Tag Archives: anxiety

Surviving the Fire

High Park fire, Larimer County, CO (2012), Author US Air Force, Source https://www.flickr.com/photos/usairforce/7462740970/, (PD as work of federal govt.)

Read the blogs of child abuse victims and those concerned for them.  Somewhere along the line, you will find mention of what the abuse damaged or destroyed outright.

Our innocence.  Our childhood.  Our peace of mind.  Our self-confidence.  Our self-esteem.  Our ability to trust.  Our capacity to select loving partners, and sustain healthy relationships.  Our faith.  Our voice.

And from far too many, the abuse took their very lives.

For many of us, what the abuse left behind was isolation, grief, anxiety, depression, rage, and a permanent sense of violation.

Unfortunately, that we will never be the women (or men) we might have been is not helpful information.  We are who we are…marked by these scars.

In some sense, the scars are our badges – if not of honor exactly, then certainly not of shame.  We were the ones sinned against, not the ones sinning, no matter how we were made to feel about the torture inflicted upon us.

As with the veteran who has lost a limb to war or the woman who has lost a breast to cancer, this is simply our reality now. Continue reading

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In the Aftermath of Abuse, Part 2 – Guilt and Shame

Crying child, Author Asad Amjad ChangEzi (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

‘If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in Me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea’ ” (Matt. 18: 6).

It is easier for children to believe they “deserve” the evil done to them, than to take in the fact an adult who should care for them actually has little or no regard for their well-being.

The Statute of Limitations and other obstacles can make it difficult to hold child abusers and molesters accountable legally.  Even with a conviction, however, the feeling of “sinfulness” may rebound from an abuser to his victims.

This in no way implies that they were at fault.  Victims, however, relive the trauma of having been treated as worthless. They are often left with a vague sense of unworthiness that can permeate their lives, and undermine subsequent relationships.

Though this feeling of their own “sinfulness” can be overwhelming to abuse victims, the conclusions they draw from it are not accurate.  Victims did not warrant or invite the abuse.  They remain deserving of love.

The feeling of “sinfulness” is just one of the scars left in the wake of abuse.  Other symptoms can include anxiety, depression, alcohol or drug addiction, eating disorders, and sexual dysfunction.  These behaviors either stem from the pain or are attempts to numb it.  All of them “punish” the victim, who was never at fault in the first place!

The symptoms of abuse may, themselves, become a cause of shame to victims.  Self-destructive behaviors shift the focus away from the abuse, while silently declaring it to the world.  Imperfect as coping mechanisms, these behaviors can have dire consequences but are, in effect, a cry for help.

Originally posted 7/7/13

Of NoteA Vatican tribunal has found Archbishop Anthony Apuron of Guam guilty of abusing minors and removed him from office.  Apuron was suspended in June 2016 following accusations that he sexually abused altar boys as a parish priest during the 1970s.

Thus far, the Archdiocese of Guam has been named in 159 sex abuse lawsuits involving Apuron and others.

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT:  https://alawyersprayers.com

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Long Term

“Sad Boy”, Author Sascha Grosser (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

A new study by the University of Utah confirms that abuse before the age of 5 can continue to have negative consequences decades later [1].

This is no surprise to abuse victims.  We know we cannot simply “snap out” of depression, anxiety, and PTSD despite the well-meaning advice of friends, family, physicians, and strangers alike.  That fact only adds to our sense of isolation.

Researchers found that:

“…those who experienced abuse or neglect early in life consistently were less successful in their social relationships and academic performance during childhood, adolescence and even during adulthood.  The effects of maltreatment did not weaken as the participants got older [2].”

The sad little boy or girl becomes the sad, lonely and/or angry man or woman.  Unfortunately, that anger is often turned inward, becoming another destructive force against which we must battle.

This has nothing to do with will power or self-control, and everything to do with who we were taught to believe we are.  Damaged, deficient, unloved and unlovable — our needs unimportant, our dreams unattainable.  Directly and indirectly, those lessons were driven home until they became part of us.

But the human spirit is amazing.  We somehow survived the onslaught, the dark rain of blows and insults.   Many of us succeeded in the work place.  Some found the internal resources to become artists, writers, and advocates.  Still more became the parents our own parents could not be.

That we continue to wrestle with our demons is no shame.  It is simply part of our reality.

He gives power to the weak, And to those who have no might He increases strength” (Isaiah 40: 29).

[1 and 2]  Science Daily, “Tracking the impact of early abuse and neglect – Study led by university researcher shows negative effects may persist into adulthood”, 1/16/18, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/01/180116222327.htm.

With thanks to Louise Callen

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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Paralysis – Frozen by Fear, Part 1

Tiny mouse frozen in fear, Author Madhur D’silva (PD)

Abuse victims can experience anxiety so severe we are literally paralyzed with fear.  Berating ourselves for lack of nerve, for cowardice, for weakness and – worse yet – a lack of faith does little or no good.

That the situations which cause us such extreme anxiety do not always, on their surface, appear threatening only makes matters worse.  We can add to our list of faults childishness and irrationality.

None of this criticism is justified.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze

Most of us are familiar with the “fight or flight” response.

The body responds to perceived danger by preparing either to fight or flee.  The nervous system releases adrenaline and norepinephrine, increasing brain activity, blood sugar level, heart output, and blood flow to the muscles.  This response is automatic.  It is not under our volition.

Science has learned that freezing behavior is an aspect of the fight or flight response [1].  It is not uncommon for defenseless prey animals to freeze in place, when a predator is nearby.  Some may feign death, in a last-ditch effort to stop an attack.

Specific areas in the brain (the amygdala and hyppocampus) control freezing behavior.  Freezing is characterized by immobility, and measurable changes in blood pressure and heart rate.  It may, also, involve shortness of breath, perspiration, and/or a sensation of choking.

Trauma and the Freeze Response

I am losing all hope; I am paralyzed with fear” (Ps. 143: 4 NLT).

Human beings rely on freezing when the threat facing them is overwhelming, but it is clear they cannot escape.  This assessment is, for all practical purposes, unconscious; arrived at in a matter of milliseconds.  Freezing behavior is the result.

A form of dissociation, freezing acts to numb us against the horrors about to be inflicted on us.

Children are, by nature, vulnerable.  They have few, if any, defenses.  Freezing behavior may well be their only recourse.

For the freeze response to “thaw”, the perceived danger must pass.  However, in situations of chronic abuse, the danger is real and unrelenting.  The child is not afforded an opportunity to decompress, to let his/her guard down.

And the victim who freezes as a child is more likely to freeze as an adult.

“…such ‘paralyzing’ psychological phenomena as phobias, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and various anxiety states can frequently be understood as symptoms of a freeze response that never had the chance to ‘let go’ or ‘thaw out’ once the original experience was over.  And many features of post-traumatic stress disorder directly relate to this kind of unrectified trauma.”

-Leon Seltzer, PhD

[1]  Psychology Today, “Trauma and the Freeze Response:  Good, Bad, or Both?” by Leon Seltzer, PhD, 7/8/15, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/201507/trauma-and-the-freeze-response-good-bad-or-both.

Strategies for coping with anxiety and the freeze response will be addressed next week in Part 2

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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The Twins, Part 1 – Procrastination

Entwined Geminis, Safavid Dynasty, Persia (c. 1635), Author Unknown, Source pinterest.com (PD)

Entwined Geminis, Safavid Dynasty, Persia (c. 1635), Author Unknown, Source pinterest.com (PD)

This post was written in collaboration with Marie Williams whose remarks are highlighted.  Marie blogs at Come Fly with Me, https://mariewilliams53.wordpress.com.

“Most of my life has been spent circling or avoiding important things that I need to do and I get very frustrated with myself.  Sometimes, I find myself trying to locate passports or important papers at the 11th hour, when I’ve had ample time to deal with matters like this.”

-Marie Williams

Procrastination and perfectionism are patterns of behavior well familiar to abuse victims, twin destructive forces that have deep meaning for those who have suffered abuse.

We invest the necessary (the “shoulds” and “musts” of life) with the power to annihilate us, or at least demolish the fragile image we have of ourselves.  Then we defer, delay, and defer again – certain that we will fail to meet our own expectations.

Failure is a foregone conclusion, given that our expectations are, by definition, unattainable.

Let’s unpack that dynamic.

Real Deadline/Chaotic Life

To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven…” (Eccl. 3: 1 NKJV).

Federal income taxes are due April 15.  This is a real deadline – not a secret and not a surprise.  Still, we delay gathering our tax receipts and other records together.

“You live in a state of confusion, and therefore mundane ‘every day’ matters become muddled and murky.  You cannot quite get to grips with simple but important tasks.  You know that you have to present your driving licence for identity and you know it’s in a box somewhere, but it really is too much trouble trying to locate it in good time.  So you (at the last minute) hunt around like crazy trying to find it – it happens not to be in the box you thought it was in, and you have to turn everything upside down to find it – and all this adds to the chaos of your already chaotic life.”

-Marie Williams

Created Dilemma

Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down…” (Prov. 12: 25 ESV).

We may dither over whether to rely on our long-time accountant; visit a less costly tax preparation agency; or use one of the computer programs which now allow us to do the taxes, ourselves.  We may put off making copies or doing something else insignificant, related to tax preparation.  What that is does not matter.

We, in other words, create the dilemma. Continue reading

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Fighting Demons

Pittsburgh Steelers v. New England Patriots (2005) (CC BY-SA 3.0 Gen)

Pittsburgh Steelers v. New England Patriots at Heinz Field (2005), Author Bernard Gagnon (CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported)

Fighting the demons of anxiety, depression, and PTSD is a little like playing football [1][2].  We make headway then lose ground.  But the fight never really ends, not the way a game of football does.  There is no score.

We win by surviving another day.

Across Decades

It can be enormously discouraging to wrestle with the scars of abuse, decade in and decade out.  Surely, we must after all this time have made progress.

But progress is not linear.  Despite the passage of time, and an extensive list of medications – not to mention therapy – familiar demons can resurface.

Factors Impacting Our Success

So, are anxiety, depression, and PTSD ever really “conquered”?  Can they, at least, be fought to a standstill?  The answer depends.

The factors include the length and severity of the trauma we sustained; our particular genetics; the quality and extent of our medical treatment; our psychological and spiritual resources; the emotional support we have available; and the other stressors to which we are subjected.

None of these can be quantified.  Most can and do vary over the course of a lifetime.

The Struggle

Why not just throw in the towel (to mix sports metaphors)?  After all, the struggle is exhausting.  The struggle, however, is life. Continue reading

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Fairy Tales

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Author Jessie Willcox Smith, Source http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34339 (PD)

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Photographer Jessie Willcox Smith, Source http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34339 (PD)

“Once upon a time…”  When we were children those were magical words.  They called up a world of fairy godmothers, princes slaying dragons, and wishes come true.  A fairy tale promised excitement and adventure.  Best of all, we were guaranteed a happy ending.

Andrew Lang compiled hundreds of fairy tales into The Fairy Books of Many Colors.  I devoured these as a child, one color after another – The Red Fairy Book, The Yellow Fairy Book, etc. – as fast as I could lay hands on them.  I simply could not get my fill.  Yet I could not have said at the time what the fascination was for me.

Psychologists have long argued over the meaning and usefulness of fairy tales.  These universally loved stories can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

The explanation that comes closest to my own experience is that fairy tales allow children to confront and deal with their fears and concerns – whether of abandonment (Hansel and Gretel), death (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), rejection (Cinderella), etc. – in symbolic terms, so that those fears and concerns are reduced to manageable size.

Children get the satisfaction of slaying their own dragons…from a safe distance. Continue reading

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Anxiety, Phobias, and PTSD – Part 2

There are healthy coping strategies for dealing with anxiety.

Lifestyle Changes

Routines, such as taking a daily walk or reading at lunch, can be helpful in alleviating anxiety.  Scheduling time to decompress from the worries of the day can, also, help.  This should be away from cell phones and other distractions.

Exercise is a natural de-stressor.

Sleep hygiene can be important, since restful sleep enables us to recharge our mental batteries.  This should involve regular times to turn in at night and arise mornings, along with a bedtime routine which encourages relaxation.  Video games should be avoided just before bed.

Therapy

Phobias are often reduced in severity using behavior modification (specifically “desensitization” therapy).  This involves repeated exposure to the fear-producing stimulus under safe conditions.

Talk therapy has, also, been found to be helpful, especially with social anxiety [1].  Biofeedback, which involves controlled breathing and other techniques, may be useful in reducing anxiety.

Medications

Numerous medications exist today to treat anxiety, including serotonin-specific re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and anti-depressants [2].  A knowledgeable psychiatrist should be consulted about these.

Spirituality

Meditation and, of course, prayer can provide relief.

THINGS THAT NEED NO LONGER TROUBLE BELIEVERS

The Past

Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old.  Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it?  I will even make a road in the wilderness And rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43: 18-19).

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5: 17).

The Present

“ ‘Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?’ ” (Matt. 6: 25-26).

The Future

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29: 11).

Being Unloved

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3: 16).

Being Useless or Worthless

There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.  And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all” (1 Cor. 12: 4-6).

Being Lost

“ ‘What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?’ ” (Luke 15: 4).

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Ps. 3: 6).

Being Abandoned

Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you.  He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deut. 31: 6).

‘…and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’ ” (Matt. 28: 20).

[1]  HelpGuide, “Therapy for Anxiety Disorders” by Melinda Smith, MA, Robert Segal, MA, and Jeanne Segal, PhD, last updated 10/16, http://www.helpguide.org/articles/anxiety/therapy-for-anxiety-disorders.htm.

[2]  In my view, faith and medicine are not at odds.  Medicine is a general blessing by God to mankind.  The miraculous cures by Christ were intended as a sign that He was the Messiah, not as a rejection of medicine.  Christ, Himself, referred to medicine, in response to the Pharisees.  He is quoted as saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt. 9: 12).

FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: http://www.alawyersprayers.com

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Anxiety, Phobias, and PTSD – Part 1

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch (1893), National Gallery, Norway (Accession No. NG.M.00939), Source WebMuseum (PD)

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea
…” (Ps. 46: 1-2).

Most people have experienced anxiety, in one situation or another.

The death of a loved one, divorce, serious illness, job loss, and moving are recognized as major stressors [1].  Other anxiety producing occasions include public speaking (always a favorite), waiting on approval for a mortgage, meeting a girlfriend’s parents for the first time, and having the in-laws over for Thanksgiving.

Then, of course, there are a host of phobias.  As a general rule narrowly focused, phobias are no small matter for those suffering from them.  Phobias include the fear of heights, spiders, snakes, birds, tight spaces, bridges, flying, and blood [2].

Purpose of Anxiety

Anxiety is intended to alert us to potential danger, and prepare the body for it.

A part of the brain called the amygdala releases neuro-transmitters that initiate the so called “fight of flight” response, producing the sensations of anxiety [3].  The heart rate climbs; blood rushes to the muscles; the lungs work harder.  This process is largely autonomic.  We have, by design, very limited control.

For most, the panic associated with stressful situations quickly subsides.  Shallow breathing deepens and slows.  Rapid heartbeat subsides.

The audience does or does not throw tomatoes.  The in-laws smile or grimace – it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference – and swallow their turkey.  We eventually get the mortgage.

In short, the body figures out we are going to survive.

Anxiety Disorders

About 40 million Americans, however, suffer from anxiety disorders [4].  Severe anxiety, whatever form it takes, is debilitating and can be crippling.

A. PTSD

The severe anxiety resulting from traumas such war, rape, or child abuse is better known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) [5].

Whatever its origin, PTSD can cause recurrent, powerful, panic attacks, with or without an identifiable trigger.  These attacks are typically accompanied by heart palpitations, chest pain, the sensation of being smothered, and a feeling of dread.  A panic attack can, also, be experienced as paralysis and overwhelming fear.

PTSD sufferers may, in addition, experience flashbacks (vivid and disturbing memories, re-experienced involuntarily).  I have discussed these elsewhere [6]. Continue reading

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Heartbreak

Heart transplant in 5.5 lb infant, courtesy of Anatomy Box anatomybox.com

WARNING:  Graphic Images

Willow Short was born with a congenital heart defect, detected while she was still in the womb [1].  Doctors warned her mother, Megan, the baby could be stillborn.  But Willow was born alive.  And, at just six days of age, the little trooper survived a heart transplant.

A newborn’s heart is roughly the size of a walnut.  It can fit into a spoon.  The fact a child’s chest cavity is much smaller than an adult’s makes surgery more difficult.  The time a transplant on a child takes will vary.  The procedure may be as short as four hours or as long as sixteen.

Megan Short was extremely grateful to the donor’s family.  She was quoted by the The Reading Eagle as saying, “Someone else’s child died so mine could live.  I know they’re in so much pain.  I’m so thankful.”

But Willow needed fifteen different medications, around the clock, after being discharged.  Megan Short told the New York Times that she developed PTSD from the anxiety.  Continue reading

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