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Just a quick note to update – we’re in Ontario, Canada! We’ve driven over 2000 miles already and are enjoying ourselves immensely.

My panic and anxiety has been pretty minimal! Staying in the moment, really being present to where we are and soaking up the place has been key to this serenity!

For the next few days we’ll be in Stratford and attending some Shakespeare plays! There is a beautiful lake with ducks and swans, meditative walking paths and precious birds and flowers and trees to soothe the soul!

The weather has been lovely – though a bit hotter than we’d hoped! 🙂 I think the Canadians are enjoying it though!

More later – hope everyone takes some time this summer to get out and enjoy the season and the nature that is around us! Nature really makes a difference to my anxiety level — keeping it VERY low!

Raw numbers don’t lie: more people are reporting problems with anxiety than ever before. I wrote a post a while back that casually explores this phenomenon and proposes a few simple explanations as to why this is the case. Regardless of its cause, with increasing numbers of anxiety sufferers comes a very strong financial niche for those who choose to exploit this suffering.

I do not (and will not) attempt to hide my disgust with such people; so I offer this as a disclaimer: I am adamantly opposed to any individual or organization that sells any program that claims to treat your anxiety for a fee that exceeds the cost of the production of the materials. In other words, if the individual/organization makes any sort of profit of such programs, I’m against it.

Read the rest of this entry »

A common argument in favor of medication is that, like any other illness, there’s no shame in taking medication for anxiety. It’s true that medications, especially SSRIs like Prozac, Zoloft, and Lexapro, adjust the brain chemistry in a way that reduces anxiety. Whether this “chemical imbalance” is naturally occuring or the result of our bad habits is a common source of contention, but we won’t go into that in this article. Rather, we will focus on a particular attitude that’s seen among the anxious. That attitude is best defined as “weakness.”

Disregarding medication because one doesn’t want to be “weak” is no different from any other fear. In this case, the fear is that we’re inherently unable to cope with life and that we need medication to help us get by. How many times have we heard others say, “I don’t want to be weak. I don’t want to take medications forever. I can do this on my own.” If you’ve made any progress in your recovery then you already know that what you want is completely irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what is. As with all fears, this fear of weakness is something that must be confronted. If you support this attitude, you’re likely supporting it with the same negative thought patterns that create your fears in the first place; this, in turn, only contributes to your anxiety.

Your ego is your greatest obstacle. Your ego tells you to be strong. Your ego tells you that you need not resort to medication. Your ego tells you that you’ll never recover. Your ego tells you that you need to do this, or that, or the other thing. In short, your ego is a non-stop source of worthless jabber. The sooner you stop listening to these irrational ramblings the sooner you’ll be able to see reality. The truth of what you’re dealing with is right in front of your face, but your ego wants to protect you from that truth.

Think of it this way: if your ego is telling you to be strong, that’s because you feel weak; otherwise, you wouldn’t need to feel strong. You’d know you were strong. Your ego is very adept at lying to you. The best solution to this is to learn to distance yourself from your ego’s incessant chatter. Question it at every opportunity. For example, if you catch yourself thinking, “I don’t want to take medications, I need to be strong,” then look at this closely. The only reason you’re telling yourself this is because you know you’re weak and you’re denying this. Instead, acknowledge that you’re suffering and that you need help. Yes, you may be weak right now, but strength is something that can be built and the first step in building strength is in embracing yourself, weakness and all.

If you allow your pride to get in the way of your recovery, you’re playing right into the hands of your “anxiety factory.” Forget pride. There’s no place for it here. You’re in the business of recovering from chronic anxiety and this requires a delicate, compassionate view toward yourself. You cannot be compassionate so long as you continuously reinforce your fears with nonsense about “being strong” or doing this “on my own.” These types of thoughts are the antithesis to compassion. They are, in essence, you beating up on yourself.

There is no shame in taking medications. When someone breaks a leg, they need a crutch to keep the weight off while their body does the difficult work of healing. The same goes for your mind and your emotions. When you’re suffering from chronic anxiety, there is absolutely no shame in using medications as a crutch while you’re in the process of recovery. We wouldn’t berate someone with a broken leg for using a crutch. There’s no weakness in it. The leg can’t heal without the crutch. Just the same, your mind can’t heal without a crutch. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you need medications, but one crutch is as good as another.

However, if you use medications as a way to avoid acknowledging your fears, then you’re again doing yourself a disservice. The trick is in finding a balance. We should never use medications (or alcohol, drugs, religion, or anything else) as a shield to protect us from what we fear. This behavior, in turn, forces the fear to dive below the surface where it will do more damage, only to surface at a later time of weakness. Rather, we use them as a way to help us develop the proper attitude, the proper perspective, and the proper coping mechanisms to deal with our fears. It’s incredibly difficult to do this while one is in the midst of constant panic attacks or chronic anxiety. You need a crutch to take the weight off while you’re in the process of recovery. If you use no crutch, you will make little progress.

Even if you end up taking medication for the rest of your life, so be it. Sometimes the leg just won’t heal and we may need a crutch for life. So long as you’re always focused on recovery — in the sense that you recognize that recovery requires that we work and not become complacent or lazy — then you’re doing your part and there’s no shame in it. Similarly, if you continually tell yourself that it’s okay to take medications because you’re “broken” then you’re again falling into the traps of egoism. You’re not broken, your ego just tells you this to keep you from feeling the sting of the truth that you’re not as strong you think you are and that you need help. It’s okay to admit that we need help. Be compassionate with yourself.

In summary, if your ego is getting in your way, push it aside. Free yourself from the bonds of pride. Medications are a viable treatment and they work surprisingly well for many people. There’s no shame in using crutches to give the mind and body time to heal. So feel free to explore whatever options are available to you.

Here are three very powerful and very easy things I try to do on a regular basis to reduce stress and control my anxiety. These have worked for me and I know that these methods have even been scientifically proven – they reduce blood pressure, reduce stress hormones and increase the release of other chemicals in the body that create a feeling of wellness. I’ll write more about these scientific measures at a later date, though.

For now I just want to introduce you to three of my favorite methods for dealing with stress, anxiety and life, in general. They are all completely free and incredibly easy to learn (because you know them already). The key to make these methods work for you is practice. Like with everything else, practice makes perfect.

  1. Belly Breathing – A few deep breaths can instantly relieve stress. Take a slow, deep breath and try to imagine that you are inflating a balloon in your stomach. When “the balloon is full” hold your breath for approximately 4 seconds and then release your breath slowly. Repeat 10 times. Some people (even scholars) think this is the quickest, most efficient way to relax. It can even help with high blood pressure. Daily practice can reduce overall stress and anxiety. Try to begin and end each day by doing this.
  2. Smile – A smile is a very powerful thing – even when it is forced. The brain somehow tries to authenticate a forced smile so within a few seconds it has conjured up happy memories that turn that fake and forced smile into a genuine reflection of feeling good. Just try it out. And smiling is an instant relief for pain, anxiety and stress. Thinking about a loved one, a happy moment, a wonderful time. It brings a smile and makes it impossible to be bothered by stress.
  3. Slowing down – It is really important to learn how to slow down. Take the time to enjoy each moment. To focus on what you are doing right now. Look at something – a flower or running water, for instance – and focus on it completely. Direct all your attention towards it. Listen to it. Smell it. Feel it. Let your mind wander. Accept the world – at that moment – for what it is, with all its pain and all its pleasure. Embrace the moment and just feel calm. Don’t think about what you’ll have to do next or what is waiting for you. Just think about your point of focus. Try to notice the taste of your food, the next time you eat. Really focus on the taste and think about the texture, the flavor, the toughness, etc. Slow down. Relax. Enjoy this moment, for it too will pass.

One of the most commonly heard questions on internet anxiety-support forums is some variation of: “Is this Generalized Anxiety or Panic Disorder?” Much discussion revolves around the diagnoses and their symptoms, yet the most important thing you will ever learn about your diagnosis is this: it’s largely irrelevant. Aside from the insurance companies and the FDA’s medication standards, your diagnosis has little bearing on your recovery.

The anxiety disorders fall on a spectrum and there is rarely an individual who shows signs of one without showing signs of another. Many people ultimately diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) typically show signs of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). For example, many GADers experience chronic, nagging fears about their health (mental or physical); this is sometimes referred to as hypochondriasis or “health anxiety.” You may not realize it, but your constant thinking and analyzing of physical or mental symptoms is actually a ritual. So is your constant need for reassurance. If you find new symptoms and then rigorously search for relief from Dr. Google, then you’re performing a ritual. We often know this ritual won’t help much, but we can’t help it, we just have to know about the disease we fear so much.

When people think of OCD, they usually think of the Hollywood version: a quirky guy or gal who repeatedly locks his door or who obsessively avoids stepping on cracks in the sidewalk. While this image is true for a lot of OCD sufferers, the vast majority of individuals with OCD do not perform rituals of this type. In fact, according to Dr. Jonathan Grayson and Dr. Lee Baer (and others), most people with OCD do not use any form of “obvious” ritualizing. This is sometimes referred to as “Pure-O” OCD, meaning “pure obsession.” Mental rituals are also common in people with GAD. Analyzing oneself in circles to the point of exhaustion is quite obviously a ritual in which the individual hopes to find relief by thinking about the problem, as if it could be somehow solved through rigorous analysis. (You’re not going to prevent death or illness by thinking about it, I promise you.)

In his book Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty, Dr. Grayson notes that individuals with anxiety disorders are almost always obsessive about their fears and they perform rituals without ever recognizing that they’re doing so. There’s a thin line between “coping technique” and “ritual.” Unfortunately, doctors are reluctant to make an OCD diagnosis unless the rituals are bizarre. According to some doctors, if you search the internet for comfort, that’s GAD; but if you spin in circles, that’s OCD.

One of the largest problems facing people with anxiety disorders is this concern with diagnosis. Far too much emphasis is placed on diagnosis and too little is placed upon the common factors that unify all anxiety disorders. Many people don’t realize that fear is fear, despite whether it’s called “GAD,” “OCD,” or “happy monkeys.” In most cases, the course of treatment is the same for all anxiety disorders (including simple phobias): exposure, deconditioning, medication, therapy, stress reduction, maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

This isn’t to say that there are no differences between the disorders, but these differences are not clear-cut and relate almost exclusively to the source of the fear. For those with GAD or OCD, the source of fear may be anything that causes unrelenting anxiety, such as health worries, or worries about children or family-members. For Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), the source of fear is limited to social situations or public speaking, although most people with anxiety disorders fear public places and public speaking. For PD, the fear revolves around panic attacks themselves, although almost everyone with an anxiety disorder experiences panic attacks regularly; and people with PD usually develop obsessive fears of panic attacks that leads to all sorts of behaviors. If you think about all of the “althoughs” that we could place into this paragraph, you’d soon realize that the disorders are more alike than they are different. Their common denominator: extreme, unremitting fear.

Another difference that is of a bit more significance is how one deals with the anxiety. A GADer and OCDer will respond similarly with some sort of ritual behavior that alleviates anxiety. For PDers, SADers, and PTSDers, the primary response is usually one of avoidance. But here again, GADers and OCDers also use a lot of avoidance behaviors to cope. Finally, there is one major difference that must be considered. Biology plays an undetermined role in all anxiety disorders, but research has shown that severe OCD may be more “biological” than was previously thought.

I have long wished that anxiety support groups (including internet groups) would stop separating individuals by diagnosis. This segregation by diagnosis is counterproductive and causes confusion. There are a few exceptions to this, as there always are exceptions, but by-and-large, all people living with chronic anxiety can learn from one another despite the source of the fear. And the most under-recognized and under-diagnosed of the anxiety disorders, OCD, is probably the one that we could learn the most from.

So leave the diagnosing to the doctors, the insurance companies, the FDA, and to academia. You should be focusing on recovery. If that means “crossing over” into the foreign territory of another disorder, do it. You might find that territory to be more familiar than you expected.

I tend to get most anxious when I see myself as the last bastion before impending disaster. This is a handy metaphor because it fits into hundreds of actual situations.
For instance, is my child doing well in school? If not, then it must be up to me to halt that demise and fix the problem (teacher, school, learning disability, whatever!). Is there a pain in my body? If so, then it must be up to my brain alone to come up with the answer (certain death) and derail the disastrous consequence. Sometimes as I drive through my town I offer helpful advice to fellow drivers, notice how the city could be more concise with the wording of this sign or that notice. I often see how a kooky intersection could be designed more efficiently, and I correct the incorrect grammar that has been posted on billboards.

I’m a busy bee.

And it is just this busyness that can signal the onset of a full blown panic attack – because if all these wrongs are dependent on me for getting “righted” then we’re ALL in serious trouble! It can make my heart race just to contemplate this scenario.

Through a spiritual program that I follow I’ve come to believe in a power greater than myself. It’s not so relevant that I articulate and explain the personal ins and outs of this belief system, but what IS relevant is the crucial idea that there IS a higher power, and I’m not it! This seems like a simple phrase, and perhaps to those who don’t suffer from anxiety and panic disorders this is taken for granted.

But for me, it has to be consciously and constantly remembered. I am NOT the world’s safety net. I am not my children’s safety net. I am not even my OWN safety net. I’m just a decent human being, living life to the best of my ability, and I probably have a few talents and ideas to contribute to the world, so maybe I could focus on that, eh? I can let go of monitoring the edge of “the great abyss” to make sure no one falls over, and I can do what it is that I can do.

Like, I can make sure my kids get healthy food, and a good night’s sleep. I encourage them to get organized, and ask for help, but I can leave the rest up to them. They will work it out. If I have a pain in my body I can go to the doctor, or I can chalk it up to one of the side effects of HAVING a body, and go on with my day. Chances are I’m not going to die from three or four life-threatening illnesses today. As for my driving, well, I could probably just pay more attention to my own choices, my own speed, and whether or not I’m using my turn signal. If I’ve got so much time on my hands in the car maybe I can listen to a book on tape.

What this practice of depending on a higher power is teaching me is that I do have a place in this world, I’m just not in charge of it. And not being in charge means I do not have to take on the responsibility for the proper management of every detail. I can do what I can do for myself and those in my tiny circle. And I can trust that the same power that organized planet’s orbits and the creation of a galaxy, can probably put the right person on the right task. Just for today I can go with the flow.

Many texts refer to anxiety (and sometimes depression) as the “illness of our time.” It’s a characterization that appears to be prudent. W.H Auden was a British writer who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for his poem, The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue. His work focused on the alienation caused by an increasingly fast-paced and industrialized world. This is where the term “age of anxiety” first entered our lexicon. Unfortunately, this feeling of disconnection and fear has gotten worse since 1948.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America notes that as many as 40 million Americans suffer from some form of anxiety disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) claims, “Anxiety disorders, as a group, are the most common mental illness in America. More than 19 million American adults are affected by these debilitating illnesses each year.”1 From the perspective of these two sources, anxiety disorders affect somewhere between 19 and 40 million Americans. With the current United States population clock at 298 million, this means that between 6% and 13% of Americans have an anxiety disorder. As for depression, the NIMH says, “In any given 1-year period, 9.5 percent of the population, or about 18.8 million American adults, suffer from a depressive illness.”2 The statistics from other industrialized nations are similar to those of the U.S.

In The Anxiety Book, author Jonathan Davidson, M.D. notes that a recent study “that analyzed pooled data on the severity of anxiety in population samples from the early 1950s to the early 1990s, the lead researcher found that anxiety levels have grown more severe over the past forty years. By the 1980s, otherwise normal children were scoring higher than child psychiatric patients from the 1950s.”3 According to Davidson, more people currently see doctors for anxiety than for colds.

We have to ask ourselves: “What’s going on here?” Why is anxiety becoming an increasing burden among industrialized nations while, at the same time, underdeveloped nations (who often suffer much more) experience anxiety at a much lesser degree? On the surface, it would appear that biology has little to do with it. If anxiety were primarily of biological origin, we would see common statistics world-wide. Yet, even still, biology may play a role in ways we least expect. Diet may be an important factor that is often overlooked, but it seems like a stretch to chalk up increasing anxiety to diet alone.

There are some obvious environmental factors that may help us to understand what’s going on. First and foremost, life in Western countries has become increasingly fast-paced. We typically place a lot of emphasis on speed, efficiency, and the monetary cost of time. In addition, we are spending more time commuting and less time with our families. “Studies show Americans spend more time than ever commuting and for a growing number, getting to work takes more than an hour. In the most recent U.S. Census Bureau study, 2.8 million people have so-called extreme commutes, topping 90 minutes.”4 Perhaps our work lives are not the cause of the problem but yet another symptom. The most obvious and most pressing apparent cause of anxiety is a disconnected social structure, something that is virtually unknown in underdeveloped countries. We’re spending much less time with friends, family, and far greater time with electronic media and entertainment. Where we once had a tightly knit family structure to provide emotional support, we now have a loose connection of individuals who just happen to be related. Although there’s no research at this time to support this hypothesis, the correlation seems likely. Yet even this is probably not sufficient enough to explain what’s happening. Anxiety is, at its root, uncertainty. We are becoming less comfortable with uncertainty. We are less willing than ever to accept that some things are simply out of control: illness, old age, and death being the most prominent.

Many Western nations have little or no cultural connection to these natural processes. We don’t see illness, old age, and death in the same way that many people throughout the world see it. We see it in an environment where illness can often be “fixed,” old age can be made to look young again with cosmetic treatments, and death is placed behind closed doors where even corpses are made up to look “alive.” In many cultures, this type of behavior would seem absurd, even neurotic. The more we remove ourselves from these natural processes, the more we become uncomfortable with them. As every psychologist and psychotherapist knows well enough, exposure therapy (whereby the patient is slowly exposed to his or her fears) is perhaps the best treatment for anxiety. Is it possible, then, that anxiety could be prevented with such exposure? If we were to see illness, old age, and death in their natural states on a regular basis, would we develop anxiety at such an enormous rate? It’s difficult to know.

Another important feature of Western societies is the emphasis placed on “achievement” or “success,” and such success is usually defined monetarily. This is obviously enormously stressful. It is not uncommon to find individuals with chronic anxiety who fear severe mental illnesses for the sole purpose that such an illness would label him or her as the ultimate failure. It often isn’t the disease itself that is feared, but the social ramifications of the disease. Worries about work, money, and the social costs of “not making it” can be a terrible burden. This lends itself to a materialistic world-view by which our internal value is determined by the amount of stuff that we own.

A recent study found that Vanuatu, a small undeveloped island in the Pacific, boasted the happiest people on the planet.5. Although the study, funded by the New Economics Foundation, was somewhat biased in its calculations due to the inclusion of an environment footprint, the results are still quite shocking. This small agricultural island with a population of 210,000 people are happy even without televisions, BMWs, iPods, and massive homes with all the amenities? Believe it or not, this is something we’ve known for quite some time. “Happiness” indices have been compiled for many years, and the developed countries consistently score quite low. The conclusion that most researchers draw is directly related to social integration. The closer we are with our families, the happier we are. And, consequently, the more we value monetary growth and possessions, the less happy we become.

Given all of this, it’s fairly obvious that the massive increase in anxiety is not due to a single factor but rather to an amalgam of environmental, biological, cultural, and social issues. The following list is a short summary of such issues that should be considered:

  • Hypermaterialism: an exaggerated focus on material possessions and monetary wealth.
  • Alienation from nature: we’ve become spiritually or emotionally removed from nature.
  • Increased pressure to “succeed”: we’re constantly focused on our social status as it relates to our income, our education, and our career.
  • Population growth: there’s plenty of room for everyone but, for some reason, we choose to live in highly populated areas where we feel unimportant, unnoticed, or unloved. Research has shown that mental illnesses like anxiety are much less common in rural areas.
  • Less job satisfaction: we’re working longer hours, commuting farther, and doing jobs that allow for less creative expression.
  • Strained familial ties: as a result of overwork, our social circles get smaller. We’re paying less attention to family and friends and placing pressure on our personal relationships.
  • Lack of social importance and integration: most “primitive” societies have specific jobs or tasks set aside for each of the members. From an early age, children are assigned tasks that are essential to the life of the community. In contrast, we tend to work in cubicles under flourescent lighting doing tasks that are disconnected from the welfare of our friends and family.
  • The prevalence of “bad news”: we’re obsessed with bad news. Be it disease, famine, or war. We consume hours of continuous news coverage that highlight the worst of humanity. Meanwhile, we rarely see or speak of the wonderful good that is done around the world on a daily basis.
  • Technology: it’s wonderful, but it also complicates our lifestyle and reduces face-time with others. Ever use the self-checkout line in the grocery store? Yeah, it’s great for convenience, but it’s yet another symptom of how we value our time over social interaction.
  • Taboo of death: we don’t speak about death unless it’s in the context of a tragedy. We shove it behind closed doors and refuse to acknowledge our own mortality. We run through life pretending that we’re going to live forever.
  • A failure to appreciate the present moment: I think this speaks for itself. If you’re always putting off happiness as something to be achieved at a later date, when can you be happy? How about right now?
  • Increased choice: when the possibilities are endless, we can become dizzy with options.

Chronic anxiety is highly treatable, but we mustn’t remove the cause from the treatment. We mustn’t continue to reduce the symptoms of anxiety without actually removing the underlying causes. We often get so busy running from the symptoms that we completely forget to focus on the potential causes of our anxiety. Symptom-management is critical to recovery, but it is not a long-term solution. To find such a solution, we must look deeper. It is fairly obvious that reducing the incidence of anxiety in Western countries is an uphill battle. Doing so requires questioning long-held cultural and social norms, yet not doing anything will likely lead to even more anxiety and suffering. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It starts with us.

1National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). (2001). “Facts About Anxiety Disorders.”: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/adfacts.cfm

2NIMH. (2000). “Depression.”: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/depression.cfm

3Davidson, Jonathan. (2003). The Anxiety Book. Riverhead Books, New York: p.3-4.

4Reuters via MSNBC. “Americans commute longer, farther than ever.”: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12409128

5BBC. (2006). “Happiness doesn’t cost the Earth.”: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5169448.stm

I dance with panic and fear. Not necessarily because I like it, but it’s better than any alternatives I’ve found. At first I didn’t want to dance. I was in denial. I tried to organize it away. Drugs helped. I was, in my mind, a perfectly normal person. Happy, positive, busy. I got along well with life. I didn’t push too hard at life, and life didn’t poke too hard at me. But, panic and fear and anxiety came rushing into my life. Without ever asking permission, or inquiring if I knew how to handle them, they were there.

I began to notice dangers. For instance, what if a person (a person like ME) forgets how to swallow? What then? Or, breathing, how about forgetting to breathe? What would happen? I began to choke on most foods, and couldn’t quite catch my breath. My heart raced alot and I thought maybe this was a heart attack. I remember driving down the street and seeing this big Public Service Billboard listing the five warning signs of Heart Attack – I had them all! I pulled the car over and dialed my HMO. The nurse, using a very condescending tone, told me that if I was having a heart attack I wouldn’t be talking to her on the phone and that I was probably fine. I hoped that when they found me dead they could trace the call to her and make her feel terribly guilty. Over the next year I had three MRIs (to find the brain tumors), two Stress Tests (one after wearing a portable heart monitor for 48 hours), numerous x-rays and too many doctor visits to count.

My family physician is a saint, he is NOT condescending and he has been wonderful in explaining the ins and outs of Panic Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder. He has educated me about stress. He is willing to talk meds and refer me to psychiatrists. He orders tests when I am convinced of imminent death. He still takes my calls. After 18 years he STILL takes my calls, and schedules appointments with me – this man is a saint!!

But my *dance* with panic and fear started about five years in to the disease. I just couldn’t get my mind around the possiblity that I may survive these symptoms. I thought I was really petrified of death. And that it was just around the corner. With three small children, and having just turned 30, I was pretty sure that my Panic and Anxiety arose out of a fear that an untimely death would leave my loved ones alone. I began a Jungian analysis and in doing that I started writing down my dreams. I studied Jung’s approach to healing and imagery. It started to occur to me that perhaps I wasn’t so afraid to die. What I was afraid of was life.

And so began the dance – with panic, with anxiety and with life. I began to risk things like making art, studying mythology, and creative writing. The generalized fears and anxieties, the dangers encroaching on my life made their way into collages, journal and stories. I tore paper and glued it to large canvases, splashed paint around and added the flotsam and jetsam of my life. The creations were huge, colorful and full of movement. I took classes at the University and read books, plays and myths from ancient Greece.

I also took Buspar for a few years, then during one terrible time I suffered from depression and Effexor was a life-saver. I have had an “as needed” script for Xanax that lasts for years, but I always have it filled. I don’t mess around with these symptoms, they’re scary and they can kick my butt.

But I dance with them. There is a rhythm and a beat that I can relate to. Many times I can embrace the symptoms and out of them I can create some dynamic response to life and love and fear and risk and pain. And that is the dance. It is a spiritual dance for me now. I know that I’m alive, that I’m human, that I’m scared a lot of the time, but I’m not alone. I’m dancing.

In comes the feeling, the symptom, the pain and the conviction that I’m about to die. And on the best days we swoop together through my studio, throwing paint, gluing glass, paper, beads, sticks and stones to canvases that express this mood. In that frantic effort to catch my breath or slow my heart I smoosh clay into fantastic shapes and fill it with items that poke, prod, stick and pierce the softness. I write stories about death, grief and terrible loss. I write about healing and crying and unlikely groups of people coming together to solve a problem or withstand a devestation.

I dream, I flow, I get scared. I take care of myself – I eat as well as I can, I exercise, I limit my exposure to triggers. I dance with this disease. And in the process of this dance I am living. With abandon. This is my story, and I’m sticking to it!

"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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