships. You know–they’re a “two-way street.” That is true. Unfortunately for those of us who suffer from these disorders, we’re not always able to travel down the other side. We know we need to. We know we should. But, just at that moment, we can’t make the trip.

We Haven’t “Given Up” On Life
One of the things that I dread most when I talk to people about GAD and panic attacks are the looks of pity on people’s faces. You know the look–furrowed brow, eyebrows raised, head tilted to the side, weepy eyes. It’s a look that suggests the thought: “Oh, you poor, hopeless thing. You’ve given up on having a happy life.” But, we haven’t. Most sufferers of GAD and panic attacks may have some level of depression accompanying the disorders, but we don’t often just give up and go to bed. Even during the times when I’ve been housebound, I’ve been busy about trying to get better. It may just be that my “busy” doesn’t look the same as yours. But, trust me, I (we) haven’t given up.

Lastly, and the most important thing we want you to know…

If you know someone who you think may be experiencing Generalized Anxiety Disorder and/or panic attacks, please talk to them. Let them know that there is help available and that they don’t have to suffer alone. This is especially important for little kids who might be suffering. The earlier GAD and panic attacks are caught, the easier they seem to be to treat. Please don’t let someone you know suffer alone. There is hope and there is help.

If you think you may know someone who suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder and/or Panic Attacks/Panic Disorder, check out the resources available through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

And, don’t forget to be a friend!
Coming up:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3: The Things People Say That I wish People Didn’t Say
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Let’s Get Serious About This

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 1: My Long & Complicated Relationship With Panic

I don’t remember how old I was when I had an anxiety attack for the first time. Looking back, knowing what I know now, it was probably around age 10 or 11. It’s hard to say, though, because back in those days, nobody used the terms anxiety attack or panic attack–at least not anyone I knew. Back then, the closest thing I’d ever heard of resembling an anxiety attack is what people called “nervous breakdowns,” and they were only spoken of in hushed tones when kids were out of the room. Back then, only women of a certain age had nervous breakdowns; and it was only after their husbands had cheated on them. After having nervous breakdowns, women started taking Valium and keeping to themselves more. Men didn’t have nervous breakdowns. Men had “midlife crises.” They didn’t take Valium and keep to themselves. They bought Corvettes and had affairs with younger women. Now that I think about it, maybe that’s why so many women took Valium. I’m not being sexist–that’s just the way things were back then.

But, I digress…

I suppose that if those days had been these days, someone might have noticed that I was an extremely nervous little kid. But, those days weren’t these days, so nobody thought much about the fact that when I was 5, 6, and 7 years old I twisted my hair in knots so tight that my mom had to cut them out with scissors. I was just a goofy kid with a weird habit. Nobody thought much about the fact that, often, when it was time to go to school, or go to church, or go to my dad’s house for the weekend, I would get sick to my stomach and vomit several times. I was just a kid with a “nervous stomach.” Nobody thought much about it the morning that I was supposed to participate in Field Day in first grade and I woke up covered in hives–they were so bad that I cried until my mom let me wear jeans instead of shorts because I was embarrassed. I was just allergic to something–maybe a new soap, or freshly cut grass. Nobody thought much about it because kids didn’t have “nervous breakdowns” or “midlife crises,” and nobody knew anything about anxiety and panic attacks–at least not anyone I knew.

In truth, I think my mom probably did think more about it than just that. I think she knew that something wasn’t right, because otherwise ordinary little boys don’t twist their hair in knots while they’re sitting on the couch watching TV. Otherwise ordinary little boys don’t get sick and throw up every time they have to go somewhere. Otherwise ordinary little boys don’t get hives all over their bodies for no apparent reason. But, what would she have done? What could she have done? Whom would she have talked to about it? She was a single mom with few resources and an ex-husband who was all-too-willing to point the finger of blame every time anything went wrong. Besides, I wasn’t really hurting myself, and I certainly wasn’t hurting anyone else, so we treated the symptoms and hoped that someday I’d grow out of it.

But, I never did grow out of it; I only grew into new symptoms. As I said, I think I was probably 10 or 11 when I started having what I would later come to learn were (and still are) panic attacks. Back then they were infrequent–not something that I dealt with daily, weekly, or even monthly. In fact, for the most part, they didn’t intrude in my life at all. I went on field trips, band trips, family vacations; when I started driving I drove myself 30 miles away to take private trumpet lessons, and later 30 miles in the other direction to play in the Tyler Youth Orchestra. I still had problems with my “nervous stomach” and would, quite often, get sick before I went places and did things. I took enough doses of Donnagel, Pepto Bismol, and Maalox that I wish my family had purchased stock in the companies. It wasn’t until I was a freshman in college that things really started going downhill.

I was a big shot musician in high school. I played trumpet, and I wasn’t half bad. I won a lot of awards and I was selected to a lot of honor bands. I had more than one scholarship offer, and the Marine Corps was even after me to come play for them. To put it quite bluntly: I thought I was the shit. In August of 1990, however, at my very first day of band practice with the East Texas State University Marching Band, I quickly learned how easy it is to be a very big fish in a very small pond. My high school graduating class had less than 60 members, and I was sitting next to trumpet players from some of the biggest 5A schools in Texas, who had graduated with 1,000 or more students. I had two years of private lessons. Some of them had been studying privately since they first picked up their horns. I was used to being seated first chair–the lowest I’d ever sat was second, and always played the 1st Trumpet part. At ETSU, I was seated 11th and was playing 3rd Trumpet in all of our music. I was a Music Education major and my dream was to become a band director. I had never been unsuccessful at anything involving music, but I failed my very first assignment in Music Theory I–and I failed it miserably. I began doubting myself and my abilities. I questioned everything I’d ever thought about myself. And, I panicked.

The first of what I refer to as my “modern era” panic attacks–the ones with symptoms I now recognize–happened on the ETSU Marching Band practice field one afternoon. We were running through our opening drill, set to Sir William Walton’s “Crown Imperial March,” one of my all-time favorite marches. The practice “field” was a concrete slab with yard lines and hash marks painted on it. Under the full glare of an August Texas sun, it was blistering hot; and the drill was FAST! In college band drills, there is very little marking time–you hit a set and immediately begin moving to the next one. I had to march forward, backward, from side-to-side; I had to do 180’s in mid-step and head the opposite direction. Our drills sometimes required moving 15 or 20 yards in only a few short counts. In short, it was a workout; especially while holding and playing music on a polished horn that reflected that sunlight right back in my face. The director stopped us to make an adjustment to one of the sets. While I stood there waiting on the drum major to call us back to attention, I got very dizzy. Everything around me was spinning. My ears started ringing and I felt like I was going to pass out. I collapsed to the ground and was helped off the field by a couple of my band mates. I sat out the rest of practice and the symptoms didn’t last long, but the incident scared the hell out of me. There’s no doubt that I just got overheated and needed to rest and re-hydrate, but the next day it happened again, this time before we ever finished our warm-up. On the third day when it happened as we were walking from the band hall to the practice field, our band director, Mr. Bennett called me to his office after practice. He was worried and wanted me to see a doctor. I was worried, too, but I never took his advice. Not only that, I never went back to band practice. After not showing up to five straight practices, Mr. Bennett told me that my scholarship was in danger if I didn’t either get a doctor’s note or come back to practice. I told him I understood, and that afternoon I went back to my dorm room, packed all of my belongings in the trunk of my car, and drove home. That was early September of 1990–I never spoke to Mr. Bennett again and have not been back to the school since.

One of the things about Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks, which I was officially diagnosed with in 2002, that is hardest to understand is that the debilitating attacks are not constant. In fact, over the last 27 years since that day in 1990, there have been periods of time–years at a time–when I was in what might be considered a “remission” of sorts. I’ve had jobs that required long drives to and from work. I’ve gone out with friends. I’ve gone on trips and haven’t experienced any problems. Then, suddenly and most of the time without warning, they come back and I find myself unable to do the things I want to do. Jobs suffer. Relationships suffer. Family and friends suffer under the unrelenting uncertainty that comes with the malignant periods. If there were some way I could see them coming–some warning sign or symptom which might alert me to the cliff I was about to go flying over–maybe I could do something to avoid it. But, one of the most insidious things about this disorder is that those signs and symptoms simply don’t exist.

Looking back over the last 27 years, there have been four major periods when my anxiety attacks were manifest in such a way that my life was dramatically altered because of them. The most recent and current bout began last spring and continues to this day. This time it robbed me of a teaching career which was only two years old, and has sidelined me, allowing me only to work from home doing technical support for a major cable internet provider. It’s unbearably painful to look on the wall behind my desk and see a framed diploma from Texas Tech University, and to know that, any day now, I will receive my master’s diploma from the University of Texas at Tyler. It’s unbearably painful to look at my resume and see the 3.8 and 3.9 GPA’s listed; and to see my two teacher certifications listed; and to see my students’ terrific test scores listed as part of my accomplishments as a teacher. It’s unbearably painful to know that last year I went home from school sick on the Thursday before Spring Break and never came back, leaving my students confused and worried. It’s unbearably painful to look back at the many valuable friendships which have simply withered on the vine because this disorder makes me unreliable in those relationships. But, the most unbearable pain is knowing that my own family cannot count on me to always be present and available for important events. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks are, simply put, unbearable pain.

My purpose in writing these posts is not to garner sympathy, or to gain more readers, or to earn praise for my “transparency.” My purpose in writing these posts is three-fold. First, it is an effort to give voice to people who are voiceless. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and panic attacks are too embarrassing for many, if not most, people who suffer from them to speak about. We tend to hide ourselves away, avoid contact, and make excuses for our absence and inability to interact. I want to give those people words that maybe they can’t say, or that they’re afraid to say. Second, it is an effort to bring understanding to people who don’t suffer from GAD/panic attacks about just how confusing and scary and debilitating this disorder really is. And, finally, I want to join my voice to the chorus of other voices who are demanding that resources be directed to the study and treatment of, not only GAD/panic attacks, but toward mental health in general.

This series will be at least four parts–maybe more. I want to encourage you to become a part of this discussion. Please comment, and please…if you’ve never shared anything I’ve posted before…please share these posts!! You might know someone who suffers from GAD/panic attacks, or there might be someone in your life who suffers silently. Please share these posts with and for them. I can’t tell you how passionate I am about this issue, and I want to help whomever I can, however I can.

Coming up:

Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 2: The Things You Need to Know about GAD/Panic Attacks
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 3: The Things People Say That I wish People Didn’t Say
Anxiety–Destroyer of Lives, Part 4: Let’s Get Serious About This