Tag Archives: anxiety

The Perils of Overapologizing

“Never ruin an apology with an excuse.” – Kimberly Johnson

Is it time to apologize? Maybe not.

For Depression Level(s): All.

It happened again.

My life and my depression collided in an awkward, unpleasant way last Saturday, and dang it, I’m mad about it! Not to mention embarrassed.

Here’s what happened: I’d been invited to attend a contra dance and potluck, an event that occurs the first Saturday of each month. I had known about this public event for years and had finally gotten up my courage to go, a decision in line with my commitment to participate more fully in life.

In a mood of pleasant anticipation, I made deviled eggs and got cleaned up, and off I went.

All seemed to go well at first. The eggs were a hit; people asked for seconds. The first dance was a circle dance, with everyone positioned in a big circle doing a few simple steps and exchanges. Although I’ve never had dance lessons and hadn’t danced in years, I caught on after a few rounds. As we whirled around in a big circle and I got handed back repeatedly to the man behind me, I found myself grinning and having fun.

The next dance I participated in seemed to be more of a square dance, with groups of four (two male-female couples each) interacting with each other and then with the other four-person squares down the line. I had observed the dance prior to this one with some trepidation; it looked very complicated. But I was willing to try. A nice gentleman asked me to be his partner; the other couple in our square consisted of the friends who had invited me.

Just a few maneuvers into the dance, everything seemed to close in on me. I felt as though the entire room was whirling around and that multiple people were grabbing at me. I had what I call a “PTSD moment”: The anxiety overwhelmed me and, for a brief moment, my mind shut down; I simply had to get the heck out of there. I shook off my partner’s hands, grabbed my things, and ran out of the building, crying.

I felt horribly embarrassed and angry that, once again, my depression had interfered with my ability to live my life the way I wanted. My depression brain started hurling invective at me: “Idiot! Can’t you even go to a simple dance, for crying out loud?” On top of all that, I left the three other people in my “square” in the lurch because a contra dance simply can’t be conducted with an odd number of people. I would have to apologize.

Perhaps you have experienced similar awkward, painful moments that were caused by your depression, anxiety, and/or PTSD. The need to apologize afterward is almost as bad as the original incident.

I find myself apologizing a lot: Social gaffes, as in the incident at the dance. Being late because I overslept. Something that I was supposed to follow up on but didn’t, mostly because I misjudged the amount of time it would take or because it became too stressful. Forgetting someone’s name or where I met the person.

And those are just the things I probably “should” apologize for.

I also find myself apologizing to my cats when someone rings the doorbell and they become startled, for speaking when someone interrupts me, and for not sending a birthday card even though I had both called on the day and sent an electronic greeting. I even apologize to my friends when they say they have a headache or don’t feel well, as if I somehow caused it.

While apologizing has its place, it’s when it becomes a habitual refrain that it becomes a problem. Constant apologizing — particularly for things we have no control over or that are so insignificant, they do not need an apology — is a bit like having termites in the house: Every unnecessary apology gnaws at the underpinnings of our self-esteem and reinforces the feeling of inferiority that is part and parcel of having a brain disorder.

Maybe it's time to honor your worth, beauty, and strength instead.

How can we guard against over-apologizing? Here’s a three-step process to help you get a handle on this detrimental habit:

1.     Become aware: Start noticing how many times per day the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize” leave your lips. Ask yourself: (a) “Am I actually at fault?” (b) “If I am, is it something that truly requires an apology?” To determine this, see if what you did — or didn’t do — violates your integrity and values. If yes, apologize; if not, don’t. (c) “If not, what else could I say instead?”

2.     Locate your need to apologize in your body: Where do you feel it? Ask yourself: (a) “How much of my tendency to apologize is an attempt to deflect another’s anger, whether real or assumed?” (b) “What situation does my fear of this person’s anger remind me of?” (c) “How can I feel safe without apologizing (provided an apology really isn’t needed)?” One possibility: “Beam” love to the needy or scared place in your body.

3.     Remind yourself of your inherent worth: Ask yourself: (a) “What good things have I done lately?” (b) What are some compliments I’ve received recently?” (c) “What are my gifts and talents?”

You do not need to apologize for your existence. You especially don’t need to apologize for having depression or any other brain disorder. Nor do you need to make yourself small to be safe. You have the power to keep yourself safe by taking care of yourself, building a support team, and remembering that you are good enough just as you are.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Depression and Parenting

“When you are a mother, you are never really alone in your thoughts. A mother always has to think twice, once for herself and once for her child.” –by Sophia Loren

Caitlyn Johnston, taking time to smell the roses.

Note: The following article was written by a wellness coach, writer, and friend of mine, Caitlyn Johnston, a single parent who has struggled with depression in the past. I asked her to write this article, since I do not have children but I know that being a parent while struggling with depression is one of the most difficult things a person can ever deal with. Caitlyn worked hard to do the things that would help her heal the depression, and is now doing quite well; she is both functional and happy. Her son is doing better all the time. For Caitlyn’s contact info, please see the end of the article.

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While I was depressed, there were only two things I was truly motivated to do: Be as good a parent as possible to my son, and heal the depression permanently. With research, support from a wonderful holistic doctor, and taking daily baby steps, I was actually able to improve both simultaneously.

Being a single mom is deeply depressing, and all I felt was harried, overwhelmed, and anxious about everything. Doing the dishes and laundry, changing my little one’s diapers, and even grocery shopping seemed like major efforts. Trying to work full-time on top of it all was untenable, so I switched to part-time substitute teaching. Needless to say, we went on food stamps, which was even more depressing. In short, everything took me out of my comfort zone, and the sleep deprivation of my son’s early years drove me over the edge.

Depression rendered me barely capable of good parenting. It was a nightmare for me, and I can’t imagine how awful it must have been for him. One of my saddest memories is when he trotted in one day at the age of five and announced how he’d finally learned to ride his bike. He’d done it completely alone. What was even worse is that he’d asked me several times, and I kept telling him we’d do it later. The truth was it was yet another thing I just couldn’t deal with.

There were only three things that brought me comfort and nurturance: Holding him on my lap and reading to him, my spiritual practices of prayer and meditation, and eating as much and as often as I could. The more sugar I ate, the more numb I became to my distress. Close human contact and my active internal spiritual life anchored me, yet the desperation of depressive parenting drove me to find a way out. I ballooned to a huge 225 pounds. This was even more depressing, but at least it helped me cope.

However, being a parent while having depression was also, in its own way, a blessing. With a small child in tow, I had no choice but to get up and take care of him. I could do for him what I couldn’t do for myself. I found the minute physical activity helped me stay out of the negative mental chatter that erodes the mind.

To be honest, though, when I was taking care of him, I was only going through the motions. Emotionally, I was inundated with foggy fatigue. Physically, I got him bathed and dressed, fed and off to preschool, although he was constantly late. I often got a talking-to about how it was important to get him there on time, because he’d miss fun or interesting things. They had no idea he was lucky to be there at all. But of course I never told them that; isolation is a silent killer of this disease.

In the summer of 2001, I was finally diagnosed and put on SSRIs. I felt better, more alive, but they had an intolerable side effect: I felt spiritually disconnected. Prayer and meditation became numb and scary. I am vehemently against taking drugs of any kind, so I sought out a naturopathic physician who does real-time biofeedback brain training. It took six months to teach my brain how to have healthy brain waves, and I was able to ditch the SSRIs. I didn’t escape them unscathed, though; they caused endometriosis (an internal bleeding disorder), for which I had an ovary removed in 2007.

As you make healing choices, your life blooms like a beautiful rose.

While I was healing my brain, I was also determined to lose some weight. At one point, I had noticed a correlation between physical movement and feeling better. Sure enough, as I took up a little exercise—wooden though it felt—exercising for only 20 minutes a day really made a difference. I knew 20 minutes really wasn’t adequate, but the baby step that was manageable was either walking a mile, or doing a quick exercise video. I found my mood lifted. It also became clear that the toxins making my body fat and sluggish continued to make my mind fat and sluggish. More baby steps included banishing soda and wheat from my diet. As I ditched them, my mind cleared even more!

As I began to piece my physical and spiritual health back together, my mental health improved right along with them. So did my relationship with my son! Parenting—and life—began to take on an ease I’d never felt before. All my little baby steps seemed inadequate at the time, but they had powerful results. Currently, I’ve been depression-free and off SSRIs for ten years, I’ve lost 50 pounds, and my income has radically increased as I was able to get back to my career as a writer. When the tendency for depression does show up, it’s only for a few days at most.

My story turns out to be not unique. Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. cites similar cases in his book Spontaneous Healing. As it turns out, the best kept secret in the mental health industry is that depression can be healed by taking baby steps using a holistic approach. And if I can do it, so can you! The best part is that your relationships with your children improve right along with it all.

(c) 2011 by Caitlyn V. Johnston, M.B.A.

To contact wellness coach Caitlyn, visit her web site at Expansive Prosperity and Health Holistic Coaching.

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Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 2

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a heaven of Hell, and a hell of Heaven.” — by John Milton

Where there is life, there is hope.

For depression level(s):  Severe.

Before continuing with the last five of my top ten remedies for depression emergencies (for the first five, see Top Ten Remedies for Depression Emergencies — Part 1), I want to focus on what you should not do if you are experiencing a depression emergency. The emotional pain of severe depression can be acute, making us want to do anything to make it stop. However, any self-destructive or acting-out behavior might alleviate that pain for all of five minutes, after which you will feel much worse. I have been there, more times than I can count. Trust me, it doesn’t help.

Here’s what doesn‘t work:

  • Overeating;
  • Eating neurotoxic foods, such as wheat, refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, and processed foods;
  • Drinking and drugging;
  • Excessive smoking;
  • Spending sprees;
  • Isolating;
  • Cutting (self-mutilation);
  • Putting in motion plans to commit suicide.

If you are seriously contemplating suicide, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If you need to go to the hospital, ask a family member or friend to take you, or call 911 for an ambulance. You are too precious to take your own life. Don’t do it. The world needs your unique gifts and talents, and you deserve to get well and enjoy your life. It can happen, but only if you give yourself a chance.

With that said, here are the last five remedies for depression emergencies:

5.    Increase your dosage of Omega-3’s. If you’re currently taking 1000 mg. of fish oil, take 2000. If you’re currently taking 2000 mg., take 3000. If you aren’t currently taking any at all, get some high-quality, mercury-free fish oil as soon as you can and start with 1000 mg. A “normal” dose (for folks without depression) is 1000 mg.; a therapeutic dose starts at 3000 mg. As with any supplement, you are responsible for determining whether this is the right thing for you.

4.     Call your therapist. Try to get in to see her immediately for an emergency session. She can talk you out of the really scary place you’re in, give you some additional coping strategies, and determine whether you need to be admitted to a hospital on an inpatient basis.

3.     Go to a support group meeting. I recommend you go to a face-to-face 12-Step meeting. If you are not in 12-Step recovery, that’s okay; you can still attend an open meeting of almost any fellowship. The important thing is not that you share the outward manifestation of addiction, whether it be alcoholism, compulsive overeating, drug addiction, codependence, or what-have-you; but that you connect with people who have experienced many of the same struggles you have and who understand what it’s like to be in emotional pain. Their experience, strength, and hope can get you over this rough patch and help you to feel connected and empowered.

The following fellowships are the most likely to have open meetings in your area:

Your town may also have a depression support group. Chances are, however, that they don’t meet very often and may not meet soon enough to help you through your current depressive crisis. To find a depression support group near you, contact your local hospital; they frequently sponsor these groups. You can also go to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance’s (DBSA’s) website.

2.     Get a massage or other bodywork and/or energy work. Getting some type of body work done, such as massage, craniosacral, or reflexology and/or some energy work, such as Reiki or Therapeutic Touch, will not only be healing for you but will also help you to feel connected and nurtured. To find a practitioner in any of these modalities (and many others) visit massagetherapy.com’s referral page.

You have the option to activate your very own spiritual "SWAT team."

1.     Call in the spiritual SWAT team. That’s right. It’s time to bring in the big guns. Connecting to your Higher Power accomplishes three things: a) It allows you to surrender and let go of your fear and anxiety and turn them over to something bigger than yourself, b) it helps you to feel supported and connected, and c) it activates spiritual healing forces on your behalf.

Here are just a few suggestions on how to activate your own spiritual “SWAT team”:

  • Ask a friend, loved one, or your spiritual community to activate a prayer chain on your behalf. Family members and friends of people with cancer and other serious illnesses do this all the time. You are just as sick and just as in need of the loving care of other people and of your Higher Power. This has the added benefit of allowing people to actively care for you instead of just wondering how they can help you.
  • Work the first three Steps of 12-Step recovery around your depression; discuss them with another person. You don’t even have to be in a 12-Step program to do this. The Steps go like this:
    Step 1: I admit I am powerless over depression; it is making my life unmanageable.
    Step 2: I believe that a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity.
    Step 3: I turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God.
  • Call upon the Archangel Raphael and his team of healing angels. Ask them to surround you and send the healing white light of God’s presence and love into your brain to heal it. This technique can be especially powerful and effective if you ask some friends to join you in “seeing” the angels doing their healing work.

You do not have to suffer. Do what it takes to stabilize yourself at this time, and then start taking proactive steps to rescue yourself and live well in spite of having depression. Whoever you are, wherever you are, my prayers are with you.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

Do you know anyone who is in a depressive crisis? If so, please share this with them! It may help.

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It’s In the Hands

“Sometimes, if you want to see a change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands.” – Clint Eastwood

If you have depression, you are probably intimately acquainted with anxiety as well. The comorbidity rate (the likelihood of two diseases coexisting in the same person at the same time) for depression and anxiety is quite high—58% of people diagnosed with major depressive disorder also experience some form of anxiety disorder.[i] And here you thought you were somehow abnormal!

Anxiety hits during times of stress

While depression feels like wearing cement blocks chained to your ankles, anxiety feels like cement blocks are piled on your chest. Breathing is constricted, and the heart rate speeds up. Other physical symptoms can include headaches, fatigue, sweating, nausea, tense muscles, super-sensitive skin, heightened startle reflex, and trembling. Along with the physical symptoms come mental and emotional ones: Worry, irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, a distorted view of problems or events, and a desire to isolate.

Interestingly, many researchers in the depression and anxiety fields believe that “a brain serotonin abnormality has more to do with anxiety than with depression,”[ii] according to Dr. Charles L. Whitfield, but because pharmaceutical companies have told us for more than 20 years that depression is caused by the brain’s inability to utilize serotonin properly (all the better to sell antidepressant drugs), that’s what we believe. This actually makes sense to me. In my own experience, taking SSRIs didn’t do much for my depression but seemed to alleviate the anxiety somewhat, if only by making me feel numb.

Riding a wave of anxiety can feel very much like riding a surfboard: You’re not at all sure you’re going to be able to keep your balance and you’re very much afraid you’re going to end up floundering about in water over your head. The unconscious impulse is to freeze and grab on to anything that feels familiar, whether it be a place, a person, or a routine; and to avoid anything that feels threatening. This is the old freeze-or-flee paradigm. Functioning normally becomes difficult, if not impossible.

For this reason, it’s important to interrupt the fear messages your brain is sending to your body and mind. (Let’s face it: Your brain doesn’t always interpret things accurately; it just thinks it does.) There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Physical engagement—for example, aerobic exercise;
  • Mental engagement—for example, cognitive-behavioral therapy;
  • Spiritual engagement—for example, meditation.

Try this simple exercise I developed to relieve anxiety that incorporates both physical and spiritual engagement:

1)    Find a quiet place where you can be alone for about five minutes. If this is a restroom stall at your workplace, so be it.

2)    Take note of your anxiety level: On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being barely noticeable and 10 being off the charts.

3)    Take three deep breaths. By “deep” breath, I mean, inhale to the count of four; hold for two; exhale to the count of four. If you can go for counts of six, three, six, do so.

4)    Rub your hands together until they are warm. This may take from one to two minutes.

5)    Place your left palm over your heart and your right palm over your solar plexus, about 2-4” above your navel. (The solar plexus is the spot where we frequently feel we have a “knot in the stomach.”)

6)    Continue breathing deeply. On the inhale, say to yourself, “I am a beloved child of God.” On the exhale, say to yourself, “I let go of all that does not serve me. I am safe.” Do this for one minute, or until you are feeling calmer and better able to function.

7)    Smile. Bask in the feeling of being loved and safe.

8)    Take note of your anxiety level now. Has it gone down?

If you do not “arrive” at a place of feeling connected to your Higher Power, don’t worry about it. The point is to feel better, not to have a transformative spiritual experience. The more you practice this exercise, the more powerful and effective it becomes.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.


[ii] Charles L. Whitfield, M.D., The Truth About Depression: Choices for Healing (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 2003) 15.

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