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Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression


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The Natural Way to Heal Anxiety and Depression

When I first wrote “Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression” and before I published my article about my story and my struggles with anti-depressant medications, I knew very little about some of the more natural ways of improving mental well-being. What I am referring to is not the natural tools of counselling, exercise, meditation and getting good sleep at night. I am referring to a whole world of possibilities that have opened up to me through suggestions from readers or my own ceaseless research and experimentation since that article went online in October 2013. As of this writing, that article has now had over 100K views (although after a refresh of the Mad in America site it shows only those views since 2016) and due to this and providing my contact details to readers, I have received hundreds of emails from people from all over the world for the past four years asking for guidance for either themselves or for a loved one whether it is a parent, child, sibling or friend. These people are often at a loss, confused, afraid and wondering where to turn for help. A consistent theme that comes up is their frustration with the medical professional who is either treating them or their loved one as when the issue of the drug being the problem or a tapering off is suggested, these medical professionals respond with anything from indifference to outright hostility towards their patients or suggest that they need to try another medication or take an additional one to stop the side effects of the first one! This is not a couple of people folks, this is a percentage of the world’s population who are being put onto anti-depressant medications for very different reasons without any thought as to whether medications are the right path to take or what the potential impact could be if the patient did have to take them. The World Health Organisation predicts that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disability throughout the world, and its researchers estimate that

178 million people were suffering from depression in 2011. [1]

It is disturbing to note that in his book “Your Drug May be your Problem”, Dr Peter Breggin mentions that it was way back in March of 2004 that the FDA finally decided to acknowledge after years and years of professionals such as himself, Dr. David Healy, Dr. Joseph Glenmullen had been warning about the dangers of the SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) that anti-depressants have some major concerning side effects. They finally had to agree that anti-depressants were now “known” to not only cause agitation, anger and suicidality in teenagers but that in adult populations they were also now linked to: “anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia (my words: a big one I see with my clients and have experienced myself with SNRI’s when once being mistakenly placed onto a tricyclic anti-depressant by a senior chief psychiatrist who swore that he would give this to his own brother based on his 20 minute discussion with me), irritability, hostility, impulsivity, akathasia (severe restlessness), hypomania and mania”[2]. Stunningly, the very things that the anti-depressants are often prescribed to help with!

I am certainly not saying that what I will discuss here is definitive in any way. Healing comes in many forms and there are a whole raft of healing methodologies that I am aware of but have not tried or researched in any detail including naturopathy, reiki, sound healing, Chinese medicine etc. What I am primarily focusing on here is what is believed to be the key issue when it comes to anxiety and depression and that is lowered levels of serotonin and the brain and body’s ability to communicate effectively using the neurotransmitters we need to help us cope and feel good in life. These lowered levels may come about for a variety of reasons as will be discussed and what I propose is a dietary approach and vitamin and supplement approach that is targeted at both increasing the actual levels of serotonin in the body and brain as well as increasing and facilitating the brains capacity to communicate effectively within itself.

Part of the reason that I have kept researching and learning more and more about psychiatry, anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications is my strong desire to get off anti-depressants completely but really a much larger reason is my drive to raise awareness not only within the general public but within our government health agencies and within the medical professions themselves – especially doctors and psychiatrists.

The natural health professions already know a lot (but certainly not all) of what I now know but I am consistently and very alarmingly shown how very little the medical profession really knows about the balance of pros versus cons of taking anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications. In addition, they know little or nothing about some of the things I am going to talk about in this chapter with regards to exactly what produces serotonin and dopamine in our bodies and brains, how our bodies convert certain foods and amino acids into other forms which then become our happy and joyful neurotransmitters – dopamine, serotonin and noradrenalin (noradrenalin has more of an energising/activating effect on us and is supposed to help remove the lethargy that comes with deep depression).

There are always consequences when it comes to taking psychiatric medications and I am referring to starting them, staying on them or trying to come off them when people feel they are ready. As an example, just one of so many, I had a client who recently came to see me after having had a breakdown due to his marriage being on the rocks and his wife being a functional but getting worse alcoholic. He had never been on anti-depressants in his life before and was now in his mid-forties. When I asked him how his sleep was he said it was very bad. I asked which drug he was on and he told me he was put on 75mg of Effexor XR (slow-release). Having had my own exposure to this wonderful drug (note the sarcasm), I asked him at what time of the day he took the drug. He said he had originally been taking it in the morning but had felt queasy and so had tried taking it at night. I went on to explain to him that Effexor is an SNRI (serotonin and NORADRENALIN reuptake inhibitor) meaning that it will artificially increase both of these vital neurotransmitters in your brain. I said, you are basically doing the equivalent of lying down to go to sleep and then giving yourself a shot of adrenalin! The look of surprise on his face showed me that his doctor had not even explained to him exactly what it was he was taking or how it would help – or not help in his case. Effexor is also known to be one of the most difficult drugs to come off because it only comes in capsule format and dosages of 37.5mg, 75mg and 150mg. These are incredibly hard if not impossible to breakdown into lower doses as you can with the tablet and water-soluble medications. I have had one client who successfully weaned off Effexor over two whole years by opening and counting the beads in each capsule and removing a couple each time! And she still endured some heavy withdrawal reactions.

I explained some of this to my client and mentioned that getting no sleep was only compounding his difficulty in staying calm and focused and that although people generally do have sleep disturbances during anxiety and/or depression, he was doing himself a huge disservice by taking it at night. I saw him two weeks later and he informed me that his sleep had improved. He could now get 4-5 hours’ sleep without waking. And that was an improvement! I know how it goes because I have been there, except when I was taking Effexor XR, which served a purpose for me but only for a very limited period, I had huge issues with not being able to fall asleep or falling asleep and waking two or three hours later and being “wired” and unable to fall asleep again. I transitioned myself away from Effexor and have never looked back.

In this chapter I will discuss exactly how anti-depressant medications work (supposedly) because even what we think we know as facts about the chemistry of the brain is being turned on its head more and more as time goes by. We used to think that it was a FACT that neurotransmitters are created and remain within our brains. We now know, that a large proportion of these neurotransmitters are created and can be found in the stomach and this has implications for a range of things to do with what we eat and drink as well as other medications we take such as anti-biotics. So, let us begin there shall we?

Antibiotics

It came as quite a surprise to me only recently whilst reading Dr.David Perlmutter’s brilliant books “Grain Brain” and “Brain Maker” to learn that anyone who has had to take antibiotics for a period of time may have lowered levels of serotonin due to the fact that antibiotics as we all know destroy good and bad bacteria in the gut, however, as it turns out, anti-biotics are also destroying and preventing the creation of serotonin in our stomachs as well.

As I was pondering this it suddenly occurred to me that when I turned 15 years old I got a really bad attack of acne. I tried all the soaps and just about anything I could to stop them but it just went from bad to worse. It didn’t help that I had recently got braces and glasses as well and so my poor self-esteem suffered something horrible during my teen years. But, more than that, I remembered that rather than being put onto Roaccutane the skin specialist recommended another acne medication called Minocycline. As an aside, the brand name Accutane (Roaccutane) was discontinued by its manufacturer in 2009 – Roche. A 2001 article in the New England Journal of Medicine linked Accutane to depression. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) study examined 110 people who took Accutane and were hospitalized for depression or attempted suicide. Their ages ranged from 12 to 47. By the time Roche stopped making the drug, people who experienced Accutane’s side effects – as well as their families – had filed nearly 1,000 lawsuits against the company

I took Minomycin (Minocycline) as a teenager religiously for approximately four years. And so, I decided to look it up online and was surprised to learn that it is a broad spectrum antibiotic! Every day, for four years…as a teenager. If what Dr. Perlmutter says is true, and I have no reason to doubt his credentials or over thirty years of research into the food brain connection – then my brain was being starved of essential neurotransmitters during a crucial time in my adult development. Now, I am not saying that it was exclusively the reason that I struggled with anxiety in my young adult life (although on thinking about it I do not remember being an anxious child or anxious prepubescent). In fact, I was quite a naughty risk taker and would often land myself in hot water at home for jumping off roofs, throwing fruits over the fences at friend’s neighbour’s windows or smoking behind an old oak tree at the age of 10 or so.

I digress, however, it is part of the story of me never really having any major anxiety issues as a child. I was as scared as your average kid of clowns or what have you and when I reflected on taking antibiotics for all those years and then seeing in black and white that they can either destroy or prevent serotonin from being produced in the stomach, it really gave me pause to rethink just exactly where my anxiety in my late teens and early twenties came from. Nature or nurture or something worse – medical science in the form of drugs supposed to help us but unwittingly doing more damage than they are worth. This is just the tip of the iceberg. It really makes me wonder how many teenagers are suffering needlessly from anxiety and/or depression due to this issue. Going through puberty is hard enough without antibiotics screwing up your neurobiology!

The end result is just to be aware that if you are taking antibiotics, you MAY have a problem with lowered levels of serotonin and dopamine and as such it is just good practice to take a high potency probiotic. One strain in particular that Dr. Perlmutter recommends is that you ensure that the bacteria bifidobacterium infantis is present in your probiotic.

Foods that can help and foods than can harm.

You may be surprised to learn that eating a slice of whole meal bread could also be a contributor to lowered mood and changes in blood sugar levels and neurobiology. In fact, any food containing gluten has this possibility as our bodies were not made to process the kinds of grains we consume today – especially the wheat found in our breads, pastas, pastries and cookies. Since around the age of twenty four – about the same time I was put onto antidepressants for the first time – I started having trouble with dry skin. It seemed to just be something that I had to live with but it became embarrassing at times and the skin around my nose and cheeks would sometimes be red. It improved somewhat into my thirties but never really cleared up. It did seem to get worse in colder weather which is to be expected. It also appears to get worse if I don’t get enough sleep. However, none of these could account for the consistent red and dry skin. I tried once again any and every topical treatment I could find including cortisone creams which are really not good for you. But, after having read Dr. Perlmutter’s books, I went cold turkey on gluten. I had been thinking about doing this for some time as quite a bit of the research that I was finding had a consistent theme of avoiding too much gluten. It’s not so much carbohydrates that are the problem, we all need a good amount of protein and carbohydrates, it’s the gluten! When I started investigating exactly what I was eating in my diet that had gluten in it I was very surprised. Call me ignorant but I had no idea that oats are full of gluten and I would often have oats for breakfast thinking how healthy I was being. Out went the oats. Eggs on toast, out went the toast. I have found enough restaurants will now offer you gluten free toast anyway if you like so this is no biggie. To be honest, it really wasn’t that hard giving up gluten. You start to focus on getting more protein into your diet which as you will see in a moment is critical, but you also just start to think of meals that are fairly easy to prepare – such as baked fish with veggies and some roasted potato chips or rice (rice is safely gluten free – hooray for rice. As is all corn/maize based meals and snacks). However, do be aware that white rice in particular has a high sugar content. So, all in moderation.

What I found literally within two to three weeks of stopping gluten is that my skin cleared up. The angry red splotches just magically disappeared. No ointments, no medications, just no gluten and good enough sleep. I also notice that even after eating a meal such as spaghetti bolognaise with gluten free spaghetti (made from soy and rice flour), I never feel bloated the way I normally would.

Another reason I chose to go gluten free (even though I still cheat here and there and have something naughty – I don’t believe in the deprivation method of changing your habits) is that Dr. Perlmutter indicates in his books that gluten is now linked to higher incidences of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and diabetes.

A study that he mentions in his book “Grain Brain” mentioned a research study about a little island village in the Mediterranean that had the most centurions in the world (people who lived to see 100) as well as the lowest incidences of Alzheimer’s and dementia in both men and women. When looking for what caused this amazing outcome in this population the only thing they found radically different in the lives of these people was their diet. They drank red wine and coffee and had plenty of protein based meals such as fish and meat but very little if any breads. I’ll leave you to ponder that and also to think about whether your own little gluten free experiment is in order.

Dr. Perlmutter also indicates a direct link between gluten and inflammation in the body and brain. We can feel and see inflammation in the body with conditions such as gout and rheumatoid arthritis but we cannot feel or see (without a brain scan) inflammation in the brain that may also be caused by gluten. Either way, I decided to get off the gluten and my skin clearing was actually just a nice side effect. Way too many people in the western world are now dying from dementia and Alzheimer’s and I really don’t think our faster pace of life or higher stress levels can account for this phenomenon.

In addition, I’m going to tell you something you already know about your diet. Cut the sugar, reduce caffeine to one drink per day (preferably in the morning) particularly if you suffer with anxiety or sleep problems and certainly nothing with caffeine after 2pm.

Ensuring that you eat your fair share of green leafy vegetables is also advice as old as the hills in terms of diet and well-being advice but it’s funny how few people actually follow through on this. If you don’t want to go through the hassle of buying and chopping veggies every day then cheat by getting the super green veggie powders that are now commercially available in most major supermarkets and health food stores and make yourself a berry, banana, protein powder and super green veggie smoothie. Brilliant for your brain and energy levels.

And of course, drink loads of water, at least two liters per day (I can usually manage about one and a half per day easily), which is easily done if you carry around one of those 500ml bottles and just make sure you are refilling it a few times a day. This will be even easier and more necessary when we go through the section on supplements and vitamins as you will need to have your water with you anyway.

The last thing that I will recommend in terms of actual food intake or changes is to try and add more protein in the form of fish, eggs, milk (lactose free if you can get it) and meat. The reasons are many. One of the reasons fish is on that list is because certain fish are high in Omega 3 essential oils. When I tell friends or clients about the need to be taking Omega 3 every day some will say “But I eat fish in my diet!” Unfortunately, the amounts of fish you would have to eat to get the benefits we will talk about in terms of your brain are not reasonable or desirable for anyone.

This is where I end the discussion on diet and I believe this covers the essentials you need to know in your quest for removing anxiety and depression from your life naturally through diet. There are plenty other good books to be read completely dedicated to the subject.

Vitamins and Supplements that Can Help

This section will detail some of the most important vitamins, minerals and amino acids that you can take to assist you staying away from taking anti-depressants in the first place, feeling better while being on them or supporting you during a tapering programme. This has been, as I mentioned earlier, a four year odyssey for me both personally and professionally as I have tried various options as I learned about them, avoided others due to fear mongering online (only to find out there were other reasons certain amino acids were not commercially available), and am still in the process of investigating some others.

What I have learned and shared with my clients and those who write to me from all over the world has helped many people cope better with anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug withdrawal. When I think of the needless suffering that hundreds and thousands of people have gone through across the globe due to a lack of understanding and awareness of other viable alternatives to taking psychiatric medication for anxiety and depression I get pretty fired up as you could possibly tell from my writing. The number of young teens being put onto anti-anxiety and/or anti-depressant medications prematurely in some cases and completely unnecessarily in other cases makes me really angry. As they say, if only I knew then what I know now, and if I could magically have gone back in time to my twenty three year old self back in March 2000, I could have possibly saved myself 20 years of the difficulties of being on and trying to come off these medications. It’s not only what I have had to go through but what my family and some friends have had to go through too, and I know I am certainly not alone when it comes to not only medications but mental health in general when people struggle with anxiety and/or depression.

5-HTP (5- Hydroxytryptophan)

So, let us begin at the beginning, with the first supplement that was brought to my attention very soon after I published my story online in 2013 by one of the readers of the story. This particular person mentioned that once off the medications, a person could/should take an amino acid called 5-HTP. I had never, not once in thirteen years of experiencing anxiety and depression personally and as a mental health professional, heard about 5-HTP. Have you heard of it? I’m willing to be a lot of money that you haven’t and that your doctor and definitely your psychiatrist haven’t either. Why is that? What is 5-HTP?

5-HTP is a chemical by-product of the protein building block L-tryptophan. It is also produced commercially (and this is what you would be taking if you chose to try it) from the seeds of an African plant known as Griffonia simplicifolia. 5-HTP is the last step in the process of converting protein in your stomach into the essential neurotransmitters – serotonin and dopamine. Protein is the key building block required in your diet which your body uses to synthesize (using a combination of vitamins) into L-tryptophan and then 5-HTP. Having high levels of 5-HTP should lead to higher levels of serotonin and dopamine which should lead you to feel calmer, happier, more focused and generally more optimistic about just about anything in your life. Note that it can take a number of weeks to be effective and – once again – the dosage is variable (a typical dose of 5-HTP is in the range of 300-500 mg, taken either once daily or in divided doses. Lower doses may also be effective, although usually when paired with other substances). 5-HTP is used as a supplement (rather than tryptophan itself) to increase serotonin levels as tryptophan can be diverted into niacin production or protein construction whereas 5-HTP has the sole fate of serotonin synthesis. 5-HTP also crosses the blood brain barrier easily. [3]

Although this may seem like a scary way to approach taking something to help with anxiety or depression, I would prefer trialing various dosages of 5-HTP any day over playing around with an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. It’s certainly, in my opinion, worth trying the 5-HTP first.

Even though it is becoming more widely known that the chemical imbalance theory of mental health problems is actually no more than psychiatry’s little green man behind the curtain or the emperor with no clothes, rather than the objective-scientific truth, these neurotransmitters do exist and are responsible for many of the cases of clinical depression and debilitating anxiety (and in some cases panic attacks) in most people.

However, it is one thing to say that serotonin levels have been lowered and possibly caused by stressful life events which led to increased cortisol – a chemical in the body released during times of stress which may also reduce production of serotonin in the body – but it is quite another thing to tell a person that he or she has a “chemical imbalance“ in their brain and that they therefore have some sort of “disease” that is as incurable as diabetes. “Just keep taking your medications the same way a diabetic needs insulin” and shut up and don’t you dare challenge the established order of psychiatry’s control of medicating anxiety and depression or worry about the links between some in the psychiatric professional communities and the huge pharmaceutical companies which are making billions of dollars a year. Surely it can’t be as easy as getting their sales representatives to buy our doctors lunch and explain to them why this new wonder drug is good for their patients with depression and has even fewer side effects than the previous products or versions? You get the picture. If you want to know a lot more about all of this please visit Robert Whitaker’s brilliant site www.madinamerica.com and better yet get a copy of his seminal book “Anatomy of an Epidemic” as well as another book written as far back as 1988 (the very year Prozac was introduced into the market) by Dr. Elliot Valenstein called “Blaming the Brain”.

In blaming the brain, Dr Valenstein states the following in his opening chapter: “Throughout this book I will argue that the evidence and arguments supporting all these claims about the relationship of brain chemistry to psychological problems and personality and behavioral traits are far from compelling and are most likely wrong. The claim that psychotherapeutic drugs correct a biochemical imbalance that is the root cause of most psychological problems also rests on a very shaky scientific foundation. These ideas are simply an unproven hypothesis, but for reasons that will be explored, they are heavily promoted as a well-substantiated explanatory theory. Because these ideas have enormous implications, there is a great need to examine the evidence and basic assumptions much more critically than has been done up to now”.[4]

Coming back to 5-HTP, it was banned in America until only recently due to some bad batches that came out of a dodgy manufacturer in Asia which led to some major government concerns about its properties. I believe that it is now available in the USA and is certainly available in Australia through online purchase. However, interestingly enough, you will not find it in any pharmacy or even health food store because it just isn’t widely known. And I just have to ask why? Why would a naturally occurring food derivative (amino acid) that can help to increase serotonin in the least disruptive and invasive way not be on the shelves in pharmacies and heavily promoted by doctors? I’ll leave you work that one out. There are different opinions online about the efficacy of 5-HTP as there are about just about any product when it comes to mental health or well-being. And, we are all different. We all respond differently to different products and food substances so there is no one size fits all here of course. But, wouldn’t you say it’s worth trying something natural FIRST with no known side effects or major withdrawal issues before medically tampering with our body and brains neurobiology with so many unknowns?

One caveat here and this is where the story gets a little thorny. You are not supposed to take 5-HTP if you are already taking an antidepressant (SSRI or SNRI) just in case you end up with a case of serotonin syndrome which is where your brain/body overproduces serotonin and this can lead to potentially some harmful outcomes and even (as some sites will say) fatal results. There are very specific signs of potential serotonin syndrome though and so if you are starting to experience any of them you would just immediately stop taking the 5-HTP. It’s only our lack of knowledge of what is happening that is the problem. Once you know what to look for you are responsible to monitor how you are reacting to anything you take whether it’s 5-HTP or an aspirin. And ensure you have the support of a trusted medical doctor but only one who is willing to support what you would like to do with your own body, mind and life.

L-Tyrosine

L-Tyrosine is another amino acid supplement that assists with increasing – through natural means – our levels of dopamine and to some degree norepinephrine. I came across it while searching for natural ways to increase dopamine levels as I had discovered that serotonin could be increased using 5 HTP so I wondered whether something similar was the case with dopamine – and sure enough, if you seek you shall find.

L- Tyrosine is one of the amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. The body makes tyrosine from another amino acid called phenylalanine. Tyrosine can also be found in dairy products, meats, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, oats, and wheat. However, trying to get the amount of tyrosine you would need from food has the same issue as trying to get all the Vitamin C you need from oranges or all the Omega 3 Fish Oil you need from eating fish. Way too hard.

Several studies show that tyrosine improves mental performance under stressful conditions, such as military training, cold-induced stress, or noise-induces stress. In addition, tyrosine improves memory under stressful conditions, such as cold-stress or multitasking. Taking tyrosine seems to help people who have lost a night’s sleep stay alert. Also, early research suggests that tyrosine improves memory and reasoning in people who are sleep-deprived.[5]

Anecdotal reports from people who have tried L-Tyrosine that it helps increase energy, concentration and mood. Well worth giving it a try I would say. I have used it myself and have found it to be of benefit along with the other dietary changes and supplements mentioned here.

St. John’s Wort

I am not going to say too much about St. John’s Wort, firstly because I have not really had much experience with it other than to note it is widely prescribed in Germany rather than antidepressants. Apparently, German doctors and the German public in general prefer to use St. John’s Wort as a first line treatment for depression and various studies in Germany have shown it to be more effective as placebo, and other anti-depressants. Secondly, I don’t think it is easy to get results from St. John’s Wort as it takes longer to work and it is not clear exactly what dosage one would need to take for it to be considered “effective”. I suppose this would be the case with most medicines – medical or alternative – when it comes to healing anxiety and/or depression. Anyone considering using alternative methods for healing anxiety and depression or coming off anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications needs to be prepared to do their homework and then undertake a bit of experimentation. With regards to St. John’s Wort, anyone suffering from mild to moderate depression should probably consider trialing it for themselves but expect it to take a few weeks to work and to play around with different dosages to see what dosage is right for them. The best thing about St. John’s Wort is that there are little to no side-effects and it is a natural herb, therefore it is safe compared to taking any psychiatric drug.

Vitamin B6, B12 and Vitamin C

Most people are aware of the need to take a Vitamin B supplement. I remember as a teenager taking a multi-vitamin B during exam times as I had heard that it was good for stress. I have always equated the need to be taking a good Vitamin supplement with good stress management. However, I only found out in the last four years that they are also very important in the process of your body converting protein into Tryptophan. Most people are aware that Vitamin B12 is a key vitamin that should be checked if they are suffering with extreme tiredness or having difficulty with their moods. B6 is also important in this process. The same goes for Vitamin C. We should all be taking a good vitamin C supplement on a daily basis. I personally take 1000mg per day. In addition, taking a high strength multi-B complex is also highly recommended due to the body’s need for these vitamins during the synthesis of protein into tryptophan and then tryptophan into 5-HTP, serotonin and dopamine.

Omega 3 Fish Oils

I had heard about the benefits of taking fish oils in terms of it being good for joints as well as being good for the brain. What I never really knew was that Omega 3 and Omega 6 play pivotal roles in helping the brain function as well as ensuring a healthy environment for your brain cells and neurotransmitters to communicate with each other. Omega 3 Fish Oils are also helpful in reducing one of the withdrawal effects of tapering off an anti-depressant which is the very unpleasant electric “zap” like sensations that commonly occur when attempting a withdrawal. I still cannot believe how few doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists are aware of this. In terms of dosage, Fish Oils come in all shapes and sizes and it was through reading some of information from The Road Back Programme created by James Harper that understood that not all omega 3 fish oils are created equal. Jim is a very caring pharmacologist who has been helping people reduce or taper off anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications for over 16 years. Dosage recommendations vary and Jim mentions that the best Fish Oils are derived from fish such as salmon, herring and trout as opposed to tuna. Effective dose recommendations can range from 400-800mg per day. In order to avoid having to take 4-6 capsules, I just ensure that I buy fish oils from credible brands which have high EPA potency such as 240mg or more per capsule as opposed to the standard 180mg in most commercially available products. Ensure that the product is also mercury tested and says that it does not have a reflux effect. I wouldn’t enjoy smelling like fish breath all day long and I’m sure you don’t want to either!

Passionflower

This is another naturally occurring remedy that I found out about from James Harper. James not only researched products that could assist people with drug withdrawal but also sourced and created a range of his own natural products. I did try taking some of James’ other products at one stage and there may have been some benefit in taking them but I found the most useful was the Body Calm Formula which is essentially passionflower mixed with the skin of a very specific cherry called – the Montmort cherry. In addition, Jim has created a proprietary product called JNK, which he has trialed again in a recent study in 2016 showing very positive results for both anxiety and depression. For more information you can visit his site at www.theroadback.org

Magnesium

Most of us know the sage advice of having a glass of warm milk can assist us with sleeping better or falling asleep. One of the biggest reasons for this is the magnesium in the milk.

“Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral, and the second most prevalent electrolyte in the human body. Magnesium deficiencies are common in developed countries. A deficiency increases blood pressure, reduces glucose tolerance and causes neural excitation. Magnesium deficiencies are common in the western diet because grains are poor sources of magnesium. Other prominent sources of magnesium, like nuts and leafy vegetables, are not eaten as often. It is possible to fix a magnesium deficiency through dietary changes (or supplementation). If magnesium is supplemented to attenuate a deficiency, it acts as a sedative, reducing blood pressure and improving insulin sensitivity. Maintaining healthy magnesium levels is also associated with a protective effect against depression and ADHD.” The standard dose for magnesium supplementation is 200-400mg per day. It is best taken in the evening as it helps to relax the muscles and assists with sleep. When looking at the diets of persons suffering from depression, there appears to be an inverse relationship between dietary Magnesium intake and depressive symptoms.[6]

 Zinc

Zinc is one of the 24 micronutrients needed for survival. It is found in meat, egg, and legume products. Oysters are particularly good sources of zinc. It is an aphrodisiac and testosterone booster, but it will only raise testosterone levels if the user is deficient in zinc. Zinc is also very important for the functioning of the enzyme, hormone, and immune systems.[7] Zinc has two standard dosages. The low dosage is 5-10mg, while the high dosage is 25-45mg. The low dose works well as a daily preventative, while the high dosage should be taken by anyone at risk for a zinc deficiency. Secondary to an improvement in overall mood, aggressive symptoms have been noted to be reduced with low dose zinc supplementation.

Staying Active (an absolute must)

Bolster your internal resources with good nutrition, stress-reduction techniques, regular sleep — and especially physical activity. Exercise has a powerful antidepressant effect. It’s been shown that people are far less likely to relapse after recovering from depression if they exercise three times a week or more. Exercise makes serotonin more available for binding to receptor sites on nerve cells, so it can compensate for changes in serotonin levels as you taper off SSRIs and other medications that target the serotonin system. (http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/going-off-antidepressants).

Summary

The above dietary and lifestyle suggestions are the ones I would most highly recommend regardless of whether you are still on or thinking about tapering off anti-depressant medications. In addition, I would say that anyone who is suffering with stress, anxiety or depression should go down the road of counselling, meditation, yoga, a gluten free diet with lots of protein, vegetables and probiotics, mild to moderate cardio-vascular exercise, supplements and counselling. Finally, connecting to those around you and building a strong network of supportive professionals, friends and family would also be something that I would say is a requirement for good mental wellbeing and enduring recovery from anxiety and depression.

 

 

 

[1] White, Ian. Beat Depression the Drug Free Way, 2011

[2] [2] Breggin, Dr. Peter R. Your Drug may be your Problem. Da Capo Press. 2007

[3] https://examine.com/supplements/5-htp/

[4] Valenstein, Elliot. S. “Blaming the Brain”, Free Press (1988).

[5] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1037-tyrosine

[6] https://examine.com/supplements/magnesium/

[7]https://examine.com/supplements/zinc/


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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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Lesson 4: Where there is smoke there is (usually) fire. 

Twenty year old Sheri Dyer walked into her apartment sobbing. She threw down her back pack and ran into her bedroom, slamming the door closed.

Layla, her older sister by 5 years, looked up from the book she was reading in the lounge with surprise. Sheri and Layla had always been close and had been living together in an apartment while they did their studies in Sydney’s eastern suburbs so that they would be closer to the university they both went to. Layla was finishing her degree in veterinary science and Sheri was studying sociology and psychology.

Layla put her book down and went to see what may have gotten Sheri so upset. She wondered if it was one of the results of the exams she had recently taken. She knocked on Sheri’s door gently.

“Sheri, are you okay? Can I come in?” she asked, hearing the muffled sounds of Sheri crying.

“Yes” came the almost inaudible reply from inside.

Layla opened the door and stepped into Sheri’s room which was a bright and sunny east facing bedroom. Sheri’s study desk was on the right-hand side of the room with some of her books and trinkets lying on it and in front of it she had a white board with various pictures, sayings and timetables attached with colourful magnets. Layla noticed that some of the photos had been taken off the whiteboard and lay torn up on the desk. She started to realise what may have caused Sheri to be so upset.

“Is it Gary? Did something happen?” she said as she sat down on the bed next to Sheri. Sheri was lying on the bed weeping into her pillow face down. She was wearing her gym outfit as she usually went for a gym workout after her lectures at the university gym. Her auburn hair was tied up in a ponytail.

“Yes”, came the muffled reply.

Layla sat there, rubbing Sheri on the back to comfort her. “Tell me what happened. Do you want a cup of tea or something and then we can talk about it?”. Sheri and Layla’s grandmother would always offer cups of tea in times of distress to anyone. This had now become their own little tradition that Sheri and Layla had continued since living on their own together and seemed to always lighten the load a bit.

Again a muffled, “Yes”.

“Okay, I’m going to make us some tea but I will need you to remove yourself from that cushion so I can actually hear what you say and not have to interpret it through your Emoji pillow”, said Layla, trying to lighten the mood a bit. Sheri had recently bought the Emoji pillow with the smiley face and tears of laughter coming out of its eyes which she was currently sobbing into. Layla had a quick thought of that being somewhat ironic as she went to make two cups of tea.

When Layla came back into the room five minutes later with the two cups of tea, Sheri was sitting up on her bed cross legged with the Emoji pillow on her lap. She was blowing her nose with a tissue.

Layla set Sheri’s cup of tea next to her on the bedside table and then sat down next to her blowing into her own tea to cool it down.

“Okay girl, give it up. What’s happened between you two?” Layla asked.
Sheri threw the tissue into the wastepaper basket next to the bed and grabbed a few more tissues from her bedside table. “He’s cheated on me”, Sheri said and broke into tears again.

“Oh no sweetie, that’s terrible.” said Layla and put her own cup of tea down on the side table so that she could give Sheri a hug. Sheri cried for a little while longer and then pulled away to blow her nose and wipe her eyes again.

“I saw some messages on his phone today while we were having a drink at the juice bar next to the gym. He had gone back into the gym to ask some questions about putting a hold on his membership and left his phone behind. While I was sitting there his phone beeped and I saw a message from a girl I haven’t seen before on his Facebook messenger. I didn’t want to pry or invade his privacy but the message was right there in my face, so I clicked on it and then I saw the whole history. She’s someone from his philosophy class. They have been chatting for the past two months and it’s clear that something is going on between them. Some of the messages are very explicit” Sheri said.

“I’m so sorry”, said Layla. She wondered whether this may not come as a complete surprise to Sheri based on some of the things Sheri had been telling Layla she had noticed about Gary all along since they first met about six months ago.

“I’m such an idiot,” said Sheri, throwing the tissues she had in her hand forcefully into the bin. “Why did I believe him when he said that he wasn’t interested in someone else? I told you three months ago I had noticed changes in his behaviour and that I had a feeling something was up. Why didn’t I listen to my own intuition?” Sheri said in frustration.

“You’re not an idiot! Do you know how many people do exactly the same thing as you? Do you know how many couples get into a relationship for the wrong reasons and ignore their intuition? We all know the saying where there is smoke there is fire Sheri, but we choose not to notice those signs or if we do notice them we rationalize them away. We all do it sweetheart so I don’t want to hear you say that you’re an idiot or any other self-blaming label okay? This has everything to do with who he is and nothing to do with you, okay?” Layla said.

Sheri picked up her cup of tea – a South African herbal tea called Rooibos – and took a sip of it. It did seem to calm her down a little. She took another sip and then held it in her hands on top of the smiling Emoji pillow.

“Yes, where there is smoke there is usually fire, so why didn’t I pick it up earlier? Why did I stay in the relationship when I felt so insecure so much of the time? He was always looking at other women when we were together and when I would confront him about it he would just make excuses or say that everyone looks at the opposite sex. I know we all do but he was clearly doing more than just noticing, he was fixating on some of them and his head would literally turn sometimes while I was with him. I mean it’s one thing to do that when I’m not around but with me right there! And I ignored it so much of the time, telling myself it was normal and that maybe I was overreacting to it. Even my counsellor was trying to help me work through the thoughts and make sure I wasn’t just reading into everything”, said Sheri.

“I know. But you cannot blame yourself. If you take responsibility for the behaviours of others or what happens outside of your own control then you are doing something called personalising. Have you covered that in your psych classes yet?” asked Layla. She had come across something called “the ten distortions of thinking” in her elective study of psychology as part of her degree and had found the use of cognitive behaviour therapy concepts to be very helpful in her life. She had been practicing the use of CBT ever since.

“No, we haven’t come to that yet”, said Sheri.

“Well, personalising just means that sometimes we take on too much personal responsibility for things that we did not have any actual personal control over. You couldn’t control his thought processes or how he chose to behave. Yes, you could bring to his attention what you didn’t like about his behaviour and ask him to not look at those other women the way he did but that’s all you could have done, aside from breaking it off with him”, Layla said.

“There were other signs as well,” said Sheri, thinking about a few other instances where she had noticed something about what Gary had said or done that she had felt was out of place or just struck a chord of discomfort in her.

“What other signs?” Layla asked. She had known about some of the issues Sheri had raised but there were clearly more she hadn’t mentioned.

“Well, he would sometimes do things that I felt uneasy about. He would walk out of a store sometimes holding something that he forgot to pay for and when I said we should go back he would laugh and say that it doesn’t matter and that it happened to stores every day. I always felt uneasy about that and always tried to get him to go back but he would just look at me like I was mad”, said Sheri.

“Wow, okay you never told me that one. Definitely a bit worrying in terms of his moral compass for sure”, said Layla looking quite surprised at this new revelation. She had spent some time with Sheri and Gary together over the past few months and had also had a strange feeling about him that she just couldn’t put her finger on. She also hadn’t wanted to alarm Sheri unnecessarily and felt that it was best for Sheri to make her own decisions and come to her if she wanted to talk about anything that was bothering her. They had always promised to be there for each other and this was no different.

“You knew that I shouldn’t have stayed with him didn’t you?” said Sheri as more of a statement than a question.

“Well, no that’s not true. I didn’t know anything for sure and you are the only one who is living your own life and who knows how you feel about what is going on in a relationship. Of course, others might be able to see things more objectively but not always. Family and friends will usually back you up anyway in what your own thinking is. That’s why I suggested you go see the counsellor a few months ago so that you could hopefully get a clearer and more objective view from someone who is not involved emotionally in your life”, Layla said. She finished her tea and then set it down on the bedside table.
Sheri looked down at her own tea which she had hardly drank but she was enjoying the warmth of the cup in her hands.

“Why didn’t I listen to my own intuition? I noticed these behaviours, I even saw how often he commented on other girl’s Facebook posts and how we would often comment that they looked nice and I would get upset about that and tell him. He would tell me I was just overreacting. Yeah, right! I just want to punch him in the face!” she said, picking the Emoji pillow up and punching it.

“Don’t take it out on poor Emoji! He didn’t do anything wrong,” said Layla with a smile. “Actually on second thought, maybe punching a pillow is not a bad thing, get that anger out a bit”.

Sheri laughed a little at this. “Yeh, maybe I need to enrol in the boxing class at the gym for a few weeks” she said.

“Not a bad idea, and if he happens to be at the gym he would see you in there and probably realise if he knew what’s good for him he should not be around when you come out of that class!” said Layla.

“Yes!” said Sheri with a look of defiance and glee in her eyes.

“Well, anger is certainly a more powerful emotion than despair so feeling that is okay. Just don’t stay in anger too long gorgeous because in the end it will be you who continues to feel the pain and suffer the consequences of maintaining your anger and not him”.

“What do you mean? I need to hold onto this anger! I can’t just let him get away with it and be all Zen about it like nothing happened!” said Sheri.

“Well, think about it. What good does anger do you? Will it solve anything for you? Will it make the relationship repair itself or make Gary a better person if you take out your anger on him? Most importantly, will it make you feel good about yourself?” Layla asked.

“I guess not,” said Sheri, contemplating what her sister was saying to her, “but I still prefer feeling angry at him for now. What he did was wrong”.

“I’m not saying what he did wasn’t wrong. I’m not condoning his behaviour but I’m trying to get you to a place of acceptance of what has happened and also to a place of learning.” said Layla.

Layla had been through two significant relationships in her life and had done a lot of reading around the subject as well. She was fascinated by the way people came together, what attracted them to each other and what made for significant and long lasting relationships. Having seen how some relationships seemed to be full of conflict and how some people seemed to stay together regardless of how bad the relationship seemed for them, she wanted to make sure that she never made that same mistake. She had decided she would never settle for anything less than a relationship she felt was perfect for her. She wasn’t looking for a perfect person, just someone who was perfect for her.

“What do you mean learning?” asked Sheri.

“Well, I mean it has taken me a long time to work through some of this stuff about relationships and like I said earlier I have come to really understand what it means – in terms of relationships – that where there is smoke there is usually fire. I say usually because it’s not always the case and we need to monitor our own issues and triggers to make sure we are not overreacting to things. But, I also know that when we start to notice things about someone we are dating or looking at getting into a relationship with and we start to try and minimize those things or rationalize them away, then we may be getting ourselves into trouble. Remember when I was dating Justin and we kept butting heads and fighting about so many different issues?” asked Layla.

“Yeah, I remember.” said Sheri.

“Well, I kept telling myself that we were just two very strong personalities and that the attraction we had for each other was more important. I hadn’t felt that kind of attraction before with a guy and although we clashed and fought nearly every other day, I rationalized it away and said that we would eventually iron out all our differences and see eye to eye. I thought that if we could just do that, then it would be the perfect relationship. Not that I think any relationship is perfect but I really thought he would change. I also thought I would be able to change myself and adapt myself to him so that we could be the perfect couple. But, as you know, it just didn’t work out that way. He wanted what he wanted and was not really willing to adapt his behaviours. He said he wanted to and at times he seemed to get it right and change his behaviours but in the end he always reverted back. And you know what, for the most part so did I. After we broke up I had to come to the acceptance that what we wanted in a relationship and who we were as people just didn’t match. I have also had to learn that I need to pay more attention to my warning signals earlier into dating someone and not try to squash them down or ignore them because every time I do that it doesn’t seem to go well” said Layla.

“Yes, I guess I can now definitely relate to that one. It’s so hard isn’t it? It makes me wonder why we do that so often in life as human beings” Sheri remarked.

“Well, we are certainly complicated creatures! Our ability to think rationally can so often conflict with what we feel emotionally and even spiritually at times. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to know which part of ourselves we need to listen to. But, little sis, one more thing I can say I am starting to understand is that our emotions are our greatest guidance system. I guess people who are struggling with anxiety or depression may need to realise their emotional system may be completely off and should not believe what they are feeling is reality. However, if we are doing well emotionally and we sense something in our emotional reaction to a situation, a thought or a person – we should listen more intently. If what we really feel is good then we can act on our good feeling with trust. If what we feel is discomfort, fear or frustration – we should probably think more carefully about what it is we are truly feeling so uncomfortable about and then do something about it.”

“I guess I learned my lesson!” said Sheri.

“You may have a few more goes at it before it’s truly learned, it’s certainly not an overnight skill you can magically develop. But then again, what important skill is?” said Layla.

“Thanks sis. You know, for a 25 year old Loskop (Afrikaans slang for someone who is a bit ditsy), you’re pretty wise”.
Layla stood up, smiled as she went to leave the room and said in the best imitation voice she could, “Much to learn you have, little Jedi”.
Sheri smiled and threw the Emoji pillow at her. “Whatever, Yoda”.

David Fox is a psychologist and the author of Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression.

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Lesson 2: Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it

Reece wandered into his psychology 101 class, looked around at the theatre like room with the hundred or so chairs leading upwards to the ceiling and smiled as he reflected for the umpteenth time how much the room looked much more like a movie theatre than a classroom. He walked up a few flights of stairs to the middle row and excused himself as he passed a few of the other students and finally sat down next to Rachel.

“Hey, how was the weekend?” asked Rachel.

“Not bad, how was yours?”, asked Reece, trying to act as nonchalant as he could in front of the woman he had had a crush on for the past 6 months. He tried to remain calm and slow his breathing a little. He was so attracted to this woman and was so scared of letting her know how he felt in case she rejected him outright and his mind would race picturing how awful that would be, how utterly mortified he would feel if she didn’t feel the same way and how he may lose her as a friend in the process. He hoped she couldn’t see any signs of his anxiety and kept facing forward.

“Mine was good thanks. Spent some time with the family and went with Eva to see Love Actually 3. Wasn’t as good as the first two”.

“Yeah, sometimes they need to leave a good thing alone hey” smiled Reece.

Rachel laughed out loud and jabbed him in the ribs playfully.

“Ouch, crazy woman”, Reece pretended to be shocked. His mind racing with images and ideas. Did she like him more than a friend? Did the poke and physical contact mean that she may be keen for something more? How on earth would he find the courage or the right time and place to make it obvious to her that he would like to date her and not just meet up in class and spend time cramming for exams together in the library? His thoughts trailed off as their lecturer walked into the room.

Professor Fisher walked into the room with the usual hustle of a man who had too many things to do and not enough time to do them in. He was a middle aged man, in his mid to late forties with a full beard that was beginning to show some grey. He was about 5ft8 with light brown hair and wore rimless glasses. The class would always be intrigued by what he might turn up wearing that day. He appeared to have an endless supply of checkered shirts and sleeveless pullovers that he would invariably wear to his lessons. The university students loved Professor Fisher’s lectures. He had a way of bringing the history of psychology to life. When he spoke about Freud and Jung it was as if he had known them personally and his own person centered approach to dealing with people shone through in how he described the process of therapy. Many of the students would go to him for advice either right after the lecture or they would make an appointment to see him and he always made time for them, no matter how busy he appeared to be.

Reece had also gone to see Professor Fisher on a few occasions when he had been struggling with some of the course work or a particularly difficult essay. In his first few weeks in psych 101, Reece had felt quite overwhelmed and had given serious consideration to dropping out of University and becoming a beach bum. He could see himself living the life of Bodhi from Point Break played by Patrick Swayze, surfing all day and robbing banks behind the mask of a US President for cash and living expenses. Reece’s imagination would sometimes get the better of him!

“Morning class, I hope you all had a good weekend and you are ready for another wonderful week in the land of intellectualism and all things psychological”, said Professor Fisher with a wide smile as he scanned the lecture hall to see who had decided to attend the early morning class. Many of his students would often skip the first lesson on a Monday morning for various reasons he could only too easily imagine. They would often ask their fellow class mates to either record the lesson on their smart phone or to take notes for them and make copies. Reece had never had anyone ask for his notes once they had seen his hand writing. Everyone told him he should be studying to become a doctor.

“As we are nearing the end of term as well as the end of your first year in psychology, I thought it would be a good idea to let you know about some of your options for next year. As you know, you will need a pass mark of at least 70% average in your psych 101 class in order to take Psychology again next year. There are actually quite a few electives next year within psychology and those who are seriously considering making a career out of this will need to do most of these electives as well as their other major for their degree. As part of the requirement to become a psychologist and complete your undergraduate in psychology, you will all be required to complete Psych 202 – Research Design and Analysis which include Psych 202A – which is statistics…” the Professor continued but at this stage Reece’s face had gone white.

Reece, stared at his Professor in an uncomprehending way for a minute before whispering to Rachel, “What the hell? Statistics?!”

Rachel turned to look at Reece and noticed that he looked a distinct shade of pale as she confirmed, “yes, didn’t you know that it was required?” She looked at him with concern, wondering why he was looking like he had just been told he had 3 months to live.

“I’m screwed, that’s it. It’s all over for me”, said Reece, staring once more at his Professor who had gone on to tell the students that they may also want to look at taking electives such as organizational psychology if they were interested in taking the path towards working as a psychologist in business. Reece didn’t even hear that part. He was so preoccupied with the thought that his dream, his vision of becoming a psychologist had just been blown out in one fell swoop. His mind raced with thoughts about how he had just wasted a year of his life, loving a subject and thinking of a career in psychology to only be thwarted by a subject that he couldn’t for the life of him see how it related to sitting down and counselling people through emotional difficulties. Yet, here it was as a prerequisite to becoming a psychologist.

“What are you talking about Reece, you will be fine. Everyone has to do it. I have heard that it’s hard going but you’ll be fine”, reassured Rachel. She rubbed his arm a little.

“You don’t understand, I almost failed maths in school. I hated it so much. When I wrote my last math’s exam, I was so overjoyed. I still have nightmares about having to write my final maths exam where I haven’t studied all year and completely forgot that I was going to have to write a final exam. I’m just no good at it. I’m right brained for God’s sake Rachel, aren’t most people who study the Arts? If we were left-brained people we would be studying accounting not psychology!” said Reece, becoming clearly more agitated by the minute.

“Calm down, maybe you should just go and talk to Professor Fisher about it. I’m sure he will give you a better idea of what’s involved”.

“Yeah, I think I will have to pay him a visit. I will chat to him after class to see when he is free”.

For the rest of the lecture, which was about Freud’s views on dreams and dream interpretation, Reece was there in body only. He tried to bring his concentration back at times and make some notes but eventually gave up and just hit record on his mobile phone. His mind was once again preoccupied with all the possible paths that now lay before him, including changing subjects, looking for another career path, leaving university and getting a job somewhere or taking a year off and heading to South America to reevaluate his life. He felt like a huge weight had been put on his chest and feelings of hopelessness and despondency fluttered through him as they had often done at many other times in his life.

Professor Fisher finished the lecture with a homework assignment for the class to keep a dream journal for one week, explaining how the students could best prepare their minds and their subconscious minds to remember their dreams each morning by keeping a pen and paper next to their beds and keeping very still just as they became aware of becoming awake. They would then need to mentally rehearse as many details of their dream as they could before moving and then go directly their pen and paper and just write whatever details of the dream they could remember without over thinking it. He then wanted to them to try and interpret what their dreams were indicating to them about what was going on in their lives and write a short five page essay on their dream interpretation.

As the last of the students left the lecture hall, Reece waited behind two other students who had some questions for the Professor. When they moved on, the Professor smiled when he saw Reece and then, noticing the look of consternation on Reece’s face, immediately asked him what was wrong.

“Can I come speak to you in your office either today or tomorrow please, Professor. I am really concerned about this statistics course we have to pass next year. I’m really worried this could be the end of me becoming a psychologist” said Reece with a look of dismay clearly showing.

“I know this probably doesn’t help to say right now but you will be fine Reece. But, yes come and see me first thing tomorrow morning. I have some time at 8:30 before my tutorial class”.

“Great, thanks Professor, appreciate it” said Reece as he hitched his backpack over his shoulder again and headed out the lecture hall.

That night, Reece struggled to fall asleep. He lay in bed going over in his mind all the possibilities for his future, none of which seems to be appealing outside of him pursuing his dream of becoming a psychologist. He just couldn’t imagine what else he would do with his life at this point. It taken him long enough to figure out that psychology was the road that he wanted to go down and then committing himself to at least 5 years of ongoing study. His mind also wandered to Rachel, thinking about how much he liked her and also rerunning how he had reacted to hearing about the statistics course. He was quite sure that she must think he is a total idiot now and there was no way she would go out with someone who was so terrified of completing a course in statistics. Rachel was very bright and he knew that she would ace the course with no problem. His thoughts rumbled around trying to convince him he was no good for her but he fought back, trying to use some of what he had learned through his own self-study about negative thoughts. He reminded himself that being highly intelligent from an IQ point of view wasn’t everything and that emotional intelligence counted just as much, if not more.  After a long time of tossing and turning he finally fell asleep entangled in the bed sheets.

The next morning, Reece was waiting on a chair outside Professor Fisher’s office looking at his phone, flipping through Facebook status updates. He heard steps coming up the foot well at the end of the corridor and looked up to see Professor Fisher step into the corridor with his leather briefcase in his left hand and a coffee that he usually got from the canteen in his right. He saw Reece and smiled. When he got to his office door he put his briefcase down and asked Reece if he wouldn’t mind holding his coffee while found his keys. Professor Fisher opened the office door and Reece followed him in. Professor Fisher asked him to take a seat on the couch as he put his briefcase down and then came to sit across from Reece on his high back chair that he often used for counselling students.

Reece put his backpack down and sank into the couch, looking fatigued and quite despondent.

Professor Fisher studied Reece’s demeanor and then said, “Ok young man, out with it then, what’s troubling you about the statistics course?”

“Professor, I all but failed maths in high school, I hated it with a passion. I still have nightmares about it. I’m just not intelligent enough and I don’t want to put myself through having to study something that I am just ultimately going to fail. I’ve been seriously thinking of needing to change courses or something” said Reece.

Professor Fisher studied the young man for a minute and then said, “Reece, you will just have to cross that bridge when you get to it”.

“But I really think I am just going to fail Professor so what is the point?”

“Reece, have you ever thought about what that saying really means in life and how you can apply it? Did you know that it directly relates to a psychological distortion of thinking in CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy) called Fortune Telling?”

Reece thought about this for a moment, remembering reading a book by Dr. David Burns that had discussed this distortion of thinking that causes anxiety and sometimes depression. He remembered thinking that the book was very good but he had never really tried to apply the practices in it.

“Yes, I think I remember it. It’s when we try to predict something in the future and we often worry about things that haven’t happened and aren’t likely to happen. Is that what you mean?” he said.

“Yes, that’s right. The saying ‘we will cross that bridge when we get to it’ is age old advice that has been handed down through the ages and has survived as a saying for a reason. As have many other sayings that we have heard so many times before but never really stopped to contemplate why they are still around and how to apply them effectively in our lives. Tell me something Reece, can you remember something in your past that you were worried about happening that eventually got resolved? Something where you were worried that things wouldn’t turn out but they somehow did?” asked Professor Fisher with a little bit of a smile showing in his eyes and lips.

Reece had to smile a little in response and thought back to a few events and occasions in his life where he had worried unnecessarily about things that had eventually worked themselves out. He remembered being worried about how he was going to pay for repairs to his car and imagining what would happen if he couldn’t manage to pay for it. His parents didn’t have much money and he had been working as a waiter to have some money to cover costs of his car and doing Tae Kwon Do, which he had only started the year before. But the repairs had ended up not costing as much as he had feared they would and he managed to arrange paying off the bill over 3 months with the mechanic. He remembered being awake for a few nights worrying about it and losing sleep over it.

“Yes, that has happened a few times Professor but this is different. This is huge. If I fail this course, I cannot become a psychologist which is one of my biggest dreams in life. That would be awful”.

“Well now Reece, what you’ve just said there is actually one of the other distortions of thinking! It’s called catastrophizing. You know, blowing things out of proportion. It may not be the way you saw things happening in your life, but I firmly believe that where there is a will there is a way. You may not take the traditional route but you will get there if you have enough desire and passion to keep going for what you want. And that’s assuming that you can’t pass the course. Reece, you’re an intelligent young man, if you need to go for extra lessons or support I’m sure we can arrange that. That’s IF you actually need the support. Statistics is quite different to mathematics. It is very much applied and if you concentrate in lectures and study hard I cannot see why you won’t get the 75% average that you need. And by the way, the minimum requirements is to complete Statistics 201 in the first half of next year but there is also a highly recommended Statistics 202, in the second half of the year”.

Reece looked a shade paler. “You can’t be serious Professor, this is a nightmare”.

“Reece, do you know what worry is?”

“Yes, it’s something I’m very skilled at!” exclaimed Reece, trying hard to maintain his look of dismay but cracking a smile anyway. He felt his state change a little as he was able to laugh at himself a bit.

Professor Fisher chuckled and said, “Well, that may be true Reece and certainly something you should be working on, but I have always loved the description of worry as paying the interest on a debt that you probably don’t owe”.

Reece reflected on this for a bit, realizing how true that had been in his life. How much energy and time he had spent worrying about things that never eventuated, or certainly didn’t turn out as bad as he feared. In fact, he could remember quite a few times when things worked out in ways he could never have imagined. How certain people or events had arrived in his life at just the right time to help him along his path.

“I like that description”, said Reece.

“Yes, it’s quite good isn’t it? Like I said Reece, if you were walking along a pathway and someone told you that there was a bridge up ahead on your path that was difficult to cross and a little bit dangerous due to how old it was, you could do one of a number of things. You could stop in your tracks, imagine that bridge and what it would be like to fall to your death in the ravine far below and you wouldn’t take another step forward. You would give up on your goal of getting over that bridge and getting to where you were travelling to in the first place. You might try and immediately think of all other possible routes to get to your destination without having to cross the bridge, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing as that is just problem solving, but the issue is that you haven’t even seen the bridge yet! It’s purely in your imagination as is the image of you falling to your untimely demise. None of it is real. That is why we call it Fortune Telling. You know, it is very much a human thing to do. We are geared to looking for danger and that comes from our very primitive beginnings and needing to be wary of our environment. It served a real purpose in keeping us alive in the days where we may have ended up some wild animal’s dinner if we didn’t keep our wits about us. But in today’s world, most of what we fear are our own mental creations and imaginings of some horrible misfortune happening to us. Sometimes these imaginings are based on real events that have happened to us, such as your previous experience with maths making you feel as if you will not be able to handle statistics. The same as someone who has lost their job in the past becoming quite fearful and worried about losing their job again if their organization announces a restructure or the economy takes a turn for the worst. But in most cases it is the fear of what may happen and not what has actually happened that causes so much angst for people. And we really all need to learn that trying to cross the bridge before we actually get to it serves no other purpose other than to make us afraid and prevent us from continuing down our path with the faith and belief that we will handle it when we get there. We have handled many other things in the past so why wouldn’t we be able to handle this too?”

Professor Fisher sat back in his chair, taking a sip of his now luke warm coffee, thinking he should warm it up in his little microwave he had bought for just such occasions. He monitored the look on Reece’s face, searching to see how his words had impacted the young man, hoping that they had actually made an impact. Reece certainly appeared more relax and more contemplative than when he had first seem him waiting outside the office.

“I hear what you are saying Professor. Makes sense I guess not to worry about things that haven’t happened yet. I guess I should try live one day at a time and not try and tackle my whole life at once”, Reece remarked.

“Now you’re getting it lad. And keep this in mind too, I am not saying that you shouldn’t think ahead and try to plan your life, set goals or reflect on the consequences of your actions. I am just trying to get you to see that there is a difference between thinking ahead in order to plan and worrying needlessly about things that may or may not happen”.

Reece felt a lot calmer and much more confident about continuing with his goal to become a psychologist. While he still had some concern about how he would cope with the statistics course, he realised that he had been overreacting and catastrophizing, thinking the worst and that this was not helpful. One more question flashes into his mind. He wasn’t sure whether it was appropriate to raise with the Professor but he felt comfortable enough and he had never had a father figure to talk to about such things.

“Professor, can I ask you something unrelated to my studies?”

“Of course you can, although I only have a few more minutes”

“There is this girl in the Psych 101 class…”

“You mean Rachel of course”, said Professor Fisher with a mischievous and knowing glint in his eye.

Reece looked very surprised and smiled, “Yes, how do you know?”

“I observe people for a living my boy, just because there is a class of 100 people doesn’t mean I don’t notice what’s going on in it. You like her but you don’t know if she feels the same way you do”.

“Yes! I’m really worried she just sees me as a friend and I worry that she will reject me or that I will lose her friendship. I also think that she’s maybe out of my league and thinks I am a bit of a dork”, said Reece.

“Well Reece, here is yet another example of thinking that can you wrong. What you are doing is something called Mind Reading as well as Fortune Telling. You are trying to imagine what she thinks of you rather than testing reality by asking her and then you are imagining what she may do if you told her how you feel, which is of course Fortune Telling. You know, you always have a choice about which way you imagine or predict things may go. You may be right on either count. She may respond negatively or she may respond positively. You may as well picture a positive outcome. Why scare yourself with all the negative possibilities? Just ask her out on a date.”

“But what if she says no?” asked Reece.

“I’ll give you one last gem I learnt many years ago. Playing the little game of ‘what if’ with yourself in life rarely leads to a good time and it certainly doesn’t achieve much. Sometimes, a better question to ask yourself is so what if? So what if she says no? Will your world come crashing down? Will you never find another woman you are attracted to? Will you never get married and have kids? You get my drift?” said the Professor as he stood up smiling broadly at Reece. He remembered well his own fears and insecurities about dating in his early twenties.

“I like that one too Professor”, said Reece as he stood up and slung his backpack over his shoulder. “Thanks Professor, you really helped me. Don’t know what I would do without you”.

“Well, you would either be fine or you wouldn’t, which one do you choose to think?” said the Professor.

Reece laughed and left the office with a noticeable spring in his step as he walked down the psychology unit hall and headed for the canteen where he knew Rachel would be having her first coffee of the day.

One year later, not only had Reece passed the statistics course with 75% for the first course and 76% for the second, he was asked by the psychology department to tutor first year students for one afternoon a week. Reece would often smile when he remembered his conversation with Professor Fisher and committed to doing everything he could to not cross any bridge until he got to it.

David Fox is a psychologist and the author of Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression.

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Lesson 1: Don’t Cry Over Spilt Milk

A class of teenagers are all waiting patiently early one Monday morning for their biology teacher to arrive for the morning’s lesson to see him walk in wearing his customary lab coat with a glass bottle of milk. He walks over to the lab experiment table and asks the class to come and gather around him. He holds the bottle of milk over the sink where they usually pour out the remnants of their biological experiments and all the kids are looking at him and wondering what interesting discovery they could possibly make about something as benign as a bottle of milk when he suddenly drops the bottle into the sink and its smashes with a loud crash, the glass shattering instantly and the milk gurgles down the drain. Some jump back with fright, and others look at him with mild surprise wondering if his hand slipped, looking for some sign of embarrassment on his face but see a slightly surprising wry smile and questioning glint in his eyes as he looks at them and says rather loudly, “Don’t cry over spilt milk!”

The class laughs for a bit, thinking their teacher has gone slightly mad or maybe had one too many last night. Their teacher continues: “You’ve heard that before haven’t you?” Some nod, other’s say “yes” out loud. “But what does it really mean to you?” he asks.

One of the girls says “It means we shouldn’t get upset if something happens that we can’t change”.

“Very good”, the teacher says. “Yes, that is true. But how do you not get upset about something that happens that is actually quite upsetting? I really wanted to drink that bottle of milk! I saved up all week for it and was so looking forward to drinking it and now it’s gone. I’m devastated. It’s so unfair! Why did it have to slip through my fingers and break? Why is God always punishing me? What’s wrong with me anyway? Why am I so damn clumsy? It’s all my fault, I can never get anything right. Just when I finally look like I’m going to get what I really want it gets taken away from me. I’m such a failure, a complete and utter failure and this is just another example of it!”

The class looks at him, some smiling, some not quite sure how to react. Is he being serious? Is he “taking the piss” or has he truly lost his marbles altogether?

“But, it’s just some milk, Sir” one of the boys in the class says.

“Yes, but it was MY milk and it’s not fair!” he replies.

“But you can just go get some more Sir” one of the other girls in the class tries.

“No, I can’t. I used up the money that I had saved for this. I have to wait for another whole week. It’s so unfair. Life is so unfair!” he says in mock dismay.

He asks the class to resume their seats and as they do he hoists himself onto the experiment table and sits with his legs dangling over the edge as he would often do when discussing something with the class.

Once they are all seated he says, “So again, why do you think we have the saying ‘Don’t cry over spilt milk’?”.

One of his thoughtful students who doesn’t often speak up in class raises his hand.

“Yes, Wayne”.

“Well, Sir. The way I see it is that the saying is trying to teach us how to deal with some of the accidents in life or when things just don’t seem to go our way. It is also there to teach us that once something is done, there is nothing we can do that will undo it. All our moaning and crying won’t bring the milk back again”.

“Not one drop of it, Wayne. Not one drop”, says the teacher smiling. He goes on, “There is another quote that is quite famous that you guys may not have heard of which was written by Omar Khayyam which says: ‘The Moving Finger writes; and having writ Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel even half a line; Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it’”.

“It’s the same idea isn’t it? When Omar says all thy piety he means that no matter how humble you try to be or how religious you are, or even how funny you try to be about it, when it’s done, it’s done. And you know what, feeling guilty about it is actually useless too. I have always thought that guilt is a useless emotion. You know why? Because unless there is something you can do about what has happened it actually serves no purpose whatsoever other than to make you feel bad. However, if you are rude to a friend and yell at them because you are in a bad mood and then feel guilty and that leads you to go and say sorry then your guilt has served a healthy purpose. But again, if something is done and it is in the past now and there is nothing you can physically do it about, then it is best to tell guilt to take a hike”

“What we need to take from this and the saying ‘Don’t cry over Spilt Milk’ is actually very philosophical and also very practical and useful for day to day life. It also means that we need to be very careful about how we interpret things in our lives. Remember how I reacted earlier saying all those things about myself and my life and using the spilt milk as more proof about how terrible my life was and how stupid and clumsy I am and what a failure I am? Well, do you think people really do this?” he asks.

“I think maybe some people do Sir,” says Lily from the front row, one of his star pupils with strawberry blonde hair, “Some people I know seem to blame themselves for every little thing that happens to them when sometimes it is clearly not even their fault.”

“So true Lily and there is actually a name for that in psychology you know,” says the teacher, “It’s called personalisation. It’s actually quite common and very tricky sometimes. I could easily blame myself for dropping that bottle of milk, couldn’t I? After all, I’m the one who dropped it. But, the thing is, it’s not so much what happens to us in life as it is how we react to what happens that makes a huge difference in how people respond to and live their lives, isn’t it? It’s how we choose to interpret the events of our lives and the meaning that we make from them that will determine not only how we respond to them emotionally but how we actually interpret the meaning of that event in our lives. Sometimes things just happen right? You all know that other old saying right? which I won’t say in class because I could get in trouble,” he smiles at the class and a few laugh back with a knowing look.

“Shit happens!” comes a shout from the back row of the class. Everyone bursts out laughing and Brandon, a blondy-brown haired, freckle faced kid who is usually a little unruly in the class smiles with a bit of smug look on his face and taps his pen on the desk looking down.

“Indeed, it does Brandon, indeed it does” says the biology teacher, unfazed by Brandon’s reaction today because Brandon just happens to be spot on and willing to say what he – their teacher – couldn’t say in front of the class.

“There is a fine line between looking for meaning in things that happen in life, which I do believe we can and should do when it is appropriate but there is also a time to try as hard as we can to just let the event happen and move past it as quickly as we can without giving it too much of our energy or attention. We also often  find in life that we don’t know the reason behind why some things happen to us until later on. Sometimes we find out soon and sometimes it may be years or even decades before we realise why something which we thought was so bad at the time actually happened. Sometimes it happened because we needed to learn something or we needed to meet someone special or experience something in order to fulfill our mission in life, whatever that may be”.

“I guess some good questions to ask ourselves when something ‘bad’ happens in our lives,” the teacher uses his fingers to show the quotation marks, “is whether it is worth getting upset about in the first place and also whether there is anything that we can do about it right now? Has getting upset about anything ever helped someone move on in life or solve the problem that they are now facing because of the thing that just happened?” Most of the kids seem to agree by shaking their heads that it doesn’t seem to be a very helpful approach to dealing with life’s upsets.

“But Sir, does that mean that we shouldn’t get upset if we fail at something? What if we don’t get our HSC  (Higher School Certificate – Australian final high school exams) or fail to achieve the marks we need to get into the University we want to? That would be quite devastating and we couldn’t just say oh well ‘Don’t cry over spilt milk’ could we?” Wayne asks.

“Good question Wayne. Not an easy one to answer is it? But I would still point you back to the two questions. Let’s say you did study hard and you failed your HSC or didn’t achieve the marks you needed to get into a University you wanted to get into. What then? Being upset about it would just be human of course. You would likely feel emotions of being sad, upset, demotivated, angry, or even depressed but in the end, how would feeling this way help you achieve what you want in life? And how long do you think is appropriate to be upset and experience all those horrible emotions before you are ‘allowed’ to pick yourself back up and move on with your life?” the teacher asks with a sincere look of questioning and deep emotional understanding of the fears that could well be felt by the majority of the class in this regard.

“I don’t know Sir”, Wayne says “How long do you think?”

“Well, again a very good question and one that is clearly very personal for each human being in terms of their personality and their usual or habitual way of dealing with things in their lives. Some people may never recover from something like that and use it for the rest of their lives as a reason why they are inferior to everyone else and why they cannot succeed and just how stupid they are and unfortunately this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And some people may actually take this as a challenge to think about the direction of their lives and what it is they really want to do and then think about other ways to go about achieving their life goals. Did you know that some of the wealthiest people in the world that many people consider to be geniuses, never finished high school? If you do a little research and study some of the great inventors, business moguls, famous sporting legends, artists, writers and musicians, you will find they didn’t all do well or even finish high school. So again, it’s not so much what happens to us Wayne ‘spilling the milk’, as much as it is how we choose to react to it and how quickly we can recover and get back up and keep pursuing our dreams. Sometimes we just have to pick up the pieces (literally and figuratively), clean up the mess, and do the very next thing that we can see we need to do to keep moving forward in our lives”.

At this point, the biology teacher jumps down off the table, stretches a little and moves to the front of the classroom to his desk to begin the day’s very important curriculum based lesson about the anatomy of a tadpole.

“Sir, I have one more question about all of this”, to which the teacher turns around to see Jake with his hand in the air.

“Yes Jake?”

“Are you saying that if someone we love dies we shouldn’t get upset?”

“God no, Jake. I am definitely not saying that. There are things that happen to us in life that are absolutely real and are very much part of being human and being alive on this earth. Experiencing loss or going through any major life event will definitely cause us to go through sorrow and grief. Grieving and being very sad about losing someone in our lives actually requires that we are emotional and upset and that we express these emotions in any way we need to. We may need some help and support during that time too from family, friends and even a good counsellor. In fact, if we ignored it and suppressed our emotions about something like that and just pretended we were okay, we would probably not really get over it and it would have some negative impact on us psychologically and emotionally now and in the future. That kind of stuff needs to be felt, expressed and moved through with help. And all of you please remember you never need to suffer alone. There is always help, you just need to ask for it or look for it. It is always there. It may come from a surprising place sometimes, not from family or close friends. It may come from someone you thought was only an acquaintance, or a teacher or sports coach or someone new you just met. But it will be there if you’re open to it. It will be there.  I hope that answers your question Jake?” he says smiling fondly at Jake and then the rest of the class as he picks up his chalk and gets ready to start the lesson.

“Yes Sir, thank you” says Jake and a few other students nod.

“You’re very welcome, you’re all very welcome”.

David Fox is a psychologist and the author of Change your Life! Hope and Healing for Anxiety and Depression.

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