Category Archives: #anxiety
Slowing Down –
The last few days have been slooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. We’ve had overcast skies, plenty of rain and this makes for a dreary season and spirit. April showers may bring May flowers but February showers bring time to a standstill. The last few months have been long. I always have a difficult time between Thanksgiving and Easter. It’s dark when you arise and when you arrive home in the evening. The darkness that surrounds me seems to permeate my emotions. As someone with Chronic Severe Depression and a Severe Anxiety Disorder the days slowing to a crawl, mess with my balance and threaten to send me over the edge into negative thought patterns and fixations on disappointments and failures.
The balance, of course, is not letting the anxiety get in there and make my brain whirl like a drugged up hamster on a greased up wheel. Again, it is balance. I make sure the things which help me; meds, exercise, talking to others about how I’m feeling, are done and not discarded even when tempted to do so.
The balance to keep life’s rhythm manageable is an everyday if not every moment discipline. If we let it we would be either swept away in a chaotic whirlwind of activity or mired in a despondent state of surrender. Slowing down isn’t the goal but balance and mindful living are what keeps us sane and steady on the path.
A Little Higher –
A year and a few months ago I wrote about my major depressive disorder and my attempts to begin to run again after a two-year hiatus. I also wrote, a few weeks later, about major knee pain, a visit to an orthopedic and the diagnosis that running wasn’t in my future. I tried again earlier this year and knee pain came back.
For those with depressions and anxiety, the BIG 3 in treating them are medicine therapy, talk therapy, and exercise. There are a lot of other things as well but these three are the foundation to successfully living with the disease. Without running I’ve spent the last few months trying to find another effective and somewhat enjoyable way to work out. I’ve found a few cross training videos that seem to hit the intersection.
One of the instructors on a video says the following; “Watch your posture. Imagine two balloons tied to your ears lifting you high, keeping your body straight as you do this workout.” I’ve watched the video and heard this instructor say it so often I know when it’s coming and I’m already checking my body’s alignment.
I’ve also thought about the advice in other parts of my life. Too many times I’m looking down, hunched over, not seeing the light and feeling the heat of the sun because my face is looking at the ground. Depression has this type of impact on a person. However, if I would, even on my darkest days, put those balloons on I might be surprised how looking up can help when I’m feeling down.
One of the easiest lessons of wisdom to learn is you are what you repeatedly think or do. One of the hardest wisdom disciplines to practice is thinking and doing good things.
Aristotle said, paraphrased by Will Durant; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” So what we keep thinking and keep doing reveals who we truly are, on the inside. We can say we are kind, loving, grace-giving, but if our thoughts and deeds betray us we must come to the reality of who we are if we desire to change or be at peace through acceptance.
For those like myself who live with depression, one of the cycles we can get into are negative thoughts about ourselves. We relive painful moments, negative events, over and over again. We get stuck with thoughts of how we could be better, how terrible we are, and how little we can offer the world and those closest to us.
Being caught in a cycle of negative thoughts, reliving mistakes and mishaps is called ruminating. For those battling depression the thoughts can literally go on for days, weeks, months. When we are doing well, on a plateau, we can catch ourselves and refuse to hop on these train of thoughts. When we are struggling our thoughts can take us down tracks from which we may never recover.
I like the Zen saying; “You can’t stop negative thoughts from coming but you don’t have to sit and serve them tea.”
Carry Us in their Hearts –
“What everyone needs to know is
that someone carries us in their hearts.”
This was a line from a lecture I heard today. The subject was people who have and those who do not have a sense of being worthy and loved. It was an interesting webinar and after it was over the words above found a place in my spirit. Each of us long to be loved by someone. We want to know we’re cared for, not because someone “has to” but because someone wants to.
In my battle with a major depressive disorder, the lie the disease tells me which hurts the most is that I am unlovable. It doesn’t whisper to me that no one loves me for I know that is not true but its propaganda is far more sinister. It plants the untruth in my spirit that I am not worthy of another’s love, that people only love me because they don’t see the darkness within. If they knew the struggle to return their love, the doubts, the fears, the impulses, they would find someone more worthy of their affection and devotion.
Even those who do not grapple with an illness such as depression need to know the tenderness and intimacy of another. We all desire to “know that we are carried in the heart of others.”
Broke or Broken –
Someone asked me today what’s the difference between being broke and broken? It was a great question that I am still pondering.
I think being, believing, you are broke is resignation. To be broke spiritually or emotionally is to lose hope of being fixed, reset, used again. I have felt this way in the throes of an episode of major depression. When all is dark and being of any use our used again is lost to the shroud that settles, stifles and suffocates your soul.
To be broken, for me, is to still believe there is life and light to be found in the dark night of the soul. It’s not easy to find hope, purpose, any emotional or spiritual depth but somehow, someway, there’s a place in your inner most being that believes it’ll get better. These are my good days and, though they may seem disheartening to one who has not suffered from depression and anxiety, are worth celebrating.
Broke and broken. Two sides of the same coin where one is a sense of worthlessness and the other a chance for a life which is valued.
This morning I listened to a man tell a story about a time he and his wife went hiking during the fall in a National Park. He described the scenery and that he and his wife were so absorbed in the beauty they didn’t realize how late it had become. They hurried back to the car, trying to be in the vehicle before dark. They made it and then pulled out of the deserted parking lot. Unfortunately, they were met a large yellow chain hooked on two polls each side of the entrance/exit. They weren’t sure what to do. There wasn’t enough room to drive on either side of the polls and they didn’t want to be there all night. As they sat in their car wondering who to call the wife asked a simple question; “Is there a lock? I don’t see a lock on the chain or polls.” The husband got out of the car, walked up to the chain unhooked it and went back to the car smiling at his wife’s genius. They drove through the exit and then put the chain back in place.
The man followed up his story with a reflection on how often we think we’re stuck, there’s no way out, a hopeless situation. He said that once we decide we can’t go, get or keep moving, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
I reflected on the man’s reflection and began thinking about times in my life where I thought I couldn’t go any further but by the grace of God, the kindness of loved ones and friends I was shown a way and was able to get unstuck and keep traveling the road of life. I’m thankful today for those who are smarter than me, see different from me, think in ways I don’t and can show me the way when I can’t see how to keep going.
Today is my birthday. I celebrated by getting up early this morning and going to therapy. The specialist I see is about 45 minutes from our house heading into Nashville. Depending on the amount of traffic it can take twice as long on a bad day. My gas gauge was sitting on about a quarter of a tank when I pulled out of the driveway and, running a little late, I didn’t stop to get gas. I figured it was enough to at least get me there. Then about half way through my trip on a stretch of interstate, I spied brake lights and all of a sudden I was at a full stop and stuck in traffic. That’s when the panic set in. “How long will I sit here? Will I have enough gas to make it when moving slowly or not at all?” It ended up fine and I made it to my appointment on time and put some gas in the truck before heading home.
Driving home I reflected on my therapy session and some of the issues addressed. Being my birthday I also thought about another year gone. As a person with a Major Depressive Disorder and a Severe Anxiety Disorder birthdays is a mixed bag. There is the blessing of getting through another year with the realization you have another year to get through. I am thankful for specialists and therapists, friends who encourage and understand, a family who does their best to stay beside me as I battle a disease that is incredibly difficult to understand and a wife who loves me, unconditionally and without whom I’d be lost deep in the darkest of places.
One more year on the path and enough fuel to keep going. On this birthday, I couldn’t ask for more.
The End –
Today is the end of 2016. Fittingly it is a rainy, messy, lazy, stay inside type of day. 2016 has seemed to be filled with more bad than good, negative than positive, a seismic movement towards evil leaving good behind. Even as I write the last sentence images of natural disaster, murders, political theater in the absurd, and the death of people everyone knew and those who impacted lives on a less grand scale but no less important to the ones who still mourn their loss.
Also, as I blog this post it is my understanding that not everyone sees 2016 the same way. Some people had a worse year than what I’m describing and others a wonderful year full of blessings, answers to prayer and enjoyment.
My feeling of the year which has passed is a general feeling of woe for our country and world. Myopically 2016 wasn’t a bad year. Personally, I am still blessed with the most wonderful wife a man could be married to, a job that has seen a lot of changes but an enormous amount of good done for others, a house far from perfect but feels more like home each day, and cast of good people I consider my family and friends.
I continue to pray, hope and seek help for my Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. For the first time, I feel my meds, therapy, and personal recovery are headed in the right direction. The diseases I fight are not and will never be easy but having people who care enough to keep fighting with you makes the battles less scary and victory more likely.
So, here’s to 2016, may it rest in peace. 2017? Here’s hoping you’re better than I’m expecting.
A Strange Season –
When I was growing up Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were filled with family, food and gifts. We were at one grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day. In between was the opening of gifts followed by a big breakfast with my parents. It was a special time and for me never to be repeated.
People say the magic of Christmas is lost as you enter your teens and twenties but can be recaptured when you have children and eventually grandchildren. The joy, excitement, anticipation in a child’s eyes can reignite the ember within. Christmas can also transform into a time of being with family and friends. Instead of gifts you open your hearts to others and allow relationships to be renewed.
Beth and I don’t have any children so recapturing the Christmas Spirit this way isn’t an option. We live near Beth’s family and she loves spending time with them. Her Christmas Spirit is almost always burning brightly. She comes from a large family who welcome me with plenty of love and open arms but the amount of people in a confined location triggers my social anxiety. I’ve tried a few times in different settings to be a part but it’s difficult to be comfortable while fighting a real battle on the inside.
So, Christmas has become a strange time for me. I have not given up hope for the return of the Christmas Spirit. I am thankful for it being on a Sunday this year and the chance to celebrate it with others. I’m also thankful for a wonderful wife who supports me and the challenges I try to overcome each day. Knowing when to push, when to hold, attempting to understand what I have a hard time describing. She is my greatest gift.
Today was a wasted day or a restful day depending on how you look at it. It was cloudy, cool, started raining a few hours ago and hasn’t stopped. As someone who struggles with Major Depressive Disorder, a day when not much gets done is also a day filled with battling thoughts of worthlessness and not living life to the fullest. There is the worry that a depressive episode is around the next corner which is why you didn’t get anything done which causes my anxiety disorder to kick in which is exhausting and overwhelming. These days are when I’m at the greatest risk of spiraling into the black hole of depression.
All that to say I felt something had to be accomplished today so I vacuumed, folded clothes, washed dishes, got rid of the trash while Beth was grocery shopping. It’ll help her out but it was for me more than her.
One of the most difficult things to do, when you suffer from a mental illness, is keeping your thoughts free of the dark and dirty ones which lead to no place good. It’s not easy to always stay busy or struggle with your self-worth when things don’t get accomplished. There is a middle ground, a place of balance and order but some days it’s harder to find than others.
Not too Late to Start Early –
At a luncheon today myself and about twenty others sat through two presentations. The first was on the newest technology for breast exams; a 3D machine that can catch cancer 40% earlier than most of the equipment currently used in hospitals and doctors’ offices. As a husband who’s married to a wife with a history a breast cancer in her family, I was extremely interested. Breast cancer which is caught early can have a survival rate of up to 90%!
The meeting was held in the social commons area of a large funeral home and the second presentation had to do with pre-planning your funeral. The speaker gave the advice we all know to be true but would rather not think about; “We each like to think we have more time in life than what we probably have.” She then went on to speak about making a record of our basic information, preferred funeral themes, embalmed or cremation and a host of other options one can choose as their way of saying; “Goodbye.”
After the luncheon I thought about doing things early, being ahead of the game, not procrastinating. Procrastinating is not a big problem for me. My anxiety disorder tends to skyrocket when things are left undone, not finished. It’s like a gnawing in the pit of my stomach until I complete whatever is bothering me. However, there are a few things which seem to be able to slip under the radar and can be put off “until…” I don’t forget about them I’m just able to slide them on to the back burner until they threaten to boil over.
Breast exams for Beth do not fall into this category. Because of her family history with this dreaded and damnable disease I make sure she sets and keeps her yearly appointments. Funeral plans on the other hand we haven’t talked much about. We both know we’re getting older, that death comes for us all and not at the time of our choosing. Wisdom tells us to live in the present moment of today but also be aware there is an unknown tomorrow.
“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.” The Book of Proverbs, Chapter 16
How Much Does a Spirit Weigh? –
This morning was my regularly scheduled session with my therapist. I wanted to leave early because traffic approaching Nashville can be hazardous and slow. I arose with the alarm and went into the living room to do my morning prayers. Following, the above verse from the book of Proverbs was stuck in my head.
I pulled out of the driveway and began the trip. Everything was going fine until my cell phone rang and it was Beth, who was on her way to work, and while listening to the radio heard there was not one but two vehicle accidents on the interstate which I was traveling. “Sigh!” Brake lights soon lit up the road in front of me and I couldn’t help but be amused at how quickly my plans fell apart. “Oh, how little control we have over anything.” I finally made it to the doctor’s office and the waiting room was already full.
I found my seat and occupied myself with my phone and the TV which was on. Minute after minute passed by and it wasn’t too long before my appointment time came, went, and still I sat in the waiting room. My plans for the morning were vanishing before my eyes and I wondered what the Lord’s answer to me would be? Perhaps, “Brian, just breathe and let go of your irritation. I know where you are and I am there with you.”
Planning and scheduling my days are part of how I deal with my Severe Anxiety Disorder. It helps me break my schedule into smaller, more manageable parts. It seems innocent, “pure” as the verse from Proverbs would say, but I also recognize that the control I seek isn’t really possible and handing control over my daily existence to the One who is eternal is the only way to true peace of mind.
When my anxiety and/or depression begin to permeate my spirit it seems to get heavier and heavier until it’s an effort to do any and everything. However, when God, who knows my spirit is being weighed down by mental illness, plans, worries and a host of other things, sees me burdened he picks me up and breathes his lightness into my spirit so I can rise up and keep going.