Sunday, December 27, 2009

The best present

This Christmas I gave myself the best gift—an endorsement.

When my relatives were debating a particular religious view on which I did not agree, I controlled my speech muscles by not voicing my opinion. Before Recovery I would have felt compelled to share my perspective, which inevitably would have led to an argument and tension on a day in which we are supposed to celebrate harmony and tolerance. So instead of seeking a symbolic victory by trying to prove that my beliefs are the "right" ones, I simply focused on something else while they discussed their opinions. And, of course, before long the topic changed. I chose peace over power and was group minded. I didn't allow the need to be "right" take over my day and avoided the resulting confusion, doubt, and anger. Essentially, I practiced what Recovery and Christmas are all about.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tolerating discomfort

One of the most difficult things we are challenged to do in our Recovery training is to not work up our symptoms. When our pulse quickens, our mind races, our eyes blur, it’s so easy to give into these feelings, accept them as valid, and react accordingly.

Yet Dr. Low challenged us to not let these feelings overtake our lives. He reminded us that “feelings are not facts” and that while feelings and sensations cannot be controlled, we can control our thoughts and impulses—our reactions to these disturbances.

Essentially Dr. Low was telling us to just keep moving on with our lives—no matter how uncomfortable we may feel. This can be extremely challenging because fearful symptoms can be extremely convincing. But Dr. Low assured us that if we truly have the will to bear discomfort, our symptoms will abate. We will improve. That is the promise of Recovery.

So when I spot myself working myself up, one of my favorite tools to use is to remind myself that these are just sensations—and sensations might be distressing, but they are not dangerous. And because feelings are not facts, I can continue with the task at hand no matter what my symptoms are. This sense of empowerment and hope makes me so glad that this year I discovered Recovery.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I am an apprentice

Dr. Low made it clear that practicing Recovery means really applying the method—not just understanding it. I find myself spotting angry temper flares most easily. These are not as common as my flares of fearful temper, so in general I’m able to quickly spot and not begin a vicious cycle.

It’s a different story with fearful temper. Usually I’m “on edge” all day, so it’s difficult to “continuously” spot and reassure myself with secure thoughts and the Recovery tools. It takes a lot of work, in fact. I know intellectually what I’m supposed to do, but I often feel I’m not applying the method effectively.

Yet I know enough about Recovery to accept that this is just an average situation. There’s no need to work up these feelings, and the best course of action is to continue reading the books, attending meetings, and applying the method.

So when I read Dr. Low’s lecture on apprenticeship I felt much better about my progress. He reminds us that we are apprentices learning a new skill, and this is accomplished neither quickly nor easily:

“What would happen to our workers—to our craftsmen—if, when they begin their apprenticeship, they should become discouraged the first day? We would have no craftsmen. And yet that is what our patients do. They have a passion for becoming discouraged. They have a passion to be discouraged, and that means they don’t consider themselves apprentices.” (1)

Looking at recovery from nervous conditions as an apprenticeship is a refreshing perspective. Not only does it make sense, it is a much more authentic philosophy than many of the anxiety “quick fixes” that are hawked. Once again, Dr. Low’s enduring wisdom shines through.

1. Low AA. Lecture 11: The patient is an apprentice. In: Manage Your Fears, Manage Your Anger: A Psychiatrist Speaks. Glencoe, Il.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1995; 57-64.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Attacking symptoms at their weakest point

As a nervous person I tend to see danger everywhere.

I got to scrub the cutting board really well or I could get food poisoning the next time I use it.

I better double check that the car doors are locked so my car isn't stollen.

In the past, I was obsessive about these tasks, and this caused me great anxiety. Today, I am a little extra thorough in washing the dishes or in ensuring doors are locked, but I no longer repeatedly perform these activities and suffer the resulting distress. So being a bit more mindful about everyday tasks is my current average.

However, after reading Dr. Low's lecture on Frustrations, Emergencies and Beliefs, (1) I realized that I still have a long way to go in dialing down the amount of danger I see in my life.

True, I am no longer obsessive about washing dishes and parking the car, but a part of me ("the stranger in the brain") still sees some danger in these tasks. Dr. Low told us of the importance of not seeing our life full of emergencies:

"If you deal with everyday life, with routine work or routine existence, if you deal with the trivialities of the daily round, don't believe that they are emergencies.... [E]mergencies happen very seldom in the existence of the average person." (1)

And Dr. Low wrote that tenseness affects all body systems—from head to toe. Taking that idea a little further, I speculate that any tenseness in our lives can aggravate our nervous symptoms—especially those that give us the most discomfort.

So while I think I've conquered my issues with washing and driving, kernels of anxiety with these activities remain. And those seeds can grow and exacerbate my other symptoms. Of course, I've made tremendous progress, but to truly make my mental health a business I can't allow myself the luxury of even indulging in "small" symptoms. Thus, when I feel the urge to rinse something just one more time or just hit the keyfob's lock button twice, I need to move—actually, not move—my muscles, bear the minor discomfort, and continue with my day.

These are not my most distressing symptoms at the moment. In fact, they barely bother me. But Dr. Low said we need to attack symptoms at their weakest point. So if I want my major symptoms to abate, I need reduce tenseness in all areas of my life.

I endorsed for writing this post.

1. Low AA. Manage Your Fears, Manage Your Anger: A Psychiatrist Speaks. Glencoe, Il.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1995; 45-52.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Applying Recovery

One message I have heard at my Recovery meeting lately (or that has caught my attention) is that “You can’t think your way out of a problem.” During the past six months I’ve learned a lot about Recovery, but knowledge isn’t enough—applying the method is what really counts. As Dr. Low said,

“Understanding alone will not help and has not helped any patient that has developed a long-term nervous problem. The only thing that will help the patient is training, persistent training.” (1)

This means “moving the muscles.” For example, for a long time I feared that my car’s lights (headlights or dome light) were on, so I would constantly look back after arriving at my destination to reassure myself that my battery was not being drained. Sure, I could have told myself that “feelings are not facts,” that “anticipation is usually worse than realization,” that a dead battery would be a triviality, but all of these tools wouldn’t have done any good if I sabotaged my efforts by looking back at the car. I needed to apply the method, not just think about it.

I’ve struggled with doing this with insecure thoughts. Although I continually do things that make me anxious, the nervous feelings have not disappeared, despite my refusal to let anxiety drive my behavior. I believe Dr. Low would tell me that I’m still associating danger with these activities, and as long as I do that I will continue to feel tense—and thus have symptoms. So I’m still struggling with how to apply the method to decrease insecure thoughts while not trying to think myself out of this problem. From what I’ve learned about Recovery so far, I think the answer is to continue to “do the things I fear and hate to do,” think of secure thoughts, and challenge myself to apply the method whenever possible. And, of course, I should lower my expectations: These problems did not develop overnight, and they won’t go away that quickly either. In fact, I do recognize the small gains and by taking the total view I see just how much my life has indeed improved since joining Recovery. This is an endorsable moment!

1. Low AA. Manage Your Anger, Manage Your Fears: A Psychiatrist Speaks. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1995.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Facts and Feelings

One of my favorite Recovery phrases is “feelings are not facts.” Dr. Low has an entire chapter on this topic, writing:

“I want you to know that your feelings are not facts. They merely pretend to reveal facts. Your feelings deceive you. They tell you of danger when there is no hazard, of wakefulness when sleep was adequate, of exhaustion when the body is merely weary and the mind discouraged. In speaking of your symptoms, your feelings lie to you. If you trust them, you are certain to be betrayed into panics and vicious cycles.” (1)

This is a powerful message for people struggling with anxiety. When we feel life is out of control, that imminent danger is around the corner, that we are having a heart attack it’s easy—maybe natural?—to believe these feelings. But Dr. Low advises us to spot these unrealistic notions, replace them with secure thoughts, and take the total view of the situation.

I find this Recovery tool so helpful because it’s short, easy to remember, and applies to most anxiety-provoking situations, in which there usually is no factual danger. I think it can be especially helpful for people struggling with OCD. While there may be a strong urge to believe something is unsanitary, that a ritual is required to perform a mundane task, and so on, these feelings do not line up with reality.

The next time you spot yourself working yourself up, try reminding yourself that feelings are not facts. Of course, Recovery teaches us that you won’t experience instant relief, but over time the reality of the situation will become clearer than how the “stranger in the brain” perceives it to be.

I endorsed for writing this post.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;118.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

An EXCELent endorsement

One of the best aspects of Dr. Low’s system is when you can head off a full-blown panic, a real whopper of a tantrum, and/or a category 5 hurricane of symptoms just by using his method’s simple, commonsense tools. I had one of these mega-endorsements the other night.

I had a big work project ahead of me: Color coding more than 800 lines of an Excel spreadsheet, line by line. After leaving the office and having a quick dinner, I spent 2-1/2 hours on this project, finishing up around 10 pm. After feeling quite happy about getting this task off my plate, I decided to reopen the file to double check something—and to my dismay all of the color coding was gone. I quickly realized that the file format I had saved the file in did not support text formatting (such as colors).

I could feel anxious and angry symptoms start to brew, but I instantly spotted that this was a distressing but not dangerous situation. I made my mental health a business and refused to participate in working up this triviality. I recognized that mistakes are average and lowered my standards for myself. With this self-confidence, I fell asleep quickly and repeated the work in the morning, using the correct file format this time.

Before Recovery I would have called someone at the late hour to complain. That would not have been group minded and would have worked me up more. I would have accused myself instead of excused myself and made a mountain out of a molehill. But instead I used Dr. Low’s tools to make my mental health my top priority. For this I gave myself a hearty endorsement!

I endorsed for writing this post.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Valuing function over feeling

We can function even with our anxious symptoms.

On the surface, this statement appears obvious. But when in the throes of a deep panic, it can be difficult to remember this extremely important lesson.

When I'm extremely anxious, the "stranger in the brain" warns me to not continue what I'm doing. Obviously, the task at hand is distressing, so it must be stopped, or so the brain reasons. But through Recovery I've learned that these thoughts are distressing but not dangerous and that thoughts and impulses can be controlled. I can move my muscles and complete the activity (washing dishes, closing a door, reading a book, and so on) and, by doing so, my muscles will reprogram the rattling brain.

I have been attending Recovery meetings for about six months now, and I'm pleased that Dr. Low's comments are starting to pop into my mind without much conscious effort. For example, the other day a co-worker's response to my e-mail caused an initial flare of temper. But instead of working it up, I quickly spotted my symptoms—and remembered that temper creates tenseness which leads to more symptoms. Within minutes the temper passed (And perhaps it's no surprise that I can't remember what that e-mail was about!). I apply the same principle when on the road. It's so easy to slam the horn when someone cuts you off or moves too slowly through an intersection, but the resulting "symbolic victory" is not worth the temper—and guilt—sure to follow.

I endorsed for writing this post.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Muscle power

When I first entered Recovery, the concept of "moving the muscles" seemed foreign to me. But my group leader insisted that the "Muscles will reeducate the rattling brain." The idea seemed far-fetched, as I thought the problem was with my mind.

Yet I've come to realize that muscles are an intricate part of the recovery process. For example, when I suffered with checking obsessions and compulsions years ago, I realized that I could indeed control my muscles and not repeat checking the stove, door, or whatever had snagged my attention that day. At the time, though, I didn't realize that I was exerting control over my muscles, but this concept is much clearer to me now.

Controlling the muscles--whether it involves using arm and leg muscles to face a fear of driving, using your esophagus muscles to not vomit food considered "contaminated," and so on--also easily lends itself to endorsement, because commanding your muscles to carry out an action (or not) takes effort--effort that should be recognized. And for just about all of us, our muscles will obey our commands. If we tell our muscles to take us into a crowd, our muscles will not revolt. They will not hesitate. If the will commands them to do a task, they will do it. And that is a comforting thought!

I endorsed for writing this post.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Spotting "danger"

I am currently reading chapter 40 in Mental Health Through Will-Training: "Failure to spot sentimentalism." In this section Dr. Low discusses the importance of having a secure outlook on life. Having a more confident and secure view of life is something I have struggled with for years. I always seem to find the "danger" in a situation—even the mundane aspects of daily living. You know, like forgetting to shut off a stove burner and the ensuring catastrophe I "know" would happen as a result (Although I have overcome that obsession, every so often it will cross my mind, but I strongly refuse to give it expression or duration). Much of my current "danger seeking" centers around perfectionism in both personal and professional life.

Yet when I apply Recovery tools I quickly see that these so-called dangers do not really exist, and that I can ride out these distressing—but not dangerous—symptoms by adjusting my thoughts and impluses—which are in my control. This attitude has helped me overcome my fears of riding in elevators and driving. Now, I look back at all the irrational thoughts I built into these activities and shake my head (but try to avoid feeling ashamed). It's a valuable lesson that I will be able to overcome my current fears.

I endorsed for writing this post.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pesky, persistent symptoms

I believe I have the will to bear discomfort.

And I’m trying to not work up my symptoms.

Yet my anxiety persists.

Someone recently asked me why I am not improving more quickly given my Recovery training. That made me stop and think. But I reminded her that my symptoms did not develop overnight, and they won’t disappear that quickly either.

Perhaps the way to orient myself to reality is to ask myself what I was like before learning about Recovery, as we do in every example at the group meetings. Before Recovery I was a lot less hopeful about living with anxiety. I’ve since learned that helplessness is not hopelessness. I’m beginning to understand that symptoms are just that—symptoms. It’s not how you feel, but how you function that counts. I try to not work myself up about uncomfortable sensations and feelings, as I can control only thoughts and emotions (the inner environment).

So I’ve made a lot of progress, and I’m looking forward to making more. :)

I endorsed for writing this post.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Lately I've been pondering what exactly is a triviality. Dr. Low said there are no rights or wrongs in the trivialities of everyday life, so we should not let our fearful or angry temper take control in those situations.

In the current economic climate, is one's job a triviality? True, work is essential to daily living, and Dr. Low frequently commented on the importance of work. But in the grand scheme of our lives, is our current job really just a "triviality," not something to get worked up about? As I see layoffs mount and businesses fail, I have struggled with this question.

I worry about my employment status a lot. In fact, much of my daily distress centers around my work performance. I’ve been reminded that worrying accomplishes nothing, but controlling my fearful temper has been difficult. Any thoughts or tips from Dr. Low that can help?

I endorsed for writing this post! :)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Spot! Spot! Spot!

When I'm whipped up into an anxious state or angry temper, it is so easy to forget Recovery training. But of course this is the exact time I need it the most. As Dr. Low pointed out, we must spot symptoms at their very onset:

"Clearly, the trigger symptom must be spotted before it has an opportunity to generate the panic and the vicious cycle. This is possible only if the spot diagnosis is established in the split second when the trigger reaction is born. Stating it otherwise, it means that the spot diagnosis must acquire a trigger quality."(1)

This is easier said than done. Yet I have found that as I practice Recovery, I learn to spot more frequently. Spotting doesn't remove the uncomfortable sensations, as we must wait for those to fall on their own. But it does help to control my reaction to them, as my thoughts and impulses are within my control.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;307.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Making mental health a business

It's summer. The sky is sunny; I have a lot of yard projects; and every weekend there's a party somewhere. So finding time to read my Recovery books has been a challenge.

Yet, as my group leader often says, it doesn't matter if you read an entire chapter or just a paragraph—as long as you stay in the daily habit. I do become a little stressed about not finishing a chapter, but really that is quite silly (the "stranger in the brain" talking nonsense).

To make my mental health a business, as Dr. Low said, I really need to find some time to read Mental Health Through Will-Training more often! Hmm, maybe outside. :)

Friday, July 17, 2009


This week I had an opportunity to put my Recovery skills into practice during a meeting. Someone was chewing his gum very loudly—smacking his lips and making more noise than I cared for. Then I glanced at my Recovery tools worksheet and noticed that Dr. Low said that people do things that annoy us, not necessarily to annoy us. That helped put the situation in perspective! I certainly didn't need a burst of temper at a Recovery meeting :) .

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Being patient

I think one of the most difficult aspects of recovering from anxiety is having patience. We want to get better now, so we often look for quick solutions to our chronic problems. But these problems rarely develop overnight and, thus, we can't expect they'll disappear quickly, either.

However, we can take steps to make our short-term situation more tolerable and our long-term outlook brighter. For example, my Recovery group leader emphasizes the importance of reading Mental Health Through Will-Training every day—even just a few sentences. Such constant reinforcement and discipline help us build the foundation for a healthier and less anxious life.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Seeing Recovery in action

At my Recovery meeting this week, our leader noted that the group doesn’t aim to teach us—but rather demonstrate how to use the Recovery method to improve our mental health. This comment resonated with me. I’ve read plenty over the years about how to cope with crushing anxiety, but I never had much traction in improving my life. Sure, I’ve read many ways to deal with distressing symptoms, but putting them into action—and facing the discomfort in doing so—remained elusive. Yet at the Recovery meetings I look into the eyes of people just like me and hear how they use Dr. Low’s principles, and this real-life interaction has given me tremendous hope and help.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Recovery as a goal

When we are anxious, we want instant relief. We feel awful, and we lament our situation to anyone who will listen. Learning to experience these feelings and not “blow them up” is an important part of Recovery training, I’ve learned. Being patient is essential, as well.

Accepting the notion that anxiety won’t go away overnight with a magic trick or cure is sobering news—yet empowering at the same time. It’s exciting to know that so many people have gotten better with continuous discipline and practice they’ve learned in Recovery. Sure, recovering from a mental illness is hard work, but many major life events can be achieved only by striving toward a long-term goal.

Everyday I find myself yearning for relief and comfort, but I now know that these are not the ultimate goal. Freeing myself from my distressing—but not dangerous symptoms—is what I really want, and learning to experience and not overreact to these feelings is how I’ll get there.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Distressing, but not dangerous

One very important lesson I have learned in Recovery is that nervous symptoms can be tolerated. This is particularly powerful insight.

When we are extremely anxious, it feels like the whole world is spinning out of control—and that we are at the center of a narrowing emotional vortex. We often have the false impression that we cannot function and that we need to stop what we are doing that is scaring us.

But through reading Mental Health Through Will-Training (1) and attending Recovery meetings, I’ve learned that while uncomfortable sensations and feelings inevitably will flare up and cannot be controlled, my thoughts and reactions to them can be managed. Although I may feel very uncomfortable, these symptoms are distressing but not dangerous (a Recovery mantra). And I don’t have to buy into the notion that I am in any trouble or danger. I can accept these feelings for what they are but not get worked up about them.

This concept has helped me a lot over the past few days. In fact, I think I might have made a small breakthrough in my understanding of my condition.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;80-90.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Being average

For a long time I thought nobody suffered like I do. My distressing symptoms made me feel very alone and isolated. Although I clearly knew that other people have anxiety problems, I usually mused that no one had them as bad as I did.

Through my Recovery training I’ve learned that not only is that belief false, but that my symptoms are average.

Dr. Low wrote at length about nervous people’s desire to be “exceptional.”(1) My take on his philosophy is that if we consistently give our feelings and sensations power and duration, they will become stronger, tighten their grip, and essentially control our lives. Instead, we need to acknowledge that what we experience are average symptoms for nervous people—and not blow them out of proportion.

Of course, some will have more intense symptoms than others, but there’s no need to consider ourselves different from our peers with mental illness. Thinking that way can lead to a senseless of hopelessness, and that certainly will not help us improve.

And there’s something comforting in being average. I don’t feel so different. I don’t feel so alone.

Reference1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;80-90.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Taking a detour around the danger zone

Nervous people see a lot of danger in the world, especially in our own lives. Yet through my Recovery training I've learned a valuable lesson: Most, if not all, of what I fear is distressing but not dangerous. When I equate my uncomfortable feelings with danger, my symptoms worsen and can develop into a full-blown panic.

Dr. Abraham A. Low said we must continually "spot" our distressing feelings, recognizing them for what they are and not consider them dangerous—doing so only makes us more miserable. In fact, he encouraged us nervous people to recognize our "frightening inner experiences as being nothing but silly emotionalism or inane rationalizations."(1)

I've definitely recognized the value of this concept, but putting it to work has not been as easy. Yet I've been assured by my fellow Recovery members that practicing this constant spotting leads to results. So I'm marching forward with this "will to bear discomfort" and avoiding the highway to the danger zone.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;190.

Friday, May 29, 2009

A proactive approach to anxiety

This week I did not attend a Recovery meeting because it was canceled due to the Memorial Day holiday. I was a bit disappointed, as I like the fellowship of being around people who understand me and my fears. So this week I’ve spent a lot of time reading Mental Health Through Will-Training (the Recovery “bible”).

This got me thinking about the importance of taking a proactive approach to fear and anxiety problems. We suffer for so long that when we find moments of relief, the last thing we want to do is read about how to get better (See my Shelfari shelf on this page) or talk to people about our issues. But ironically that is indeed what we need to do.

I’m not saying we should analyze our problems. In fact, a Recovery principle is that “to talk it up is to work it up.” But we do need to make our mental health our top priority (another Recovery principle [this one more abstract]: Mental health is a business, not a game). And I’m finding that socializing with people like me is an important way to boost my confidence in my ability to get better.

Friday, May 22, 2009

HOW to get better

My counselor recently shared with me three core tenets of AA: honesty, openness, and willingness to change (HOW). These are essential building blocks for overcoming anxiety disorders:
  • We must be honest with ourselves and admit that we have a mental illness.
  • We must be open to trying new behaviors, techniques, therapies, medications, and support groups.
  • And we must be willing to do hard work, challenging ourselves to confront and overcome our longstanding fears.
I was not always in a HOW state of mind. For too long I just suffered and clinged to any moment of serenity I could come by. But now I'm ready to have the "courage to make mistakes" and ready to abandon my "passion for self-distrust"(1) in order to achieve recovery and a more mentally healthy life.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;145-9.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Take some comfort in being uncomfortable

A lot—most?—of us want our anxieties to simply disappear. Thus, some turn to meds in hope of a quick cure but usually are disappointed that they are not panaceas. We just want to be calm, at peace, and relaxed, yet we torture ourselves daily with fears, obsessions, and compulsions.

Yet the path to a calmer life actually involves learning to endure discomfort—to acknowledge and face our fears and deal with them. Abraham A. Low, MD, called this THE WILL TO BEAR DISCOMFORT. (It's such an important concept that he wrote it in all caps.)(1)

Dr. Low noted that our culture worships comfort, so it is against our social upbringing to do something uncomfortable. He lamented the "cult of comfort" in 1950, and it's even more active today (A point expressed in last year's WALL-E). Note how he wrote that a patient must endure discomfort to overcome his fear of handwriting:

"And once he learned to be uncomfortable without wincing, he gained confidence and passed on to his muscles the assurance that writing was possible, though uncomfortable."(1)

Of course, once we face our fears and indeed do what is uncomfortable, these tasks eventually will become easier and, in fact, comfortable.

This is tremendous, life-changing insight! I'm surprised Dr. Low's chapter on this topic is only five pages. But it's so simple, yet profound, that it makes complete sense.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;145-9.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A bit too creative

We anxious people are creative—maybe too creative. Our minds dream up all sorts of doomsday scenarios that terrorize us for hours on end. But ultimately how many of these horrible situations have actually occurred in your life? Of all my obsessions, ruminations, constant thoughts, and worries, I’m not sure that any of consequence have ever come to fruition.

I particularly like what Abraham A. Low, MD, had to say on this:

"Unable to resist its suggestions, the patient becomes the victim of his imagination. An incessant stream of insecurity suggestions is poured forth with rapid-fire velocity, leading to a continuous succession of wrong opinions, conclusions and decisions."(1)

Sound familiar?

So the past few days when I have felt anxious over one of my “predictions” I have told myself that my overactive imagination is at work. I’ve found it comforting to label my worries this way. It isn’t a cure-all, but it does bring a little relief—and any amount of inner peace is welcome.

1. Low AA. Mental Health Through Will-Training. Glencoe, Ill.: Willett Publishing Co.; 1997;38.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Recovery meeting—first impressions

Yesterday I went to my first mental health support group—a Recovery, Inc., meeting. I knew nothing about this organization, although I know a lot about the mental health consumer recovery movement in general.

Recovery, Inc., is based on the work of Abraham A. Low, MD. We listened to the audiotape of one of his lectures, which was kinda difficult to follow because he uses a lot of "fancy" language. But every so often a nugget of knowledge would jump out at me and I'd see how what he was saying applied to my life. Yesterday's meeting focused on "temper" and why it's more important to stay cool and calm than argue with someone over something trivial. Anger certainly exacerbates anxiety, so I found the meeting useful—especially the group discussion after the lecture.

I bought one of Dr. Low's books and intend to read it. The group members were very friendly, so I intend to go back next week. Maybe this is the beginning of something wonderful for me.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Time to really get serious

I've been doing a lot lately to tackle my anxiety, but it hasn't been enough. Now, with some major life changes looming, I need to ramp up my recovery efforts. Of course, it's easy to get caught in the "anxiety-relief-forget mode," in which dealing with anxiety isn't as easy as just trying to forget about it once it passes.

I'm not talking about "attacking" my anxious feelings, as I think that mind-set can be counterproductive. I'm talking about being even more proactive in dealing with this disease. On the top of my list is really changing my thinking. I trust myself can no longer be just a note on a flashcard I occassionally look at. It must be a mantra that I incorporate into the very fiber of my being.

And there's no better time to start than right now!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Support groups

I've decided to try an in-person support group. Finding one has not been easy, and I live in a large city. I haven't found one specifically for generalized anxiety disorder, so I am going to try a Recovery, Inc., group, which helps people with all sorts of mental problems. They have a lot of active groups in my area, such as this one. If you've had any experience with this organization, I'd love to hear about it. I did look into Emotions Anonymous, but it is too spiritually based for me. Finally, I did apply for Compeer, a mentoring program, but my local chapter is very slow at responding to inquiries (and completely ignored one of my relatives). So finding "offline" support has not been easy, but I hope it's worth it.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Mistaken thinking

One of my biggest fears is making mistakes. I become really upset about this. I've taken perfectionism to an extreme, and in my life the "perfect is the enemy of the good." But when I am feeling anxious, I try to remember (flashcards help) that I can give myself permission to not be perfect, that it's OK to make mistakes, that to err is normal—and is part of being human.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sharing our stories

There's such a stigma attached to mental illness that it's difficult to share our stories. I find myself withholding details even in my blog. But anytime you share your story with someone you are taking a courageous step, and one that helps people realize that we are normal, even if we have a health problem. It's even tough for people who work in the mental healthcare field to share their stories. Check out this article for some inspiring tales.

A series of unfortunate events

Several unfortunate events have happened to me lately. My car has been acting up, costing me $200 in unexpected repairs. My favorite pants ripped. I have an ugly strain of grass growing in my newly seeded lawn. Surprisingly, these problems are not stressing me out. What is making me anxious are all the "silly" things I worry could happen. I clearly can handle the present, so why should I worry about the future?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mirror, Mirror

In the first Lord of the Rings movie, Galadriel shows Frodo a mirror that displays "things that were, things that are, and some things that have not yet come to pass." Thankfully, there's no such mirror outside Middle Earth. In fact, perhaps mirrors can be a visible reminder that only the present really matters. A mirror shows only what is happening now, and that's how we need to live: free from the past, and not worried about the future.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Embracing the present

I am reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I found these words particularly powerful:

Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry--all forms of fear--are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.(1)

I'm only half way through this book, but I'm finding it very powerful. It isn't specifically written for people with anxiety problems, but every word rings true for people like us.

1. Tolle E. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Novato, Calif.: Namaste Publishing; 2004: 61.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A soothing video

I am finding some meditation videos to be too "new agey" for my taste. Here's one I like:

It's quiet, and soothing.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Trying meditation

I'm going to try meditating. At first, it seemed daunting, as I'm always so busy. But I read at the Mayo Clinic's site that it doesn't have to be a big time commitment to pay off. Here's a meditation video I just tried: Give it a shot. It only takes a few minutes, and I found it soothing. The real test is whether I can stick with it during the week! Do you have any online meditation videos to share?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

One of THOSE days

Ugh. I had one of those days. You probably know them—the "freakout" days where bad news exacerbates your anxiety. I knew I was in a tailspin and for a while did not want to stop it. Finally, I realized this was counterproductive to my mental health. I sat in my office chair, took some deep breaths, and told myself that I had had enough. Amazingly, it worked. So I rewarded myself with cupcakes last night. Sometimes you just gotta treat yourself! :)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

I need to relax!

I need to de-stress, big time. Lately, I've been extremely negative, tense, anxious, and angry. The latter is troublesome, as I'm lashing out over the stupidest things (like my DSL being down). I've been way too high strung, and that certainly isn't helping me to be less anxious. Worse, I've been so busy at work, putting in 10- to 11-hour days, that I simply haven't found time to relax. Tonight that's the #1 priority!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My perfectionist scaffolding

I am a perfectionist.

I'm not proud of this, as perfectionism is a basis for a lot (most?) of the anxiety in my life. Being a perfectionist is exhausting, and I never feel fulfilled.

Well, enough of that! Seeing the world through perfectionist spectacles leads to unhappiness and chronic negativity, as nothing is ever perfect enough.

This past week I've been trying to dial down my perfectionist tendencies. It's not easy, as they are so ingrained in my personality and a big part of my anxiety disorder. So I'm using the "shrug my shoulders" technique.

For example, say I'm upset because I painted a room with semigloss paint instead of flat (long story :). I shrug my shoulders and say, "Oh well. It's good enough," moving on to something else. Of course, one side of my brain is screaming and demanding more analysis, evaluation, and remedying action, but I'm starting to listen to a quieter voice (that's been there all along) saying, "You know what? It's OK. You're OK. It's time to move on."

Perfectionism is the scaffolding holding up my anxiety framework. Once I remove enough bolts the whole complex will come crashing down and the real, authentic, recovered, anxiety-free me will be standing tall.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A taste of recovery

Yesterday I had a taste of recovery.

I did activities that make me anxious but pushed forward through them. If someone interrupted me, I continued on. If I felt like starting over, I didn't. When my mind was cloudy and my vision blurry, I told myself that was OK. And here and there, I started to have some clarity—some glimpses of what it would be like without all this anxiety.

I got a lot done yesterday, and I feel good about that. If my anxiety impaired my performance, then oh well! I did the best that I could. Even though I was anxious yesterday, I know I made progress, and that was a great way to start the weekend!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ending self-torture

Living with anxiety is self-torture. We constantly worry, check ourselves, and obsess over some things and, eventually, everything. Well, I'm getting out of the business of this self-torture. I've tired of abusing my mind with these endless thoughts and worries.

Of course, it's not as easy as saying "That's enough!" and Poof! anxiety disappears. But I think resetting our attitude toward ourselves and our mental health is part of our recovery. This hasn't been easy for me, to accept the unknown and the supposed risks. But I have to do it to get better.

This means just doing what I have to do and dealing with the anxiety without letting it overwhelm me. This is scary, and it's difficult. But it's the only real path to recovery I see. Giving these thoughts any more credibility won't help.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A so-so week

When I was anxious this week, I thought to myself, I'm OK. I'm a good person. I do a good job. This hasn't been easy to do, but it has helped me to push through the things I need to get done.

Also, about a week ago some OCD behaviors started to creep back, such as with washing the dishes or checking the thermostat (I hate to do the latter!). They haven't gotten too bad yet, and I'm determined to not let these behaviors return.

All in all, it wasn't a bad week. I think I'm not buying into my catastrophic thinking as much, so that is certainly progress!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Being ok

My counselor has an interesting theory on why I have so much anxiety in my life: It boils down to not being ok with myself—and all the "imperfections" and "flaws" that make me, well, me!

I know I don't value myself. I don't abuse my body with alcohol, tobacco, or drugs, but I do abuse my mind and spirit with negative thinking. For too long I've defined my self-concept on how I perceive others view me and, being an anxious person, I always assume the worse. Although I'm 30 years old, I've never become comfortable in my own skin, and I've focused on having the perfect home, the perfect body, the perfect job so that others would approve of me.

So no wonder I'm anxious! Too much of my life has been spent focusing on what others think of me (actually, what I think they think!). My internal "critical" voice has become too strong at the expense of my "nurturing" voice.

My counselor believes my anxieties and obsessions at any given time are just the latest flashpoints reflective of a deeper internal struggle to accept and love myself. It admittedly sounds kinda airy fairy, but it makes sense. If I pay more attention to my nurturing voice, find time for me to relax, make myself and mental health the real priorities, and not worry about what I think other people are thinking, my anxiety should decrease.

This is a deep concept, and I hope this post makes some sense. Could overcoming anxiety be as simple—but difficult—as truly feeling OK, authentically believing I am a valuable, worthy, lovable, good person?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Feeling 'stuck'

I feel "stuck." I'm highly motivated to live a less anxious life, and I'm taking steps to do so: seeing a counselor, using flashcards, writing this blog. Yet my anxiety is not decreasing as rapidly as I would like. I want anxiety to stop now, and I want to feel better immediately.

However, I must remember that these problems didn't develop overnight, and they're not going to disappear that quickly either. Overcoming anxiety is a day-by-day journey, and every step down the path to a less anxious life puts me another foot closer to that goal.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Music—another anxiety buster

A couple posts ago, I wrote about the power of laughter in reducing anxiety. I've thought of another guaranteed anxiety reducer: listening to music.

When I'm really anxious or just having a bad day, I like to turn on some cheesy '80s pop or dance music to take my mind elsewhere. Even though I might not feel like it, I'll even sing along (a great way to reduce that shortness of breath feeling anxiety often brings). My current counselor even told me I should sing in the shower in the morning to "start the day right." I readily admit that I'm not a vocalist, but I do find getting revved up by a favorite song to be a great anxiety buster.

Reducing anxiety essentially is about getting back to living—laughing, singing, and enjoying company. Anxiety robs us of all that. We must take our lives back!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ending the worrying about worrying

I overreact when I'm anxious. When I feel those all-too-familiar feelings creep in, not only am I experiencing anxiety, but I become upset that I'm anxious. I start worrying about worrying!

One of the most distressing symptoms I suffer with when I'm anxious is blurred vision and a feeling of depersonalization—feeling "out of touch with reality." I become upset about feeling this way, so I end up fueling the anxiety fire:
  • Doing certain tasks makes me extremely anxious.
  • When I'm so anxious my vision becomes blurry and it's difficult to concentrate.
  • I become upset that my vision is blurry and my mind is cloudy, and I fear these symptoms will impact my performance.
  • Thus, my anxiety level continues to increase.
In the spirit of a new me for a new year, on Monday I tried adopting a new way of thinking. Instead of becoming very upset about these distressing symptoms, I'm trying to remain calm (The opposite of what an anxious mind screams at us to do). After all, I have an anxiety disorder. That's reality, and I can't wish it away. These uncomfortable sensations are part of this disease. I'm doing what I need to do and if I make a mistake because my vision is blurred or thinking somewhat impaired, then oh well! Worrying about these symptoms certainly won't change the outcome and, in fact, will only make me more anxious.

I'm trying to take away the power anxiety has over my life. By attempting to label my anxious feelings as "no big deal," I'm hoping their intensity eventually will decrease. This strategy seems to be working, but it's by no means easy.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Laugh therapy

Today I stumbled across the Web site of L.A.U.G.H. with OCD, a support group in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Its home page presents a powerful and important message: Having a good sense of humor can help people with anxiety disorders overcome their fears.

When is the last time you had a really hearty laugh, in which you burst into tears, snorted, or couldn't catch your breath? If it hasn't been awhile, call a funny friend or watch one of your favorite comedies. When we're laughing, we're not caught up in all these useless fears and anxieties, at least for the moment. And the more joy we can introduce into our lives, the less anxious we'll be.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Liking myself

I am a perfectionist. Some would see that as a valuable attribute, but it's a curse. I find faults everywhere, especially in myself. And when I see myself as flawed and not "good enough," I become extremely anxious.

So I'm redoubling my effort to love and accept myself. That sounds kinda cheesy, but I have to do this.

My counselor says learning to authentically value myself—including my "flaws"—will help reduce my anxiety. She asked me the other day to name three things I like about myself, and I struggled to come up with one. When she asked me to name three things I don't like about myself, it was hard to stop at three! Anxiety was at the top of that list.

Yet if I truly accept myself, "flaws" and all, perhaps I'll be less anxious going forward. I need to discover what I like about myself, as this, instead of my supposed "flaws," should be foremost in my mind.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Finding joy

We people with anxiety are hard on ourselves, always beating ourselves up for feelings and emotions we never asked for and certainly don't want to continue. We are far too often upset, edgy, and moody, so it's hard to have fun and let go. Yet finding joy in life is exactly what we must do to live less anxious lives!

At The Gold Puppy the blogger wrote yesterday:

"As a little girl, my fabulous niece Tovah resolved to 'eat more cake.' Now that's a resolution I can get behind. 'Have more fun,' 'Don't work so much,' 'Goof off.'"

This is great advice (dare I say golden :) for anyone—particularly people with anxiety disorders. Life doesn't have to be so dismal all the time. In fact, the more joy we create for ourselves, the less anxious we'll be!