Category Archives: Mental Health

Anxiety Talk: Being a Comforting Voice

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

As someone living with a mental illness, specifically anxiety, I’m often in the position of having to be comforted or reassured by others. It’s something I try hard to be mindful of. I don’t want to generalize, as everyone deals with anxiety in their own way. But I’ve found that it’s very easy to for me to make difficult conversations about myself, my feelings, and what’s going on in my head. It’s never intentional, of course. But when you’re used to being so open with someone, it almost comes natural. That’s something I really dislike about myself. No one should put others in the position of having to be comforting and reassuring all the time. Having anxiety doesn’t excuse that.

With that in mind, these last few years I’ve really tried to work on my own listening skills, and being that comforting person for the people in my life when called upon. That’s not always easy because of the social aspect of my anxiety. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it doesn’t. Either way, it’s good to think about it.

So where am I going with all this? A few days ago, I was put in a position to comfort someone. This is how it went…

My day-to-day job, my “joe job,” involves a drive-thru. A few days ago, the girl I have running the drive-thru asks me if we can call the police. Naturally, that’s a question that makes you snap to attention.

I find a woman pulled up to the window crying, claiming the man in the car behind her has been following her, and verbally threatened her. For whatever reason (no judgment), she feels like she can’t call the police on her own. So she’d like us to do it.

I dial the police non-emergency number. As I’m doing so, the man who’s supposedly following her drives away. So whatever immediate danger is has passed. Still, I hand her my phone, and the dispatcher tells her to come inside with us while she waits for an officer to arrive.

So the woman, let’s call her Jill, comes inside and sits down. Jill is roughly my age. Early 30s, maybe late 20s. She’s not in hysterics, but she’s clearly upset. Understandably so. I don’t want to leave her alone. Not just in case this man comes back, but just out of general courtesy. No one should have to be alone after a traumatic experience like that. Unless they want to be.

We’re sitting at a table together. Jill is crying. And I’m in a position I’m not necessarily comfortable in. Not because she’s upset, but because I don’t usually do well in one-to-one situations. I’m much better in groups. When it’s just me and one other person I stress about awkward silences, keeping the conversation going, not saying anything dumb, etc.

But there we are. Together. In that moment…

Unintentionally, my body is crooked slightly toward the door so I can see if the police officer is coming. I don’t mean to do it. But it’s a product of my anxiety. I always need to have a way out.

I get Jill a drink of water and some tissues. (Paper towels, actually.) We review some of the details of what has just happened. I ask her where she was headed. She says she was on her way to babysit for a friend. She calls said friend, during which I mess around on my phone a little bit. I check on my co-workers.

When I come back, I struggle for something to talk about. I figure it’s not a good idea to dwell too much on what’s just happened, right? She’s already upset, after all. We start talking about my job and work environment a little bit. It seems to ease her a bit.

Jill decides to call her mom. Because sometimes you just need to talk to mom. I go back and check on my co-workers again. It seems like the cop is taking an awful long time to get here.

So I bring up how long she’d been driving beforehand and where she’s from. That leads us into where my wife and I are from, what my day-to-day commute looks like. We actually end up comparing notes on Chicago and Milwaukee, as that was more or less the journey my wife and I took when we moved.

The cop finally walks in. I excuse myself, but stand close by in case they need me. The officer talks to Jill, then escorts her back to her car. I have a quick talk with the officer when she comes back,  then she’s on her way.

I cringe when I think back on my interaction with Jill. It was actually fairly difficult for me to dictate what happened. Not because either of us did anything wrong. It’s just so easy to think back and pick my side of it apart. I should have said this here, or that there, etc.

Still, it feels good to have been there for somebody. To have put myself in that position. In theory, I could have just gone back to my job and let her wait by herself.

Lately I’ve been on a big Fred Rogers kick. I’m sure at least part of that stems from seeing the Won’t You Be My Neighbor? documentary. But I just finished reading the new biography by Maxwell King. I’m now in the middle of I’m Proud of You: My Friendship With Fred Rogers by Tim Madigan. There’s also another documentary, Mister Rogers and Me, on Amazon Prime. One of the prevalent themes that seems to run through all of these is how Fred Rogers had the amazing ability to be totally present and in the moment with everyone he talked to. That’s the kind of thing that seems super easy. But it’s not. Especially in today’s world.

I don’t think I was completely present in that moment with Jill. I don’t know that I’m completely comfortable being present in the moment with anyone, outside a very select few. But I’m working on it.

In the end, working on it is really all we can do. That’s how we improve.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

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Anxiety Talk: Staying Occupied

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

I’ve got a big day coming up later this week. I don’t always do well with big days.

One of the ways I was taught to deal with my anxiety is to try and live in the moment as much as possible. Concentrate on the here and now. This frustrates people in my life sometimes, as it often means I have difficulty planning things. But it helps me keep my cool in day-to-day life.

But sometimes, with big days, that’s a lot harder to do. I often find myself seeping back into some of my old ways.

Case in point, several years ago I got offered a job. A job that in hindsight, I really did not want. I was in a job I really enjoyed, but made less money in. But I felt I had to take it because of the money. Plus, it was in an office setting. And I fell victim to the old misconception that all “adults” work in offices, cubicles, etc.

I had two or three weeks before I started at the office job. As the time passed, I gradually got more and more anxious about what would happen to me in this new place. Would I be able to handle it? Would I get along with the people I work with? Would I somehow be exposed as a fraud and get fired? You know, all those healthy thoughts…

It got to the point where I was essentially anxious my entire day. Sleep became my only respite. Tragically, oblivion has its appeal for the perpetually anxious.

I vividly remember a family party where I simply could not calm down. It sticks out in my mind as one of the moments where my anxiety really took the wheel, and I was seemingly just along for the ride. I couldn’t escape it. Family members would talk me off the ledge, only to find me back up there a little while later.

The situation I’m in now is less dramatic, as I’ve become a better at coping with those feelings. One thing that I’ve learned helps tremendously is staying busy. Whether it’s being at work, exercising, reading, playing video games, running errands, etc. Anything to keep your mind occupied, so you don’t focus on the fear. That, and being on a good medication regimen can do wonders. At least in my experience.

So that’s what I’m going to try and do this week. No sitting around and wallowing. No laying in bed trying to sleep away the anxiety. One way or another, until the big day comes, I’m going to stay occupied. After all, it beats doin’ nothin’…

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

Anxiety Talk: Adderall and Social Anxiety

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

There was a point in my life where I thought I was past having to deal with social anxiety. That it was a hurdle in my mental health journey that I’d simply overcome. Turns out, not so much. One thing I’ve learned about myself this year is that my social fears and discomforts are pieces of a larger puzzle. One big ol’ mental illness puzzle. Oh, what fun.

Things have been a little emotional at the Siebert house this past year. Tensions have been high at times. Naturally, that stirs up my anxiety. So I’ve had to sort of get myself reacquainted with my social anxiety. Start acknowledging it and recognizing it again.

As a result of these changes, my medication has fluctuated. One such medication is Adderall, which I take for Attention Deficit Disorder. Supposedly, some doctors prescribe Adderall to help with social anxiety. If you’ve been on Adderall, you can probably guess why. I generally do feel more “up” when I take it.

Normally I restrict myself to half a pill, amount 10 milligrams, a day. If I take the full 20 milligram pill, it can actually make my anxiety worse. This is especially bad on a work day. But I had a decent amount of time to kill before going in today, so I went ahead and took the full 20.

I went to get my car worked on. I had my laptop with me, and I pecked away at it in the lobby until they were done. Mind you, I’m feeling pretty productive. That’s what 20 milligrams will do for you.

So at one point, the girl working the front desk calls me up to talk about my car. She gives me a bunch of info, and I instinctively say, “Thank you, miss.” A moment or two later, she thanks me for calling her miss instead of ma’am. She adds that while she’s from the south, where that word more commonly used, at 30 years old she’s not quite ready to be a ma’am yet.

Then something happens.

I’m not good with small talk. I attribute that to my social anxiety. I’m always nervous about slipping up and saying something offensive, embarrassing, or worse, awkward. So I usually just nod and “Yep” my way through interactions like this. Minimum input equals minimum potential for embarrassment or awkwardness.

But here, for some reason, I say: “What part of the south are you from?” I engage. I ask a question, which prompts a response, and the interaction continues.

She says she’s from Texas. She jokes it’s the “good south.” I tell her I have a stepfather from Georgia. The interaction ends as she says my car will be ready soon. We separate.

Little moments like that? They’re huge victories for people with social anxiety. That woman probably has several interactions like that a day. Small connections. But maybe not so small, really. After all, I’m still thinking about it hours later. And would it even have happened without the Adderall? Probably not. I probably would have nodded through it like always.

I can see how people get addicted to Adderall. There are times when it’s in my system that I feel like a completely different person. A friendly person. An inquisitive person. Maybe a more successful person.

Sometimes I wonder if the guy I become when I take Adderall is even me at all. Like it’s a Nutty Professor situation. Regular Rob is bland and dull, and Adderall Rob is somehow smooth, charming and funny. In other words, My best possible self. And who wouldn’t want to be their best possible self all the time?

But we know where that road leads

Still, I’m grateful my doctor introduced me to it. I’m grateful for the extra little moments I get because of Adderall. I suppose it’s just a matter of moderation and perspective. Because Adderall Rob is me. But so is Anxious Rob. Depressed Rob. Creative Rob. Happy Rob. They’re all me. Human beings are complicated like that.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or email Rob at primaryignition@yahoo.com!

Trailer: Bipolar Rock ‘n’ Roller, starring Mauro Ranallo

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

It takes a LOT of guts to put yourself out there like this.

Thank you, Mauro. You give hope to us all.

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

Anxiety Talk: Anti-Anxiety Playlist, Vol. 1

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve never been a morning person. Back when I was working 9-5 jobs, my anxiety made them downright terrible. I’d wake up with a 50 lb weight in my gut, unable to eat. On bad days, I’d have to fight back tears during my commute. You’d think I was going to the gallows.

Low and behold, I still have my head. While it’s not nearly as bad as it was, part of having anxiety is living with that kind of fear on a day to day basis. So yeah, I still have bad mornings sometimes.

Music has always helped. Especially during the drive to work. I usually like something that has a good beat or is generally motivational. Ideally both. When you’re scared to greet the day, that’s what you need. Something to get your blood pumping, inspire confidence, and remind you the world isn’t so bad after all.

What follows are five songs that have worked well for me during bad mornings, whether they happened a day or a decade ago. They sit on my iPod in a playlist called “Anti-Anxiety.” When the fear has taken hold, these songs have helped me find the courage to put one foot in front of the other and keep going.

I don’t want to say, “I hope they work for you too!” or anything, because everyone’s mind is different. Consider it a nudge toward making music a part of your daily coping routine, if it isn’t already.

My reference point for these songs is going to be YouTube. But as you might imagine, YouTube is finicky with copywritten material. So I invite you to click the link and check the videos out for yourself. On the plus side, chances are you’ll know the majority of these…

1. Sara Bareilles – “Brave”

Obvious? Yes. A bit on the nose? Yes. But it’s still a great song.

“Brave” has been described as a civil rights anthem. Bareilles has said the inspiration for it came from seeing a close friend struggle to come out. But the song is really about being comfortable in your own skin, and having the courage to be who you really are.

In reading about “Brave,” I saw it referred to as a “power ballad.” As I’m not nearly as fluent in music as I am in other things, I’d never heard that term before. But it’s apt as hell. “Brave” acknowledges that you feel weak, while reminding you that you’re strong. Not a bad message to start the day with.

2. The Score – “Unstoppable”

This is my most recent addition to the playlist. You might remember it if you saw Power Rangers. There’ve been days where I’ve repeated “Unstoppable” a multiple times on the way into work.

The first line of the chorus is, “We can be heroes!” That’s what put it over the top for me. Obviously I’m a big superhero nut, so it works on that level. But one of the reasons so many of us love superheroes so much is because they can stay strong and brave while facing the unimaginable. Typically, people with anxiety aren’t facing the unimaginable. But it feels like we are. So we need to be reminded that we too can be strong and brave. We can be our own superheroes, despite what our mind tells us.

3. Johnny Cash – “I Won’t Back Down”

Yes, I know it’s a Tom Petty song. Maybe my favorite Tom Petty song. But Johnny gives it a more intimate touch that somehow hits home for me. Something about a man, his voice, and a guitar.

The original song came out in 1989. I remember rooting through some of my dad’s CDs, finding a Greatest Hits album for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I wish I’d found it sooner. I imagine it would have helped me push through some tough times.

4. Florence and the Machine – “Shake It Out”

I recently heard “Shake It Out” for the first time in awhile. It actually gave me goosebumps. Specifically, at the lyrics: “And it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back. So shake him off.” Damn, that’s beautiful.

“Shake It Out” is essentially about letting go of your baggage and leaving the past behind you. I’ve always been hesitant to say my anxiety has cost me certain things. Jobs, money, opportunities, things like that. Anxiety itself doesn’t force you to do anything. In the end, you make the decisions. Some people have issues separating those two things. But almost everyone has something in their past they’d change if given the chance. I’ve spent my fair share of time ruminating on all of that great stuff. “Shake It Out” asks us to let all of that go. I use it in the context of shaking off any lingering fear from the previous day, and simply living in the present.

5. Weezer – “Pork and Beans”

“Pork and Beans” is really about Weezer maintaining their identity amidst pressure to make more commercialized music. But it’s also about having the audacity and the courage to be yourself. It’s delightfully defiant. “I’mma do the things that I want to do. I ain’t got a thing to prove to you.”

That’s often a tough concept for someone with anxiety to put into practice, as the way we feel is so often a direct result of others. But it’s a good thing to hear when you feel that kind of self consciousness creeping up on you.

There bridge in this song is simply, “But I don’t care! I don’t care! I don’t care!” etc. Sometimes I’ll catch myself singing that quietly if I’ve got a nagging or rising fear I can’t get rid of.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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Chester Bennington, and Thoughts on Suicide

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not really a “music guy.” I like music, and it’s a part of my daily life. But I can’t talk about it or analyze it the way a lot of other creative people do. It’s a language I don’t know how to speak.

Come to think of it, I don’t have a lot of favorite bands. Lifehouse really spoke to me when I was in high school. I was an angsty, nervous, emotional kid. (Come to think of it, I’m an angsty, nervous, emotional adult too.) So I didn’t have a lot of friends. Their vulnerable and honest lyrics were always a comfort and an inspiration to me.

On the other end of the spectrum was Linkin Park. There was a comforting and inspirational dimension to their music. But I listened to them when I felt anger, bitterness, and isolation. I don’t really relate to a lot of music. But I related to what I heard from them. These guys didn’t know me. But they knew something about what I was feeling. While I don’t consider myself a huge Linkin Park fan, I’ve followed them over the years. If I had to list my favorite bands, they’d be one of the first on the list.

The news that Linkin Park’s lead singer, Chester Bennington, apparently committed suicide by hanging this week hit me in a really strange way. It’s a tragedy, of course. Suicide usually is. But there’s another, more personal dimension to it.

There’s no fluid transition into this next statement. So I’m just going to go for it.

I’ve thought about suicide over the years. Quite a bit, to be honest.

I’ve never considered myself suicidal, per se. I’ve not once attempted to kill myself. I’ve also never been a cutter, or someone who self-inflicts. But the thought, the possibility, even the temptation, has maintained a place in my consciousness since I was in high school. It’s wrapped up in my anxiety, my depression, and all that fun stuff. 

Linkin Park was part of the soundtrack of my young life when I was first thinking about suicide. And now one of the voices of Linkin Park has committed suicide. So for me there’s a sad, vile, ugly irony in the whole thing.

I feel a little bit like I felt when Robin Williams killed himself a few years ago. One of the creative forces I admired growing up was fighting some of the same demons I’ve fought. And he…succumbed? That feels like an insensitive word to use. But it’s the only one that comes to mind.

The obvious question to ask is, why? Why would someone who’s had so much success and touched so many lives want to kill himself? I don’t have the answer. But as I was mulling this over today it occurred to me that a suicide generally only makes sense to the victim. It’s something the person rationalizes. What they’re feeling, be it physically or emotionally, has taken such a toll that suicide feels like a viable option. No one understands what would drive you to do something so terrible. But they can’t understand. They may love you. But they can never see the world through your eyes. They can’t know what you face on a day to day basis.

In my experience, thinking about suicide is like staring into a dark abyss. It’s total blackness. You have no idea what’s in there. But whatever it is, it’s got to be better than this. That void can be so tempting when you’re in that kind of pain…

I don’t look down on Bennington, or anyone else who has made the choice he made. I feel for them. I mourn them. It’s so incredibly tragic to believe that’s the only way out. What’s more, they leave their loved ones with their own terrible pain.

When I think about the things that have kept me away from that abyss over the years, that’s something I keep coming back to. My loved ones. My wife. My parents. My family. The people I’ve been friends with over the years. I couldn’t do that to them. I couldn’t leave them to bear that burden.

If you’re someone who’s staring into that abyss now, know that there are people in this world who love you and need you. I know it hurts. It’s agonizing. And at times it’s hopeless. But there is always another way. You deserve love, happiness, friendship, and all the wonders life has to offer. Please don’t rob the world of your gifts.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Anxiety Talk: Facing the Bear

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’ve been been dealing with some pretty bad anxiety lately. It’s been a constant in my life for as long as I can remember. But Mrs. Primary Ignition and I have moved, and I’ve changed jobs. The latter has been hard for me, though I’m essentially doing the same job. It’s a lot of new people, more specifically a new boss. People say I don’t deal with change well. I’ve balked at that in the past. But in my heart I know it’s probably true.

Earlier this week, in the midst of a particularly anxious day, a simile popped into my head. I have no clue where it came from. But it’s stayed with me. And here it is for you now:

Anxiety is like standing in front of an angry bear.

When you’re facing that angry bear, everything in your body is telling you to react. Your fight-or-flight response has kicked in. You essentially have two choices. You can run away from the bear, or you can take him on. You don’t know how you’d take him on, or what that action even consists of. Obviously running is the easier choice. But here’s the thing: If you run, the bear is going to chase you.

Now imagine facing that kind of life-or-death dilemma every day of your life. Multiple times a day. Sometimes it’s for hours at a time. And the kicker is, sometimes it turns out the bear wasn’t angry at all. You weren’t even seeing things clearly. So you find yourself questioning, second-guessing, and doubting everything. Even yourself.

Of course, the only way to rid yourself of the anxiety is to actually face whatever you’re afraid of. Easier said than done. Believe me, I know. But one of the biggest upsides to dealing with anxiety is that the fear itself is almost always worse than whatever it’s directed toward. That bear is tough. But he’s not nearly as tough as you think he’ll be.

So do everything you can to step outside your comfort zone, and face the bear head on. I promise you, It’ll be worth it.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.