Posted on 1 February 2018 by Michael Dahl

Good grief!

Yesterday’s visit with my therapist did not unfold as I thought it would.

I thought my therapist and I would talk about whether to accept the place I am in relation to low- to mid-level Anxiety on a daily basis. I have found ways to manage the Anxiety and have It occupy less of my days than before … and more days with low Anxiety, not mid- to high to panic attack-levels.

But that’s not what we talked about. We talked about identity change, loss, and grieving.

There are many ways your identity can change. You may become a parent. You may change jobs. You may be going through a divorce.

Some changes can be very positive. Others may fill you with an intense sense of loss.

Well, as I was describing my situation, it became clear that while Anxiety was still a problem, the major issue that I was talking about was that I’ve been experiencing a lot of sadness due to loss … the loss of my former self. And, thus, I am grieving.

I know I’ve written much about this before, but here’s a refresher: We all have to deal with loss and sometimes an identity change in the process.

For instance, you may experience a health problem which forces you to drastically change your diet and daily practices. Depending on the extent of changes, you may feel as if your identity has changed somewhat or even a lot. You may find yourself cut off from certain social ties because you can’t go out to eat with friends who regularly gather at your once-favorite restaurant. Perhaps you have to quit smoking because of this health issue. Again, in addition to that loss, you lose some of your social ties. On top of all that, you absolutely hate your new diet and the attention you have to place on certain daily practices.

Your identity has changed, and because of that you may grieve that loss. The grief may be most intense at the beginning. But that grief may be resurrected at certain times — when you walk by your once-favorite restaurant, when you smell the smoke of others smoking cigarettes. This grief may also come at you at truly unexpected times and for quite some time in the future.

The analogy is not perfect, but almost three years ago I had a major months’ long bout with serious Depression and Anxiety. All my meds changed. And the truly trauma-inducing experience changed my orientation to the world and my place in it. Some things I used to never be afraid of became major sources of Anxiety. Triggers turned on that I thought I had long healed myself of. I made it through, but Depression and Anxiety gave me a beating before They were forced to back off because of meds and brain tricks I’ve had to teach myself.

In the process part of my identity changed. Right now, I don’t feel comfortable just blurting out in this blog post all the ways I changed. But plenty of things are different about me. Many of the changes I am not pleased with. Some of the changes are even good … although that is hard to admit sometimes.

All this is to say, my therapist noticed I was talking more about acceptance of my Anxiety where it is at (at least for now). But what I was really talking about — grappling with — was loss, sadness, and grief.

We used my whole visit to talk about loss and grief and how natural that was. My therapist didn’t give me ways to escape that grief. She just noted it was natural and often healthy.

Good grief!

Posted on 30 January 2018 by Michael Dahl

Do I have a problem?

Tomorrow (Wednesday), I have an appointment with my therapist. Regular readers of Prone to Hope may recall that I frequently blog before and after these visits. Beforehand, I try to figure out how I will approach my time for some really honest talk about how I am doing. Afterwards, I’ve been known to write to process what was said in the conversation. (I want to get the most out of my co-pay!)

I should note, joking aside, that I really appreciate the care I receive — both from my therapist and from my med doctor. Also important, my wife really appreciates my therapist and doctor. She loves that they don’t sugar-coat how they see me doing, and they are both prone to letting me know where I’ve personally got some work to do to keep getting better (or maintain an acceptable place).

Anyhow, I don’t just schedule a visit with my therapist for nothing. Back when I made the appointment, I was going through a really rough patch (just after the holiday season). I was questioning whether or not Depression was trying to make a comeback (it was not), and I was feeling some increased Anxiety on a daily basis. I was pretty sure I knew what the Anxiety-triggers were that were creating the situation. I thought a visit with my therapist would help me tackle those triggers.

Well, tomorrow’s visit is still on. But I’m in a slightly different place. The Anxiety has receded considerably.

Why? My issues have not disappeared. And the Anxiety is still present (just at a lower level).

Well, it’s because I’m trying to figure out whether I should accept where I am — my wife likes the word “abide.” Or am I more in a more “resigned” / more negative place with my Anxiety?

Do I have a problem? Or have I settled (in a good way) at how Anxiety is going to sit with me … pester me … but I can often manage my way out of the situation after doing the brain tricks that have been taught to me from my therapist or I read in a book or I personally fashioned to get me out of the bouts on the winning side?

I’m doing a cost benefit-analysis. And I need some help weighing where I am at.

Wish me luck.

Posted on 14 January 2018 by Michael Dahl

About last week’s minor implosion and a side note.

So I write about my mental health a lot. Obviously, I write posts for this blog. I also make references to it on Intellectual Roundtable as well as regular side comments on my Facebook feed.

Last week, I had a minor implosion. While, for the most part, I’m not embarrassed by what I share — I am a very transparent guy — last Sunday night I experienced a strong, over-powering worry that cumulatively I was sharing too much, and that people would see my mental illness as the primary way I see myself.

I am much more than a person who struggles with Depression and Anxiety. I am a spouse, an heirloom gardener, the Director for the Minnesota Food Charter Network, a social justice advocate, a friend and colleague to many people, and so much more.

But I write about my mental health struggles so often because doing so helps me (and, I am told, others) cope with these demons that can find ways to adversely color the rest of who I am and who others are.

However lately I’ve wondered if I have anything new and helpful to say. Yes, I’ve been wondering if I should maintain this blog. I’m still siding with the “Yes, I should,” because of the reasons I’ve listed many times. But, of late, I’ve kind of felt like a broken record. I feel my mental health has been at an acceptable — certainly not optimal — level. (As my mental health med doctor often says, “It’s all a cost-benefit analysis.” For now, again, I find things acceptable.) Why? Because in my toe-to-toes with my Demons, I often win. Like most of the times. 
But I don’t write much about the quick wins as I do the struggles that eventually become wins.

I’m struggling because I’m not certain if what I am writing, to the outside world, just reads as Michael’s “same old, same old.”

I’m not looking for feedback, I just needed to write this to explain where I am currently at.

Side Note: I often make references to Anxiety and Depression as my demons. Two points. I don’t believe in demons. I am an Atheist. I call Anxiety and Depression demons simply as metaphors … they exist as “beings” that I can expel with meds and thought-practices. And, related, I give Anxiety and Depression capital letters — as in they are proper nouns — to help me see them as active, being-like, forces that are best dealt with as entities unto themselves.

As my therapist says, “Let Anxiety stand next to you. Let It do Its thing until It sees you will not give in to Its efforts to take you in a downward spiral to complete despair.

’Nuff said … for now.

Posted on 7 January 2018 by Michael Dahl

“Oh no, I’ve said too much.” Feeling vulnerable.

I know it must seem like I share my struggles with Depression and Anxiety constantly.  I share it here on “Prone to Hope.”  Sometimes I write short snippets about it on my Facebook feed.  I talk about it regularly as well.
One thing I want to make clear is that while I regularly contend with Anxiety (and sometimes Depression), that doesn’t mean I’m always suffering.  Often I contend with It, and I win.
But I write about It so much for the four reasons I give on my “about prone to hope” page as well as one other reason:
  1. Writing about my Anxiety and Depression is therapeutic to me. And, writing about my Anxiety while I am experiencing it is turbo therapeutic at helping me get through the panic.
  2. One of the worst feelings when you are experiencing Anxiety and / or Depression is that you feel so alone, so isolated. You even convince yourself that no one understands or even wants to know what you are going through. I share my experience because I’ve been told that my sharing has helped others not feel so alone and isolated.
  3. I want to fight the stigma attached to mental illnesses. Some people still have backward thoughts about people who suffer from mood disorders. Some think of us as weak; but it takes incredible strength to live with a mental illness. Some think of us as people who can’t contribute to the rest of society. There may be times when it’s hard to contribute; but it doesn’t mean we don’t try and often succeed despite the odds against us.
  4. I want people who don’t suffer from Anxiety and Depression to know at least one perspective about what it’s like. Also, I’ve been told that my writing has helped others who have friends, family, and / or colleagues who suffer from Anxiety and / or Depression understand what is still an issue closeted in some segments of society.
The other reason I write so much about my struggles is that I want to show that dealing with my mental health is a normal part of my life.  Just as we must take care of ourselves in other ways, we must also tend to our mental health.  It’s a healthy thing to do.  It’s a normal thing to do.
But I will admit, in writing about my struggles as much as I do, I sometimes fear that I reveal too much and too often.  There’s a vulnerability in exposing your mental health struggles.
Today, I felt like I went a little overboard in my sharing.  So, I’m feeling especially vulnerable — a little raw — right now.
Posted on 28 December 2017 by Michael Dahl

A few days of terror.

Several days ago I wrote rambling, grammatically-challenged, mishmash blog post. It was incomprehensible to even me. I leapt from negative self-talk, to worries about a backslide on my mental health, to sharing some feelings about the destructive politics of the day.

I can create plenty of disasters when I’m in a bout with a panic attack-level form of Anxiety and/or, as I feared then, Depression. Add to that my favorite ways to cram as much into a sentence via “—,” “( ),” “…,” “i.e,” and “e.g.,” and, well, the writing may have helped me begin to process what I was feeling, but it had no place on this blog. (So I “trashed” it.)

That said, let me give some of the content a second draft. I want to do this because the post was the first in a long time that I wondered if one of my demons, Depression, was making a comeback after two-year hiatus.

Thankfully, I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Instead, I think I was incredibly sad about a few real things in my life — which will pass — that got compounded by the destructive politics of the day. I realize not everyone breaks into tears over a headline, but the passage of the $1.5 triillion tax cut very likely means that poor folks are going to suffer more than they currently do.  Now, as my career — my vocation for over 20 years — has been devoted to alleviating poverty, I think the tears were justified. And the situation, as intense as it was, left an opening for Anxiety to pounce on me in multiple ways and even let Depression show Its ugly face, even if for only a brief time.

First, let me note how for a few days Anxiety scared the bejesus out of me. Readers of this blog know that I tussle with Anxiety often. But the tussles come at me in a handful of ways I am used to. In the felt sense, I’m used to certain physical sensations in my throat (e.g. I feel like I’m being choked) and brain (e.g. I feel like my brain has become a concrete-walled echo chamber intensifying self-pessimism, self-fault, and/or self-doubt).

I obviously hate when this happens to me, but I’m used to it taking place every now-and-then.

But for a few days Anxiety brought back a couple of old haunts. First, while many Anxiety-sufferers are used to sleepless terror, my meds had — hopefully, have — made this almost completely disappear. Well, for a couple of recent nights I had that terror return over some incredibly small issues. Had such issues come my way during the regular, wakeful hours, I would have handled them tout suite.

Most scary, however, was when Anxiety turned the air I was breathing in into an incredibly heavy gas. Imagine breathing in something so heavy that each of your lungs felt like they weighed a ton and they lost any elasticity. It felt as if Anxiety decided to show me what a spiritual possession — if I believed in that — feels like, and It had taken residence in my chest.

Thankfully I have not felt these forms of Anxiety for several days now. Fingers-crossed.

Now, let’s turn to the feared Depression. I don’t think it’s accurate for me to say that all is definitely well. I remain on guard as a visit with my mental health med doctor and my therapist are in the not-too-distant future.

That being said, the trajectory of the past couple months points to me simply being very, very sad about the real things happening in the real world. I know for some that can lead to real, situational Depression. But my meds are supposed to protect me against that as well as chronic Depression. By that I don’t mean that I’m supposed to be happy or numb in the face of real and gloomy issues. It simply means that I am allowed to feel the feelings that healthy brain would feel.

So, I ask myself:

  • Should I feel real and prolonged sadness over the loss of my pup, Franco? Absolutely! A healthy brain would.
  • Should I feel sadness and anger as politicians steal $1.5 trillion from our shared economy and now explicitly say they will have to use that theft as reason to cut back on safety nets? You better believe it!
  • Lastly, should I feel sadness because I have a few personal issues to deal with — as everyone does — but I temporarily felt incapable of even making sense of? Sure. We’re all entitled to those days.

As I have not felt the presence of Depression for several days as well, I’m hopeful.

And I don’t think I’m engaged in Pollyannaish-thinking. (If I am, remember, I’ve got my mental health med doctor and my therapist to talk some sense into me.)

Instead, I think I’ve been justifiably sad. And I hit a breaking point one day that brought me into a tailspin.

For now, I’m feeling better … like I’ve processed what needed processing.

Prone to Hope.

Posted on 23 December 2017 by Michael Dahl

the bouys of Friday

Thanks to writing, even though my first, second, third (and sometimes more) drafts suck, I let each slight improvement stay on my blog until I reach the next closest thing to what I wanted to convey. Writing helps me process what’s going on in my head, and the early despair and urgency in my head does not give way to pretty or grammatically correct drafts.

Thanks to Rebecca, who listened to me as I was a pile of snot and tears yesterday, and who helped me stop beating myself up. If ever there were a reigning title of “best unpaid mental health coach,” she’d get it.

Thanks to all the props from friends, neighbors, and loved ones. The path from despair to hope is not a comfortable path to travel. Meeting and listening to people along the way make the path a bit easier to travel.

Thanks to the community of social justice advocates as well as the nervous and/or doubtful people who break out of their shells to take action. Together, we can and have to build a better tomorrow. We must work for a tomorrow where people not only have to suffer less, but actually have opportunities to thrive.

Thanks to Luca for being a puppy. Puppies are awesome.

Thanks to U2. “Love is bigger than anything in its way.”

Thanks to my seed catalogs … there are few things more hopeful than seeds.

Posted on 22 December 2017 by Michael Dahl

A long string of sadness.

I’ve experienced considerable sadness on likely more than half of the days since Franco died.

Of course a good deal of sadness comes with the territory of loosing a cherished pet. More sadness comes attached to that when loosing him was partially the result of me dropping his leash, allowing him to run into the street and get hit by a car.

I try not to blame myself too much. But it’s hard.

While that sadness by itself has contributed to my current state, I’ve been sad about a number of other things: the news/politics/destruction of government programs that help poor folks as well as a small batch of personal issues. In any case, the loss of Franco, destructive politics, personal issues have compounded, overwhelming the shallow coping systems I currently have when it comes to mental health.

Prone to hope: we have a new puppy, Luca. That’s great. But as some people know, that’s brought it’s own set of challenges … primarily emanating from him suffering from separation anxiety. We’re dealing with it — very directly and potentially successfully — but it’s been hard.

Prone to hope: destructive politics. As an advocate/organizer I know it’s my job to help people feel a sense of possibility when surrounded by the bile that has come from Washington, DC. And I do have a long view with respect to politics. I do have hope in people rising up to create a new and better system. But I also feel incredible pain as I see programs get whittled down or in some cases destroyed. And these programs, I know, are lifelines for those living in poverty.

Tears have just started pouring out of my eyes. Real people. Struggling people. Poor people are going to suffer for quite some time until the environment in Washington DC changes when more people rise up.

Prone to hope. While I know there’s a lot of anger over politics, and I know that anger has to get expressed, I also believe we need to convert that anger into something better. We must resist. But we must also build. We must build what we want. We need to build and hope, build and hope, build and hope for a better future. And that better future needs to include some of the people who don’t currently view the world anywhere near the way we do. I’m not talking about banding together with bad people (e.g. racists, misogynists, etc.). I am talking about, for example, finding common ground with enough poor folks in rural America who see the destruction of their communities happen and with it their livelihoods.

And then there are the personal issues, which today this transparent guy does not want to write about too much. Let me just say that the personal issues have led to a bunch of negative self-talk on my part. I berate myself as a failure; I figuratively treat myself as small and incapable. And while this kills me inside, it also impacts my ability to forgive myself about the loss of Franco and my ability to project the sense of hope I deeply have to believe in for our future politics.

Yes, I’ve had a string of sad days. But in the Prone to Hope mode, I must give a shout out to my spouse for being the amazing person she is. Each day she coaches me on how to be a better and more capable person as I deal with these layered areas of pain.

Prone to Hope: I need to know and feel that accidents happen, and Franco in certain situations was an uncontrollable dog.

Prone to Hope: Our destructive politics is stripped bear. Politics in DC has resulted in tearing $1.5 trillion out of what our government can do to play a positive role in elevating communities. So when we hear politicians say there’s not enough money, we’ll know exactly who to blame and where to direct our anger … and then channel that to a hope of the system we are trying to build.

Prone to Hope: Hopefully, I can make myself believe in what I typed in the above two paragraphs, so that my current brush with hopelessness doesn’t build upon itself, turning me even more into a person who berates himself (unjustifiably) nearly everyday for many things.

Prone to Hope: I need to visit with my therapist.

Prone to Hope: As I work through this muck, I know I can get to a better place.

Prone to Hope: I have people who love me and will help me through this state of despair. (In fact, Rebecca just helped me as articulated in despair with a blubbering voice of pain how I am feeling right now.)

Prone to Hope.

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Michael Dahl

Tiredness versus intense pain. I’ll take the tiredness any day.

Readers of this blog know that I often get annoyed with the tiredness — sometimes fatigue or lethargy — I feel because of the medications I take to tame my demons. The demons’ names are Anxiety and Depression.

The other day, I decided to look back at the physical manifestations of their presence. What’s the tangible “felt” trade off to not have them around? I know / knew there was no contest, that I would take the tiredness any day. But sometimes it’s worth reminding myself about what things were like before — one great reason for me keeping this blog, I must admit

So here are two physical description of Anxiety that I now only feel periodically — I still deal with Anxiety, just not nearly as much nor as intensely as before. I also have one long description of the physical aspect of Depression.

From “Brick-brain, frayed nerves, and drenched shirts.”

I hate it when Anxiety freezes up my mind.  It’s like my brain goes from being a functioning (happy) organ to a brick of cement … frozen, immobilized, in hyper-defense mode, preparing for the world to attack me.

Sometimes the transition from normal-brain to brick-brain is instantaneous.  Sometimes it’s more gradual, which is actually pretty scary.  Imagine slowly feeling your brain harden from front to back and down to the base of the spine. At the beginning I know what’s happening and doom fills me for what’s coming.

Then my throat clenches up.  It’s physically hard to talk.  It feels like I am crying, but the tears are pouring fire out of the backs of my eyes.

Then all the nerves from my shoulders up feel like they are frayed at the end.

It is a truly weird, terrifying, and sad place to be.

 

And here’s a most unfortunate type of Anxiety … gladly one I rarely experience anymore … “A little Anxiety Assessment in prep for a doctor’s visit.”

Excitement shares a lot of muscle memory with Anxiety. When you are excited, your breath can become short, your muscles can tense up, your blood can get churning. Without Anxiety, this is an exhilarating combo of feelings. However, sometimes the Anxiety-prone mind can mistake good body feelings for bad.  Before I know it, some happy, excitement-filled moments turn into Anxiety-ridden misfortunes. Once in a while a panic attack hits based on feeling great. This is surreal and saddening. Happiness turning into sadness and nervousness at what seems the flip of a switch.

 

And here’s a long excerpt regarding Depression — something I haven’t experienced for a long time — “Yesterday, I fell into a black hole.”

In astronomy, a black hole is a region of space-time — the intersection of two dimensions — where / when there is such a strong gravitational pull that nothing — no matter, no light — can escape.  Space, time, mater, and light collapse into each other, occupying a “space” that seems far to small for all that has fallen in.

I believe a black hole is a pretty good analogy for a certain level of Depression.  And yesterday, I may have fallen into that black hole.  Today, for the time being, while still depressed, I have escaped that dark and crushing place.

More about that black hole I fell into — or to be precise — I almost fell into.  If I had fallen into the black hole, movement would have been impossible, time would have seemed to have hit a standstill, words would not have been able to escape my mouth, and I would have simply been a mass unable to do anything.  

For several hours I was unable to get off the bed.  I was starving; I had to go to the bathroom; but the muscles required for going from lying down to walking were not cooperating.  This makes it sound as if it was simply a matter of not having the energy to move much.  Unfortunately, it’s more complicated.

I felt I not only didn’t have the physical energy to make myself something to eat.  I also seemed to lack to intellectual capacity to figure out how to start that process.  In my mind, I knew all the steps, but I lacked the ability to string them together as a process my brain had the energy to work through.  And while I had some physical desire to eat, I lacked the emotional desire to do anything about that.

Some people, when falling into Depression report a different relationship with time.  This has happened to me a few times.

I remember the first time I experienced it.  For a few seconds I thought it was trippy-cool.  Time slowed down.  I was pumping gas into my car and the numbers on the pump seemed to slow down.  It seemed odd, so I looked up.  Cars seemed to be driving slower.  And then I noticed my body was moving slower than I felt right.  I said something to my wife.  The words were slurred.  In my head, they were very slurred.  To her, the words just sounded really enunciated, very intentionally said.  When the gas was done pumping, I walked to her and dropped the keys in her hand.  I had read about this warped perception of time some depressed folks feel.  So I just told my wife, “I’m experiencing Depression time (or something to that effect).”  I told her I would show her more on the internet later.  I also said I felt it wasn’t safe for me to drive.

Within just a couple of minutes I had fallen into a depressive black hole.

Sometimes the Depression is so bad that I feel that my body is collapsing into itself.  I feel as if my eyes are barely open, my shoulder (I think) must be at an exaggerated slump, and I feel that my face is contorted into a very painful look.

At times, when my wife is with me, I actually get angry.  I think, “Why is she not helping me?  I am obviously in a very, very bad place.  I must look like I am about to die.”

A few weeks ago this was happening.  I had already been experiencing Depression time.  She already had the keys and was driving.  I felt my body sinking deeper and deeper into the carseat.  And I felt like I looked like a monster.  I was getting really upset at Rebecca for not reaching out to me.  But instead of lashing out, I figured, when we get to the grocery store, I’m going to go to the bathroom and look in the mirror.  I want to see how horrible I looked.

And so I did.  I was floored by what I saw.  There I was in my favorite outfit.  I was slim, standing straight.  I looked sharp.  I just looked tired.  Perhaps I looked like I was getting a cold.  But that was it.  No one …. no one could have had any idea — from my appearance — that I was in hell.

 

Tiredness compared to those descriptions … as I said … any day!

Posted on 19 November 2017 by Michael Dahl

Prone to hope turns 100.

Just the other day I realized that Prone to Hope hit a milestone. I have posted 100 entries regarding Depression and Anxiety since the blog began with the post “Through the panic” on March 28, 2015 (written three days after the actual experience).

While the marker provides me an opportunity to reflect on my hard work to make progress on my mental health, I’m also trying to figure out how to improve what I have always reported are this site’s aims:

  • One of the worst feelings when you are experiencing Anxiety and / or Depression is that you feel so alone, so isolated. You even convince yourself that no one understands or even wants to know what you are going through. I share my experience because I’ve been told that my sharing has helped others not feel so alone and isolated.
  • I want to fight the stigma attached to mental illnesses. Some people still have backward thoughts about people who suffer from mood disorders. Some think of us as weak; but it takes incredible strength to live with a mental illness. Some think of us as people who can’t contribute to the rest of society. There may be times when it’s hard to contribute; but it doesn’t mean we don’t try and often succeed despite the odds against us.
  • I want people who don’t suffer from Anxiety and Depression to know at least one perspective about what it’s like. Also, I’ve been told that my writing has helped others who have friends, family, and / or colleagues who suffer from Anxiety and / or Depression understand what is still an issue closeted in some segments of society.
  • Writing about my Anxiety and Depression is therapeutic to me. And, writing about my Anxiety while I am experiencing it is turbo therapeutic at helping me get through the panic.

For this blog’s followers I have a request: if you can think of anything, comment, email, or private message me on Facebook ways to improve this site’s usefulness:

  • Should I just keep up what I am doing? That’s good enough.
  • Should I tag or categorize posts based on their content (e.g. how Anxiety can also result in severe physical pain, how to help a friend or colleague if they are in the depths of Depression or Anxiety, etc.)?
  • Are there questions or aspects I haven’t covered that you would find helpful?
  • Any other ideas? All suggestions are welcomed.

As for posts on the horizon, I am thinking of posting a synopsis of my struggle / progress with links to important markers along the way. For example:

  • how it all began
  • what the beginning felt like
  • finding another med doctor and therapist
  • what talk therapy helps you accomplish
  • what it was like to find the next iteration of medications that brought me to where I am
  • when I realized I had broken through to the other side of Depression (if not Anxiety)
  • steps I have taken to reduce my Anxiety
  • etc.

Onwards!

Posted on 29 October 2017 by Michael Dahl

A Nicety and a Transparent and Anxious Guy.

I love it when people wish me a “Happy (fill in the day).” It’s fun when someone greets me with something like, “What do you think?” or “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve done this week?” And while I can never remember what happens on my weekends, I appreciate the Monday greeting question, “What were you up to this weekend?”

Such greetings are either well wishes or actual questions asking for actual answers and perhaps a conversation.

As a transparent guy who suffers with Anxiety that still plays an acceptable yet significant role in my life, I hate the greeting, “How you doin’?” It’s an empty question which is, with good etiquette, answered with “Good” or “I’m alright.” The flippant answer, let’s admit it, is also frequently a lie.

As a transparent guy who really thrives on good and deep conversations with people, it tears me up a bit inside when I give the acceptable answer.

I get that people are just extending a greeting — albeit a very poor one — but I want my answer to be truthful.

That’s why I love it when I’m feeling snazzy. I love to see people’s reactions when they ask “How you doin’?” and I can honestly answer “Snazzy!” It often leads to the asker smiling big time and saying, “Snazzy. I love that.”

But there’s the honest answers on the other side that rarely get uttered. And so, I must say I often hate the “How you doin’?” question. Truthfully, if a conversation is to follow, it starts the dialogue on false footing at best and at its worst it’s a conversation stopper.

This post may seem trivial. But I wish people extended greetings that were truer to their intent. If you’re simply looking give someone a great greeting, say “Hi.  It’s good to see you.” and stop there. If you’re looking to start a conversation, ask a question that starts an honest conversation. And if you’re really interested in finding out how someone is doing, ask that.

Am I the only one who feels this way?

Posted on 24 October 2017 by Michael Dahl

To be alert and anxious or calm and tired all the time.

I’m stuck. I’m stuck in a situation many people who take medications for Anxiety find themselves in: to be alert and anxious or calm and tired. (As my mental health med doctor says, “It’s all a cost-benefit analysis.”)

A little over a week ago I reported that I had tinkered with a medication I take (doctor approved) to see if I could make myself less tired and more alert. The experiment resulted in the desired impact; however, it also led me to starting my day with low- to mid-level Anxiety, unpegged to triggers or daily circumstances. By the end of one week, I decided to go back to my regular med usage — tired, but calm.

However, now that I know what both situations feel like, and I am stuck in the calm tiredness that makes my reactions to certain situations slower than I would like, I’m wondering if I made the right choice. The calm but tired place also tempers my reactions to truly bad and truly exciting things in the world. And, I don’t want my reactions to regular world circumstances to seem or feel unnatural.

As I said, I’m stuck.

But wait. There’s more. While the tinkering had the above impacts, when I switched back to the old regiment, it took a couple days for the deep tiredness to set in. This even though the meds I tinker with are only supposed to have an impact for 4 to 6 hours. (I take the meds my doctor says I can tinker with three times a day — once at full dosage, twice at half.)

All this has me wondering if I should only take half dosages on the weekends and the regular combination on weekdays. Would this result in the desired impact? I dunno.

I’m curious, dear readers — both those who suffer from Anxiety and those who don’t — what would you do? Would you choose to lose some sensitization to keep Anxiety a bit more in check, or have to work to tamp Anxiety down in order to feel things more?

Posted on 13 October 2017 by Michael Dahl

Med experiment begins with success, ends with partial failure.

Perpetual tiredness and less than sharp reactions to stimuli have become part of my norm. This is the trade-off I’m saddled with to get to experience less Anxiety on a regular basis. That said, for the past several months there’s been less ambient stress in my life.

So I decided to do a one week experiment. With my mental health med doctor’s approval, I am allowed to tinker with one of my meds — I take several — based on how I’m feeling. For even more months than the reduction in ambient stress, I’ve been on a consistent med mix that has allowed me to start most of my days in a decent place — that being no- to low-Anxiety.

Last weekend I decided to start off my day with half the dosage I regularly take of the med I’m allowed to play with. For the first couple days I could tell I was more alert, and I really liked that. But as the days progressed, the Anxiety I felt at the beginning of each day increased. And for the past couple days, I’ve awoken at 2:30 am with my heart racing with every thought that could be blown out of proportion having done so.

The current situation is unsustainable. And so this morning, at 4 am — a regular time for me to wake up because of my regular med mix — I switched back to the prior dosage I’d been taking for months. This will mean a switch back to the tiredness throughout the day and slowed response to stimuli.

I am quite angry.

I am trying not to direct that anger at myself … trying to just be angry at my demon named Anxiety. And then let It go.

But that’s easier said than done.

I guess if there’s one positive take away, it’s that I could probably take the reduced dosage on select days when I really want to be on my game. I’ll ponder that as I stew in tiredness.

Posted on 8 October 2017 by Michael Dahl

Find joy.

I just lost my pup Franco. I’m grieving.

The wonderful things my friend did that brought me immense cheer are currently making me incredibly sad because of the loss. Even small things, like eating peanut butter or even seeing the jar on the shelf, bring a lump to my throat because Franco knew what opening the peanut jar sounded like. If Rebecca or I got to eat peanut butter so did Franco. He’d run to the kitchen and engage us in an intense stare down to make sure this was the case.

So many things. Even writing this post is making me sad because Franco would lie on the top of my legs whenever I sat down to write. Right now I’m imagining the warmth of his body on my legs outstretched over the ottoman.

A home, amongst many things, is a collection of memories. Each room, filled with objects, furniture, and structures that connect with recollections providing a depth to where you live. That depth currently feels like a hole full of mourning rather than a mountain of cheer: The stairway in the foyer that Franco could never climb up or down because of his unsteady legs; so I always carried him with my left arm whenever I went from the first to the second floor or visa versa. Or his bed in the bathroom alcove; if we were about to head out for the day, he’d get a treat when he obliged our command, “Go to your bed.” He was no dummy. Sometimes he’d run to his bed in the morning without our command — expecting and getting a goody simply because that almost always won Rebecca and I over. Or his blankey on the bed. He knew which one was his. If he was full of energy while in the bedroom, he’d demand some interactive playtime with us by tossing his the blankey around.

Again, a hole full of mourning rather than a mountain of cheer.

And yet yesterday as I was on a walk reflecting on all that Franco was, the words “find joy” flashed in my brain. Franco brought Rebecca and I great joy.

As I wrote yesterday on my Facebook feed:

“… A joyful bundle of energy, [Franco] made every day exciting. [he] loved frozen carrots, peanut butter, and tuna water, playing tug of war, snatch the blankey, and fetch with Rebecca and me, and athletic feats like vertical leaps, extreme rollovers, and race to the ottoman.”

Right now I can’t feel these memories as joy, but someday soon I will.

Posted on 17 August 2017 by Michael Dahl

What would you tell a friend to do?

This is an unfortunate follow-up from this morning’s blog post.

Let me offer a two-sentence recap: This morning I had a longer bout with Anxiety than usual. Writing (and a bit of yoga) helped calm me down somewhat, so I could start my workday.

That accomplished, I successfully got a major project out of the way as well as several minor tasks.

However, as afternoon approached I felt Anxiety working its way back to my consciousness. Tasks became reasons for alarm; more project work became impossible as my brain began to feel hardened, not quite cement-like-feeling, but close. And then, the worst feeling of all hit: I felt as if every nerve in my body became frayed, buzzing, and in pain.

I decided to do something I haven’t done for a long time. I called a friend who has offered his help “anytime you need me.”

Thankfully, he answered his phone. I told him what was up with me at the moment, but then I asked him to tell me what’s been up in his life. While I was generally interested, I also wanted to see if just listening to someone else’s calm voice would bring me to another place. Perhaps it would have. But my friend didn’t let things go on that long – him just talking about himself, that is.

Instead he asked me the gem of a question: “Michael, what would you tell a friend to do in your situation?”

I answered, “Take care of yourself.  Go home.”

He soon followed up with something like, “You’re sick and in pain. Going home seems like just the thing to do.”

We talked a bit more.  He made sure I was going to be okay.  I, then, thanked him for his help and told him I’d soon be heading home.

As luck would have it, I found out my wife was headed home as well … to get ready for an evening appointment. We’d be able to walk home together.

I must admit, I don’t know how to explain today. I don’t know what triggered the Anxiety. I don’t know why It returned in the afternoon after what seemed a successful break. And unlike other times when this happens and I’m able to keep it somewhat private, right now I feel idiotic, less than, and ashamed.

Intellectually, I know those feelings aren’t warranted. The Anxiety sometimes is just really good at dragging me down.

I write this — about feeling idiotic, less than, and ashamed — not to give credit to the unwarranted feelings, but to acknowledge them as felt and show some solidarity with others who feel this way at times. It’s not you or who you are. It’s the mood disorder.

In fact, I can almost hear my therapist ask, “Aren’t there symptoms for this disease or that illness?”

Me: “Yes,” getting ready for her obvious next question.

“Well,” she’d ask, “why should this illness be any different? Its going to make you feel in pain sometimes, sometimes It’s going to drag you down with negative thoughts and feelings. But you know that’s not you.”

She’d then offer up some tactics I could use to lighten the blows of Anxiety and sometimes even be able to escape It’s grip.

Well, I’m home now, which means I’m just seconds away from my garden if I want it. And, I do. As gardening and writing are two of the best ways for me to rid my body of Anxiety, I’m going to switch gears. Writing done, I feel somewhat better. Let’s see what picking beans and tomatoes can do for me now.

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