After a lifetime of feeling trapped between dueling anxiety and depression, Jay Boll began to practice mindfulness, which helps him get himself “unstuck.”
By Jay Boll
Ever been trapped in the middle of extremes? Sometimes, I feel caught in the crossfire between depression, which dwells in painful memories of the past, and anxiety, which casts a fearful outlook on the future. The sensation of being squeezed between a painful past and worrisome future can make living in the present hard to do.
I liken it to the Stealers Wheel song, “Stuck In The Middle With You”–Clowns to the left of me / Jokers to the right, here I am / Stuck in the middle with you. Only for me, the antagonists are not clowns and jokers. It’s anxiety to the front of me, depression to the rear, and here I am, stuck in the middle with my uncomfortable thoughts and emotions.
According to co-author Gerry Rafferty, the song was written as a joke about his dislike of music industry events. The lyrics have an anxious edge that reminds me of my own discomfort in social situations … I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair / And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs. It’s no surprise that Rafferty struggled with mental health issues throughout his life.
One reason this song is so ingrained in the collective psyche is its imagery of antagonistic forces converging from opposite directions. For me, being “stuck in the middle” of my depression and anxiety is like being slammed between the anvil of the past and the hammer of the future.
As a younger man, I did not realize these forces came from within me.
A devastating break-up in my early 30s left me feeling hopeless with the memory of the failed relationships that came before. Then a move from abroad and period of demoralizing joblessness caused such worry about the future that I could barely stomach my way through an interview.
“Not until I was in my 50s did I fully understand there is something about my brain that causes it to obsess about the past and worry about the future.”
These events hit me like a one-two punch, and I went down, without a clue of which way to turn to for help. After that, I tried to avoid any situation that might bring me back to such a painful place, while ignoring the underlying issues of depression and anxiety.
Not until I was in my 50s did I fully understand there is something about my brain that causes it to obsess about the past and worry about the future. All brains do this to some extent, but mine seems to do it more than most.
Last year, when I ended up in a cardiologist’s office with severe heart palpitations caused by stress, I decided it was time to break the cycle. I went into treatment and began to look for ways to manage my overwhelming anxiety.
As a mental health professional at a community-based recovery center, I was involved in developing programming with a cognitive health and wellness component. It was there that I discovered mindfulness.
Now, eight months later, mindfulness practice helps me avoid the feeling of being stuck between dueling negative emotions. It enables me to soothe my restless mind by turning my attention to the present.
It’s hard to believe that all I need is a few minutes and my breath. I find a comfortable position to sit in for 10 to 20 minutes and focus my attention on what is happening in my thoughts and body in the present moment. When my mind wanders, I gently pull my focus back to the present by concentrating on my breathing.
The lyrics of the Stealers Wheel song are a perfect description of how I feel every time social anxiety takes hold of me … It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face / Losing control, yeah, I’m all over the place. While I have never actually lost control and felt I had to run for the door, the thought that this might happen–the obsessive looking forward in my mind–fuels my anxiety. Pulling myself back into the present provides me with relief.
Between regrets about the past and worry about the future is a middle ground of the here and now. It is a place of calm, positively informed by experience and remarkably open to possibility. Mindfulness practice helps redirect my distracted mind to that place of the present moment, helping me feel that it is really not so bad to be stuck in the middle with my own thoughts.
Printed as “The Middle Ground” Summer 2018
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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