Wednesday, July 9, 2014


I’m awash in metaphor these days.
One that I’m fond of (especially given the recent torrents of rain in my area) is being in the eye of the storm.  Per Wikipedia, it’s “a region of mostly calm weather found at the center of strong tropical cyclones”.  One can live fairly peacefully in the metaphorical eye of storm, but at the same time it’s very limiting… this is your comfort zone, that mystical place where not much happens, good or bad.  In order to get out of the storm, you’ll have to walk through the storm itself, battered by wind and rain, and… well, you catch my drift.  Getting through that storm may be rough going at first, but it will be well worth it when you emerge on the other side and feel the warm sun beating down on your face, and the typhoon winds are replaced by a cool, light breeze.

I caught another metaphor during a TV show called “Arrow”.  
One character talked about how people who go through a crucible, a severe test of strength and will.  Some make it through just fine (and, in fact, come out stronger and better for the experience).  Others fall, and let the crucible break them.  There’s another group of people, the character said, those who like the fire and prefer to remain in the challenges.  I thought about it, and realized I know people in all three classes. A cautionary note to those who choose to remain in the fire: be careful you don’t get burned.

One metaphor that really resonates with me of late is that of a locomotive beginning its journey.  I recently read a book called The Compound Effect, an above average example of of the success/ achievement genre.  There is a chapter about midway through the book all about momentum.  The author, Darren Hardy, points out that a train is very slow to begins its journey.  Even the powerful engine of a locomotive, pulling a chain of cargo cars, struggles to move forward at first… an inch at a time.  Then a foot at a time.  Eventually it will reach enough velocity that will crush almost anything in its way (I have seen the end result of a train/ automobile collision with my own eyes, so I can attest to that).
But what if that train gave up in the midst of trying to gain velocity?  
“Ugh… this is too hard,” says the train. “Forget it.  I’ll never get going.”
You and I might stand on the sidelines, urging the train on.
“Don’t give up,” we say. “Keep going.”  We remind the train that they’ll move an inch at a time at first, then a foot at a time, and will go faster and faster, until it becomes that powerful force that can tear through virtually anything in its path.
Recently, someone I know flat out gave up at what I felt was the cusp of a very big breakthrough for them professionally.  I hope, as time moves forward, he’ll not regret it too much… and I hope, at the next such opportunity, he’ll stick with it and not give up.
I know it’s difficult to get that momentum going.  It’s a daunting task to keep pulling with all your might, especially when you can only move an inch at a time at first.  Keep the faith, though, and keep going.  Remember that inch you just moved?  That alone is worth something, even if it doesn’t seem like much at the time.  Before long you will have moved a foot and before you know it, you’ll be an unstoppable force… but none of that will happen if you give up right out of the gate.
Believe me, I know.  I’ve given up plenty of times, but I have no plans to do so again. So yes, I actually propose that you and I become “the little engine that could”.

Are there any other metaphors that resonate with you?  How do they inform your life?  Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

In Our Last Episode...

In my last blog post, “My Trip to the Mega-Store”, I wrote extensively about my struggles with anxiety.  I had some trepidation about making that post, but it turned out to be a great move.  
  • It was my most viewed blog post ever, even after just one week.
  • Several people let me know that they deal with anxiety too and appreciated what I had to say, even saying that I gave them a couple ideas on how to deal with it.
  • One friend sent the post to her daughter, in hopes that the young lady wouldn't feel so alone in her struggle.
  • I've had a number of people ask me, “when’s your next blog post?” Hint: here it is (and sorry it took so long. Sometimes your author procrastinates).
Funny how something I almost didn't post actually turned out to be such a huge positive… not only for me, but for a lot of people.

I have been working very hard since on properly managing my anxiety. Among other things, I've finished two books on the subject.
Yes, I read a book by a “Jersey Shore” cast member.
Make no mistake, though: this is an excellent book. Vinny details his struggles with anxiety and puts forth a holistic plan for dealing with it all.  The book is a quick, easy read.  I found it in the young adult section of the library, in fact, so it would be perfect for teens and pre-teens.

I’ve long been a fan of the “...For Dummies” series.  I certainly consider myself a “dummy”, but I do appreciate the soup to nuts approach the series offers.  This book is no exception.  It covers anxiety (and how to manage it) from every angle imaginable. The book contains a veritable arsenal of tools one can put to use
One particularly useful technique I picked up was how to manage my breathing.  When you feel the anxiety start to rise, do the following:
  • Breath in deeply, through your nose, to the count of five.
  • Breath out through your mouth to the count of five.
  • Repeat until you feel more calmer and more level.
  • You may want to incorporate a mantra, as mentioned below.
I’ve adopted a couple other techniques:
A mantra. A single word you say when you start to get stressed.  For me it’s “calm”.  I also will visualize the smooth surface of a lake, which helps me maintain a smooth surface of my own.
A totem. I found a small piece of smooth, rounded glass that I keep in my pocket. When stress and anxiety rear their ugly hydra heads, I will take the glass piece out of my pocket and run my fingers over the smooth surface. I will go back to the that mental visual of the glass-like surface of a lake, enhanced by the tactile sensation of my totem.
I’ve found that exercise continues to be a great cure for whatever anxiety that ails me.  I will not only work off some steam, but I will always get a nice dose of nature’s own happy drug, endorphins.  There’s also much to be said for the feeling of accomplishment one gets after completing a good workout.

More important that almost anything: WHY.  A day came, not so long ago, that I realized I was getting worse over time.  I knew I had to take immediate, definitive, massive action or this anxiety would completely rule my life. I have to consistently manage what’s going on in my head, just as I consistently work out.  I’ve seen what it did to others over time, and I want a better life for myself.  It was time to draw a line in the sand.
The line is drawn.  I stand and fight.  If you struggle too, I will fight with you.  And we will win.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My Trip to the Mega-Store

I suffer from anxiety.
When I say that, I don’t mean “I’m about to ask the cheerleader to the prom” type nervousness.  I mean the kind of anxiety that can be debilitating at times.
At its worst, in the midst of an anxiety attack, you can’t think straight.
Everything seems unreal.
You’re shaky.
You’re short of breath.
You’re light headed.
You want to get the hell out of wherever you are.
Dealing with an attack’s aftermath is no picnic either.  Imagine being mentally and physically exhausted to your very core, yet you can’t sleep right, if at all.  Your gastrointestinal system becomes your mortal enemy.  Your muscles tense to where they seem like coiled steel.  You get headaches.

A few of you out there already knew that I struggle with anxiety.  Some of you maybe had some inkling this was the case (and are probably thinking, “oh yeah, that makes sense now”). Many of you had no idea. But now you know.  But I know some won’t make the effort to understand.
I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for me.  Yes, it sucks.  Yes, it makes life a rather harder than it should be.  But it’s a lot easier to contend with than a lot of other problems other people have, so I suppose I’m lucky in that respect.
So why am I being public about this?  Hopefully someone with the same issue will read this and suddenly not feel so alone.  Perhaps some will recognize themselves in some of the symptoms I’ve outlined and get some help or take steps to manage it on their own.  Maybe it will dawn on a person or two that the way they feel doesn’t have to be their status quo.  This may change the opinion that some folks have of me, but frankly,  I don’t care.  In fact, I hereby dismiss the opinion of  anyone who will judge me negatively because of this. In many ways it’s akin to having, say, asthma.  Would you look down on someone having an asthma attack?  I certainly hope not.
So it doesn’t exactly make for easy living, but it still has to be dealt with.   I really can’t help it and I do strive to make the the best of it.  I work my ass off to manage my anxiety,  I work very hard to stay positive (this alone has probably been my saving grace) and I don’t take it out on others.
Anxiety is controllable to an extent, but it’s very unlikely that any kind of chronic anxiety can ever be completely overcome.  I had actually at one point thought I had it put to rest for good.  In my hubris, I thought it conquered… a non-issue going forward.  Never to be spoken of again. Part of the past.  Behind me. Done deal. Of course, I was very, very wrong (and, of course, this means I owe someone a pretty big apology, but perhaps that’s a story for another day).  
Like many things, anxiety is meant to be managed, not defeated.  There will be no heroic final battle in which I defeat my enemy once and for all (that would be super cool though, right?).  Eternal vigilance is the key to success, coupled with some smart and proactive coping strategies (among them: exercise, meditation and maintaining a positive mental attitude).

So it turns out that a young friend of mine struggles with anxiety too.
We had talked about it a few times.  I mostly wanted him to realize that anxiety shouldn’t rule his life, nor should he feel bad about it.  It’s not his fault, but it is his responsibility to deal with, yet he does need someone to show him the way.
So I felt an anxiety attack coming on.  No big, awful thing had occurred to trigger it, mostly it was the accumulation of many little things (if you’re familiar with the phrase “death by a thousand papercuts,” you probably have some understanding of where I’m coming from).  Rather than ignore the attack or hide from it or try to mitigate it, I let it happen.  I decided to take it on. It was an opportunity to show my young friend (and yes, myself) that this could be coped with and anxiety doesn’t have to run one’s life.
I managed to keep fairly level for the next couple hours.  It was a struggle, but I managed.  As I said goodbye for the day to my young friend, I shared with him what I was going to do next… probably the most insane and challenging thing one could do when struggling with an anxiety attack.
That’s right… I was going to go to the Mega-Store.  In case you don’t know what store I’m referring to, let’s just say the name of it rhymes with Hall-Mart.  Or Ball-Mart.  I’m pretty sure you can crack my code.
Anyway, the aforementioned Mega-Store would have to be among the worst possible places for me to go right then.  A crush of loud, rude, anxious people; all bustling about, crashing into one another in search of the best deal.  Aisles upon aisles of merchandise, with the loud din of commerce all about.  Too much sound.  Too much activity.  In short, sensory overload to the nth degree.
So I spent a good thirty minutes or more at the Mega-Store.  I did manage to accomplish my stated mission of securing a pedometer fairly quickly, but chose to walk around the store for a little while, in large part to challenge my anxiety and test my limits at the same time.
I was, as expected, completely exhausted in both mind and body by the time I got home. I more or less felt like a raw, open wound. I woke up the next morning feeling like I had a low-grade flu. Despite all that, I still considered my mission a great success.  I proved to my young friend (and myself) that anxiety doesn’t have to rule one’s life with an iron fist.  I know that trying to make an anxiety attack worse sounds pretty counterintuitive, but come to find out it is actually a therapeutically sound technique.  
“Paradoxical intention. The goal of this exercise is to trigger a panic attack and stand up to it, thereby feeling in control of what frightens you. Go into the feared situation with the tools you’ve learned, and perhaps with a friend for support, and actually dare the attack to happen. This can help you train yourself to not be afraid of the situation, and give you an opportunity to learn from it.”
Mission accomplished…. in a major way.  Better yet: a big, fat middle finger to anxiety.  I’ll be far more in control the next time it decides to rear its ugly head and hopefully my young friend will as well.

I look back and see how contending with anxiety has impacted virtually every corner of my life.  It has affected my career, love life, friendships, family life and even my writing.  It was my status quo for a good, long time.  I just accepted it and lived with it for most of my life.  I knew things weren’t quite right ever since my early teens, but I thought I was just a little off.  There are moments now when I resent that no one helped me back then while I very obviously struggled, but I just as quickly put that behind me. While it would have been great to get some help when I was younger, it is my responsibility to manage it now as well as help others.
The anxiety had become more and more of a problem over the past couple months.  A friend had passed away early in the year which caused me to step back and very seriously reflect on my life.  I looked at my past, present and future with renewed clarity.  While I have much to be proud of, I also saw where I had wasted much time, potential and opportunity.  I started to let myself feel very badly about that, rather than use those regrets as a spur to achievement.  Despite that, I managed to move forward (a little) with an unfinished writing project.  I was right at the cusp of breaking through to that proverbial next level.  I was right there, just at the summit of the next mountain, when anxiety and his best buddy fear of failure conspired to kick me back down.
I wasn’t having it.  Not this time.
I metaphorically stood back up, dusted myself off and began another ascent. And another. And another. It was near impossible to gain any traction.  The stress and anxiety became more of a constant and a heavier burden than ever before, to where those around me started to notice the change in my demeanor.  I was exhausted all the time.  I wasn’t my usual friendly, enthusiastic self.  In short, I was about as much fun to be around as a stick.  
Between being called out on my state of being and trying to help my young friend, I soon came to realize that I had to attack my problem at its roots.  A little research yielded a pretty good plan, one that might help you if you have the same struggle:
  • Exercise: Releasing some endorphins is always a good thing, no matter the circumstances.  I’m not saying you have to take on something on the level of P90X.  Just move and move with purpose.  Go for a walk or jog.  Do some yoga or kickboxing.  You might even enjoy yourself.  
  • Sleep and relaxation: Dealing with anxiety tends to wreak havoc on one’s sleep patterns, which makes it all the important to, at minimum make sure you relax.  Watch a movie.  read a good book.  Vegetate on the couch.  I’m pretty sure you can come up with a lengthy list of your own.
  • Meditation: I don’t mean you have to sit lotus style in a dimly lit room and say “om”.  Think “quiet stillness” and you’re on the right track.
  • Diet: Healthy, healthy, healthy… heavy on the fruits, nuts and veggies.
  • Mindfulness:  Specifically, be aware of your thoughts and how they lead to anxiety.  Doing so will often enable you to put the lie to some of those thoughts, which is very powerful and helpful.
  • Challenge it: Like I did above… poke the bear.  Take on an anxiety attack.  You may just find you’ll survive it and you may just find it’s not as bad as you had anticipated.
  • Challenge yourself: Gradually expand your comfort zone.  Living with anxiety can often lead to retreating from challenges.  The solution is to take them on little by little, one at a time.
  • Don’t be a hermit: I tend to withdraw at times, which is actually counter-productive.  Try your best to spend time engaged in fun activities with positive people.
  • Live in the present: This is tough, especially for a goal-oriented person such as myself.  That said, I do understand that the future can be fraught with worry and the past might be a litany of regrets.  The only moment you can control is right now.  The present is when you can choose your reaction to the past and take action to improve your future.
  • Stay positive: A dose of positive thinking goes a long, long way.  
A word of caution: while it’s important to be aware of what your issue is (be it anxiety, a weight problem, a chronic medical condition or any of a myriad of other things), be very careful not to define yourself that way.  You are not the “fat guy” or “asthma girl”... you are you, and there are a kaleidoscope of facets to who you are.  The way you define yourself tends to become your full identity.  You are so much more than your anxiety or your weight or whatever your challenge might be.

I hope that if you suffer from anxiety you don’t consider yourself the odd man (or woman) out.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as 40 million adults are affected by some sort of anxiety disorder.  You are not alone.  You are not weird.  You are not weak.  You have a challenge, and it’s one that you are fully capable of managing.  Besides… there are plenty of people who understand what you’re going through.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


You have a destination in mind.  We all do.  Trouble is, it’s on the other side of fear, just a step or two outside your comfort zone.  You know you deserve to get there.  You have no doubt getting there will change your life completely.
So you step forward.  You see what’s between where you are now and this Valhalla of yours.  And you step back.  You take a deep breath and close your eyes.  You’ve seen you’ll have to brave a gauntlet of fear and opposition.  You step forward.
Your fear takes a swing.  You dodge the first blow, but your fear strikes you in the gut, taking your breath away.  It’s poised to strike again, but you block and strike back, knocking fear to its knees.  You kick forward, knocking fear onto its back.  Down and out.
So you move on.
Suddenly you are faced with an abyss.  So very far across, and so deep that you can’t see the bottom for all the darkness.  
I can’t make that leap,” you say to yourself, “I just can’t.”
But you know you have to.  You take a step back, then another and another.  Your strategy is to make running start at it and leap.  
You hear a voice from behind you: “Don’t even it try it.”
You close your eyes and sigh.  A voice from your past, one that you’ve heard seemingly infinite times before.
The voice again: “Don’t even try it.  You’ll fall into the abyss.  You’ll die.”
Your legs suddenly feel a bit weaker.  Your breath, shallower.  You bend over, hands to your knees, and try to shut out the voice.
Again.  More insistent. “You’ll die.”
You fully stand and half turn to address the voice.
Go to hell,” you say.
You break into a dead run.  You leap for all you’re worth at the edge of the abyss.  You reach the apex of your jump and start to fall.
You’re not going to make it.
You stretch forward with everything you’re worth.  You crash into the other side of the abyss.  The impact pushes the breath out of your body… but you made it.  You hold on and manage, barely, to pull yourself up.  You take in great gulps of air and stand.
You’ve only just caught your breath when a strong, sinewy arm comes from somewhere behind you and wraps around your neck.  You try to pull the arm away, but you barely have any strength left.
Everything is going gray. You’re starting to fade.
You start seeing visions.  You wonder if this your life flashing before your eyes, as these visions are as vivid as life itself.
You see the teacher who told you that you’d never amount to anything.
You see the kids who taunted you everyday, just because you were smaller and different.
You see the former lover who told you what a disappointment you are.
Then the visions shift...
You see your friend, down and out, who needs your example to prove he can rise up himself.
You see your future love take your hand and not let go.
You see your child, the one who so desperately needs a hero.
You are suddenly possessed with enormous strength.  You twist the arm off your neck and throw your assailant to the ground.  You look down.
It’s your own face you see.
You face one another, standing toe-to-toe.
Why?” you say. “Why would you try to stop me?’
I’m trying to protect you,” comes the reply.
Protect me?”  You shake your head.  “From what?”
From what lies ahead.”
You turn and see a mountain before you.  It’s rocky, yes, but not too steep.  You know you can handle the climb.  You know that your destination is just on the other side.
I’m fine,” you say.  “I got this.”
Your other makes a furtive grab for your arm.  You pull away.
Let me make something clear to you,” you say, leaning forward. “Do not try to stop me.  If you try, you will fail. Do we understand one another?”
There is no reply.  Your other steps back and you make your way to the mountain.

The climb was vastly harder than you thought, but still, you made it.  You pause at the summit, looking down at what lies ahead.  
You passed the gauntlet.
You climbed the hill.
The country ahead has beauty aplenty… a lush forest is not too far away, edged by a smooth, clear lake.   There are perils as well… a murky swamp to pass through and a raging river to brave, but no matter.  This undiscovered country is your destination and your land to conquer.
You smile ever so slightly and begin your descent down the other side of the mountain.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Letter To My Young Friend

A Letter To My Young Friend

Hello my friend,
I’m glad we got to chat for awhile recently.  It’s been too long, of course, and it’s too bad we don’t have the opportunity to talk in person like we once did.  Such is life, I suppose; but I know we’ll remain in touch.  Remember that I’m always here for any sort of advice and encouragement you might need.
I hope what I said made sense to you.  I’ve seen too many people (yeah, myself included) remain in a state of indecision for so long it becomes a comfort zone of sorts.  It’s easy to become paralyzed by a big, life-changing choice; to stay at the fork in the road and never go left or right.  That comfort zone of indecision will get smaller and smaller over time and eventually will become as restrictive as a straightjacket.  Not taking that fork in the road will eventually lead to wandering in the woods when the path becomes overgrown.  You will most assuredly become lost if you don’t.   
The key is to do something, anything.  It almost doesn’t matter what.  Hopefully things will go great.  You’ll move forward with your life and get all the success you want and deserve.  Even if what you choose doesn’t turn out as well as you had hoped, you’ve merely found out something that doesn’t work.  I know you’re smart enough to learn from that and can move on from there.
Ultimately that alternative of indecision is a waste of time and potential… given that you have a lot in terms of brains, talent and ideas to offer the world, I hope you’ll do what you can to keep moving ever forward.

There’s something I didn’t tell you when we chatted, something that I think is important.
I found out, just a few days before, that another young friend of mine had passed away.  He was a lot like you in many ways:  he was smart, ambitious and had an amazing future ahead of him.
I processed quite a few emotions in the days after I learned of his passing.  Grief was certainly a big one, and I suspect that will remain and will pop up on its own accord from time-to-time.  That’s certainly to be expected.  
I found myself thinking an awful lot about the loss of potential.  This led me down a path where I had to be brutally honest with myself and realize that I haven’t exactly been true to the potential I have (I think you know that).  
I started considering the legacy I want to leave one day.  Hint: it’s not boxes full of unfulfilled dreams, lists of unrealized goals and lifetime’s worth of wasted potential.  I also realized that one’s legacy is not just something one leaves upon their passing.  You leave a legacy each day in you do with it… you leave a legacy with everyone you interact with.  But I digress.
I began to inventory time wasted and chances not taken.
I realized the most obvious thing in the world… that yes, I need to take more chances and not be afraid to fail.
And, in a very small way, I did just that.

There’s this woman I know.  You would like her if you got to meet her.  She’s smart and nice and really funny.  She’s also beautiful, but not in a “look at me I’m such a hottie” type way.  She just is.  So naturally, I developed something of a schoolboy crush on her.  It had been a little while since I had anything resembling a crush on anyone, so my feelings took me by surprise.  
Anyway, I finally took a chance and said something to her.  
While she confessed to having had similar feelings for me from time-to-time, for whatever reason or reasons she didn’t want to start dating.  She felt bad about it, in that she thought she hurt my feelings.  While I was a little disappointed things didn’t go my way, I did let her know I was more than fine with how things played out.
The important thing is I manned up and said something, rather than remaining in those murky waters of inaction and indecision.  Even though our conversation didn’t go the way I wanted, nothing bad happened… so the next time I see someone I want to meet I’ll be far more likely to speak up, rather than remain silent and wonder if I should post something in the “missed connections” section on Craig’s List.  Bonus: learning that this really cool, beautiful woman ever had crushy feelings my way, something I never would have known had I not spoken up.  

So in the end, just take some action.  Don’t get too hung up about whether you’ll succeed or fail.  I know I’m far from the first person to say this, but it stands true now as it always has: not taking action and not making a decision ensures you’ll fail.  Don’t be one of those people who is forever in the shadow of what could have been.  Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable and maybe even a little scared at times… that’s how you know you’re truly alive and nothing is greater than that.
Now go and make it happen.

Take care,