Losing The Stigma Of Mental Health Issues

“We want to let people living with mental health challenges know that they are not alone, and we’ve got to be making sure that we’re committed to support those fellow Americans, because struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating,”
– Barack Obama

I write quite a bit about my observations of the world or ways in which I’m starting to gain a foot hold in my battle against anxiety. I also write about things I’m doing and new habits I’m forming but I don’t write a lot about my anxiety and how it affects me throughout the week.  I’ve decided to make Fridays “Mental Health Friday”.  I may write about myself or an article I’ve read, I may write about a friend or a fellow blogger (I will never mention names unless this person says it’s ok).

I was thinking about the stigma of mental health issues and was poking around on the internet when I found the above quote from American President, Barack Obama.  This is not a blog about politics, it’s just a quote I could relate to.

I like to read various ADHD forums online.  It is always so hard to see a parent of a child who is recently diagnosed with ADHD or even an adult themselves, who feel like their lives are over and don’t know where to turn for help.  This is because our society has made ADHD out to be a bad thing and it carries a stigma with it.  I’ve often told people that I consider my ADHD to be a good thing.  After all, there’s nothing I can do to change this fact.  It is something I live with, that is a part of me but it doesn’t define me so why should I feel like it is a bad thing?  I speak freely of it and tell my friends and co-workers about it.  I try to educate people with facts when they try to spread much of the misinformation that is out there.

Anxiety is another thing that people try to hide.  Why hide it?  For years I didn’t realize why I had these terrible feelings and many people thought I was a loose cannon or simply crazy.  They didn’t understand why I could be so happy one minute and in a panic, getting loud and being difficult the next minute.  It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with anxiety in 2005 that it started to click in my head why I acted in such a way.  It took another friend being diagnosed and being open about it that got me to make an appointment.

It wouldn’t be until just a couple of years ago that I started being more open, myself, about my challenges.  I started talking about it on social media and my wonderful wife followed suit and started being open about my anxiety and her bipolar as well.  It helped me and our friends to be more patient and work through this.  Jesus said, “you will know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”  I’m sure he wasn’t talking about mental health issues but it felt so freeing to tell people the truth.  Just as I have always been open about my ADHD, I was now open about my anxiety.

The best part about being open about my mental health is that it’s helped others connect with me.  They too have their struggles, they cannot believe I deal with anxiety and they are happy to not be alone in this challenge.  While many of them are not as open, a feeling I understand and will support them, they have found someone safe that they can confide in and discuss ways to deal with it.  I’ve learned a lot from them as well.

I’ve heard that what you put out in the universe will come back to you ten fold.  When I talk about my anxiety issues and how I deal with them, and as a result my friends come to me, that is how I get my returns.  The exchange of advice is my reward, as well as the friendships it creates. The returns are far more meaningful that one small act of mentioning my challenges.

If you are dealing with mental health issues, whether it be anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, depression or any other disorder, please speak to someone about it.  Talk to your friends about it, see a doctor and communicate with your doctor during the treatment process to find a treatment that works for you.  A better life is out there, you just need to be shown the way.

Free yourself of the burden of hiding it as well.  There will be far more people who support you than those who criticize you.  The more we talk about it, the more education we can get out there and the less stigma it will carry.  While I am not a doctor and am not qualified to treat such conditions, you are always welcome to speak of your issues in the comments or email (my email address is in the side bar in the about me section).

Be well. Be positive.

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Being a Better Giver

In 2004 and 2005 I was mostly unemployed.  I was working one part time job a couple of days a week and once in a while I would get a day long gig from a temp agency.  I was on unemployment as well.  This was the lowest point for me financially but my wife and I made a practice out of giving.

We were random givers.  We would give to homeless people and people we would come across who needed it more than us, if that was possible.  I remember being in Gainsville, FL and seeing a homeless man between two trash cans.  He was leaning up against one trash can with dirty tattered clothes, an old backpack and an over grown beard.  He had a defeated look on his face and my wife and I felt so bad for him.  We watched as person after person passed him by without noticing him at all.  My wife, on her way out of the convenience store we were at, handed him $20 and asked if he was ok.  He looked shocked.  He said he was fine and graciously accepted the money.

I don’t like to tell people about my giving.  I am private about it because I don’t believe we should do it for show or to be praised.  With that said, I share this example because of how it impacted us in the end.  We left feeling good that someone would, hopefully, have a meal that night and perhaps more.  The homeless man left with a potential feeling of relief for the night.  It was a moment that made the world a little bit better at the time.

As I said, we were in a very low financial place.  We gave with faith and somehow we paid the bills.  We didn’t have cable for a lot of that time but we didn’t need it.  We still had electricity and water as well as a roof over our head. In the end, I started making very good money for a time and our giving increased.

When I look back, I don’t know how the bills got paid.  It was nothing short of a miracle.  I give praise to God and feel as if karma helped us.  It was all because of our habit of giving.  Somewhere along the line the giving tapered off.  I regularly give but it’s different now.  I haven’t randomly given much in a long time.  Not directly to the people who need it either.  I honestly feel that you get back more good than you put out.  I don’t want to do it for selfish reasons because it’ll come back either.  I genuinely enjoy the feeling of giving.

My wife and I have decided to budget money out of every check to give.  We keep it in cash and give when the opportunity arises.  We’ve come up with ideas for ways we can give if we can’t find someone but so far that hasn’t been, and I doubt ever will be, a problem.  Instead of being afraid that I wont have money for bills, I need to have faith that things will be ok.

Waking Up To A World That Was Always There

A few years ago I was riding my motorcycle.  As I was approaching another road that I would be turning left on to an SUV, without signalling, started changing lanes in to mine.  I hit my brakes and horn and luckily avoided an accident.  As a motorcyclist this is, unfortunately, something that I deal with often.

As I pulled up to the red light, behind the lady who cut me off, I see her throwing her hands up in the air and suddenly rolls down the window.  She started yelling at me, “how am I supposed to know to look out for motorcycles?!”  Baffled, I opened my shield and called back, “the same way you know to look for children and cars.”  She rolled up her window and that was the end of it.

Her reaction shocked me more than anything but I wonder if it really should have.  All too often I also find myself mindlessly going through life reacting and following my routine without thought.

After reading “Wisdom of Insecurity” and currently reading Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” has opened my eyes.  I’ve become more mindful and aware of the world around me.  It is a beautiful place.  Even today, it’s 50 degrees (F), a little rainy and there’s no sunshine.  The world doesn’t stop for that.  Nature happens, trees still spread their branches and lift to the sky, the animals go about their daily lives, birds make noises in the trees, the wind rustles leaves and the clouds float quietly past.

There is an amazing world happening all around you right this moment.  You may be in your living room or office or maybe even in a tiny bathroom but it is still there.  Sit quietly for a moment and close your eyes.  Start to hear the room.  Listen for sounds and if there are no sounds then listen to the quiet.  Listen to your breathing for a minute, what does it sound like? Maybe you hear a passing car, a cooling fan from a computer or cable box, maybe you hear your heating/cooling system.

God gave us this world and it is a special place.  We just need to open our eyes and be aware of what’s happening around us.  When you’re in your car driving, don’t just pay attention to the tail lights of the car in front of you, notice the trees you pass, the grass on the side of the road, the sky above you and all that it does.

Have you ever stopped to think about that for a moment?  What does the sky do?  Does it just sit there? No, it changes from day to night and we can see the whole universe laid out before us, there are clouds that pass by, the sun and the moon move throughout the day and night.  Everything is constantly in motion because if it didn’t then life would be dull.  Even take notice of the space between objects.

See beyond yourself.

Be well, be positive

Meditation and Relaxation

My wife is always saying to me, “Just relax!”  To which I reply, “I don’t know how to relax.”  It is very rare that I simply kick back and really relax.  I’m constantly moving, getting up to get something, working…etc.  So it was very nice yesterday when I downloaded a meditation program from Project Meditation and was able to spend an hour relaxing.

In 2009 I started meditating as a way to cope with my anxiety.  I felt like I got very good at it and would seem to enter an almost trance like state.  The feeling was euphoric and I feel as if I almost became addicted to that feeling.  Unfortunately, after about three months of meditating daily for 20 minutes, I started to feel as if I was losing my mind.  I had a constant feeling of dread and fatigue.  I was no longer relaxed and became quite unpleasant to be around.  I stopped meditating and these feelings faded within a matter of days.

In 2011 I tried again but this time using a meditation technique that included audio files with binaural sound waves.  The idea is that the sounds will cause your brain to be tuned to the same frequencies as the audio files.  It’s scientifically proven and did work for me.  Again, after a few months, I started to feel like I was losing it again.

I’ve done a lot of research and found that this can be normal.  It is one final road block on the path to peace.  This time I’m determined to get through it.  Although I don’t like to take it, I have anxiety medication that can help me get through this point and still come out with my marriage intact.

So during yesterday’s meditation session, the narrator walked us through the process in a 20 minute audio file.  He explained the benefits of meditation and what to expect.  Then he had us do a short meditation to get started.  After the short practice meditation he told us to play a different audio file where we would meditate for 10 minutes.

The basic idea is that you pick a mantra that you repeat over and over while letting other thoughts pass and trying to clear your mind as much as possible  He says to try to think your mantra in a rhythm that syncs to your breathing but also that the rhythm can vary if you’d like.

Over the course of 10 minutes, I feel as if I had very few thoughts.  I felt very relaxed and at ease but seemed to notice and be aware of my surroundings despite the fact that my eyes were closed.  I felt the anxiety and fatigue of the day dissipate and a sense of calm fill it’s space.  For the rest of the day I felt like I was able to handle life’s challenges with ease.

I’m in no way saying that I’ve become a Zen master.  This was just one experience but I believe in the benefits of meditation.  Being still and not doing anything is always going to be relaxing.

A couple of months ago I asked someone on an online forum about my negative experiences with meditation.  He said I may need a therapist (which is true) but then he said that the deep euphoric trance like state I achieved isn’t the point of meditation.  He said, “what did meditation teach you?”  A question I had no answer to.  It didn’t teach me anything.  He didn’t elaborate on that question.  He doesn’t have the answer, only I can answer that.

I’ve heard that Zen masters will some times sneak up on their students while they’re meditating and hit them in the back with a stick.  This is to find out if the student is fully aware or if they’ve fallen asleep to entered a trance.  Yesterday, I felt very aware of my surroundings and feel like this is a good sign that I’m on the right track.

I think this is going to be a great journey.  Do you meditate? Do you have any insight you’d like to share?

Be well, be positive.

Layering My Journey

Life is a series of moment strung together one by one.  By the time we all go to bed at night we’ve accomplished many different things.  I’m willing to bet that almost all of you wake up, get out of bed, eat at some point, use the restroom and eventually lay back down in bed.

This was a very busy weekend for me.  Friday I sent my kids off to school and had very few plans for the day.  While I was walking home from the bus stop my friend Juan was driving by and asked if I wanted to run up to Wawa (a gas station/sandwich shop nearby) for coffee.  I had coffee waiting for me at home and I had to meet a friend who was coming in from out of town but I accepted his offer anyway.  I hadn’t seen Juan in a while and the 15 minutes it would take to go get coffee (to go) with him would be time well spent.

Normally, I would spend that time looking at the clock and obsessing about getting back in time to meet my other friend.  Instead, I made a calculated decision and decided that I could go and be back on time without worry.  So that’s what I did.  Instead of watching the clock, I enjoyed my time chatting with Juan.

Once I got back, however, I didn’t have time to sit.  I left right away and headed out.  I wrote Friday in my “Traffic And Life” post about how I decided to enjoy my time stuck in traffic instead of worrying about being on time.  In the end, everything was ok.  When it was time for Derek to leave, I made it back to my side of town in time to enjoy lunch with my wife and a friend.  Not only that but there was plenty of time for me to go running before I had to run out to the store to grab some things for dinner (it was pay day!) before my wife and I headed out to see a friend for her birthday.

During this whole busy day, I noticed a lot of down time in between.  Not between every event of the day but it was there.  It got me thinking about my daily routine.  I have more than enough time to write my bog, read… etc.  So I started thinking about what I could add that would enhance my life right now.

In 2009 I got in to meditation.  It worked, and it worked well.  At times, I had never felt better.  Unfortunately, after about 3 months, I started feeling like I was losing my mind so I quit.  I’ve since learned that this is common and that if you can just keep going, things will improve greatly.  20 minutes of my day is all I need to practice meditation so that is what I’m adding.  I’m laying my recovery efforts.  My running is going well, I’ve been reading and following the advice of my books and I’m starting to feel better.  I have days I could be doing yoga but have not yet started because I was getting acclimated to running.  I now feel like I can add that as well.

My giants are not all the same and my journey wont be a single straight line to confront them either.  If I’m going to be successful, I have to immerse myself in this journey and follow many paths at the same time.

My anxiety manifests itself in many different ways and I plan to stand up to it in many different ways.

Be well, be positive.

Traffic and Life

Today I got up early and went to meet a friend of mine on the other side of town.  He was in town from Michigan (where I grew up).  When I got on the highway I was suddenly trapped in grid locked traffic.  Since I had nothing else to do, I was watching the other cars as they weaved themselves in and out of lanes trying to find the best lane to get ahead.  In the end, no one really gets ahead, lanes stop as suddenly as they start moving and when you get in to the lane that is moving it stops and your previous lane starts.

This is a lot how people live their lives.  It’s how I’ve tried to live, always trying to get ahead by changing my lane in life.  For some reason it never seems to work.  There have been many times when I have moved forward in life but it was because of moves that felt natural.  At this point in my life I could change jobs and really be no more ahead than I am now but I would lose some of my vacation time.

Heavy traffic brings out the worst in people.  It brings out frustration and anxiety.  Why? Because people are so worried about getting to their destination and what they can attempt to improve their situation instead of enjoying the situation.  You may call me crazy, but I’ve had times when I’ve enjoyed my time stuck in traffic.

No, I don’t enjoy sitting on the highway but you can always make the best of it.  Today I watched the other cars and enjoyed the beautiful blue sky, the palm trees and my city.  Years ago, as a truck driver, I cleaned out my truck while dead stopped on a highway for two hours.  I once was traveling with a girlfriend and we were stopped on a highway for an hour without moving.  We chatted with other motorists and played soccer with some people in the median.

One of the most calming things, to me, is driving in a snow storm.  You cannot change it, so you have to slow down and just accept that there’s a snow storm.  No one ever expected me to be on time in a snow storm so there was no hurry.  Once I stopped and had a nice dinner because the snow was slowing me down and it had gotten so late that I was hungry.

These are some extreme examples.  Today, I was held up for about 15 minutes, but these 15 minutes I gave to myself to enjoy rather than stress out about.  I did change lanes once but that was because the right lanes were blocked off due to a truck losing his load of wood planks.  To be honest, I’d rather be stuck in the traffic than causing the traffic jam myself.  It’s as the old Monty Python song goes, “Always look on the bright side of life.”

Be well, be positive.