I know I’ve been writing a lot lately about my Anxiety. As such, I’ve received a number of get-well wishes and prayers from friends and colleagues. Thank you. The empathy and good vibes have certainly helped me out and witness the community of support I have.
But I don’t want to leave the wrong impression. While my struggle with Anxiety continues to be a daily experience, I am not getting worse. If anything, I’ve felt a bit better because my mental health doctor has allowed me to take my “use as needed” meds morning, noon, and night (if helpful) for short period of time — two to three months.
I’ve noted before I write and share about my experiences because:
- Writing helps me deal with my Anxiety and Depression (or depressive thoughts, as is the case these days).
- I want those around me know that my mood is often about me and my illness, not them or how I feel about them.
- I want others who struggle with Anxiety and Depression to know that they are not alone.
- If I can impart any wisdom to help those who struggle, I’m honored to help.
- I am a huge advocate for challenging the stigma attached to mental illness. (I think I — for the most part — contribute to the world / make a positive impact, as do most people struggling with a mental illness.)
Social media is currently filled with amazingly eye-opening posts of “What if we treated physical health problems the same way some people want mental health dealt with — that is, poorly?” For example, no one would say: “Have you tried … you know … not having the flu?” or “I get that that you have food poisoning and all, but you at least have to make an effort?” or “Cancer sucks, but in a couple days it will pass.”
Well, a couple of days ago my therapist did the inverse. She analogized what if we treated mental health with the same seriousness as physical health problems?
We were talking about one of my public panic attacks, and she asked, “Michael, if you felt like you were going to vomit in front of your colleagues, do you think you would have, for good reason, bolted from the room and tried to find a toilet? I think so. So why would you want to spew a panic attack on your colleagues. Maybe you should have excused yourself for a bit to regain your composure?”
As an aside — with appropriate crudeness — she noted something like:
“Ears produce waste as wax. The bladder produces urine. Skin gets covered in sweat during a work out. Isn’t it a shame we don’t think of the brain similarly? Of the gazillion thoughts and feelings we have each day, some are wasteful …. some are destructive. Why don’t we think there needs to be a healthy way to express (that is, get rid of and / or give voice to) those thoughts and feelings? Talk-therapy, medication, and cognitive behavioral practices can be very helpful in this regard.
During the same visit with my therapist I told her I was not feeling much joy of late. I’m not hopeless about now or the future. But I feel that my struggle with Anxiety is robbing me of joy, because I know It could hit me at any moment.
And so, we did some math. She admitted she was using a technique described in a book she couldn’t remember the title of. (Message me the title, if you know it, dear readers.)
She wrote down a bunch of things people do during any particular day: check email, exercise, watch TV, work, take a bath, garden, sleep, walk your dog, go grocery shopping, listen to music, eat, plan events, read, daydream, check Facebook, drive your loved one to work, etc.
She admitted that this practice is a simple one … but still helpful. List your daily “to dos” under the appropriate math symbols (i.e. addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication signs).
I enjoy listening to music. Similarly, I love sleep. Reading is fun too. I love baths. I can’t express how much joy I get out of driving Rebecca to work. (Add joy.)
Checking my email does not add to the joy I feel in my life. Grocery shopping can be downright panic-inducing for me. (Subtract joy.)
There are some things that are usually joyful: exercise, gardening, walking Franco. But truth be told, sometimes they feel like tasks that simply need to be done. (Divided feelings toward these activities.)
And then there are multipliers … and some maybe those already listed with a different symbol. For instance, gardening is a form of exercise and is often joyful for me. Some of my best / fun daydreaming happens when I walk Franco … and it’s also exercise. (These are obviously multipliers … joy-filled and hitting multiple “to dos”).
My therapist looked at me and said, “Are there ways you can contain when you check email … not tap on every notification that a message has reached your mail box? Before you go grocery shopping, can you just tell yourself, “This is going to produce some Anxiety, but it’s only a half an hour of your day. You can do this, Michael!”
“Before you “have to” take Franco for a walk, can you do a small meditation on how you will also get exercise and get to think some pretty awesome thoughts?”
These aren’t earth-shattering concepts, but they are intensional ways to reframe how you think of things. And intentional, proactive thinking can contain stress and amp up joy.