How I've Changed My Narrative with Anxiety and Depression
By CJ McClanahan
I’ve been called a “control freak” by more than one person in my life, and truth be told, I’ve earned this title.
Here’s a classic example.
I have two children, and this past spring break, the family and I went to Washington D.C. After walking what felt like 6 marathons visiting all the national monuments, on the last day I had to stay back at the hotel with ice bags on my knees because they hurt so badly.
When we got home, I made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, assuming the worst and that I had torn something.
Instead, I left his office with a diagnosis of “degenerative arthritis,” and a list of exercises and machines I should avoid at the gym.
Unsatisfied, I went to Amazon and ordered the latest edition of “The Arthritis Cure” and read 250 pages of 8-point font in two days. Not even 48 hours later, I started a supplement regimen “proven” to build up knee cartilage.
I’ve got dozens of stories like this, and spreadsheets tracking everything from the title and author of every book I’ve read in the past 15 years to the types of footwork drills my kids accomplished during summer break.
I like to control everything, and at times, I’ve let this get the better me.
Depression: Another problem to micromanage
As you might know from other articles, I was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and clinical depression as a senior in college.
Convinced I could control and manage it, I spent the first 20 years of my journey doing everything possible to do just that.
I made certain to leave that first session with the school psychologist with a detailed action plan including tactics to get better fast. I read the books he recommended, journaled every day and met with a psychiatrist who determine I should consider medication.
I read even more books, tried multiple medications, and even started tracking the exact thoughts I assumed triggered my symptoms… it was exhausting.
But, I was certain that defeating anxiety and depression was no different from every other challenge I’d faced in life - put together a plan, follow the plan and work hard, carefully measure the results and adjust as necessary.
Depression: A new approach
It wasn’t until I was introduced to the basic tenets of Eastern spiritual philosophies, primarily Buddhism and Taoism, that my view of dealing with anxiety and depression began to change.
In 2013, I was given a copy of the book The Big Bamboozle by Cheri Huber. And me as the overachiever I am, in the following 12 months, I read 12 of her works.
Not long afer, I came across the audio version of the Tao Te Ching written by the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu in the 4th century B.C. Only 81 verses long (less than 5,000 Chinese characters), the Tao Te Ching is one of the most widely translated texts of all time and has heavily influenced Eastern spiritual practices.
Just about all of these resources talked about an ancient practice called meditation, so I gave in began practicing almost daily.
To be clear, I don't sit in my office all day long, legs crossed, and burning incense; however, much of what I’ve learned from these Eastern spiritual practices has influenced the way I approach anxiety and depression.
Here are 5 lessons I've come to learn about effectively handling my anxiety and clinical depression.
1. Learn to Live in the Moment
“I have realized that the past and the future are illusions, that they exist in the presence which is what there is and all there is.” - Allan Watts
One of the most debilitating parts of living with anxiety or depression is the feeling of fear that you might not ever get back to the old you. For years, I found myself looking at the calendar and wondering if I should cancel upcoming events, trying to plan the future around how I might “feel”.
I now focus on what I can control in the next 24 hours, and that’s pretty much the extent of it. I can handle anything for a day, and it comforts me knowing that life is truly only lived one moment at a time.
2. Drop the judgement
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” - Lao Tzu
We tend to spend a lot of time comparing ourselves to others. We look at all our things, our careers, our retirement account our relationships and judge them against what we perceive with others. While we can certainly find people worse off, we tend to only see what we are lacking.
Today, I recognize when I’m judging, wishing things were different, and work hard to find contentment with my life. This doesn’t mean that I enjoy when crappy circumstances come my way, (e.g. stomach flu), but it helps keep things in perspective.
3. Get reasonably comfortable with uncertainty
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” - Reinhold Niebuhr
As I mentioned, I’m wired to control and that’s especially true when it comes to depression. I assumed that I could “stop” the anxiety and sadness with enough positive affirmations, counseling sessions and even medication.
Now, I recognize that no matter how hard I try, there are certain things in life that are completely outside my control. One of these “things” is how I feel when I’m suffering through an episode. Recognizing this truth reduces my stress and helps me focus on the present.
4. Embrace the pain
“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” - Haruki Murakami
In my effort to control everything, I discovered that I was hoping to completely eliminate all pain in from life - both physiological and psychological.
Understanding that pain is an inevitable part of being human helps lessens the intensity. Instead of fighting it at every turn, I now do my best to simply observe the pain as it comes and goes.
5. Create a quiet place for the mind
“All of a man’s difficulties are caused by his inability to to sit quietly in a room by himself.” - Blaise Pascal
I pride myself in being a productivity machine. I layout my week and day in advance, clock my schedule and rarely get distracted. I used to hate even a minute of unplanned downtime in my day.
Yes, I accomplished a lot, but I was stressed out all the time. Today, I’m still very productive, but I set aside time to quiet my mind.
Instead of making calls or listening to the radio every time I’m in the car, I often drive in silence. I’m not perfect, but I find myself feeling at lot better and still getting plenty done.
Depression: Always around, but rarely there.
While I can still be very controlling, I’m different than before. Now, I measure my daily success based upon how much I get done in that day alone.
I lay on my hammock almost every weekend (at least in the warmer months) and I’ve been known to allow people to cut me in line at the store. No problem, chum.
Anxiety and depression are still a part of who I am, but the lessons I’ve learned and the techniques I use to handle them help me feel better day-to-day, including regular counseling, healthy diet & exercise, meditation, reading, and medication.
Because I've taken deliberate steps over the years, I have far fewer episodes than I did in the past, and when they do come on, they’re far more manageable.
Was this article helpful? Show you support and SUBSCRIBE now to get more content like this every Friday.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a certified or licensed mental health professional or therapist. None of the information I’ve provided should be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may be experiencing signs of depression or something else, you should seek out professional medical advice.