In my most recent companion podcast, I shared, “You can have faith, and you can have hope, and you can still struggle with depression and anxiety.” For many years I didn’t recognize my patterns of anxiety and depression. I know the exact moment it began– the summer my dad left. All of the things I could depend on slipped out of my fingers when he walked out , and I began to ignore my negative feelings and stuffed them with activities that could numb my pain. I used my talents and intelligence to hide my hurts. I medicated with food and became lethargic. People in my life could see I was spiraling downward, but their observations and suggestions to "get help” felt like judgment, and I found myself isolating my real hurts and pain.
Although I haven’t always realized what anxiety looked like in my life, I can now identify it like a loud talker at the bar. I spent a lot of time at the bar with my dad on a Sunday. All I longed for was time alone with him and it never failed, there was always someone nearby who talked too loudly, but not loud enough to address publicly. The more time I spent with my dad, the easier it got ignoring the loud talker, but ignoring could become a distraction from my time with him. I had to learn to find ways to address the loud talker if I was going to enjoy my time with my dad.
Anxiety is like the loud talker. It’s a feeling that can show up out of nowhere. I can be totally at peace, having a great day, and then all of a sudden… BAM! I just start feeling tense, and I start talking rudely to people, everything is irritating me, or I become very sensitive to everything. It is embarrassing, pervasive, annoying, it gets in my way, and one of the ways I coped was by denying it and ultimately spiraling into depression. I honestly thought I was hiding it well. Looking back, I learned to package my pain well, but I didn’t know how to acknowledge it. I just ignored it until it nearly destroyed my life. Accepting that I felt anxious meant I needed to make some choices, just like addressing the loud talker. I had three choices in how I chose to address the loud talker:
In order to accept the loud talker's presence, I needed to set a goal for how I would spend my time. If the goal was to ignore the loud talker, I would undoubtedly fail. If the goal was to enjoy the moment, the loud talker could be acknowledged without ruining my time. I had the choice to focus on the talker, or focus on time with my dad.
In the same way, goals help me accept that anxiety might be part of my day. Rather than run from anxious feelings, rather than get angry at myself for having them, I have learned that if I can accept that they are part of my journey, they don’t have to define my experience. They don’t define how I’m feeling, but I can acknowledge that it’s there and can accept that it’s part of my journey.
Loud talker moments continue to exist throughout my healing journey. Triggers amplify the loud talker's impact and are more pervasive during holidays and times when I'm reminded of painful things in my past that I ignored. Triggers are revealed when I feel the most upset or out of control. They are areas I ignored and didn’t deal with, so the loud talker is always present when the trigger is set off. Part of dealing with the loud talker of anxiety in my life included meeting with a cognitive behavioral therapist. In my sessions, she would help me identify triggers and would help me create coping strategies that I would practice daily so I’d have a tool for when anxiety would strike.
One resource I really have found success using is a workbook called, Thoughts and Feelings: Taking Control of Your Moods and Your Life by Matthew McCay, PhD. The book allows you to customize a plan for your journey, regardless of the loud talker. Recently I was badly triggered by an event that left me feeling paralyzed. It was a memory of a time when I felt completely abandoned and lost. It made me want to shut down and hide. I looked for a plan in the book for depression and the book suggested I try to mobilize. Troops mobilize with a plan of attack and I knew I could have a plan to face the loud talker and not hide from it.
When people are experiencing depression or a depressing experience, they quickly spiral inwardly the more time their thoughts and feelings isolate them and make them immobile and shut down. According to the workbook, researchers have discovered that when people find things that bring them pleasure or mastery, they have a desire to break out of the spiral. On this triggery night, I mobilized a plan to get a simple loaf of bread. I didn’t pick something that was complicated, I just decided I could get my family a loaf of bread. As I approached my loaf, I discovered other things I could provide for my family, developed a menu for the next few days, and left the store feeling like I could go home and execute my goals.
Mobilizing is discovering a plan that promotes growth– to master the moment, not the emotion; to take back the control you feel is spiraling out of control. It’s also important to recognize automatic thoughts that create the spiral. Automatic thoughts are words or phrases that carry a message of shame or cause you to feel like hiding. “Your Fault” is a phrase that carries feelings of shame for being in pain, gaining weight, making poor choices, etc. Recognizing automatic thoughts has helped me prepare a plan for mobilizing when I begin to spiral downward. These two exercises work together but can function independently. Reframing your journey can help you redefine your hope. It is a process of healing, a place of peace and rest in healing to comfort others.
Ask yourself some questions:
How does the loud talker in your life affect your peace?
How does the loud talker start a cycle of despair and frustration that is unnecessary?
What are some areas I can turn to that I feel mastery in?
Do I need help outside myself for my loud talker areas?
It’s important to not deny it is there, but even more importantly that it isn’t judged for being there. It is easy to spiritualize and diagnose why the loud talker shows up. In my CPR training, it was reinforced that it is not my job to figure out why a person needs help, it is important I deliver the help a person needs. When the loud talker shows up, don’t waste energy figuring out how it came about, rather focus on the journey and recognize the areas you might need help addressing. I hope this helps you on your own journey to find hope to rise again.