August 28, 2018
In 1999 I was afforded the opportunity to teach several psychology classes at Lourde’s University, (then Lourde’s College) in Ohio. The chance to do so came to me by luck. I simply happened to be standing in the office of a friend at the time the college phoned him to cover two classes. My friend was extremely busy at work and turned them down. Then, he looked at me meaningfully and said to the person on the other end of the line, “Hold on a sec’, I think I may have a replacement for me.”
Of course, I accepted the job, (otherwise this would be the end of the story) and began teaching at Lourde’s as an adjunct professor. I had dabbled in lecturing before. It had been part of my duties at Illinois State University as a G.A and at The University of Toledo as a T.A. and I had enjoyed both experiences. The difference on this occasion, however, was my position: I was no longer a student but a working psychologist. So, instead of simply teaching concepts from a textbook now I was armed with hours and hours of client experience.
With patient consent, (and names and locales changed to protect their identities) I began weaving some of my client’s life stories into the concepts that were to be taught in each class and shared the compilation during my lectures. Needless to say, the effect on my students was dramatic. I saw interest, realization, and understanding dawn on their faces. No longer were we talking about abstract concepts, we were telling real stories about real people similar to those my students knew; friends, co-workers, family members, and significant others. And sometimes, we were even talking about people similar to the students themselves. It was at these times that I often saw relief flood across a few student faces. ‘Maybe, I'm not so different from anyone else, maybe I'm not so alone, maybe I'm not crazy, after all.’
And this is my intent for the SWPS Blog. By sharing some life experiences of previous clients I can again provide a little bit of interest, understanding, realization, and relief to those who may suffer similarly. And further, maybe after reading accounts of how a few courageous individuals were able to overcome their personal issues a modicum of hope for the reader will follow.
Let me warn the reader, however. Strolling into the dark world of mental illness can be disconcerting at the least and terrifying at the worst. So I will close this introduction with a quote from my favorite writer:
“Here I pause. If you have no desire to plunge into the struggle beside me, I do not condemn you. It is no easy one.”-Gene Wolfe
August 29, 2018
He was walking up the creaky wooden stairs in his broken family’s new-but ancient house when “IT” hit him; an intense throbbing-soreness that began in the pit of his stomach then spread upward-clawing into a giant lump that finally settled in his throat. As the soreness spread, the boy’s heart began pounding so fast and hard he could feel its beat through his entire body. His lungs tried to keep up with his heart. They failed, mostly because the muscles around the boy’s ribs constricted so tightly that all he could manage were rapid, shallow breaths. Not nearly enough oxygen got in to settle the boy’s confused frenzy.
The boy stumbled up the final stairs, managed 3 shaky steps into his mother’s bedroom and collapsed on the green and white comforter neatly covering the queen size bed. There was no rest for him, however-no relief. Thoughts sped through the boy’s aching head; tangential, repetitive. One thought in particular came and went, came and went, then stayed and, ultimately, overwhelmed him.
‘I’m dying,’ it said over and over again. ‘I’m dying. I’m dying. I’m dying … “
Never having experienced this before, Sammy-the fourteen year old boy-thought it was true. “Oh God,” the boy sobbed. No tears came, however.
Shaking… Gasping… Sweating … .
‘I’m dying. I’m dying. I’m dying. I’m dying!’ The voice in his head thundered on. Perspiration rolled down his forehead. Sammy curled himself into a ball on the bed; clutched his knees to his chest.
It was all he could do…
August 30, 2018
The cafeteria was noisy-really loud. And there were lot’s a people-not just at the 2nd grade table … people everywhere. Bright lights too. They brought out all the school’s colors … on the walls … in the kid’s clothes, their shoes, their hair… all the smiles. Teeth flashed on and off. Off and on …
No time to look now. It took 15 minutes to jostle through the bumpy, stop-start lunch line. Now there was only 10 minutes left to eat and catch-up with friends. Bailey didn’t feel so good-more her stomach than anything else-so it was mostly gonna’ have to be catch-up.
“Larissa,” she called to the brown haired girl as she got to the table, two students down. Larissa didn’t answer. In fact she just stared down at the floor silently, didn’t look.
“Larissa?” Bailey repeated, growing concerned as she watched her friend’s face turn pale white, then gray. Suddenly, Larissa lurched back and to her left. A stream of pink fluid issued from her mouth, spattering the tables and nearby students.
Worried, Bailey began to move toward her friend. Half standing, half sitting-that’s when it hit her. A weird light-headedness and a churning-knot twisting in her stomach.
‘No. I can’t.’ The thought ran contrary to her usual helpful self. It repeated in her mind, ‘I can’t!’
She bolted, and as fast as her 7-year-old legs could take her, Bailey raced for the wide-open double cafeteria doors.
‘I have to get out!'
Just a couple more steps … .She didn’t make it. A second wave of nausea swept over her, passed through her. More intense than the first. Sickening. She stumbled and went down. That’s when everything went black. She could still hear though. The nausea was bad, but the gasps from the nearest onlookers were horrific.
Days later she couldn’t recall what happened; not the actual “blah” itself. She could only recall the nausea, the crowd’s roaring disgust.
She was more than embarrassed. She was mortified.
Bailey could never go to school again.
‘Never,” she thought amidst the throbbing tears, ‘I’m never going back there again.’
A year and a half later she hadn’t broken her word.
August 31, 2018
It was hot in the car. Though it was early morning and the air conditioner was blowing full blast all the way from his grandmother’s house to the practice field. Still hot. The one-way trip lasted 15 minutes and 36 seconds. Josh knew the exact time because he had swiped the stop watch app. on his phone after getting in.
Josh didn’t have his license yet so his mom was driving. She’d been quiet for the last few days, facing her own issues with Grandma being a pain. On edge and bored, he stared out the window. The houses they drove passed were Florida houses: concrete and adobe with ceramic tiling for roofs. The lawns were brown, made of crab grass really. The kind of grass they treated like a weed up North. It was everywhere.
Family and friends had told him that Florida was the place to be, though. They’d even seemed jealous that he was moving there. Caught-up in the excitement, Josh hadn’t really thought the whole thing through. The gnawing in his gut was starting to make him rethink things now. Florida didn’t seem like the vacation capital of the world anymore. Not so exciting once you lived here. He didn’t like it. Not the heat … not the houses … not the grass … .
And he missed his friends. Alot. Kids down here were different. They didn’t like the same things he did. Josh felt like they didn’t like him either-not one of them. His position coach sucked too…
This place …
“Have fun at football practice.” His mom’s voice startled him.
Josh looked up, around. They were parked in the grass alongside the Fieldhouse, the engine still running. His edginess started to increase in his gut, became sharper-almost painful.
“What did you say?” He asked.
“I said,” Mom laughed wearily, “have fun at practice today.”
That simple statement was like the release of a Dam’s gate. A thousand unrelated thoughts roared through the opening, flooded his brain. None of them were connected; none of them made sense.
Josh shook his head as if to clear it.
“No.” He said slowly, deliberately. As if by controlling the tone of his voice he could slow the rising tide of panic within him. “I’m not going.”
“Jo-,” his mom began.
“-NO!” Josh shouted, interrupting her. The rushing thoughts had finally crested his control. “I’m not going to practice! I’m going home!”
No matter how much sense Mom made; no matter how logical her arguments, Josh refused to get out of the car.
His hands began to tremble on the ride home. They didn’t stop for another 3 and a half months.
August 31, 2018
"Anxiety or Something Else?"
The accounts you have just read are real. Each of the individuals described above has given consent for parts of their stories to be told. When asked if they would like to share some of their life experiences all three of these young people jumped at the chance. Mostly, they stated, because they wished to help others who might be experiencing similar issues. All of their names, however, and the location details within the accounts have been altered to protect their identities.
So what happened? How did these kids end up ‘here’? And what exactly was causing their lives to spiral so far out of control and their anxiety to become so intense that they couldn’t attend school; couldn’t drive; couldn’t go to restaurants … or movie theaters… or birthday parties … or grocery stores … or hang-out with friends? Why were some of them so fearful that they lacked even the ‘will’ to pick-up a cell phone and order pizza delivery? These are just some of the questions these young people asked themselves. Some others included, “why me?!”; “are these feelings going to last forever?!”, and probably the most devastating one, “is this my fault?!”
Hopefully, this blog will help to answer some of these questions. It will also delve into how each individual’s disorder developed (its pathology) as well as, how each person was affected by the resultant symptoms. Perhaps most importantly, this blog will detail how each of these kids demonstrated the courage to move forward and (Spoiler Alert!) how each individual worked in their own time, fashion, and way-to “live well” once again.
October 15, 2018
Imagine this, it’s early morning, you’re driving to work in heavy traffic, and you notice the car directly in front of you. There’s two people in it, a driver and a passenger. You can just make their outlines out through the rear windshield. While you watch, the driver raises his hand and makes a wild, flailing gesture. In response, the passenger raises her own hand, points a finger, then stabs it at the drivers face multiple times. In the next few moments, the drivers’ and the passengers’ faces snap towards each other intermittently, mouths and lips racing at light speed.
So, what’s happening between the couple in the car in front of you? If you guessed they were having a “fight” you’re probably right. Not hard to figure out if you’ve been on the road a couple years. I know I’ve witnessed this a few times myself.
But even if we are right, and the couple is having an argument, what else do we really know? Do we know what they’re shouting? Do we know why they’re angry? Do we know what they’re fighting about? Do we even know what caused the fight to begin with? Are they husband and wife? Boyfriend and girlfriend? What if they’re not a couple at all? What if they’re just spatting friends? The answer, of course, is that we don’t really know much at all. All we know is that there are two people in a car and they appear to be arguing. The important details, however, are missing.
And that’s a bit what it’s like for a therapist when a client such as Josh walks into the office. I’d been informed that he’d been feeling anxious. I also knew that he was a football player and had just moved in from out of state. But that was it-kinda like looking through the rear window of a car. The client will provide all the important details, however-they will take you where you need to go-if you just Listen.
So that’s what I did, I listened.
Turns out Josh was suffering from anxiety. Not the sports variety kind, but an intense paralytic type. The type that comes with racing thoughts, increased heart-rate, rapid breathing, dull throbbing in the throat, nausea, and overwhelming feelings of loss of control.
It was also true that Josh had moved, as well. Except not with his whole family-just with his mother. Josh’s grandmother was beginning to suffer the ill effects of age, so his mother had decided to move to Florida to take care of her. Josh, the youngest of 4 and the only sibling left at home, had been dragged along for the ride. As indicated above, Josh was excited about the move at first but then discovered his father couldn’t come with the family because of work: 1st) his father couldn’t find a job that would pay as well as in the North, and 2nd) Josh’s father could not afford to lose his retirement. So, it was just Josh, his mom, and Josh’s grandma-all staying in Grandma’s tiny house.
Things got difficult for Josh immediately after the move. He missed his dad a great deal. He missed his friends too. And the place where he used to take out all his frustrations, the football field, had become a daily struggle too.
Although, he really liked his new head coach, Josh didn’t get to spend much time with him. Instead he spent most practices with his position coach; a school teacher who’d never played football. After each grueling day, where he attempted to prove himself over and over again to this verbally abusive position coach, Josh became more disheartened. Josh wanted to continue playing football in college like both of his older brothers but he felt like he wasn’t making any headway … or any friends … .
The day before Josh refused to get out of the car, he returned to his Grandma’s house and attempted to unwind, but the place was too small. Someone was always around-walking into the room that wasn’t really his; making noise. He couldn’t watch the TV shows he wanted to watch that day, couldn’t use the computer for his homework-couldn’t get any time to himself. Late afternoon turned to evening turned to night. The family denizens drifted into their respective corners, things finally became quiet, and a worn-out Josh attempted to fall asleep. Only sleep wouldn’t come. Instead, a thousand racing thoughts rushed into the silence. One after the other, second to second, minute after minute, hour upon hour, they assailed his consciousness; pelted his brain with worry.
Josh got no sleep that night. He got none the next day either-the day he refused to go to practice-nor any the next night. Then Josh’s appetite disappeared. A healthy offensive lineman before the move at 270, Josh dropped 20 lbs. in 3 days. That’s when his Mom and the Head Coach noticed and decided to get professional help.
Now we have a better view of Josh and what was going on with him. It's not a perfect view, but it's better than looking into a car through the rear windshield, guessing.
By the time Josh made it to my office he was suffering a full blown case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder-GAD for short.