Make The Truth Your Currency

Figuring out what’s true in life and what’s not is hard.  When we aren’t sure, we have a tendency to make assumptions about what's going on and then act on those assumptions.  This is often a mistake.  Anxiety catapults us into action when really, we should be waiting for the truth of a situation to unveil itself.  We react because waiting would require us to cope with the discomfort of uncertainty while taking action gives a sense of control.  Control however, remains an illusion...despite or love for it and the comfort it gives.  Ironically, real and sustained comfort comes from learning to let go, the opposite of control.  Whether we are patient or not and regardless of what actions we have taken to try and influence it, the truth always reveals itself in time.  We could have had a million thoughts about it or no thoughts about it and it wouldn't change a thing.

Let other people tell you what their truth is and believe them.  This is something that a lot of people struggle with, particularly in relationships.  There’s this thing called “analysis paralysis” where people get so wrapped up in analyzing someone else’s words and actions and the meanings behind them that they completely lose their grip on the situation.  Sometimes they freeze and don't do anything, bottling it all up only to explode later in resentment.  Other times, they react in response to their own interpretations and feelings instead of what is actually happening right in front of them.  When this happens, it almost always leads to the classic ‘overreaction’, those times when your partner says "where the hell did that come from?" or "what's wrong with you?".  Trying to decode someone else’s truth is an impossible endeavor so don’t waste your time.   It’s their responsibility to tell you the truth and your only job is to accept it as it is or leave it.  Trying to argue someone out of their truth is futile, unkind and can undermine that person’s sense of self-worth.  The truth is nonnegotiable and definitely not something to fight about.  When you find someone who is strong enough to tell you the truth, even when it hurts, they are worth holding on to.  To be unclear is to be unkind.

When it comes to your truth, be brave enough to put it out there even though your scared.  Doing this gives the people in your life the opportunity to respond to you authentically and they deserve that chance.  More importantly, it gives you the chance to find out who accepts you as you are, so that you can build on those relationships and let other ones go.  There's nothing more exhausting than living a lie.  Remember, “Pretty words aren’t always true, and true words aren’t always pretty”, but you will always find freedom in the truth.


What I Needed to Hear

Dear Sadie & Jane,

You are my two little people.  Your wellbeing is the most important thing in the world to me. Loving you wasn’t a choice, it just happened when you were in my belly.  It’s funny because knowing myself and my own limitations, I wouldn’t have predicted that I would be quite this enamored.  I can’t watch you sleep without crying.  Not one time have I been able to.  Because of you two, I know what love is, not a kind of love, but love.  It’s one of the only things in life that I’m sure of.  I’m anxious about a lot of things, but I find calmness in knowing that this love that I have for you will go on forever.  Somehow, I know that it’s a love that time can’t touch.  I’m so grateful for you two.  My love for you is a superpower…and I like the idea of having a superpower.

I started this blog because I wanted to help people with anxiety, but also because I desperately wanted you to have my thoughts all in one place in case you ever need them.  In case I’m not here.  I know that may sound a bit egotistical, but you are my daughters, so you are supposed to care about my thoughts and feelings, right?  As strange as this may seem (or not), there have been times when I worried that I wouldn’t get to see you grow up.  I’ve been afraid that I might not be here to help you through life, the way my mom (your Grammy) has helped me.  Even though I do my best to insulate you from it, someday you will know that I have anxiety, specifically health anxiety, and at that at times in my life it’s been crippling.

One of things that has helped me most has been accepting that I can’t control everything and that I may be sick or get sick.  In other words, accepting that what I’m afraid of may happen and that no amount of anxiety will prevent it.  If it does happen then I’ll find a way to manage it.  It's good to focus on the fact you can find a way to handle whatever happens.  Remember, your anxiety has nothing to do with whether or not something bad will happen.  Nothing.  They seem connected, but they aren’t.

If you are struggling with health anxiety, or any other form of acute anxiety, you can manage it and live happily.  Over the last decade or so, I’ve learned to manage it pretty well and sometimes I even forget about it…but that was a long time coming.  I know everyone is different, but if you have the will to figure it out then you can do it.  I promise.  You will have extremely hard times and sometimes even when you are trying your best, you’ll have to be ok with just getting by.  There will be lots of times when your mind and thoughts are telling you things that just aren’t true and your feelings will be all mixed up with the thoughts.  That’s because feelings follow thoughts and thoughts follow feelings.  You will need to learn how to work with both and appreciate how connected they are.  I know how hard that can be when you’re right in the middle of those strong thoughts and feelings that can be so noisy, scary and confusing.  Keep trying.  Over time, you will learn to figure out which thoughts make you stronger and which ones make you weaker.  You'll learn how to encourage the ones that strengthen you and dampen the ones that don’t.  You will also learn that feelings are unpredictable, nearly impossible to control and come and go like waves on the surface of the ocean.  They are there for you to enjoy, share and to use creatively, but they can also make you reckless, so don’t mistake them as truth and don’t make decisions based primarily on them.  Instead, listen to the whispers from the places inside you that are steady and calm, that is where you will find yourself. (P.S, you have to listen closely because they aren’t nearly as loud and persuasive as those darn feelings).  Try to remember that it takes time to learn how to do all of this so please be patient and kind to yourself.  Lastly, when there is nothing left to hang on to, always remember these words.  This too shall pass.  It will.   -Momma Jen

From Baby Ducks to a Psychiatric Admission


It was the summer of 2009, about a week after I had given birth to our first baby.  My wife and I were headed home to our little house that was located about two hours outside of the city.  We were on the highway when I saw a mother duck trying to cross six lanes of traffic with her babies.  We slowed down, but there were cars whizzing by and it became obvious that we might cause an accident if we stopped.  Our newborn baby girl was in the back seat of the car and I had been gushing over her since her arrival.  For some reason, as I looked at my own brand new baby the idea that these little ducks could get hit became unbearable.

The stress had been building in the days since I had given birth but this reaction was nowhere near typical.  Through tears, I insisted that we stop, call the police and wait until they arrived to save the ducks (like the police were going to come save ducks).  When I was told that there was nothing anyone could do, it just wasn’t something I couldn’t accept.  I completely fell apart.  I kept seeing my own little baby as the baby ducks and myself as the mother.  I had never felt so helpless.  That was the beginning of what would be the worst year of my life, which also happened to be the first year of my first child’s life.  It was the beginning of a Post-Partum depression that felt like being covered in a thick layer of black tar that seeped into every crevice of my life.

After the baby duck incident, things went downhill quickly.  I was in a constant state of anxiety, always feeling like I was just about to have a panic attack.  Before long, it became clear that I couldn’t be alone.  I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t stay still, I couldn’t rest, I couldn’t catch my breath, I couldn’t take care of my baby or myself and I couldn’t find even a few seconds of hope, let alone happiness.   There was no reprieve from the feelings of depression and hopelessness and the inability to escape left me permanently panic stricken.  This was severe Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety.  On top of that, there was immense guilt for being unable to take care of my little girl.  In the coming months, there would be times when I wished that I had cancer so that I would die without having to take my own life.  I would fantasize about finding a way of escaping it, knowing that I couldn’t because of the baby.  I felt trapped and desperate at a time when people expected me to feel happy and grateful.

After being at home for a few weeks, it became clear that I was unable to take care of myself and our little girl.  Since my partner had to work, we made the decision to leave our little house and the small town that we loved to move in temporarily with my mother and father in law who lived in the city.  During that time, we slept in the bottom of a bunk bed together right next to our little girl’s crib across the hall from where her parents slept.  I owe the world to everyone in my family for all that they have done to help us, but the situation was not at all what we had pictured for ourselves.  Living with your in-laws and your brand-new baby doesn’t exactly do wonders for a marriage.

A few months after the move, my wife and I were on the highway driving back to her parents’ house after a quick visit to our home in the tiny little town (a place we both loved and missed).  I was in the back seat with the baby, and it occurred to me that all I had to do was open the car door and roll out.  It’s hard to explain that feeling, but it was like I was so close to death that I could feel it’s breath and I wanted to reach out and touch it.  We went directly to the clinic and the psychiatrist agreed that I should be admitted to hospital.  I went without hesitation, knowing that I needed to be in a place where I couldn’t find a way to be alone, even for a moment.  It was the scariest thing I have ever experienced in my life.  Burned into my brain is the memory of watching my wife walk to our car from a barred hospital window, knowing that she was going home to look after our baby without me.  I spent one night in the hospital and was released the next morning.  I spent that entire time with my ears plugged, and counting backwards by threes in my head in an attempt to drown out the sounds.  Sounds that were enough to make someone who was already fragile tip right over the edge. 

It’s been seven years since this happened and it is only now that I can write about it.  Until this post, only a few people have known about it.  Feelings of shame still creep in.  I know that those feelings are a result of the stigma attached to mental health issues, but that doesn’t make them any easier to handle.  When people feel ashamed, they’re less likely look for support, and without support, Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety can be insurmountable.  Mental Illness, just like many other illnesses can be fatal, and it has nothing to do with weakness.  I fought harder during that year that I ever have in my life and to be honest, I just squeaked by.  When it comes to mental illness we all need each other.  We need openness and we need support.  We need to talk to our neighbors, our relatives and our friends, as well as to therapists and other professionals.  It’s not enough to just talk to therapists and professionals.

What I needed most during Post-Partum was the opportunity to commiserate.  I desperately needed to hear similar stories that confirmed that I wasn’t alone and that other women had gotten through it.  Hearing about those experiences helped me more than anything else by far.  Because of that, I promised myself that someday I would write about my experiences so that it would be there for other women to see who may also be struggling.  Most importantly though, I wrote about it because I know that someday one of those women could be my own daughter.  


Booze and Anxiety - My Toxic Cocktail


This is going to create accountability, which is why I’ve been avoiding it forever, but it’s is a huge elephant in the room for lots of anxious people, so here goes.  The giant elephant is alcohol.  I want to start out by saying that I know that getting rid of booze is completely off the table for lots of people, but just hear me out ok?

It’s been one year and 3 months since I’ve had a drink and I can tell you unequivocally that there is nothing that I have tried over the past 20 years to manage my anxiety that has matched the benefits I have enjoyed during this past year of teetotalism.  The first few months, not so much.

What’s particularly ironic about this is that over the course of my life, nothing has managed my anxiety more effectively than alcohol.  I used to get a sense of calm just knowing that I could have a drink.  So, for my whole life, alcohol has been both contributing to my anxiety and relieving it.  No wonder it’s so hard to give up.  For me, it was like a dysfunctional relationship that ‘feels so good’, but you know it’s bad for you in the long term.  The fact that it’s repeatedly normalized and promoted everywhere doesn’t help either and I think that it’s why I’ve had to work so hard at not being embarrassed about being someone who doesn’t drink.  Nowadays,  I am actually starting to feel proud of it.  Proud of it because it is what works best for me, not because there is anything wrong with drinking per se. 

It's no coincidence that lots of people who identify as alcoholic remember exactly how incredible that first drink made them feel.  It’s not the alcohol that was magnificent though, it was the break from their anxiety that caused a feeling of elation.  When you have anxiety, things like therapy, exercise, meditation and medication can all work, but finding the right combination of these things takes an incredible amount of time, patience and faith, things that are often in very short supply.  They also require a commitment to making fundamental lifestyle changes.  It only takes 10 minutes to drink a delicious glass of dry red wine.

For me alcohol was like an anxiety management credit card.  When I was anxious, drinking or just knowing that I could drink would make me feel better.   Alcohol was dealing with my anxiety for me, but it was charging and I was going to have to pay up sooner or later, the only question was what the final balance would be.   As a drinker, I was missing the opportunity to find ways of managing my anxiety myself.  I wasn’t growing.  Meanwhile, the underlying issues were just lying in wait, growing bit by bit, making the alcohol more necessary as time passed.  This is how addiction develops and then sustains itself. 

When I cut up the anxiety management credit card (alcohol) it wanted payment in full.  Anxiety came at me in full force.  Since I didn’t have the card anymore, I had to find new ways to deal with the stuff it had been dealing with for me.  That….was very hard.  It meant being very uncomfortable for long periods of time, and trying anything and everything until I found little things that worked.  It also required faith that things would improve eventually.  Slowly, I began to chip away at the balance with my new found ways of managing anxiety.   Nowadays, I'm really making progress and I don’t plan on looking back.  This is a life worth trying.

Anyone interested in connecting with a sober community, I recommend the following podcasts:

Recovery Elevator

The Bubble Hour



Anxiety is like Tetris

Recently I’ve become reacquainted with the brilliance of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  As you can see below, it’s a psychological theory in the form of a pyramid chart which lays out the basic order in which our needs must be met in order to avoid getting all screwed up.  

First and foremost, the pyramid says that our physiological needs must be met.   Most of us struggling with anxiety would probably say that we have our physiological needs met.  Most of us have a warm place to sleep, food in our bellies, clothing and air to breath, but do we have sleep?  Do we have homeostasis?  If you are an anxious human like I am, then it’s likely that both sleep and homeostasis (balance) are compromised.  If you are an anxious person who drinks alcohol or uses drugs, then it is even more likely that many of these basic physiological needs are out of whack.  You know what I mean.


Now let’s move up the pyramid to safety.  This includes things like safety of body, health and of family.  It’s important not to skim over this just because you have good health, a job and have a family.  Feeling safe in the world is something that a lot of us don’t have regardless of what our situation “looks like” to the outside world.  The truth is, we learn to feel safe and to trust the world as a small child.  If our physical and emotional needs are met consistently from the time we are babies and throughout early childhood, we form solid attachments and it becomes hard wired into our little brains that we are worthy of love and that we are safe.  That becomes our foundation and we approach the world with a sense security.  Unfortunately, if that doesn’t happen, it becomes hard wired into our brain that we aren’t safe and we struggle with deep rooted feelings of fear, worthlessness, longing and sadness (vague and/or acute).  Did you learn that the world is a safe place as a child?  If not, then it’s likely that you’re compensating in some way (drinking, drugging, staying in a crappy relationship, over eating, etc).  These compensatory behaviours create a vicious cycle where we continue to compromise our physiological needs as a means of trying to satisfy our need for safety.  We are trying to feel good and we are looking outside of ourselves to do it.  What makes it even more complicated is that if you look the way you are supposed to look on the outside and you have all of the things you are supposed to have, then people don’t understand why you are struggling.  You may not even know why you are struggling.  
At this point, you may be wondering where the Tetris analogy comes in.  Basically what I’ve said so far is that a ton of us never quite get the bottom two rungs of the pyramid down pat,  which means that we have a shaky foundation, unresolved issues and bad habits sprung for other bad habits.  Think of these things as the bottom lines in your Tetris game that have piled up on top of one another because you can’t make the pieces fit.  Since life goes on and you have to keep playing, you move on and try to fulfill your need for love and belonging as well as your need for esteem and accomplishment.  So, whether we're ready or not, we get into relationships, pursue a career and maybe even create some new little anxious humans.  We find ourselves trying to make new pieces fit on top of the ones already piling up with less time and resources at our disposal.  We keep adding responsibility upon responsibility and at some point the game and life just starts to feel frantic.  This is that point in the game where the music speeds up and us anxious folks begin to manically rotate the pieces in our life around trying to make them all fit under the weight of an intensifying sense of dread.  Those with a tendency toward depression just watch the pieces pile up until they see the words “game over” flashing.  Either way, the situation is a result of not being able to satisfy our physiological and safety needs before moving on to the others.  


Fixing these types of issues requires focused attention and time.  Alcohol’s unmatched ability to ease anxiety makes it next to impossible for anxious humans to resist which is precisely why so many of us struggle with it.  When people go to rehab for substance abuse issues, they are essentially plucked out of their lives and placed in an environment designed to shelter them from the demands of day to day life, sometimes for months at a time.  Substance abuse is often a way of coping with underlying issues.  It is those underlying issues that are addressed rigorously in treatment centres that recognize that the work simply can’t be done without adequate attention and time.  Regardless, whether your mental health issues have manifested in alcoholism or something else, once you recognize that your foundation is shaky, the first logical step to take is to stop adding bricks.  That means that you need to stop adding responsibilities and  pressures and reduce the ones that you do have.  You need to slow down and some people need to completely stop, usually right at the time when it feels like doing that would be impossible.  In a way, it’s like pressing pause during your Tetris game when the blocks are just about to reach the top.  It’s exactly what needs to happen.  While the game is paused, you take the time to chip away at the first few levels and make some space for healthy building.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help and don't be afraid to press pause.




Life on Life's Terms

As soon as that title phrase comes out of my mouth the internal chatter begins.  I start out by telling myself how quotes like this are almost always cliche, trite and just downright cheesy.  Usually they make me cringe.  I visualize the words popping up on my Facebook feed with a majestic sunset behind them.  I'm sure that what's really behind most of these quotes is a lesson learned from someone's pain.  Pain that is now being oversimplified in an attempt to pacify or inspire me momentarily as I scroll down my social media feed.  Nowadays, quotes seem to have been relegated to being superimposed onto what seems to be a never ending reel of recycled pictures of sunsets, mountain ranges and ocean views which are then plastered all over social media.  Life on Life's Terms is a saying that deserves more consideration.  It's a saying that all too often just glides in one ear and out the other.  When you hear it, you may find yourself giving an earnest nod and saying "oh, I know that one".  But do we really?  I for one have had to endure some pretty severe ass whoopings compliments of the universe before it even began to permeate my psyche. 

To me, life on life's terms means getting used to having no expectations.  I don't mean lowered expectations and I don't mean modified expectations.  I really mean no expectations.  After all, your life is really just a little point of light in an infinite universe, quite insignificant actually.  If you think that's bleak or dreary, it's not my intention.  I'm not saying that your life cannot be wonderful and full of meaning to you and to those you touch, but what I am saying is that that meaning is very tiny in the grand scheme of things.  Why do we have so much resistance to that fact? Maybe our resistance to the idea actually sheds light on our inherent egocentricity.   Regardless, I know that you still have to live inside your complicated brain and have to work from that vantage point 24/7, which is why your own control, desires and needs are almost always sitting at the top of the queue.   The problem is, when you try to exert control over the universe by constantly trying to make the external environment suitable for yourself, you will eventually fall behind, then fail and then feel overwhelmed and battered.  Eventually, those failings turn into a lifetime of ass kickings which culminate in you feeling sorry for yourself which is when the blaming begins (a far cry from the magical unicorn inspirational quotes).  The problem is that in exchange for taking the position of "victim", you give up the opportunity to change your perspective.  How you filter the happenings in the universe is the only real control that you have, the only thing that can't be stripped from you.  By identifying as a victim, whether you are one or not, you make your ability to be happy and peaceful contingent upon things outside of yourself.  

Letting go of expectations is not giving up.  It's opening up.  It's acknowledging the truth. The truth that you don't have much control.  The truth that the world is a crazy, fun, scary, sad, happy and unpredictable ball of rock spinning around a fireball.  If you can find a way to work that idea into the fabric of your being, then life becomes an adventure.  When I say "an adventure", I don't mean that you'll just be happy.  I don't want you to picture those words with a sunrise coming up behind them.  What I mean is that you will learn to work with life in a way that doesn't alter your core sense of calm and well being.  A sense of peace that becomes rooted in the knowledge that you can handle whatever happens and be ok....not always fantastic, but ok.  When I read articles similar to this, I always feel like something is missing.  I realized that what they don't say is that you can learn to live this way and find this peace even if you are dying, or feeling alone.  They don't say that you can do this even after things in your life have completely fallen apart.  People don't want to talk about the bad things, but that doesn't slow them down.  Even though you can never know for sure what's coming down the pipes,  you can absolutely count on the fact that wonderful, horrible and everything in between things will continue to make frequent appearances.  

Letting go of expectations isn't a gateway into a Utopian existence.  Rather, it's a gateway into living gracefully and peacefully with what actually is happening right here and right now.  It's means being present...and although that's damn hard, breath taking, beautiful and terrifying, I'm convinced that it's the only place to be. -Jen


When I was developing this website I told a friend about how I would be providing information about my personal experiences with Anxiety here at Anxiety Anchor.  This person told me that as a potential client she would be uncomfortable knowing that her counsellor had struggled with Anxiety and pointed out the value of therapeutic boundaries.  That said, she acknowledged that some may appreciate this type of approach in counselling.  I think she was spot on.  Some people will like it and some won't.  The bottom line is, I feel strongly that first hand experience is one of the most valuable assets a counsellor can have.

I take therapeutic boundaries seriously, I just don't feel as though they are being encroached upon by acknowledging that I have dealt with Anxiety myself and by talking about it.  After all, part of my ability to help others comes directly from having been through it myself, and of course, from figuring a lot of it out.  I don't want to hide that.  In fact, I feel like withholding that may actually add to the stigma surrounding mental health issues.  Most importantly however, I think that many clients benefit from knowing that the professional that they're working with can commiserate on some level.  I'm not embarrassed about my experiences with anxiety and I don't want anyone else to be either.  

In preparation for starting my own practice, I researched other counselling services.  I couldn't find any other private counsellors in Nova Scotia that specialized in just Anxiety and Anxiety related issues.  I had looked for these services many years ago and hadn't found any then either, but thought that they might be in place by now.  I think that there is great value in providing services that are specialized in this way, which is why I created Anxiety Anchor.  I hope you find it helpful.