Posted on 3 September 2015 by Michael

getting stronger everyday and more tools in my mental health toolbox

I belong to a couple online mental health support groups.  They are each fairly large communities of people who struggle with their wounded minds. and feel stronger through camaraderie.   The members — including me — share what’s going on with our days and if we’re doing okay or not.  Many of us try our best to help others who hit rough patches.

Several days ago someone posted that cartoon of a genie who offers you one wish and demands that you be honest.  At least half the responses were similar to what you’d get from anyone you ask (e.g. “100 Billion Dollars!,” “Love.  Just Love.” “World peace.”)

And as happens in other social sharing, some people’s honesty was not good, or helpful, or anything that you want to read … I’m referring to the flaming-type comments you often read in an online newspaper’s comments section.  And these comments had nothing to do with mental health.  Again, a slew of answers and responses that you’d find in any online social-sharing community.

Then, of course, a good fraction of the replies to the original question were simple heartfelt hopes that the person posting could be healthy (e.g. a new brain, to stop feeling, to not be afraid anymore).

Someone posted that they wanted to “find their deepest purpose. ” That reply sparked my desire to contribute.

I wrote:  “To be the most effective person I can be in every situation.”  Hey, a genie is asking me, and I figure always being on top of my game would feel awesome.

I am rarely what I would define as my most effective self.

I have good — even great — moments.  There are times when I know I am being a good partner to my wife, a great advocate for justice, an acceptable steward of good soil and the fruits it produces, a decent blogger.

But most of the time I perform ‘just okay” as I play defense, trying my best to keep my bully named Anxiety from leaping out of my chest to ravage my body and brain in ways that will feel like huge and destructive pubic embarrassments.

Side note #1:  I used to smile a lot more.  It used to be that when people asked me how I was doing, I’d say “Snazzy!” and mean it.  These days I’m just wishing snazziness for others and waiting for it to return to me.

Side note #2:  The question “How ya doing?” is hard for a transparent guy like me.  I want to give a truthful answer.  But I know the question is really just a replacement for “Hello.”  It’s not meant as an introduction to really share “how ya doing.”  And so, if that’s how I initially read the question … well, it’s highlighted as a moment to suppress who I am and bury my feelings deep inside.

Now I should share, I am feeling much stronger as time passes.  There’s a distance from the bed-ridden days I fell into for much of April through June.  I can’t say I feel daily progress.  But if I look back a couple weeks, I can see the huge improvements.  A month back:  Wow, what a change!   Rewind two or three months, and I am a superhero compared to the beat up lump of near-lifeless tissue I felt like back then.

Right now, I’d say I am in an acceptable place.  But it’s not a place I’d prefer to be.  And so, looking back is helpful and instructive.  Perhaps two weeks from now I will be even better.  And two or three months from now, maybe I could feel “normal.”

And my work “To be the most effective person I can be in every situation,” I could try to attain just like anyone else who drives to be as such.

So where am I now?  The Depression is gone.  That is awesome.  Anxiety is something I try to stay ahead of daily  As I’ve reported before, exercise, planning, and brain tricks help me do this.

Here’s a trick I invented all by myself.  I came upon it while staring into the mirror at a yoga studio about a month ago.  My Anxiety Demon was beginning to dance on my sternum.  It was reminding me of all the things I had to do that day and how I was going to suck at all of those things.  In fact, It chided me, “You will fail publicly, and everyone will notice and abandon you.”  I closed my eyes and a healthier voice in my brain whispered, “Just imagine what tonight will feel like once you’ve accomplished everything you’ve got to do today.  Michael, you’re going to leave this yoga studio relaxed and happy and ready to take on your day.  And the world will be a better place because of it.”

It’d be diminishing to say this was a simple change in perspective.  Fighting Anxiety is never simple, never easy.  But I’ve been successful sometimes.  And I often use that whispering voice in my brain to hush the Anxiety Demon that likes to dance on my chest.

But still, I must get ahead of Anxiety.  Because if I don’t, it takes over and beats me to a pulp.  The rest of the day is hard to make it through … it is hard to want to live.  I write this not in any suicidal way.  I’ve never had to struggle with those thoughts.

The “it’s hard to want to live” events are more like “Run away, Michael.  Escape everyone.  Curl up in a ball until you can get yourself to sleep.”  If I can manage an escape and sleep, the next morning is usually embarrassing.  It also usually involves apologizing to someone or group of people for my actions or failure to perform as I hoped I would.

These attacks happen roughly weekly.  But it’s not exactly weekly.  If I had to be more precise, I’d say every eight or nine days I fail to stay ahead of the Anxiety, and it takes over me.

Now again, when I was at my lowest point a few months ago, Anxiety was always there, I was never ahead of it, and the resulting panic attacks were close to daily.

So, I am much better.  And I am getting stronger … stronger everyday.