Just five months ago an epic learning opportunity presented itself. COVID-19 became a reality and it was obvious lives would never be the same. Sure, I was afraid. But I believed there was good to be had. What have you learned about yourself?
Simply, that means I follow-up on my ‘catastrophizations’ and see if disaster really struck. 99.9% of the time it didn’t…
I really don’t want to write about COVID-19. Even having it in the title makes me uneasy. I mean, people have had their fill. And who wants to hit a mood and anxiety disorder relief site – and get moody and anxious?
How ’bout this? What if we use COVID-19 to facilitate learning? Will that work?
Let’s do it…
Catastrophizing: Defusing the Disasters
Catastrophizing, with its “What if’s?” and expectations of disaster, is an extremely troubling cognitive distortion. Historically, I’ve been pretty darned good at it. And I’ve worked with plenty of people who can match – even surpass – my talent.
When it comes to my catastrophizing, I’ve never called on myself to quit doing it. Like you, I have my leanings – my knee-jerk reactions. Instead of creating even more stress by demanding I stop, I go the route of stripping it of its power.
The best way I know to do that is by using empirical evidence – information acquired by means of observation and experimentation. Simply, that means I follow-up on my “catastrophizations” and see if disaster really struck. 99.9% of the time it didn’t, so I make a mental note for the next knee-jerk.
10 Random & Scary COVID-19 Thoughts & Feelings
On April 1, I posted “17 Random & Scary COVID-19 Thoughts & Feelings: Understandable, but Disposable.” The COVID-19 hubbub had begun not long before and hundreds of millions of people were scared out of their minds. Understandable, given how little we knew about it.
In an effort to calm some nerves, I put together a list of some of the worst possible COVID-19 catastrophes. Of course, my point was “My gut says it ain’t gonna’ happen.”
“Catastrophizing is a dead-end. Take your life back, okay?”
Well, I was thinking about the piece a week or so ago and reflected upon how things “non-catastrophically” turned-out. And I knew I had a great article on my hands.
We’re going to take a look at 10 of the original 17. I’ll include the catastrophic statement from the April 1 piece and make a comment. But what matters most is whether or not you now believe catastrophizing was at play.
Before we dive-in I want you to know I’m aware that some of you may not have avoided catastrophe or a poor outcome regarding one or more of the following. If that’s you, I’m sorry for your suffering.
Here we go…
When is this madness going to end? I can’t take another day, let alone be stuck at home until April 30th. And I’ll bet there’ll be an extension. “When” is up in the air, but it will end – just like it did with the 1918 pandemic. With rare exception, nobody’s “stuck at home” now.
I feel fatigued and icky. But I don’t think it’s because of my depression and anxiety. It has to be COVID-19. Were you tested? Was it COVID-19?
What if there’s a run on grocery stores and they can’t restock? I could starve to death. My belly’s full. So are my neighbors’. Grocers, suppliers, and transporters have done a great job.
I went through the drive-thru at McDonald’s and the guy who handed me my food looked sick. I ate the burger, but maybe I should get tested. This happened to me. Never got tested, nor did I get sick.
I live so far from my family. What if I get sick and die? You mean the last time I would have seen them would be the holidays? Visited with my out-of-town daughter several weeks ago. Son and his wife are up in 10 days.
What’s really going-on? And how did it really start? They say it’s a pandemic caused by a virus, but you know how that goes. What aren’t they telling us? I’m sure there are things we don’t know. I’m also sure conspiracy theories can be just as distorted and harmful as catastrophizing.
I really miss the way things were. What if we never return to normal? Short of a conspiracy theory, why wouldn’t we?
I’ve been clean and sober for so long now. But I know I won’t be able to get through this without using. I was going on 36 years sober when this began. Still am.
If I get sick I know I’ll need a ventilator. But there won’t be enough. And I’m sure they’d pick me to do without. Yes, things were tense in the beginning. As far as I know, we’re in the clear now.
Truth really is this virus is airborne. I’m going to get it whether I distance myself from people or not. Not true (ah, those conspiracy theories).
So what do you think? Were the statements soaked in catastrophizing? So you know, if you’re comparing what’s going-on today with the statements, you’re using empirical evidence.
And if you’ve decided the statements really were about catastrophizing, you’ve taken the first big step in learning how to defuse it – strip it of its power. Just make sure you remember for the next knee-jerk.
Time to Move Forward
Again, this piece wasn’t intended to directly address COVID-19. Let’s just say we used it for a higher purpose.
In the face of the scary unknown, learning opportunities are bountiful. This catastrophizing exercise is but one example. Speaking of which, if you’re an expert “catastrophizer,” has the road to management become clearer? Yeah, it’s important.
So tell me, what else has COVID-19 taught you about yourself?
How often does truly life-altering opportunity knock? Hmmm, rarely. But the COVID-19 pandemic has presented such a moment for those enduring a mood or anxiety disorder. The only question is, will we open the door?
That’s right, the social-distancing lockdowns have taken away so many of the external and internal diversions we’ve traditionally turned to for pain-relief…
Man, when I get the urge to discuss COVID-19, here or in the Chipur Facebook group, I think long and hard about it. There’s such a fine line between addressing a difficult subject for mood and anxiety disorder sufferers and providing meaningful information.
Obviously I gave it a go this time. However, I really aim to keep it in the background – unless something radically changes. I mean, COVID-19 is going to hum along, as will our mood and anxiety disorders. I’d rather focus on the latter.
Wishing for the Breakthrough Moment
Anyone who’s dealt with a mood or anxiety disorder for any length of time will tell you they wish for a breakthrough moment. It’s been referred to as the eureka effect or an Aha! moment. Suddenly a breakthrough in insight occurs and the stars just seem to line-up on what was an incomprehensible problem.
In our case, one would assume that when the insight hits home, the problem is on the way out the door. And I believe there’s a lot of truth to that.
That said, on we go wishing – praying, pleading – for that breakthrough moment. Who wouldn’t? Some hope it’ll just evolve and come forth out of nowhere. Others believe it’s more likely to present as a result of a traumatic experience, especially something that delivers a good bit of emotional, mental, and/or physical pain.
Could well be a coin-toss, but I lean toward a magnitude of insight coming from a traumatic experience. But even then, is the setting just right and is the experience traumatic enough?
The COVID-19 Opportunity Is Knocking
There’s no doubt in my mind that our COVID-19 setting and trauma level are more than sufficient to generate a breakthrough moment for anyone wrestling with a mood or anxiety disorder.
“My guess is you’re pretty spooked by what’s going-on. Geez, the changes, lack of order, uncertainty, interruption of freedom, desertedness, helplessness, and hopelessness. And let’s not forget the mortality factor.”
Yep, I’d say we find ourselves within the right context and opportunity is definitely knocking. Changes, lack of order, uncertainty, etc.: any of the them is enough to trigger us to the max. And, of course, that can bring on the lowest and sky-highest of moods, as well as soaring anxiety.
But do you want to know what the greatest current contributor to our opportunity is? Lack of diversion.
That’s right, the social-distancing lockdowns have taken away so many of the external and internal diversions we’ve traditionally turned to for pain-relief (in lieu of working through our problems). Name ’em: work, gym, restaurants, bars, stores, malls, social events, sports. For instance, the cancellation of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments punched me right in the gut.
Here’s the bottom-line: we’ve been left to cope with the world stripped-raw naked and all by ourselves. But as painful as that is, always keep in mind it’s that kind of misery magnitude that brings breakthrough moments.
So take heart.
Will You Open the Door?
Opportunity – the potential breakthrough moment – is all well and good. But it’s kind of just blowing in the wind unless we open the door and do something with it.
For mood and anxiety disorder sufferers, the first order of business is jotting-down troubling thoughts and feelings as they pass through our mind and body. We may think they pertain exclusively to COVID-19, but I say we’re recording the disruptive themes and emotions that imprison us day-in and day-out.
Let me give you an example. With social-distancing and all the stay at home mandates, you may be experiencing deep feelings of emptiness and loneliness – maybe even abandonment. Don’t make the mistake of believing it’s all about the pandemic. That may be what’s triggered the feelings, but my money says they were there long before.
Okay, once we get a solid grip on what we’re putting ourselves through, the decision has to be made that there’s no running and hiding. It would be so tempting to find creative new diversions, but we can’t. I mean, to the extreme, what are we going to do, stay under the covers for a couple of months?
Finally, it’s on to taking the emotional and mental hits one-by-one and developing and practicing unique coping strategies and techniques. All the while we have to deeply believe that this go-round is significantly different, given the setting and trauma factor.
Yes, this time we have every reason to expect a breakthrough moment.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to experience and survive this historic pandemic for nothing. Sure, not falling ill is something, but it’s more than that.
I want to use the COVID-19 pandemic – the trauma – to grow and become the best me.
Don’t you think that’s something to fight for? Yepper, opportunity is for sure knocking. Will you open the door?
Now and then I wonder if I have any choices at all when it comes to the impact of my emotional and mental circumstances upon my life. I suppose it really comes down to the concept of free will. I mean, do we have it? Come along with me on this necessary chat. I hope you’ll find it thought-provoking…
…do we have free will, given the genetics and history of environmental stressors that have generated and solidified our cognitive, affective, and behavioral defaults and leanings?
As soon as I began writing the intro I knew that anyone enduring a mood or anxiety disorder would understand where I was in my head and heart. Right? You’ve wondered the very same thing.
“The contrast avoidance theory revolves around the notion that we may intentionally (perhaps without knowing it) make ourselves anxious as a way to avoid the letdown we might feel if something – anything – bad were to happen…Since most of the things we worry about don’t happen, reinforced in the brain is, ‘See, I worried and nothing bad happened, so it makes sense that I should continue worrying.'”
Now stay with me here. As a mental health professional, and patient, nothing irritates me more than a mental health professional saying something similar to what I just shared and blindly assuming the “makes sense” remedies, well, just ought to work. “Have a nice day. Good-bye.”
You know, as well as I, that isn’t always how it goes. And that’s why I do my best to qualify – temper – relief options in anything I say or write.
Well, that didn’t flow as easily in last week’s piece, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. And for some reason the concept of free will, as in “Do we have it?,” came flooding forth.
Let’s go there…
Free Will: What Is It?
The concept of free will can become philosophically complicated very quickly. I don’t want that to happen, so let’s roll with this simple definition…
The ability to choose between possible courses of action, unimpeded.
So it’s really about making our own choices and determining our own fates.
As long as we’re talking about concepts that wave wands of control over our lives, I’ll mention the term locus of control. It’s considered to be a key personality component which addresses the question: “Do I believe my destiny is controlled internally (personal decisions and beliefs) or externally (events, others, fate, etc.)?”
What do you think about your locus of control?
Free Will: Decision Time
Okay, now it’s time to make a decision. Do we have free will when living with an emotional or mental disorder?
To be more specific, do we have free will, given the genetics and history of environmental stressors that have generated and solidified our cognitive, affective, and behavioral defaults and leanings? Do we have free will when therapies, meds, relaxation exercises, supplements, etc. just don’t work for us?
I mean, let’s remember our free will definition: The ability to choose between possible courses of action, unimpeded. Keyword: “unimpeded.”
Okay, it comes down to a personal decision. I’ll lead by saying that in spite of experiencing all of the above for forty-six years, I have not lost my free will. Or maybe I should say I haven’t relinquished it.
Naturally, you may feel differently about yours.
Let me toss this in. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve complimented someone who somehow continued to move forward, even though getting-up and even brushing their teeth was seemingly impossible.
Most often the response is, “Well, I really didn’t have a choice.” To which I reply s/he actually did have a choice. They could have stayed in bed – for days. Indeed, that individual exercised free will, in the face of impediment.
(Please understand that I know many haven’t been able to overcome that, or another, impediment. I get it and mean no disrespect.)
Free Will: Do You Have It?
So now I’ll turn it back to you. I’m going to go out on a limb and state that I believe you have free will, even in the midst of horrible impediments. But when it comes down to acceptance, belief, and real-life application and practice of free will, only you can decide.
This is the “thought-provoking” part. What’s your take?
My dad moved-on to the next life last week. Though the end snuck-up on us, going on ninety-five and with some medical kinks, his transition wasn’t shocking. Still, now he’s gone. And there just have to be some positive takeaways…
Human beings die, including me. Really, it’s one of life’s greatest wonders. So I’ll strive to be at peace with it – even embrace it.
Don’t know about you, but I’m not going to navigate through a tough time without making sure there’s at least one takeaway – positive, that is. I mean, awful times provide unique opportunities to learn and grow.
Do you agree?
The Beginning of the End
When he was placed on the facility’s memory care unit last spring, it became obvious to my brother and me that “Pop” was taking his final lap. And over the past few months we witnessed him steadily run out of steam. Yeah, it was hard – poor guy.
The Thursday evening before he died, I was feeding my dad some “dinner” – Ensure with a syringe. Not only was he not interested, he wasn’t even talking. I know now that his refusal of food and inability to speak were signs that his life was coming to an end. But at the time I figured it was just part of his exhausting race.
Well, I returned Saturday morning and I could barely absorb what I saw. Staff was getting my father out of his clothes and putting a gown on him. They then laid him down in his bed. I called my brother and suggested he come when he could, because it was obvious Pop could hit the finish-line anytime. I mean, you just know.
My brother and I spent Saturday and Sunday at our dad’s bedside, doing all we could to somehow provide comfort. Given his unresponsive state, we had no idea if our efforts were at all effective. Heck, who knows? Maybe we were trying to comfort ourselves.
Heart-wrenching were the many moments of holding his hand and gently rubbing his forehead as he cycled through episodes of apnea then rapid-breathing, restlessness, and crying-out. And only during those episodes would he open his eyes. Looking directly into them, we could see what we believed to be, well, terror. It still haunts me.
At 5:00 a.m. Monday, my brother received the call. He then called me. Yeah…
Those 10 Vital Takeaways
Did we agree that tough times – even the worst – provide unique opportunities to learn and grow?
Well, that’s exactly what I was faced with that early Monday morning. Was I going to let my father’s death, and the two days of anguish preceding it, amount to nothing more than just another life experience?
No, I wanted – I needed – more.
As I sat by my dad’s bedside, it was 100% stimulus overload. So many good and bad things ran through my mind. Still do. But it’s these takeaways that continue to feel positive and lasting…
Human beings die, including me. Really, it’s one of life’s greatest wonders. So I’ll strive to be at peace with it – even embrace it.
There’s an educational opportunity in all of life’s experiences. For instance, in this case, I watched someone die. I also learned about hospice care, as well as the signs that dying is imminent. All will be helpful as I continue to serve others.
I need to reach-out to others as much as I can, even when, say, certain levels of closeness feel uncomfortable. Touching my father wasn’t easy for me at the end, but I grew into it. And I’m glad I did.
Just when I think my beaker’s overflowing, or my reservoir’s dry, I’ll immediately reconsider. Fact is, my capacity is much greater than I ever really knew.
I’ll appreciate who my father really was, with objectivity and respect. Sure, he didn’t meet my every expectation and need. But there were legitimate reasons, including many on my side of the fence.
I want to continue my father’s legacy, encouraging my children and grandchildren to do the same. He lived an honorable life and it deserves to be admired and remembered.
Caring for the dying and mourning their passing is an individual experience. You can’t do either in an effort to suit someone else.
There will be loneliness – space and time to fill. I’m going to choose creative and satisfying things to plug the gaps.
Others are going to want to love and care about me. And I’m going to do my best to accept it, even if it challenges some boundaries.
What better time to explore and develop my spiritual being? I just took part in life’s greatest mystery, perhaps triumph. Does freedom lie amidst the supernatural?
It’s a Wrap
You know, it doesn’t matter how equipped and prepared any of us may think we are when the death of a loved one, or another mega-traumatic event, occurs.
It’s just hard, and finding those positive takeaways really helps – during and after.
Ah, Pop. Well done, you lived a good and right life – and I love you. Though I’ll miss you, I’m thinking I’ll see you down the road. Thanks for everything…
Fact! Most who endure chronic emotional or mental unpleasantness spend the bulk of their cognitive power ruminating over their perceived faults, kicking their beauty to the curb. It’s just what we do, until we come to understand we’re an exquisite symphony, consisting of wonderful and troubling movements. Consider LvB’s…
He was so tormented that he shared with one of his brothers that suicide would be the only option – were it not for his music.
So I was lying in bed one night last week and absolutely could not fall asleep. Realizing it just wasn’t going to happen, I reached for my phone and lit-up YouTube (horrible sleep hygiene, right?).
Scrolling through the titles, I found a Discovery History documentary on Ludwig van Beethoven (LvB). Seemed to be the right thing for the right time, so in I went. What I saw – what I heard – blew me away.
I’d like to share the experience with you…
Ludwig van Beethoven
LvB was born in Bonn, Electorate of Cologne in 1770. His same-named grandfather was a respected musician and did what he could to pass-on his talent to his son. But it wasn’t to be. LvB’s father, Johann, was a mediocre pianist – and not a very good guy.
Seeing early signs of musical talent in LvB, Johann decided to teach him piano. Unfortunately, his methods included drunken beatings, punching, shoving, and locking LvB in the cellar to practice. See, pop figured he had the next Mozart in the house, and he was going to cash-in come hell or high water.
So it’s not hard to understand why LvB came to believe the world was a dangerous place. And, as a result, he was terrified of interacting with others, becoming a loner. It’s believed that this was the origin of his notorious surly facial expression. Mind you, LvB was but a child.
LvB Goes into Orbit
At the age of 16, financially supported by hometown patrons, LvB left for Vienna, the musical capital of the world. He’d forever dreamed of meeting Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 14 years his senior. And not long after his arrival in Vienna he was asked to play for him. Mozart was stunned, immediately telling his wife to “watch-out for this boy.”
LvB was creating compositions so difficult musicians often refused to play them. I mean, his work was daring, unconventional, anything goes. And it continues to have a way of making the listener feel safe, as though life is beautiful.
In his mid-20s, the 5’4″, dark-skinned, pock-marked faced (small pox as a kid), wild-haired LvB developed an art form where emotion hits you first. And it’s said that during concerts people would faint, weep, and throw personal items on the stage.
Here, enjoy this wonderful performance of his “Moonlight Sonata” (Piano Sonata No. 14 in C# minor “Quasi una fantasia”, Op. 27, No. 2), which he wrote to woo a student with whom he’d fallen in love. If you do the whole video, consider what the contrast says about LvB…
Those Troubling Movements
LvB’s genius and energy had taken him into the stratosphere. And those troubling movements in his personal symphony were becoming painfully obvious. Though he considered his patrons the families he never had, and kept them close, he didn’t hesitate to declare his independence and storm-out of personal encounters. Indeed, his mood swings, temper, and rages were legendary.
And how ’bout this? LvB didn’t simply perceive himself as a composer. No, he declared himself a creator – second only to God.
The Unfathomable Tragedy
In his late-20s, something happened to LvB that’s, well, unfathomable. He began to hear ringing in his ears, and, yes, he would progressively lose his hearing. I mean, it got to the point in his late-30s that he would desperately press an ear against the piano wood to hear whatever he could of his work.
I can’t even begin to absorb that.
As time ensued, LvB’s already nasty temper and rages transitioned into physical violence. He was so tormented that he shared with one of his brothers that suicide would be the only option – were it not for his music.
But go figure, LvB’s creative spirit eventually rebounded. And by genius and sheer force of will he appeared to be reborn, composing a string of masterpieces.
Yet Another Cycle
In response to some very ugly family business, and subsequent public humiliation, LvB hit the skids again. To his already disturbing behavior, you can add abusive drinking, not bathing, roaming the streets, and wearing the same food-adorned clothing for as long as three weeks. Things got so bad that kids threw things at him and acquaintances abandoned him.
But wouldn’t you know it. At the end of each day, LvB would return to his flat and compose music of which one could only dream.
Now in his early-50s, LvB once again revived himself. And he did so by composing church music – masses, etc. He considered it a spiritual awakening.
Such an awakening it was, that LvB completed his revolutionary Symphony No. 9, considered to be one of the supreme achievements in the history of western music. At the conclusion of the premier performance, LvB couldn’t even hear the roaring applause, one of the musicians turning him around so he could see the reaction.
Gives me goose bumps.
Due to severe abdominal pains and other ailments, LvB was unable to complete his 10th Symphony. In fact, he’d become bedridden.
On March 26, 1827 a thunderstorm hit Vienna. According to a friend who was with him, there was a tremendous peal of thunder. In response, LvG raised his fist at it, then collapsed in his bed.
Ludwig van Beethoven was dead, aged 56.
In my mind, LvB’s life was an exquisite symphony, consisting of wonderful and troubling movements. Thing is, though, I don’t think he wasted much cognitive power ruminating over his faults. And he was definitely into his beauty, to say the least.
But what about you – and your personal symphony? Do you think it’s a plausible concept? In an effort to establish inner harmony, are you willing to foster a balance of your troubling movements and the wonderful?
If you ask me, it’s sure something to think about. Right?