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Like Glennon, I have dealt with depression and anxiety for a long time. My anxiety started when I was a young child. It kicked into high gear when I went away to college. It was all-encompassing and I didn’t understand what was happening to me. College was also the time that I began to feel depressed.

That went on for about three years. With therapy and some fortuitous situations, that nightmare ended. Since then, I’ve had some bouts of mild depression and anxiety, but nothing even close to those horrible three years. In the last several years, one of the main ways I work at self-care is to keep anxiety from coming on in the first place. I know what situations stress me out so I avoid those as best as I can. I know how to plan my days so as not to overbook or “underbook”. I know what I can do (create art, exercise, listen to music, etc…) or who I can reach out to in order to calm down. I know to ask myself if there is something I can do to change things or prepare for what I fear. I recognize that if the situation is beyond my control to remedy, then all I can do is control my feelings and reactions. Spending time in agony worrying about something I can’t control is a waste of time. A miserable waste of time. 

It does take work though, to pull my brain away from the negative thoughts and engage in something better to do. I have found that over time, it usually gets easier to do.

An outcome of keeping anxiety at bay is to live in the moment. As Glennon writes, “… living with anxiety – living alarmed – makes it impossible to enter the moment, to land inside my body and be there. I cannot be in the moment because I am too afraid of what the next moment will bring. I have to be ready.”

I regret all the time I spent stuck in anxious thinking or a state of depression. With nature and nurture, I guess those were the cards I was dealt. I have worked hard to improve my mental health and I have reaped the benefits. And instead of spending a lot of time regretting the past, I feel grateful that I was able to turn things around, to live in the moment most of the time, and to feel joy or contentment most of the time. Of course I experience tough days and tough times like everyone else. One big difference between the past and the present is that the tough times I experience now arise from outside of me, like the pandemic or my dad’s poor health, whereas a long time ago the pain and struggling originated inside of me. 

What resonated with you in this section? 

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Reminder: No book club next week. Happy Holidays friends.

We'll be back the following week with our final book club installment, and I'll ask for comments/suggestions/opinions for a zoom meeting.

Be safe.

9 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Susan.

    This is going to sound weird, but I don't think I've had firsthand experience with anxiety or depression. That's not to say that I'm never anxious (especially about events that I can't control) or that I never get depressed about the state of my life or the world. But I don't think I've had the same kind of internal struggles that you note or that Glennon discusses in the book.

    My husband went through a major depression when he lost his job during the great recession, but I didn't recognize it for what it was at the time. Frankly, I thought he was just being a jerk. I didn't understand that he wasn't doing anything productive because he COULDN'T do anything productive. I'm sure that I would have been kinder or more gentle if I'd understood what was happening. But I was busy picking up the slack and juggling a thousand different things, and I didn't have the bandwidth to deal with his emotions, and he didn't have the vocabulary to express what was happening to him. That was rough.

    I notice that I tend to ruminate about difficult situations, but I don't think that's the same thing as anxiety. I don't have a dread fear that my life is going to fall apart or that my loved ones will be harmed or anything like that. I think of it more like a Rubik's Cube – my brain twists the situation everywhich way looking for the solution. I obsess for a few days, and then I either solve the problem or realize there's nothing I can do, and I let it go.

    My son developed terrible anxiety after we were evacuated during the Woolsey Fire. For quite a while he would go immediately to the worst possible outcome in any given situation, sure that we were all doomed. I have to say, it scared the shit out of me to see him go through that. I didn't understand it, especially in light of the fact that we experienced no losses – the fire didn't come near us. And I was disturbed that I had an alarming reaction to his anxiety – it made me giggle. It was not funny, and I wasn't laughing at him. It felt like a really perverse response to his very real pain, and I've never figured out what triggered it.

    I'm happy that you were able to figure out how to alleviate your anxiety by bringing yourself back into the moment and figuring out what you can do to ground yourself. We have so much more power to heal ourselves than we realize.

  2. Susan,
    I can so relate to crushing depression, the way it inserts itself in your life like a tsunami that You can’t escape. I wasn’t anxious – I was in pain from my headaches and I think chronic pain and depression can be partners in crime. It has been decades since I experienced clinical depression. But I, too, bemoaned the lost life that depression, and ruminating over it had stolen from me.

    What I’ve learned is that it’s in our DNA to scan for things that could hurt or threaten us—it’s our brain and bodies natural default from millions of years ago— our very survival depended on it. Now we’ve evolved, and the ‘flight, fright, freeze’ mode doesn’t always serve us. Yet we can adapt to our present environment, and retrain our brains to steady us, pause before we react. Many traditional therapies have helped many people manage depression—as it has for Glennon. I found out that I was allergic to SSRIs, and when Western medicine failed me, I tried non-traditional and Eastern practices, like meditation. Now, I practice mindfulness daily which makes me aware of my triggers and helps me pivot to remember my strength, and that the end goal for me is a compassionate end result; whether it’s with people and difficult situations, life’s hardships. Somehow I know things will be okay, and I’ll manage the hard stuff with equanimity. It’s not easy, and sometimes I forget to pause and start getting sucked in— that’s why I keep practicing. ❤️

  3. Thank you, Sue, for such a great comment. It's so important and sometimes hard to understand the work involved in taking ownership of our physical and mental health. As I recall, Glennon goes into some detail here about how she takes care of herself, recognizes her triggers, and what she does to maintain her wellness. You sharing yours helps us all take a closer look at what we can do when times get tough. And when they're not tough. It's a process that we can maintain always, thereby being better prepared when crises hit.

    I was really struck by the whole vignette of deliveries. The whole door bell ringing scene was a funny start to a profound amount of deep and important information. I plan to read and reread this part again. It takes a lot of personal work to be able to recognize, when anger (or other emotions) hits, to stop, breathe and find the space to understand what that pain is trying to highlight for us. Reading Glennon's process made is seem so "easy." I got angry. I assessed it. I figured out what the issue was, and now I remind myself instead of x I want y. Ummmm. Yeah. Well. That's years of work involved in recognizing these things and slowing them down and picking them apart and working to make new choices. NOT easy. And not quick. I appreciated her Craig story..that she was the one suffering from her anger while he was happily watching TV. I think so many of us do that unconsciously..and we blame the other person instead of seeing that we are the cause of our own unhappiness. Mostly, at least for me. I think it's too hard/scary/overwhelming/ambitious to acknowledge what or how much we'd have to change to "burn it down."

    SO much fodder for thought and growth!

  4. Lots to riff off from your comments, Kelly!

    First, it seems you have experienced anxiety and depression, but in a more "normal" way. I would bet that most people experience those feelings. It's just a matter of degree and source. For example, one might feel a bit anxious about starting up another school year (elementary, middle, high school, or college). Will I get a nice teacher? Will some of my friends be in my class/classes? Then, after a day or two, one usually adjusts and then life goes on. Or, like me, the anxiety didn't let up after a few days. The bulk of the anxiety was at the beginning of the school year, but every Sunday, with school starting up again the next day, my anxiety increased as afternoon waned into evening. I wasn't worried anymore about teachers or who my classmates were. It wasn't a specific thing that I could identify back then. But it was a general nervousness about waking up on time, getting to school on time, doing well at school, getting my homework done… It seems so strange, now looking back, because it was in my nature to be punctual and conscientious. And I wasn't overwhelmed with homework until I got to college. So, I took anxiety to a heightened degree than most others would.

    And as far as the source goes, remember that I'd recently written about getting genetic testing for my brother before I got pregnant? Well, I think it's understandable that I was concerned about the health of my potential child. I wasn't super stressed out about what the results would show because if it proved to be a genetic condition, I had options – amniocentesis, abortion, adoption, or getting my tubes tied. When I did get pregnant with no fear that my brother's condition was genetic, I developed anxiety that my baby might have Down Syndrome. Of course there are some similaries between the symptoms my brother had and those of Down Syndrome, but they are very separate conditions. I had no reasonable basis for my anxiety. No source outside of my own mind.

    The second thing I want to comment on is about how you didn't understand your husband's depression at the time. It's tragic that our society used to think of mental health as a taboo subject, only creating even more stress on those inflicted and their families. We are only just begining to openly address the topic in schools, the media, etc. It's not your fault that you didn't understand what was going on. Most people still don't understand. Stigma is all over mental illness. You did see the anxiety your son was dealing with even if you didn't completely undertstand it. And it scared you. You were watching and listening. A person of any age, your son included, can benefit from learning ways to ease anxiety. I mean, coping skills of all sorts need to be taught to everyone.

    Why was laughing your reaction? It's very interesting that you wrote about that. When I lost my 1st grandparent, I was about 7 years old. No one talked to me about it. At least I don't remember if anyone did. I know now that my mom losing her mom was a tremendous loss. With my parents focused on my brother most of the time anyway, between him and my grandmother dying, I was watching others but I don't think I had anyone watching out for my emotional health. So, when my grandmother died, I knew it was a bad thing, a big thing, but I had no vehicle to explore my feelings. At the funeral service, I can vividly remember sitting with my immediate family and my grandfather behind a veiled curtain off to the side of where everyone else was seated. And what did I do? I giggled. I soooooo knew this was not appropriate. I knew in my head that this was not a funny situation. I didn't want to giggle. But the feeling overcame me. I covered my mouth, tried to be quieter, and fought like hell to stop giggling. I wasn't very successful and no one ever spoke a word about it to me.

    We all know what a nervous laugh is. I think you and I were in a highly emotional situation without understanding its complexities, or how to deal with it. A nervous laugh on steroids. Ever since then, unless a speaker was telling a joke, I've had no urge to giggle at a funeral. So I must have learned some coping skills.

  5. Faithe, what you wrote about the "fight, flight or freeze" response is really interesting. I hadn't thought about anxiety in that way. I have relatives/ancestors that suffered from depression and other forms of mentall illness. I guess my direct ancestors' DNA got short-circuited somewhere along the line, or just didn't transmit the message that we don't need to be on the lookout anymore to avoid being eaten my a sabertooth tiger.

    I'm glad that you practice mindfullness every day. We definitely can retrain our brains to serve us better, giving us more time and energy to enjoy our lives.

    Oh, sorry, I have to get offline. I hear a banging noise outside. I think a wooly mammoth might be out there, knocking down my door.

  6. Yes, changing is hard work! And it does take time. When I was in therapy years ago, I wanted to go more often to fast-forward my progress. The therapist said that's not how it works. lol

    I'm amazed that for many people, myself included, we can be in the middle of emotional turmoil so often and still feel like this is just how life goes for everyone. We don't even realize our coping mechanisms aren't normal. We don't know we could get help and work to have a better life. And then, if we become enlightened to the fact that we could change for the better, the idea of going to therapy or reading a bunch of self-help books might feel overwhelming. That takes up precious time. It costs money. Who needs to dredge up the past? The whole concept can feel scary. So, maybe we could deal with emotions sometime in the future, right?

    I am grateful I realized that I could change and that I worked to change. It was so worth the benefits. And of course there's more to learn and more room to grow.

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