When the going gets tough

Disastrous Business

I recently heard that one in three people will suffer from anxiety, depression or both at some point during their lives. That’s a lot, but hardly surprising. Almost everywhere I turn I see people struggling with life. Not saying that life should always be easy, but for many it seems to be a bit too gloomy and scary for comfort.

Few things are more stigmatizing in our society than psychological illness, even the relatively mild cases that a large number of people suffer from in silence (Just to clarify, I am not talking about heavy cases of mental illness in this post). You hardly ever meet anyone who openly talk about their problems with anxiety unless it is someone very close to you. Because no one must know that the perfect façade hides a person who is afraid. This is very different from physical conditions that (too?) often seem to be excellent topics for social conversation. People enthusiastically share their problems with migraine, aching backs or cancer with whomever wants to hear, even complete strangers. This is taken to the extreme when people even go on TV to have their hemorrhoids and verrucas exposed and broadcast to the whole world in British reality show Embarrassing Bodies.

Suffering or having suffered from  psychological conditions is oftentimes something that people carry with them as a shameful burden for the rest of their lives. A bit like a broken vase. It may well be whole again, but it is forever scarred and considered more fragile compared to one that has never been broken.

I believe one reason we have trouble dealing with anxiety and depression in a healthy way is that these problems by many are not considered health problems, but rather character defects. Sufferers and bystanders alike may therefore think that these are simply weak-minded people who even also may be partly to blame themselves for their problems. Well-meaning advice often includes solutions like pulling themselves together, just cheering up or to not worry so much. Gee, I am sure they hadn’t thought of that already!

Why is it so hard to view this for what it is, namely health issues? You would not tell a cancer patient or someone with chronic back pains to pull themselves together and get well. Yet, telling a teenager struggling with anxiety and depression to do just this seems legitimate to many.

HandsHoldingGrowingPlantIf one in three develops anxiety or depression during their lives it goes without saying that the causes are numerous. It may be traumatic experiences, stress, substance abuse, abusive relationships, simply being genetically predisposed and lots of other things. My point is that I do not think that the average sufferer from mental disorders is any more responsible for their own condition than patients with more physical troubles. So why the taboo and stigma? Why do people wait in the longest to seek help for their constant sense of impending doom? Or even worse, why do people tolerate this as a natural part of life and deal with it themselves instead of seeking professional assistance? Dealing with this oneself may include self-medicating on drugs and alcohol, becoming abusive themselves or holding it together until total collapse. These are all things that would almost inevitably affect family, friends, colleagues and everyone else around the sufferer.

I am not a health professional and am therefore not really qualified to give any advice on psychological problems, apart from encouraging people to seek help if they feel that life is a bit more difficult than it should be. Seeking help could start with talking about it to a friend or seeing a doctor or therapist. You may be surprised at how many who have experiences to share, either from their own lives or through someone close to them. Experiences that can give hope, guidance and the knowledge that things will get better.

Life is way too short not to be happy. And I am convinced that a lot of people could improve their quality of life if they only would give themselves a break and respect their own limits. Because we all have limits, and depression and anxiety may be your body and mind’s way of telling you that you are pushing it. If you keep pushing it chances are it will say stop in a big way a bit further down the line. And let me tell you: No one will be thanking you the day you hit the wall! Neither your friends, family nor your boss.

I don’t see anxiety and depression as signs of weakness and I don’t think that people who have suffered from this and recovered are more fragile than others. The contrary may actually be the case. In fact some of the most sorted people I know have made their very own personal experiences in this area. People who have felt their own limits, and are aware of them may in fact be living healthier, happier and more sustainable lives in the long run.

As for the vase-metaphor mentioned above, I rather like to think of it as a seam. For isn’t a seam that has been repaired often stronger than the original seam?

Mentally Yours,

Kristian

The easy way to stop smoking

stub of cigarette

I used to smoke like a chimney. Literally. I used to say I smoked 20 a day but being completely honest, I was probably more of a 50-a-day smoker. Yeah. That bad! I am happy to say that in January it had been five years since I smoked my last cigarette. Reactions I get when I tell people I have gone five years without a smoke are normally along the lines of:

Wow! That’s amazing! You should  be really proud of yourself!

Which of course is very nice to hear and excellent for boosting my ego, but truth be told I almost feel like a cheat taking credit for it. Why? Because it has been dead easy! Yeah, that’s right! Quitting smoking was easy peasy. And had it not been that easy I would not be writing this post today. I am constitutionally incapable of not enjoying myself and I have no resilience whatsoever against sweet little habits that give me instant satisfaction. None. Nada. My willpower against cigarettes was (and probably still is) virtually non-existent. If I had wanted a cigarette even once in the last 5,5 years I probably would have smoked it. But I haven’t wanted one.

Anyone who has ever been addicted to nicotine knows that the mere thought of quitting is overwhelming. Like looking into an endless, unhappy abyss which is the rest of your life. What doesn’t really help is that smokers constantly hear how incredibly hard it is to give it up. You may have heard the expression Once a smoker – Always a smoker. You know, the ones who even after 20 years still want a cigarette, and who go through the rest of their days feeling deprived of something that used to bring them great pleasure. How sad! Really. What in God’s name is the point of quitting if you cannot enjoy it? Make no mistake: I am here to tell you that when I quit smoking I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the process.

So what is this miracle cure? Hypnosis? Antidepressants? Jesus? Nope. I went to a 5 hour workshop (with smoking breaks) one late afternoon in Oslo on January 11, 2007. That was all.

You may have heard of the book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr. I had read that book five times prior to January 2007. All five times I had stopped smoking but started again after everything from 2 days to 2 months. I liked the method but somehow it just would not stick. Luckily, there were also workshops available where you could learn to quit using the same method, but from a live person instead of a book. You cannot ask a book anything if you want something clarified, don’t understand something or let it know that you disagree. With an instructor you can, and I believe that made all the difference. The workshop was led by a former smoker by the name René who the whole experience very enjoyable.

The method is no hocus pokus. You learn why you think you smoke, and why you actually smoke. You may think you smoke because you like the taste, it relaxes you and so on. But honestly, anyone who has ever smoked a cigarette knows that they don’t exactly taste like strawberries and cream. And cigarettes as a relaxant? Try to notice your pulse before and after lighting up a cigarette in the morning. Can something that increases your heart rate really be relaxing? I will not go further into the method here, because I want to leave that to people more qualified than I.

As I said I had no willpower to resist smoking. My willpower can be strong when it comes to many things but in the face of smoking it was useless. It was like trying to climb out of a 10 meter deep hole using a 5 meter long ladder. Nothing wrong with the ladder. It is just not long enough.

I quite simply hate being miserable, and wanting a smoke and not allowing myself one is pure misery. I could never do that, so therefore I thought I was forever stuck in the nicotine trap. Albeit not being armed with sufficient willpower I did have a very strong desire to quit, but I had no idea how to do actually do it. My primary motive to stop was that I felt I was selling myself short by smoking. It was (and still is) important to me to be all that I can be, and constantly inhaling poisonous gases, coughing and not exactly smelling like roses would not exactly pull me in the right direction.

I am not writing this to showcase my success. I am writing this because I want to tell smokers who think they must choose between continuing smoking and being miserable that there is a third option: Quit smoking and be a happy non-smoker. I normally hate the phrase If I could do it, anyone can, but it is actually very true here. Try not to buy into so-called universal truths that surround you telling you how hard it is, because it doesn’t need to be. It certainly wasn’t for me, and it does not need to be like that for you. 

So if you (or someone you know) want to quit smoking I can warmly recommend these workshops. I went to one in Oslo but they are available all over the world. In case you are wondering if I am getting paid for this the answer is no. I am doing  this solely because I want others to experience the wonderful feeling it is to quit smoking.

It is time to leave the sinking ship!

Non-Smokingly Yours,

Kristian