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Hi All —

I’ve been checking in about once a day, but since we’re traveling and I don’t have too much access to a computer I have been very distracted from writing and posting!!

So, I just wanted to say hi, to say thanks for all the great posts and links to articles. I have printed some of them out so that I can read them on the plane.

I travel home on Wednesday (1/31) and so should be back “up and running” by Thursday sometime!!

Be well. Stay relaxed!

Hi, I’m Pete. By way of introduction, let me tell you two stories.

One particular day my wife had a class at 5:00, but she said they would just be getting into groups for an assignment and she should be out most likely by 5:45 or 6:00. I decided to hang out in my office and she could call me when she was done. Except that 6:00 came and went, then 6:30, and then it was coming up on 7:00 when my building closes. I couldn’t imagine what had happened to her. Or, rather, I could imagine all kinds of horrible things. She might have had an accident on the way to school. Maybe we got our signals crossed and she was expecting me to take the bus home. When do busses stop running in Detroit? It’s past 7:00 now, maybe they’re already done. Do I even have change? Her cell phone just kicks over to voicemail, so that’s even more frustrating. My my office was locked up so I had to get out and wander around our corner of Detroit worrying about the intentions of every man I saw walking towards me. I had no idea what to do, I was out of my mind, paralyzed by panic.

That’s how that story would have run if it had happened this past August. That was before medication, before therapy, and above all before I had a good understanding of how anxiety and panic were colouring my perception of the world. This is how it actually happened last night: I was hanging out in my office expecting to hear from my wife at about 5:45 or 6:00, but by nearly 7:00, when the office floors of my building lock up for the night, I still hadn’t heard anything and her cell phone just kicked over to voicemail. It occurred to me that she might have had an accident or that maybe I had misunderstood and she was expecting me to take the bus home. It also occurred to me that maybe the prof had decided to talk a lot longer about the group project than she had thought he would. I couldn’t stay in my office anymore, so I walked over to the parking structure to see if the car is in the usual spot. On the way my phone buzzed. Her class rang longer than she thought and she couldn’t get out to call me earlier, but she’d be at the car in 5 minutes.

Obviously this isn’t saying much about how you can overcome anxiety, nor is there any one way to do it. Everyone has to find what works for them and then stick with it until it stops working. My point here is that you can get better. During the Summer I would hardly have believed it was possible to feel calm again. It seemed like it was against the laws of nature, this is how I was and it was how I would stay. Now I can hardly put myself back in my old mindset. Overcoming anxiety isn’t easy, but regardless of what your panic tells you, it is very possible and you have to KNOW that.

Matthiew Ricard The Independent, a UK paper, recently published an article about Matthieu Ricard. Here’s an excerpt:

To scientists, he is the world’s happiest man. His level of mind control is astonishing and the upbeat impulses in his brain are off the scale.

Now Matthieu Ricard, 60, a French academic-turned-Buddhist monk, is to share his secrets to make the world a happier place. The trick, he reckons, is to put some effort into it. In essence, happiness is a “skill” to be learned.

[…]

…Ricard, who is the French interpreter for Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, took part in trials to show that brain training in the form of meditation can cause an overwhelming change in levels of happiness.

MRI scans showed that he and other long-term meditators – who had completed more than 10,000 hours each – experienced a huge level of “positive emotions” in the left pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is associated with happiness. The right-hand side, which handles negative thoughts, is suppressed.

I’d love to quote more but I don’t want to step on any copyright toes, so just read the article. It’s short. Science is only now beginning to confirm what Buddhists (and some other meditation-based groups) have known for millennia: happiness is achievable by anyone who is willing to work for it. While there may be many routes to achieve such things, meditation is the most proven.

I do take one issue with this article in that it refers to meditation as teaching “mind control” and “suppression.” This is wrong. I’m unaware of any Buddhist tradition (or non-Buddhist tradition) that attempts to control the mind or suppress negative feelings. In fact, meditation is exactly the opposite. Meditation is a method of allowing negative feelings to enter the mind without judgment. We don’t solve problems during meditation, we just see them so clearly that we let go of them. We allow them to dry up and disappear.

Many people misunderstand meditation as mind control. Meditation is not mind control. Mind control is impossible. Meditation is simply a way to train the mind to see through all of our bull. It allows us to see how we treat ourselves and others without entering into an internal dialogue as to justify our actions. It’s a way of looking at ourselves to discover the painful truths which we consistently hide from, and, eventually it’s a way to discover that true happiness comes in the revelation that all of life is transient and is to be cherished while it’s here. It teaches us to live right here, right now, in this very moment, because it will soon be gone.

This is something we can all achieve. It is not magical, mystical, or reserved for hermits who sit in caves for years on end. This is something you can do on your own, just as you would exercise every day if you wanted to lose weight. And there’s the caveat: it requires diligence, practice, and persistence even when it feels like a waste of time. In this respect, it is very similar to physical exercise: we have to be willing to do it on a regular basis and suspend our desire for immediate results. If you’d like to learn more on meditation or Buddhism, check out my list of recommended books. Two in particular: Breath by Breath by Larry Rosenberg, and Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana. These two books have taught me more about meditation, life, and happiness than anything else I’ve ever read.

I heard a few interesting stories this morning on NPR about magnetic pulse treatment, or transcranial magnetic stimulation, as a potential last-resort treatment for depression. The concept behind this treatment is to provide the brain with a magnetic pulse that stimulates neurons. It’s similar to another treatment which works in the same fashion but uses small electrical currents as opposed to magnetic fields. You can follow the links above to hear two short audio clips (from NPR) about this treatment.

I’m a skeptic, but hey, as long as it doesn’t hurt anything…

I’d like to write some posts on Jung’s psychology and how it has helped me deal with panic and anxiety. I don’t want to write long missives or treatises, so I just thought I’d put my intention out here for a few days and then post some stuff. If anyone finds it too boring or confusing just tell me to shut up!!

In a nice way, of course! LOL!

Scientific American has this article about TeenScreen, a new “national mental health and suicide risk screening program…” for teenagers.

Past studies have revealed that parents do not know of suicide attempts 90 percent of the time. In fact, roughly one third to two thirds of suicidal teens do not reveal past attempts to anyone.

Teens with mental disorders are at even greater risk—roughly 90 percent of teens who died by suicide had a psychiatric illness at the time of their deaths, according to research by child psychologist David Shaffer at Columbia University. Nearly two thirds of youth who die by suicide exhibit psychiatric symptoms for more than a year beforehand, which makes this time a significant window for potential intervention.

Flynn is now executive director of TeenScreen, a national mental health and suicide risk screening program based on Shaffer’s research. In 2005 the program screened more than 55,000 teens at 460 sites in 42 states and they hope to have exceeded 500 sites by the end of 2006. “The idea is to identify risks early to prevent tragedies,” Flynn says. “It’s amazing when kids who are really struggling and don’t know why then learn what’s going on and that there are things that can help.”

Keep in mind that this screening program is not mandatory. Given this, I’m a bit surprised at the controversy that TeenScreen has caused. The article mentions a number of critics — including Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) — although none are directly quoted in any detail. It speaks volumes to note that some people are actually opposed to mental health screening. Yes, opposed to it. What good could possibly come from opposing something as potentially beneficial as a simple mental health screening? From my standpoint, the only thing one could possibly gain is denial. Although attitudes are changing, much of our society still ostracizes and stigmatizes people with mental/emotional problems. It’s a damn shame.

Of course there will always be a debate on the details of such screenings, and such debate is both necessary and critical to the program’s success; but forthright opposition to screening makes no sense to me. If a teen is feeling suicidal, then it is crucial that he or she receive treatment as soon as possible. Some people want to pretend that depression is something that happens only to weak people, the ones who take medications they don’t need and whine to psychiatrists. But this cultural construct is bullshit and it’s high time that our society recognizes mental illnesses as potentially affecting everyone, even those who routinely deny their own weaknesses.

Would you oppose a screening for diabetes? What about scoliosis screenings? Hearing and vision screenings? The only difference between these common screenings and mental health screening is the social stigma attached to mental illness. That’s it.

I fully understand the concerns about pharmaceutical companies pushing anti-depressants onto teens and pre-teen children. Anti-depressants are greatly abused in the United States and other Western countries, especially when it comes to children. But medication is not the only approach to healing emotional pain, and some treatment is better than no treatment, whether or not medication is a part of that treatment. Denying the problem will not make it go away.

Visit the TeenScreen website for more on the program.

Six months ago I knew I was in trouble. Anxiety and stress were pushing me towards an early grave. I started to feel depressed. Dangerously depressed. The light was starting to fade, the darkness was setting in and I embodied fear. I was fearful, pessimistic and on the edge.

But I’ve always been a “doer”. I do. That’s me. I move, I shake, I mold and I get things done. My way. I take control. Movement keeps me healthy. That’s what I’ve always told myself. Never stay still. Don’t stop. Don’t hesitate.

And I’m not just talking about physical movement. I’m talking about emotional movement. Spiritual movement. Intellectual movement. Movement through time, changing my surroundings, myself. Just movement in any form you can find it.

So I did something. I reached out. I found a society on the web – http://www.panicsurvivor.com – and that’s where I met Josh and Cindy (and many others). It helped a lot. For one thing it swept away my loneliness.

I saw endless posts that could have been written by me. They described experiences and feelings I truly knew as my own. I recognized the fear and the anxiety. I recognized the awareness of sure madness that was clouded by doubt. “I know this chest pain is just anxiety related but still… what if it isn’t!”.

Slowly but surely this feeling of community began stripping away my own fears. A wonderful doctor and an incredible family also helped tremendously but the community was key. I also initiated big changes in my life. Then I began writing posts for WeWorry.

And then I disappeared.

Why? Because I suddenly felt different. I think I discovered something I wasn’t really looking for (or looking out for). I’m a doer. I keep moving. I never stop. Until recently.

Without trying I’ve seemed to have learned that it is okay to stop for awhile. To enjoy the present, smile, breathe and reflect on both past and future. It is okay to relax.

This might seem obvious. It might even seem trivial. But to me it was neither. By constantly moving I was able to drown my constantly chattering brain with white noise. I was able to silence the voices of anxiety and worry almost perfectly. The keyword here is ALMOST.

They never stopped. They never gave up. That meant that they were always there when I had nothing to over shout them with. And they were constantly growing louder and louder.

So I finally decided to face them. Some I managed to silence for good, some I learned to control better. Some I even listen to, from time to time. But most of all I realized that movement won’t save me from myself. Movement is still important because I have to keep pushing myself but I also have to face my fears and I have to be able to stop. To enjoy now.

So I suddenly felt different. I felt no need to visit PanicSurvivor or WeWorry. Maybe a part of me was afraid of it. Feeling that if I did my anxiety and worry would come back with a vengeance. Like opening the door out of curiosity only to find out that the monster is still there.

But now I’m back. Mainly to stay focused, tell my stories and move on (keep moving). And, of course, to keep up the fight. Because I know the monster is still there. It’s just sleeping, at the moment. And while it slept I was able to tie it down. I hope the rope will hold.

P.S. One advice. I changed my diet. I’ve lost 18 pounds. It works wonders.

I am finding that my level of anxiety is directly and proportionally linked to the way I talk.

Big news, right?

But for me it is another moment of self-awareness. When I find myself talking to others and hear myself using phrases like “huge problem” and “biggest fear” I am literally talking myself into panic. I am blowing my fear up into a larger-than-life issue. I’m creating a new perspective for that fear (or symptom).

Journalling and blogging helps because I can see just how many times I refer to something, or repeat something, and I can reflect on that and see if I am working myself up into a lather.

Meditation, focused breathing, or a nice, brisk walk helps me calm down. There are many things I can do to get my THINKING back on track, and to put my ‘problem’ in its true perspective. It is more-often-than-not just a thought or a fear. The thing I talk about is rarely my actual ‘biggest’ problem. So I am now focusing on how I talk, the words I use and perhaps I’ll find myself less afraid. A little less anxious.

Well, actually I know that I’ll find myself a little less afraid and a little less anxious. That’s how it works!!

Here’s a story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about a woman whose phobia of doctors and “medical settings” caused her to overlook the growth of a uterine fibroid, a “benign [tumor] composed of muscle and connective tissue that develop within or along the uterine wall.” Her tumor had grown so large that she appeared to be seven months pregnant.

Interestingly, her phobia doesn’t seem to have been directly connected with a fear of disease. Rather, it was doctors, hospitals and the like that caused her anxiety, which manifested in the form of a panic attack. Most of us deal with a fear of disease, which in turn often translates to a fear of death, and this usually have two outcomes: 1) We seek a doctor’s assistance more often in the hopes that it’ll allay our fears; or 2) We avoid doctors because the thought of discovering illness is enough to provoke anxiety.

If you fall into the first category, here’s a bit of advice: You should always see a doctor when you’re concerned about serious health problems, but once you’ve done so, you have to let it go. You can visit a doctor every week and your fears would still not be contained. Constantly seeking reassurance only encourages anxiety and allows it take root. You have to find the strength to resist the urge to run to the doctor every time you sneeze. Try to be rational about it by explaining your symptoms to an unbiased third-party.

If you’re a member of the second category, try to keep regular doctor’s appointments regardless of how you feel. This allows you to experience the doctor’s office without the fear of discovering a terrible illness. If you were to visit only when you’re experiencing high anxiety, then you’ll quickly associate the doctor with high anxiety.

“This we can all bear witness to, living as we do plagued by unremitting anxiety. It becomes more and more imperative that the life of the spirit be avowed as the only firm basis upon which to establish happiness and peace.” — Dalai Lama

"Drag your thoughts away from your troubles... by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it." -- Mark Twain

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