Letters

Letters 08-25-14

Save America

I read your paper because it’s free and I enjoy the ads. But I struggle through the left wing tripe that fills every page, from political cartoons to the vitriolic pen of Mr. Tuttle. What a shame this beautiful area of the state has such an abundance of Socialist/democrats. Or perhaps the silent majority chooses to stay silent...

Doom, Yet a Cup Half Full

In the news we are told of the civil unrest at Ferguson, Mo; ISIS war radicals in Iraq and Syria; the great corporate tax heist at home. You name it. Trouble, trouble, everywhere. It seems to me the U.S. Congress is partially to blame...

Uncomfortable Questions

defending the positions of the Israelis vs Hamas are far too narrow. Even Mr. Tuttle seems to have failed in looking deeply into the divide. American media is not biased against Israel, nor or are they pro Palestine or Hamas...

The Evolution of Man Revisited

As the expectations of manhood evolve, so too do the rules of love. In Mr. Holmes’s statement [from “Our Therapist Will See Us Now” in last week’s issue] he narrows the key to a successful relationship to the basic need to have your wants and needs understood, and it is on this point I expand...

Home · Articles · News · Features · High Anxiety
. . . .

High Anxiety

Anne Stanton - November 15th, 2010
High Anxiety
By Anne Stanton
With anxious thoughts jabbing their minds awake each morning, some
people don’t need alarm clocks any longer. Just ask Mary Sue Feldman,
a Traverse City woman who has hit bottom with $50 in her checking
account, no car, and no job.
“It’s very difficult to even get to sleep and it’s frightening when
you wake up and realize, ‘Oh my gosh, I wasn’t dreaming. This is
reality,’” she said.
After completing an associate’s degree in computer technology at
Northwestern Michigan College last spring, Feldman, 46, has worked on
and off for a temporary agency. Unable to find a full-time job, she’s
three months behind rent and must move out of her four-room house near
the Civic Center. She is surrounded by heaps of stuff around her
house—remainders of a rummage sale she held in August.
“I took my stuff over to Goodwill, and they said they’d take my phone,
but none of the household stuff. Father Fred is full of furniture from
people, like me, losing their homes and won’t take more.”

JUMPING THROUGH HOOPS
The funny thing is that Feldman thought she knew how to navigate the
ins and outs of social service agencies, in part, because she has
volunteered for the Poverty Reduction Initiative. But the landscape
has changed. Medicaid told her it’s refusing new applicants and
subsidized public housing has a huge waiting list. One agency refused
to help her with rent without proof of a court eviction, which she
doesn’t have because she’s voluntarily moving. She said she’s jumped
through hoops, filled out forms, and will still lose her home.
She doesn’t want to seem ungrateful, but she can’t get the help she needs.
“What I need most of all is a job and a job at a living wage,” she
said. “What do you do when you’re at your wit’s end?”
Fear and anxiety have spread throughout jobless-stricken Michigan
like a contagion. It’s not uncommon to hear people confiding to
perfect strangers how they were foreclosed upon, lost a promised
pension, saw their job move to China, or were permanently sidelined by
illness or an accident.

WORRY, WORRY, WORRY
Michael Sullivan, a Traverse City-based marriage and family counselor,
has watched anxiety sweep across Northern Michigan and frequently
speaks about the issue in national and international psychology
seminars—often with a heavy dose of his Irish Catholic humor.
He said there are two types of anxiety. One is temporary and abates
when a terribly difficult situation is resolved, such as getting a
job. But his surprising conclusion is that many people worry all the
time no matter what’s going on in their lives.
 “With chronic anxiety, you’re in a state of high worry all the time,
and you just find a new object to direct it at,” Sullivan said. “The
anxiety is with you during your whole life. You’re worried in high
school, college, and then it’s who’ll you marry. And then you’re
worried about your kids, paying for college, the empty nest years, and
then retirement. How’s that for hope? But the idea is you can see the
patterns of anxiety and you can fix it, usually with therapy.”
If you grew up with highly anxious parents, there is a very good
likelihood that you, too, have an anxious temperament, and will pass
it onto your children. An older child is more likely to be anxious
because parents usually fret over their firstborn, said Sullivan, who
bases his comments on the ideas of Michael Kerr,  director of the
Bowen Center for the Study of the Family.
“The one with the worry-prone parents will have a more difficult time
becoming an independent self. They’re the ones you see out on the
playground looking over their shoulder to see where their parents are,
while the less anxious kids are hanging upside down from the monkey
bars,” he said.

MORE SENSITIVE
Anxiety drains your energy because it takes up a lot of room in your
head, body and social life. Anxiety-prone folks are more sensitive
about gaining the approval of others, less self confident, and more
likely to get involved in a fight or a family drama. On the opposite
end of the spectrum, serene folks are more likely to be curious,
explore the world, trust relationships, and are less bothered by what
people think of them.
Although some people do suffer chronic anxiety, the levels of anxiety
seem higher than they once were because people have lost a great deal
of control over their lives, said Mary Gruman of Traverse City, a
graduate student whose mental health counseling work includes helping
families touched by addiction, mostly heroin, and grief.
“I’m sure that people in caves worried about where the next meal came
from, but to some degree, they had a lot more control than we have
today. Cavemen, in those days, were very close to the issue. But
today, with the forces on our lives so distant, and so much going on
in cyberspace, it’s very hard to feel in control,” Gruman said.  “From
a professional standpoint, I’m seeing lots of people, who in a
different time and place, wouldn’t be suffering to the extent they
are, and that’s because the stakes have changed.
“I think where we are now as a society is fairly unprecedented. If you
look at the economics, the Depression was a terrible time. Joblessness
and homelessness were high, but families were kinder to each other.
Generally people hadn’t left the general area where they were born.
They had some tie to a place.”

THE LESSON OF ANXIETY
 Teens are feeling especially anxious, not only because they see the
economic strife, but also because much of their social life takes
place on Facebook or similar faceless, soul-less social networking
devices.
“We have practically bred a generation of people who are unfamiliar
with actual human contact and emotions because cyberspace is their
social life. Instead of learning that you wore the wrong dress while
you’re at the prom, somebody is going to say something about it on the
Internet that literally millions of people could access, and you can’t
 do a damn thing about it.”
Anxiety and hitting bottom are deeply unpleasant, but one would be
wise to be open up to the message of failure, Sullivan said.
“We’ve all made decisions of how things ought to be rather than how
they are,” Sullivan said. “Buying a house with no money down with the
belief that you will keep earning more money and can flip it. Buying
stuff on credit cards with the belief that you will get a good raise.
There was a belief going around during the dotcom buzz that our
population was blessed and would prosper doing exactly the job we
wanted to. People were making investments on the assumption of
unstoppable growth. Madoff was able to con people because they were
open to being conned. They wanted to buy the bridge that he was
selling them.
“And once you’re faced with the facts, we Americans find we can adapt
pretty well. We say, ‘Okay, we’ll get busy.’ In some ways, the dive
down might be really useful. Reality has a way of confronting people
with the face of who they are. It’s not always a pretty picture. But
you have to have a base to start with. If there is a reoccurring
problem in your life, what is the world telling you? Human nature is
to blame the world, not ourselves. But maybe our plan is based on an
illusion, and that’s why we keep screwing up. Maybe there is something
we are doing over and over, a reason why no one wants to be around us.
You don’t end up emotionally isolated by mistake.”

THE UGLY TRUTH
A true friend will level with you about the patterns that keep
appearing in your life, he said.
But how do you face the ugly truth about yourself without going into
the deep abyss of depression? Sullivan’s advice is to reach out to
your family, friends, or a support group. Group dynamics help keep you
thinking rationally, he said.
“There is something about social interaction we all need. When you are
isolated and anxious, you can get paranoid and think bizarre thoughts.
 In Alcoholics Anonymous, they tell the members,  ‘The time you need
to go to a meeting the most is when you don’t feel like going.’ You
need a belief system that’s outside of your own noggin.”
Good advice, agreed Gruman. Human contact and especially human touch
have the capacity to ground a person.
“It’s not so much we crave it, but it’s a way of reassuring ourselves
that everything is all right. But to some extent the ways we would
draw comfort from contact have left us, not completely, but to a
degree.  If I know Mr. Smith is going to take care of that package for
me, that’s fine. But when it goes through a machine, I know a robot
doesn’t care. Customer service is automated; on the phone, we’re not
asked to talk, but to punch in a number. We go to an ATM instead of a
teller. We scan our own groceries. We email a friend instead of pick
up a phone.”

SEEK A NETWORK
And people who move or travel a lot don’t have a network of friends.
Gruman is fully aware of this conundrum,  having just arrived in
Traverse City in September after living in Southeast Asia for 30
years.
“People have been kind but I arrived without friends and I immediately
got pneumonia. Doctors aren’t seeing new patients.  I can see that
networking in Traverse City is very strong, but I’m not part of it. As
a newcomer, I’m invisible on this horizon.  I have every confidence
that I will find my way, but transitions are lonely times.”
There are also two sides to the coin of networking or joining a club
or support group. Some groups thrive on anxiety, hatred, prejudice and
misplaced blame.  Group dynamics can even result in violence, such as
beating someone from a minority that you blame for your misfortunes.
In this past mid-term election, people complained about hateful and
deceitful ads from both sides of the political aisle, yet they were
inevitably drawn to them, Sullivan said.
“Reactivity sells. Who would people rather watch on TV? Jim Lehrer or
Glenn Beck? It’s like the fight at recess. No one believes in
fighting, but everyone likes to watch one. Would you rather watch a
car going down a dirt road or see a car wreck? We’re intrigued by
conflict.”

Taming Anxiety: What you can do
Anxiety, stress, and family fights—it’s a predictable and ugly bundle
when you lose your job or can’t pay your bills. So how do you get
professional help when you need it most, but can least afford it?
Look for resources at the bottom of the article, but do get help.
Anyone who suffers from anxiety will likely benefit from professional
assistance in getting to the heart of the problem, said family
therapist Michael Sullivan.
In addition to counseling, it’s possible to find temporary relief in
what Sullivan calls placebos.
“Placebos, in general, are a good thing. I’d like to dispense
extra-strength placebos for these times,” Sullivan said.
There are healthy placebos, such as exercise, talking to friends, and
writing out worries in a daily journal. The more destructive ones to
avoid include excessive drinking, gambling, drugging, and over-eating.
 You’ll also want to avoid becoming an intolerant “fundamentalist,”
whether it’s religion or the environment.
“You’ll have the green fundamentalist who’ll complain about a
religious person knocking at their door, but then they’re intolerant
of people who eat meat. People become fundamentalists because it gives
them a sense of control,” Sullivan said.

FEAR OF THE FUTURE
Sullivan said anxiety is fueled by constant obsessing about the
future—and the future is rarely as bad as people imagine.
“Have you heard of the book, ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers’? They don’t
have the imagination we do. It’s our thinking about the future that
drives anxiety. There’s a difference in being plan-full, but not
obsessive,” Sullivan said.
Besides reaching out to friends, Sullivan also recommends reading,
which he said is an extraordinary coping mechanism. There’s actually a
term for this—bibliotherapy—and it takes many forms, from reading
Proust, Rilke and the Bible, to self-help books that outline coping
skills for your specific mental malady.
“It’s meditative, it’s an outside reference,” Sullivan said.  “A book
attends to you a bit more than movies and it’s less anxiety-producing
than television. Media usually provokes an anxious response and the
hope of resolve. The house might be on fire, but, hey, it’s really
not, and in between the show I’ll sell you something. And to do that,
I must first convince you in the commercials that you’re not good
enough the way you are or you don’t have enough things. Because if
you’re already good enough, how can I get you to buy anything?”
When a person reads a book, they immerse themselves in the words by
producing mental images and acting out the drama in their minds. In
contrast to visual media, a reader becomes more actively engaged in
the message.

OTHER WAYS TO COPE:
Here are Sullivan’s other suggestions to cope with your anxious moments:
•  Good sex, dark chocolate, and music that touches you.
• Call up a relative you’ve been neglecting.
•  If you’re broke for the holidays, write down a plan of free things
to do such as forming a caroling group or hosting a potluck.
• Volunteer at a food bank and meet people who are even poorer than you are.
•  Walk outside in all kinds of weather, preferably with a friend.
• Make time to calm your noisy brain with meditation, prayer or a
slow walk in the woods. This helps you learn how to be “more in the
moment” and less scared of the future.
Finally, put your lean days into perspective. In life, there are
phases when you are making lots of money and times when you don’t. Be
patient. Problems aren’t solved as quickly as a 30-minute sitcom would
suggest.
And ask yourself, are you any worse off than you were growing up?
“People have this illusion things are worse, but how many bathrooms
did you have as a kid?” said Sullivan, who is 59. “When I grew up, we
had seven people sharing one bathroom. Now most homes have a TV in
every room. We had one to fight over. More people than ever are living
at a higher standard.”

Here are starting points for free or low-cost counseling: Third Level
Crisis Intervention Center provides crisis services and counseling for
free to anyone in Northern Michigan who asks, regardless of ability to
pay. Catholic Human Services in Traverse City provides counseling at a
sliding scale fee.  There’s help for the severely mentally ill at
state-funded community mental health centers, such as North Country
Community Health. If you don’t meet their criteria, they’ll give you
names of area therapists who can help. There is also counseling
available at women’s shelters at a sliding scale fee.

 
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