Stories of People Who Overcame Anxiety - Mike's Story, Part One

Here is an letter written by someone who gets it. He overcame obsessive compulsive disorder and bipolar disorder. In this letter, he comments on the verse from the Psalms and then tells of his recovery journey. He gave me permission to share his letter but asked that I only use his first name, Michael. I hope someone will be inspired to give our free spiritual meditation a try. All I can say is "Thanks, Mike." Roland

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Hello, my name is Michael.

I love this verse from the Psalms.

He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
Psalm 112:7 (English Standard Version).

It sounds good, doesn't it? But the question is: how do you get to where you have such a firm heart and settled spirit?

It took me a long time to get to where I could understand and say something about having a firm heart and settled spirit. I used to be Mr. Jellyfish.

But here’s the good news: if I can do it, anyone can do it. It took me 40 years, but that was because it took 40 years for me to get to the point where I was ready. Once you’re ready, recovery can begin in a heartbeat.

And it doesn’t have to take 40 years to be ready. (I was stubborn in my pridefulness and denial). You can be ready in this instant regardless of your age, if your heart is pure and you are sincere.

Here's my story. Let's begin with a few thoughts about anxiety and some observations about life and how I started to recover.

When you are in a tight golf match and it's the 18th hole and you have to make a knee knocking three foot putt, what do you do? You suck it up, get a bucket full of guts, and even though your knees are knocking, you attempt the putt. Maybe it goes in and maybe it doesn't. The point is--you overlook your fear and trembling and attempt the putt.

What do you do when you're in a tough basketball game in the last minute of the game and you come to the free throw line? You throw up the free throws. You don't cut and run, take a drug or a pill.

Let's say you're a doctor on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean and a passenger has a major acute emergency that has to be dealt with now. Do you become upset and angry or run away because you can't cope? No, you deal with the situation, even though your heart may be pounding and your knees knocking.

I love what John Wayne had to say about this. John Wayne was answering questions from the audience. The microphones and cameras were all there. Someone raised his hand and asked: "Mr. Wayne, what do you do when you have to face some great danger?"

Do you know what John Wayne replied? Without a moment's hesitation he gripped the podium, leaned forward a little, flashed his famous smile and said: "You're scared to death, but you get on your horse and you ride anyway."

Thanks, John. You're my kind of guy.

The ideal, of course, is to be like John Wayne said. It helps to have a bucket full of guts. And it's even better to have faith. And with it, love. In one of his letters, Paul said: "Perfect love casts out fear."

Most heroes (the types who arrive at the scene of something bad and save some one's life) later say they don't feel like a hero. "I just saw something that had to be done and I did it." The hero had no thought of self. Instead of second guessing, worrying about the consequences, and dwelling on self preservation, he or she just did what had to be done. This is very close to faith and love.

Few of us have faith or love. We don't even know what faith or love is. But we know them by their absence! Most of us are well acquainted with copping out, avoidance behavior, hostility, resentment, and then excuse making and approval seeking.

But there is still hope that we might develop faith and love. The Biblical character Abraham known to be a man of faith, only became so when he was old. When he was younger, he hedged his bets and didn't trust completely in what God told him. But he grew in faith. Perhaps you can grow in faith and in love too.

I have discovered that the secret to life is in overlooking. You have anxiety, but overlook it. In other words, instead of struggling with, suppressing or trying to get rid of the anxiety, you overlook it. Someone makes a mistake, but you overlook it (instead of judging or resenting them). You have doubts, but you overlook them (instead of dwelling on them). You feel anger (at your child, for example), but you overlook it (and remain calm).

There are many good things I could say about overlooking--how it helps us overcome anxiety, doubts, fears, negative emotion; and how it helps us be more patient with others. But for now, I will mention it in passing. Later I will talk about the meditation (that Roland offers) and how it helps you learn to overlook.

But I don't want to get ahead of myself. First I want to talk about how we got into the mess we are in, and how I was able to recover fully.

Before I have any credibility with you, I need to establish that I had a multitude of issues, got past them, and now they are in the distant past and no longer important (other than being able to use them to help others).

Let me continue with a bit more about how we got to where we are. Most of us are, frankly, rather selfish. This is not a condemnation or a put down; just the reality. We're born that way. All of us. Then, unfortunately, many of us did not have wise parents and other authorities. We were not provided character building activities, or even much real work. We were made to sit in school and basically do nothing for hours a day from age 5 through 18 or beyond.

In plain and simple terms, some of us just haven't had a chance to build up some courage or chutzpa. We have been robbed of the kind of experiences where we could develop it.

But we can start to build some now, by using the overlook principle I alluded to. We can be just like John Wayne said--scared to death but we ride anyway.

Once you realize that you have been denied character building experiences (through being kept from them or from not being taught how to not over react), you can stop beating yourself up. Instead you can simply admit you don't have certain virtues built yet, but you can start to do some things anyway. By overlooking the fear or anxiety.

You will also discover that kindness, fortitude, endurance, graciousness, and patience are ready to unfold when you let go of resentment. We tend to resent the type of circumstances where we looked bad or failed in the past.

If you can learn to approach the new circumstance without resentment, then experience the anxiety (without resenting it), you will be then free to meet the moment with some aplomb. Now having met the moment properly, you will be able to meet the next one ever more easily and without resentment. Anxiety will diminish.

You will discover that there is joy and a sense of triumph in meeting a moment properly. Even if you don't "win" or handle it perfectly, there is joy in meeting it without resentment and with a certain amount of dignity.

Realize that in a hedonistic, secular, therapeutic culture in which we live, all the signals and messages we get are that the values in life are:
having a good time;
feeling good;
being nice;
feeling good about ourselves;
and having our needs met.

Most people around us--including our parents, grandparents, educators, church leaders, and most other authorities--seem to have the value of always seeking to feel good and never bad. At the first sign of a headache, they take a pill. At the first sign of the slightest ache or pain, they reach for a pill or some other medication.

They seek to have a good time, using music, alcohol, marijuana, legal or illegal pills, partying, entertainment or even religious events for the purpose of feeling good. One person listens to classical music and another to rap music to feel good; one listens to high sounding speeches and another to low brow humor, either way it's for the purpose of feeling good.

Instead of living and teaching the value of doing what is right and overlooking anxiety or negative emotion, they first seek to get rid of the anxiety or negative emotion.

This is putting the cart before the horse. We triumph as humans when we overcome anxiety or negative emotions through doing what is right and being virtuous.
In other words, a true human gives the food to their child even though they themselves are hungry. A true human does the right thing despite fear. He tells the truth, though he is made to feel uncomfortable. She acts calmly for the sake of others, despite anxiety. He says no to temptation despite having feelings of lust or greed.

The noble person does not wait until he feels good or feels brave to do his or her duty. The noble person does his duty or what is right, and in the exercise thereof develops courage.

Courage, well being, peace of mind and joy are the rewards for doing what is right.
When the partying, drinking, and drugging result in a let down, hang over or discomfort, the misinformed and selfish look for a pill to take away the symptoms or the awareness of the discomfort so they can feel good.

In other words, it's definitely not your great grandfather's lifestyle or values.

So when life brings a little rain, and young people are not having a good time or do not feel good about themselves, they tell their parent or counselor. Instead of getting the wisdom of the ages or the kind of understanding an uncle or grandma once had, they are referred to someone who prescribes a drug.

The focus is rarely on duty or on helping others. Moreover, as we said, most young people are deprived of useful work that would make them feel needed, valuable and other directed.

The focus is always on them, specifically performance: that they achieve, that they do well on tests, study more, get higher grades, be more compliant, and so on. Otherwise the focus is on being popular, having a good time, and feeling good about oneself.

With all this constant attention directed at them (not to mention all the advertising, peer group pressure, and pop culture which is designed to make them self conscious about looks, dress, habits and attitudes that have to be like their peers), it is no wonder that such a person would become overly self conscious and overly concerned about feelings. They've been let down by their parents and other authorities who failed to protect them and guide them properly.

The man or woman of faith and perfect love will one day face challenging situations without any feelings at all.

He or she will be fearless in the face of danger; without resentment in the face of torment; and without excitement in the face of temptation. Instead there will be faith, love, dedication, obedience, patience, joy, and peace of mind.

But like I said, this type of spirituality is something we might grow into. It could take many years of just being a regular person, growing up, making some mistakes, getting married, raising a family, having some ups and downs until one begins to yearn for something more. This sincere yearning will stress the compassion of the Spirit.

Those who are blessed to one day have this salvation implemented in their life will then gain objectivity (the ability to stand back and overlook) and then it might take another 40 years of growth in this new life to become the man or woman of faith and true love. Remember it took 80 years for Moses to be made ready to lead his people out of Egypt.

So you might as well be prepared for a long period of just being a regular person. But you can start to get ready for the touch of God which may come someday by living with some dignity, some honor, some self control, some discipline where you are right now.

And by exercising virtue, it will grow, and you will increase in composure and self control. No, you won't walk on water--but by exercising virtue, you'll begin to face things with at least a modicum of natural poise, and it will grow.

Therefore do not mind it if you encounter some difficulty. Do not become resentful if you have some ups and downs, some rain on your parade, a boyfriend or girlfriend who quits you, a job you don't get, a day when you don't feel particularly good or some anxiety if you have to give a speech.

And while you are at it, expect betrayal, people saying mean things about you for no reason, and so on. That way you won't be shocked and upset when it happens.

And don't expect to meet every little or big adversity well. You won't. At least not at first. Remember I said that most of us have been denied character building experiences? If you are like lots of us, you'll have to start at the ground floor facing little things (with trembling and discomfort) and a little at a time.

So you'll have to start now where you are at. And it doesn't matter where that is.

Have you heard the Zen master's question? He asked the novice "when is the best time to plant a tree?
The novice did not know.
The Zen master said: The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.
Next the Zen Master asked: "When is the second best time to plant a tree?"
Again the novice did not know.
The answer is: "The second best time to plant a tree is today."

So start to face some things today.

And like I said, don't expect to get it just right from the start. Take it easy. Rome wasn't built in a day. Don't look for perfection. Look for progress. And here's a word of caution: start with the small stuff.

Remember how I said that we have been made self conscious in many ways? Okay. So don't hate yourself if you meet a moment badly. In my life, I've messed up, made a fool of myself, cut and run, let my team down, copped out, and many other small but shameful failings. I failed and then reacted badly to what I was forced to see about myself.

But as time went by (as years went by) I learned to fail less. And I also learned to react badly less to my failings. In other words, I began to grow up, and I'm still growing up.

I'm 60ish now. When I was 10, 15, 20, 30 years old, did I have anxiety? Of course. Did I get depressed? Of course.

When my parents got divorced, it bothered me. When my dad died, it made me sad. When my parakeet died, I felt bad. What was I supposed to do, be happy about these things? I grieved and felt hurt and then I got over it.

When I was a little kid, did I go through a period of time when I had to do a ritual of counting numbers or arrange my shoes perfectly at night or else "something really bad would happen?" Of course. Then I grew out of it.

When I was in college, was I high and hyper when something good happened, staying up till dawn talking excitedly to my friends?

Of course.

Then when things didn't go well, the girl didn't answer my phone calls, and our team lost the big game, did I get bummed out and depressed and have really negative thoughts?


When I was in my 20's, did I wonder who I was and if there was a future for me? Did I mess up, and make lots of mistakes? Sure.

And then did something try to tell me I was "worthless" and that "the world would be better off without me?" Of course.

When I was 30 and sitting in a lonely apartment in the outskirts of Chicago, with the snow coming down and nowhere to go and wishing I were back in California, did I feel depressed? Of course.

But here I am. I got through.

My recovery was two part.

First it was just growing out of issues. It seems like each stage of our life--little kid, big kid, teenager, college age, 20's, 30's--there are some typical issues to deal with. The old expression "time heals all wounds" definitely applies. Somehow I just grew out of things.

Like when I was a kid, teen, and in my 20's I was painfully shy. But then when I was in my 30's I was teaching college classes, and now I feel comfortable around everyone and talk about anything. Okay, so it took a few years to get over it. But I did get over it.

As we grow, we mature, we leave behind the things of childhood--including issues. We move on. It's a long process and it's life.

There is a term in psychotherapy call normalizing. It means helping a person see that some anxiety (or whatever that they are going through) is what a lot of people experience. Some people think that if they are anxious, hear voices, have obsessive thoughts, or have a compulsion, they are the only person in the whole world with this issue.

It's a relief to find out that lots of people have the same issues and lots of people get better.

I'm extending my hand in friendship to talk about some of the things I have been blessed to learn along the way in my spiritual walk.

Now I can truly say (having experienced it): "this too shall pass."

Now I understand what James meant when he said:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
James 1:2 and 3 (English Standard version).
.Do you see it? Do you see that we must not avoid life or the circumstances where we failed?

Learn to stand back and overlook, and now these situations will become the ground for the development of character and by which you can undo the past.
Let me just say right here that the spiritual meditation to calm down that Roland offers free was a big help to me. I highly recommend it, since it assists in calming down, and in finding objectivity so as to be able to stand back and observe thoughts and emotions without over reacting to what you see. Like I said earlier--it may not be your cup of tea, but it worked for me.

This brings me to part two of my recovery program.

I told you about part one, where I got through the various typical issues I faced at different stages. But then came the life changing, game changing discovery. I took me four decades to get to the point where I was ready. But when I was finally ready, it happened in a heartbeat and within a few days I was a new person.

I'll tell you about it in Part Two

Roland's comments

Thanks, Mike.

Your letter is inspirational. I would like to mention something about awareness, one of my favorite subjects. You found the meditation helpful because it helped you become objective, so you could look at your issues, feelings and thoughts with objectivity. It worked for you because you wanted to be aware. Until a person is ready, he or she will try to avoid awareness (because of the pain it brings when we see our own wrong).

You see, once we fail and deal poorly with some situation, we don't want to see that we failed. So we tend to retreat into the imagination and make excuses. By doing so, we cut ourselves off from full open eyed awareness (which is what we need to face situations with intuition and understanding).

So, at the first sighting of stress we escape from awareness, and then we fail again. That's why we tend to keep doing the same error over and over with the same people or look alike people. For example, we may have resented our overbearing mom, become rebellious and angry, and as we go through life we keep meeting people like our mom, to whom we react the same old way (resentfully, rebelliously and angrily).

When awareness comes back and we are forced to see that we failed again, we reach for distractions to escape into like work or study, music, marijuana, alcohol, or pills to take away the one thing that would help us face the next moment well: awareness.

Now here is the beautiful part. The way you respond to an issue can change the very next time you encounter it. All you need is the missing ingredient. That missing ingredient is awareness (coupled with a willingness to see the truth).

The very next time you face the issue (or situation) but this time with awareness, it will be all different. Awareness gives you the power to stand back, see it objectively, and respond intuitively.

One man, who had a 20 year nicotine addiction began to meditate in order to find the objective state of awareness. One day he picked up his cigarette and took a puff with awareness, and he never smoked again. His cigarettes gave him up because he was no longer compatible with them. Before he had used the sensations and the stress of the effects of nicotine to lower awareness and help him escape from what he wasn't ready to see. Now he was ready to face reality, and it just took one smoke with awareness for him to see that he no longer had a need for smoking.

Remember, most of us spend our lives facing everything without awareness because of our habit of escaping awareness. So the obvious question becomes: how do we find and hold onto awareness? That is where the meditation (coupled with the attitude of wanting to be aware) comes in.

Read Read Part Two of Mike's Story