Hank had to sing an Italian song for his tests.
His music instructor did not believe that he had been practicing two hours a day. When Hank asked his voice teacher to sign off on those hours, his voice teacher still did not believe him. He had nothing to feel shame about. “Then why did I?” Hank wondered. Card in his hand, signed off, Hank resentfully kicked at the rocks covering the path back to administration.
Looking out over mostly empty hard wooden seating in the music hall, Hank slaughtered the song. Even so, it was still the best performance he had ever done. His father was there in his stained tie and largeness. His mother in her too many colors, smiled loudly. She was tone deaf. Frank’s shame followed him. He had practiced.
Hank’s older brother dressed in silk shirts, a big gold medallion, a tuft of hair coming out of his barely suppressed neckline. When they prayed, Hank heard these smacking noises, and thought, “Pray for my nausea,” hoping they would stop kissing. His brother always had a girlfriend. The girlfriend was at his recital. There were noises.
Everyone was scared Hank’s brother would marry too early and maybe marry for the wrong reasons. His dad was always like, “Wait, wait!” But with Angie, Dad was like, “Get married now!” Angie was the best in a long line of noisy kissers.
They asked Hank to sing at their wedding. They insisted. His brother, his brother’s girlfriend, his parents – they spoke in harmonics all at once. “Hank! You sing like Sinatra! Don’t worry so much! You should sing!”
In a rented tuxedo, Hank sang. The mike didn’t work. Aunt Augusta told him to sing louder. Aunt Augusta didn’t hear well, even if there was a mike. Hank forgot his words and had to start over. Sweat filled his shirt and he thought about the dry cleaning.
Hank has never had a girlfriend and he is almost twenty-five. Standing in front of all those people without the song lyrics, the only words that came to him were, “I am like a sweaty doorknob.” His brother, facing a battle of his own between his ruffled shirt and his manliness, did not help. Hank thought, “He is probably waiting for prayer so he can start kissing.”
The second year of college, Hank got caught with pornography. “Hank!” His mother pulled his ear, towing him while she shook the fisted magazine through the house. He didn’t listen to her words. He only listened to his memories asking his music instructor for his signature. Was it as bad as the wedding? Talking to Sarah or walking across the campus greens were bad. He fingered his worries like a beaded necklace. He worried a lot. Worry and shame. He wished he could have a girlfriend but thought that was a hopeless cause. Hank was already planning on buying a new magazine before Mom had thrown that one in the garbage.
It is so easy to explain away why Hank is the way he is. We have heard enough to say, his parents, his brother, his isolation, his treatment from teachers. We can use these to say, “Who wouldn’t be anxious, worried, down, and isolated, when going through these experiences?” If we did though, we might miss the generalized anxiety disorder, the medical. Conceptualizing the medical in this way can be so difficult. We could call it, “the un-reasons why” we feel and do what we do. So then we don’t have to deny it. The un-reasons why don’t have to make sense. They are un-reasons, after all. We don’t have to deny them by our inherent need to point at the cause and effect, or explain into uselessness the reason we are this way. We don’t have avoid eye contact just because they can’t be seen.
Hank, like so many of us, is included in the statistics that generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is one of the top reasons why we don’t get intimate with others. The anxiety is distracting. It isolates us. It preoccupies our thoughts. It fills us with self-doubt and develops over time, almost inevitably if not treated, into depression.
Getting by with something as subtle as GAD, or other brain illnesses such as degrees of depression, have potentially devastating effects on what occupies our life-line. The moments that construct the overall devastation may be explained away by one injustice or another, by what are thought to be personality quirks, or simply by neglect of self. But they could be different. The moments, the otherwise same moments, could be different. The same rude, distrustful teacher, the rejection from Sarah, the quiet mike – those moments could have been different with the same guy, different only in his brain health. Brain health makes the sameness different.
As Nancy A. Payne, of New York University (NYU) Silver School of Social Work, wrote about treating brain illness,
“There is tremendous satisfaction gained from facilitating the transition from profound illness to equally profound recovery.”
The life-line takes courage to look at. It takes courage to believe that the effect of our negative thoughts and distorted perceptions could indeed have that pervasively profound effect. It takes courage to consider that medical treatment can likewise, profoundly change our quality of life.
Hank tried to take his life with a rope before we met. I’m so glad he didn’t break his neck or die. He is now well treated and his disease is in remission. His life-line has changed.
Questions: What are you brave with? What do you spend your courage on? Tell us about it. We gain so much from community and connection. Keep on.
Self-Care Tip: Look also at the un-reasons, at the reasons less apparent, at what isn’t seen – look into those reasons of why we feel and do.
I was brave to finally seek help and realize medication will positively change my quality of life. Anxiety won’t control me anymore!
Seeking help for yourself in any way is incredibly brave. Good on you for doing so. Way to take control of your anxiety and advocate for yourself!
WOW! My God continues to be truly amazing and His timing is always perfect! While doing a quick check of my email this morning I initially chose to address this posting later, when I had more time. I had also made the decision to spend time with my God later today, rather than starting my day in His presence, as I normally would do. I wanted to get an early start, while it’s still cool, on what is going to be a long day of outdoor yardwork/projects. I was planning to come inside at the peak of the afternoon heat and relax as I did my devotions. For some reason I chose to read this posting this morning. What’s five more minutes?
As is probably obvious by now, this is exactly what I needed to read today; sooner, rather than later. And I will start my day in the presence of my God instead of waiting until later. What’s another five degrees of outdoor temperature?
Once again, I am facing character assassination, vilification, stigma, assumptions, false accusations, and flat out ignorance regarding mental/brain illnesses and medications used to treat these disorders. This first happened just over three years ago, when an extended family member took it upon herself to go through my personal belongings, including my medications. She made no attempt to conceal that she had done this. I was infuriated beyond belief, and I felt violated. Based on what she read on the internet regarding typical disorders and conditions for which they are prescribed, she erroneously made assumptions that I was being treated for these disorders, that I was a dangerous person, and that I had killed a family member, who had passed unexpectedly the day before she went through my belongings.
My initial reaction was the BURNING desire to confront this woman and “set her straight.” I was asked to just let the incident go unaddressed so as not to create any more tension while we all dealt with the death of our family member. There was also the threat of my partner no longer seeing her young grandchildren if this woman was angered. In the best interest of all I agreed to let this transgression go unaddressed. However, every time I saw my meds, every time I picked up a bottle, I felt so terribly violated, as though I had been raped. I struggled for several months with these thoughts and feelings.
One day, the light bulb finally came on and I realized how much power I was allowing this person to have over me. I was the one giving it away to her. I made the decision to take back my power. She does not deserve to have any presence or power of influence in my life. I decided that I would become a voice in the fight against the stigma related to mental illness. I made the decision to turn the negative emotional time and energy I wasted feeling violated and wronged into positive and productive energy and efforts. It was time to end my silence about my illness, struggles, and journey through recovery. I AM NOT MY ILLNESS. I live with my illness. I manage my illness to the best of my ability. I understand that I will experience setbacks. Most important, I understand that I can work through these setbacks without allowing them to completely derail my recovery. By grace, and an amazing treatment team who is incredibly strong and committed to guiding me through my recovery, I’m able to “turn my mess into my message.”
As I mentioned at the beginning, I’m once again faced with the same person attempting to use my mental illness as an excuse for all that is dysfunctional in her life. The difference in my reaction is that I am not angry with her. She needs help understanding mental illnesses and other brain disorders. I’m at a place in my recovery to have a factual, educational conversation with her about my illness and medications I take to maintain my health. I bet she’d be surprised to know that, as a woman, I take a prostate medication to manage nightmares and flashbacks. And also that lupus is not a mental illness…tee hee
Hello! Your response has been a great joy to share. thank you very much.
I appreciated the capitals placed with such effect ;). I shared the light from your light bulb and pray for the same grace you experience and describe so well. Keep on.
Very moving. Such gratification you must get from your work.
Thank you much M. I do, for certain.
I would like to ask you Dr about your input about smoking hooka and its effects on a person’s anxiety level. My husband’s family smoke it often as one of the traditions just as Arabic coffee or as tea.
I remember my Jiddo smoking that when I was a kid. We called it “hubbly bubbly.” 🙂
i’m not up on hookah latest data but can say it will increase anxiety as it is tobacco used or marijuana.
Thank you for the feedback.
If courage was a currency, then I would be Debtors Prison. There is nothing that comes to mind to say that “I am brave about.” It would be well argued that if being a coward and full of anxiety is the oppisite of Bravery, then I am guility and still in prision.
poetic friend, i stand in guilt w u. we know, you and i, that perfection is not the goal. your insight is lovely to share and half the way to freedom. keep on.