A Monday Morning Reflection

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As I write this, another Monday has sneaked up on us. For many of us, Monday marks the start of a new work week or another week of school. Ugggh! Right?

I know the feeling of those “Sunday night blues,” that feeling of dread that hits you in the pit of your stomach. I can’t begin to tell you how my overall mood changes. A large clock begins to tick, counting down the hours and minutes of freedom left before the grind starts over again. Does it really have to be that way? Monday, like the other six days, are just dates on a calendar, as we are the ones who assign meanings to the days.

However, I am trying to battle the dread of the upcoming day. I am making progress, slowly, but surely. The lesson I’ve learned is that I cannot sacrifice today’s peace of mind and the joy of the present moment worrying about what might happen tomorrow. For each today we sacrifice worrying about tomorrow will turn into weeks, months, and years of lost potential moments of joy.

From the date of my birth to this post, I have lived 15,178 days. If I were to divide that number of days by 7, that’s approximately 2,168 Mondays that I have survived. More than likely I will survive this Monday. I made it to another Monday! I am learning to view each day as a gift and a chance for me to be better than I was yesterday.

As you hear the ring or buzz of the alarm, the dripping of the coffee pot, and the sounds of traffic, just remember how blessed you are to wake up to those sounds. More importantly, remember that the response to the day and its events are up to you. There are a limited number of days that we get on this planet, so let us make the best of each one of them.

 

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My Struggles with Anxiety and Depression

 

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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18.1

I am one of those 40 million people. As far back as I can remember, anxiety has dominated my life. Being anxious is part of the human condition- it’s the nerves before a presentation or a big game, a first date, or a job interview. However, anxiety becomes an issue when it hinders decision making and holds you back from living the life you want to live. I can’t tell you the number of times my anxiety has talked me out of potential opportunities because deep down, I didn’t feel worthy of said opportunities or the imagined potential disaster. As the saying goes, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Anxiety is a bully, taunting and mocking you constantly. If anxiety brings along his buddy, depression, then you’re in for a really bad, no good, awful day. In my experience with anxiety, I for many years did not label it as anxiety. I and others thought of me as “quiet,” or “shy,” or my personal favorite, “socially awkward.” Though great strides have been made in the medical and psychiatric fields concerning the awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. For those with anxiety, depression, or any other illness, having to fight our inner battle with the outside perceptions of others can delay our healing process as it did with mine. Mental illness is a serious issue, it should never be joked about or dismissed. Just because someone doesn’t “look sick” doesn’t mean their issues should be swept aside with flippant comments such as “What do you have to be depressed about?” “It’s all in your head.” “You need to do more of this (pray, give it to God, etc),or “Get over it.” If a friend or family member had cancer would you tell them, “Turn that frown upside down and suck it up”? I would hope not. People with mental illness are not weak or lazy, as they are some of the strongest people out there because they fight every day to get up and try to live a “normal” and highly functional life. Compound a mental illness with any number of autoimmune diseases, and life becomes even more difficult.

Since I have done my own research into my anxiety, I can truly see how much it has controlled my life. When my anxiety was triggered, physical symptoms would follow: deep breathing, shaking hands, a racing heartbeat, the “fight or flight” response, becoming agitated, stuttering and stammering over my words, all of which made want to dig a hole and hide. These attacks would come on during social situations such as job interviews, leaving the house to go to work, or simply going to family gatherings. However, people often comment about how calm I am and never appear to be rattled, which in all honesty is my learned ability not to show the outside world what’s going on inside of my mind. The next time you watch ducks swimming on a lake or pond, just remember those calm, peaceful birds are peddling their legs in the water as fast as they can; I believe that is a fitting analogy for how I have managed to hide my anxiety.

I tried different techniques over the years to deal with my anxiety and depression. The first is that sheer will power “put your nose to the grindstone” mentality. That only wore me out and wore down my nose. I came to faith in Jesus Christ back in 1999, which I hoped my faith, studying the Bible, praying, and “Let go and let God” would free me from this darkness. After all, Jesus said not to worry (Matthew 6:25) and the Apostle Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing,”(Philippians 4:6), plus there are 365 verses in the entire Bible that tell us to “fear not,” so why be anxious? However, I began to learn that my depression and anxiety were not going to go away by saying prayers or shouting out Scripture. I came to the rational, logical, conclusion that my battle was not with demons or doubt, nor was it because a talking snake convinced two people in a garden to eat a piece of fruit,but there was something wrong with me mentally, biologically, and chemically, which could be treated.

I tried to deal first with the depression and made the decision in 2008 to talk to my family doctor and he prescribed my Prozac, which I took until 2010, when I felt good enough to try to conquer depression on my own. Things were good for a couple of years, then life began to pile up on me: my health declined, my wife had problems with her health, grief and loss, family issues, infertility, a crisis of faith, and being laid off from my middle management job and starting over at the bottom, to changing careers at mid-life. I could not cope and went back on the Prozac from 2016 until mid-2018, when the Prozac stopped being effective. My doctor then prescribed me Celexa, which is also used to treat anxiety. I do feel better mentally, though I am not completely free from depression and anxiety, I do have more good days than bad ones.

Though my faith is not what it used to be, I have found comfort in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, listening to classical/instrumental music, and trying to implement Stoic philosophy into my life. Stoicism is a practical philosophy, which in a nutshell is managing your responses to what happens to you and determining if the event is within or without of your control. Stoicism is incidentally one of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Though I know that my war with anxiety and depression are far from over, I have won many recent battles and that gives me hope. My hope for you is that if you are struggling with your mental health, please seek treatment and determine what is best for you. You don’t have to live life as a prisoner of your mind. The keys are within reach, grab them and work on freeing yourself. Stay encouraged, there is hope, there is healing. You can’t erase what has been written,but you can change the narrative. Be the hero of your own story.

I Cannot Say

 

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By Michael W. Raley

I’ve reached a mental block,

Wedged between a wall and a giant rock.

Nothing makes sense

As my fatigue and anxiety become more intense.

I  want to break out,

But I’m also comfortable in the house.

I’m disillusioned with former truths I held dear,

As I’ve realized they were only tools for conformity and fear.

This is not the way it was supposed to be,

Bound up because I am meant to be free.

I will be free one day,

But when that will be I cannot say.

 

 

 

More of the Same

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By Michael W. Raley

Unless someone has walked your same path,

They can never fully understand

What you’re going through

And the struggles you face.

The fatigue you fought just to get out of bed.

The pep talk you gave your anxious self just to leave the house.

The chronic sickness that fights you every step of the way.

The inflammation that reminds you of the pain.

The thoughts that you suppress and fight

As you try to live life as a fully-functional person.

You try to enjoy the present moment,

Only to be haunted by the past

Or receive a harbinger from the future.

You have faith, you hope, and pray,

But the silence lingers day after day.

You know you need to make a change,

Yet remain in the quicksand of malaise.

You seek to make today a better day,

However, the forecast looks like more of the same.

The Roller Coaster of Anxiety

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It was the summer of 2006 and my wife’s employer at the time charted a bus for employees and their families to go to Holiday World, an amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana (that is the name of the town). My wife, being the carefree daredevil she is, wanted to start off with the biggest roller coaster in the park (oh boy). As I looked at that wooden roller coaster, I felt a twinge of anxiety.

At this point of my life, I had not been on a roller coaster since I was twelve, as I developed a fear of them. We waited through the long line and sat down in one of the ride’s cars. The foam padded steel lap bars came down to secure us while the ride is in motion.

Click.

My thoughts and my heart began to race.

“I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here. I gotta get out of here,” I kept repeating out loud.

I tried pushing up that foam padded steel lap bar, which would have been a job better suited for Superman or The Incredible Hulk. My wife reassured me that it was going to be fine.

Click.

The roller coaster started to move. Too late now. Time to man up.

Clickity clack up to the top of the track.

As our part of the coaster reached the summit of the first hill,the pressure built up in my head and I screamed to release it. The ride couldn’t have been three or four minutes, but it felt like an eternity.

Finally, it was over. I was back on Terra Firma. I was shaken, but I had conquered my fear. That day I went on to ride all of the roller coasters at Holiday world. A few years ago, I rode bigger roller coasters at King’s Island.

The story I just told was a sample of an anxiety-filled life. For anyone who has ever dealt with anxiety, it doesn’t have to be a large, fast, wooden roller coaster to trigger a response, it can be something as mundane as leaving the house for work, a test, or any other seemingly harmless situation.

I’m not a mental health expert, but I know how crippling anxiety can be. I know the frustration when it seems you have tried everything you know to get rid of anxiety, but it’s still there, taunting you like a bully.  Of course, some feelings of anxiety are good for survival, as we perceive threats to the safety of ourselves and loved ones. However, when anxiety clouds your judgment, freezes you, and becomes the norm of your life, it’s time to do something.

My life has been a battle with anxiety, as it my arch nemesis, like a Joker to by Batman or Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker. Very few people know of my struggle, but I am determined to take my life back. I am sharing my story on this blog (possibly with the world), to let you know it’s okay. You don’t have to be ashamed. You must be honest with yourself and admit that there’s a problem. Reach out and seek help any way you can.  Today is the start of a new journey for me. I’m taking back my life. God bless.

 

 

 

The Place Beyond Exhaustion

If there is a place beyond exhaustion, I think I have discovered it. For the time being, I can probably have my mail forwarded here.

Have you ever reached a point in life where no matter how much sleep you get, no matter the amount of caffeine you consume, or the amount of pleasurable activities you engage in, you are just tired? You’re spent. You’ve had it. I’m there. I find myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually burned out.

Any one situation or a combination of factors can trigger such events, but what can you do when the constant bombardment finally breaches your defenses? You find yourself trying to rebuild the stronghold while simultaneously fighting off a never ending horde. The physicality of the fight consumes you and everything you do is done through a sheer act of will power. The simplest tasks-getting out of bed, going to work, and the rest of your daily activities are chores of epic proportions. You become like a slower version of the Energizer Bunny- you keep going, but the battery finally runs flat.

It would be great if life had a mercy rule, where a referee stops the fight and says, “He’s had enough. No more trials.” Speaking of mercy, I often ask where is God in all this? I try to connect with Him through His word, prayer, and try to live the best life I can-nothing. As a Christian, I have heard frequently of God’s will and God’s plan, but He doesn’t seem forthcoming with how everything fits into His will and plan. Life seems like a jigsaw puzzle with critical pieces gone or other pieces belonging to an unrelated puzzle.

I know it could be worse. I know there are people out there, maybe some of you, that have been through worse situations, but for my fight, this is exhausting! I have spoken about this in other blogs, but I believe this is one continuous narrative of how the last two years have been one setback after another. Just when I think I know the opponent’s plan, something changes. Anemia; Laid off and unemployed for four months; Starting back to work for less money;Celiac disease; The suicide of my nephew and the family turmoil that followed; Start another job; Go back to school while working six days a week at forty-years-old; A complication of Celiac disease- osteopenia, or loss of bone density; My parents are experiencing health problems in their early retirement years;My wife’s health and our infertility struggles; Frequent relapses into depression and anxiety- no wonder I’m exhausted!

Christians say that God’s working it out. The Stoics say to control what you can control and to be content with your lot. “God wouldn’t give you more than you can handle.” However, I’m starting to think that me and God have a difference of opinion on how much I can handle. In boxing, they call it “a puncher’s chance,” all it takes is the right punch at the right time can knock out the most formidable foe. I have survived darker days and I know that I will get through this. I might come out a little more jaded or more pragmatic, but I will get through this. There are positives to focus on, as I have graduated and I am working a new job related to my field for better pay, so I can start there.

Whatever it is that you are facing, keep swinging, keep punching. Thank you for taking the time to read my rant. I normally don’t write this way, but I felt the need to get this off of my chest. God bless you.

Do Your Best and Let it Be

Maybe it’s a by-product of being anxiously driven, but when I have a day or weekend off, my thoughts shift to a different type of work. As soon as the work day is done, my mind shifts into “to do list” mode and I give myself a list of projects- minor home repair, car maintenance, yard work, and other projects that I haven’t had time to get around to doing. I try to squeeze so much into the day that I am just as tired when I get back to work. Though I am well aware of this, I find it to be a hard habit to break.

I suspect that is a problem for many of us- we spend more time living as “human doings” instead of human beings.

For many people with anxiety, planning a social event such as a wedding, dinner party, or even a simple family cookout can be a daunting chore. Is the house clean enough? Do I have enough food? Are there enough chairs for everyone? Oh, it looks like rain. I hope everyone’s on their best behavior. What if Uncle Louie and Cousin Fred get into politics again?

As thoughts such as these may race into someone’s mind, these are all easily fixable. More than likely, the house is fine. I’m sure your guest aren’t going to give you “the white glove treatment.” You can always ask guest to bring food or extra seating. If it rains, move the party inside. You can’t control other people’s behavior. If Uncle Louie and Cousin Fred get into politics, kindly change the subject. You have done the best you could, let it be.

Luke’s Gospel (10:38-42) records a situation similar to what I just described.

Jesus and His disciples were invited for dinner by a woman named Martha. Martha had a sister named Mary and a brother named Lazarus, whom Jesus would later raise from the dead.

Martha was in the kitchen preparing the meal and called for Mary to help her out. However, the Bible states that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to His teaching.

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She [Martha] came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (Luke 10:40, NIV).

Notice what Jesus replied to Martha: “‘Martha, Martha’, the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed-or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'” (Luke 10:41-42).

Jesus knew that Martha was speaking from anxiety and even pointed that out to her. Jesus essentially told Martha, “the amount of food you made will be enough.” While Martha was worried about a temporal things such as food, Mary was focused on being in Jesus’ presence and learning about the spiritual and eternal things that would sustain her long after the meal would was finished.

In previous blogs, I have detailed my battles with Celiac disease and anemia. A little over two years ago, I spent three days in the hospital receiving blood transfusions and iron supplements because I was so anemic. Three doctors independently told my wife that I could of had a fatal heart attack. God told me to slow down. With the overall business of life, anxiety and bouts of depression, I still find it difficult to slow down, but I am making progress.

I know what lies before me for the day, but I try to make it a priority to feed my spiritual man before I begin my day-through prayer, reading, writing, focusing only on the present moment, or listening to some quiet instrumental music. At the end of the day, I try, though I am not always successful, to let things be. If you did the best you could at the time with the information you had, you couldn’t have done anything else given the circumstances. If you know that you could have done better, don’t beat yourself up, just make a mental note, ask God for forgiveness, and do better. Focus only on today. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow isn’t here. Tomorrow may not even come. Problems will always be here, but don’t let them steal your joy of living this one life you have. God bless you all.