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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Anxiously awaiting - Not just words for some

This blog entries is probably one of my most personal ones.  It has been nearly 30 years in the making, perhaps more depending on how you look at it.  To me, the whole point of it is to share a journey from anxiety to freedom.  When I was a kid and young adult I had no reference point, I had no one who understood, appreciated or accepted it.  I don't take it personally as you don't understand or know what you don't know or haven't experienced.  Anyway, my hope has been one day that my story would help others.

I was talking to a friend recently about anxiety.  What is it exactly. indicates:
Anxiety is the vague, uneasy feeling you get when you're dreading something. Anxiety can also be a permanent state of nervousness that some people with mental illnesses experience, a kind of milder version of panic.

I've always hated the 'mental illness' description of it.  It implies that it is "all in your head".  To me, it takes away from the understanding that there is a deep physical component to it.  How would I describe anxiety?  I can only speak for myself as others experience it in different ways.  Furthermore, from day to day or week to week it varies in nature or degree.  Sometimes, I barely can sense it if at all, but sometimes it be severe to a point of partially disabling.  But, I digress.  What is it to me?

* Imagine the stress you feel when a bee is buzzing around you and you can hear it.  When it is more severe, it is like the stress of multiple bees buzzing around you.
* Imagine it is a poison or toxin to your body which you feel a need to get rid of.

I  will first give a bit of a history of it for me and then dive into what I have learned.

I won't go into great detail, but I grew up in a very dysfunctional environmental from as early as I can remember: alcoholic father whom we often walked on eggshells around, parents that fought, a hell-fire and damnation church as preschooler/early-schooler, living in unnecessary poverty and sexual abuse.  Suffice to say, it was circumstances that would cause anxiety in any kid.  I say all this as a setup, not as a call for empathy.  Anyway, as you might imagine, it wasn't exactly circumstances that would lead to a carefree anxiety-free childhood.  I have also come to the understanding that there may be a tendency towards it that runs in families.

But, I digress.  So, I had a built-in anxiety growing up and into my teenage years.

Late in my teenage years (17), I developed a temporary, but painful heart condition: pericarditus or inflammation of the lining around the heart.  It was in the hospital for a total of 22 days between my junior and senior year in high school.  I went in with a painful heart condition and I left the hospital with a proneness to painful anxiety.  Unfortunately, I didn't recognize it until years later for what it was. Given the limitations of the time--lack of knowledge, exposure and awareness as well as having some unhelpful medical professionals (including the doctor my dad had for us), I was destined to have to deal with it the best way I knew.  This led to many years of what I call "suffering in the wilderness".  That is to say, I had an unknown, undiagnosed and untreated GAD (general anxiety disorder) which at times could be disabling.  Being unknown, undiagnosed and untreated, I effectively had to do what I 'knew' at the time would help.  Sometimes, that included avoiding conflict, avoiding large groups of people, resting and hoping it would settle down or subside.    Sometimes, it would involve me talking ibuprofen on a regular basis (as I didn't really understand it) for the tension headaches or aches and pains.   Anyway, when you don't know what you are dealing with, you deal the best way possible.  My dad was old school, predisposed to be skeptical if not hostile to anything that even remotely resembled counseling or "a behavior/mental" issue.  He also had a "deal with it" attitude.  I will write in a future blog--now called Don't you forget about me: The blog I needed to write one day about my late brother--as to how I believe this attitude helped lead to my brother Bill's downfall and eventually taking his own life (though I don't 'blame' my dad so much as recognize the how different pieces in a person's life lead to the picture being formed).  But I digress.  My mom and dad had divorced a couple years earlier and I rarely saw my mom from that point in my teenage years.  I think she had a better ability to grasp, but she wasn't readily available to help.  Anyway, my dad just wasn't in a position to or even open to being able to 'get it'.

I had stopped going to church when I was 20 and had moved away to school at UMR (now Missouri School of Science and Technology).  I felt in my mid-twenties that God had reached back into my life and reminded me of his presence.  So, I started going back to church.   Over time I have realized that God puts people in your life for a reason, and what follows is nothing short of an instance of that.  I was new to my church at the time and dealing with an unknown condition.  In my young adults group, we had a bible study at the house of someone in the group.  Anyway, we broke up into small groups to discuss our prayer concerns.  I met a friend who would change my life forever.  So, I opened up in this group about my symptoms and we prayed about it.  Afterwords, Elaine confided to me that she had an anxiety problem.  I saw her as 'having it all together'.  I had seen her as a very Godly woman, a person with a deep concern for her 'fellow man', but I NEVER would have guessed that on the inside she struggled with the demon of anxiety.  Anyway, she directed me to the church counselor and he directed me to who was to become my doctor of 18 years.   What I've come to learn over time is that some doctors are problem solvers and when they can't figure a problem out they are quick to dismiss it (almost to the point of dismissing the individual).  I have heard this referred to as having 'bad bedside manner'.  However, my doctor was quite the opposite.  He listens to the individual. He listened to my symptoms, he listened to my concerns and he didn't carry an attitude (such as this person doesn't know what he/she is talking about).  Anyway, over time he ruled out what it wasn't and gracefully ruled in what it was.  We went through a few medicines and he finally found one that helped (xanax).  I wasn't cured, but I felt hope finally and I felt like I started to really live at that point.  My usage of it has changed over time and for years I knowingly and purposefully was able to go without it.  I use it sparingly now, as over time, I have learned how better to deal with anxiety.  Where at first it was my crutch, it has become a complimentary tool in my arsenal.

Things I have taken away in dealing with anxiety for many years.   Some of these actually seem to be contradictory:

  • Sometimes it cannot be avoided.  Nor should it be.  Sometimes anxiety is your body's way of telling you that you are avoiding dealing with the hard issues.  In a way, it can be an extension of your conscience.  In other words, anxiety can be a good motivator to change what needs to be changed.
    • Examples of avoidance:  
      • Living beyond your means and avoiding the reality of having to adjust your lifestyle or declare bankruptcy.
      • Avoiding talking about relationship/marital problems.  Walking on eggshells around your spouse or kids.  Not standing up to an abusive/controlling family member that you need to.
      • Your company is bought out and you are purposely not facing the possibility that you could be laid off.
    • The price of necessarily dealing with an anxiety producing circumstance may be physically or emotionally 'expensive' at first, but in time it will become less expensive.  
    • Avoiding dealing with a necessary problem due to the anxiety it produces typically make it more 'costly' emotionally and physically later.  
  • Sometimes it is your body's way of telling you that you are biting off more than you can chew at once.  Some possible examples are:
    • Bought a house that you cannot afford.
    • Took a job that you are woefully under-qualified for.
    • You are in a relationship where your significant other doesn't accept you for who you are, but 'accepts' you for whom they think they can shape you into.
    • You are trying to 'rescue' a friend or family member from themselves, especially when they aren't helping themselves out.
  • Things that can help reduce anxiety (not necessarily in this order).
    • Medication.  It can help with it, but can't or shouldn't be used a substitute for dealing with the underlying problems that are aggravating it.
    • Working out.  This allows you to channel in an outward direction the negative inward energy you have.
    • Reasoned self-talk. 
      • Learn to recognize circumstances/situations for what they are and don't blow them out of proportion.
      • Learn that usually problems don't have to fixed or dealt with all at once.  They can often be broken down into multiple steps.
      • Learn that fear/uncertainty is okay--riding the razor's edge.  Fear is a natural and reasonable response, but if you allow it, it can rule you and effectively disable you.
      • Recognize that everyone makes mistakes and don't hold yourself to an unrealistic standard.  The important thing is to learn from your mistakes.
      • Recognize when you are in the right and don't let another attempt to manipulate you into believing otherwise.  In other words, confidence in your position.
      • Recognizing when you are wrong and not having the courage to face what that that leads to or implies.  Once again when we intuitively, or even explicitly, know that we are in the wrong, anxiety is the body's natural response to it.  I believe the technical term for it is "having a conscience".  ;-)
    • Meditation/prayer/journal/counsel
      • Realize that you cannot control everything and be willing to give it up to your higher power.  Doing what you need to, giving it up to your higher power (God) and accepting your higher power will lead you to the best resolution if you are open to it.  
      • Realize that sometimes the best way to overcome anxiety is to understand what you are facing - writing it out, talking it out, praying it out, releasing it.
      • Realizing everything we have is a gift and being willing to let go if necessary.  Sometimes this includes unhealthy relationships; sometimes this includes possessions; in the most extreme circumstances, it can include your life.
      • Accepting your role(s) in life, even if you are not necessarily fond of them.  
      • Being open to advise of others and not being stuck in your own preconceived solutions or notions, yet maintaining core values--not being so open-minded that you will accept anything.

Thanks for listening to my story and as a country song says, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."
-- Rich

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Playing the long season: winning at baseball, life and relationships.

I know it's vain, but anytime I have a thought which I consider might be remotely profound I write it down.  Usually, just the title.  Obviously, if it hits me hard enough, I tend to write on it immediately.
With baseball season winding down, I thought this one might be appropriate.  

Anyway, in talking to a friend a week ago or so, I realized that playing effective baseball, living a long, productive life and having long and healthy relationships have a few things in common:
  • Usually when each are handled well, they have a long season.  In baseball, only a strike can cut short the long season.  In life, obviously, some people die young, but most live to they are old.  A healthy relationship can last a long time, if not a lifetime.
  • In order to be effective at each, requires a lot of effort or hard work and persistence.  
  • Each require you to make adjustment from time to time.  If a team isn't playing well, the lineup needs to be shaken up or the coaches need to be to find better chemistry.  Life, of course, throws us curve balls that we have to adjust to or risk emotional or physical demise.  It goes without saying in relationships we hit ruts, fall into the same bad patterns.  So, we have to make intentional changes.
  • We sometimes have to be willing to lose in order to win.
The last idea really captured my attention.  It goes like this: we can't go full speed, all out, trying to win at all costs all the time.  We will get burnt out and/or break down if we try to do that.  Each circumstance requires some compromises or sacrifices which in the short term, may lead to more 'losses' or 'discomfort', but in the long term can lead to a "winning season".
  • In baseball, teams intentionally rest their best players from time to time.  This includes intentionally allowing pitchers to skip a start or go with an extra day of rest--leading to a less talented pitcher taking the mound.  In the short term, you might be sacrificing your best opportunity to win a certain game or games during the season--evidenced most obviously when a team rests their best players after clinching the division.  However, in the long run, the team is making sure the players/pitchers are rested appropriately to allow the team to have the most opportunities to win in the most games.
  • In life, sometimes we have to take a break from work, school or other challenges in order to make sure we don't burn out and risk having multiple aspects of our life falling apart.  Some examples are:
    • In school this could mean taking a lesser course load per semester or taking a summer away from school.  This might lengthen to finish up, but might allow us the best possible results.
    • In work, taking time off even when it slows the progress of your work.  In other words, saving your energy for another time. 
  • In relationships, we sometimes have to be willing to let the other person 'win' on their point rather than just arguing or debating the point.  Even if you feel the other is completely wrong, some points are not worth fighting over.  Besides, if you play to 'win' every point, then you risk alienating your partner.  You risk leaving them with the impression that they are always wrong or their views aren't important or ever right.

Anyway, just some food for thought today.  Until next times....