(This is the ninth post in a series called “Anxiety Society” in which I interview everyday anxiety suffers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.)
A few days ago, we met Larry Nocella: blogger, novelist, and anxiety sufferer. We left off discussing Larry’s “brutal and merciless” internal dialogue — a formidable opponent to his mental health — and how his antidepressant medication didn’t help to lighten his self-criticism. Instead, he said, he tackled that piece on his own.
Summer: I like how your described your inner dialogue as “brutal and merciless.” It’s so accurate. I think a lot of us — both anxiety and depression sufferers alike — are incredibly hard on ourselves.
The pushy statements we make toward ourselves would probably NEVER came out of our mouths if they were directed toward a friend! Once you identified your inner dialogue as being too harsh, how did you stop it from being hyper-critical? Was it just a matter of becoming more aware of it, or did you take any kind of extra step?
Larry: Mostly becoming more aware. I used to not pay any attention to my mental state, but now I’m very conscious of how I feel and what I think, especially toward myself. The extra step I took was this: I kept thinking of what I would say to someone if they were as harsh on themselves as I was being to myself. I’d say things like, you’re only human, you’re expecting too much, don’t be so hard on yourself. So I just applied that to myself.
What drains your energy level?
Negativity in all its forms. When I say that, I mean people who dwell on life’s lousier aspects. Yes, work is a drag, yes, many people are jerks (or insensitive) yes, yes yes life is unfair. But there’s a fine line between venting and obsessing. I get tired of people who don’t express their displeasure and move on, but instead go on for hours about the negative things. I don’t avoid negative things, if they must be dealt with, but I don’t let them rule. When recalling memories, I try to not think of the bad ones at all. Why bother? I try to remember every detail of the good ones.
How do you stay away from from the energy-draining stuff – from the external world?
I’ve had to push away people in my life who were negative, and it wasn’t necessarily their fault, I just know I’m extra sensitive to that, so it’s unfortunate I miss out on their positive aspects. Sometimes the negativity is a deal-breaker for me. I have to take care of myself so I’m sort of ruthless when it comes to ejecting needless pessimism from my life.
And now, what gives you energy?
I love upbeat music. Stories of adventures, helping out, seeing and learning about our world (National Geographic is a great resource) and about cool ideas. Walking is awesome, too. Exercise is great, as well as sleeping. With the new year, I’m really focusing on what I enjoy. From the confusion of my anxiety’s peak years ago, to a degree, I forgot what made me happy. Lately I’ve been reminding myself what does and I find it’s the small stuff like sitting on the couch rough-housing with the dog. It’s never been more fun.
It’s a weird predicament to not know what makes you happy or what you want, but I think finding out and/or reminding yourself is key. Dump everything else that you’re doing out of habit or that isn’t an obligation of life. If you don’t know what you want, you’ll never get it. What I want is inner peace and I find it in the simple things.
Do you ever want to find that Holy Grail? Do you ever want to know precisely what makes you happy or do you suppose that the search itself is part of the joy?
That’s more a life question than an anxiety question! As far as anxiety and depression go, I’m fortunate that the pill knocks it out nearly completely. It only flares up from time to time. So I’m fine with this tiny inconvenience. I can’t complain when others are truly suffering and every day is a struggle. As far as life goes, I suppose it’s the journey, but also (to use annoying corporate-speak) “managing expectations”.
Life isn’t always going to be fun, unfortunately, sometimes you just have to power through a situation and sometimes you’ll fail. It’s not the end of everything. Just get back on your feet and keep going.
Larry, you’re “out” about their medication use. You’ve shared personal information with the world about your depression and your anxiety. What kind of advice can you give to someone else with depression or anxiety who isn’t yet sure if they want to reveal their diagnoses with friends, family, or the world?
The first rule is to make sure you’re on solid ground, then help others. Obviously, it would be best if everyone who had the illness was open about it and unashamed. That would go a long way to defeating the ignorance about it, but you won’t accomplish anything if you wipe yourself out.
So if you’re anxious about it, or you don’t want to for personal reasons, or if you’re just private, I don’t think anyone should hold it against you, and you shouldn’t hold it against yourself. Get yourself healthy first. That’s a noble goal. Help out in a wider way if you can, but you’re not under any obligation. Just do the best you can. That’s all!
You can visit Larry’s archived blog, ROFL: Random Outbursts From Lar, here.