Your weirdest anxiety

The Mighty ran this absolutely fascinating list of 27 of the “weirdest” anxiety triggers which impact members of their community. The list was intriguing, if only for the breadth of seemingly minor things which can negatively impact someone. Examples included:

  • Not knowing where a bathroom is
  • Car headlights
  • The Mailbox
  • Power Outlets

These are interesting. Some of these fears are more common, some less so, but they all seem “weird” enough to the owner that they were willing to share them with complete strangers on the internet.

I don’t know this for certain, but I’d be willing to bet that all of these fears are also a source of shame for the owner. Shame that they’d be embarrassed if anyone found out. That’s how I felt, certainly. For the longest time, I had a “weird” and unexplainable phobia about going on mass transportation – bus, plane, train, whatever. If I wasn’t in control of the vehicle, I was terrified, to the point of a full blown anxiety attack. It wasn’t a fear of death or crashing, I don’t think. I think it was a matter of not being in control of the vehicle, of being stuck somewhere with no way off.

I’m lucky and I was able to get this “weird” fear under control, and while new ones have popped up, this one was put to bed. It took a good chunk of work and therapy, but yeah, eventually I got there.

That being said, if you, dear reader, have some sort of anxiety issue, chances are good that you know exactly what I am discussing when I say that these fears are a periodic source of shame and self-loathing. You feel like such a damn idiot for having such a ridiculous fear of something which the vast majority of people can endure with absolutely zero problem. Why does this fear trigger you so?

What’s the answer? That one is above my paygrade. Some fears are minor things that you can handle, and sometimes they disappear on their own. Others are more serious, rehabilitating issues which require therapy in order to be able to lead a full and productive life.

I do know this one: Don’t beat yourself up over whatever your fear is. You didn’t ask for it, you don’t deserve it, and anxiety doesn’t make you any weaker. If you don’t hate yourself for your random depression or anxiety issues (and you shouldn’t), you don’t need to hate yourself for a phobia.

These “weird” anxieties can crop up for a variety of reasons, everything from negative experiences to trauma. That being said, you don’t have to hate yourself for them. Whatever you fear is, let it go. Self-hatred and anger only supercharges the problem by giving your fuel to burn on.

If you want to share your random anxiety, please leave it below. As always, we welcome your thoughts and opinions!

A More Preventative Mental Health Model

I caught this article in USA Today and it introduced a fascinating concept – one I hadn’t heard of.

Many of you are likely familiar with the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, which has been used to stave off countless crises and has likely saved thousands of lives. Of course, calling this number is what you do at your worst moment – when you are at the bottom of the barrel and feel as if you might hurt yourself because you have nowhere else to turn.

What if there was a way to reach a person before it hit that crisis point?

Introducing the “warm line” from the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. From the article:

Unlike a hotline for those in immediate crisis, warmlines provide early intervention with emotional support that can prevent a crisis – and a more costly 911 call or ER visit. The lines are typically free, confidential peer-support services staffed by volunteers or paid employees who have experienced mental health conditions themselves.

In other words – someone can call, get support, talk to someone, and get access to more resources, thus potentially preventing a more expensive and serious crisis.

This is a great idea, and according to article, a wildly popular one. But, does it work? Will it cut down on arrests, suicides or other mental illnesses? According to one analysis, yes.

Here’s the real reason this appeals to me: It’s a paradigm shift. It’s so much more than just a band-aid or a cure for someone in a crisis. Don’t misunderstand – that’s incredibly helpful, and necessary. But what if we can stop someone from getting sick in the first place?

If you stop a physical illness before it gets infected, you save money, time, pain and lives. Hopefully, programs like this can help push in more into that sort of space when it comes to how we discuss, treat and cure mental illness. It’s why we should try to teach mental health in schools. It’s why physicians should conduct mental health screenings on routine exams. It’s why mental health first aid should be taught alongside physical health first aid.

We can stop these problems before they start.

Redemption is now 33% off!

Hey folks –

 

It’s Cyber Monday! YAY!

You’re not happy. Fine. Let me help you celebrate by adding one more discount to the pile of Emails and social media blasts you are getting.

Redemption, my book about depression, anxiety and saving the world, is now 33% off if you buy directly from me. This includes signature and shipping.

For those of you who are new to the blog, you may not have realized it, but I wrote a book. Redemption was published in June 2018 and has been my pride and joy every since. The summary is below. I hope you’ll consider buying it, either off of Amazon or directly from me. I like to think that it’s my shot – from a fictional perspective – of providing insight, and maybe hope, into the world of depression. Just with a world-ending, science fiction twist.

Have a great day!

Twenty young people wake aboard the spaceship Redemption with no memory how they got there.

Asher Maddox went to sleep a college dropout with clinical depression and anxiety. He wakes one hundred sixty years in the future to assume the role as captain aboard a spaceship he knows nothing about, with a crew as in the dark as he is.

Yanked from their everyday lives, the crew learns that Earth has been ravaged by the Spades virus – a deadly disease planted by aliens. They are tasked with obtaining the vaccine that will save humanity, while forced to hide from an unidentified, but highly advanced enemy.

Half a galaxy away from Earth, the crew sets out to complete the quest against impossible odds. As the enemy draws closer, they learn to run the ship despite their own flaws and rivalries. But they have another enemy . . . time. And it’s running out.

How To Give Thanks When You Aren’t Sure How

My understanding of Thanksgiving has always been to try and take a step backwards and find the things for which I am grateful: Family, friends, food and safety. It’s a moment where you are supposed to be filled with gratitude.

Of course, if depression is clouding up your life, that can be a difficult experience – to put it mildly.

One of the worst things about depression is that it not only makes you feel sad, but it staves your sense of joy. When you are depressed, you cannot enjoy things. You cannot find the things to be grateful for – your mind is just clouded with sadness and pain. That, of course, is awful on every level.

According to an article from Psychology Today, gratitude can make you feel better:

Scientists say that these techniques shift our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones, elicit a surge of feel good hormones like dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and build enduring personal connections.

Another article, this one from Harvard, notes that there is actual science behind this concept, and that multiple experiments have shown that individuals who actually took the time to decide, discuss or write down things that they were grateful for actually felt better and more optimistic about their lives after doing so.

All of this being said – I’ve been there. I get it. When you are in a hole so deep that you cannot see any light, writing down things for which you are grateful can be a challenge…to put it mildly.

If that’s where you are right now, it’s okay. Don’t feel bad, don’t feel guilty and don’t beat yourself up. That’s a pain which millions of others can share with you.

Instead, my advice to you is this: Try to take a step backwards.

If you are reading this, you’re in better shape than large swaths of humanity. You’re able to read and access the internet. Hopefully, you’re at home now, safe and secure, able to access the basic necessities of life. I hope you are warm and comfortable. You’re able to eat and drink whenever you want. I mean, according to the World Health Organization, 785 million people don’t even have access to basic drinking water service. If you are reading this, that almost certainly isn’t you.

Folks, one of the hardest things to remember – particularly if you are one of the 1 in 5 Americans who has a mental illness – is just how lucky you truly are. Start at the basics, and I mean the basics. The food in your stomach. The clothing on your back. And try to remember that there are billions who aren’t as lucky as all of us are.

Whatever our struggles, whatever your pain, I guarantee you are more fortunate than hundreds of millions. Start from there. Use that as the building block and move upwards. Concentrate on the gratitude and joy you’ve gotten from the smallest moments: The quick laugh with a coworker who likes you. The likes on your Facebook status. You can find joy in even the smallest of moments, and sometimes, that’s enough.

To be clear: I’m not an idiot and I’m not pollyanic. A Facebook like or a shared smile with a stranger will not cure your depression. It will not make you whole. But it may take away your pain, if only for a moment. It may help you regain a sense of control over your own mind, something that is absolutely critical when we are battling our own demons. To that end, try to balance your pain-filled moments with the good ones. Write down what you are grateful for. You may be surprised with how it makes you feel.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope you are able to celebrate and enjoy it!

 

Post Traumatic Growth

In the course of discussing mental illness, I’ve written quite a bit about PTSD and its devastating impacts. If you have had the misfortune of experiencing some sort of traumatic event, you don’t need me to tell you just how much this can negatively impact your life, because you live it every day. PTSD isn’t a small problem: According to available statistics, 1 in 13 people will develop PTSD at some point in their lives.

However, I don’t want to talk about PTSD today. I want to talk about a different concept: Post Traumatic Growth.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this one of late – mainly because I want to know what circumstances make it possible. PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is the concept of showing positive growth or change after a devastating event. It is basically the idea that you can turn a negative into an incredible positive and come out stronger in the aftermath of suffering.

According to this article from the American Psychological Association, PTG is different than resilience, which is the factor that determines if you can recovery from a traumatic event. One inventory holds that these five factors determine if you experience PTG:

  • Appreciation of life.
  • Relationships with others.
  • New possibilities in life.
  • Personal strength.
  • Spiritual change.

How we measure PTG isn’t as important to me as determining how to encourage someone to experience it, and I think this is an important question for people who suffer a traumatic event – how can they not only get through it, but grow from it?

According to the article, some people are predisposed to experience PTG. There are also a variety of other factors, including the type of trauma, the circumstances and the age of the individual in question (being 8 or younger decreases the chances of PTG). Furthermore, people who are more open to new experiences and extroverted are more likely to experience PTG. One study also found that there may be genetic connections to PTG, with individuals who had certain variations of the gene RGS2 being found as more likely to experience PTG.

As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m no doctor or therapist – I just play one on this blog. However, being able to show post traumatic growth strikes me as an incredibly difficult thing, one which requires a ton of support and therapy to prove. I would think that there is a real connection to optimism and resilience – to the notion that you can find light in the darkness. For many, a traumatic event – such as an assault or accident – proves to be too much to ever recover from.

However, I’d also hope that knowing that PTG is possible – indeed, achievable – can give people a new appreciation on life, on trauma, and even on depression. I mean, look at the article above, or just search for the subject. The internet is replete with examples of people finding light in the darkness, of using a traumatic experience to grow and change and become better people. Knowing that this is out there – that there are people who’s lives have been made better by trauma – that should inspire hope in all of us who are suffering.

Folks, I’m grateful for my depression and anxiety. It gave my career purpose and meaning and allowed me to use my experiences to make the world a better place. And, I suppose, that’s the best way I can look at what otherwise could have been a crippling illness.

Any thoughts on the concept of PTG that you want to share with us? As always, leave them below!

Do you have a puppy folder?

I had a couple of rougher moments over the past weekend. No real reason, just work and stress – the standard stuff, really. I will admit that I was surprised by how intense it was, but these things happen.

Anyway, I was talking with my wife and trying to snap myself out of it, and with a laugh, I pulled up this video.

The background: I was speaking at an event announcing the moving of the Da Vinci Science Center into downtown Allentown (a big deal, locally!). I was surrounded by elected officials, major developers, local residents, the works. And the microphone just went, “Nahh, f&ck you, I ain’t working.” So we have massive feedback, followed by the microphone just straight up falling as I tried to speak. I know it sound stressful, but honestly, it was hilarious for me, and if you watched the clip, you can see I handled it just by laughing at myself. It wound up being really funny (side note: When faced with an embarrassing situation, just lean into it).

Anyway, whenever I watch this clip, I always get a chuckle. And that’s sort of the point of this entry.

On Monday, I spoke about the need to develop specific tactics which can help you fight back against your anxiety. Things that would temporarily distract you from where your head was swirling off to in order to break the cycle of anxiety and get you out of an attack.

This entry is more or less the companion entry for depression. My suggestion: Have a puppy folder. Have a folder (digital or physical) which you watch that features adorable videos which always cheer you up or make you laugh. It can be movie bloopers, cute pictures of puppies, whatever.

By the way, I do mean, literally, have an actual folder. As you probably know, when you go down the rabbit hole of depression, it can be extremely difficult to pull yourself back out, or to do anything which has even the slightest bit of self-care involved. That’s why I say you should have an actual folder, a one-stop shopping sort of place: When it comes to self-care in your darkest moments, you need to make it as easy as possible for yourself.

To be clear, this isn’t a long-term strategy. It’s a tactic, and there’s a difference. If you find yourself having these dark moments more frequently, if they turn to thoughts of self-harm, or if you start to lose productivity and the ability to function, you need to do more than just watch funny videos: You probably need to see a therapist.

That being said, everyone has down moments. The tactic of a puppy folder can help you break the cycle. It can feel good and give you a moment of joy, and that moment can turn into the foundation for getting yourself out of a rougher moment.

Any videos, pictures or websites which you use on a regular basis to get yourself out of that darkness? Let us know in the comments below!

 

4 Tactics to Stop A Panic Attack In Its Tracks

Ah, panic attacks.

Last week, I wrote about the difference between panic attacks and anxiety attacks. They are both nightmares, of course, but I’d argue that panic attacks are the more intense, nightmarish ones. I consider myself deeply lucky that I haven’t had either in years, but I still remember the pain: The feeling that my bowels were going to turn to liquid, the heart racing, the desperate desire to escape and sensation that you are going to crawl out of your own skin at any moment.

Defeating panic attacks takes quite a bit – often some combination of therapy, medication or tranquilizers. It takes planning, effort, and strategy. However, there are also tactics which I think you can use in order to defeat or slow a panic attack. Yes, I mean tactics: Specific things which you can do in order to feel more powerful and regain control over your own body and mind.

Here are 4 of them:

Pick a Number. Add By 7. Repeat.

My anxiety was out of control in college, particularly senior year. That time period ultimately resulted in a medication adjustment, increased therapy and the development of a series of tactics with my therapist to stop an panic attack. And this one worked, a lot.

When you have a panic attack, your mind just whirls out of control. The key – as exemplified by this effort and others – is to stop it from doing so. To that end, you have to distract yourself.

So, ask yourself? What’s 1,054 + 7? And then another 7? And then another? Get bored? Subtract by 8 now. Just keep going. Take all of that mental energy you are feeling and put it elsewhere. Do whatever you can to break the chain of anxiety which has wrapped its way around your neck.

Notice Stuff

I actually got this one from a LifeHacker article, and it apparently came from BoJack Horesman. Specifically, two characters are talking, and one starts having a panic attack. The other asks him to notice the things which are giving her anxiety, and then start noticing and describing the more mundane things. Chairs. Tables. Lamps.

I think this one works similar to my example above, but with a different basic idea: You try to distract yourself by immersing yourself in another activity. This, of course, can be impossible to do when your mind feels broken, but it is absolutely worth the effort. With this tactic, you try to lose yourself in something else. You find a detailed object and go DEEP. What color is it? What do you think it feels like? When was it made and who do you think made it?

Allow your mind to run away from itself.

Guided Visualization

Guided Visualization is just what it sounds like – you use it to escape your own mind. Either through an audio or visual file, you follow the narrator on a journey. It often involves breathing deeply and relaxing.

Thanks to YouTube, there are no shortage of examples. Even better is that many of them are highly specific to panic attacks.

I’ll say this: These were hard for me when I had bad ones. When they were on their way out or just starting, my wife could often give me a visualization scenario that worked, but as the panic heated up, it became even harder to focus on visualization. Everyone is different, of course, and I hope this works better for you than it did for me.

Understand What’s Happening

Yes, I understand that this one sounds utterly ridiculous, but if you are capable of thinking logically (big if – big big if), this may be helpful. On a biological level, a panic attack is a misfiring of your body’s flight or fight response. Your brain perceives a threat when none exists. As such, you have to try to trick your brain into coming back to reality.

Difficult as it can be, try to take a step back, something akin to mindfulness. Say to yourself: “This is just a misfiring of the neurons of my brain. Nothing is wrong. There is no threat. I am safe.”

If you can understand what is going on – that there is no threat – you may be able to get yourself out of the attack.

As always, I welcome your advise. And also, please understand, much of what I wrote will not work for everyone. Or maybe anyone, I don’t know. But these things did help me – and I hope they can help you, you too.

 

What is the difference between an anxiety attack and a panic attack?

Having had both, I feel like I’m overqualified to write this article, but as I was discussing this issue with someone the other day, I realized something: As careful as I like to be in my language – particularly when discussing mental health and mental illness – I had goofed. There is a difference between the two, and an important one at that.

What is it? From what I can tell and what I’ve researched, it seems to me that panic attacks are the dramatically more painful experiences, the ones which make it feel like your chest is going to explode out of your body.

There are a ton of similarities, of course. Both come with painful physical symptoms, including chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, upset stomach and other fun things. Both come with an overwhelming sense of fear.

However, anxiety attacks are more characterized by worry and distress. Panic attacks are the ones where you feel as if you have to escape from wherever you are, right now. They often come out of nowhere, whereas anxiety attacks are usually caused by some stress or worry.

It this a distinction without a difference? I’d say no. Panic attacks – if experienced repeatedly – can be beyond debilitating. They can safely be described as “intense and disruptive.” Anxiety attacks can as well, but I’d argue that they are less frightening, and perhaps less painful.

Why does this matter? Because words matter. There’s a reason that there have been so many efforts to watch how we discuss suicide. Phrasing things one way or the other can have implications. It can also affect treatment – anxiety and panic are two different things. Indeed, the notion of an anxiety attack isn’t even a diagnosable illness, but a panic disorder absolutely is.

I’d also add that we need to make sure we don’t confuse these two things because how we discuss them can alter how others respond to them. Panic implies immediate danger and something to be deeply worried about right now. Anxiety, at least to me, implies an ongoing and persistent fear and worry.

Does this make sense to you? Please let me know your thoughts, and if you think this is the right idea or not.

The Best Way To Help Veterans With Mental Illness

Today is Veterans Day, the day of the year in which we are supposed to remind ourselves about the importance of the veterans who have served all of us. It’s a solemn day…one which most people know better by the kind of sales they can get and if they get the day off or not.

As an elected official, I’ve certainly been to my share of Veterans Day events, and had three leading up to today. That being said, they are events which always leave me feeling inadequate. Why? I never served in the military, and while I don’t believe that is necessary to be a good public servant, I do always worry about talking to veterans and thinking that they must think I don’t understand what they have been through. That’s me projecting, to an extent, but of course, I don’t understand what they have been through, the things they have seen.

As a politician, I’ve always said that I want to be judged by my actions, not my words. And when it comes to taking care of our veterans, far too many of our actions come up short. This goes double when it comes to mental illness. A brief look at the facts reveals:

These numbers are unacceptable. Those who give so much for us should receive even more in return. That being said, for the vast majority of us, our options are limited. Let me pose this question, then, if you’d like to learn more about how to help our vets: What can you do to help veterans who are suffering from a mental illness?

Here are a few thoughts.

Understand what you don’t understand

One of the things I have realized in my time in government and the mental health universe is that you will not understand everything – and that’s okay. You don’t have to understand what it was like to serve. You don’t have to actually have experienced someone else’s pain to understand that it exists. Not being a veteran doesn’t disqualify you from this conversation, but it does require extra effort. Read up on the specific challenges which veterans face. Learn more about what they need and how you can help. This broader prospective will put you in a better position to help those who need it.

Support groups who support vets

While the need is great, the response has been as well. Numerous organizations do a fantastic job of taking care of our veterans. If you can afford to do so, please contribute to these organizations, because while the passion is there, the funding often is not.

Read up on veteran-specific mental health issues

Part of understanding veterans issues is learning more about them. PTSD and TBI (traumatic brain injury) are both tragically common for veterans. If this is something you want to learn more about, read up on these two devastating diseases, and learn more about how you can help.

Talk about it, and find others who know more

The best way to address and reduce stigma is to talk about it – but to do so in a way which is inclusive. Discussing mental illness is important, but talking about it from the perspective of a veteran even more so. Make sure to be inclusive when discussing mental illness and stigma, and make sure to rely on other voices (like veterans) who may have more experience than you.

I know I missed a lot here – as usual, I’d love your thoughts. Do I have a goo handle on this? What am I missing? Fill us in in in the comments section!

When To Take A Step Back

I’ve written a lot about the importance of trying to push through your mental illness. To clarify, I don’t mean “power through” or “man up” or any of those other absolutely ridiculous cliches. By that, I suppose I more mean “don’t surrender.” As someone who constantly feels like they are being chased by anxiety/depression – and that they will nip my heels and catch me one day – I think one of the hardest things is knowing when to stop moving.

What do I mean by that? Well, if you suffer from this stuff, you probably know. You’re exhausted – words aren’t making any sense anymore – and your brain is just fighting back against every productive impulse you have. All you want to do in the world is build a big old blanket fort, watch Netflix, eat all of the ice cream, and go to sleep.

But you can’t. Because you are so scared that, once you slow down and surrender…even if it’s just for one moment…it will catch up with you. And once it has you in its grips, you lose. It’s over.

Now, if you are someone who isn’t depressed or anxious…or at least, has a better handle on it than I clearly do…you are looking at me right now like I’m saying 2 + 2 = 5. Because non Type-A people, and people without a mental illness, don’t suffer like this. They can take their foot off the pedal without feeling guilt or fear.

I suppose, then, that this is an entry for those of you who know what I’m talking about. Because the truth is that there are moments where you simply must take your foot off the pedal and slow down.

When do you hit that point? I bet you know. I bet you know somewhere, in your heart of hearts, when it is time to back off.

When you hit that point – and the guilt or fear starts to set in – I have two points for you to consider.

First – stop. An hour playing video games doesn’t mean that you will lose your career. No human being, ever, has made it in this world without self care, be them type A, B, X, Y or Z. Every event is not vitally important. Every assignment does not have to be done RIGHT STAT NOW, because even if it is necessary for your career, a career which holds that must sway over you is not that important.

Second, let me flip it around. People like me – and maybe you – who are obsessed with productivity need to stop conflating working non-stop and productivity. Microsoft Japan just tried a four day work week and the result was…a 40% increase in productivity. It’s almost like working smarter is better than harder.

Also. Your demons will find you, or they won’t. But taking a break never killed anyone. But it probably will help kill your demons.

Alright. That’s it. I’m out. I need to eat me some ice cream.