Fox Psychology

Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression


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Lesson 7: Life is a Journey, not a Destination

You’ve heard it all before, life is about being in the moment. And you may be thinking: “Blah blah blah, and if one more person says ‘stop and the smell the roses’ to me I’m going to shoot them – including you Mr. Fox”.

But have you really contemplated what this means and what the saying “Life is a journey, not a destination” is all about? There is so much wisdom packed into those seven little words that if you were able to truly dig deep into their meaning and live by just that one saying every day of your life, your life would be transformed before your very eyes. As my favourite author and psychologist, Dr Wayne Dyer, used to say, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”. Every time, without fail.

Our world is one of perception, interpretation and meaning. We first perceive something; whether it is a sound, a smell, a communication, an image, or our own thoughts and emotions. We then have to interpret these and finally provide meaning to them. When we are down and struggling with life and our minds are in anxiety or depression, our ability to objectively and rationally interpret the reality and experience of our lives becomes severely compromised. It is precisely at these times that we need to learn to disengage from our focus on the destination of life i.e. “where is this all going?”, and reengage with the experience and knowing that life is to be lived right now. And that if you can find something, anything to focus on – even if that focus is the blissful nothingness of meditation, then you will find the relief you are so desperately seeking from the pain and the struggle. Training the mind to find anything that will distract it from its own misery is a skill and something that we should all be practicing every single day of our lives. And the more we practice it, the more we find the great law of attraction bringing more thoughts, experiences and emotions like the ones we are deliberately trying to create. And as my new favourite inspirational speaker Esther Hicks would say: we are then building the kind of momentum that we would really want in our lives.

This is all certainly about our ability- or usually lack of it – to live in the now. To live peacefully with whatever is happening in our lives right now. I have often counselled people struggling with stress or anxiety to practice mindfulness. This word and practice is becoming as much as cliché to people these days as meditation but there is a reason that it has caught on and we now see endless adult colouring-in books in all the shops. It is because it works people! It is an eternal truth. We spend so much time looking at our lives analysing it to death that we completely miss the experiences we are having literally right before our eyes, ears and noses.

We live too much in the past and certainly too much in the future. We spend way way WAY too much time on the future in our minds. If what we are doing when thinking about the future is imagining a desired state or outcome then that is all well and good and it will lead you to what you want to be and where you want to go in life. However, where are most of us spending our mental time and energy? On pictures and words and imaginings of some terrible fate that may await us or our loved ones just around the corner or even in five, ten or twenty years from now. Can you see how unproductive and how “unwell” this can make you? Do you know that there are two specific distorted categories of thinking from cognitive behavioural therapy that are called “Fortune Telling” and “Catastrophising” and that we ALL get caught up in them? Yes, those with anxiety and depression get caught up in those mental traps more frequently and find it more difficult to break out of them or dispute those thoughts with more objective and positive reality. However, I know from my 40 years on this planet, and 17 years as a psychologist, that we ALL do it to some extent, every single day. And you know what, it doesn’t serve us one little bit.

I am not talking about thinking prudently ahead, watching for signs and perhaps taking some preemptive action to avoid an actual problem or danger. That is productive and what another author called “signal thoughts”. Thoughts about something that we actually need to do something about like complete our tax returns. But, what I am describing to you is more about what that same author called “noise”, every other thought that surrounds the reality. “Oh my God, what if I owe the tax office a huge amount of money?”, “What if I go bankrupt?” “What if I can’t make my mortgage payment or rent payment and land up on the streets?” “What if I can’t afford to send my kids to a good school?” “What if I end up lonely and alone for the rest of my life!?”

And I hear you saying, “But David, it COULD happen!” Yes, and you COULD also be knocked over by a bus in the street in an hour from now! And North Korea COULD decide to start a world war beginning with the invasion of South Korea and then they could launch nuclear missiles at all of us!

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic for you. Well, how about this: “What if I stuff up at that interview next week and never end up getting a job?” “What if I go on a date with this woman or man and they don’t feel the same way I do and they reject me?” You get the point. The world is full of “what ifs” and I am here to tell you to CUT IT OUT OF YOUR LIFE! If you are going to play the “what if” game, why don’t you try something radical like: “What if he likes me and we hit it off and he ends up being the man of my dreams?” or “What if I just be myself at that interview and relax and feel confident that the job is mine and they see in me what they have been looking for and I get one of the best jobs I have ever had, working for amazing people!” or “What if I didn’t look at my age as a reason to stop this path I am on that isn’t working for me and head down a different road?” Meaning: a different career, a different relationship, or taking up a long held desire to learn to surf or study financial planning or whatever else you have felt you wanted to do deep inside you but just haven’t allowed? WHAT IF… you thought about, imagined and achieved those things? How would that make you feel? What would your life experience look and feel like then?

Enjoying your dreams and plans even before they have manifested and doing the best you can not to become disillusioned if they don’t happen “on time” when you expect them to is so important. You don’t plant seeds in the ground to grow a pumpkin and then immediately stamp on the ground demanding to see it grow and appear right now, because you know there is ALWAYS a time lag. And thank goodness for that because can you imagine what would happen if every thought and desire, good or bad, manifested immediately for you? One little thought of illness and you’re dead. One little thought of not enough money and you’re bankrupt! Of course it would be nice if you had one little thought of becoming a millionaire and then poof you’re a millionaire! That would be pretty amazing, but that is not how this Universe works. Somewhere deep down we already know that it is our own repeated patterns of thought and emotion that we practice, and have been practicing since you were young, that start to produce the outward manifestations of our lives. Haven’t you seen evidence of people who just seem to “attract” one calamity after another, one terrible relationship after another, one failure after another? And why is that? Are these poor souls so horribly unlucky that the source of all things decided they should live this way and others would thrive and be happy? How ridiculous! But, we somehow believe this don’t we? This nonsense that something is intrinsically wrong or “bad” about us and that is why we don’t get what we say we want.

Having goals is all good and well, but becoming a slave to your goals, or worse, not achieving something you had set down and then becoming frustrated and disillusioned will only hold it away from you even more. The key is truly to appreciate every moment, every step of the journey. It is in the process of creation that we find our greatest joy. To paraphrase Dr Wayne Dyer again, the point of dancing is not about where you end up on the dance floor, it’s about savouring that moment and enjoying your “beingness” with the person you are dancing with – even if the only person you are dancing and singing with is just you!

This doesn’t only have to apply to the fun things in life like dancing, singing, going on holiday or winning some great accolade for your work. Those are the obvious ones that would naturally make most people feel their enjoyment of life. However, it is in your moments of frustration when your path does not seem to be leading to the manifesting of your desires that you most need to learn to stop and refocus yourself into your NOW. We all have access to both what is wanted and what is not wanted. There is an abundance of negative things to focus on in your life or about the world around you or about the city you live in or your partner or your spouse, but there is a much greater and endless supply of things that are positive and just as real as the things that you perceive to be “bad” about your life experience. You truly have the most powerful capability in the world, the capability to choose what you focus on and what meaning you give to everything in your life. And in addition to this, you have the capability to choose to find something, anything to feel good about to help lift your emotional state upwards. And then just keep going and keep practicing that every single day. You cannot possibly do this and stay anxious. You cannot possibly do this and remain depressed. It defies law. You cannot simultaneously focus on two things at the same time. You may be able to flip very quickly between them but you cannot literally have two thoughts (good and bad) at the exact same moment. So choose which one you want to have. Do you want to feel good or bad?

Is it important to you to feel good? Then why aren’t you doing absolutely anything and everything to get you there? “Because I don’t deserve to feel good!” is what I hear you say. What a load of nonsense! You were born to feel good. God/Source/Spirit or whatever you want to call it did not manifest you into this world to feel bad. And if you have done things in your life that you are not proud of and are using that as a reason to withhold feeling good then you need to hear something and hear it well. NOBODY IS PERFECT. FORGIVE YOURSELF. Most of the saints started out doing things that we might refer to as “bad” or went down a path that was less than saintly and realised through their life experiences that they didn’t want to feel that way ever again and so they made up their minds to be “better than they used to be”. Dr Wayne Dyer himself stood up and apologised in public to his first wife for being less of a husband than he should have been. A man who I consider to have been one of the most advanced souls on this planet in our time – psychologically, spiritually and as a human being – and who has done more good through his books, talks and audio programs than we could possibly conceive, admitted to his own wrong doings earlier in his life. What would have become of Wayne Dyer if he had decided that he was inherently a bad person because of some past errors in his judgement? What if he chose to see himself as an unworthy person who didn’t deserve to be happy or successful? I will tell you what would have happened. Millions of people all around the world would have lost out on learning how to change their own lives for the better. They would never have been touched by his kindness, his generosity (he ended up donating millions), his amazing ability to write books that inspire and his talks and lectures that have elevated the lives of so many people. All of that good would have been lost if he had decided that he was not worthy. So, let us do our best to remove the “I am not good enough, worthy enough, smart enough, talented enough, good looking enough” from our lives forever.

It is also interesting to note how people like young Olympians can focus so intently and single-mindedly on a achieving a goal – winning the gold medal. And when they actually achieve it they find – at an age where most people are still trying to figure out who they are and what they want from life – that they are stuck because they believe they have achieved their greatest goal in life at the age of 17 or 18. This can happen anyone who achieves a significant life goal.  But if you can understand that there is always more to be done in life, and I am certainly not speaking about the achieving of material possessions but the eternal growth of who you are as a human being, then you would realise there is nothing to ever be bored about, nothing ever to be frustrated about due to the lack of something not having manifested in your life at this moment.

When you focus on this moment and make this moment the most enjoyable one that you can in whatever it is that you are CHOOSING to do, your life will become one of enjoyment of the ride and not so much about the destination. That doesn’t mean to wander around in circles aimlessly and not actually achieve anything that you deem to be worthwhile. It means set your intentions and ensure you remove the thoughts that would hold you back and enjoy this wonderful ride we call life. Enjoy it today, not tomorrow, or next week, or when you get that pay rise, or when you find that partner you have so desperately been wanting, or when you finally have a child or when you finally buy a house. ENJOY IT NOW. That’s all you really have anyway.


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A worldwide epidemic – the misuse of anti depressant medications

This is a topic that is very close to my heart and just seems to be one of those things where life leads you and you cannot really understand why certain things have happened in your life until later. Sometimes when we get a little older, hopefully a little wiser we realise certain things in life. One of the lessons I have had to learn is that not all people who have letters after their names are actually “gods” or are people who have any special powers to know things about us that is more important than what we can learn about ourselves, our own bodies and our own minds. Blindly following what someone says we need to be doing for our own health (mental or physical) and well being just because they have a white jacket on (so to speak) is usually not in our best interests. I believe it was Dr. Bernie Segiel, author of Love, Medicine and Miracles who said that those patients who took the most active involvement and who researched their own care and recovery were the ones who time and again tended to go into remission from cancer.

Let me first clarify my position on all of what I am about to say in this article so that there are no misunderstandings:

  1. I am not saying that people should not listen to their medical professionals but I am saying that most of the time those who heal need to be actively involved in their own healing and research and learn as much if not more than their so called “specialists”. This is the only way we can make true informed choices about our own health and welling being and what is right and what is wrong for us should we ever need help or “treatment” of any kind.
  2. I am not saying that all of psychiatry and that all psychiatrists or doctors are to blame for what has happened and what is happening in the world today. There are many fantastic doctors and psychiatrists who understand what is going on and are doing their best to help. Unfortunately there are also many who are oblivious, ignorant or even arrogant and will not listen to what their patients are telling them.
  3. I am not saying that people should NEVER take or be on anti depressant medication. There is certainly a time and a place for them and a need when people get severely debilitated by depression and certainly if they become suicidal. From that point of view, one could say that sometimes, these medications can save lives. However, what I am going to talk about here is the far too many cases where anti depressants have been prescribed prematurely for anxiety, phobias, post natal depression, a divorce, a job loss or any other “normal” life event that causes normal human sadness and grief but then they go see their doctor and the first thing that happens is that they are offered medication.

I certainly don’t speak about these things just as a psychologist and someone who has been interested in anxiety and depression for most of my career (and life since around 19 years of age) but also as someone who has helped hundreds of people with their anxiety and depression over the years. I also speak about these things from deep personal experience and I have written an article on a website called Mad in America which attracted over 89 000 views since 2013. I have had hundreds of people writing to me from every corner of the world sharing their plight, their anguish, their pain and desperation to get off these terrible drugs. People in their twenties through to people in their sixties. People who has just started on them and people who have been on them for over 20 or even 30 years!

I believe in time, we will eventually see the use of some of the medications as insane and as barbaric as we now see treatments like ECT (electro convulsive therapy) or worse the drilling of holes in peoples heads to let the demons or black bile out that used to happen in the 19th century.

To be put onto an anti depressant at the age of 23 because I had had a mild panic attack just after completing my masters degree in psychology and had received my thesis back with lots of red pen all over it, was not a good reason to be put onto an anti depressant. The psychiatrist at the time said I had GAD (general anxiety disorder) and said I would feel amazing with this new drug called Ciprimal (citalopram). Anyway, that is a long story that has already been discussed elsewhere but I will share more of it here over time.

Today, I want to really put down a challenge and hopefully begin a wave of awareness and protest against a multi billion dollar industry that is probably destroying more lives than cancer, heart disease and AIDS put together. I know that is a bold statement and I do not make it lightly. The reason I say destroying more lives is because it is so unrecognised, not just what these medications do that changes people forever while they are on them but also because depression is still so stigmatised in society that no one really wants to talk about it. In some cultures they still do not believe it is even real or even exists and members of that culture or society are actually shunned if they show signs of mental distress, especially depression. Absolutely ludicrous in the world we live in today. The other reasons include the ongoing lack of recognition by the medical community (largely fueled by the big pharmaceutical companies) that there is no such thing as anti depressant withdrawal. Whenever a patient tries to go off their medication no matter how slow or what tapering process they may use, they will experience a withdrawal reaction just as you would from any other mind/brain altering drug. The pharmaceuticals vehemently denied this for decades until finally they acknowledged something they euphemistically called “anti-depressant discontinuation syndrome”! Let’s call it what it is people, its a drug withdrawal issue. So, the patient goes back to the doctor and says they have stopped their medication and feel anxious or depressed again. The doctor invariably says well that’s your depression coming back so you best just go back onto your anti depressants.

Even if you manage to taper off the drugs there is no guarantee that you will not experience some major withdrawal symptoms including increased anxiety, agitation and anger, crying spells, depressive thoughts, electric shock like sensations in your brain, vertigo, flu like symptoms and potentially a few others as well. What this does is often push the person to start taking the drug again to get relief from the withdrawal. If people aren’t made aware of the withdrawal they will believe – falsely – that their original “condition” of anxiety or depression is returning. I am astounded at how many doctors and psychiatrists will agree that this is the case and that the person just needs to go back onto their medication. Family and friends – having witnessed the destruction that can occur in their loved ones life when they do try to come off anti-depressants – will unwittingly be supporting the doctors and psychiatrists assessment and encourage their loved one to go back onto their medication. And so, an awful vicious cycle continues. Sometimes, unfortunately and very sadly it can lead to the person paying some hefty prices in terms of relationships, jobs and health. Sometimes, even the ultimate price of taking their own lives.

And many, in mental agony and pain, are forced back onto the medication or a different one and so the cycle goes on and on. Unfortunately, I believe that the longer you are on these medications, the harder it may be to come off them. This may not be entirely true but it seems that way to me. Having said that, I have had people write to me who have only been on them for a few months and try get off and have a major withdrawal problems. Another lady wrote to me recently saying that she had started having seizures after being on one particular anti depressant for only a few months!

One of the biggest issues we are facing is that we just do not know the real long term damage that these drugs may be doing to people. We do know that there is a possible link to heart disease as well as many other health problems the longer people are on them, some of which I will detail later on.

People are crying out for help. Marriages are breaking down, careers are falling apart, the quality of people’s lives is being severely compromised. I had one man write to me saying he had been on anti depressants for 20 years from 40 years old to 60 years old and that during that time he had lost both his parents and had be UNABLE to grieve their loss. Why? Because whilst anti-depressants may be preventing people from feeling the very negative emotions of anxiety and  deep unrelenting sadness, they also prevent people experiencing the normal range of sadness and love and joy and ecstasy that others just take for granted. It is an extremely painful realisation to think that you have lost part of your humanity because your ability to feel deeply about anything has been taken away, the good and the bad. So what are we becoming then? It raises questions of what it means to be human and if emotions are taken out of the question I don’t believe we are truly living.

I know this is deeply controversial and I know that there are many who will say that anti depressants save people’s lives. And again let me repeat that I don’t disagree with that but let me put forward a potential solution to this world wide epidemic. And speaking of epidemics, I highly recommend that anyone who is interested in the story of how these medications began, how they developed and where they have led us should get a copy of Robert Whitaker’s fantastic book called Anatomy of an Epidemic. I contacted Robert immediately after reading his book and he asked me to write my story for his website. There are now two parts to that story online. The third part is in the making as I continue on this path. I have written my own book about my views on anxiety, depression and all the tools that I believe are the best tools available to help without needing to resort to the medications. The book covers a range of topics such as cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance commitment therapy, meditation, exercise, goal setting, mindfulness practices as well as other chapters on dealing with emotion and letting go of our fears. The link to the book and eBook will be included at the end of this article for those who are interested.

For the majority of medical ailments and diseases, the disease was discovered and the epidemiology (underlying causes and history) first studied and then once fully understood through medical and scientific proof, successful cures were developed. This was never the case with depression or anxiety. Experiments with such wonderful substances such as jet fuel and clothing dye led to products which were tested on lab animals and then theories were created about why the mice or rats acted in a certain way when given these “calming” drugs and then human tests inevitably followed. After that, the psychiatric community and pharmaceutical companies got involved and the rest is history. A very sad history for the human race or at least for the poor souls who have suffered because of the neglect of the primary principle of the Hippocratic Oath that all doctors and I presume psychiatrists (and alright I will include psychologists too!) would have sworn to when they qualified in their degrees: “FIRST DO NO HARM”. This has clearly and unfortunately not been the case when it comes to some of the results from using psychiatric medication in the treatment of anxiety disorders and depression.

I will always say anti-depressants should be a last resort and only used when people are being debilitated by their condition and are not able to function normally in their world in terms of working or looking after themselves and/or other people in their lives. No-one should have to be on anti-depressants for the rest of their lives. That old story that people who need anti-depressants are the same as a diabetic who needs his or her insulin is just plain and simply not true. Talk to most doctors or psychiatrists and they will most likely tell you something along the lines of: “People with depression and anxiety need to take medication just as a diabetic needs to take insulin”. Why? Because it is a lack of insulin causing the diabetes and similarly, it is a lack of serotonin that causes depression and anxiety. However, a closer look at the research shows that this is just not true and has never been conclusively proven. The research that the pharmaceutical companies rely on to prove the deficiency theory is usually paid for by the pharmaceutical companies themselves. Important bits of information are either adjusted or ignored altogether such as the fact that in some of the trials, there was no clinically significant difference in serotonin levels between the depressed and non-depressed people. Another issue is that for the FDA in America to pass a drug it only needs to show it has been effective within a few weeks and there is no systematic follow up of how these patients fare of the longer term. Do their lives continue to improve and do they stay happy and well? Unfortunately, most of the time the answer is no.

Let me add a caveat to that as well. I am not saying that serotonin doesn’t play a major part in how we feel and it is well known to be the mood chemical in terms of helping us feel happiness and joy. But, many people don’t really know how an anti-depressant actually works. What it does is effectively blocks the “re-uptake” of serotonin in the brain which basically means that when you have a thought, your brain sends an electrical signal between two neurons. In order for the two neurons to communicate chemicals are released in a tiny micro gap between them. Chemicals float across the gap and connect to receptors on the other neuron and off the signals goes. Now, if there is not enough of the chemical getting through some of what is left in the gap is taken back or reabsorbed into the first neuron. Add in an anti depressant and what is does is block or stop the re-uptake of the serotonin chemical (hence the drugs are called SSRI -selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors). With more serotonin available in the gap – more floats across and fires the signal off for happiness and joy etc.

synapse

 

Wonderful isn’t it? And that’s all we needed to know right? Pop a pill and problem solved, you’re happy again. Or are you? As the years have gone by and more and more side effects and issues has arisen over time with people taking the drugs, we are learning more and more that is just isn’t that simple and that playing around with the brain and the body’s chemistry can have some debilitating and life altering impacts. Some of these include:

  • lack of libido
  • loss of motor control and facial tics (I had one client come to see me who had been put on such high doses of Zoloft for so long that she had an embarassing and highly distressing condition of legs and arms shooting out uncontrollably whenever she tried to relax!)
  • increased anger and irritability
  • difficulty accessing emotions both positive and negative
  • delayed or lack of ability to orgasm (leading to major issues in marriages and relationships)
  • ongoing and sometimes even worsened anxiety and depression whilst being on the drugs
  • major problems with trying to stop taking the drug even when the actual situational factors that may have caused the depression have long since past and people are now ready to go off and resume their lives and just want to be who they were before they started taking the drugs
  • major problems with short term memory (this was even detailed as far back as 1999 in Dr. Joseph Glenmullen’s book Prozac Backlash)
  • issues of the drugs just stopping to be effective known as the “poop out” effect – unfortunate terminology – which is basically when they drug just stops working. And so people are moved from drug to the next in an endless human experiment. I am sorry to say this but psychiatry is about as close to a science as black magic at this stage in our understanding of how they brain works.

If these drugs are truly the answer to anxiety and depression, how about you answer me one little question: Have you ever been tested for a serotonin deficiency? Have you ever gone to a doctor and had a test that came up with a result saying yes indeed my friend you are deficient in serotonin and this much medication will correct the problem and you will be A okay for the rest of your life? No? Why not? Because it is extremely difficult to measure serotonin levels in the brain and body. As far as I am aware, the only way to measure serotonin levels is through your cerebral spinal fluid and even that is not a direct measure of actual levels as it is more about what is wasted or taken away by the body and then doctors would guess from that how much you have. How would we even know what the “correct” amount of serotonin would be for each individual? The medical community only in recent times have identified that serotonin does not only reside in the brain but it resides in the stomach too. So we are playing around with people’s brains, people minds and people’s quality of life in ways that we just don’t fully understand and my very real and serious concern is the impact this is having on the lives of millions of people all over the globe.

My own further research found that there are natural products that can actually help the body produce more serotonin naturally, rather than artificially increase the levels with dangerous drugs with major side effects and extreme difficulty in ever stopping them. These supplements include the well known ones like St John’s Wort which is the most prescribed in Germany as they are one of the few countries trying to avoid the overuse of anti depressant medications. Others include the natural amino acid called 5 HTP (5 Hydroxy-tryptophan). This is the basic building block that your body and brain use to make/create serotonin and dopamine. Why aren’t doctors and psychiatrists trying these methods first along with all the other known methods of relieving anxiety and depression such as exercise, meditation, yoga, counselling, CBT, ACT etc.? This is just a sampling of potential natural methods that can and absolutely should be tried before medication is indicated.

Whilst I am certainly not saying that I am an expert in the field by any means, I do believe that there are some things that the medical fraternity and government health authorities should be taking into account in terms of the prescribing of anti depressant medications.

Here are some important questions all doctors, psychiatrists and government health authorities should be asking themselves before the prescribing of any anti depressant medications:

  1. Does this patient have a psychological condition that is severe enough to warrant psychiatric drugs that may alter his or her personality, relationships, career and quality of life in general?
  1. If so, is this patient mildly, moderately or severely anxious or depressed? How do I know this? (In my opinion and this is in agreement with Dr. Joseph Glenmullen’s conclusions in his book – only those who are severely affected by anxiety or depression should be put onto these medications and even then for only 4-6 months until they are able to resolve their psychological issues with a therapist).
  1. Have I informed my patient of the 4-6 week period of adaption that may cause some significant distress to the patient and that they may need an additional anti-anxiety medication to assist with the increased agitation and anxiety until the anti-depressant “kicks in”.
  1. Have I warned my patient that they are more than likely to experience difficulty withdrawing from the anti-depressant and that they will need to taper very slowly off the drug and possibly switch to one of the longest acting anti-depressants such as Prozac in order to successfully come off the drug?\
  1. Have I warned my patient that he or she may experience any or all of the following:
  • Decreased libido.
  • Delayed orgasm/failure to achieve orgasm.
  • Increased agitation/anger.
  • Difficulty accessing his or her emotions and thus ability to empathise with others.
  • Potential memory loss if taken for a period of years due to the chemicals effect on the hippocampus in the brain (the brains memory site).
  • (…and other side effects that I have already been mentioned earlier)
  1. Have I arranged to follow up with the patient and his or her counsellor to assist them in getting off the drugs as soon as possible once the patient is feeling better and has resolved the primary situational and psychological issues that led to the anxiety or depression in the first place?

The sad reality is that many doctors do not even know that a patient can experience withdrawal reactions. I had a client come to see me with his wife once, extremely worried about the fact that he had been experiencing electric shock like sensations in his brain and legs as well as vertigo after suddenly stopping an anti-depressant. I asked him if he had discussed coming off with his doctor and he said he had and that his doctor had agreed he could just stop taking them. When I informed the patient that this was a normal reaction and that he needed to either try to handle it – as he had not been on them for very long so it was likely he would be fine – or to go back to a lower dose and taper off, the look of relief on both their faces was amazing. He told me he thought he was either going mad or dying!

There should be much stricter controls over when a person is given these drugs and who gives it to them. There should be a formal assessment of how depressed a person really is using a valid an reliable depression tool such as the Beck Depression Inventory and not a 10 question form filled in at the doctors office while the patient is in tears and feeling at their very worst. Being asked how often have you felt this way or that in the last 2 weeks is too short a time  frame to assess a clinical and severe episode of depression. Obviously if the person is reporting suicidal thoughts and appears to have some ideas of following through some immediate action must be taken including letting the patients family know and potentially getting an acute care mental health team involved. Starting anti depressants for a patient such as this may be the very thing that is needed but once again I question for how long? Forever? Who takes control to oversee how the patient is fairing in a few weeks, months, years and then assists them to taper off when the time is right? I believe this is a very important missing link in our health system, not just in Australia but around the world from what I have gathered from the hundreds of people who have written to me over the past 3 years.

As I have mentioned, there are many tools and techniques that can be learned to help people get better and stay better, many of which I have detailed in my book along with my descriptions of exactly what I believe anxiety and depression are and how they differ from stress or situational anxiety and low mood.

It is my mission to continue to talk about and help people with these and other issues in terms of living the best life they can, having the greatest quality of life mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. As a wise author once said: I am not saying to you that I am on the top of the mountain, all I am saying is that I have been climbing it a bit longer and I can hopefully point out some of the pitfalls and pathways that you may be encountering as you climb too.

To those of you who are struggling out there, know that you are not alone, there is a growing number of people speaking out about what has been happening to them and more people learning alternative ways to get better and stay better. I would recommend joining up with sites such as http://www.survivingantidepressants.org as well as keeping abreast on what is happening on Robert Whitaker’s site http://www.madinamerica.com.

If you are interested in getting a copy of the latest second edition and fully updated version of my book you can follow the links below. I am always happy to hear feedback on the book and welcome comments on Amazon or iBooks.

With love and light, Namaste.

David

 

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Dealing with Negative Emotions

We all know how powerful our emotions can be. They sometimes seem to take on a life of their own and leave us feeling out of control. There are times when you won’t be able to get yourself out of negative emotions by thinking your way out. I have had to learn this lesson a few times before it finally sunk in that it’s true. There is a direct correlation between how bad you feel physically and how negative and depressing your thoughts can be. If, for example, you come down with the flu and you really feel down physically and your levels of energy are very low, it is very likely that you will also feel a corresponding low sense of overall well-being that will influence your thoughts. I have noticed this time and again whenever I come down with the flu or when I am physically tired or irritable. I feel physically down and it clouds my thoughts and my reasoning to such an extent that I might actually start to believe the load of rubbish that is going on inside my head! I’m really learning that this is a one-way street to misery and unhappiness. What goes on inside your mind when you are physically low is a big show about how miserable and horrible your life is and that there is no end in sight!

What we are actually doing in these instances is basing our thoughts about our reality around how we are currently feeling without any reference or even the ability to reference the objective reality of our lives. This is called emotional reasoning (i.e. I feel therefore it must be so!) You think that just because you feel bad, things must be really bad. And the more you try and think your way out, the more you think about your life, the more the negative irrational thoughts keep flowing through your head! So, what can we do about it?

There is a cardinal rule when it comes to these types of situations and it’s very complicated, so read carefully and get your pen and paper out. The cardinal rule when you feel so low and your life just looks like a bad movie that won’t end is…..

STOP THINKING!

Don’t spend one more minute trying to think your way out of it. Just stop thinking. Make the decision — and you can even tell yourself verbally — that you have decided for the rest of the day to not think about anything important. How easy is it to do? It’s damn hard, let me tell you, but it’s well worth the effort and the resulting feeling of letting go and relaxing about your life. There may be a hundred real issues that you may need to deal with, but when you are really physically not at your best, you have to make the mental decision to avoid thinking about anything that is of major importance in your life. I call these days “mind-stop” or “cruise control” days. Slip your mind into neutral and just let the day happen by itself.

If you want to think about something, think about a movie you’ve seen recently or a funny thing that happened to you the other day. Think about your dog or a beautiful place you’ve been to. Run back a mental movie of yourself walking through the woods or sitting on the beach watching the waves. Or even better yet, don’t think, picture, or visualise anything at all! Do you think you could do that? Like I said, it’s not easy, but it can be done. There’s no doubt that it can be done. It’s a skill that you can learn like any other skill — the ability to just be, to not judge your life or anything in it for a few hours. If you are working on something, just focus on that one thing. If you are taking the dog for a walk, just focus on doing that activity. It’s like Zen Buddhism — you know, the concept of “when I am chopping wood, I am chopping wood and when I am carrying water, I am carrying water.” I am not carrying water and thinking about the hundred and one things I need to do tomorrow or how horrible I feel or how hopeless everything feels at the moment. JUST STOP IT! The opposite of the Nike slogan! Be easy on yourself. When you feel that low physically and emotionally, you need to treat yourself well. You need to take some action that will nourish your soul and make you feel good about yourself. Take a hot bath, go for a long walk, take a ride on your bike, or play with your pet if you have one (that’s my favourite). By doing these things for yourself and taking care of yourself as a parent would a child who is sick, you will find that after a while you “wake up” from this world of just being and doing and you feel remarkably better. You feel more calm, more centered and at peace with your life. The reason is, you have given yourself that much-needed mental break from the incessant negativity going on in your mind and your mind calms down and allows itself to be more positive and focus on other things.

Just recently I had a prime example of this when I was having quite a bad day and was really feeling frustrated and down emotionally. There was nothing really major going on in my external world that would lead to me feeling like this, so I knew that I had to take action and that I had been spending too much time in my head and not enough time using my body and being out in the world. So I immediately stopped what I was doing, got into exercise clothes and went for a bike ride. After a thirty-minute bike ride, a  few push-ups and sit-ups (which I never do enough of), and a cool shower, I felt completely different. My thoughts were now spinning with ideas and possibilities. My energy levels were up and I was clearly in a much better place emotionally to carry on with the day. It works, I know it and you know it too.

I am not saying that one should avoid emotion and feeling one’s emotions. Not at all. There are times when you
can, and indeed must, tap into your emotions and feel them fully because to bottle them up and try to avoid feeling any emotion is very dangerous for your mental well-being. Genuine emotion, which is related to a stressful life event, should be felt and dealt with. We all need to go through the process of grieving and healing in order to move on in a healthy manner from any sad or tragic event in our lives.

Even in these times, however, one may get to a point where the body and mind need a break from all the pain and the hurt and this is where the practicing of “just being” can be helpful.  Even if it’s only for a few hours, it can be very necessary and helpful to decide to stop thinking for a few hours and just be.

On a lighter note, this technique of “thought-stopping” can be utilized anytime, anywhere. Whenever you feel like you just need a break from all the thinking going on inside your head, just make the decision to stop. Start a process of being aware of your thoughts instead of just letting them ride roughshod around in your mind like some crazy motorcycle gang on drugs, and then begin to let them go and let them leave your mind.

Let me, if I may, give you another personal example of how I apply this in my own life. When my ex-wife and I moved to London from South Africa, we left behind all our friends, all our family, our jobs, and everything we love and care about. We left behind all our possessions. Our entire social fabric was stripped away from us as we made the decision to emigrate. On the scale of stressful life events, I think emigration falls just under the death of a spouse as one of the most stressful life events that people can go through.  I can attest to that because we went through it — not once, but twice in a period of two years! One day in London I came down with the flu on a Sunday morning. I thought it would go quickly but it stayed with me for a few days. On the third day I was feeling really sick. Physically, my body was  in revolt, saying that it would like to get off the ride please. My thoughts started to rumble, like the first signs of a thunderstorm on its way, and I started to think really negatively about moving to London. Everything I thought about seemed to be bleak and I started to feel down not only physically but mentally. And that becomes a double whammy when it’s in its full throes as I‘m sure most of you will no doubt have experienced. Luckily, I quickly realised what was going on and what I was doing to myself and I made the mental decision that I was not going to think about any important issues in my life.  Just the realization alone of what was going on and why I was feeling so bad and thinking so negatively was enough to bring me out of it.

So you see, you can change your mind (and your life) with even a simple technique such as deciding to just stop for a while and take time out from thinking. Again, you may need to practice this form of mindfulness but be persistent because it is well worth it.

All the best and Good Thinking!

David Fox