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!