Saying Yes, Stepping Forward

photo by theanxietygirl.net

One of my AG’s (Anxiety Girls) texted the other day and asked how things were going. I told her that my family was planning a vacation and we just booked flights! A connecting flight on the way out and one non-stop on the way home. My text read:

“Terrified but saying yes and will figure it out.”

And that’s how it often goes with anxiety. We can let fear rule all our decision making or we can say yes – knowing things always work out – and figure out coping mechanisms along the way.

Every time I prepare to fly I feel sick to my stomach in anticipation. I imagine fantastic excuses for why I won’t be able to go at the last minute:

“Oh man, we all have lice!”

“Too bad, it’s the stomach flu!”

But, I get on that plane anyways – legs shaking, heart racing – and let the adventure begin.

What am I doing in preparation for these flights?

*Going back and using what worked last time.

*Checking out this blog about traveling the world with anxiety – especially this post and this one, too.

*Watching in flight videos of take off, cruising and landing – these tend to help desensitize all the sights and sounds.

*Picking up Dave’s new workbook about flying.

What are you saying yes to these days in spite of fear?

I am excited!

 

Video from The Atlantic

What do you think? How powerful can a change in attitude be? Will saying those three little words help you in moments of anxiety?

Flying this weekend

I took this myself! Photo by anxietygirl.net

So, my sweet 97 year old Grandma just passed away on Sunday and I’ll be boarding a plane tomorrow to fly to her funeral service. She was a strong and gentle soul who gave the best hugs and loved us all unconditionally. Flying kinda terrifies me. But I loved my Grandma & it’s important that I show up to support my Dad and family so I’m doing it anyways.

If you’re someone who experiences anxiety/panic, especially around flying, you know that I’ve been a hot mess of anticipatory anxiety this week. Upset stomach, waves of adrenaline, moments of sheer terror as I imagine being up 35,000 feet in the air.

What’s frustrating is that, just like any anxiety producing situation, it will all be fine no matter what. “Good gracious”, I tell my brain – “All this fuss and distress over a 2 hour plane ride is ridiculous!”

What terrible thing has happened in the past? Sure, I’ve felt waves of panic while on a plane before. The feelings and thoughts are scary when you can’t leave the situation, but they pass. And, really, what are you going to do? To the best of my ability, I ride the waves of adrenaline – I work on allowing the feelings as much as possible – and sometimes I even get bold & ask for more (paradox). After that, I return to what I was doing before. Sometimes I have to do this over and over until the sensations go away, but they always do. Promise. And honestly, on every flight I have a moment where I love looking out the window, admiring the beautiful clouds.

I’ve also felt super anxious before a flight only to feel fairly calm during the whole ride. But in both cases, I’ve lived to tell the tale and the worst thing that happened was I felt scared. I have never gone all Ricky Bobby on a plane or impersonated Kristen Wig in Bridesmaids.

So what am I doing to prepare & cope? I’m not a big meds person, but I always take a little xanax when I fly. My doctor prescribes me just enough to get me there & back. It’s not perfect, but does help relax my body. Maybe someday I’ll choose to fly without meds, but for now I’m totally ok with it.

I’m also watching flight videos to try and quickly desensitize and have skimmed Capt. Tom Bunn’s book about flying without fear. In between I may have sent out a few prayers to God that I wake up with an on/off switch for my amygdala. I just think that was an error in our design.

Maybe the biggest thing I’m doing to cope, however, is committing to showing up tomorrow. When my sweet brother (who loves to fly) picks me up to go to the airport I will get in the car. He’ll drive & I’ll be shaky for a few hours as we head to DC. But along the way we’ll sing, play the license plate game and together we’ll board that damn airplane.

Here’s what I’m carrying on board for some healthy distraction tomorrow. And following are some videos I’ve watched this week to get ready.

My carry on bag of goodies:

*Journal and pen -inside the journal I’ll write myself some reminder notes about how to handle anxiety when it shows up

*Grown up coloring book and pretty pencils

*Laptop with a few movies downloaded, plus Harry Potter on Audible.

*Magazines with pretty pictures

*Knitting – I may knit something mindless or start another one of these cute hats.

*Some homemade Cowgirl Cookies, plus other snacks, gum & mints

*A picture of my family

Some games I like to play on a plane:

*Choose a stranger on the plane and write a quick story about who you think they might be. You know, like  mini-bio or where they’re headed after the plane lands. When I flew with my buddy Allison this past summer we alternated paragraphs, which makes it even more fun.

*Any game that involves the alphabet – an ABC list of names you would never name your baby, a list of places where you’d like to travel, a list of your favorite book characters.

*Who farted? Yeah, this is getting pretty mature. But laughter is the opposite of fear and this is a funny game. Can you tell who may have just farted on the plane?

A few resources I’ve used this week to prepare:

*These videos are great for info & desensitization.

This video is amazing – a Dad who works for Southwest created this video for his son who is on the autism spectrum:

Look for the Helpers

mr rogers billboard

 

 

 

Children of the 70’s who grew up watching Mr. Rogers Neighborhood know that he famously encouraged us to look for the helpers in times of crisis and suffering. Spotting the helpers meant we were not alone – that we could trust in a basic sense of goodness in humanity.

Now, you and I both know that he was talking about real life crises – natural disasters, poverty, war. But one day his words hit home for me as I was taking a little drive.

Let me tell you a story.

A few years back I was doing exposure work on this one particular bridge/highway combo. It was just one of those spots that seemed to remain difficult for me no matter how many times I drove it. Because it was a challenge, it became my “go to” route for exposure whenever I would feel my overall anxiety popping up.

Three times a week, for about a month, I drove this loop over and over again, 45 minutes at a time. Students of anxiety will tell you that exposure practice needs frequency, intensity and duration to be effective.

One day while I was driving, I started to get that scrambly, panicky feeling as adrenaline coursed through my veins. I was having a hard time remembering that in all my experience driving while anxious, I’ve never had to pull over because it was too intense. Not once. I worked on simply saying,”Yes! I want this discomfort!” but the part of me that wanted to escape quickly was gaining strength.

Just at that moment, I noticed there was a crew of workmen on the side of the road and a sizable pull off just before the bridge began. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? If I really needed help I could simply pull over and ask those guys!

It was like the heavens opened up and the universe provided me with my own highway support crew! I laughed out loud and decided to view their presence as a little gift. Each time I passed by the pull off and gathered strength to cross the bridge, I said, “Hey Fellas! Thanks for being there for me!”

A little while later, I passed by a police officer hiding amongst the trees, looking to catch people speeding. Instead of rationally checking my speedometer to make sure I was within the limit, I smiled again. “Wow, there are helpers everywhere today!” I later texted the story to my husband who noted that most people get anxious when they see a cop on the side of the road. I responded with, “Well, you know, one persons speed trap is another persons ride home!”

It’s kind of amazing how significantly my levels of adrenaline dropped as I utilized the combination of humor, paradox (seeking out anxiety on purpose), gratitude and was distracted by my imagined “out” – the ability to pull over with support. Was the imagined “out” a crutch? Absolutely. But, it also gave me the boost to keep going while saying yes to the anxiety for another few rounds that day.

This isn’t news, but it’s amazing how our beliefs and imagination have the power to either turn on or turn off physical sensations. It works both ways – our beliefs and our imagination can either send us reeling with panic & anxiety or strengthen us with the knowledge we can handle whatever comes up.

Sometimes you just have to find a way to keep going, to stay and linger with your fears and sensations a little bit longer. The best way is to experiment with acceptance and even asking for more. But in aiming for perfection we sometimes wait and wait and never get out the door.

So, today, do whatever it takes to make your world a little bigger. It turns out there are helpers everywhere. We are rarely alone in our pursuits and challenges. But the most important help we will find is right there waiting, inside of ourselves.

 

Self Talk Lessons from a 9 year old Superhero

Check out this little superhero – a wise teacher (at the ripe old age of 9) who shows us how to use self talk when facing challenges! Love her!

Ready

“I’ll try it, but I may turn around and come back down. Don’t try to make me go!” I said with forced speech to my teenagers as we climbed the steps higher and higher. The water slide was in sight, but still about fifty feet away and up.

Minutes before, we were getting ready to go home. Walking past a big slide on the way out, I said nonchalantly, “Oh, that looks really fun. Too bad we have to get home. I’ll definitely do it next time.”

“Mom, there’s literally no line. We should do it right now!” said my older girls.

“Yeah, go on Kris!” added my husband and his best friend, smiling. They knew I hadn’t meant a word I said.  “We’ll wait right here for you.  Give me your stuff & have fun!”

Our eight year old spoke up with passion.  “Mom, you do not have to do this!” She and I had happily spent the day together hitting the lazy rivers and kiddie areas while the others sought drops and thrills.

The teens urged me to give it a try.  Grabbing a raft and heading up the first flight of stairs, I hesitated and looked back.

“Mom, just think of this as exposure work. This is good for you!” said E smiling and making sure I didn’t make a run for the exit.  My 15 year old, who had heard me a million times talk about how exposure work is the very best way to deal with anxiety, was pushing my own advice back in my face.

“Come on Mom, you can do this,” said Z, taking another angle. “You’ll love it. It’s so easy. I was nervous the first time, but it’s fun!”

“It’s just that this is not relaxing for me,” I said, still fretting and considering my options. “The lazy river is just my speed. It’s ok. We all have different things that make us happy.”

“You know, my little brother who is 9 AND my Mom did this ride last year and loved it,” added their buddy, upping the pressure.  “Come on Aunt Kristin, if they can handle it, so can you.”

“Girls, you cannot shame me into riding this water slide.  I’m not embarrassed. I just don’t like being up so very high.”

But I knew that the ride would be smooth and pretty easy once I overcame the anticipation of walking up the high, open air stair case.  Every other minute or so, I imagined what would happen if I panicked on the stairs. Would I run back down? Crawl? Would someone need to carry me?

All ridiculous thoughts, but typical of the anxious brain frantically searching for escape routes and answers to “what if” scenarios.

I also knew that making my way up the flight of stairs was good role modeling for all the girls – both the ones encouraging me to go and the one who also found it scary. Trying to look up and not over the edge, I kept climbing, making the decision to keep going with every step.

When we got to the top, there were four slide choices. The girls were quickly talking about which slide was best and which was the slowest, meaning a good choice for me.  I asked the ride workers (who were maybe 20 years old) which of the 4 slides was the easiest. “I’m a little nervous and this is my first time,” I said.

A young man, with a thick accent and name tag showing he was from Ukraine, smiled and said, “Yes, it is good. You sit here.”  And, with a little push, I was on my way.

I heard the girls cheering as I took off down the slide. It was relaxing and beautiful like they said it would be.  Late afternoon sunlight made it’s way through the tree tops and sparkled on the water.  I found myself smiling, feeling the breeze in my face and leaning into the curves with contentment. Going down the “big” drop at the end was exciting and, all in all, the ride was over too quickly.

Getting out, I received cheers from my family & friends. I was a little shaky from the anticipation, but genuinely happy.

There’s a scene in Lemony Snicket that resonated with me, reading it the day after my ride.

“Are you ready?” Klaus asked finally.

“No,” Sunny answered.

“Me neither,” Violet said, “but if we wait until we’re ready we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives. Let’s go.”

I wasn’t ready to go on the ride or deal with being nervous.  Putting off things like that until tomorrow or the next time or when we’re ready is an attempt to feel brave without action.  But underneath there is a part of us that wants to experience all of life and urges us forward, whispering alongside the fear – yes!

Saying yes to my girls and to life felt good. Saying yes to anxiety and facing it almost always feels very good after the fact. It’s the saying yes part, the feeling of shaky legs and racing thoughts that has to come first.

We walked out of the park as afternoon turned into early evening, hand in hand retelling stories from the day.  Turning back toward the entrance, we saw our friends at the top of the Colossal Curl, a stair case rising 70 feet above the ground, waving like crazy and smiling.

“That was an awesome ride,” my teens said with their father agreeing.  I love that feeling of being both scared and excited, they added.  We all jumped up and down and waved back.  It had been a glorious day just being together, laughing and creating memories. We were good tired, happy and as we hopped into the car, I said, “Let’s go.”

Photo: watercountryusa.com

 

I heart anxiety

Happy New Year!

I’ve been wondering what to write lately. I thought I’d be bursting with prose after the workshop. The busyness of the holidays hasn’t helped, either, but as I read recently, we all make time to do the things we really want to do. You know, like thinking – if only I could find time to keep my house clean and exercise as I plunk myself down to check email.

I think I’ve been avoiding fully processing what I took in that weekend and what I have to do from this point forward. I know I went in having an unrealistic expectation — the hope that I would drive to North Carolina early that Saturday morning a person with an anxiety disorder and come home Sunday night cured for life. The truth is, as Dr. Wilson said, anxiety disorders span the life cycle – which means, much can be done to cope with anxiety and it’s very treatable with the latest techniques & research, but it will always ebb and flow throughout our lives. That’s not what I wanted to hear. He also emphasized that the best way to conquer anxiety is to choose to enter anxiety provoking situations on purpose; want to get anxious; want the symptoms to be intense; and want the symptoms to stick around for a long time. Basically, you’ve got to learn to love your anxiety. On top of that, you gotta drop all the crutches you use to protect yourself from feeling anxious and just feel it all .

I had a chance to practice this provocative approach when driving to my Mom’s recently – a nice opportunity for regular practice. It was raining cats & dogs & sideways. I thought about taking the back roads, but picked up the girls from school and began driving on the highway toward my favorite bridges in West Point. Adrenaline surged, went away and came back again in concert with tired old thoughts and images of freaking out on the bridges. It’s so easy to ride around in circles on those well worn thought grooves. I just kept chanting in my head, “I want it. I want it.” I didn’t employ my usual crutches of favorite music or engaging conversation – I simply expected the anxiety & tried my best to want it to come, be intense and stick around. I also tried to drop the need for certainty and just reassured myself with, “Whatever happens, I can handle it.”

When I finally approached West Point, I saw the first bridge and crossed with no problem except for anticipating the bigger one. As I came up on the ascent of the second, the rain pounded against my car and, this may sound crazy, but I greeted my anxiety, like Reid suggested, and asked it to make my symptoms stronger (“Anxiety, I’m so glad you could meet me here! I need more adrenaline and pronto!”). I looked straight ahead, added the mantra “More” over and over again & remembered “I can handle this”. It wasn’t easy, but I did feel proud afterwards. A few months before, I wouldn’t even consider driving over these bridges on a sunny day without my cell phone within reach and Stevie Wonder cranking on the stereo. And, now, here I was, crossing them with my 3 kids on a dark & stormy afternoon.

Ok, so maybe this work never gets easy. But whatever happens, I can handle it. And, if you’re reading this and struggle with anxiety – you can handle it, too.

As we step into 2009, I invite you to look at what’s holding you back in your life. How will you work with what ails you, whether it’s anxiety or something else? Who will you share this with and who will walk by your side in community or as support?

This is the year to not let yourself off the hook. Don’t spend another moment living a smaller life than you dreamed.

Tunnel Vision

We were on vacation at the beach last week & I wanted to share a moment from the journey.

To get to the beach, our route takes us over a handful of bridges and a tunnel that goes underwater. I could have easily gotten my husband to drive, but I knew that I needed to “stir up trouble” for myself & this was a good opportunity to do so. “You driving today?” he asked. “Yeah” I responded & smiled, “No problem.” Of course, it’s easy to be brave when the offending bridges & tunnel are not in view.

As we approached the bridge/tunnel/bridge area, I started questioning why I was doing this, when a perfectly good, non-anxious driver was sitting next to me. I had to keep reminding myself to invite the symptoms – to try & make them stronger – to ask them to stay around – because, all of a sudden, I really didn’t want to be driving & thought, ‘Make them stronger? Are you crazy?’

As I descended into the tunnel, I started wondering how strong the walls were & musing about how this is really an unnatural thing to do – driving underwater and such. Before I knew it, the visual images were rolling in of water crashing in all around us as the light from the exit faded into darkness & I wanted to slam down the gas pedal and get out of there quick!

My 8 year old daughter must have known that I needed a reminder to invite in more sensation. Just as we were about half way through, she chimed in and asked, “Do these tunnels ever flood? What would happen if they did? Would we all drown?” My husband & I smiled at each other & her impeccable timing. We told her that, yes, it would be bad if the tunnel flooded, but that it was built to be extremely strong. And, besides, there are people whose only job is to check it’s safety all the time. And, isn’t it cool that someone came up with the idea to make a tunnel that goes under the water & boats can travel over? (More sensation thinking about being underneath a boat).

I drove us safely into the light and, after that, the bridges didn’t phase me that much. We had a fun week in a beach house with 17 people & I decided that it was alright to take the passenger seat on the way home.

I don’t want to

Sometimes anxiety means “I don’t want to”. I’ve read about anxiety sometimes being related to hidden emotions and had an interesting experience with it just last month. First of all, I’m one of those women who hates shopping for clothes. I have a hard time finding clothes that I like in my price range and often feel like I’ve wasted my time, coming home empty handed. (If only I was a trust fund kid) But recently two things happened – my Mom & I were looking through old photos and there I am wearing the same cranberry turtleneck and black skirt in a decades worth of holiday photos. Then, we were having dinner with friends and my girlfriend commented on liking the color green in my shirt. “Oh, I’ve had this shirt since we were in grad school together”, I told her. Smiling, she said, “Oh, I know.”

It was time to venture out.

I pulled together a short list of what I was looking for and drove toward the mall. I dropped into a few stores, not seeing anything I wanted. A few more and now I’m checking my watch. Shoot, I only have an hour before I need to be back to nurse the baby. What am I doing here on this beautiful day?

The phone rang and it was my husband checking in – “How’s it going? Have you found anything yet? We’re fine, don’t worry.” I heard the joyful chortles of my kids in the background. As I walked toward the dressing room, armed with about 20 items, I felt a sudden surge of adrenaline and began feeling panicky. My first response was – “What’s this?” I questioned why I would feel panicky while I was out shopping – that’s not a trigger for me.

In the dressing room, I looked at myself in the mirror and utilized the paradox technique thinking, “Do you wanna freak out here? Bring it on.” It took a little while, but I realized that sometimes anxiety means I don’t want to; or I feel guilty. I felt guilty that I was away from my family; I felt silly for spending so much time with nothing to show for it and I wasn’t having much fun. Bingo – my anxiety was telling me to either change my attitude or just go home.

Looking back, I can think of other times I’ve had similar experiences. Maybe not panic, but that cocktail of “I don’t want to” mixed with adrenaline – for example: dragging 3 tired & strung out kids through the grocery store while they all beg for something – Can we get a cookie? Why can’t we get a cookie now? Is it time yet? Or, times when I agreed to volunteer for something just because I couldn’t find a good reason not to or a way to nicely say no.

I did end up finding a few cute things. I stopped to grab a cup of coffee and kicked up my feet to really feel like I got a break from parenting. And, when I got home, my family was excited to see the goods and welcome me back like I’d never been gone.

A love letter from my Dad

*My Dad sent me this with permission to post. I know of some people who, after sharing their experiences with family, came to find out that one of their parents, aunt, uncle, cousin, etc. struggled with anxiety and they never knew. When we put our vulnerabilities out in the open with people we trust, some really lovely connections can occur.*

This is Kristin’s Dad writing. And I relate so intimately to the experiences she describes because I’ve been there and still am sometimes there myself. She comes by it all honestly via biological inheritance; genetics has an odd sense of humor. It reminds me of Mark Twain’s line about getting tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail. He said something like, “If it weren’t for the honor of the thing, I would have just has soon passed up the experience.” More on that in a bit.

The year was 1957, I was almost 13 years old, it was early on a Sunday morning and I was out on my bike, delivering the Chicago Herald American. It was sunny, the weather was mild and there was nothing in the world to suggest to me that this would be any different from the hundreds of times I’d done my paper route in the past. I had covered the stretch of 112th Place and had just crossed State Street over by Cooney Mortuary – maybe you know the place – when I suddenly felt like I was in a dream – like everything around me was muted and slightly unreal. And then I recall this welling feeling of panic that I was going to die. I can even recall shouting, to see if this was, perhaps, a dream. It wasn’t. But my recollection is that it went away by the time I got home and I said nothing to anyone about it. But a few weeks later, another shoe dropped. I woke up on a Saturday morning with the sensation that I couldn’t feel myself breathing. The panic along with this one drove me downstairs where I blurted the news to my folks. I can’t imagine to this day how jarring and alien this must have been for them but my Dad, who was always good in a crisis, must have instinctively known that getting me calm was a first step to figuring out what was going on, presumably medically. And I remember that a couple of glasses of water and his reassuring arm around my shoulder somehow convinced me that my breathing was OK and that I wasn’t going to die. At least that morning! That summer we went to California and my folks almost turned around and went home when I had a pretty nasty attack of it in Salt Lake City. Fortunately, they didn’t; the trip still carries many wonderful memories.

The thing was, though, this was the 50’s. And no one seemed to know much of anything about Panic Disorders. After maybe a year of episodic attacks, my father, with his engineer’s way of looking at things, was determined to make a logical and planned assault on the problem. When our family doctor said he didn’t know what this was, Dad took me down to the prestigious University of Chicago Medical Campus for a full work-up. This didn’t quite pan out the way the Old Man planned. They did somewhat of a work-up but, while Panic Disorder wasn’t well recognized in those days, anxiety and phobias were. The 1958 medical establishment answer, of course, was psychoanalytic psychotherapy. And so, I started seeing a psychiatrist at the University of Chicago who, in Freud’s best style, sat there, gazed intently at me – and said almost nothing for 50 minutes at a pop. We stared at each other all summer long and, amazingly, I got better. What I know now, with a doctorate in psychology and a job as the clinical director of a large community mental health system, is that the real cure wasn’t Dr. T’s blank slate act. The “cure” lay in getting on a CTA bus by myself, transferring buses a couple of times, and making the weekly trip down to the University, despite my fears that I’d have an attack along the way. That, and the normal remitting and exacerbating course of a disorder that makes guest appearances and then disappears for months or years at a time. But what I did then on the bus – and what Kristin is doing 50 years later over bridges – carries the same principle of taking it on, practicing, flooding, desensitizing and using cognitive reframes. I would have much preferred an “aha” moment in exploratory psychotherapy, where the key from some childhood experience would be handed to me and the door unlocked. Kicking yourself in the ass and making yourself go beat the snot out of the gorilla, daily, is much less elegant and a hell of a lot more work. Unfortunately, it’s effective.

Over the years, I have had long periods of full remission, mixed periods of on and off stuff and periods where it has tormented me a great deal and made me fear that I’d lose my ability to function or make a living. I have not always fought the good fight and have avoided things far too often. Note that Kristin hit the nail on the head when she identified shame as factor that intensifies and broadens the illness. The script goes something like this: “I ran away from it. I am an awful coward. If people only knew how little courage I have, it would disgust them.” Given the stigma, you now begin to lie so that people won’t know your shameful secret. And, of course, you find yourself deeper in self loathing because you are now labeling yourself – unfairly, of course – not only a coward, but a liar, too. Yet so often in the face of the intensity of panic and the anticipation of its return, avoidance and lies have seemed like a price worth paying in the moment. Unfortunately, the interest on that credit card payment comes due and compounds itself.

But you must recognize your triumphs, too. When Kris and her brother were growing up I went through an awful period of agoraphobia associated with the panic and a dread of getting on I-95 for the wall-to-wall traffic into DC, where I worked as a reporter. Weekends I rarely ventured out of the apartment, finding comfort in my books and home hobbies like amateur radio. During the week, there were days that I called in sick and made excuses to my bosses. But most of the time, I gritted my teeth and endured feeling trapped in the middle of that traffic. What choice was there, really? I had to support my family. It wasn’t noble, it was necessity. And, for all of that, it helped me back into periods of remission, even though I didn’t fully understand the therapeutic part of it way back then.

Over the years, I have had to confront a variety of challenging situations like that and find, in my older age, I confront less – with the somewhat flawed rationalization that I’ve paid my dues and am going on strike against the damned malady. I don’t fly anymore and I climb stairs instead of riding elevators. I avoid big bridges. The flying keeps me from visiting places overseas but, while I regret the impact it has on my family, I don’t personally feel like I’m missing a vital experience. I like road trips and I like trains. As for the stairs, I’m in better physical shape, courtesy of my phobias. Thanks, phobias. My best to the gorilla! This is not an endorsement for selective avoidance – just truth in advertising. Besides, I take on the things I need to take on. I’m not crazy about public speaking, but addressed an assembly of 350 clinicians recently and am emceeing an event this coming Friday. I had to throw those items in because, despite what I tell my patients, I have more than a trace of hypocrisy about stigma and caring what others might think of me. I’ll go back to my Old Man, God rest his soul, and his wisdom. “Kid,” he’d say, “Do what I say, not what I do!”

By the way, I want to take a quick side track here on another matter. I loved Kristin’s comment about the friend who semi-jokingly asked her about hallucinations. It shows the great perceived divide out there between the putatively sane people and the putatively crazy people. But the divide is phony. What I mean is that people in America are so terrified by the concept of mental illness – and that they might catch it – that they conjure up a monolithic image that looks something like Norman Bates – and they whistle through the graveyard convincing themselves that, of course, they are different. Well, I’m here to tell you that mental illness takes on many different forms, is never monolithic and that all of us have our pieces of idiosyncratic thought and behavior. Lincoln, Churchill, Mozart all had mental illnesses and enriched our lives immeasurably and irreversibly. The great psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan was fond of saying, “We are all of us more human than otherwise.” Meaning there is no clear demarcation. Thank God. Get over it, America. Especially film makers who get rich playing to our fears.

At the outset, I mentioned Mark Twain and said that, given the choice at birth, most of us might well have chosen to avoid a lifetime of periodic panic attacks and phobias – – – were it not for the honor of the thing. Well friends, I am biased, but I will assert that there is great honor in the thing. I am absolutely convinced that the majority of people with anxiety disorders are among the most intelligent, creative people around. Almost by definition, it is the intellect and creativity that magnify the biology – dull people don’t create all those elaborate, “what-if” mental scenarios that feed Kristin’s gorilla. There’s an out-of-print book, called “Be Glad You’re Neurotic.” We don’t use that diagnosis anymore, but you’d love the book.

People with panic and anxiety disorders, in my experience, tend to have finely honed senses of humor, plenty of compassion for suffering in others and an uncelebrated and quiet courage in facing daily battles that are often invisible to people around them. Doesn’t that describe people you’d like to be around and have as close friends? Look in that mirror for a while and take it in. For every avoidance, there are far more uncounted successes – uncounted by people with the disorder. As a matter of fact, we grow and develop into people of substance and character from the struggles of our challenges.

In closing, you’ll permit me the parental prerogative, I hope, of bragging on my daughter. An undergraduate degree in writing, a master’s degree in social work, professional work after graduation in a settlement house in the community helping people in great need, birth educator, doula, spouse and one terrific mom to three lovely children. Woman of character and substance. When I saw this blog, it just blew me away. Talk about creativity, courage and giving help and meaning to others! My love for her and pride in the human being she has become is boundless. I write this with a big silly grin of button-bursting emotion on my face. You go, daughter! You’re the best!

Love always, Dad.