You, Lyrics, are my best friend.
No matter what my mind thinks,
You hold me in your arms and sway.
You, Lyrics, are my best friend.
No matter what my mind thinks,
You hold me in your arms and sway.
I have been writing lately about mental disorders and recognize that no anxious person is alike in how they react to their environment, but I wanted to share some basic tips for those who are friends with people with anxiety, social phobia, or panic disorders.
1. If they do not show up to a party, do not tell them, “Are you seeing a therapist?” Truthfully, they not only have been seeing a therapist their entire lives but also may have terrible experiences with therapists. Therapy is a hidden secret to many people who suffer from mental disorders. We do not always like to share that aspect of our lives. Also, saying that idea pushes them further into themselves and causes more anxious thoughts to follow.
2. If they do not show up to a party, do not surprise them by taking them to a party. They may need to process the information and prepare themselves to attend a party. This processing may cause them to remain aloof and not attend a party anyway, but let them make their own decision. If you take them to a party without telling them, they may have a panic attack at the party!
3. Are there methods of getting them to a social engagement? Yes. Make them laugh. Put them in a good mood. Do not rush them toward an answer. You might take them to Starbucks or another open space and have a useful conversation with them. Then, ask them to go to a party or elsewhere. If they still refuse, shake their hand. Give them a pat on the back and tell them how much fun you had with them at Starbucks or elsewhere.
4. Panic attacks may create guilt for the person. They may feel horribly awkward they have to leave a room or pull into a parking lot if occurring in the car. Don’t complain if you are riding with a person having a panic attack. Offer to roll down the windows and play with your phone. They will worry that you are not happy, so look busy and enjoy life while their body adjusts to the attack. Panic attacks may last ten minutes, but from my experience, there is an aftereffect like the ruins of a tornado. Give them choices. “Hey, you want to go home or to the park? Either one suits me fine.”
5. Overstimulation, like a laugh, may result in a panic attack. Sometimes a person may also talk rapidly as a means of releasing some of the excessive energy within them. Being alone creates a social adjustment and equilibrium for the person, but also the person may need to rapidly talk, walk, run, or do something else to create balance in themselves. There is not one method that works cognitively for a person. Their fight or flight response is engaged, so be aware of receiving 100 emails or text messages at once. While it is important to let them know that email or text messaging may not be socially proper, especially in a working condition, realize punishing them for it may not be the best solution. If you are with them when their minds are firing quickly, let them speak. If they are in public, take them to a private place to release the chaos.
6. People with panic disorder may not be introverts or have social phobias whatsoever. I simply place the three conditions in the same area because I experience these conditions.
7. People with mental health conditions are highly employable and productive members of society. They do as wonderful as friends with diabetes to the pressures of a productive lifestyle. They are not broken. Because of their condition, they may have created highly organized methods of producing results that are faster than many other workers. They have a genetic disposition to these conditions and deserve the same recognition as all people with mental or physical issues. Panic disorder, social phobia, and depression run rampant in my family. I did not know this information as a child until I evaluated and analyzed my grandfather, my aunt, and my mother. Anxiety also pervades both my children.
8. If you have a friend with mental health disorders, learn about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and meditation. You may never get the person to meditate with you because they may feel awkward being around others, but you can use many of the tools from CBT or meditation to help your friends understand themselves psychologically. For example, though not meditation or CBT, I found that tapping my palms quickly while in a dark room helped me cope with an overreactive brain. Bending over to the ground or stretching has also helped during the early days of my panic attacks. Now, I have so many tools. Share tools with your friends peacefully without judgement. Try the tools with them if they allow it.
9. Watch your friends. If you notice they are isolating themselves too much, you may need to email, call, or text them. They probably won’t answer you. Don’t feel frustrated. They are reading your messages, so show encouragement. They will thank you later or not thank you at all. We seem to be a creature of habit that friendship needs equality, but honestly, friendship is sometimes one directional at some periods in your life. Your friends with mental health issues will be absolutely engaged at other times. So don’t give up on your friends.
10. Stand up for your friends with mental health issues. They need advocates and, at times, protectors because they may not be able to represent themselves completely in stressful times. My parents are my advocates. They know when I do not have the answers that they will come to my rescue. I am pro-active about this tenth point. People living with mental health need lifelines that are consistent and dependable. Don’t let them wear you out or take advantage of you. That’s not my reasoning here. Just be their lifeline in times of struggle.
These tips, I hope, will help your friends suffering from hard times or a mental health conditions. Therapy is absolutely helpful for people, though some people may not take the bait of therapy. If they refuse therapy, understanding your friends’ conditions may be one meaning to understanding ourselves.
Religion teaches us love, but as a child, Christianity, in particular, taught me less about spirituality and more about sin.
For those who follow my blog, I’ve covered my fairly idealistic childhood of living close to nature and feeling its intensity as a representation of a spiritual path. Imagine placing your hand in mud and seeing your handprint’s reflection. That’s the kind of equality I possessed as a child.
Then, social systems imprint upon us different reactions. Church, a place of refuge for the weary, left me tiresome and confused. We are sinners! Only accepting Jesus would free us from the suffering path of doom. And, if we didn’t repent, we would burn in hell for eternity.
I hope churches have changed. This doom and gloom message, taught by Church of Christ and many other institutional religions, is a farce!
The only reconciliation I can imagine for a child, growing up in a religious institution, would be to learn the social gospel of Jesus, seek answers of morality expressed in the Bible, and learn from the dangers of violence also expressed there as well, since the Bible is a paradoxical book, forged by human hands and filled with love and war.
Is the Bible even worth reading with such paradoxical messages misinterpreted by many as the word of some socially divine or constructed God?
As a pragmatist, I’d say it still shows relevance to me because I learned to read by memorizing the positive and negative verses throughout my childhood, but there are other authors delving much deeper into spirituality than what lies on the biblical surface. These mystics, such as Rumi and Gibran, saved me during my teenage and adult years. Walt Whitman, too!
The mystics, I firmly believe, are the driving force of spiritual transformation, while religions express models of institutionalization. At times, the mysticism flows in churches and through ministers. We might call that the positive infiltration of the holy spirit or our better selves touching our palms once again into the earth’s clay.
In society at large, we experience the same paradoxical expressions of living, and we must both transcend and accept the reality of this messy world run by human beings and institutions. Ultimately, we must identify the self as an interconnected being to itself, its internal ecosystem and biology, and the entire cosmology of the universe. The cliché that the planets are aligned in our favor rings true! But it isn’t luck or karma operating the magic. Instead, our thought patterns must interrogate its own self-expression and calculate itself against and for the entire universe, even the little irritable bugs invading our homes at night while we sleep.
Church may provide inspiration and refuge for many people, but most of Jesus’s great works led him to the streets and villages within Palestine. Now, we alienate ourselves in cars and buildings. I’m saddened that the 2nd Jewish temple was destroyed by Romans in 70 CE, but I firmly believe that true interrogation and freedom of the mind lies in open spaces, where we have no limitation on love’s true potential growing as Walt Whitman imagines: like leaves of grass across our great planet.
Do you wish to date me?
I have depression, anxiety, and social phobias.
Was that information listed on match.com or the other dating websites?
Did you notice the medicine cabinet selfie I took for my cover profile?
Since I am over forty years old, these words do not haunt me. However, I still see such fear in a younger generation of adults enrolling in college or attempting to connect awkwardly to friends.
Them: I prefer to be alone.
Me: But you told me last week your best summer was hanging out with friends? So, which is it?
Them: Well, that was then.
Depressed, anxious human beings with social phobias struggle in environments many people take for granted. Let’s use myself as an example. Lights. Bright lights. Reflections. Any reflections. I am extremely sensitive that walking into many large buildings like Wal-Mart causes disorientation. Not every person experiences these kinds of confusions, but I do. Who knew? What causes confusion for you?
Honestly, lights were fairly unnatural before the industrial revolution. We have the sun, candles, and other methods of making fire before electricity. Why should I adapt to the unnatural element of shopping stores when the natural elements please me the most. Light rays bending off the water have no impact upon me whatsoever. Let’s live, in some cases, like our ancestors. Put me in a cave; I’d be fairly happy, actually. Imagine the morning waking up to the opening of light in the early morning. A cave is not a perfect environment, but it is certainly considered a natural one.
What do I do when a panic attack occurs from overstimulation of lights, such as films, which I love to watch. Dizziness begins. Films don’t cause me seizures, but they do stimulate an aspect of my brain to the point I have to shut down my senses to finish the film. I cannot watch fast-cutting action films or 3D films without desiring to vomit. As a child, I vomited on a ship, and the captain told me, “Puke into the water next time.”
I love people. For short periods of time. I enjoy going to parties and making a fool out of myself, but then again, getting me to go to a party is a difficult one. One little thought races into one thousand directions. Meditation causes them to stir and shoot further into my entire body until I truly feel like a helpless fool. How many times have you talked yourself out of going somewhere?
Many days, I don’t listen to the voices. When the lights bother me, I squint and allow the confusion to stir without it impacting my day. As a teacher, I stand in front of the class, have panic attacks during a lecture, and continue teaching. After years of social conditioning and being in unnatural spaces different from caves, I have learned to allow anxiety and depression to appear as a physical condition like any illness.
Yes, I have anxiety and depression, but I am not these illnesses. There are some people who self-identify as “chronic” in many categories. There is no denying of real pain. We wish to change but cannot. We wish some miraculous surgery would arrive to fix our knee or back, but when we talk about the unseen illness–depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and so forth–suddenly we don’t always have our friends recognize the pain. The mental world seems too subjective compared to physical pain, although chronic illnesses (lupus and autoimmune disorders, for example) perform subjectively as well.
Doctor: The tests do not demonstrate any broken bones.
Them: But my neck hurts constantly.
Doctor: We can try to send you to a rheumatologist.
(Move the patient down the line to the next firework stand of confusion creates frustration and not solutions. No empathy. Just tests.)
We have to discuss suicide and other cases openly. We may seem like an open culture, but we still feel alienated and lonely at times. We do not have our tribe in most modern cultures to protect and guide us. Our role models may originate from films instead of teachers or parents. And, our phone is a mere instrument to talk about our depression when we still feel so damn lonely in a busy room.
At some point, we need to touch, even though I hate being touched. Hugs cause claustrophobia, so do you mind patting my back instead of shaking my probably sweaty hand? I write myself out of depression and anxiety, but when bouts of depression really smack me, I cannot meditate or write.
“All things must pass,” sings George Harrison.
That’s how I make it to the next week. I remember the week or day or second when I felt peaceful coexistence with nature and friends. That day will come again, but during an anxious or depressed state, no person can give me good advice. Just wait for me. I will be on the same road as you soon; I simply have to take some long cuts through the forest first.
In the Steve Martin film, The Jerk, the protagonist ventures to find his purpose in life. In one scene, he encounters his name in the phone book and screams, “I am somebody!”
The scene is comical, yet I find individuals–all of us–doing exactly what other animals cannot do: looking for purpose.
When I began teaching, I assumed I’d teach for ten years, start my PhD, become a dean, and move into upper levels of administration. I was an idealist then and thought I held answers that could impact the world of college.
My goals sounded somewhat like that question many jobs ask during interviews: what is your five-year plan?
In 2003, my life changed dramatically. I collapsed in a restaurant with blood pressure seriously dropping in the fifties and below. The hospital stabilized me, ran some tests, and found no conclusive answers.
Since 2003, I thought I lost my purpose. Panic attacks charged through me without any thoughts related to stressful situations. They happened I’m class, particularly when I laughed or showed excitement. Any kind of exercise caused the “fight or flight” response in my brain to explode with energetic confusion.
I obviously moved toward survival mode instead of pursuing my academic dreams. Along the way, I found my true purposes in life.
We suffer, yet still with all the suffering, we can find joy, peace, and love toward a plant, our friends, a cat or other animal, and ourselves.
This body is an amazing system. Sometimes, we think we are bound by our physical limitations. However, this physical system is our ecosystem to produce selfish and selfless joy to the world.
I sometimes wish I could change the past and stop the physical suffering I experience daily. Other days, I think I cannot change and am limited by this purposeless lack of potential. Then, I meditate and pray. I open my eyes.
I don’t need fame, pleasure, or financial stability to overcome anything. There is only one point to overcome–the belief that there is something to overcome.
That view may sound naive or even nihilistic, but I know what it feels like to almost die. Honestly, it’s a confusing experience because I’m holding on and letting go simultaneously.
The day will arrive, though, for all of us that the greatest purpose in life is letting go completely of all worries and tension, even when the physical body reacts differently. We may find ourselves like a pure diamond hidden away deeply in the rocks. We may recognize that formlessness seems more like a solid mountain than form. We may realize we don’t have to look in the phone book or a website to realize our purpose has always existed from beginningless time.
Before we arrive, let us float because the moment is our destination.
My son begins middle school soon, and as a parent, I’m fearful of his future experiences.
When I began middle school in the ’80s in Arkansas, I felt the early labels of subcultures conditioning themselves to play out a dramatic role they didn’t fully realize. In sixth grade, my father traveled each week to Oklahoma to support his family in Arkansas. We were poor, but the clothes I wore somehow labeled me as a prep, even though I received my Lee (not considered preppy then) jeans by my father trading clothes with a business in Little Rock. Home life was rocky. I held my mother each evening and watched tears flow from struggles. We had basically lost everything in the clothing business bankruptcy and the rise of the new model of super-consumerism: Wal-Mart. My father couldn’t compete, and I went to school with other feelings in my body than labels of people.
During this year, my son E lost his childhood home and begins a new school year in the sixth grade. During fifth grade, losing his home impacted him the same way my family in the ’80s struggled with bills and looked for a home buyer so that we could join our father in Oklahoma to begin life again.
“He hasn’t gone to orchestra in two weeks,” his teacher tells me while I wait in the car line to pick him up for school.
“Dad,” he tells me, “Can we visit our old home one more time?” I take a left instead of the usual right and pass our former home. The basketball goal fell down earlier from a heavy wind. I tell E my car might have been crushed if we still lived there. Mainly, I watch his eyes look into the home, his former room, his large den where he used to line up VHS tapes like a railroad track.
Now, we swim whenever he remains at the apartment. I see him first hand interacting with children in the swimming pool to play splash games. His shy former self seems to be growing into strength and some extraverted attitudes, while my other son P and I still remain introverted characters from a Wes Anderson film.
Middle School will begin with many labels, but E asks constantly how many days until school begins. He’s excited the first night does not allow parents to attend. His hand toward independence has been forced, and the constant change from previous experiences will hopefully help him cope better than I recall enduring sixth grade confusion.
My family and I left for Oklahoma after my sixth grade year. Though seventh grade was not an easy adjustment for me, change helped me cope with the cliques, the labels, the drugs on campus, and the new town.
E will grow into himself and his labels he chooses. He will lose these labels and attain new ones. Life isn’t too different from a massive rope running course across a large field. We hold on like monkeys and keep swinging in the directions we think are right. We think crocodiles await us when we fall, but there is nothing there but the hard dirt. Bruises usually disappear in a week!
I took this picture not long ago and keep it in my phone as a reminder to walk the path of life.
The path actually does not connect to the lighthouse. Sometimes we think the lighthouse will free us, but only the path and walking it will provide us the strength to overcome obstacles.
There are times we may need to look at the lighthouse for guidance. It may even illuminate the path for us. We praise the lighthouse for its compassion as the road remains infinite for us to visualize, rest, and then continue walking.
Beyond this picture, there is infinity within ourselves. All beings share this quality. When we think of angry, sad, or confused people, we might feel agitated also, but if we remain still and look at this stillness within ourselves, love and compassion may also arise.
This quality of the consciousness, soul, or human emotions rests within all. We are uniquely the same as everybody else.
“You don’t understand me,” some people say.
Truthfully, we do understand. We have empathy. We have the same DNA, although we forget so easily about our sameness and love because of various difficult situations.
When walking the path, realize all others there walking with us. They may be looking at the lighthouse (God, Buddha, and so forth) for illumination, but we can hold their hands on this journey together. We can be friends to our “perceived” enemies and friends even when we cannot nurture them like the great mothers of this world. We can always visualize all beings together on our journey toward love.