Thursday, February 18, 2010

anxiety, depression, and positive thinking


summer 2009 075


In my everyday life, I am surrounded by a lot of people who suffer from anxiety or depression. Both are diseases that I struggle to understand in order to be able to support the people in my life that face these issues.


The thing is, as much as I KNOW the symptoms and the how of both illnesses, I have to admit to still struggling to actually understanding why one person can control negative thoughts and emotions and why another can’t.


On some level it seems like such a simple thing: when you’re sad you drag yourself out and look for ways to find happiness. When you’re anxious, you stop and tell yourself to breathe and let go. Both are things I can do. But they aren’t things that some of the people in my life can do. And that fact just makes me so amazed by how complex the brain really is.


In New Age speak, there’s this idea that we manifest our own reality by willing and believing what we want into being, either negatively or positively. Obviously I’m reducing and over-simplifying for the sake of brevity. Mainstream views of the world toy with this concept and I suspect that on some level more people accept this than actually refute. After all, the power of positive thinking and prayer are part of our everyday vocabulary. From health issues to job hunting, we are surrounded by visualization techniques, calming routines, or various other practices, that all draw on this concept of making our dreams come true by manifesting the power of positive thinking.


But what happens when we can’t use this power in a positive way? If we can invite the positive in, can we also invite in the negative? Can we make our biggest fears reality? (Ok, just to clarify, I’m not talking about making the monster in the closet real here). Can our constant anxiety and fears of being misread, misheard, misinterpreted, mis-whatever lead to that being the way the world views us?


The question is rhetorical. Obviously I think the answer is yes.


So what can we do to change that? How do we create a brighter reality and vision when we can’t still the demons inside? Cause god only knows that it’s hard enough to do it when all the hormones and signals in our brains are functioning according to what is deemed acceptable! These thoughts are front and center in my mind these days as I attempt to help someone in my life face these challenges and deal with students at work with various learning and physical disabilities who are trying to finding coping mechanisms to deal with an ordinary world from the viewpoint of an extra-ordinary body or brain. (Like I said, I am surrounded by these issues)!


I’ve found myself giving a lot of thought to how the brain works and how our thoughts/behaviours/actions shape the reality we live in. I’m no expert and I still don’t have any answers. All I know is that as I try to help, I find myself often being torn between conventional thinking, new age philosophies, and questions about what is normal and why we deem it to be a hard and fast rule that must be adhered to. Einstein couldn’t tie his own shoelaces or pass math class; Beethoven was deaf; Van Gogh was manic; and Joan of Arc, well now we wonder if she might have been schizophrenic. So what’s so great about seeing the world according to everyday wisdom?


On the other hand, how do we function in an everyday world if we can’t do everyday tasks? From getting out of bed to taking the bus, depression and anxiety can make these tasks feel impossible. So how do we create coping mechanisms that help overcome these challenges to the point of being able to function within the confines of accepted society? What happens when our brain tells us that everyone is looking at us, and we can’t shut that off, and thus, end up creating situations where everyone really is looking at us?


These days I’m working on the premise that we learn to manage it by training our body and mind slowly, spoon by spoon, step by step, how to stand back, access, and go forward with the belief that things can be different. I guess I’m currently becoming a fan of the school of cognitive behavioural therapy (not that I really knew what that was a couple of years ago) mixed with a healthy dose of new age philosophy.


Give me a week or two and maybe I’ll have a different theory, but for now that’s all I’ve got.

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