Paralyzed by Anxiety

1387 Relax and Succeed - Your new life is waiting to be lived

If someone has an anxiety-based form of depression they’ll often spend as much time as possible in bed, turtled away from others. Otherwise pleasant social situations will feel emotionally ‘heavy,’ and requests for our help from even our most treasured loved ones will feel thoroughly overwhelming. We can easily end up feeling guilty and worthlessness. It’s a terrible cycle.

When we’re in these states it makes logical sense that we feel alone and misunderstood. But it’s important for us to remember that our current internal psycho-logical reality does not translate to the larger world, or even to our own future selves.

Anyone in psychology, psychiatry, general counselling; or those of us from religious or philosophical mindfulness practices will have all heard people express this sense of alone-ness countless times because these feelings are a common part of human life.

The roughly 107 billion human beings that have ever lived all share the same four DNA letters, in almost identical locations, with all of us coded to produce certain proteins that combine to form all that we are. As different as we can seem, we are all stunningly the same.

Within those 107 billion lives, each of us uses the same essential set of systems to create and experience our own biochemistry. This is the only reason psychological drugs can have any effect –they are working at the level of the common systems we all share.

Each of these facts is what unites us in a powerful way with those around us. As this set of interviews illustrates, even ‘successful’ people live and work with the sorts of crippling feelings described above. But as these interviews also illustrate, there are ways to feel better even if our lifetimes have inadvertently taught us to habitually create darker feelings.

In the three cases in those interviews, what lead to people feeling better was when they realized a level of responsibility for how they felt. Rather than just feeling impacted by the feelings, they started to feel a sense of control over them. Drugs also helped in one case, but their common realization was they each felt they could have more control over how they felt.

1387 Relax and Succeed - Paralyzed by Anxiety

David Alexander Robertson noted, “I was laying in bed, as I always did when I got home from work, and my wife came in and said I needed to get some groceries. I didn’t think I could do it. I felt like I was going to die. She told me that she couldn’t support the family all by herself. And she said, ‘How do you want to live?’ That was a really big turning point for me…. What’s helped me the most is to talk about it. ”

Alicia Elliott noted, “What happens with people who have family members with severe mental illness or with addictions is the idea of co-dependency. You are always wanting to take care of someone or put all of your energy into that. For me, my coping mechanism has always been to listen to other people’s problems, to ask them how they’re doing and to take care of them and not tell them anything about what’s going on with me.”

When we feel deeply depressed reaching out to others can feel counter-intuitive, which is why formerly depressed people often talk about having an epiphany that incited their shift to seek help. But we do not need an epiphany to get healthy –we can generate our own.

There is nothing stopping us from recognizing that our lives are short, there are beautiful experiences to be had, and that the sooner we feel better the sooner our experiences will become more positive and life-affirming.

Do not trap yourself under a blanket of thinking that leads you to feel isolated, lonely, anxious or depressed. Getting healthy can be easier, more enjoyable, and happen much faster than most people would ever assume possible. But as the examples above demonstrate, the first step toward feeling better is to believe that you can, and then reach out.

If you need help; call or write me or anyone else who has a track record of helping people find their health. You won’t get judgment here, you will be welcomed. There is nothing I enjoy more than seeing people awaken to the wonderful possibilities and remarkable strengths that exist within us all.

If you’re depressed or anxious, don’t sacrifice another day. Your new life is waiting to be lived, it only requires your presence.

peace, s

(780) 439-0341

Managing Extreme Pain

1382 Relax and Succeed - Eyepain 1

I arrived in the Emergency Department with a complex problem. Through no fault of my amazing doctors, I had a rare and excruciating outcome that was largely created by the sheer fluke of how my body is built, and how it subsequently reacted to my surgery. It was like being in ‘pain school’ and I paid close attention to its lessons.

Rather than shrink away from the experience in an effort to wish it away, I tried to make the experience useful by going ‘into the pain.’ For the purposes of this post, I investigated it closely. What was it to be in such pain, and what hidden opportunities did it present to me?

This operation often includes putting a silicon band around the eyeball to change its shape, and thanks to my unusually small eyeballs, the combination of that and the extensive surgery is what lead to my rare outcome. I was told that my pressure situation was possibly the worst case that most if not all of the doctors recalled seeing.

The pressure was the issue, so I will begin by attempting to describe the pain I was in. Normally eye pressure would be between about 10 to 20 mm HG. Doctors become concerned if this pressure rises to anything higher than 24 mm HG. My pressure started off at 62-64 mg HG, then slowly fell over a week and a half to 58, 54, and 37 –which will lead to glaucoma and blindness if not relieved.

Fortunately, the skill of my doctors allowed them to take action that did lower that pressure and save my vision. They lasered some pressure-relieving holes into part of the eye, and the pressure dropped to 34, and by my next visit I was at a safe 24, and soon after saw my pressure lower to a relieving 9 mm HG. Whew.

In terms of my internal experience, keep in mind, this pressure is inside your head. My nose, cheek, and brow were badly bruised, and it placed a great deal of pressure on my eye cavity as well as on my sinuses, which in turn badly irritated the Eustachian tube linking our sinuses to our ears.

In addition, I had a bubble of nitrous oxide gas placed inside the eyeball, which meant I had to constantly look down, which placed a strain on my shoulders and back. Sleeping facing downward was also an issue with badly plugged sinuses. I really didn’t sleep at all for at least a week.

By looking downward, the bubble of gas rises to the back of the eye, which then holds the wound in place while it heals. Looking any other direction made the bubble move, which was also very painful.

It’s fair to say that my extreme case lead to extreme discomfort. People are fortunate that most cases are nothing like mine. Many people have in-office procedures that have them seeing fine in ten minutes, with no pain at all! Do you see why I encouraged you to see your optometrist regularly?

In trying to define the pain associated with that pressure, I came up with the following description, which I’m frankly quite proud of. For turning a feeling into words, I doubt I could have done better than this:

Start off with someone pounding a rough spike or chisel into your ear until it bursts your eardrum and pierces your brain. Then imagine a major league baseball player swinging a bat as hard as they can at your eye socket, where the impact very badly bruises your nose, brow, and cheek bone.

Following that, imagine that this impact drives the eye straight to the back of your head where it hits the skull hard and bruises itself on all sides. Then the bad stuff starts.

Next was the sensation that someone had stuck a long, candle-shaped cone of sharp, burred metal into the black iris at the centre of your eye. That was in turn pushed so hard into my head and eye that the ‘metal cone’ sensation felt as though it had pinned the front of the eye to the back of my skull. Finally, imagine that someone takes a wire brush and rubs the rest of the eyeball roughly.

I’ll say it again: do you see now why I urged in the previous post that you go straight in as soon as you get symptoms? As previously noted, the surgery for just minor damage is itself quite minor and not overly painful. Wait, and you could end up like I did (even though I did go in as soon as I saw symptoms).

1382 Relax and Succeed - Eyepain

One of the doctors described my experience as ‘giving birth through my eye, with no pain medication, for nine straight days.’ Oh yeah, and in order to monitor pressure, you’re also limited to plain old acetaminophen (Tylenol). On scale of 1-10 I’d put this pain at about a 40.

So how did I ‘manage’ this pain? Largely it was practised acceptance. For the first week, I accepted that my identity simply was pain. I had no arms, no legs, no stomach, no feelings like hunger or happiness or exhaustion –just excruciating pain. It keeps a person quite busy, so that may have strangely been the easiest part.

Eventually the pressure dropped to the point where it was still ever-present and super painful, but I also started to have other sensations enter, like hunger, awareness of my sore back, and the desire to have my sinuses clear. That actually felt relieving after how I’d felt.

Everything is relative. I accepted these tiny gains with substantial gratitude, and I reminded myself that my father and uncles were in WWII, and that many people before me had suffered even worse.

Eventually I could slowly start to eat again, I could tolerate normal voices and light, and around this time my gratitude had a surge as I was able to better-appreciate the efforts of my brother and several key friends who not only cared for, cooked for, and visited me, but some also took up caring for my parents as I normally have that responsibility. The people I work with were also very kind with their patient reactions.

There were times when I lamented the pain and pined for relief, but I did manage to spend 95% of my time grateful that I didn’t lose my sight, that my care was so excellent, and I was extremely grateful to all those who expressed their compassion through action, either for me or for my parents.

For my part, much like our fovea controls the focus of our vision, my mental focus was largely controlled, whether I was focused on the inevitable pain, or my deep gratitude for all of the people who were helping me and for my positive outcome. I had done as well as I could and felt good about it.

As I felt better each day my gratitude surged even further. If we can imagine our attention as a hose, and our thoughts as the water that perpetually flows from it, my salvation was that –rather than watering thorns– I kept my focus on the ‘flowers’ that were my various caregivers and compassionate friends. I could never put my thanks into mere words, I’ll just say that I love every single one of them.

There is no getting around the fact that parts of life will be painful, even extremely so. And we can be forgiven for sometimes giving into this as we move through these experiences. There were times where my pain lead me to be impatient and unkind but, overall, I felt like I had been in some kind of pain Olympics, and I ended it happy with my performance.

1382 Relax and Succeed - Enjoy the little things

I couldn’t call the experience a ‘win,’ but I remain very aware that it was also not a loss –I can still see to write this, even if I needed help with the proof-reading for a while. My outcome looks quite quite, although the eye was too filled with blood for the doctors to see if the operation did all it needed to, so we’re still not entirely sure if another operation will be required.

What I can tell you this: I know my immediate future is unlikely to be worse than what I’ve already experienced, and that makes that future feel extremely positive to me.

So what should you the reader take from this? Certainly not that we can avoid pain because we want to. In 20,000-25,000 days of life it’s a simple fact that some serious pain will be in there. But we can remember that it is what provides the contrast that makes normal life feel like a blessing. Right now most of you are reading this largely pain free in relative terms. Be grateful.

Normal is normal; it’s like a fish trying to find water. But once our ‘water’ has been boiled or poisoned, we gain a deep and meaningful appreciation for what not long ago had been the most basic qualities of life.

By having those advantages taken away, we do become more aware of the grace that is created as a part of our everyday existence. And even just by hearing about others situations, if we’re wise, we can look about our own lives with a new vision and a sense of grace.

Imagine never seeing your loved ones again. Imagine never seeing a flower again. Imagine never seeing the sun filter through the trees, or the smile of a child you love. Every day most of us are given these gifts along with life and it is my hope that by reading this, you can spend some time more appreciative for something it’s easy to take for granted: our vision.

Finally, please know that if you ever find yourself in what feels like unbearable pain, be it physically or emotionally, remember that no sensation in life lasts forever. Sometimes the best we can do is endure. But even that allows us to traverse time and to cover ‘distance.’

As a Buddhist monk once said to me, ‘the secret of life is that everything changes.’ If life is good, be grateful. It will change. But if life is bad, be patient. For it will change too. Our job is to merely be grateful no matter where our journey is taking us.

peace. s

PS Special thanks to Doctors Baker and Sia, as well as the entire remarkable staff at the Alberta Retina Consultants. In addition to them, I would also like to thank the support and surgical staff at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, as well as the family and friends that supported me throughout this process, including Don, Anita, Henry, James, Nick, Mike, Kirsten, Christina, Brian, Jarrid, Christian, Sausan, Sue, and for the compassion shown by Tracy, Elizabeth, Beth, Rob, Dwayne and Charlotte.

A Diagnosis For Fear

1381 Relax and Succeed - Fear is born in speculation.jpg

Being different from most people I’m often surprised by common reactions, particularly negative ones. I have to stop and actually think about how people would look at those things if they believe their thoughts are reality. That’s why I was surprised when one of my doctors noted that their staff is often mistreated by patients.

I’m not sure whether it’s through good office management, a culture that started as a few positive employees and that evolved over time to include more people, or whether it’s just all just a fluke, but I have never been in such a positive office in my life.

The staff all act respectfully toward each other, they treat each other and the patients well, and they even announced our names with a cheerful tone. All that being case, the question then becomes; why would those people end up being mistreated by the patients? The answer is: fear.

Anger comes from fear, and people will generally be at their worst when they are the most afraid. And many of the people in that office were learning that they were either losing some, or all of their sight, and that their intervention would be somewhere between very uncomfortable and extremely painful.

Part of what was scaring people was the unknown, so they were speculating on how bad things were in the present. The second part was that they were using their imaginations to conjure a scary future. But both of those reactions are illusions. None of them necessarily accurate in that moment.

The only thing that could understandably explain any shortness, frustration or anger would be that people were in pain and had little consciousness left to consider other’s needs with. And that’s fair, and it’s why the rest of us also need to be tolerant to be wise.

The next question is: why was I generally calm and feeling fortunate? And the answer’s important, because the way I do it is how I would teach anyone else to do it too.

First off, I had read up on the eye, and the issue of the detached retina. That meant I understood more of what was happening and what people were saying. I also knew that in theory my future was more likely to be positive than negative. Knowing the truth is generally far better than believing a lot of our own self-constructed, negatively-conceived myths.

1381 Relax and Succeed - Knowing the truth is generally far better

So what did I know? I’m no doctor but, in basic terms, the white ball of our eye is called the Sclera. In the middle of our Iris (the pretty, coloured part) is a dark, flexible hole called the Pupil that shrinks and expands to control how much light enters our eyeball.

Directly behind the Pupil, where the light actually hits –and attached to the back of the Sclera– is an area called the Choroid, which supplies blood to our Retina. And the Retina is the part that actually collects the light from our Pupil and results in our sight.

The Retina itself is like the pages of a book, where each page plays a slightly different role in collecting and translating the light that enters the Pupil. Some of these layers are where our ‘cones’ and ‘rods’ for colour vision are located, if you remember your Junior High / Middle School health classes.

The Retina is centred by a low spot called the Fovea, which acts as the focal point of our vision. As we move our eye around, our focus will be in the centre of our vision –wherever the Fovea and Pupil are aligned.

In a normal detached retina, we get a tiny hole in the top page of our ‘retinal book.’ This hole allows in ocular fluid which then creates a sort of blister. If light hits the far side of that blister, we see dark patches in our vision. If it hits the near side, we see light scatter across the Fovea, which can create sparkles.

If we leave those symptoms unattended (please refer to my previous post for a list of all of the potential symptoms of a detached retina), the fluid in that blister will shake around and turn the hole into a tear, which can lead to the black speckles or curtain quality to our vision.

In my case, rather than a tiny hole on the top page of my retina, I had a large U-shaped tear through all of the layers right down to the Choroid. This allowed the centre of that U-shape to fold up under itself like a carpet might.

All that meant that rather than trying to fix a tiny hole in one layer, my doctors were forced to weld that entire U-shaped canal back into place, layer by layer. The fact that they can even attach each microscopic ‘page’ to the corresponding ‘page’ is a miracle of modern medicine and surgical talent.

My doctors had a suitably serious tone and they were very forthcoming about the facts. As I noted before, it is never a good thing to have an ‘interesting’ case at the doctor’s office. That’s code for ‘rare’ which is also often more difficult. But reality is reality. It’s what our minds do with those facts that matter.

While others with much better prognoses were much more afraid (and were therefore much less pleasant to deal with), I was better off because I accepted my reality and I chose to focus on other things that were equally real.

1381 Relax and Succeed - Reality is reality

I was in one of the leading facilities in the world with equipment that looked like it belonged on Star Trek. The staff was super-pleasant, and my doctors were considered some of the best anywhere. Even staff at the hospital for the surgery felt I was lucky to have such an excellent team on my side.

On top of all of that I was in Canada, where all of this care was going to cost me zero personal dollars. I could even be grateful for my own taxes and those paid by other Canadians who were now helping share the load of my care.

I suspect the work I had done and will have done will potentially be in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. That is genuinely a lot to be happy about, so there’s no delusion there. I was looking at what was real. It was the scared, uninformed people that were pondering illusions.

In life, we can choose to be our thinking and to have the course of our thoughts dictate the painful experiences that scare us and lead us to treat others badly. Or, we can be incited to have those thoughts, and yet not follow their course because we remain aware that they are only thoughts –while we are the thinker of them.

By seeing that reality, we can then take steps to stop the course of our mind and to redirect our thinking to other considerations that leave us feeling better. The choice is always ours, and that choice always happens in the moment we are in.

I realize I can make this sound easy here, but what people learn by working with me is that it truly is easy for everyone. People generally just get me to expose the folly of saying “But…” After that they’re just practicing the act of acceptance.

They still start off the training as all egos do. I will only take some credit for the fact that I suppose there is something about the way I answer them that allows me to be successful at what I do –but I can’t really see that, only they can. I’m just telling them the truth as I genuinely see it. Take away my accident and my subsequent meditations and I’d be just like everyone else.

If you are living in fear, I’m genuinely sorry you are. But even in the midst of that, keep in mind that there are ways to use our consciousness to make our lives better, even if we can’t materially solve every ‘problem.’

They key to all of that is acceptance, which is a good place to leave off. Because what followed next was an unlikely reaction and the most unbelievable pain I have ever experienced, and I was only kept sane by acceptance. But that is a different lesson than managing fear, and that is for the next instalment….

Until then, look closely at the people and things you love, because just being able to see them is a far bigger gift that we could ever imagine.

peace. s