May 9, 2022
A scourge of my adolescence was the rotary dial phone. For one, the absence of caller ID often lent an anxious surprise as to whose voice would be on the other end of the line. Moving into teen years the anxiety was only heightened if the sound being received was that of a young lady. Terrible, much more terrible than that, was the utter fear associated with the instance of calling the girl and asking her out for a date, and the resulting expectation of rejection and subsequent embarrassment.
Dragging the phone attached to the long cord into my bedroom 20 feet down the hall I recall almost willing a magical intervention that would dial the seven numbers for me and provide its own perfect voice on my behalf. More than a few times I would spend untold minutes and even an hour or two staring at the device before deciding to “let it go for this evening and try again tomorrow.”
Funny that I was sharing these episodes with a neighbor friend a couple of days ago learning that she had suffered through the same experiences from the opposite perspective—waiting and hoping that the boy would call.
Well, many years later the good news for both of us is that we are now long time happily married and no longer engage in that game. Still that time in life brings back memories of other palpitating moments:
· Class presentations.
· Distribution of test scores or worse, report cards.
· Being at the free throw line for two shots, your team trailing by one and one second left on the clock.
Later in life the instances of nervousness morphed into:
· Will she marry me?
· Will I be selected for the promotion?
· Do we relocate for a job opportunity?
· What do the results of the blood test indicate?
I’ve read that Johnny Carson was nervous before every monologue. Singer Adele talks about being upset to the point of throwing up prior to performances. Magic Johnson struggled with two major obstacles. One was having to face up to and accept dyslexia as a very young man. The second was as a well-regarded professional athlete finding the courage to come forward with his diagnosis of HIV-positive at a time when so much was still not known about the condition.
Beyond these instances of momentary nerves that just about all of us face and have faced are the more paralyzing episodes of anxiety and panic. I must admit that through many years of my own life I have faced those debilitating struggles. Especially profound when I was in my 30’s the results brought about:
· Avoiding certain social situations.
· Unprovoked instances of rapid heart rate and hyperventilation, caused by overactive adrenaline.
· A sense of impending doom, feelings of being out of control.
· Fear of being fearful.
· At times visualizing a destitute, bleak future.
Desperate for solutions, I was fortunate to locate the services of skilled counselors who walked alongside of and steadied me during the darkest days. A good friend of mine, also a therapist, gave me the helpful advice to “walk towards my fears.” She also reassured me that mentally we only possess a maximum limit to our self-torment. In other words, even if we consciously try it is still difficult to cause ourselves to become more nervous, anxious, or panicky than we already are.
These days, on the occasions when I sense the onset of challenging periods of mental warfare, some of the tools that are helpful include:
· Engagement. Activity for me is vital to mental health. Rest is critical, but idleness can be an enemy.
· Exercise. Some of my best moments and creative thoughts come during aerobic or strength training or cycling.
· Writing. Journaling, putting thoughts on paper, even writing this very piece is cathartic.
· Connection. Who might need to be encouraged through text, phone call, or breaking bread?
· Laughter. What lightens the mood or generates humor, who has a unique presence? At a recent wedding, the bride appeared to struggle with panic in the middle of the ceremony. Rather than be overwhelmed, she approached it with a sense of humor and made it through. I admired that.
· Reflection. Looking through old photo albums, letters, or mementos stimulate past instances of joy and remembrances.
· Very importantly believing that my own struggles can and will be a critical resource for another soul at some opportune time in the future.
My therapist friend also shared with me that those who experience these “tricks of the mind” tend to be at the higher ends of the intelligence scale. That has been reassuring, especially at times of my self-doubt.
Anxieties for many can be overwhelming and for some debilitating. Should you often find yourself overcome with a kind of fear that goes beyond the temporary condition of the moment, causes you to alter or avoid usual activities, or brings about withdrawal, I urge and encourage you to seek the assistance of a qualified behavioral counselor or therapist. You are precious; when you make it to the brighter side, which you will, someone else will need you to be there for them. Plan now to do that.
The Seed Sower