My Anxiety Doesn’t Speak English


I imagine my mind has a million places and when I’m put together and focused and present, these places communicate effortlessly with each other. Gentle waves of bright energy fly through my brain grabbing exactly what they need – a past memory, a piece of knowledge, a feeling. The result – what flows out my mouth is exactly what I intend. My words sound coherent. I feel coherent, like I fit perfectly in my skin. My body and mind flow as one. I feel in one piece.

When my anxiety punches me, these millions of places become abruptly inaccessible. It feels like each one of them is closed off with a steel door, so now the seamless flowing of ideas is replaced by the sound of thudding steel. This thudding blurs me. I’m in a fog and the fog is in me. But I’m still there, frantically looking for a way out. I’m walking through mud holding a terror that wants me to run as fast as I possibly can. In this moment my anxiety doesn’t speak English. That skill lies behind steel. In this moment my only reality is pure fear. I have no rational thought and no way to stop the rising wave that attacks me all at once – my head, my heart, my hands, my stomach.

 When the anxiety is too much, I am a blubbering blob unable to function. But sometimes when it is less, I am able to do things like walk, talk, drive, brush my teeth and get dressed. In fact I can do everything (maybe without the usual gusto) that is habitual – things that are so second nature, I don’t have to think about them. During these times I respond from my unconscious and the more I have put in place there, the better I can cope.

For people without anxiety, the unconscious is something they can pretty much leave alone. But for those of us who suffer, it is key to coping. I live with anxiety and I think I do it quite well because I understand the role my unconscious plays in my anxiety and more importantly, how it can be effectively used to help deal with it.

A simple way to think of our unconscious is this: anything that feels out of our control probably belongs there. Much of our unconscious is essential for living. If we had to think consciously about everything we do it would be exhausting and debilitating. Right now I am watching my daughter’s unconscious working beautifully and efficiently. She is learning to drive and I watch her as she mumbles all her checks – mirrors, blind spot, gear, check for cars, seatbelt. Soon, as all drivers know, she will not think of any of these. The checks will still be done but from her unconscious mind. And if she’s anything like me, she may drive from A to B sometimes and have no idea how she got there.

Unfortunately, anxiety also resides in the unconscious, which is why anxiety sufferers must learn how to feed their unconscious with strategies that will kick in when they are needed the most. These have to be practiced to the point of habit because ALL habits are unconsciously driven. To deal with anxiety we have to create habits that kick in automatically in response to our anxiety. You cannot tell yourself to breathe deeply in the midst of an anxiety attack unless you have practiced deep breathing to the point of habit, crossing this skill into the unconscious.

Life is complicated and we are complicated. There is no “one” thing to do for anxiety and I would suggest some skepticism towards someone that claims they have the one answer. Truthfully, I have embraced many ideas and strategies and continue to do so. And depending on the situation, I may grab one over another. My personal favourite is to allow myself to ‘feel’ and resist pushing my feelings away. In my experience, when I allow myself to really feel my anxiety, I diminish its power to grow and lesson the duration of its stay. This may sound absurdly simple to do but trust me it took years of practice! In situations where I have to act right away, this may not be appropriate and I may engage instead in mindful breathing. What works for you is what works for you.

Here is some advice for people who want to help someone during these times. Don’t. Not in the traditional sense anyway. Their anxiety will not hear you. It does not understand. “Think positively, stop wallowing, it’s all in your head, pull yourself together,” are not helpful and may cause anxiety to increase as feelings of failure are added to the mix. Hold them, be there but let them be. If you want to help, timing is everything. Wait until they can understand English.

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Hello Depression, My Old Friend

When I was about 13, my best friend at the time and I memorized every word of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence.” We wrote down the words by playing, pausing and rewinding a cassette tape, which we had recorded by placing the tape deck beside the radio. Yes, I’m that old.

“Sound of Silence” became “our” song and to this day I remember every word of it. The haunting words appealed to our dramatic teenage angst and supported our growing realization that life could be sad simply from living. We had lots of big questions with no answers but it didn’t matter because delving into the questions made us feel mature and acutely aware that we were no longer kids. The song comforted us as we transitioned from childhood into no man’s land of pre-adulthood. At that time I never thought about the lyricist’s life experience that lay beneath the words of the song. Today I think particularly about the first verse:

“Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again”

I have lived with depression for most of my life and through the crests and valleys I understand how I must face this disease. This past year, I took on too much, got sick with a month long virus and together with the start of fall, I had the perfect storm for depression to pay me a visit. Depression, as reliable as ever, didn’t disappoint. At some point, when I was able, I shared with a new acquaintance the reason I had not responded to her email promptly – I called depression “my old friend.” With the best of intentions, because she is a lovely lady, she told me to never call depression my friend and that it is no part of me.

I have never felt the need to defend my perspective of my disease but here’s what I believe. Depression is a part of me – a big part. It has shaped the way I think about life, my family and my friends. I choose friends who accept me for all that I am, not for the best of me. It has made me a more empathetic person towards anyone suffering with anything, mental or physical. It has broadened my perspective of people, understanding that there is a place for everyone at life’s table. It has helped me be a better wife and parent (I hope) because I have become a good listener and kinder person.

I must make depression my friend or it will be my enemy and the more we hate something, the greater its power.

Depression is my old friend and I accept that it is a big part of me. It is not all of me, in the same way that people with other illnesses, mental or physical, don’t become their disease, so I don’t become mine. Acceptance, however, is key. Acceptance diminishes the impact of this disease immensely. With acceptance I lose shame. As a result, I can open up to new ideas and different ways to help myself. Most importantly, I can love myself.

So, depression, I will tend to you when you need me and when you are quiet I will keep you by my side in my warm, protective embrace, so that you can feel safe. I will not abandon you, my old friend.

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A Pelican, a Beach and a Human


A pelican came to my beach. I watched with both interest and amusement as it swooped down time and time again trying to catch a fish. While it glided through the sky with incredible grace it impacted the water with a heavy, loud clumsiness. It seemed to ignore the water’s surface to focus only on it’s silver prey just below. I found myself rooting for a successful dive. It didn’t care. The only difference between failure and success was a brief pause to throw back its neck to swallow the fish in one mighty gulp. And then up to try again. The boldness of this bird drew me. It’s prehistoric appearance made me acutely aware of its lengthy existence on this earth. I reflected on this wonderful bird. I welcomed it to my beach, recognized its beauty and felt a little smug with my appreciation of this miracle of nature.

But this was not my beach. I see a different perspective and feel humbled. The pelican didn’t give a hoot about my perception of ownership. It owned this beach and all the beaches. While I needed proof of mortgage, fortune of birthplace and luck of money, it needed nothing. Its ownership of the beach was dependent on simply being there and looked the same as its predecessors a hundred years ago and a thousand years before that. Mine, on the other hand was about as flimsy as the survival of a paper boat on rough seas. How easily we are able to fool ourselves. We ignore the tenuousness of human wealth to the point of stupidity. We let it define not only what we have, but also ridiculously who we are. Possession gives us a sense of invincibility. It draws us further away from becoming nothing until this inevitability of all man is buried so deeply under our pile of things, believing it is easy. Maybe we have to do this to survive our finite lives and moments of reflection like this should be just that – moments to remind us briefly to seek not only the joy that things give us but to know that our bare self underneath it all is someone we still know and love.

I gazed at the pelican on his beach and thought I heard a laugh in its screech.

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We Only Have 60 Years


If we manage to avoid cancer, heart disease or diabetes, get great genes and don’t develop Parkinson’s, MS or Alzheimer’s, and don’t crash a car or get hit by one, get struck by lightening or slip and break our necks, we could get really lucky and live to a hundred or more. Given the states of the first and last twenty years of our lives, we really only have 60 years, at our luckiest to make our mark on the world.

There are two ways to be. We can love or we can hate or so it seems when we start out. Because somehow in the disastrous fray of this world even the lovers come to hate the haters. Hate is our enemy. Hate solves nothing and yet we cling to it with righteous fervor. Wars don’t count. Wars kill my loved ones and yours. Social media perpetuates it. We show videos to support our beliefs and to discredit our enemy’s. We exist in a constant state of crowd mentality. Love and acceptance of all people is elbowed out. There is no room for it on our Facebook pages or in our hearts.

Research shows us that humans are born with a natural propensity for empathy. Empathy, the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, is our greatest weapon in the war on hatred. The empathy that we allow our children to develop and cultivate occurs early in their lives. In many cases, by the age of five we are already who we are to become.

Sixty years.

How can we mess up so badly. How can we teach some of our children to not fear death but to fear instead the disgrace and shame of not embracing it, that to be right is more important than happiness. As a mother it is beyond my understanding how parents can not want their child’s safety and happiness above all else. A mother’s instinct across the board of all living creatures is to fiercely protect their children. Humans are the only ones who have buried this basic instinct and allowed ourselves to believe that for the greater good it’s okay to send our children to fight our wars, to wear them as shields and to teach them that dying for our cause is a godly achievement. Let us love our children more than we hate each other.

And then the world and world leaders try with great futility to sort things out because we can rarely change adults once their course has been set in stone.

We have to reach the children. Children are the key to everything. Children are the beginning and the end.

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My Son Mooned Everyone At His Wedding and I Couldn’t Be Prouder


At his wedding, my youngest son stood up to give his much anticipated speech. His reputation as a public speaker is well known and he didn’t disappoint. His two older brothers had spoken about his eccentricity and how, as much as they love him, he is the weirdest guy they know. Half way through his, on point, hilariously funny speech, he calmly addressed his brothers’ comments by walking to the centre of the dance floor, pulling down his pants and slowly mooning everyone, possibly performing the first ever groom-moon.

Along with many others, I gasped and I held my mouth, muffling the words – OMG. I can only describe what happened next as a piece of my life flashing before my eyes. I realized many things in a matter of seconds. Here they are:

  1. I raised my kids to follow their truth, so put my money where my mouth is.
  2. Just because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.
  3. This kind of humour makes him uniquely him and I love all of him.
  4. Who cares what other people think.

My perception went from horrifying to hilarious in seconds and I laughed harder than anyone. Turned out the “moon” was hilarious to most and to those who weren’t amused – tough! I felt incredibly proud that I had raised a kid who could step away from the expected and be so okay with it. And seriously, is this any more risqué than string bikinis?

My quirky son is a paediatric resident and appreciates fully the frequent tragedy of life. He has more than his fair share of anxiety and holds onto a strong moral code, heading, each year, a Movember team – in great humorous spirit as his moustache growth is puny at best. His ability to find the fun in a life that so often feels overwhelmingly heavy is completely necessary so that when he has to, he can be his best.

Unlike others, I am privy to my son’s back-story. I don’t feel I have to explain to anyone why I am so proud of his “mooning” but I am doing so, as I believe the lesson to us all is to judge the actions of others less quickly and less harshly. My son would laugh at this last statement as one of the things he is fond of saying is “I judge people quickly and harshly with very little information!” Did I mention he’s hilarious?

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